Old William Kelley may have been a devil, a saint or a little of both. But his lavishly bearded face peering from the age-spotted photo betrays little; his lonely grave amid the pines near this San Jacinto County hamlet even less.
Now, 89 years after his death, Kelley's descendants are struggling to unravel his life, a tale Faulknerian in its complexity. At its heart is this searing contradiction: Kelley, a white plantation overseer, slave breaker and Confederate soldier, fell in love and raised a family with Dinah Rush, a freed slave.
William Kelley, born in central Virginia's Buckingham County, arrived in Texas with his widowed mother and sister in 1851. Kelley was only 19. He later found employment as an overseer at an area plantation. During the Civil War, he fought with the 25th Texas Calvary regiment and was captured by Union forces during an 1863 Arkansas engagement.
Dinah Rush was born in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1848. Her mother, Katie Johnson was baptized at the Bethany Baptist Church, located in Collirene, Alabama. In 1852, Katie accompanied her master and Dinah’s probable father, Otis Rush, to a new home near present-day Oakhurst TX. The child was one of the planter's 17 slaves.
How the couple met is uncertain. What is known is that in 1867 Kelley bought 154 acres of land - the first parcel of what eventually would become a 700-acre farm - and that Rush soon gave birth to their first child, Eliza.
"From the hearsay of our family, I think he really loved Dinah," Frazier said. "He kept his children sheltered. Nobody bothered with them, and when they did, they had trouble. ... From what they say, Dinah was a very gentle individual, a caring mother for the children." The family patriarch, she said, made a point of spoiling his many grandchildren.
Family members now are searching the nation for white members of the Kelley family.
An article about the Kelley’s: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Marking-one-family-s-epic-history-of-slavery-2616238.php