Was William Hill descended from Joanna Lee? Who was Gilly Hill? Was she a sister to Adeline Hill Kyle? How were the Atkins, Hill, Jackson, Kyle,, Lee and other African-American families in eastern Tennessee, western Virginia and West Virginia related?
Family oral histories are important but even more so is the need for those of us who love others than ourselves to seek and discover the mystery of what Jesus meant in describing humanity as brothers and sisters or defining marriage as becoming one flesh?
How far back or forward generations before DNA evidence illustrates that we are?
If the Adkins/Atkins, Hill, and Lee descendents were not distant cousins by end of the Civil War, they are now by virtue of marriage between Robert Martin Atkins and Mary Lee Brady Atkins on right who travelled many of the mountainous and valley roadways of generations up through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and other states where offspring were generated for goodness sake.
Cora Lee Hill and her first cousin Ora Lee Hill both believed they were related to the pre-Civil War Lee family members in Roanoke, Virginia and the Hill family in Ohio we believe was perhaps descended from Henry Hill an African-American revolutionary war veteran.
Our interest is how and why this belief came into existence? Who were the ancestors of Cora and Ora, and where do we begin or do we simply analyze officially recorded census and birth records. Why did Cora Lee Hill believe and tell her children that she was a distant cousin to Robert Lee Vann, founder and owner of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper? Indeed, it has fascinated us that Robert L. Vann was born in western North Carolina, as the crow flies, not very far from western Virginia places like Roanoke.
We would argue that by including vital Civil War era records of young men who served and often died in that horrible conflict we are forced to acknowledge that not only wars are horrible but the after-math of mothers and children without knowledge of fathers before and after.
It is frustrating and perplexing challenge for African-Americans to contemplate their war dead because in the first instance most descendents were raised in mainly matriarchal cultures and have no idea as to their ancestors that served in the great cause for liberty;
and, in the second reality young men who did serve and were subsequently severed wounded or killed never lived to father offspring.
Graves of African-American Civil War veterans are rarely known. Research is required relative to William Hill, father of Cora Lee Hill and his brother Henry Hill, father of Ora Lee Hill.
It is our speculation based on some research that William Hill of the Civil War era Union Army was a descendent of William Hill (one of some five thousand African-Americans) who served in the Revolutionary War and with his brother Henry Hill is buried with honors in Chilicothe, Ohio. Both brothers passed on oral history of their mother (a free colored woman) sitting on a fence when the Yankee Cavalry of Colored Troops came through the Roanoke-Salem area of Virginia, and the promise by one man (William Hill or perhaps Henry, John or one of several African-American Ohio soldiers) that "if you are sitting here when I come back through after we finish with the rebs, I will marry you." Who was that man?
The story recalled is that he did return and kept his promise. No other oral history is clear about exactly when or events afterwards. One oral history in the family offspring of Cora Lee Hill is that Gilly Hill (born in 1845) of Franklin County was the above cited woman and married to William Hill born around 1840 and recorded in the 1880 census as living in Franklin County. Our skepticism of this story is that it originated with Atkins offspring from Luther Atkins who grew up in Franklin County and had a cousin named William Hill whose mother was named Gilly. The problem with this story is that while the Atkins and Hills were related, ... there is no record of Gilly having a son named Henry who we know for a fact was father of Ora Lee Hill and an uncle to Cora.
Our best clue is that Henry Hill born in 1865 was recorded in the 1880 census as the grandson of Moses Lee (born in 1815) who may have been the father, step-father or uncle of Joanna Lee (born around 1841. If Joanna's lover/husband was William Hill (or Henry Hill or John Hill of the USCT) from Ohio, did he return from Ohio after the war where by law he had to be mustered out of the Union army, ... or did he remain there? Another question is whether or not unknown Hill was among the federal occupation forces that remained in Virginia until year 1876 when removed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The research requirement includes a careful review of the Union regiments of colored troops under General Philip Sheridan who had the responsibility of removing the rebel forces from the Shenandoah Valley. (breadbasket of the confederacy).
Our research indicates that William Hill also had a wife in Ohio before or after the war; and he settled and died there. But, little else is known of him or her other than the belief of at least two sons fathered, ... Henry and William Hill (both born in the Roanoke vicinity) who included their mothers maiden name of Lee in the names of their daughters, Cora Lee Hill and Ora Lee Hill. Speculation is the grand-mother of William and Henry Hill (both born in the 1880s) was likely Joanna Lee (born in 1840), mother of a daughter we suspect was Lillie Hill (born in 1860).
The possibility also exists, consistent with some Atkins family oral histories that Lillie was the older sister of Sally Hill (born in 1844) and Adaline Hill Kyle (born in 1849). Sweet Adaline married Charles Kyle and was the first woman married in the John Wesley AME Church of Roanoke constructed around 1885 made possible by the lives of thousands of escaped slaves and freemen who joined the Union Army to help set her free for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Her story is interlaced with the story of her brother-in-law Ellis Kyle who lived to be the oldest civil war veteran in Roanoke County, ... dying in 1938 with his cavalry musket, now the property of his descendent great great cousin/nephew William Thomas Atkins, Jr.
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