|We took a trip to Opelika, Alabama
To learn how it all began.
Searching for the brothers Papa left behind,
And looking more kin.
We didn’t know where we were going
We had to start somewhere.
So, we found the public library
But none of them were there.
It was getting very late
And we had to sleep, get a bit to eat,
And make a few choice calls
To help us around the Opelika streets.
We found our way to the courthouse
To see what the records might show.
We got names and other information
That we really didn’t need to know.
That Elic had at least one son
Who married Iota in later day.
But the records we really needed,
Were in Montgomery, sixty miles away.
Since it was just mid –morning
We had a little extra time.
We decided to look at graves
For traces of our bloodline.
Even though we didn’t find what we were looking for on that trip, we realize that we have to keep looking in all of
the other sources and with as many resources that we can find. We’ve also realized that while we are looking
for the past, we are creating the future past. So, it must be recorded.
Just as world history is continuously made, so is the history of the Sims-Gant Family. Research so far, has
determined that the Sims branch of the family can be traced to the 1820’s on a plantation in Cusseta, Alabama,
in the county of Chambers. The Gant branch can be traced to the Sanders', the maiden name of Fannie Gant,
whose parents Bryant and Cherrie Sanders lived in Thomasville, Georgia.
June of 2005, in Miami Florida, we were blessed with the birth of twins. This is our fifth known set of twins in
seven generations. They seem to stem from the Gant side of the family, as Leona Gant’s grandsons Herman
and James Barnes were the first known set. In our seventh generation, we had a Sims born to two Sims’. This
generation gap is quite acceptable in our family because British and African history has shown us that marrying
two and three generations apart is the way of the Royal families. Our blood too, is royal. We are blessed with a
family of educators dating back to 1910, entrepreneurs dating back to 1894, firemen dating back to 1900, and
seamstress dating back to slavery. We are a family that has included and includes teachers and principles,
preachers and deacons, electricians, Ivy League graduates, a government investigator, firemen, policemen,
engineer, computer web designer, former Harlem Globe Trotter and many other occupations. We are also a
family who loves to help others and who loves to serve God.
Though we can only be traced to Georgia and Alabama, with traces in the Carolinas,* some research indicates
that around 1820, our first known generation was enslaved somewhere in Virginia, and moved to Cusseta
Alabama. The asterisk (*) throughout this work indicates further research is required. Abt. (about) is used
throughout this work because the nature of slavery did not allow many slaves and even those that were born
years later to know their true age.
RosaLee Sims Powell had been our major source of information about Papa’s (Thomas Sims) family,
but she could only tell us what Papa would tell her. In telling us the little that she could, she started
within us a strong desire to know our roots. Our knowledge was and still is very limited. Some things
just can’t be changed. The 1890 Census for example, which would have been another major source for
us, was destroyed by fire. But in 1993, several of us took a two-day trip to the city of Opelika, Alabama.
Thomas Sims is listed in the Ft. Meade, Florida census as
a boarder with Rev. Peter Gant, his wife Fannie and their three
daughters, Laura (Leona), Maggie, his future wife, and Essie
Mae (see the census excerpt below). Thomas was quite
industrious because he managed to own at least two properties
in Fort Meade, Florida. The official recorder of the Galilee
Missionary Baptist Church in Ft. Meade states that Thomas
Sims donated the cabin that was Galilee’s first church building,
and later he sold the land to the church that is now its current
location. Rev. Sims (no apparent relations), pastor of Galilee
in 2001, but passed in 2005, stated that the log cabin, after
Thomas Sims donated it around 1904 was rolled from the Sims
home site on huge logs to the new property where the church
now stands on Lanier Ave. It is recorded in church records that
Rev. Peter Gant served a pastor of Galilee for two years, during
1899 – 1901.
Fort Meade, Florida from about 1892, was the home of Peter and Fannie Gant and family, Mahaley Sims*,
Thomas and Maggie Sims, Isaac Sims, Josephine (Josie) Sims Thomas and children, Paul Young and wife
Silvia Sims Young, Laura Gant, Leona Gant Boyd and family, Charlie and wife Isabelle Gant, Irene and Alfred
Saulter and John and Rebecca Boyd and family.
1900 US Census showing Thomas Sims as a boarder in the home of Peter Gant. Isaac Sims is shown in the
home next door to the Gants and Paul and Sylvia Sims Young are in the home above the Gants. The 1900
Census was acquired through Ancestry.com.
|We thought this would be easy.
There are records on graveyards too.
The problem was, that in this small town
The Black people were buried in two.
So we went to City Hall
Where they kept records on the graves.
Wouldn’t you know that for ones we wanted,
The records were not saved.
What would it hurt to go to a cemetery
In search of graves, we thought.
As it turned out, many weren’t marked,
Which were probably the ones we sort.
We found a man who helped us out
But still to no avail.
He directed us to the old Sturkey sisters
Whose memory had apparently failed.
It was late, we should have been going
Our feet were tired and worn.
We couldn’t leave yet, we realized
We hadn’t eaten since early morn.
Now we were on our way to Montgomery
With an hour and ten minutes to spare.
When we found our way, they’d locked the doors.
Huh! If we hadn’t eaten we’d have made it there.
By Cynthia Sims Cann ‘94
In Search of our Roots
Thomas, in his early twenties left his father and 7 or 8 brothers and sisters in Alabama. The year of the move is
approximately 1890. It is speculated that they were Elic’s children from a union other than Mahaley. He took with
him his mother Mahaley, three sisters and Mahaley’s younger brother, Isaac (Ike). Mahaley and Ike’s mother
Ruth were born in 1830. Ruth and Ike Sims are so named because of the Sims slave master, as Ruth was a
widow in 1880. Thomas seldom spoke of the family he left in Alabama, and when he did speak of them, it was
with dismay. This information is from Rosa Lee Sims Powell, third daughter of Thomas. Their route to Florida
seems to have taken them through Thomasville, Georgia, which is where they probably met Peter and Fannie
Gant and family.
Allen was about 8 years old when slavery ended, but he remembered
a lot of things and told what it was like to be a slave on the Sims
plantation. He said that the slaves on the plantation had plenty of
food to eat, and wore clothes made from orsenberg, that was spun
on the plantation. They wore hard shoes (some of the children’s
shoes were red) that were made in the tanning yard there on the
plantation. The slave quarters were off from the main two-story white
house, and the slaves lived in rows of low, log houses, with board
and rib tops. The beds in the houses were bunk beds that were
nailed to the walls of the houses. They worked from dawn till dust,
but on Saturday nights they had suppers, drank (liquor), sang,
danced, wrestled and had good times. One particular fun-filled event
was the corn-shucking. When the slaves were sick, the slaves were
given oil and turpentine and lobelia. He said that the old master was
good to them, but he also said that his master allowed the overseers,
T. Roberson and later George Allen to beat them, then put red
pepper in the wounds. He felt that the Mistress, Miss Creasy, took
good care of the slaves, and they stayed on the plantation with the
white Sims family much longer after slavery was abolished. On
December 15, 1887, in a church wedding in a community called
Rough Neck, AL, Allen married Laura Frazier and had two children:
Mary Lou and Filmore, but no grandchildren.
The family that owned our ancestors in Cusseta, AL was James (Jimmy) and Lucretia (Creasy) Sims and their ten
children, William (Billy) Bonnie, Josephine (Jo), Abe, James, Susan (Sue), Nettie, Walton, Bethany (Bithey) and
Della. The Sims plantation owned more than 30 slaves, and the plantation in 1860 was worth more than
$30,000. To provide a reference to the cost of property in the 1800’s, an advertisement in an 1879 Atlanta
Constitution paper offered 280 acres for about $1600. This is not to say that the Sims plantation owners had as
much land, but property valued at $30,000 was not small potatoes.
Information that was first divulged in the Slave Narratives of the 1930’s was in an interview with Allen Sims who
was interviewed by a representative of the government for the state of Alabama. Some of the information was
later verified in the US Census. Allen, named after his father, is pictured below and it was taken from the Library
of Congress files, stated that he was born in Tuckersburg, the small town near Cusseta. He stated his parents
as Allen and Kitty Sims and further stated his siblings as Chaney, Becky, Judy, Sam, Phoebe, King, Elic and
Cusseta is a small town just north of Opelika, Alabama. Some of the family moved to Opelika after the
emancipation proclamation, other Sims family members moved to Tuckersburg, indicated on the map by the
star, and to other parts of Alabama. All three cities, Cusseta, Opelika and Tuckersburg are within 10 to 19 miles
of each other (see mapquest map below). Cusseta and Tuckersburg, both in Chambers County are very close
to Opelika in Lee County.
|Life on the Sims Plantation
|Early life in Fort Meade
Galilee Missionary Baptist Church
Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, 2007
Master James Sims was more than 20 years older than his wife, Lucretia. When he died, and still longer after
slavery was abolished, Elic’s wife Mahaley, in 1880, continued to work for Lucretia and the family she had left at
home, which consisted of her older daughter Della, T. A. and youngest son, James. In the 1880’s Mahaley and
her 5 years old son, Thomas worked as laborers, and her fifteen years old daughter Laura, work as a cook,
probably for Lucretia since the black Sims lived in the next house to the white Sims.
|Allen Sims at his home in Opelika, AL
Library Congress files