Benenhaley, or a story of the "Turks" of Sumter County
by, and thanks to, Sue New.
This record does not rest on primary source documents, but is of oral tradition, one of the finest methods of passing on family history. I am 71 years of age, and all my life an ancestor was referred to in whispers, reputedly from Sumter Co., SC. Because we were told we were North American Indian to explain the dark skin and eyes and hair of many family members, it was a mystery why the whispers continued. What was the problem? My great grandfather was the grandson of that mysterious ancestor and since he was very much a part of my life, his grandmother's name, however much in whispers, was a familiar name..My great grandfather's own father died in the Civil War, and not long afterward, his mother had a falling out with her husband's mother, causing an estrangement between her son (my great grandfather), and his grandmother, his father's mother. At an early age, my grandfather left the area and then his mother died, making the separation of grandparent & grandson, even stronger. My great grandfather was only five when his father was killed in war, but he saved a letter written by his father, in 1862 from Richmond, VA, and the contents are from a loving son, husband, and father of two little boys, so the mystery of his wife's estrangement with his mother is even more sad because she was a widow with no family to help her. My great grandfather did stay in touch with his father's brothers and sisters, but I didn't even know that until I begin the genealogy research.When my little sister asked him what ethnicity we were, he told her we were "Turk." That was in 1946. He died in 1948, but the whispers continued among family members. When an article came out in the paper in 1950s stating the Benenhaley's had petitioned the court for the right to send their children to public school the mystery thickened. The article in the paper was hidden away but kept nonetheless.
After I became ill with a chronic condition I decided to try to learn the mystery about our great great great grandmother. I learned she was daughter of a man, Yusef ben Ali, AKA Joseph Benenhaley, who had come to SC as a captive or member of a ship's crew.. She was born in 1809 to Joseph and Elizabeth Miller Benenhaley. Nothing can really be verified on Joseph's ethnicity. He could be Arab, Moor, Turk, no one knew for a proven fact. A photo of my grandmother (she was the great great granddaughter of Joseph Benenhley), portays a lovely woman, with a shawl around the back of her head and shoulders, looking taller than her five feet, two inches, knowing, in that very photo, her husband was dying with kidney failure. Her husband, my grandfather, died a few months later.
My great great grandfather, was born 1836, his son was born 1859, his daughter (my grandmother), 1887, Mother, 1913, and I was born 1931. My Benenhaley ancestor married a Taylor and after seven children were born in Sumter Co., the Taylors left between 1842, when the seventh child was born and 1845, when the eighth (of eleven total) child was born. They settled in Pike Co., GA where they lived until they died. She died in 1897 and he died in 1900 at age eighty seven. At the beginning of this research, I thought I had such a small amount of information, it seemed hopeless that I would ever find records, and all who could have helped were gone. However, it was apparent I had more than any other line of the Taylor descendants. While my great grandfather left an enigmatic record, with only initials, and putting first name initials on one page and last names on another, I did have the Benenhaley name in writing, with her date of birth, death, and her husband as well. The other descendants just barely knew the Taylor name, but none knew the Benenhaley name. One Taylor member had a record with "Benton Haley" as the last name of his ancestor, but a completely wrong first name. A son recorded on his father's death certificate, he did not know his father's mother's surname. He was born in Pike Co., GA and grew up in his grandmother's presence. Many of the Taylor children listed GA as their parents birth place on the census. So without my great grandfather's verbal recollections and small Bible record, our Benenhaley lineage would be lost. While our Benenhaley ancestor is a long way back in this lineage, in almost each generation (from her long line of descendants), there will be a dark haired, black eyed child among blond brothers, sisters and cousins. My mother had all the traits of her gr gr grandmother, but since my father was of Irish descent, my sister is blond and I have less ethnic characteristics of the Benenhaley ancestor. Two or three of my grandchildren, however, have dark eyes and hair, and could easily pass for descendant of Mexican, Spanish, French, or Arab. A first cousin told me that most of her life, she had stared at herself in the mirror, wondering why she could pass for so many ethnic groups and she didn't know why. Now she does.
Sue New (Many thanks to Ms. New for preserving this precious priceless record and providing all of these clues.)
Please submit queries to ye webmeister (FCLARK@Bigfoot.com, please mention the Turks of SC web site)
Anyone with information on the "Free Moors" in SC, please contact ye webmeister.
Copyright ©2002, Sue New, all rights reserved. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same.