“Old “Aunt” Tamer Chancey, a worthy old colored woman, known to almost everybody in town, died yesterday morning of disease brought on by grip. She was about 76 years of age. It will be remembered that for years she lived near the cemetery and was the keeper of the keys. She was a member of several of the colored lodges about town, among them one which provides for burial in case of death, and this insures that the old woman will be kindly put away.”1892
From the obituary, Tamer Chancy passed away on January 20, 1892, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Per documentation, Tamer first appears in 1867, in a Freedmen’s Bureau rations list for the Elizabeth City, North Carolina district.1 She was enumerated in the 1870 Census in Elizabeth City, in a home with several generations of her family. Their household included her daughters Hester Banks, aged forty, and Henrietta Chancy, aged twenty-two, a cook, and grandchildren, Salisbury Chancy, four, Charles Pool, two, M. J. Banks, thirteen, Tamer Banks, twelve, Matilda Banks, fifteen, H. Banks, four, and A. Banks, two.2 In 1880, Tamer was enumerated in the federal census in Elizabeth City. Listed as a housekeeper, she lived with her daughters Henrietta, aged thirty-five, and Hester Jackson, aged fifty, and grandchildren Mary Jackson, twenty-nine, Charles Pool, eleven, Anna Chancy, seven, and Ellen Reid, fifteen.3
Tamer was likely buried in Oak Grove (est. 1886), the historic cemetery located on Peartree Road in Elizabeth City’s south side. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to determine the lodges in which Tamer held membership. though many of the graves in Oak Grove bear the symbols of the square and compass, of the Free and Accepted Masons, and the three interlocking rings, containing the initials “F. L. T., ” indicative of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. There were also several African American burial societies in Elizabeth City active around this time, one of which may have handled Tamer’s interment. I will discuss those burial societies in a future article.
Beyond her obituary, research into Tamer’s life proved a bit tricky, so I turned to her children in the hopes of learning a bit more detail. One daughter, Hester Chancy, identified as “Hester Jackson” in the 1880 Census, married one Jordan Brooks in Elizabeth City in 1883. Per the marriage record, Tamer and Richard Chancy were Hester’s biological parents, while Jordan was the son of George and Eliza Brooks of Charles City County, Virginia.4
Hester and Jordan moved up to Norfolk, Virginia soon after their marriage. Jordan sought work as a general laborer, while Hester took in laundry. Sadly, Hester passed away in 1892, and is likely buried in either West Point or Calvary Cemetery. Her husband Jordan passed away ten years later, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.
Interestingly, I discovered that Jordan was an Civil War veteran, and had never been identified as such in any documentation on Calvary Cemetery. He enlisted on May 22, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia, and served with Company F of the 37th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. He mustered out of service at Raleigh, North Carolina on February 11, 1867. Although I’d studied the African American Civil War veterans of Calvary Cemetery since 2012, I’d never come across Pvt. Jordan Brooks, nor found his gravestone. The discovery was a welcome surprise, especially in light of the fact that I’d found precious little on Tamer Chancy, or her family. The find, however, encourages me to keep looking into Tamer’s background, to learn more about the “keeper of the keys,” and one of Oak Grove Cemetery’s earliest interments.
A view of the oldest section of Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia, where Jordan Brooks and Hester Chancy Brooks may rest. As seen on November 11, 2013.
Photo: Nadia K. Orton.
- “North Carolina, Freedmen’s Bureau Assistant Commissioner Records, 1862-1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V61Y-GCJ : accessed 31 January 2021), Tama Chancy, Mar 1867; citing. “NARA microfilm publication M843 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,616,867.”
- “1870 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 January 2021); North Carolina, Pasquotank County, Elizabeth City, p. 47, citing, “Year: 1870; Census Place: Elizabeth City, Pasquotank, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1154; Page: 352A; Family History Library Film: 552653.”
- “1880 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 January 2021); North Carolina, Pasquotank County, Elizabeth City, dist. 109, p. 36, citing, “Year: 1880; Census Place: Elizabeth City, Pasquotank, North Carolina; Roll: 976; Page: 336D; Enumeration District: 109.”
- Per the 1870 Census, George Brooks was born about 1812, and Eliza Christian Brooks, about 1813. George Brooks passed away on September 7, 1888, and was interred near Tyler Township, Charles City County, Virginia.