The Nuckols Family of Davenport

In celebration of this year’s Black History Month theme, “The Black Family,” we return to Davenporter of Note Albert Nuckols, this time exploring his family relationships. Many details of his life suggested by local newspapers articles have proven difficult to verify, the absence of records being a typical challenge in the pursuit of genealogical information about African Americans. Nevertheless, we offer what pieces of Nuckols’ story we can, along with the questions they raise, in hopes of providing a Davenport example of Black families’ experiences in the Northern states in the years surrounding the Civil War.

Albert Nuckols was born about 1815 in or around Frankfort, Kentucky. His father was an “eminent Kentuckian” and his mother an enslaved woman. (1) His Democrat obituary attributed his “gifts” to the fact that he was “…a scion of a proud Kentucky family…” whose “head was one of the greatest statesmen in America.” (2) Albert and his sister Emma were two of fourteen children. (5)

Albert later became the property of R.C. Nuckols, working for him as a foreman in a Missouri iron mill. (1) There he met, and in 1849 married, an enslaved woman named Anna. She was the property of a Mrs. Elam, who had moved to Missouri from Virginia in 1847 because her late husband had a “large interest in the mines.” (2)

Like her husband, Anna Nuckols was mixed-race, the child of an enslaved woman and a man said to have served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Virginia. (2) After their marriage, Albert was able to purchase both his and his wife’s freedom from R.C. Nuckols for $1600. (It is possible he was still paying off the debt after he had moved Davenport: “In the office of the county recorder are the documents — the only instruments in existence to show ‘Prince Albert’ was a slave.” (3) Sadly, the grantor/grantee index for Scott County does not include Albert Nuckols’ name.

Albert and Anna’s daughter Eudora was born in Missouri on January 1st, 1850. When she was four years old, her mother died and her father decided to follow George L. Nuckols/Nickolls, son of his former master, to Davenport, Iowa.

Unfortunately, we find neither Albert nor Eudora in either the 1856 Iowa Census or the 1860 U.S. Census records, though newspaper items show Albert was renting a room in the Nickolls Block (George L.’s property) on 2nd and Brady Streets. The 1870 U.S. Census for Davenport shows a 20-year-old “Eudora Knuckels” living with James G. and Caledonia Garland and their children, suggesting she may have been raised in the household of another family of color (all are identified as “M” for “mulatto” in the race column of the census).

Eudora attended the high school in Davenport, graduating in June of 1873 with the distinction of being the “first of her race” to do so. At the commencement exercises, she read a “brief but very fine” essay entitled “What Shall My Song be Today,” at the conclusion of which “…Miss N. was rapturously applauded, and received a perfect storm of bouquets.” (4) She was surprised to be presented with a gold watch on behalf of forty Davenport lawyers and other gentlemen whose rooms her father cleaned. (1) The dedication read: “‘recognizing the worth, ability and perseverance of Miss Eudora Nuckolls, who being born a slave, nevertheless graduates this day from the High School of this city and desiring to express our appreciation of one, who, under such circumstances, proves herself and thereby the colored race, even under adverse circumstances, capable of intellectual culture and of education, equally with those of a fairer skin to whom the avenues of education and improvement have never closed…” (4)

According to one of his obituaries, Albert Nuckols was very proud of his only daughter; he had “bright hopes” that she “…should be of benefit to her people in the south in their schools.” He was “nearly heartbroken” when in October of the same year she married Walter S. Garland (in whose family home she had lived) who could “…hardly read, much less write…” We know little of Walter but that he worked alongside his father-in-law Albert as a janitor, bill-poster, and white-washer. (1) According to the 1880 U.S. Census, the couple lived at 319 West 10th Street; they were at 630 Main Street in the 1885 Iowa Census.

Eudora died on July 1, 1886 and was buried in Davenport’s Oakdale Cemetery. She hoped to provide for her father and husband with the returns of a $2500 life insurance policy purchased from a company in Waterloo, Iowa. (6) Her father passed away in 1889 of pneumonia and was buried with her.

Grave of Eudora and Albert Nuckols, Oakdale Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa
Eudora Nuckols’ epitaph

Although Eudora died childless, ending Albert Nuckols’ direct line, there are more family connections yet to explore. There is Albert’s sister, Emma, who had married a man named Kane and settled in Versailles, Kentucky by the time she visited her brother and niece in 1881. (5) There is also the family of Eudora’s grandfather and Anna’s father, “Judge” Elam of Virginia. And in Davenport, there is the Garland family to trace.

If we expand the definition of “the family,” however, there are many more possibilities. J.H. Warwick/Warrick was the barber who helped Albert Nuckols when he first arrived in Davenport and remained his friend for life; F. L. Dodge witnessed Eudora’s will (as well as her mother-in-law Caledonia Garland and Emily (her aunt Emma?) Kane. There are many that joined “Prince Albert” as orators in the various Emancipation celebrations, in addition to the families in the audience. There are preachers who invited him to speak, and fellow Black men who engaged in politics. There are the neighbors of the Garlands in 1870, and of Eudora and Walter in 1880 and 1885.

Scott County, Iowa, Will Record No. 2, page 554

Stay tuned as we work to widen the circle to include more connections made by Albert Nuckols and his family members. There is much more yet to tell of the history of the African American community in Davenport.

(posted by Katie)

  1. Davenport Morning Democrat, 31 Jan 1889.
  2. Davenport Democrat, 14 Sep 1886.
  3. Davenport Democrat-Gazette, 01 Feb 1889.
  4. Daily Davenport Democrat, 28 Jun 1873.
  5. Davenport Democrat, 09 Mar 1881.
  6. Scott County Will Record No. 2, page 553.

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