Primus Mitchell
U.S. Navy

of Cumberland Island

Many researchers list Primus Mitchell as the child of the white plantation owner, Robert Stafford, and a woman he enslaved, Judy or Judah. After reading his Civil War military pension it has been revealed that his parents were Stepney and Bettie Mitchell who were also enslaved by Robert Stafford. The following is a listing of facts culled from his pension in chronological order by the dates on the forms submitted.

Quote from muster card dated 17 January 1896: “With the statement that it appears from the records of this Bureau and from information received from the Auditor for the Navy Department, that one “Primus” (Contraband) was entered for pay on the roll of the “Alabama” Sep. 4, 1862, and served on the “Alabama”, “Florida” & “Vermont” to June 11, 1863, when he was discharged as Primus Stafford. The name of Primus Mitchell is not found on the rolls of the “Perry”. – One Phineas Mitchell (Lds) [Landsman] enlisted at Fernandina, Fla., March 24, 1864, served on board of the “Perry”, and was discharged Mar. 31, 1865. The records of this Bureau do not afford any evidence as to the identity of these two men.”

8 January 1893 – Served 2 C.E. enlisted on the Alabama 4 September 1862 and served until 20 September 1862; on the Florida to 30 October 1862; on the Vermont as Primus Talbot or Stafford to 11 June 1863 when discharged.

11 March 1911 – In his own words he was known was Primus Stafford or Mitchell, served in the U.S. Navy, enlisted on Cumberland River, Georgia during first part of war on the U.S.S. Albany and was discharged at Port Royal where he served on the brig Perry. He gave date of enlistment as March 1864 and served until close of war. Was at the battles Stono and Savannah River and was at the hospital Albany and Vermont [these were other ships]. He was born on Cumberland Island, claimed to be 50 years old when enlisted and gave his current age as 100 years but looks to be about 70-80 years old “well preserved”. He states he was a “lad” when the states fell, possibly was really born in 1837. Served under Captains Freeman and Brown, Lieut. Donald, and paymaster Emerson. Has drawn a pension for past 20 years or more, doesn’t recall when he first applied, but lived on Cumberland Island, Georgia the whole time. Wife died over 20 years ago. Identity appears okay, but memory is poor. Short, about 5 foot 5 or 6 inches, colored, black eyes and hair.

4 September 1917 – upon his death in 1917, he left his nephew Seck Mitchell in charge of burial and it was stated that he was survived by one son at Jacksonville, Florida and one daughter in Brunswick and one on Cumberland Island. His funeral cost was $95, he had a very nice casket with silk lining and a sliding glass window.

12 August 1893 – his lawyer was Nathan Bickford out of Fernandina, Nassau, Florida, who handled all of his paperwork for pension. His reason for filing for a pension was due to disability and swelling of stomach and limbs.

24 February 1898 – Oath of Identity, Primus swears that he served as Primus Mitchell landsman in the U.S.N. on the brig Perry and that he was about 71 years old, a native of Cumberland Island, enlisted at Fernandina on or about 24 March 1864 and a Landsman and was discharged 31 March 1865. Two shipmates on the Perry were witnesses, Ephraim Leighton and Roman Tracye, both of Fernandina.

3 April 1895 – Primus states he is 70 years old, resident of Nassau County, Florida, that he enrolled on 15 september 1862 in the U.S.N. on the U.S.S. Alabama, Florida, and Vermont, and was discharged 31 March 1865 at Fernandina. He claims a swollen stomach and limbs down to feet from Port Royal Harbor in 1865. His original pension was filed 7 July 1893 and he claimed disability from labor due to permanent dislocation of left elbow, joint, and chronic articular rheumatism ever since slavery time on Cumberland Island. This was witnessed by John King and Hagar Major of Fernandina who both knew Primus for over 60 years. Originally, Hagar’s last name was written as Lizamore, then marked out and Major was written.

5 April 1915 – Primus states he was born on Cumberland Island about 1827 and was living there when he enlisted. He was only married one time but his wife died “years ago”. They were married by a white minister just after he came out of the service but no records exist because they were burned in 1875; neither was married previously. He listed his children as: Kate 47 yrs., deceased; Laura 43 yrs., Hattie 40 yrs., Irene 39 yrs., deceased; James 44 yrs., and Lizzie 36 yrs., deceased [he did not mention a child named Dorothy –Amy].

1 July 1893 – witnesses on a pension application of this date were Jack Stafford and Edward Johnson of Fernandina who knew Primus for 75 and 45 years respectively.

29 July 1893 – on a pension application of this date witnesses were Jack Stafford and Henry Knabb of Fernandina who knew Primus for 64 years and 30 years respectively.

7 January 1897 – witnesses were Jack Stafford and George Mullin of Fernandina and George had known Primus for 30 years.

16 April 1909 – Primus gives birth date as March 1834 at Rayfield, Cumberland Island and that he lived in Fernandina and Cumberland Island. Witnesses were M.J. Taylor and E.M. Maddox of Fernandina who knew him 25 and 15 years respectively.

20 September 1917 – Hettie, his unmarried daughter, filed a document for reimbursement stating she was 50 years old, living on Cumberland Island, that her father was married only one time to Amanda Mitchell and that she had died about 25 years prior. He had never been married before or after, nor ever divorced. He died leaving 3 acres of land valued at $30 and was sick for two weeks prior to his death under the treatment of Dr. D.G. Humphreys of Fernandina and was nursed by Hettie; he was living in Fernandina while sick and died there. He was buried at High Point Cemetery on Cumberland Island. His last illness and funeral costs totaled $126.50. Witnesses to this document were Abram White ad R.E. Robinson of Fernandina who knew Primus for 50 years.

1 April 1894 – Hagar Major, age 70 years, gave testimony stating she knew Primus all of her life because they were on the same plantation together; Stafford was their owner and the surname Mitchell came from Primus’ father.

1 December 1894 – Adeline Williams testified she knew him for over 50 years; she was 60 years old, they were on the same plantation together and states the same as Hagar about his surnames.

23 October 1903 – At Brunswick, Primus Stafford gave testimony that he didn’t know his age but thinks he is over 70 years and his P.O. is Cumberland Island where he lives 100 yards from the P.O. and worked as a farmer. He was born as slave of Robert Stafford and remained so his until freedom. His father is Stepney Mitchell and his mother was Bettie who belonged to Robert Stafford. He didn’t know where his father got his name but he used Stafford until he came home from the war when he went back to using his father’s name. He doesn’t know where any of his white people are and as far as he knows he doesn’t have any living siblings.
            He enlisted at Cumberland Sound just off Cumberland Island but doesn’t know the date. He thinks he served one year. He wasn’t in the army. He lived on Cumberland Island ever since his discharge and served in the Georgia and South Carolina waters and was discharged at Port Royal, South Carolina. He goes on to describe the vessels he was on for proof.
            At the time of this interview he had just gotten out of mouth surgery and his head was wrapped up making it hard for him to talk; he was clearly in a lot of pain. He was 5’11”, black, no marks or scars.

6 February 1907 – Primus couldn’t furnish any proof of birth because he was born during slavery and there was no colored church to record such events and because he was enslaved, no one was allowed to read or write in order to record his birth. The only records of his birth were kept by his white owners who are deceased so he can only go by what he was told years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

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