Last updated: November 9, 2021
Henry McGhee (McGee, McGehee) first appeared in the Suwannee County, Florida records when he married Jane Smiley, May 13, 1866.
On August 5, 1867, McGhee registered to vote in the State of Florida. Florida voter registration rolls for 1867 and 1868 were unique in that they were the first voter rolls to systematically include African American men during the Reconstruction Era.
September 21, 1869, McGhee filed application 4169, under the Homestead Act of 1862, in Tallahassee, Florida for a section of land just northeast of the town of Live Oak.
According to the testimony of his witnesses and neighbors, on the first day of January 1870, he built a “good dwelling house,” that he and his wife (Jane) and four children (Adda, William, Ella, and Lissie) lived in. It was also noted that he had fenced and cultivated about 15 to 20 acres.
Two “disinterested” witnesses in support of his application appeared before the Clerk of the County Court on September 6, 1876 as required by law. These witnesses were Randel Farnell and William Forsyth Bynum, Deputy Clerk of the Suwannee County Circuit Court. Farnell and Bynum testified that Henry had built a good log dwelling house, corn crib, and smoke house. They also noted that he had a good garden and had made other improvements.
Unfortunately, things did not go well after that. According to a petition on Henry’s behalf by friends and neighbors, he became seriously ill a few days after his witnesses testified. In addition, his wife became ill as well. As a result, he was unable to travel to the land office in Gainesville, 70 miles away, thus missing his deadline to make his final affidavit in support of his claim, resulting in cancelation of the claim.
Henry was still ill in November 1876, when 29 friends and neighbors, including Randel Farnell, William Forsyth Bynum, the Deputy Clerk of the Court, and Joseph Jacobs (Randel Farnell’s brother-in-law and Henry’s future son-in-law) petitioned the U. S. Commissioner of Lands to make an exception and allow Henry to provide his final testimony to the Clerk of the Court in Suwannee County.
On March 12, 1877, the Commissioner authorized the Homestead Receiver’s office in Tallahassee to reactivate Henry’s application. Then, on May 5, 1877, Henry appeared before William Forsyth Bynum to make his final affidavit. Randel Farnell and William Bynum’s testimony was rewritten and certified again, as well.
Henry’s Final Certificate, 1225, was issued thereafter on May 15, 1877. Unfortunately, Henry’s wife, Jane, did not live to enjoy his victory. By the 1880 census, Henry was a single father with four young children, Adda (Ada,“Addie”), William, Ella, and Lissie. On October 4, 1884, Henry and one of the 29 petitioners in his case, William Evans, testified on behalf of the Homestead claim by Randel Farnell.
On April 29, 1899, Henry’s daughter, Addie, married his witness, Joseph Jacobs. Jacobs was the youngest brother of Randel Farnell’s wife, Sallie, and son of another of Henry’s petitioners, William Jacobs. In the 1910 census Henry McGhee is listed as 93 years old and living with his daughter Addie (Ada) and her husband Joseph and their family.
~ Contributed by Margo Lee Williams
Margo Lee Williams is the great granddaughter of Randel Farnell who was a witness and petitioner for Henry McGhee.