BUNK & MARY HILLIARD
Thanks to the internet and greater access to historical documents, we are able to dig deeper into the lives of our ancestors. The following is but a short overview of the history of Bunk and Mary Hilliard. As we continue to tell the whole story of our family, we will all need to work together by sharing information, stories, photos documents and dates. It is critical that we do this so that future generations of the Hilliard family will know the full story of our ancestors.
Our oldest know family patriarch, Bunk Hilliard was born in Virginia. The 1870 census indicates that he was a farmer who knew how to read and write. The same census indicates that our oldest know matriarch, Mary Tatum Hilliard, was born in Georgia. I believe that Bunk and Mary were enslaved in Troupe County Georgia, which is about 65 miles south of Atlanta. More than likely, Mary was enslaved by Seth Tatum and/or his mother Nancy E. Tatum. Bunk was probably enslaved by J.R. Sterling of the Sterling family. The closest city was LaGrange.
The Civil War ended in 1865 and it appears that Bunk and Mary left Georgia right before or right after. They traveled with their oldest child, Asa, and second oldest James; both of whom were born in Georgia. It is possible that they left Georgia with others. It was not unusual for former enslaved people to unify and form extended families to ensure survival for all. One member of that group was Hettie Hilliard who is listed in the 1870 census as the twin sister of Mary. I have found no record of Hettie after the 1870 census.
Bunk, reportedly changed his name from Sterling, to Bunk Hilliard. In 1870, Bunk and Mary were living in Gonzales County, Texas. The children in the house at that time include Asa 7, James 4, Emma 3 and Young 1 year.
Bunk, Mary and family appear again in the 1880 census, but their name is misspelled as “Hillie.” They are listed as farmers in Hackberry, Texas in Lavaca County. At this time, there are 11 children in the house. They are listed in order of age as such (Asa 16, James 14, Emma 11, Young 10, Elijah 8, Deliah 7, Eddie 5, Ophelia 4, Blanche 3, and Savannah (no age listed). There was also another child listed as “son” 11 months old. That son is probably Joe, but the name is not listed in the record.
The Hilliard family grew and Bunk and Mary taught their children to value God, family, hard work, and education. Bunk worked as a farmer and Mary was a mother, counselor, cook and mid-wife. Mary was an active Christian member of Brown’s Chapel Methodist Church. Mary attended this church on the second Sunday of each month and Westland Baptist Church on the fourth Sunday of each month.
Bunk Hilliard passed away in 1894 when he was around 71 years of age. Mary continued to farm for a short time and lived with family members. In the 1900 census, she is listed among those living with Asa G. Hilliard and his family. In the 1910 census, Mary is listed as living with her daughter Ophelia (Hilliard) Stevens, her husband Leonard A Stevens and their children. Mary passed away in 1914 when she was around 69 years of age. Mary was buried at Brown Chapel Cemetery beside her beloved husband, Bunk. The lone tombstone, which had marked her grave since 1914 was replaced in December 1972 by a double tombstone marked for Mary and Bunk, made possible by donations from their grandchildren and their descendents.
The lives of Bunk and Mary are a testament to the power of faith, love, self-determination, family unity and intelligence. That spirit lives on in each one of us. As you continue to live your lives, be thankful and remember that we stand on large and sturdy shoulders. We must never forget our heritage.