July 17, 2003
A Coat of Arms, which symbolized the journey across two continents of the Jenkins Family, was unveiled at the 20th Jenkins Family Reunion. The evening was also significant as Mr. Ricky Dew presented a very detailed family tree, which traced well over 1,000 Jenkins Family, members dating back to Barbara and Anthony Jenkins in 1865.
Before the specific elements of the Jenkins Coat of Arms are detailed, it is important to understand the history and evolution of Heraldry, Coat of Arms and the Family Crest. A Coat of Arms defined is a shield, or drawing of a shield, bearing designs symbolic of family history. Thus, the Coat of Arms and Family Crest are key to the identification of families, tribes, and armies. In Africa, as an example, it is not uncommon that tribes have a distinguishing cloth, mask, shield, or colors specific to that tribe. Likewise, throughout Europe, thousands of families are able to trace their ancestry many hundreds of years. Often, the Crest is symbolic of a family's journey through centuries and over continents.
My interest in heraldry dates back many years. While traveling in Europe three years ago, I had an opportunity to spend some time in County Claire, Ireland where there is an abundance of history about heraldry and Coat of Arms. On horseback in the Southwest part of Ireland, the owner of a riding stable and I rode around in open pastures and passed by many homes, small castles and estates. On almost each Estate we passed, there was a Coat of Arms or Crest adorning the front door. As my Irish guide explained with great passion in his voice the significance of each family Crest, I clearly understood the importance of knowing who you are and how you relate to or are a part of a larger family history.
While researching this subject, I visited libraries and scanned numerous books, which cataloged family names as far back as 500 to 600 years. What is tragic about the Jenkins Family history is that we were stripped of our African ancestry, our heritage, and history. Thus, are we descendents of Kings and Queens? Did our early African Ancestors have a unique skill or trade that could have been transferred from one generation to the next? There had to be a strong determination and drive among our forefathers. Despite all of the personal emasculation of slaves, we prevailed and succeeded in many ways. As with many African American families in this country, oral history has provided some information about the past. However, now is the time for us to document in writing the journey of the Jenkins family so that our children and all future generations will experience the richness of their heritage.
While historians and archaeologists attempt to determine the origins of the first human being, research continues to lead them to the African Continent. Thus, we probably have ancestors dating back to the beginning of man's life on earth. As a result of the research conducted by Ms. Barbara Henderson, we have traced the Jenkins family back to 1867 and a slave owner named Jenkins. Ms. Barbara Henderson opened the door to that 137-year history beginning with Barbara and Anthony Jenkins.
The journey began in Shu-Wa-Lah or the English translation Shuqualak, a small town in Mississippi. The name Shuqualak has its origin in Choctaw Native American history.
In researching Mississippi history, the land, which is now Shuqualak, Mississippi and the surrounding region, was once inhabited by the Choctaw Tribe. As early as the 1500's, the Choctaw Nation was very large, occupying many parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. This fact begins to explain the name Shu-Wa-Lah. Shu-Wa-Lah, is a Choctaw word meaning hog's wallow. Another interpretation is "many branches." , A river with many small streams ran through this part of Mississippi, and wild hogs used to settle in part of this river.
In 1530, Spanish Explorer Hernando De Soto landed on the East Coast of Mississippi by way of the Atlantic Ocean and proceeded to move with his soldiers through Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Hernando De Soto among many things, introduced the razor back hog to the region of the country. That is why the razorback hog is widely used as a mascot in Arkansas. Hernando De Soto and his soldiers battled with the Choctaws over control of the land rights. Many Choctaws and Spanish soldiers were killed during these battles.
In 1832, as part of the United States Land Reclamation Act, the Choctaws were driven from their land by the U.S. Military, herded like cattle, and marched from Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas to Oklahoma. This was another dark piece of early American History. The legislation associated with this action became known as the "Trail of Tears." Approximately 14,000 Native American died during the long march to Oklahoma. Today, a small number of Choctaws remain in Mississippi and live in Shuqualak. The Choctaw Indian Reservation is located less than 50 miles from Shuqualak.
In the early 1850's, a group of wealthy landowners headed by Samuel C. McNeese in Noxby County Mississippi, met and decided to convince the Mobile & Ohio Railroad that a train stop in Noxby County would be a profitable venture for the railroad and businessmen in the area. Samuel C. McNeese had 3,000 acres and hundreds of slaves prior to the Civil War. Subsequently, McNeese deeded land from his plantation in 1857 and used his slaves and slaves of other landowners to clear the land for a train stop for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Two years later in 1859, the town of Shuqualak, Mississippi was incorporated.
Based on research findings, three key products cotton, red clay, and timber came from Shuqulak and the surrounding area during the period of 1760 through the 1850's. Cotton was king in the south and certainly in Shuqualak. As a matter of fact, Confederate currency had slaves on the dollar bills, which stressed that cotton was a key product of the South, as it generated wealth for the southern plantation owners. The second key product was the red clay found in Shugualak. This red clay was used to make and create red building bricks. A third key product of the Shuqualak region was timber. The trees were cut, milled and used for building houses and other structures. Our ancestors, through their slave labor provided the manpower that placed Shuqualak on the map.
In recognition of our Jenkins ancestors, the following symbols are utilized in the Coat of Arms to denote the following:
Lion King of the jungle. Very territorial. Dominion over all, Loyalty to family
Color Purple Symbolizes Nobility
Fertility Figure Birth and growth of the family
Slave Ship Slavery and the inhumanity to man
African spear and Chain, The emasculation of our African History and Slavery
Indian Spear A shared recognition of suffering between, Native Americans and African Slaves
Red Clay for building bricks
Bright and glorious future for the Jenkins Family and Our descendents.
The Jenkins Family should be proud of our ancestry and what individual family members have accomplished. One hundred years from now, future generations will know that the Jenkins history is a rich proud one, and the expectation for their success is high. With each and every Family Reunion, let all of us build on the Jenkins Family traditions and ceremonies. While oral history is important, we must raise the bar and continue to write down and catalog the Jenkins history from our elders so it will not be lost.
Sources: Shuqualak Library
Noxubee County Library
Internet search Choctaw Indians