Motley Family – From Elm Hall Plantation to Chicago


Emily Sims Motley as depicted by her grandson, Archibald John Motley, Jr., in Mending Socks.

The Motley family of Chicago has made more than its fair share of contributions to African American culture. The family includes Archibald Motley, Jr., a renowned painter of the Harlem Renaissance era; Willard Motley, a novelist; and Archibald J. “Archie” Motley, Jr., a pioneering African-American archivist. Many of this famous family’s followers associate them with the Crescent City but the family roots from the sugar-cane growing region of Assumption Parish along Bayou Lafourche.

Archibald John Motley, Jr. was one of the greatest African American portraitists and a major contributor to the body of Black art. His works deal with a wide range of subjects, from variation in skin tone, to nightlife, to the Jazz scene. He was born in New Orleans on 7 October 1891 to Archibald Motley and Mary Huff. His mother was from Plaquemine in Iberville Parish. His father was born about 1863 on Elm Hall Plantation to Archibald Motley and Emily Sims. Willard Motley, the novelist who was famous for his 1947 Knock on Any Door, was born to Florence Motley, Archibald J. Motley’s older sister, yet he was reared by his maternal grandparents. Willard and Archibald regarded each other as brothers. Shown above is a beautiful painting Archibald Motley created of his grandmother, Emily Sims Motley.

motley knock on any door

Willard Motley shown on the cover of his book Knock on Any Door.

Archibald’s grandfather and Willard’s great-grandfather, Archibald Motley, was born about 1843 in Kentucky. Along with his wife, Emily, his mother, Frances, his brothers Reuben and James “Jim,” and their wives, Christina “Chrissie” and Charlotte, respectively, they were enslaved on the Elm Hall Plantation just north of the town of Napoleonville in Assumption Parish. Elm Hall, which was beautifully captured in 1859 by the artist Marie-Adrien Persac, was owned by Dr. Ebenezer Eaton Kittredge.

Kittredge_Elm_Hall_Rhodes_1864_4 (2)

As an example of the records which can be found in the National Archives, shown above is a labor contract executed by Dr. Kittredge with the ex-slaves on his plantation dated 4 February 1864. Named in the contract are Archibald “Archie,” Reuben, and James “Jim” Motley, their mother, and their wives. Labor contracts like the one presented were negotiated by agents of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. As with the Motleys, these records are often the first times that previously enslaved individuals are listed with surnames. They are also quite revelatory about the post-Civil War period, when the system of sharecropping all but replaced the slave labor of antebellum days.


                 The present author’s great-great-great-great-grandparents, Monroe James Rhodes and Malvina Johnson Rhodes, were enslaved on Elm Hall Plantation alongside the Motleys. As recently as 1910, when his great-grandmother, Mamie Alexander Honora, was born, his ancestors lived on Elm Hall Plantation. Rhodes descendants, most notably labor activist Gustave Rhodes, still worked and lived on Elm Hall as recently as the 1970s. 


Sources: Records of the Field Offices for the State of Louisiana, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (RG 105, Reel 40), Labor Contracts, Ascension and Assumption Parishes 1864-1868.

Jari C. Honora

29 thoughts on “Motley Family – From Elm Hall Plantation to Chicago

  1. Hi

    My great,great grandmother on my mother side live on ELM HALL PLANTATION around that time. My grandmother who live to be 103yr. also remember elm hall. She died in 2011. I have talk to Dr Kittredge great great great niece. who live in tx.

  2. Hello Mrs. Fuller! Thank you for reading CreoleGen. How interesting to know that your family is from Elm Hall! My great-grandmother lived there, along with her parents, and her grandparents, who were the Rhodes family. I have spoken with one of Dr. Kittredge’s great-great-grandsons in Florida. I would be glad to correspond with you about your ties to Elm Hall. My email address is

    • Oh wow!!!!! My Grandmother was born and raised on Elm Hall. Her name was Evelyn Bougere Hadrick. Actually most if not all of my my Grandmother’s family was from Elm Hall. My Great Grandmother was named Estelle Rhodes….we need to talk.

  3. Thanks for posting this great information. My great great uncle on my fathers side, Rev Edward Benton McNeil was married to Jessie Amanda Kittredge, one of Dr. E.E. Kittredge’s daughters. I would love to correspond with descendants. My email address is

    • Hi

      My grandmother’s family lived on Elm Hall plantation. My great- great- grandmother’s name was Susan Brown . One of her children was Philonese Brown which was my great- grandmother. Susan use to take care of Carrie Kittredge children I have a picture of her with the children. My grandmother, who is one of Philonese’s children, told me about one Easter when all the children (black and white) went on a Easter egg hunt. She was born in 1907.

  4. Bonjour Mrs. Hamilton!

    How nice of you to read and comment! As I mentioned in the post, my great-grandmother and several generations of her family lived on Elm Hall Plantation. I have some information on Dr. Kittredge and Elm Hall in which you might be interested. I am in touch with a descendant of his in Florida. I will email you soon! Thank you!

  5. She also told me that the people in the house made sure that all the children eat together, both black and white. She mentioned a Dr. Willerbry.

  6. My Macaluso and Puglisi/Politz families were workers on Elm Hall from abt 1885 until 1922 when the refinery burned.
    They came from Alia, Sicily to work on the plantation as did many other families from Alia. I’ve often wondered how they knew about this work and if their way was paid from Sicily.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful article! My third great grandfather was Dr. Kittredge. I am interested in any additional information you have on Elm Hall and stories from the slave families that lived there. I also would love to have a copy of the painting of Elm Hall by Marie-Adrien Presec – it doesn’t seem to be available online. If there is a clearer JPG of the contract, that would be appreciated as well. Contacts to other Kittredge descendants would also be appreciated. Than you for your help!

    • I am a descendant of Dr. Kittredge. The painting of Elm Hall mentioned above hung over my grandparents mantel and then in my father’s house where it still is today.

    • The painting is still in the family. Dr Kitteridge was my great great grandfather. Lucy Estelle Kitteridge was my great grandmother, married to Elijah Donald Barton

  8. That’s wonderful that it has been preserved. I am related to Dr. Kittredge through his daughter Mary Louise who married George Jones and lived on Glenwood Plantation in Assumption. Her daughter, Lillian Jones, was my great grandmother. They are all buried at Christ Church. I would love any information you may have on Lillian and Mary Louise. There is a lot written about Dr. Kittredge, but it is much harder to get information about women descendants. So anything you might have, or contacts you could give me, would be greatly appreciated!

    • My grandfather was Frank Kittredge Barton, son of Lucy Estelle Kittredge and Elijah Donald Barton, who ended up in Little Rock. My brother is FKB III. My understanding is that EDB was an overseer or manager for Dr Kittredge. My Dad became very interested in his family in his later years, made several trips to Napoleonville, met a cousin of some degree, Leon Lasuer (sp?), and became a supporter of Christ Church.
      My stepmother has copies of some documents but I’m going from memory.

  9. I am Frank Kittredge Barton III. John Barton, an earlier poster here is my brother. We grew up with stories of Elm Hall, with the Persac painting over the mantle and all manner of artifacts from the plantation. I have been to Napoleonville and seen the site of the home and visited Christ’s Church. I would dearly love to hear stories from family members of anyone who had connections to Elm Hall–I still have a lot of questions and a burning curiosity!

  10. I would love to get the perspective of those that lived and worked at Elm Hall. I am a direct descendent of Dr. Kittredge. Would love the contact information for the relative in Florida so I can compare notes. But to get a full picture of life during the time of your great grandparents, would love to get info from them on what life was like and their view of the Kittredges. Anything you could share would be greatly appreciated.

  11. For those who haven’t seen it and may be interested, there is a book that contains the genealogy of the Kittredge family going back to John Kittredge in 1660. There is also a small section on the Bartons. I believe I got the book from Amazon: The Ewing Genealogy with Cognate Branches by Presley Kittredge Ewing and Mary Ellen Ewing (there is a significant section of the book that is the Kittredge genealogy), written in 1919 and published by Bibliolife. It contains black and white copies of paintings of Dr. Kittredge and his wife as well as others. There is also a copy of the painting of Elm Hall. Frank, I would love to know what the artifacts are that you have from Elm Hall and if its possible to get photos of some or all of them. For anyone who wants to reach me directly, my email is

    • Hello,
      My grandmother was AnnE Sims Williams. She was the 2X great grand daughter of E.E. Kittredge and Ann Elizabeth Kelly. My grandmother married Llewellyn Alexander Williams in 1908. As a young woman she attended Belhaven College in Mississippi. The Kittredge daughter Emma married Robert Nichols Sims. AnnE Sims Williams, my grandmother, was one of eight Sims children.

  12. Hi

    My grandmother, who lived to be 103 years old, lived on Elm Hall Plantation with her mother and grandmother. I have a picture of her grandmother Susan with two of the Kittredge children. It has to be over 100. She was born on that plantation in 1886 and left with one of the daughters or granddaughters in the 1930s to go to Beaumont Texas.
    Some of the relative lived in Texas. I am at work now but I have it all written down. My grandmother Mable told me that all of the children would go on an Easter egg hunt (black and white together) and they would also eat together too. My grandmother was born in 1907. If you would like some of the information I have please e-mail me. I also have a copy of a cook book written in old English.

  13. E E Kittredge was my 3 greats grandfather–his daughter Emma married RN Sims, and their daughter Emma married Arthur Crownover of Winchester, TN; their son Sims was my father’s father. I am very interested in knowing exactly where the plantation buildings were in relation to Christ Church, if anyone has that information. I was very glad to see that nearby Whitney Plantation has become a museum telling the story of the people who were enslaved there. As descendants of slave owners, we only ever heard stories about how learned and accomplished our ancestors were, but the truth is something much more complex, and I truly believe that acknowledging that the Kittredge family’s success was made possible by the labor of the people they enslaved is a step toward ending the racism and oppression that still exists. Sorry, did not realize I was going to make a speech. I am also interested in the Rev. Quincy Ewing, a radical anti-racist of his time who was a grandson of E E Kittredge and preached at Christ Church for many years.

  14. My 3rd great grandfather also was E. E. Kittredge. His daughter Mary Louise married George Jones and their daughter is my great grandmother, Lillian Jones Patrick. George Jones owned Glenwood Plantation which was close to Elm Hall and I believe he and E. E. Kittredge grew sugar. Lillian’s sister, Nellie, married Edward Pugh and they inherited Glenwood. When Nellie died, he married her younger sister Lizzie. I have the same questions about Elm Hall but also Glenwood. Any one know where it was located from Christ Church or have any additional information on Glenwood? All my descendants up to Lillian are buried in Christ Church.

  15. In going through old photos, I came across a package from my Dad, Frank Kittredge Barton, Jr, containing some material from his visit `to Napoleonville in 1987. He included a copy of an 1874 sharecrop agreement with Mrs Ann E. Kittredge. Among those whose marks appear are Jim Motley, Archbald Motley, and Raliegh Motley.
    It is 7-8 pages long, covering the many details of the agreement. “parties of the second part” were to be allowed 15 acres to farm, while Mrs. K, the party of the first part, was “to furnish the mules, carts, hoes, and all other items necessary…”, along with use of the sugar house.
    As today, the “party of the first part” likely created the agreement very much in their favor.
    I’ll try to make legible digital copies of all of it. If anyone has an interest, you may email me a

  16. Looking for info on a colored woman named Marion Corbin, born May 10, 1791 in Maryland. She lived and died on Elm Hall Plantation in 1901 at the age of 110 years and 7 months. She was buried at the colored Baptist Church Cemetery. I am trying to locate this graveyard. Does it still exist?

  17. Thank you for the information. I hadn’t run across any data that EE Kittredge had married again after his first wife (who I am descended from) had died in 1836. Since he lived into the 1860’s, its not surprising that he remarried and had children with her. I always wondered why he died in Tenn. given that he was established in Louisiana. Is your family from Tennessee? I just did a quick search and it appears they married in Louisiana, so not sure when and why he ended up in Tenn.

  18. EE Kittredge owned a summer house/resort called Winchester Springs (in an area that was flooded when they built a dam to create Tim’s Ford Lake) near the town of Winchester TN. The family would go there when it got very hot in LA. That’s where my great-grandmother, Emma Sims (whose mother was EE Kittredge’s daughter Emma), met my great-grandfather Arthur Crownover, and it was also where EE Kittredge died.

  19. I have a copy of a recipe book and picture of some people that live at Elm Hall .My great great grandmother Susan move to beauford tx. with I think a Carris Kittredge come of the Kittredge descendent live in Tx.. I had her e-mail address I have to look for it in my book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *