Uncle Wade Gordon

By Earlene Brown


Wade Hamilton Gordon
Wade Hamilton Gordon (Uncle Wade)

When a tall white man came to Grandpa’s house a few days after Ellsworth and I moved in with him, grandpa introduced him to me, “This is my brother-in-law” he said. I thought to myself, “he is the whitest looking black man I ever saw”. A few weeks later, my mom was visiting from Fairfax County (she wanted to see where Ellsworth had taken me after we were married and that I was OK**). After she got settled in she started sweeping the front porch, all of a sudden she came rushing into the kitchen and said, “Sister, an old white man is heading this way!”, I told her that he was uncle Wade. Mama said, “why are you calling that white man uncle?”. I told her that it was what everybody else in the family called him and he did not seem to mind.

The week after Grandpa died, which was on a Saturday (grandpa died on the third), and on the tenth, uncle Wade knocked on the door and asked if we were going into town. He said if so, he would like to ride along with us. When I told him we were going to town he walked into the kitchen and held his hand over the stove he said, “Why don’t you all have a fire?”. I told him that since we knew were going away we did not make one. So we headed out to town, Ellsworth and I went one way shopping and uncle Wade went the other. We let uncle Wade out up by the courthouse** and we went further down the street. We parked where he could see the car from all directions. We waited and waited, no uncle Wade. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I got out of the car and walked the length of the street until I got all the way to the end near Alexandria Pike**, I saw Uncle Wade sitting in a restaurant eating his breakfast. The restaurant had a sign that read “White Only” on the door and another on the window, I said to myself, “he sure has a lot of nerve…”. When he finally came out and got into the car, I said, “Uncle Wade why were you eating in that place?” and he said where else do you want me to eat?

As we left the town of Warrenton, Virginia we told uncle Wade that we were going to Remington to pick up Ellsworth’s sister, Frances, to stay with me a few days until I could face living with out Grandpa. He said he was in no hurry. We stayed a few minutes at Ellsworth’s parents house and then headed back the 30 miles to Amissville. Just before we got to Hackley’s store, we met a Culpeper County fire truck on it’s way back up the road, we said that we hoped they hadn’t been to our house.


Draft registration
Draft Registration of Wade Hamilton Gordon

When we got to Hackley’s store, Ellsworth and uncle Wade got out and went inside, Baby Ray had been born by then so I waited in the car with him. When they came back to the car they looked a little green around the gills. They told me that while they were in the store they heard people saying things like “it’s a shame George Brown died one Saturday and his house is gone the next”. Grandpa used to worry all the time about the house catching fire. We drove home dreading getting there, when we came over the hill there was no house. We just sat there and looked in shock and dismay. We decided to go over to Uncle Boyd’s, Uncle Wade rode with us we all went in. Uncle Boyd asked us if we’d left a big fire going, before we could even say anything uncle Wade spoke up said “they didn’t leave any fire”. He told them that when he went in, he checked the stove and it was cold. We were so glad Uncle Wade spoke up for us. He made sure no one thought that we had caused the fire. We found out later that the fire department had determined that the fire was caused by a faulty electrical outlet**. We took Uncle Wade back home, he lived across the field from grandpa in a cute log cabin, a stream ran pass his house. He had built a plank bridge across the stream.

We headed back to Remington to tell the family the sad news. We asked if we could stay with them a while, daddy Brown did not look too happy, but they let us stay. We stayed with them from Dec 10th till the middle of February.

I still have not gotten over Grandpa being allowed to marry a white woman in 1899**. Even though she was born in Virginia, her family had come over on a ship from Ireland sometime during the great potato famine and worked as indentured slaves. The difference between a negro slave and an indentured servant was that the latter was paid for the work they did and could buy their freedom after so many years. Indentured servants were considered better than Negroes but beneath free Whites. The reason there are so many good looking Browns in the family is because their grand or great grandmother was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, even more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor**. Grandpa had a professional portrait of her made that was hung in the front room. I had only seen her in that picture, I wish we had been home when the fire started, maybe we could have had a chance to save the house or at least that beautiful portrait.**

** Denotes information added after an interview was conducted to fill in some missing pieces left out in the original story.

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Uncle Wade Gordon | Growing Up Colored

    • macmsue, a consensus of family researchers has determined that uncle Wade was technically most likely either a quadroon or an octoroon depending upon his grandmothers racial status. He and his mother were listed as Mulatto in the census. Virginia only used the term Mulatto and did not break down the racial mix any further than that. Since uncle Wade was the product of his mulatto mother and her white employer, he would have been at most 1/4 of African descent and that likely would have made him indistinguishable from a full blooded Caucasian. The fact that his draft registration listed him as “White” and that he ate in White only establishments (and in the story, he had my mother and father drop him off up the street a good distance from where they parked the car), these all indicate that he most likely “passed” as white in public settings. I find this most interesting and wonder if his status was a determining factor in why he never married. Thank you for writing.

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  2. One of the most embarrassing thinks that ever happened to me happened at your grandfathers house Stanley. I had come to stay a few days with you guys ( Stanley is my cousin). I was with Marcia and Barbara and maybe Sandra too visiting your paternal grandmother. She was not feeling well and was lying in bed. The lawn mower started up and I looked out of the window. I asked Barbara who the old white man was mowing her grandparents yard. She looked at me puzzled. She asked, “what old white man” I pointed outside and she her eyes got big. She threw her head back and laughed so hard. She finally caught her breath and said “that’s granddaddy. Now I can count on one hand the number of times I have been embarrassed, but this has to be numerous uno or close to it.

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    • Hi cousin, I sure wish you had put your name at the bottom of your story. Believe it or not, your story is not unique. Barbara had the same question asked her when she and a friend were in town and Barbara saw granddaddy in the store and she ran to him and gave him a kiss… “Why did you kiss that old white man???”

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    • Oh, I know who you are now. Cousin, since you are anonymous I can tell you that I have a strong, take no stuff story concerning your mother when she was about 5 years old and visiting my mother at granddaddy’s house. Have you heard it?

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