John E. Ellerbee’s wealth

How is wealth measured? Today, we say a person is wealthy because of their high salary and/or the value of their business and other investments.  Home and land ownership reflects a person’s financial status. Our ancestors measured wealth by the amount of land owned and the value of crops and livestock. Sadly, in the antebellum south, wealth was also measured by the number of slaves owned.  How wealthy was John E. Ellerbee, my husband’s ancestor? This post, fourth in my series about John E. Ellerbee, addresses that question.

SOURCE: Blake Harris, powerpoint “The Pre-Civil War South”. Slide Share ( : accessed 21 September 2019).

John E. Ellerbee, born about 1808 in Burke county, Georgia, married at least two times and fathered at least 16  children.  The family consistently moved southwest through Georgia to Florida from 1830 through 1880.  I described their migration pattern in my last two posts. 

A typewritten manuscript[1]  was privately published before the printed Ellerbe family history. [2]  In that manuscript, Morris “Buck” Ellerbee commented on John’s south-westerly moves:

South-western Georgia was the West of the day and that is where
new and cheap land was to be found. . . and it appears that John 
Ellerbee kept moving Westward as new lands became available. . . .
 [and] (1) the family is larger, and (2) the family fortune is larger. 
The 1860 census lists John Ellerbee’s property as follows: 
real estate valued at $3000; and personal property valued
at $4500. Three thousand dollars of “cheap land” could have 
been considerable acres. And since his personal property 
was surely made up largely of mules and slaves. . . there must 
have been quite a number of them. . . . John Ellerbee
was considered a wealthy man before the Civil War. [3]

In 1850, the “larger family” consisted of nine people (John, Martha, six children[4] and one slave[5]).  His real estate was valued at $2500. Older children left home between 1850 and 1860 and new children were born. The 1860 population schedule[6] shows John and Martha with 10 children plus two slaves. [7]  John’s real estate value increased to $4500 and personal property increased to  $3000.  John’s wealth certainly included more than “mules and slaves”.  

How many acres of land did John own?  Turn now to the Agricultural Schedules of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Agricultural schedules of 1850, 1860, and 1870 provide the following information for each farm: name of owner or manager, number of improved and unimproved acres, and the cash value of the farm, farming machinery, livestock, animals slaughtered during the past year, and “homemade manufactures.” The schedules also indicate the number of horses, mules, “milch cows,” working oxen, other cattle, sheep, and swine owned by the farmer. The amount of oats, rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, peas and beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, butter, cheese, hay, clover seed, other grass seeds, hops, hemp, flax, flaxseed, silk cocoons, maple sugar, cane sugar, molasses, and beeswax and honey produced during the preceding year is also noted. The 1880 schedules provide additional details, such as the amount of acreage used for each kind of crop, the number of poultry, and the number of eggs produced.

Exclusions–Not every farm was included in these schedules. In 1850, for example, small farms that produced less than $100 worth of products annually were not included. By 1870, farms of less than three acres or which produced less than $500 worth of products were not included.


Following the Civil War and the family’s move to Florida, John’s wealth diminished.   Real estate value fell to $240 and personal estate value fell to $300 in 1870. The family size remained at 12 (John, Martha and 10 children).  [10]  His small holdings would not be included in the 1870 Agricultural schedule.

Family tradition says that John owned a small orange grove in Hillsborough county, Florida, where the family lived in 1880. In 1883, John Ellerbee bought 150 acres “east of Tallahassee Meridian in Florida.” [11] John’s personal property, sold after his death, included 1 yoke of oxen (sold to J. A. D. Branch for $30.00 and one stock of hogs (sold to J.B. McPherson for $2.50). [12]  Total for all items sold at auction was $51.80. John’s son, W. M. Ellerbee, bought John’s 160 acres for $445 in 1887. Total value of John’s estate= $496.80.


How wealthy was John E. Ellerbee? In pre-Civil War Georgia, John doubled his land ownership within one decade. Overall monetary value of the land and livestock remained static ($4150 in 1850 and $3995 in 1860). Crop production almost doubled during the same period (665 bushels in 1850 to 1150 bushels in 1860).  His 500 acres may seem paltry compared to thousands of acres on some plantations but the land provided enough to take care of his family with produce left to sell. The abrupt decline in their financial status must have been devastating.  I haven’t found proof of the orange grove purchase. I believe that John kept trying to improve his lot.

For more information:


This post concludes the 4-part series about John E. Ellerbee. When I started the first post, I didn’t realize that there was so much to his story. I confirmed sources cited by others and added details. I responded emotionally to several items, specifically the lumping together of “mules and slaves” as a measure of wealth and John’s acquisition of Indian cession land in Georgia. Although I can’t absolutely prove that John bought Indian land, he lived in the right place at the right time for that to occur.

What I learned:   Details found in agricultural schedules.

What helped:  Internet access to multiple records, books, manuscripts and articles. Books found in local library about Creek and Cherokee Indians in Georgia before their removal to Oklahoma. Creating research log for John E. Ellerbee.

What didn’t help:  Having bronchitis for 2 weeks and not feeling like working on genealogy.  Getting sidetracked as I search for John’s parents.  

To-do:  Compile the 4 blog posts into one article. Share with relatives. Consider submitting for publication to Historical or Genealogical society journal in Georgia.  Resume work on scrapbook for another relative.


[1] LRB typewritten manuscript; digitized by Internet Archive 2018. Ronald W. Ellerbe & Morris B. Ellerbee, LRB, Ellerby, Ellerbe, Ellerbee. (privately printed, 1963). Digital copy, The  Internet Archive (  : accessed and printed, 27 August 2019). Sections ‘The Ellerbee’s of early Georgia’ and ‘John Ellerbee (1808-1885)’ probably written by Morris B. (Buck) Ellerbee, a descendant of John.  Source citations minimal but records can be found. 

[2] Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1986), p. 14-41.

[3] Ellerbe & Ellerbee, LRB, Ellerby, Ellerbe, Ellerbee, 31-32.

[4] 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Baker County, Georgia, population schedule, District 3, p. 49B (ink pen), dwelling 1111, family 141, John E. Ellerbee.

[5] 1850 U.S. Census, Baker county, Georgia, slave schedule, District 3, no page number, John Ellerbee, owner; digital image, Ancestry (   : printed & downloaded 3 May 2019); citing National Archives & Records Administration, microfilm publication M432.

[6] 1860 population census. 1860 U.S. Census, Calhoun county, Georgia, slave schedule, 3rd District, p. 265 (stamp), John Elerbee, owner; digital image, Ancestry (  : printed & downloaded 3 May 2019); citing National Archives & Records Administration, microfilm publication M653

[7] 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Calhoun county, Georgia, slave schedule, 3rd district, p. 265 (stamp); p. 27 (ink pen), John E. Ellerbee; NARA microfilm publication M653.

[8] 1850 U.S. Census, Baker county, Georgia, agriculture schedule, 3rd District, p. 39, John Ellerbee; Ancestry (    : accessed & printed, 7 September 2019); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T1137, roll 1.

[9] 1860 U.S. Census, Calhoun county, Georgia, agriculture schedule, 3rd District, no page number, John Elerba [Ellerbee]; Ancestry (   : accessed & printed, 7 September 2019); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T1137, roll 4.

[10] 1870 U.S. Census, Jackson county, Florida, population schedule, Marianna, p. 54 (ink pen), dwelling 586, family 587, John Ellerbee age 63; digital images, Ancestry ( : viewed, downloaded, printed 3 May 2019); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication M593_130.

[11] Certificate of the Register of Land to John Ellerbee; United States Bureau of Land Management “U.S. General Land Office Records, 1716 – 2015,” digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed, printed, downloaded 6 September 2019); citing Automated Records Project; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes, Springfield, Virginia: Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States, 2007.

[12] “Florida, County Judge’s Court (Hillsborough County),” digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed & printed 5 May 2019), entry for John Ellerbee; citing “Florida, Willas and Probate Records, 1810-1914” [database online], Florida County, District and Probate Courts; administrator: W.M. Ellerbee.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2019

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