Ellender Penelope “Nellie” Mathews (1799–1882)
Nellie was reportedly born on the Mask Plantation, North Carolina in 1799, the child of a young slave and her owner, Dudley Mask. It is assumed that Nellie worked as a domestic on the plantation as a young woman. She bore five children in North Carolina. The three oldest children are recorded as the offspring of her owner, and father, Dudley Byron Mask. Some records indicate that her younger children, Drury and Mary Ann’s father was actually Drury Matthis who resided on a nearby plantation. Because marriage with slaves was illegal, and in most cases marriage between free persons of different races was also illegal, marriage records to confirm this information do not exist.
Accounts indicate that Nellie and her children were freed when Dudley Mask died in 1830. An 1830 census record listing free colored persons shows Eleander (sic) Matthis, a female between the age 24 and 35, and two females under the age of 10 in her household. North Carolina prohibited freed slaves from remaining in the state for more than 90 days, so the family appears to have moved to Tennessee. Sometime in the 1840’s, they moved to Missouri and in her mid-fifties, Nellie undertook the long migration to Oregon with her extended family.
Nellie is listed in the census from 1850 to 1880 as living in the household of her oldest son John. Her race is indicated as “M” for Mulatto in most census entries except 1860 when she is listed as “Black”. She died in 1882 and is buried in the John Mathews Pioneer Cemetery in Eagle Point, Oregon.
The actor Ty Burrell is a descendant of Nellie and a 2016 segment of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” featured the relationship and the stories passed down through his family about this slave ancestor.
1) John Mathews (1816-1885)
2) Dudley Mathews (1821-1847)
3) Susanna Mathews (1823-1909)
4) Drury Mathews (1826-1905)
5) Mary Ann/Amanda Mathews (1828-1905)
6) William (1836-n.d.) was born in Tennessee but his father is not listed.