In February 1999, Audrey Hinton, of Washington, D.C., sat down and wrote a letter to Hoppy Henton, of Versailles, Ky.
He was a complete stranger to her, albeit one with a very similar last name.
In the letter, Hinton told him she’d been doing genealogical research that led her to believe that his ancestors had once owned her ancestors as slaves.
“Three months later, my sister and I were out here meeting Hoppy,” Hinton said.
Since then, a relationship has developed between the two families.
“They’ve embraced us with open arms,” said Audrey Hinton. “I brought them some of their family history, and they brought me some of mine.”
On Saturday, about 60 members of the Hinton and Garrett families gathered from all over the country for a reunion on Henton Farm, where their ancestors were once enslaved.
Hoppy Henton said his grandfather always referred to a cabin on the property as “the slave quarters,” but he never knew much about his family’s history of slave ownership until Hinton traced her family’s genealogy back to the farm and contacted him.
Hinton says the genealogical research has given her a huge extended family, some of whom were visiting what she calls their “ancestral home” for the first time.
Before traveling to Henton Farm, the family spent part of the morning at Camp Nelson, where Audrey Hinton’s great-grandfather, Frank Garrett Hinton, and his four brothers enlisted in the Union army.
At Henton Farm, they had lunch and visited under large old shade trees.
Paul Williams, who splits his time between Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, said it was “very gratifying to know that I had come home in some ways.”
“Certainly parts of that history were horrific in terms of slavery,” he said. “Nonetheless, it’s part of where we’ve come from.
“It’s just so gratifying to know more about the history that we need to pass down to our children and grandchildren.”
For Audrey Hinton, part of that story began when she was a child, and her father told her that Hinton wasn’t her real name.
He told her that their family’s last name was actually Garrett, but he didn’t really know more than that.
“It was something that his father had told him,” she said.
It would take decades before genealogical research led her back to her family’s Garrett roots.
During the Civil War era, Audrey Hinton said her research indicates that there were 15 to 16 people enslaved on Henton Farm in Woodford County.
Among them, she said, were five “Garrett brothers” who enlisted with the Union Army at Camp Nelson in 1864.
When the brothers showed up to enlist, they tried to sign up under the name Garrett, but, Hinton said, “the enlistment officer told them that they had to enlist under the owner’s name.”
That made it easier for the slave owner to receive compensation for their service. And so the Garrett brothers became the Hintons, an apparent misspelling of the name Henton by the enlistment officer.
When they returned from the war, four of the brothers went back to using the last name Garrett.
But not Frank Garrett Hinton, who attained the rank of corporal and went on to work as a minister.
Audrey Hinton, who is chairwoman of the board of the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, said pension records show that her great-grandfather testified, “I thought best to keep the Hinton name that I established while a soldier.”
And that, she said, explains how her part of the family became Hintons.
Hoppy Henton said his property, which sits among horse farms between Versailles and Frankfort, has been in his family since the late 1700s, when Joseph Henton got a land grant from the state of Virginia for 1,000 acres because of his service in the French and Indian War.
Hoppy Henton still owns 325 acres of that, where he grows corn, soybeans and tobacco. He also raises cattle, boards a few horses and has a small hemp plot for seed production, he said.
Aside from his grandfather’s references to “the slave quarters,” a small brick building alongside the main house that has been converted to a guest house, Henton said the topic of slave ownership never came up when he was a child.
But he has welcomed the opportunity to connect with the Hintons and learn more about their shared history.
“It’s just a remarkable opportunity to visit and figure out where we all came from,” he said of the reunion.
He said it’s been “inspirational,” but also “embarrassing” to begin to understand that his family owned slaves.
“We talk about it freely and openly,” he said.
Ray Garrett, of Louisville, a descendant of one of Frank Garrett Hinton’s four brothers, was among those visiting the farm for the first time Saturday.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been down here and probably drove past here and never even knew,” he said. “For me to come here and see this, this is what family should be about. It’s what we’ve lost.”