From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Hawkins, Sarah Spiepp Shorter [Family of Alain L. Locke]

(born: 1823  -  died: 1901) 

Though the story of Sarah S. Hawkins has been written and rewritten in a number of published works, those repeated words are actually a misinterpretation of the facts. The purpose of this entry is to give clarity to the life and family of Sarah Spiepp Shorter Hawkins.

Sarah Shorter Hawkins was said to have been born in Kentucky, she was the grandmother of noted philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954) [info at biography.com]. Sarah S. Hawkins was also said to be a teacher that helped establish schools in Liberia, Africa. While in Liberia, she supposedly married Ishmael Locke (1815-1852), a free man and teacher from New Jersey who was also in Liberia helping to establish schools [source: Alain Locke: faith and philosophy by C. Buck, p.13]. The couple is said to have returned to the United States around 1849. The story takes on some unexplained turns at this point. Ishmael Locke and Matilda Saunders Locke, who was said to have been born in Liberia, are married and become the parents of Pliny Ishmael Locke. Pliny married Mary Jane Hawkins in 1879. Mary Jane was the daughter of Sarah Shorter Hawkins. Pliny and Mary J. Hawkins Locke were the parents of Alain L. Locke who was born in Philadelphia, PA,and may have initially been named Arthur Locke at birth [source: The Philosophy of Alain Locke edited by L. Harris, p.293]. According to author Christopher Buck, Sarah Shorter Hawkins was the daughter of Charles Shorter, a free man who fought in the War of 1812, and the Shorter family were supposedly missionaries to Africa under the direction of the Society of Friends. This was the same organization that was to have supported Ishmael Locke while a student at Cambridge University, and later supported his building of schools in Liberia.

There is, however, another version of Sarah Shorter Hawkins' life and family based on census records, city directories, and death certificates. There is a Charles Shorter family listed in the 1820-1840 federal census records that show them living in Washington, D.C., and the family is listed as colored and free. There is no mention of the family having come from Kentucky or any member having been born in Kentucky. Charles Shorter is also listed in the 1847 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, African American Cenus; there are 5 persons in the househould and Charles Shorter is the only male and two of the women were dressmakers.

According to the 1850 Federal Census, Sarah Shorter Hawkins was born in Pennsylvania around 1823. She is married to William Hawkins who was born about 1820 in Washington, D.C. The couple lived in Philadelphia with Sarah's parents Charles Shorter (born abt.1785) and Harriet Shorter (born abt.1792). Charles and Harriet Shorter were both born in Washington, D.C. according to the census record. There is no occupation listed for Sarah S. Hawkins in the 1850 census, her husband William Hawkins was a seaman and her father Charles Shorter was a cab driver.

In 1860, Sarah, her husband William, and their 9 year old daughter Mary Jane Hawkins (b.1850), were still living in Philadelphia with Harriet Shorter; Charles Shorter had died. The state of Maryland is listed as Sarah S. Hawkins birth location.

By 1870, William Hawkins had died and his daughter Mary Jane lived with her widow mother, Sarah Shorter Hawkins, and her widow grandmother, Harriet Shorter. A decade later, Sarah Shorter Hawkins was a boarder with a family in Philadelphia and she did housework for a living; her mother Harriet Shorter had died, and her daughter Mary Jane Hawkins had married Pliny Ishmael Locke on August 20, 1879 [source: Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Collection Name: Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records; Reel: 335]. Alain L. Locke, was born in 1885. For more about Alain L. Locke see Who's Who of the Colored Race, v.1, 1915, p.178; and the Alain LeRoy Locke Papers at the Mooreland-Spingarn Library at Howard University.

Alain Locke's paternal grandfather was Ishmael Locke who at the age of 27 was baptized April 1, 1842 in St. John's Episcopal Church in Salem, NJ [source: Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Collection Name: Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records; Reel: 775]. According to author Thomas Shourds, P. Ishmael Locke went to Liberia and returned after a few years. He was sick when he returned and lived but a few years more before succumbing to his illness.

There is no mention of Ishmael Locke having a wife with him when he came back to the United States. Ishmael Locke opened a school in Camden, NJ. In the 1850 census, he is a school teacher who married Matilda Saunders Locke prior to 1848, and the couple and their two small children lived in Camden. The children's names were listed as Fayette, 2 years old, and Samuel, 5 months old, both children were born in New Jersey [their names were incorrect in the Census record]. Ishmael Locke was 37 years old when he died of consumption in Rhode Island on November 30, 1851 [sources: New Jersey Index of Wills, Inventories, etc. v.1, 264D. Inv.1852; History and Genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey by Thomas Shourds, p.386; and Rhode Island, Deaths, 1630-1930].

According to the 1850 census, Ishmael Locke's wife was Matilda Saunders Locke who was born in Virginia, USA [and not in Liberia]. In the 1860 census, Matilda Locke was a seamstress, and she and her sons, Phenton and Pliny, were still living in Philadelphia. Phenton Locke was born about 1848. Pliny Ishmael Locke was born about 1850 in Philadelphia and died August 23, 1892 in Philadelphia [source: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, FHL Film Number: 1901920].

Three years before Ishmael Locke died, he and his wife, Mary Jane Hawkins Locke, had lost their 7 year old son Arthur Locke on March 22, 1889 [source: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, FHL Film Number: 1003715]. After the death of her son and her husband, Mary J. Hawkins Locke lived with her mother-in-law, Matilda Saunders Locke.

For more about Ishmael Locke see "Locke and Rocke Families" in History and Genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey by Thomas Shourds, pp.385-386. See also the Alain LeRoy Locke Papers at the Mooreland-Spingarn Library at Howard University.

After his death, Ishmael Locke's wife, Matilda Locke, was continuously listed as his widow in the city directory [sources: Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory for 1877, p.878; up to Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory for 1895, p.1116]. Matilda Locke lived at 2221 S. 5th Street with her widowed daughter-in-law, Mary Jane Hawkins Locke until Matilda was placed in a home [source: Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory for 1894, p.1186]. According to her death certificate, Matilda Locke was born about 1834 in Philadelphia; she died March 14, 1895 at the Home of Aged and Infirmed Colored Persons; and she is buried in the Olive Cemetery in Philadelphia [source: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, FHL Film Number: 1872272].

Mary J. Hawkins Locke left Philadelphia after her mother-in-law's death. In 1900, she was living in Camden, NJ and working as a school teacher, and her mother Sarah Shorter Hawkins was living with her [source: 1900 U.S. Census]. Sarah Shorter Hawkins died January 22, 1901 in Camden, NJ and is buried in the Olive Cemetery in Philadelphia [source: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, FHL Film Number: 1845285].

Mary Jane Hawkins Locke, born July 26, 1850, died in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 1922 and is buried in Harmony Cemetery [source: District of Columbia, Selected Deaths and Burials, FHL Film Number: 2115942]. On her death certificate, her mother's maiden name is given as Sarah Spiepp Shorter.

No records have been located that verify Sarah S. Shorter Hawkins was born in Kentucky or ever lived in Kentucky.  Nor have any records been located that indicate she was ever married to Ishmael Locke in Liberia, Africa or in the United States.

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Alain Locke: faith and philosophy
NKAA Source: The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and beyond
NKAA Source: Who's who of the colored race : a general biographical dictionary of men and women of African descent, v.1 (1915)
NKAA Source: History and Genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey
NKAA Source: Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory ... (serial)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Hawkins, Sarah Spiepp Shorter [Family of Alain L. Locke],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed March 24, 2019, http://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/3096.

Last modified: 2017-08-25 22:25:04