Press "Enter" to skip to content

Chappelle-Nadal elected as senator same age as grandmother’s first census recording


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – On January 11, 2014, Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal posted to Facebook about an important anniversary regarding her family line.

150 years ago today, my 3rd great grandmother was emancipated. Her name was Maria Robnett. In the 1870 census – the first census where former slaves were counted – she was 35 years old, the age I was when elected to the Missouri Senate.

Today is a special day.

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal acquired a copy of 1870 and 1900 census recording her family line, and the first documented existence of her 3rd great grandmother, Maria Robnett.

1870 Census
1870 Census with Maria Robnett

After the January 11, 1965, 150 years later, the Ordinance to Abolish Slavery in Missouri allowed black Missourians, such as Robnett, to begin being documented as a human being versus property or part of an estate.

The 1870 census data showed Maria Robnett had two children, George (7)  and Aida (1). Sen. Chappelle-Nadal said the 1880 and 1890 census documents cannot be recovered due to fire damage.

One apparent discrepancy exists in the records between the 1870 and 1900 census: in the 1870 census, Maria Robnett was recorded as being 35 years old, in the 1900 census, she is written down as being 100 years old. The reason for the inaccuracy is unknown. Her children’s ages between the two censuses appear to be recorded correctly.

According to Chappelle-Nadal, her family is purposeful about keeping many of the same names circulating through her family tree, such as George, Eugene and Fred. (Sen. Chappelle-Nadal’s namesake did not originate from Maria Robnett, but instead was passed along from the Puerto Rican side of the senator’s family).

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal said her family has always been in Mid-Missouri.

“They started off in Fulton, and they ended up in Holt Summit,” said Sen. Chappelle-Nadal. “Along Highway 63, there was a white family that my family worked for as domestic servants. When the family members died, they left that land to my family. That land is approximately where KOMU is now.”

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal knew about this family line when before she began her career in the Senate. It wasn’t until she began digging into her family history with census data and other resources from the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.

“I like to say I am a daughter of Missouri. I am one of Missouri’s daughters,” said Sen. Chappelle-Nadal.

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal knows some of her family ended up in the St. Louis area. She is still hoping Policy Director John Scott in the Secretary of State’s office can help her fill in some of the gaps.

In 1860, slaves made up more than 25 percent of the population in Callaway County — a higher proportion than other areas in the state. Proximity to the trade capacity via the Missouri River, slaves were brought into the area frequently and in high densities.

“The river was the way people did commerce, it was the highway,” said Sen. Chappelle-Nadal. “It was where you went to the market for slaves for a longtime.”

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal also stated that pieces of the underground railroad can found here in Cole County.