Wyatt Emory Cooper had grown up in poverty in the South, but a few generations back his family had been rich – very rich. Wealthy enough, in fact, to own a plantation with 12 slaves. So Cooper’s fourth paternal great-grandfather, Burwell Boykin, had made his own fortune from slavery. And the researchers at Finding Your Roots found out that Boykin had also made his own grave through slavery.
A 1860 U.S. Census Mortality Schedule revealed a highly unusual cause of death for Boykin, “Killed by Negro.” His killer, called Sandy, killed the slave-owner after being locked in a shed as punishment for trying to abscond. Sandy was then caught and summarily hanged for murder. Cooper told the Finding Your Roots cameras that he had “no doubt” that his ancestor deserved what he got. “He had 12 slaves, I don’t feel bad for him,” he said, adding, “Honestly, part of me thinks that’s awesome.”