The Furman Slave Legacy Continues

In my previous post about the Furman family’s slave legacy, I wrote about my first ancestor in South Carolina, Wood Furman, and his connection to slavery. In this post, I write about Wood Furman’s son, Richard Furman (my sixth great grandfather), and his life as a Baptist minister and a slave owner.  I’m also pleased to introduce Trina Roach, my first linked cousin on my father’s side of the family, who found me through Sharon Morgan’s Our Black Ancestry site and the BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery blog. (See story in previous post.)  For this post, Trina has shared some of her research about her ancestors who were owned by mine.

Richard Furman

Richard Furman

By inheritance, Wood Furman’s son Richard Furman (1755 – 1825) became owner of 750 acres of his father’s plantation in the High Hills of the Santee in Sumter County, South Carolina.    The 1790 Federal Census shows that Richard Furman owned 6 slaves.  In 1800, he owned 7.  But these were people who lived at Furman’s home in Charleston where he was Pastor of the First Baptist Church from 1774 to 1787.   His will, dated August 1825, refers to the sale of “p
roperties” as required to settle his estate; however it does not provide a listing of enslaved people or records of what was included in this property.  I have not found census or court records that indicate he owned slaves at his plantation located in Sumter County, South Carolina, but we can certainly assume he did.  Despite these gaps, there are several records that indicate the legacy of slavery in my family.Trina Roach (see previous post) has provided the following information about her ancestor Prince Taylor, brother of her great-great-great grandfather, James Taylor, both of whom were enslaved by Richard Furman’s brother Samuel Furman.  This is a bit confusing but stay with me.  “I just became aware of your site and series [on BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery]….From a vintage newspaper article [The Watchman and Southern, of Sumter County, South Carolina, March 15, 1916] entitled ‘Remembers Mexican War:  Prince Taylor Tells of Dr. Samuel Furman [Richard Furman’s son], Founder of Furman University’…. The article states that ‘Prince Taylor was born a slave on Dr. Furman’s place at Providence, Sumter County [South Carolina], and has lived there all of the eight-nine years….’”  (Prince Taylor, then, was born in 1827. He was eventually owned by Samuel Furman’s son William.)  When I read the article I knew immediately that the article was referring to my ancestors.  Through her research, Trina had linked our ancestors.  (Note:  Samuel Furman’s brother James C. Furman actually founded the Furman University that is located in Greenville, South Carolina.)

First Baptist Church, Charleston, SC

First Baptist Church, Charleston, SC

According to his biographer, James A. Rogers, in his book Richard Furman: Life and Legacy, Richard Furman was considered the most important Baptist leader before the Civil War.  The fact that Richard Furman was an influential Baptist minister and a slave owner seems incongruous, but this was not at all uncommon in the 19th century.   As revealed in his sermons and letters, he wholeheartedly practiced the concept of paternalism on his plantation.  Paternalism promoted the idea of “our family, black and white.”  Slaves were treated as children who needed to be trained and “reprimanded when necessary.”  There were few ministers in the South in the 19th century who did not agree with the theory that owning human beings was divinely inspired.  The church allowed slave owners to enslave African people in good conscious!

Furman expressed his views 1822 in an Exposition of The Views of the Baptists Relative To The Coloured Population of the United States In a Communication To The Governor of South Carolina. To me personally, it is a profoundly disturbing and chilling sermon on the benefits of slavery.  The Exposition was written in response to Denmark Vesey’s unsuccessful rebellion in Charleston.  Furman lived near Vesey in Charleston. I’m sure he was not immune to the fear that was rampant in the city after the insurrection attempt.

20In an excerpt from the Exposition, Furman says:

That, all things considered, the Citizens of America have in general obtained the African slaves, which they possess, on principles, which can be justified; though much cruelty has indeed been exercised toward by many, who have been concerned in the slave-trade, and by others who have held them here.  That slavery, when tempered with humanity and justice, is a state of tolerable happiness: equal, if not superior, to that which many poor enjoy in countries reputed free.  That a master has scriptural right to govern his slaves so as to keep them in subjection; to demand and receive from them a reasonable service; and to correct them for the neglect of duty, for their vices and transgressions; but that to impose on them unreasonable, religious services, or to inflict on them cruel punishment, he has neither a scriptural nor a moral right.

His Exposition may well have been one of the first written expressions of the benefits of slavery and the paternalistic ideal in the United States.  (“…. Furman forged one of the earliest and most coherent statements on paternalism as the proper model for the master-slave relationship.” From Deliver Us from Evil:  The Slavery Question in the Old South by Lacy K. Ford.)  Coincidentally, yet another treatise about the benefits of slavery was echoed by a later ancestor on my material side, William Gilmore Simms. He was part of a group of writers who published a pamphlet in 1853 called The Pro-slavery Argument, which was also addressed to the governor of South Carolina.

Richard Furman’s biographer states that Furman’s “own treatment of his slaves was in the best tradition of the kind master [on what evidence!]….yet beneath a veneer of paternalistic concern lay always the economic fact that slaves could be bartered, sold, purchased, and otherwise dealt with according to an owner’s wishes or need….”  As examples of his actual behavior regarding the people he owned, Furman once wrote a friend for assistance in finding a Negro “wench” for purchase.  Included in this inquiry was a listing of the qualifications he wished (which were not provided in this source) as if she was livestock. Trina Roach sent me a link to a mortgage dated May 2, 1850, –“to secure a bond of $4,200, conditioned for the payment of $2,100, Richard Furman (II) conveys to Samuel Furman (his brother), six negro slaves, with the issue and increase of the females:  Dinah, Maria, Hannah, Patty, Jesse, and Abel the younger.”  According to Trina, Abel is Prince Taylor’s father.  The biography states that “When a judgment against the family estate was threatened in 1799, Furman arranged for the sale of nine “Negroes” in the hope that better prices then being paid for slaves would discharge the bond.  Thus ran the contradiction always present in the slaveholding ethic.”  In 1816, while away from Charleston tending to the affairs of his church in Charleston, he learned from his wife at the plantation that she was having “much Trouble and vexation with the bad conduct” of unfaithful servants.”  The pious clergyman immediately vowed to “do something effectual toward removing the Evil” when he returned to the plantation.  Hmmm.

Richard Furman was plagued with financial troubles.  For years he had sought to sell his father’s property for profit to operate his own plantations and those of his siblings.  From The Family Legacy of Richard Furman (Loulie Latimer Owens, 1983), we learn that “His father [Wood Furman] had been dead since 1783 and Furman had been trying unsuccessfully to sell his estate of several thousand acres.  Renters failed to pay their debts and Furman had to sue to recover.  Instead of profits from his father’s plantation, poor crops and mismanagement made them liabilities.  The plantation was threatened with execution for taxes by seizure of the plantation slaves.” The author notes that Furman had a black overseer.  “He had not sold his own plantation at High Hills, but continued to manage it at a distance.  Jack, his black overseer was indispensable.”  What a contradiction; he could believe that the people he enslaved were like children but have one of them running his plantation.  Jack is mentioned again by Owens.  “Furman returned home by way of the association and stopped by the plantation where he found a short crop.  He was detained over the treatment of his overseer Jack who had been ‘very sick.’”

Although I have not been able to find records documenting Richard Furman buying or selling slaves, I have found several documents that record purchases, sales or documents of ownership by  some of his family members.  I provide their names in hopes that their descendants might be looking for them and stumble across their names in BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery. His sister, Sarah Haynsworth, listed several slaves in her will of March 7, 1831 including: o my son Josiah Haynsworth one Negro man named Sarrah;  to my Son James Haynsworth one Negro man named Bill; to my daughter Rachel Henrietta Monk one Negro Man named Sam; and to my Son William Haynsworth one Negro man named Wilson.  In South Carolina court records found in Fold3.com, I discovered that on April 24, 1826, Richard Furman [II] sold four “negro slaves” named London, Josephine, Nanny and Peggy to his brother I.K Furman.  On July 18, 1831, Richard Furman [II] sold to Edward Rutledge Laurens four slaves—Mary and her children namely Harriet, George and Priscilla. On February 26, 1844, Samuel Furman sold to Charles M. Furman Betty, Rachel, Judy, Billy, Just, Nancy, Henry, Henrietta, Mat, and Cesar.    [The following information comes from a family researcher on the Ancestry.com site who identifies himself as “Gary S. Family.”  The dates of these documents and other citations have not been provided.]  Charles M Furman bought “a Mulatto slave named Rachel with her child, Arthur Alexander, about 19 Months Old.   That researcher also mentions a group of men including Charles M. Furman who bought 52 slaves, including an infant.

My paternal Furman side of the family rarely talked about our ancestors’ slave owning legacy.  In an interview with my grandfather, Alester G. Furman, Jr., by Clemson University’s Southern Oral History Program Collection, he told the interviewer that “My grandfather did not own slaves [he would have been only 15 at the end of the Civil War], and my great-great grandfather, Dr. Richard Furman, freed his slaves.”  This has not been verified by research I have completed to date nor have I ever heard my other relatives tell this story.  My grandfather does not mention that his great grandfather, James C. Furman, was also a slave owner.  Clearly there existed a state of denial in my father’s family that persisted from generation to generation to generation.  It still lives in me today.

Thirty-five years following Richard Furman’s death, his son James C. Furman (my fifth great grandfather), then president of Furman University, “would echo in different but solemn tones his father’s views on slavery.  By then, Abraham Lincoln has been elected president……While the constitutional principle on which he stood was states’ rights, the real issue was Southern slavery and Northern determination to abolish it.” (Rogers)

Filmmaker and advocate of racial reconciliation.

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7 comments on “The Furman Slave Legacy Continues
  1. Karen Branan says:

    Thanks for this, Felicia. Your work is always so well-done and I’m sure will find linked descendants who can use it to further their own quests.

  2. Richard Adams Furman Jr says:

    I look forward to learning more myself through your publications. Richard “Rick” Furman in Winter Park, Fl

    • Wow! A living Richard Furman. I’m assuming we are both linked to the same Richard Furman (1755 – 1825)? Would love to hear more about your connection and how you found the post on BitterSweet. Thank you so much for contacting me.

      • Richard A Furman, Sr. says:

        I am Richard Adams Furman Sr. the great, great, great grandson of Dr. Richard Furman.
        I was born in Charlotte in 1946 along with my twin brother James H. Furman. My father’s name was Henry Jones Furman(Dad) 1909-1981,was an architect and retired from the U S Army as a Lt Col. He was the son of Charles Manning Furman III, 1873 to 1950, but he went by junior, his father was James Clement Furman; he was an attorney in Greenville and was head of the English department at Clemson. James Clement Furman was the son of Dr. Richard Furman, of Charleston, SC. Dr. Richard Furman was the founder of Furman University. James Clement Furman was the first president of Furman University in Greenville, SC Dr. Richard Furman caused considerable grief to Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis put a price on the head of Dr. Richard Furman. Richard Furman was the Pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston and president of the triennial convention of Southern Baptist. Reverend Dr. Richard Furman wrote “Exposition of the Views of Baptist, Relative to the Coloured Population” in a biblical defense of slavery to the Governor of South Carolina. Dr. Richard passed in Charleston and is buried in the churchyard there. Interestingly Dr. Richard owned a plantation in the High Hills of Santee, SC and owned slaves there. He inherited the plantation from his father Wood Furman who was the first Furman in the Colonies and came from Naylandby on the Stoke in England. Dr. Richard was self taught in the scriptures and academic subjects. He received a doctor of divinity degree from Brown.

  3. Shawn.L.Furman says:

    I have always looked to family history an love to find facts about our family my grandfather Albert Furman has been the same way as well as my father Steve Furman I believe you have to know where your family has been to know where your going … thank you for having the info so I can add to my Data I have been compiling as well as our two family crest from Germany and England..thank you Agen and if any outer information you have please pass it on..

    • It is such a privilege to have access to our Furman heritage even if the beliefs of our ancestors are difficult to understand. There are thousands of documents and letters about the family in the Furman University archives that I have only recently begun to explore. I’ll be posting the results of my one-day research efforts there last spring hopefully in the near future on this blog. And I hope to be able to spent more time there this spring. Furman is beginning to outline a program that will address the school’s connection to slavery that I think will be a positive force in truth building around this difficult reality. Most of us go about our daily business with no idea of the impact of history on how we live and what believe. As you’ve noted, t’s vital we understand the truth of our history. Thank you for your part in documenting the family’s past.

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