By Marian Baker, Opinions Editor Furman University. FU. “Furmie.” Or most commonly, Furman. These are the names with which we refer to our cherished university. However, many studen…
From South Carolina, my sister sends me this link about descendants of enslaved people and enslavers who come together at Wavering Place Plantation in Hopkins, SC. I am gratified that these reunions of linked descendants seem to be happening more and more, as it promises additional conversations about the possibility of transformation and reconciliation. I will be trying to reach these descendants about joining Coming to the Table.
A friend of mine recently forwarded me this link to a story about two women who discover they are linked descendants. This story is not unusual to those of us who post on BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery. If anything, it reminds us that this “searching for each other” is happening all over the country, perhaps more often than we can imagine. For those of us who are linked, it is undeniable that we are emotionally drawn to one another. Many of us have spent decades tracking down our counterparts and have stepped far out of our comfort zone to acknowledge the legacy of slavery within our very families.
In the blog BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery, we primarily focus on linked relationships between black and white people connected through US slavery—those descended from enslaved people or slaveholders who are linked by virtue of time, place or genetics. Finding a linked descendant from before the Civil War is powerful and empowering. We place a high value on these links because personal connections can create a compelling and intense desire for healing and reconciliation. But I would suggest that there is another link that joins many black and white people today that is an important yet unexplored piece of our national culture. This link occupies a more recent past, one which can provide another avenue of examination of slavery’s legacy and aftermath.
A couple of weeks ago, Sharon Morgan emailed me to let me know that someone had posted information on her Our Black Ancestry website that linked my slave owning Furman ancestors to the writer’s enslaved ancestors. This was totally out of the blue except that Sharon has been working hard for many years to make these connections happen. In her email to me, my ancestral link, Michelle Hammett-Ross, says, “Wow I am so excited to hear from you! This is like coming full circle to allow healing from the ‘bittersweet’ past.”
But this is not the first time Our Black Ancestry (OBA) has linked me to someone looking for their ancestors. A couple of months ago, Trina Roach, who lives in Germany, found me through posts about my family I had written for BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery that she found referenced in OBA. She had irrefutable proof that my ancestors had owned hers!
OBA helps people explore and appreciate African American family history and culture. Believing that we “empower our future by honoring our past,” OBA contributes to an African American genealogical legacy that goes beyond the recording of names, dates and places into the realm of elevating genealogy to promote positive community and family values.
This is the final post in my series of three on the connection of my father’s family to slavery —a 110-year legacy— and my search for African American descendants whose ancestors toiled on my family’s plantations in South Carolina. This post takes us to the Civil War and my 5th great grandfather, James C. Furman. Like his father before him, he was a slave owner, Baptist minister and educator. Along the way, I have had the help of genealogist Sharon Morgan and Trina Roach, a recently revealed linked descendant. Sharon helped guide me through the murky records of the censuses and other on-line research. Trina provided me with irrefutable evidence —by way of a 1916 article in a local Sumter County, South Carolina, newspaper—that some of her ancestors were owned by mine. Trina found me online through Sharon’s website, Our Black Ancestry, which links to the BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery blog. She also provided me with information about her family from the 1870s, as well as other materials, which she has graciously allowed me to use in this post. I thank both Sharon and my linked descendant, Trina, for their help with this journey.
My internet connection had been down all day. I was beginning to get very perturbed—for a lot of reasons. One was that author and genealogist Sharon Morgan was going to help me scour the internet to look for possible linked ancestors on my father’s side of the family, a task I thought might be impossible. (I’ll describe our work toward this effort in another post.) I had “won” Sharon’s services at the Coming to the Table silent action in May of this year, and I was anxious to get started.
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.
I am posting for Pam Smith. She says, “Ahhh the woes of not being a techy in a technological world! A few little glitches prevented me from posting this directly to the BitterSweet blog. As an active member of CTTT I consider this space another home.”
Last week was an historic week for Coming to the Table (comingtothetable.org), an organization I’m involved with composed of descendants of slaveholders and enslaved. I spend a lot of time with historical records. Fifty, 100 years from now people will look back to see what our organization did. Most members will be long gone by then, but some people somewhere will look back to see where we stood. They’ll search archival records and Internet data that will be stored who knows how by then. They’ll look at pictures. And hopefully, among all the material they will find Coming to the Table’s petition http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/congress-pass-hr40-to-2/?source=search urging Congress to pass H.R. 40 – Rep. John Conyers’ bill to study the issue of reparations for U.S. slavery. That document serves as a tangible symbol of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
This is the first of three posts about my initial efforts to identify linked descendants connected to my slave-owning ancestors on my father’s side of the family in South Carolina. These ancestors are Wood Furman (1712 – 1783), Richard Furman (1755 – 1825) and James C. Furman (1809 – 1891). On my mother’s side, I have a rich history of on-going relationships with the descendants of enslaved people at a plantation in South Carolina (see Shared History) that my cousins and I still own today—the remnants of what Sherman left behind. Several African American families stayed on the place after the Civil War and maintained relationships with my family that continue to this day.
I must begin this blog by acknowledging the tremendous advantage I have as a white person from a privileged family in undertaking this research—an advantage I recognize is not generally shared by black people or, for that matter, the majority of white people. Because of this family legacy, I have access to historical records and documents from the early 18th century right up to the present concerning my father’s family. For African Americans, the census records do not even record names until 1870, and most whites descended from slave owners do not necessarily have ancestors who were in this country during colonial and Revolutionary War periods.
Using these documents, these three posts will describe my journey to find ancestral links to specific descendants of enslaved people and as well as document my paternal connection to slavery.
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I’m looking for the descendants of Sirrah, Glasgow and Jinny, three people owned by my 7th great grandfather, Wood Furman, whose descendants, sadly, I will probably never find. An additional person, Moll, is listed as collateral with Glasgow, on a mortgage to purchase additional land by Furman in St. Thomas Parish, South Carolina (Mortgage Book AAA p. 413, no date from secondary resource provided). These two enslaved people were surely worth a considerable amount of money to be accepted as collateral for this debt. Just knowing the names of these four people, I can at least begin to acknowledge them and their plight. I can perhaps imagine their lives as enslaved humans and attempt to remember and honor them.