While drafting the post Half-white Slaves of Aristocratic Masters at my blog, I acknowledged that Edward Ball, in his text, The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South, employs the term ‘concubines’ to describe intimate, long-term relationships between master and female slaves. It was a theme I followed up, at the post These Negroes Reveal A Curious Superiority, where cultural critic H. L. Menken observed in 1920 that the practice carried on, in 20th century society: “The more slightly yellow girls of the region, with improving economic opportunities, have gained self-respect, and so they are no longer as willing to enter into concubinage as their grand-dams were.”
Part One of this series is titled “Paper”. It explains my family background, and how I was launched on this journey. Many thanks to the members of Bittersweet, for your stories and your support.
PART TWO – “PEOPLE – THE THOMPSONS”
My family sold their plantation, Claymont (or Claymont Court) in Jefferson County, West Virginia in the wake of the Civil War, and headed west around 1905 to start over. An archive of wills, inventories and letters remained with them. I tell the story of these papers and how they initiated my search for linked descendants in Part One of this post. From these papers I made a spreadsheet to help me visualize the slave population on my family’s plantations, and used it to explore the many answers to the one enormous question that arose; who were the individuals my ancestors regarded as property, visible only as shadows on inherited sheets of paper?
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.
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 post is the first of three pieces on 1) how I discovered slavery in my heritage, specifically focusing on a woman named Amanda owned by my ancestor Thomas Jackson and his second wife Courtney Robertson; 2) what more that official county records tell us about Amanda’s life of enslavement and release; and 3) how I found and met one of her great great granddaughters in 1982, my first “linked descendant.”
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Over thirty years ago, for my first sabbatical I set out to study pioneer women’s lives in Randolph County, Missouri. Having required my students to do extensive family history projects in a class on “The Social History of American Women,” I thought I should spend some time pursuing my own. I was born in Missouri but we moved to California when I was eight and never went back, but still wondered about that place. Because I was interested in genealogy, when my Grandma Neel died, I inherited her shoebox filled with locks of baby hair, letters, and obituaries so I knew the names of several generations of her people who lived in Randolph County. I wanted to know who these people were and what their lives were like. I was particularly intrigued by the detail in the obituary of Courtney Robinson Jackson, my grandmother’s great grandmother who died from complications from a fall at “74 years, 9 months and 20 days.”
In the course of examining the U.S. Censuses of Randolph County from the 1830s to 1870s, I was shocked to find out that ancestors of mine in this region of Missouri (which I soon learned was known as “Little Dixie” — hello!) had owned slaves – not on the order of Thomas Jefferson’s hundreds – but some of my ancestors in that time and place did own slaves, more on the order of five, ten, or fifteen people. These particular ancestors were typical of white farming families in the upper South and Southern Midwest. Slaveholding for them was part of daily life, a legally sanctioned way to satisfy their labor needs in the effort to survive and “get ahead,” to make a yearly profit, and to accumulate even more property in a capitalist economy. Slaveholding came with age and a modicum of “success” in large portions of this white dominated nation during the 18th and 19th centuries.