Archive for the ‘Slaves/slavery’ Category

“sort of a little biography”

A couple of months ago there was an article in my local paper that described a situation in a nearby middle school. The social studies teacher had included creating a newspaper advertisement for a runaway slave as one of the independent activities available to students for extra credit. Several parents objected and the principal ordered the teacher to remove the project from the list. As a former high school teacher of social studies (not in the district referred to) I found myself conflicted. I would really appreciate comments from readers about whether you think such a project is appropriate and acceptable.

SOME CONTEXT: From a historian’s point of view it has been very difficult to find primary sources in connection with the slave population. Clothing is not likely to exist as it was usually worn out and discarded. Written accounts by enslaved workers in colonial America and later in the United States are rare. Few slaves could read or write; teaching them to do so was a crime in several states. References in plantation account books were usually limited to the sex and age of the slave, perhaps the name, date of acquisition, and the purchase or sale price. Census listings were equally limited. There are precious few details about how enslaved workers looked and dressed, what their lives were like, what skills they possessed.
Ironically ads for runaway slaves often provide answers to these questions because owners not only posted a reward for the return of the “absconded,” a word that was commonly used, but often provided a description of the runaway: color, height and stature, clothing worn and other information. Historians have been working to create archives of advertisements for runaway slaves. Joshua Rothman, a historian at the University of Alabama has said: “They [owners] wanted to provide as much detail about their appearance, their life story, how they carried themselves, what they were wearing . . . Each one of these things [ads for runaway slaves] is sort of a little biography.”

Transcription of the ad: New London, May 16, 1768. Stolen or Run-away from the subscriber, on the 14th Instant (of May), a Negro Woman named SOBINER, between 30 and 40 Years of Age, of a slender Body, and middling Stature, talks good English, and can read well; carried off with her one homespun check’d Woolen Gown, one blue and white striped Linen Ditto, two Linen Shirts, and one Woolen Ditto, three check’d Aprons, two or three pair Woolen Stockings, one quilted Coat, one Side brown, the other striped, a red short Cloak, a chipt Hatt, a Pair white Woolen Mittins, a Cambric Handkerchief, several Caps, and sundry other Articles. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro, so that her Mistress may have her again, shall receive FOUR DOLLARS Reward, if found within twenty Miles of this Place, and FIVE DOLLARS if further, and all necessary Charges paid by LUCRETIA PROCTER. N.B. All Persons are forbid entertaining or concealing said Negro under Penalty of the Law.

I chose the ad above because it was placed in a Connecticut newspaper and shows that slavery was more common in the North than we are likely to admit. And I believe that the list of particular clothing in the ad for Sobiner is due to the fact that the slave owner was a woman.

Back to the use of runaway ads in the social studies curriculum. While readers may have mixed feelings about a student-created ad as a project, I hope that there would be little objection to a teacher’s using several ads as a topic for discussion and critical evaluation in class. Students could look up the numbers of runaways, discuss motives, the risks involved, destinations, penalties for those who helped them, the likelihood of capture, etc. And they could evaluate the ads as primary sources of information: are they accurate, representative, useful, historically significant?

This SITE is the source for the quotation and provides information on this subject as does this SITE. The above ad is one of the many compiled for a PROJECT by students at Wesleyan.

posted August 27th, 2018 by Janet, comments (5), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Connecticut,Lesson plans,Research,Runaway slaves

“Sing another,” he said . . . “but something jolly.”

Baroness von Riedesel continues to describe their stay in Virginia to which the Convention Army, as prisoners of war, had been relocated. Her husband paid to have a house built for the family and they planted a garden which the Baron enjoyed. But he could not tolerate the heat. She describes what happened to him on one hot day.

I was busy setting our new home to rights and putting my husband’s things in his room when I heard a commotion outdoors. I ran to the window and saw some men carrying my husband into the house. His face was blue, his hands white, his eyes rigid, and beads of perspiration covered his forehead. He had had a sunstroke. I was more dead than alive myself, and the children uttered penetrating screams. We laid him down at once, tore off his clothes, and fortunately the surgeon of the regiment, who lived with us, was at home at the moment, so that he could bleed him immediately. He began to gain speech again and told us that while walking through the garden he had felt the sun burning hot on his head. He had hardly been able to reach the house, when his aides arrived, without whose help he would have been lost. Good Lord, what would have become of me and my little children among the captives so far from home in the enemy’s country!

The von Riedesels went to a spa the doctor had recommended for the Baron’s health. He did recover although he suffered from the ill effects of the incident for the rest of his life. The Baroness tells a charming story of a bargain she made with a local farmer. At the spa she made friends with Mrs. Charles Carroll who visited every morning to enjoy a musical treat. A Captain Geismar played the violin for the Baroness who sang Italian arias.

On day a farmer came to our house, whom we had frequently asked with many kind words to bring us fresh butter. As most Americans love music, he listened attentively, and when I had finished, he told me I would have to sing again. I asked him jestingly what he would give me for my singing, as I did nothing without being paid. He immediately replied, “Two pounds of butter.” That amused me very much, and I sang another song. “Sing another,” he said when I had finished, “but something jolly.” In the end I had sung so much, that the next day he brought me four or five pounds of butter. He had brought his wife with him and begged me to sing again. I won their affection, and after that I always had everything I needed. The best of it was that he really thought I wanted to be paid for my singing and was very much astonished when I paid them for the butter before they left.

The Baroness developed critical views of Southerners and their plantations cultivated by slaves.

The Virginians are mostly indolent, which is ascribed to their hot climate . . . . The plantation-owners . . . have numerous Negro slaves and do not treat them well. Many of them let the slaves walk about stark naked until they are between fifteen and sixteen years old, and the clothes which they give them afterward are not worth wearing. The slaves are in the charge of an overseer who leads them out into the fields at daybreak, where they have to work like cattle or suffer beating; and when they come home completely tired out and sunburnt they are given some Indian meal called hominy, which they make into baked stuff. Often, however, they are too exhausted to eat and prefer sleeping a couple of hours, because they must go back to work. They look upon it as a misfortune to have children, because these, in turn, will also be slaves and unhappy men. . . . But there are, of course, good masters too.

In the next post: the possibility of an exchange.

Marvin L. Brown, Jr. A Revised Translation and Introduction and Notes, Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution: Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty 1776-1783 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of NC Press, 1965), 83-86. The portrait appears HERE.

posted May 22nd, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Convention Army,Hessians,Illness,Slaves/slavery,Virginia,von Riedesel, Baroness Frederika,von Riedesel, Lieutenant General Friedrich

Postilions

Pondering George Washington’s letter (previous post) to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in regard to the sale of his coach horses to her, one wonders what Washington’s coach was like, who drove it, rode the horses or accompanied it. And so this digression.

It is known that while in Philadelphia Washington kept fourteen horses, twelve in a stable behind the mansion of Robert Morris that he occupied, and two at a nearby livery stable. A coachman and two grooms cared for the horses. There were three carriages for his use. On state occasions the President rode in a large, cream-colored, richly decorated London-made coach drawn by six matched horses “brilliantly caparisoned,” attended by coachmen and footmen who wore livery in Washington’s colors of white and red-orange. The carriage no longer exists but a commemorative print made of a procession in New York City in 1872 shows this equipage.

In Philadelphia there was also a lighter carriage made by David and F. Clark that Washington used for traveling. In addition there was a phaeton for his wife.

Two postilions, slaves Giles and Paris, wore the Washington livery. Enclosed in a letter the President penned from Mount Vernon to his secretary Tobias Lear in 1790 was a thin strip of paper described thus: “The whole length of this paper is the circumference of Giles cap measured at the bottom and on the inside . . . being the exact Band of the head. . . . To the black line drawn across the paper is the size of Paris’s cap.” Washington instructed Lear to commission two “handsome” new caps, “with fuller and richer tassels at top than the old ones have.”

In a letter to Lear dated June, 1791, Washington complained about Paris who

“has become so lazy, self willed & impudent, that John [the Coachman] had no sort of government of him; on the contrary, J[un]no. say’s it was a maxim with Paris to do nothing he was ordered, and every thing he was forbid. This conduct, added to the incapacity of Giles for a Pistilion, who I believe will never be able to mount a horse again for that purpose, has induced me to find Paris some other employment than in the Stable—of course I shall leave him at home. A boy, or two may be necessary there, to assist about the horses—Carriages—& harness. but these (dutch ones) it is possible may be had for their victuals & cloaths; especially if there are large importations from Germany (as some articles in the papers say there will be)—I mention the matter now, that in case arrivals should happen before I get back, of these kind of People, you may be apprised of my wishes—low & squat (well made) boys, would suit best. If emigrants are not to be had, there can be no doubt, but that some of the Dutch Servants in the family could easily procure such as are wanted from among the Citizens—& perhaps none readier, or better than by John himself when he arrives.

Giles had had an accident which incapacitated him. Washington was considering indentured servants to help out in the stables.

“From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0193. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.] Other sources and further information HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted September 18th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Giles,Indentured Servants,Lear, Tobias,Paris,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“And breathing figures learnt from thee to live”

Another item of interest about SARAH MOORHEAD (see previous posts) is her connection to a slave of the family called Scipio who is thought to have been a talented working artist around 1773. Sarah was a teacher of drawing and painting so it is possible, even likely, that she recognized his talent and was his teacher. But the only piece of art ascribed to Scipio Moorhead that has survived is the portrait of Phillis Wheatley, on the frontispiece of her published book of poetry: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). (See posts on Wheatley here, here, here, here. here, and here.) A poem, “To S.M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works,” written by this enslaved African-American poet has been cited as evidence that the engraving was made from a painting by Moorhead. (A note by a white reader in an early copy of the book mentions Scipio by name.)

When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight!

It is true that the Moorheads and the Wheatleys were neighbors and that the two slaves knew each other. However, the assumption that Scipio is the artist of the frontispiece has been challenged by Eric Slauter, author of the article “Looking for Scipio Moorhead” in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World. He presents evidence based on the Scipio’s age, his contact with other painters, the current styles in portraiture, and his appearance in ads for the auctioning of the estate of John Moorhead and that of his daughter Mary. The historian J.L. Bell, in his blog Boston 1775, is quite persuaded that Slauter is right. He suggests that an another black artist working at the time with several works attributed to him, Prince Demah, may have been the actual artist of the Wheatley portrait. See two posts by my colleague Louise North on Prince Demah here and here.

Eric Slauter’s article appears in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World, edited by Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, Angela Rosenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 89. Read the complete poem HERE.

posted August 17th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Moorhead, Scipio,Poetry,Prince Demah,Wheatley, Phillis

“the Blacks are so bad in their nature”

FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON did marry Tobias Lear. (See previous post in which she solicited Martha Washington’s advice on Lear’s proposal.) Fanny continued to carry out Martha’s instructions about work to be done at Mount Vernon before she arrives.

Following is a letter whose content makes one squirm: Martha includes remarks about the nature and conduct of enslaved workers that reflect the mind set of white owners and the stereotypes to which they subscribed. Note that white servants are treated differently and receive better quarters and food than their enslaved counterparts.

Philadelphia May the 24th 1795My Dear Fanny,

Your affectionate favor of the 20th is come to my hands—I am very glad to hear by it that your children are well—and yourself—I am truly sorry that any thing should happen in your family to give you pain Black children are liable to so many accidents and complaints that one is heardly sure of keeping them I hope you will not find in him much loss the Blacks are so bad in their nature that they have not the least gratatude for the kindness that may be shewed to them—

from what I have heard of Mr Pearces House Keeper I wished very much to have her engaged to stay at mount vernon while I was at home so goe into the sellers meat house and look into the milk and butter Kitty has had it so long under her care—that I think she should be looked too to give a better account of it—we shall bring white servants with us which will make it necessary that I should have a person to see to thair having what is proper, done for them, and have thair vltuals alwas in proper order—I think it is really necessary to have a person such a one as Mrs Skinner is in our family while I am there besids that of looking after the women that work they always Idle half their time away about thair own business and wash so bad that the cloths are not fitt to use—if she will come only to stay while I am thair I shall be very much pleased to have her—I do expect we shall have a good deal of company many hear talk of coming to see the Federal city [Washington, DC, under construction] and will take that oppertunity to come to Mt Vernon while we are there

I am my Dear Fanny very sencible of your goodness and attention in having everything done for me as you can—but it always gave me pain to see you have so much trouble while I was at home—if Mrs Skinner will come I shah be much happyer to have her to do the drudgry—and then I shall have the plasure to have more of your company—and shah see my person whose bussnes it is to attend to all the wants and cares about the house

l am very much obliged to you my dear Fanny for offering to preserve strawberry for me—I dont think it will be worth while—to do any—I wish to live in a plain stile while I am at home—and we shall always have greene fruit which can be preserved at the time it is wanted which will be better for use—should thair be any goosberry I should wish to have some bottled and some of the morelly cherrys dried—I should think old Doll cannot have forgot how to do them [,] if she has Mrs Skinner may come to the hous as soon as she will—and she may have all the Beds and Bed Cloths air and clened [,]the Bedsteads all taken down and cleaned and well rubbed—so that thair may be nothing of that kind to do when I come home—and to have every part of the House cleaned from the garrets to the sellers as I wish to have every thing done that can be done before I come home

Thank god we are all well—the President has been very well since his return

The girls and Washington* are well—and join the President and me in love to you and children . . . I wish the House was done for when I go to house keeping. . . .

I am with love and affection my dear Fanny your sincear well wisher M Washington

* George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash”, was Martha’s grandson, the child of her son from her first marriage, John “Jacky” Parke Custis, who died in 1781. Martha’s daughter, Patsy, died at 17. Wash’s sister, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, was one of the girls mentioned in the letter. Both Nelly and Wash were adopted by Martha and George Washington. Two older siblings lived with their mother Eleanor, widow of Jacky, when she remarried.

Citation: See copy of the letter HERE.

posted July 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Custis, John "Jacky" Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Housekeeping,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Mount Vernon,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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