Archive for the ‘Slaves/slavery’ Category

“I give . . . to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny”

The next post will include a letter from ANNE BLAIR to her sister MARY BLAIR BRAXTON. For this post I am including several provisions of the will of the girls’ father, John Blair Sr, written in October of 1771 and recorded in November of that year in York County court records. Blair, Sr. was a member a prominent Virginia family; he served on the Virginia Council and was for a time acting royal governor. His uncle, James Blair, was a founder of the College of William and Mary. John Blair’s wife had died before him and so, according to his will, Blair’s children, including Anne and Mary, were provided for. All were married except for Anne.

Item. I give and bequeath to my Daughter Anne Blair one thousand Pounds Current Money part of my stock in trade with John Prentis and Company with the profits thereof from the Division made in August one Thousand Seven hundred and Sixty Nine and to my Son James Blair the like Sum of One thousand Pounds part of the said with the profits thereof as to my daughter.

Item. I give to my Daughter Mary Braxton my Negro Gurl called Sall Cooper to my daughter Sarah my negro Wench called Great Hannah and her child Kate to my son James my Negro Barbary and her Child Johnny to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny to each of them and their Heirs forever. . . .

Item. It is my will and Desire that all my Slaves and Stocks of all kinds (including my Horses) not before Disposed of be divided into five equal parcels three of which parcels I give and devise to my Son John Blair and his Heirs forever and the other two parcels to my Son James Blair and his Heirs forever. I have given the Greater proportion of my Slaves and Stocks to my Son John he being my Eldest Son and having already a family and several Children.

I have quoted from Blair’s will because I am constantly jarred by the fact that slaves were commonly bequeathed to family members. I am also distressed at the way they are referred to——the females as “wenches”——and how they are casually listed along with horses and other stock. Slaves were often given as wedding presents: when a slave called Oney Judge found out she was to be given by her mistress, Martha Washington, to her granddaughter Elizabeth Custis upon her wedding, Oney ran away. It was also common practice for a child to be given a slave of the same age as a “present,” perhaps for a birthday.

Source for the will is John Blair House Report, Block 22 Building 5 Lot 36 Originally entitled:
“John Blair House Colonial Lot 36 Block 22,” Mary A. Stephenson, 1963, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series—1493, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1990.

posted May 22nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne,Blair, Sr., John,Braxton, Mary Blair,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Virginia,Washington, Martha

“Dismantling History” —Titus Kaphar

My friend and colleague Louise North recently commended to my attention an American artist named TITUS KAPHAR. Indeed, upon examination, I find his work fascinating as it frequently deals with history—myth and misremembered—often focusing on the dark sides of events and those we revere as heroes. His paintings are frequently three dimensional or sculptural in nature; there are often layers which peeled away reveal previously hidden or unacknowledged facts or qualities.

In an article in the Art21 magazine dated Dec 2, 2015 called “Dismantling History: An Interview with Titus Kaphar with
Lindsey Davis,” Kaphar says:

I’ve come to realize that all reproduction, all depiction is fiction – it’s simply a question of to what degree. As much as we try to speak to the facts of a historical incident, we often alter those facts, sometimes drastically, through the retelling itself.

Understanding this has given me the freedom to manipulate, and change historical images in a way that recharges them for me. Knowing that artists throughout time who have attempted to retell history have always embraced, whether consciously or unconsciously, a degree of fiction, in order to achieve the sentiment of the facts is liberating.

Kaphar credits his art history education at Yale with fostering his belief that “obvious oversights in the canon were regularly understated, suppressed or ignored.” He set out to challenge the viewer, to probe beneath the surface, to gain new insights into the character of his subject. Two paintings strike me as especially provocative since their subjects have figured in this blog.

We sometimes forget that George Washington, the father of our country and acknowledged as its greatest president, was an active slaveholder. When he died there were 317 slaves at Mount Vernon, more than half of whom were dower slaves from his wife’s estate. Kaphar’s image reminds the viewer of this. The lower half of Washington’s face is masked by streamers attached by (real) rusted nails imprinted with names of slaves and excerpts from ads placed for their recovery. The work’s title “Absconded,” in all likelihood refers to the slave whose name features prominently, one Oney Judge, who in fact did escape and fled to New England. In spite of Washington’s efforts, she was never recovered. The Washingtons could not understand why slaves who were not mistreated would want to be free. See posts about Oney here, here, here, and here.

Another slave who also absconded was Washington’s chef, Hercules. Kaphar’s dramatic representation in tar and oil on canvas obscures Hercules’ face; he’s just another slave forgotten by history. See blog posts on Hercules here and here. Compare what is thought to be a portrait of Hercules by Gilbert Stuart with the depiction by Titus Kaphar.

“In the absence of adequate facts, our hearts rifle through memories, foraging satisfactory fictions.”

Read the entire interview with Kaphar HERE.

posted May 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Art,Hercules,Kaphar, Titus,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Washington, George

“I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old”

At the end of Black History month it seems appropriate to draw attention to the plight of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada or were taken there as slaves. In 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada was published. Compiled by Benjamin Drew, whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it included material Drew had gathered from former slaves. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. Here is the account of one Sophia Pooley who was a slave in Canada but eventually gained her freedom.

I was born in Fishkill, New York State, twelve miles from North River. My father’s name was Oliver Burthen, my mother’s Dinah.  I am now more than ninety years old. I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old, and brought to Canada; that was long before the American Revolution. There were hardly any white people in Canada then—nothing here but Indians and wild beasts. . . . I was a woman grown when the first governor of Canada came from England: that was Governor Simcoe.

My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long—it was dark there all the time. Then we came by land. I remember when we came to Genesee—there were Indian settlements there—Onondagas, Senecas, and Oneidas. . . . The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king [Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant, a leader within the Iroquois Confederacy and an ally of the British during the Revolutionary War]. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . . While I lived with old Brant we caught the deer. . . . We would let the hounds loose, and when we heard them bark we would run for the canoe—Peggy, and Mary, and Katy, Brant’s daughters and I. Brant’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, would wait on the shore to kill the deer when we fetched him in. I had a tomahawk, and would hit the deer on the head—then the squaws would take it by the horns and paddle ashore. The boys would bleed and skin the deer and take the meat to the house. . . .

Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with anything that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife. . . . .

At twelve years old, I was sold by Brant to an Englishman in Ancaster, for one hundred dollars—his name was Samuel Hatt, and I lived with him seven years: then the white people said I was free, and put me up to running away. He did not stop me—he said he could not take the law into his own hands. Then I lived in what is now Waterloo. I married Robert Pooley, a black man. He ran away with a white woman: he is dead. . . .

I am now unable to work, and am entirely dependent on others for subsistance: but I find plenty of people in the bush to help me a good deal.

Other narratives from Drew’s book can be read HERE. The image of Brant is by Ezra Ames.

posted February 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Pooley, Sophia,Slaves/slavery

Ona Judge “Never Caught . . . . “

I am looking forward to reading the first full-length nonfiction account of the escape of Ona Judge known as Oney, a dower slave belonging to Martha Washington, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (New York: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017). Ona was the daughter of Betty, a seamstress, and Andrew Judge, a white indentured tailor at Mount Vernon. See previous posts here, here, and here. Oney became a skilled seamstress and was taken by Martha to Philadelphia, the capital of the United States during Washington’s presidency, to be her personal maid. Oney escaped, fled to New Hampshire, and married a seaman Jack Staines. Washington went to great lengths to try to recover her. Without success.

Eric Foner, a historian whom I admire, has called the book “a fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom in the flawed republic he helped to found.”

Historic sites in recent years have introduced exhibitions and tours on the theme of slavery; Mount Vernon’s “Lives Bound Together” runs through September 2018.

posted February 20th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia,Slaves/slavery,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“I grew up like a neglected weed . . .”

It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:

When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.

Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.

I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.

You can read other narratives from Drew’s book HERE. The Tubman sculpture is by Jane DeDecker.

posted January 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Slaves/slavery,Tubman, Harriet

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