Early Davidson and a few intricate Familial Connections

Hello everyone! Andrés Paz ‘21, current JEC Fellow here. As the days get colder and we switch our attires to warmer ones, I figured it would not be a bad idea to talk about some of the early days of Davidson. Why not grab a warm drink and let me tell you a bit about how it looks to research about Davidson as part of the Archives, Special Collections and Community team? 

Before anything, it is relevant to say that some of the sources I touch upon depict racist, discriminatory, or violent language and/or actions. This content can be distressing. It is also helpful to acknowledge that the life of individuals and communities in the past was as complex as we can feel ours to be now. For this reason, much of what I share will be incomplete, but hopefully encourages at least someone to keep reflecting on the meaning of living, working, studying, and just being around Davidson.

As we become increasingly interested in certain aspects of Davidson’s past, figuring out how to present a somewhat complete narrative of anything tends to be a hard task, particularly because official records and archives can, in subtle and overt ways, silence the lives and actions of certain groups: enslaved people, women, and children are important examples. As we grapple with such circumstances, it is too easy to write yet another narrative about powerful, influential white men. More important, however, is simply to abstain from grandiose stories of great men who had virtually no flaws. As I just said, we know life is more complex than that!

So, how can it look to do research about Davidson as part of the ASCC team? Let me answer that by (re)telling fragments of a story, which is perhaps more a compendium of facts and half-facts difficult to corroborate that can begin in many places… in the same way that your own research about a person, place, or event could do! 

In its early days, Davidson College opened its doors to young men that came mostly from North and South Carolina. Many of them, as in the case of Dr. James Hiram Houston, Jr. (class of 1845), often came from nearby plantations and the prominent families that ran them.  Only one mile north of campus, Houston came from Capt. James Houston’s “Mt. Mourne.” The Houston house (today known as the George Houston House) is also close to Rufus Reid’s own “Mt. Mourne Plantation” and George W. Stinson’s (Davidson trustee 1842-47) “Woodlawn.” These three 19th century buildings are all in the National Register of Historic Places.* Incidentally, they are also located in an area that was once the land-grant property of Alexander Osborne and later his son Adlai Osborne, an area or plantation that was known as “Belmont.” 

“George Houston House” – Preservation North Carolina Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005 (PNC slides), Preservation North Carolina

According to the 1800 Iredell Tax List, “Bellmont” was then valued at $1,800, the Houston’s place at $700, and Ephraim Davidson’s at $550. These were the highest valued properties in lower Iredell. Many decades later, the 1860 Iredell County Slave Schedule still recorded these families among the most prominent slaveholders: Isabella Reid (Rufus Reid’s widow) registered the possession of 62 enslaved persons; James Smith Byers (George W. Stinson’s twice father-in-law) registered 54; George W. Stinson himself reportedly had 43 enslaved people at “Woodlawn”; George F. Davidson (Ephraim Davidson’s son, and you guessed correctly: also J. H. Houston’s guardian while a student at Davidson College) registered 50; William Lee Davidson II also appeared in the records with 26. 

J. H. Houston’s familial connections did not only grant him much economic and social power in the area, but were in fact, fundamental to the history of Davidson College in one way or another.  He was part of Davidson’s Board of Trustees from 1850 to 1856. Observing important sessions as secretary to the board, his name appears, for example, in the minutes of meetings held to accept and manage Maxwell Chamber’s donations to the College. His mother was Sarah Davidson Kerr, whose second husband (they married in 1850) happened to be her cousin William Lee Davidson II, a Davidson trustee from 1836 to 1853. According to the Presbytery Minutes, he sold the initial 469 acres for $1,521 to the institution that would bear his father’s name. Additionally, you might find it interesting that this sale consisted of two tracts, a 269 acre tract referred to as the “Jetton” tract, and a 200 acre tract known as the “Kerr” or “Lynn” tract. Before belonging to W. L. Davidson II, the latter piece of land was in the hands of Alfred D. Kerr, Houston’s uncle. 

Both W. L. Davidson II and A. D. Kerr appear prominently as “grantors” and “grantees” in the Iredell County “Slave Deeds,” which are property deeds such as bills of sale, deeds of trust, divisions of property that are registered with county courts and that contain information about enslaved individuals (see: People Not Property project).  In 1847, for instance, 5 adults named Jim, Mary, John, Amelia, and Caroline, as well as an unnamed child, were bought for $2,375 by W. L. Davidson II, A. D. Kerr, and George F. Davidson (who was also a UNC trustee 1838-1868).[i] In comparison to the great majority of other records, this one stands out for the relatively high amount it represented and the fact that there were 3 different grantees. Could the amount be a hint of the types of skills these 6 people had or the work they would be forced to do? It is also possible that they travelled with W. L. Davidson and Sarah Kerr when they moved to Alabama before 1850. 

Iredell County, North Carolina Register of Deeds – Book X, p. 463.

In 1826, when J. H. Houston’s father died, and with A. D. Kerr as executor, 8 children with the names of Sarah, Betty, Lucy, Phebe, Simon, Debby, Bill, and Molly were all granted to W. L. Davidson II for $10.[ii] Similarly, in 1835, Dick, Mary, Jackson, Jane, Isaac and Ibby, appear in the records as a gift from Alfred Kerr to his sister Sarah and George F. Davidson.[iii] These records tell us almost nothing but the names of these children, who surely had descendants of their own.

Despite the fact that our little fragmented story begins with Dr. J. H. Houston Jr., he fails to be the center of it. On the other hand, what appears to be central from this are the questions it raises about the connections between groups such as early trustees, students, nearby plantations, and the communities within and near Davidson. How was the geography of what we know as “Davidson” different? What type of connections did it foster?  Who was able to attend Davidson and in what capacity? Why was it overwhelmingly supported by wealthy slave owners? As our interest and knowledge about the early days of Davidson College increases, maybe similar questions can continue to be our best guide. 

Notes and References:

[i] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book X: 463.
[ii] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book M: 314.
[iii] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book R: 150.

*Many thanks to Andy Poore of Mooresville Public Library for access to relevant documents and his extensive knowledge of the area.

More resources:

JEC Fellow in the Archives!

Hello, everyone! I’m Andrés Paz, Davidson College class of 2021 and current Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Fellow in the Archives, Special Collections and Community (ASCC) department. This year I will be working with the Archives team (and many others!) to explore and advance our understanding of the racial history of Davidson College and its surroundings. This is the first of what I hope will be many posts.

Part of a cohort of researchers also at Duke, Furman, and Johnson C. Smith, the JEC Archives Fellow position is funded partially by the Duke Endowment. At Davidson, I have and will collaborate with the ASCC team to identify and process relevant collections, research materials, and create digital scholarship and learning resources to promote dialogue across the community.  Working with cohort, campus, and community partners, including the Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery, my efforts focus on researching and documenting Davidson’s complicated history with topics such as enslavement, race relations, and civil rights.

Andrés Paz

In the past two months, while acclimating to a new role, I’ve started to work on a few long term projects. Prioritizing accessibility and involvement with the community beyond college grounds, we have identified digital resources related to local history that could be improved. Currently, I am working on rebuilding ASCC’s Shared Stories site as an exhibit. This means going through many documents, photos, and oral histories, and even transcribing some. Another project which represents the bulk of my efforts is a genealogical and land ownership research project. looking at plantations that were located near campus in an attempt to uncover Davidson’s interactions with enslavers and enslavement. For this project, new and worthwhile research in the Local History and Archives of Mooresville Public Library is possible thanks to Andy Poore’s generosity and knowledge of local history. 

There is much else that happens in our department on a daily basis: reference requests, guest lectures, birthday cakes (had to mention it, thanks Sara!), and collaborations with other colleagues in the library (for example: take a look at our new International Student HIstory LibGuide), to mention a few things. As part of the Archives, Special Collections, and Community team, I am happy to connect with anyone interested in using or exploring our college’s archival resources! And more than anything, excited to work around kind and cool people!  

Andrés Paz

Email: anpazramirez@davison.edu

Office: E.H. Little Library, Room 235

Justice, Equality, Community Project Archivist: A 3 Year Retrospective

I was hired as the Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) Project Archivist as part of the campus-wide Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) grant initiative at Davidson College in August 2017. The 3.5 year JEC grant aimed to “reimagine humanities curricula through the lens of three ideas that cut across cultures, time, and disciplines: justice, equality, and community…to demonstrate the critical role of humanistic inquiry in public discourse, global problem-solving, engaged citizenship, and democratic leadership.”

To accomplish these lofty goals, the initiative included funding for research partnerships between faculty and students, a series of practitioner-in-residences, community-minded experiential learning projects, and archival collecting and digitization efforts centered on questions about race and religion in the greater-Davidson area. As the JEC Project Archivist, I was responsible for the following tasks in support of the grant’s archival component:

  • Identifying and digitizing JEC collections.
  • Integrating JEC materials into at least 5 new courses.
  • Expanding archival collections related to JEC.
  • Leading public programming about JEC materials, both on campus and in the larger community.
cover the coeducation edition of the davidson journal
Recently digitized special edition of the Davidson Journal celebrating 25 years of coeducation.

Let’s take a look at how we faired with these four goals and the work that remains. In the last three years, we have digitized:

Davidson College Magazine October 1908 page 50 of Volume 25 1908-1909. Quotes include "a store building is being built on Main street, and there is also a new meat market with cold-storage facilities."
Davidson College Magazine October 1908, page 50.

We incorporated these digitized materials into at least two dozen course sessions, outreach programs like “An Evening with…” and multiple presentations to local historical societies. The collections were also used to support some of the research efforts of the Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery. We then used the student work collections as examples when speaking to student activists and leaders about the importance of saving their records and establishing dialogues to help us learn how to more equitably and respectfully do that work through the JEC Student and Alumni Advisory Council.

Front page of the January 26, 1996 Black Student Coalition newsletter, "The Rainbow Revue."
Front page of the January 26, 1996 Black Student Coalition newsletter, “The Rainbow Revue.”

These class sessions and outreach initiatives led to several multi-year course collaborations that resulted in donations to the archives in some cases and high-profile projects in others. For example, the hard work of Dr. Jane Mangan’s HIS 259: Latinos in the United States course resulted in nearly two dozen oral history interviews documenting the Latinx experience of Davidson (now viewable, here). Another oft cited project is Disorienting Davidson, a multi-year student-led project that informed the senior thesis work of H.D. Mellin ’20.  Mellin utilized many of the collections later made digitally available by JEC grant funds over the course of several semesters for this groundbreaking student project. Their work also helped archivists identify highly sought-after collections that informed the digitization selection process.

While collaborations within the department and across teams have led to significant strides in terms of access to archival collections and course collaborations, much work remains in terms of community outreach and collections development around the issues of justice, equality, and community. In recognition of that need, the Justice, Equality, Community Archivist position was made permanent at Davidson College in March 2021.

To access the digitized collections mentioned in this blog post, please email archives@davidson.edu.

Related Posts:

Guest Blogger: Amaya Bradford, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Amaya Bradford

During the 1930s and 40s, the Federal Writers Project completed interviews with men and women who were formerly enslaved to tell their stories. This collection is called Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves. These interviews took place after slavery had been abolished, with many of these people being at young ages when they were set free. One particular woman was named Fannie Moore and was from Asheville, North Carolina. In her interview, she gives much insight into how enslaved women’s gender interacted with slavery in North Carolina, specifically around the Charlotte/Asheville area.

Moore mentions her mother frequently in her interview. It is revealed that her mother was fiercely protective over children as Moore states, “She stan’ up fo’ her chillun tho’. De ol’ overseeah he hate my mammy, case she fight him for beatin’ her chillun. Why she git more whuppins for dat den anythin’ else” (pg. 131). This depiction of Moore’s mother gives her the heroine title of Moore’s story, since she protects her children from physical punishment with her own body.

Similarly, a contract is created in 1867 that binds an enslaved woman, Vina, and her four to Margaret Torrance at Cedar Grove Plantation for two years of labor, in exchange for food and clothing. This is another example of enslaved women putting their children above themselves and using different methods to protect them. In this example, Vina is protecting her children from starvation and the weather, instead of explicit physical punishment, even though they were more than likely at risk for such.

Image of two pages of text from "Plantation World Around Davidson." The right page features a two story brick home, also known as "Cedar Grove."
Image of pages 70 and 71 from former College Archivist’s, Dr. Chalmers Davidson, “Plantation World Around Davidson.” Cedar Grove Plantation is pictured, here.

The interview with Fannie Moore and Vina’s contract reveals that enslaved women in North Carolina commonly used their bodies to protect their children. They ensued their roles as mothers, during a time when enslaved women were stripped of their maternity, with is also an act of resistance against the institution of slavery.

Since their bodies were constantly used as shields, they were the most subject to abuse. Going back to Moore’s interview, she also describes a woman named Aunt Cheney, who had light skinned children by the sexual assault of a white man, get sold separate from her children since she was a “breed woman”, and was frequently whipped by her abuser. While Aunt Cheney did not explicitly receive punishment to protect her children, her body was still used as an area of violence.  All these women were subject to physical violence by their enslavers, with the connection to their reproductive rights and maternity. Enslaved women in North Carolina had a lack of control over their reproductive choices because of sexual violence and lack of agency, but commonly, the children they had were fiercely protected with the continual use of their bodies.

Bibliography

Work Projects Administration. “SLAVE NARRATIVES.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Slave Narratives, North Carolina, Part 2, (A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves), by Work Projects Administration., www.gutenberg.org/files/31219/31219-h/31219-h.htm#Page_127.

“Vina’s Contract.” Torrance and Banks Family Papers, digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16033coll14/id/11.

Guest Blogger: Ashley Ip, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“The Other Perspective”

written by Ashley Ip

History is made up of various stories told from different aspects and in some cases, said stories get distorted over time. It is the duty of historians to analyze who is telling these stories and who is left out in order to paint a full picture. Black women are often left out of the discussion when discussing slavery in the South. This can be attributed to the lack of sources and primary documents that focus on the role that Black women played during slavery. Archival research is important because it gives voice to those who are often left out in the retelling of history. These documents are vital to the research of Black women because it provides historians with a perspective that is often overlooked.

The article “More Slavery at the South” is a transcribed interview with an anonymous African American woman. This source was actually written by a reporter for The Independent. This African American woman is a nurse and goes into detail about the hardships she encounters as a Negro nurse in the South. Although this source was published after slavery was abolished in the United States, this document gives a first-hand look into Jim Crow laws and the way it affected daily life for Black women in the south.

This nurse goes into detail about the demands of her job by describing herself as the “slave, body and soul of [the] family.” She backs up this claim by explaining that she works “sunrise to sunrise, every day in the week” and thus, “[doesn’t] know what it is to go to church; [doesn’t] know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment of anything of the kind.” She lives a life that is controlled by the family who she works for. From “watering the lawn with the garden house, sweeping the sidewalk, mopping the porch and halls, helping the cook, darning stockings of putting the three children to bed, she must “tamely submit and answer when called.”

Snapshot of the landing page A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.
Landing page for A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.

Not only were the work conditions horrendous, the wage is a “pitiful sum of ten dollars a month.” She explains how she struggles to get by because she has to pay house rent, feed and clothe not only herself but for her three children. She understands that nothing will be done to increase her wage because she means to the white family she works for, she is easily replaceable. If she were to quit, she understands “there would be hundreds of other negros right on the spot ready to take their places and do the same work, or more for the low wages that had been refused.” Thus, she must settle to work for less than nothing.

She also very eloquently explains how she must always present herself within the relationship of master and servant as she recalls her experiences on railroad trains and street cars. As long as she is with the white children and explains to white men when they ask that she is their servant, she will not be questioned when she sits in the white man’s coach. However, as soon as she doesn’t present within this relationship, she is subjected to the “colored people’s coach” section of the railroad.

Lastly, this nurse touches on something that is often very overlooked within the Black women experience – the sexual mistreatment and abuse they were forced to endure from their male employers. She adamantly claims that this is by far the worst part of her experience and that white men are always able to get away with their misconduct. When she reported to her husband that her madam’s husband tried to kiss her, her husband confronted him and was slapped and arrested. The police judge fined her husband $25 and the white man denied the charge. The judge looked up and said “The court will never take the word of a nigger against the word of a white man.” All white men are able to take their “undue liberties with their colored female servants.” This nurse emphasizes the need of research on Black women. By ignoring Black women’s experiences, historians unintentionally excuse white mens sexual abuse.

Archival research into Black women is vital to understanding the impact of slavery in the United States. By failing to incorporate Black women in scholarly discussions and conversations, a full picture cannot be painted.

Source:

A Negro Nurse, More Slavery at the South. From The Independent, 72 (Jan. 25, 1912): 196-200. New York: Published for the proprietors, 1912.https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/negnurse/negnurse.html

Guest Blogger: Kaitlin Barkley, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Kaitlin Barkley

Archives tell a story through its pictures, diary entries, posters, and assortment of documents. Each curated source, like a puzzle piece, placed together to create a portrait of the past… but often the picture is incomplete. Like a puzzle with missing pieces, the archives often miss important narratives from voices that were marginalized or oppressed at the time. Therefore, although the archives tell a story, the story comes full of biases and half-truths. As an audience knowing this, what do you do with these stories? How do you look at them without falling into its inevitable trap?

 

Saidiya Hartman in her article “Venus in Two Acts” suggests that the archives, especially those that curate materials on slavery, are inherently violent because of the ways they continue systems of power and oppression. The biggest example of this is the lack, and quite frankly erasure, of enslaved and free women’s voices in the archives. More times than not, there are endless piles of diaries, documents, and pictures of men of varying statuses, occupations and ages. And is compared to the few token materials archives have about women. This stark difference shows the importance placed of the lives and voices of men. Regardless, Hartman suggest that one solution to this inevitable trap is narratives found outside of the archives because they often help supplement the gaps within its archival stories especially about women. Additionally, simply understanding the gaps and limitation of the archives.

 

Hartman’s words stuck with me as I searched through the archives on slavery in North Carolina, curated by different institutions around the country. To be frank, I wasn’t surprised by how difficult it was even to find materials about the home lives of women. Even when using words that stereotypically denoted occupations and social position for women, I only found materials written or about men. Nevertheless, I found two sources that I thought paired well together because of their contrasting content.

 

The first source was a poster advertising the start of the Mecklenburg Female College. The poster was created by the college in 1867 illustrating the college’s main building, the cost per semester for amenities, and a short paragraph about the purpose and benefits of the college. In the paragraph, the college boasted about being a qualified and “devoted to female education”. This advertisement is contrasted by a correspondence I found between Mary Gibson and her brother Robert Gibson, a Davidson College Board of Trustee. In the letter, she writes to her brother asking him to make a confederate bond so that she can have access to her money in order to purchase two enslaved women.

 

Scanned page of handwritten text by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863. In the document, Mary complains about how the Civil War has made it difficult to find slave labor.

First of two pages written by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863.

 

Both documents are connected to the lives of white women in North Carolina during slavery. The first, about Mecklenburg Female College, is implicitly connected to slavery. It causes us, as an audience, to consider how these young women’s education is being paid for. The latter source, is explicitly connected to enslavement. Yet, both sources help establishes a fuller narrative about the impact of slavery on womanhood in North Carolina.

 

These two materials are only three years apart…I am left wondering in those three years how many other stories, tied to archival sources, remain undiscovered.



Guest Blogger: Bry Reed, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Examining The Politics of The Archive”

written by Bry Reed

There are a few things you prepare for when going on a Spring Break trip: the lines at the airport, the long flight, the sunshine. When going on a Spring Trip to Barbados, however, to study the legacies of women and slavery on the island, you prepare yourself for a few additional things. Beyond the sunshine, I prepared myself to delve deeply into the brilliance of Bajan archival history. Before leaving Barbados, I would start to question the politics of archives themselves as institutions for their role in accessing information.

Several students gather around a plaque in a large field marking the cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados.
Students in the AFR 329 course visit the largest known cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados. The enslaved woman at Newton Plantation who practiced “obeah” is buried, here.


In visiting The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I quickly realized that archival work is not a small feat. It is an expansive task of displaying the depth, wealth, and expansiveness of history. All the while connecting materials to an abundance of lived experiences, lineages, and legacies. While detailing the religious history of enslaved Black communities alongside white enslavers, the museum featured a red and orange gemstone recovered from Newton Plantation. The museum’s description of this stone explains that it allegedly belonged to a powerful enslaved woman at Newton who practiced “obeah” (a word synonymous with hoodoo).

The large stone intrigued me for its archival value and religious significance. I admired the choice by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to acquire and display the object in the core exhibit. It is important that we as scholars recognize that the choices on acquiring materials and displaying them happen intentionally. It takes money, work, and dedication to shape history.

The presence of the stone in the Bajan national archive adds a mark of institutional legitimacy often not afforded to African and Caribbean religious practices. These modes of religious expressions suffer severe demonization across the African Diaspora that renders them “illegitimate”. The choice to display the obeah stone publicly combats silencing in the archive that stems from anti-Blackness and ongoing colonization of academic spaces. More broadly, making space to explore the role of obeah via the archives creates avenues for Black feminist scholars, like myself, to draw broader connections across disciplines and borders.

It is my hope that scholars interrogate the politics of the archives they explore. Who is represented within them? Who is silenced? Who is put on display? In answering these questions, we reconcile with the larger questions about access, silence, and colonization within the institution of archives themselves.

Guest Blogger: Uyen Nguyen, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Enslaved Female Representation in Slave Advertisement During the Antebellum period (1784-1860)”

written by Uyen Nguyen

Slavery was the main economic and political force that shaped the culture and social life of North Carolina. The treatment of enslaved 1 people worsened due to the whites’ fear of abolition. Under increasing brutality and violence of Black Codes, many enslaved individuals in the South attempted to run away to the North with the hope to gain manumission. Enslavers suffered a massive economic loss when their slaves 2 ran away. In order to have their “property” returned, they hired slave catchers and disseminated advertisements rewarding individuals who could find their runaway slaves.

Screenshot of the homepage for the Introduction to the North Carolina Slave Runaway Advertisements database, "A brief history of slavery in North Carolina."
Introduction to the North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements database, “A brief history of slavery in North Carolina.” The organization of this database is led by UNCG and NC A&T University.

While enslaved women were less likely to run away than men due to familial commitments and geographic limitations, they were more likely to get caught because there were more advertisements reporting them as running away. Besides serving as a common tool to find their runaway slaves, 3 slave runaway advertisements were disseminated by white people as propaganda to further criminalize the resistance of enslaved people in means of legal and moral justifications. Furthermore, the representation of women in these ads perpetuated the inferiorization of enslaved women and their bodies.

In a runaway slave advertisement created by John McCord on the 23rd of August, 1838, an enslaved women named Lucy disappeared during her shift at another plantation. The ad 4 describes Lucy as “about 25 years of age, very black, and about five feet high and slender.” Like 5 features of other runaway slave advertisements, the color of this enslaved women, as well as her “immoral act,” were mentioned.

In the ad, her owner accuses her of stealing a cotton frock and taking the clothes with her during the escape. With the use of language such as “very black” and the inclusion of the enslaved women’s stealing, this ad further perpetuates the inferiority of enslaved women based on their skin color and how their enslavers have the legal and moral rights to have her returned. In another runaway ad, enslaver Samuel Sugg reported an enslaved woman named Sylvia on December 10, 1824, who escaped his plantation in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

She was 35 years old, and the ad describes her as “very black, low set and chunkey 6 made.” Sugg suspected that she was passing as a free woman and would reward any person that “will take her up and lodge her in jail.” Indeed, by giving any person a right to confine Sylvia, 7 her owner conveys that her runway act and passing as a free woman are against the law and should be punished with imprisonment. In addition, she was described as sneaky and “rather a 8 down look when spoken to, and a very palavering tongue.” In this ad, we can see Sylvia’s whole existence is constructed through her owner’s description, and her character and moral compass were assassinated with dehumanizing languages. Her skin color and attributes were the only things that seemed significant about her, as they conveyed her criminality and mischievous behaviors. In the big picture, this type of representation reinforces the inferiorization of Black women’s bodies and how their body “was regarded by much of American society as no more than biddable property.” 9

In these ads, white owners give the rights to anyone to use violence against their slaves because of their immoral act of running away. It was no longer an individual effort to find the enslaved, but it became a societal effort to reclaim the runway enslaved who were the “property” that belonged to white people. Through the language used to describe runaway slaves, we can see the hyper-criminalization in which enslaved resistance was propagandized as immoral and illegal. The enslaved female representation in these ads was racist and dehumanizing and reinforced the notion that enslaved women’s worth is solely based on their body. By describing runaway enslaved as inferiors and criminals, white owners concealed their violence and brutal acts, which were the reasons for the enslaved to run away, and framed themselves as the losing parties.

Bibliography

Boyd, B. P. “$20 Reward.” Charlotte Journal. March 5, 1840.

Camp, Stephanie M. H. Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Gender and American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Sugg, Samuel. “Ran Away.” Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser. May 27, 1825

Winer, Samantha. “A brief history of slave in North Carolina.” N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisement. Accessed April 19, 2019. http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/history/collection/RAS.

Footnotes

1 Samantha Winer, “A brief history of slave in North Carolina,” N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisement, accessed April 19,2019. http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/history/collection/RAS 2 Ibid. 3 Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Gender and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004, Accessed April 19, 2019. 4 B. P. Boyd, “$20 Reward,” Charlotte Journal, March 5, 1840. 5 Ibid. 6 Samuel Sugg, “Ran Away,” Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser, May 27, 1825 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.

9 Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Gender and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004, Accessed April 19, 2019.

Guest Blogger: Salome Araya, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Nancy Midgett v. Willoughby McBryde”

written by Salome Araya

In December 1855, Nancy Midgett, a white woman living in North Carolina, filed a case in the Supreme Court against William McBryde. Midgett appealed to the courts for full custody of her two children who were described as being “mulatto”, and “begotten by a negro father”. During this time, the law stated that only “legitimate children of free negroes” must serve an apprenticeship alongside their parents. However, the case with Midgett could not apply this law to the case because she was a white woman, who was claiming black children. This case exemplifies what motherhood and family structures served to the system of slavery during the late 1800s in North Carolina.

Screenshot of Court case NANCY MIDGETT v. WILLOUGHBY McBRYDE found in "Slavery, Abolition, and Justice."
Court case found in “Slavery, Abolition, and Justice,” made available through a library subscription with Adam Matthew: http://www.slavery.amdigital.co.uk/.

Agency in motherhood among white women differed tremendously compared to black women in slave societies. However, the barriers produced by a patriarchal system informed what mother’s roles looked like. According to Sarah Franklin, the patriarchy “illuminates the subordination of slave to slaveholder and the similarity of that subordination to the subordination of woman to man and child to adult” (2012, 2). Midgett appeals to the patriarchy, being an active participant in the institution of slavery. In this document, you will notice how Midgett used the reputation of her father to claim custody.

She “illuminated subordination” to her father to prove that she was still following the codes of slavery. This is significant because she did not use the law to try to argue that her children were “worthy” or “deserving” of freedom, despite that their mother was white. Whether or not she would continue to enslave her children is unclear, but it implies what Midgett could give as a mother. Being a mother to “mulatto” or light-skinned children, Midgett internalized slavery’s racism with the racialization of labor. Her children could not be trained to pass down the generational wealth of her family, thus they would have to continue to live as “apprentices” in her household.

Though this document emphasizes the differences in motherhood among white and black women, it also causes readers to question what motherhood looked like for Midgett after she won her case. How did she raise her children in her household? Who raised her children? Lastly, did her case appeal to white enslavers because she saw it as the only way to win? All of these questions reflect how understanding the history of primary sources does not occur in one instance. Using other court appeals and scholarly articles on motherhood and the roles of women in slavery can provide more context to Midgett’s story.

Bibliography:

Franklin, Sarah L. “Introduction: Patriarchy, Paternalism, and the Development of the Slave Society.” In Women and Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Cuba, 54:1–20. Boydell and Brewer, 2012. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x71ph.5.

North Carolina Supreme Court. “Transcripts – Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice.” Accessed April 19, 2019. http://www.slavery.amdigital.co.uk/Contents/Transcript.aspx?imageid=252707&searchmode=true&hit=first&pi=1&previous=0&prevpos=197658&vpath=searchresults&doc=197658.

Guest Blogger: Mariah Alvarado, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Mariah Alvarado

In her letters, Ann L. Bowen writes to her husband, who was away fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War and informs him about various aspects of his plantation. She tells him about taking the sugarcane to the mill, as well as her plans for the apples and rice at “the old place.”

Screenshot of Letter: Ann L. Bowen to Henry H. Bowen, Oct. 21, 1864. Found in the North Carolina Digital Collections.
Letter: Ann L. Bowen to Henry H. Bowen, Oct. 21, 1864. Found in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

Similar to Mrs. Bowen, Ann Wall Lowrie Alexander looked after her husband’s plantation while he was away. Her husband, John Brevard Alexander, was a Charlotte-based plantation owner and physician who was traveling during the times of these letters, 1861 to 1863, with the 37th regiment of the Confederate Army. In John’s 1861 letter to Ann, he tells her he has heard about two recent runaway enslaved men from his plantation and instructs her to tell someone named Billy, most likely an overseer, to give them each “50 lashes.” He warns Ann not to insult Billy in fear of him leaving and reminds her that she needs Billy on the plantation to handle the enslaved while he is away. In his 1863 letter, John instructs Ann to handle his local affairs in Charlotte. He also informs her that while traveling he met enslavers from other counties who were getting higher prices for their field workers. So, he instructs her to sell one of the enslaved for a higher price and decide whether to “invest the money in the land or cheaper negroes.”

These letters are testaments to the many roles white women had in maintaining the system of slavery. More often than not, white women who lived during this time were portrayed as innocent bystanders to the atrocities of slavery. They were painted as delicate, vulnerable, and in constant need of protection by white men. However, these letters demonstrate that white women, especially during the Civil War, made day to day decisions about crops and the enslaved, suggesting that they played significant roles in maintaining the slave system.

Although these letters highlight that white women were more involved in slavery than history perceives, they also shed light on white men’s power over their plantations even when they were not present. Ann Bowen’s letter to her husband shows that although she is the one currently making the decisions on the plantation, she is still not the most powerful. She must inform her husband about her decisions because ultimately, the final decision is his as the man and owner of the plantation and the enslaved. Similarly, John’s letters to his wife suggest he still had a hands-on role with the punishment of the enslaved and the goings-on of the plantation. Overall, John and Henry’s involvement with their plantations, despite their physical absence, highlights the position of wealthy white men as the most powerful during this era in history. They not only had complete control over the enslaved but over white women as well.

Bibliography

Bowen, Ann L. Letter: Ann L. Bowen to Henry H. Bowen, Oct. 26, 1864. Special presentation. From the North Carolina Digital Collections. Medium. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15012coll8/id/1846/rec/14 (accessed April 3, 2019).

John B. Alexander Papers, 1855-1911,
http://digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16033coll6.