Guest Blogger: Carlina Green, “Not Included in the Photograph”: Staff Underrepresentation in the Archives and How We Must Combat It (Part Two)

This is the second part of a two-part post by Carlina Green ‘20.

You see, the Archives cannot preserve sources that are never created. And when sources are not preserved in the Archives, their subjects can be underrepresented in narratives that draw on those sources or left out of such narratives entirely.

The staff of the Archives are committed to combating these historical silences, and they work to uncover and preserve the stories of populations underrepresented in the collections they administer.[1] This includes the stories of Davidson employees. Two examples of their exemplary work profiling 19th– and 20th-century staff include Niara Webb’s blog post on “Dean of Janitors” Mr. Enoch Donaldson and Hannah Foltz’s post on Davidson’s security officer “Cop” Ed Linker. Drawing on both archival materials and public records, Webb and Foltz try to piece together portraits of these historical actors about whom little has been preserved.

A photo of Enoch Donaldson standing in front of a building.
Photograph of Mr. Enoch Donaldson.

However, as Cottle mentioned, the content of posts dedicated to these past staff is limited to their work experiences, as that is the main focus of preserved, available sources. Furthermore, the Archives face a paucity of sources about the lives of current Davidson employees.[2]

One solution? Creating more of these sources by collaborating with staff who want to share their stories.[3] Students, consider interviewing interested college staff for your theses, capstone projects, or summer research. Faculty, please integrate staff history projects into your courses and into your own research. And compensate staff for their interview time; take advantage of research grants available for faculty, for students, and for faculty-student collaborations.

A portion of the College’s Statement of Purpose reads, “Davidson holds a priceless heritage bequeathed by those who have dedicated their lives and their possessions for its welfare.”[4] Part of honoring staff, who dedicate so much to this campus and its students, is valuing their life stories and memories. [5] They who offer so much to the College must be preserved in its history. So, let’s fight the silences; let’s create the sources that preserve their words and their legacies.


[1] One place this commitment is visible is in their documentary Always Part of the Fabric.

[2] Two examples of sources about current staff they receive consistently are speeches delivered on Employee Appreciation Day and winner lists for annual grants and awards like the Spirit of Davidson.

[3] For those concerned about protecting staff identities, remember that interviews donated to the archives can remain closed for a period of time (such as 50 years), or they can be anonymous.

[4] Some were forced to dedicate their lives to Davidson’s welfare, such as Susan, a young girl enslaved by former College President Rev. Drury Lacy.

[5] Today, many may choose to work at Davidson, but have little choice but to work long hours at salaries a few dollars above minimum wage to support their families.

Guest Blogger: Tracey Hagan on “The Ladies Missionary Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Written by Tracey Hagan, a student-athlete senior psychology major from Ridgefield, CT. Student in History 306: Women and Gender in US History from to 1870.  

Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC) began as a small congregation of six women, two male elders, Robert Hall Morrison as the leader, and fifteen Davidson students in 1837.1 As the Church grew, it became more than just a place for worship. The Church developed into a social institution for its members, specifically for the women of the church.  

The Ladies Missionary Society Constitution was created in 1885. In its first year, Mrs. Dupuy was nominated president, Mrs. Knox was vice president, and Mrs. Vinson was secretary. The constitution contains a preamble and twelve articles. The articles provide the details about what was to happen at each meeting of the society. According to the constitution, they were to meet at a minimum on a monthly basis to discuss selected articles about other missionary works in America, Asia, and Europe or Africa. Generally, the meetings consisted of attendance, reading, singing, general business discussion, and the president’s appointment of the readers for the next meeting.  

First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885. Establishes the name and officer positions of the society.
First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885.

This three-page constitution alone shows that the white women of Davidson in 1885 had a much more hands on role in DCPC than what was expected from the Presbyterian Church norms of that era. Women’s roles in the Presbyterian Church in general were limited to leading Sunday schools, attracting new members, running women’s prayer meetings and church organizations, furnishing the church and raising her own family.2 Women were not to be active members in the church, or hold any leadership positions.3 Despite the General Assembly’s restrictions on women’s roles within the church, the Davidson women formed this society.  

They wrote the constitution and ran this entire group on their own. In this way, this society gave them a position of power outside of the traditional roles and domestic sphere to which the Church and societal traditions confined them. The society also served as a form of group education. The members were essentially given homework assignments to learn about other missionary works across the country, and across continents. In this way, this society served to empower its members. It is important to note that not all the women of the town were members. As outlined article 8 in the constitution, members were strongly encouraged to give monthly donations to the society. This monetary element of the society may have made it so only affluent white women in Davidson could be members. While this society certainly gave white women in Davidson some more power in their lives, it did not extend this opportunity to all the women of the town.  

Works Cited:

[1] Beaty, Mary D. A History of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church . Davidson College Presbyterian Church, n.d.

[2] Boyd, Lois A. “Presbyterian Ministers’ Wives—A Nineteenth-Century Portrait.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 1 (1981): 3-17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328155.

[3] Brackenridge, R. Douglas, and Lois A. Boyd. “United Presbyterian Policy on Women and the Church—an Historical Overview.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 3 (1981): 383-407. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328186.

Guest Blogger: Michael McClelland on “Slavery was Present at Davidson”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Michael is a history major at Davidson College who is taking a class entitled Women & Gender in US to 1870. He has taken an interest in slavery in the region especially with how enslaved women experienced the institution.

As much as we may want to deny it, the institution of slavery existed here at Davidson and the surrounding areas. North Carolina sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, so it should not be the biggest surprise that slavery existed in the area. While the college itself did not own slaves, many plantations in the immediate area, as well as college presidents and trustees, owned slaves.  

In digging through the archives here at Davidson College, I stumbled across a rather interesting document from the Brevard Plantation which was only a few miles from the college. A man named Franklin Brevard McDowell, a local plantation owner, wrote a biography of some of his slaves which was unique. After reading through his biographies, an enslaved woman named Cynthia stood out to me more than anyone else because McDowell referred to her as his ‘nurse’ when he was young. While we may understand ‘nurse’ as a caretaker, Cynthia was most likely McDowell’s wet nurse.  

Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell describing enslaved people on his family plantation. The contents is described in the paragraph, above.
Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell found in the Brevard Plantation file from manuscript collection DC058: Chalmers Davidson Plantation Files.

In a reading for our Women & Gender in US to 1870, we discussed how plantation owners exploited enslaved women for both their reproductive capabilities and their manual labor abilities.1 Wet nursing for historians proves difficult to find and identify because rarely plantations used the term ‘wet nurse’.2 Most of the time, ‘nurse’ referred to those who wet nursed. Since Davidson is in the South and was surrounded by many rather large plantations, it is conceivable that wet nursing occurred in the area. I only came across one instance of a ‘nurse,’ however, wet nursing could have been common in the Antebellum South. Since wet nursing was probably not the most talked about issue during the time period, we do not have much tangible proof of the institution. I stumbled across mine in a biography about a prominent slave owner in the region, but most historians see proof of wet nursing only in literate women’s diaries and letters.3  

Bibliography:

West, Emily and Knigh, R.J.. “Mothers’ Milk: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black and White Women in the Antebellum South.” The Journal of Southern History, (2017): 37-68. 

Guest Blogger: Marshall Bursis on “Davidson during Reconstruction”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Marshall Bursis is a senior political science major and history minor. He is from Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. 

Handwritten childhood reminiscences of Lucy Phillips Russell during reconstruction in Davidson, North Carolina. Contents of the letter is discussed in following paragraphs.
Letter written by Lucy P. Russell in 1920 about life in Davidson, NC immediately following the Civil War.

Davidson College is a fundamentally Southern institution. Its antebellum founding and setting within the former Confederacy intimately connect the college and the town to the social context of Southern life in the 19th century. This may seem like a truism, but it is an essential acknowledgement. If we hope to more fully understand the history of the school and the town, we must interrogate the parts of the Southern experience that we may wish to overlook—like the systems of slavery and Jim Crow. Included in this more complete history is how the town reconciled with the realities of Reconstruction.  

The writings of Lucy Phillips Russell, daughter of professor Charles Phillips, provide a description, albeit incomplete, of Davidson College during Reconstruction and the childhood of the local elite. Lucy Phillips moved to Davidson in 1869, where she lived until 1875. Her recollection of her childhood at Davidson includes stories about the workings of the college and the town and a subtle assessment of her own experience as a young girl navigating the norms of the post-war South.  

Her account makes clear that religion dominated the lives of the students and those in the town. She describes religion and the church as “the shining element of the college and village life.” Russell characterizes her childhood in Davidson as “singularly monotonous and centered around the church.” Furthermore, her recollection of a single-mother living in the town is especially compelling. The exact source of the estrangement between the mother and father is unclear, but she implies that he abandoned her. Writing from 1920, Russell decries the “medieval times” that trapped this woman and made her miserable. “A modern woman” she writes, “would fly to a divorce court and make a joke of the whole situation.” It is clear that divorce, even for legitimate reasons like prolonged abandonment, were socially unacceptable in the Davidson of the 1870s. Russell’s characterization of this woman’s struggle indicates the significant transformation in marriage norms over less than fifty years.  

However, despite the source’s usefulness at examining the religiosity of the community and the town generally, it only tacitly acknowledges the broader context of Reconstruction. Russell remembers that during her childhood “every body was poor, because the whole South was.” Russell, however, makes no recognition of the source of this widespread condition—the destruction of war and the emancipation of slaves that previously provided incalculable amounts of free labor. 

From this believed universal poverty, Russell perceived her community as radically egalitarian, where “every body lived in charity with every body else, nurse each other in sickness, wept with each other in times of sorrow and death, enjoyed with each other when fortune smiled.” It is natural that Russell would hold nostalgia about her childhood, but her conception of an idyllic Davidson ignores the tension that remained in the South between the white community and newly freed blacks. Russell’s failure to adequately reckon with this troubled history mirrors our modern struggles with the problematic portions of our past.  

Bibliography:

Russell, Lucy Phillips. Letter, “Lucy P. Russell 1920 Letter,” 1920. http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/digital-collections/lucy-p-russell-letter-1920#Works.  

Guest Blogger: Anna Kilby on “Mary Lacy and The Need for Domestic Perfection”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Anna Kathryn Kilby is a sophomore potential Gender and Sexuality Studies and Political Science major at Davidson College. 

Mary Lacy, wife of Davidson College President Drury Lacy, took her job as First Lady of the college very seriously. In her letters to her stepdaughter, Bess, she writes of cooking the best food, wearing the best clothes, and making sure people at the college are taken care of, including her own slaves. She also expresses her frustration at her female slaves when they grow ill but doesn’t address their work in the home directly. Mary Lacy seems to be striving for domestic perfection, but how much of her efforts are hers, and how much effort belongs to her female slaves? 

Mary Lacy was Drury Lacy’s second wife. He served as president of Davidson College from 1855-1860, and, during this time, their family lived across from the college, where the Belk Visual Arts Center is now. Drury Lacy had children from his previous marriage, one of which was Elizabeth, or Bess, as Mary called her, whom Mary writes her letters to. Bess lived in Charlotte with her husband. Mary wrote her letters to Bess from 1856-1859 while her husband served as president1.  

Scan of the first page of a July 2, 1856 handwritten letter written by Mary Lacy to her step-daughter, Bess. She asks Bess about crops and food products.
Letter by Mary Lacy dated July 2, 1856. This letter is referenced in the following paragraph.

As First Lady of Davidson, Mary’s duties consisted of hosting guests of the college and making sure she was the perfect hostess. In her first letter from July 1856, she asks Bess about crops and food products, and then in the next letter she discusses dresses and blankets. In a December 1858 letter, Mary tells Bess of a purple scarf from New York that is “the exact shade of her bonnet strings” and tells Bess to send her furs if she won’t wear them. Throughout the letters, Mary often talks about both male and female guests staying with them. Mary’s quest to be the best housewife is evident. She clearly needs to look the part, act the part, and cook like the part. 

So much of Mary’s perfect image was due to her domestic enslaved women, a few of which she mentions in her letters. In a letter from August 1856, she writes about the inconvenience of enslaved woman “Aunt” Amy getting sick, and then expresses displeasure when another enslaved woman shows symptoms, claiming “Aunt” Maria was faking it to get time off from work. Mary calls Maria a “hard old case.” The state of these enslaved women is so frustrating to Mary because she needs them to upkeep her image. How could she possibly be the best first lady, host, and housewife without the help of her domestic bondwomen? She calls in doctors to help with Aunt Amy’s illness, but I assert that this is not out of compassion for Amy, but out of selfish concern. Without enslaved women like Aunt Amy and Aunt Maria, Mary’s image would deteriorate. These enslaved women shaped Mary’s identity, and got none of the credit. Readers can wonder which meals Mary actually cooked, which clothes she actually sewed, which guests she actually took care of, and which efforts were actually hers. 

Bibliography 

Admin, Davidson College HIS 306 Spring 2017. “Introduction.” The Mary Lacy Letters. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://his306sp17blog.rosestremlau.com/introduction/ 

Lacy, Mary. “Letters and Transcriptions.” The Mary Lacy Letters, Davidson College. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://his306sp17blog.rosestremlau.com/ 

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.