Samba Saturday: Slavery History in Brazil

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My family in Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil.

Last night, my family and I explored Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. This part of the town is named for the whipping post where slaves were punished during colonial times. The post is visible on the far right of the above photo. I was an exchange student in Brazil in the 1980s and have observed how much parallel history my native and adopted countries share. Both the USA and Brazil were discovered around the same time, colonized by European powerhouses and used slavery to capitalize the rich American crops and natural resources.

The Africans enslaved in Brazil left an indelible mark on the country from the music and dancing of samba to feijoada stew. While the USA also has similar soul food, derived from slaves like beans and rice and gumbo, and a mardi gras in New Orleans similar to Brazil´s African- influenced Carnaval, our celebration of this culture is mostly regional. Brazil´s is national.

When we took this picture, I thought that it might seem weird that we were smiling at a place where slaves were whipped and punished. But Pelourinho  is now a very joyous place full of music, dancing, laughter and remembrance of Brazil´s full history.  That´s something to smile about.

Samba and feijoada say, “Brazil” to me.  What says, “America” to you?

Wordless Wednesday: 96 and Still Swinging!

My 96 year-old grandmother, Louise Walton, having a swing in my backyard on Memorial Day. Granny said that her favorite thing to do at her granddad's house in Oklahoma was hop on the swing he made for her and see if she could get her feet to touch the tree branches. It's nice that she can share these memories with us as well as the swinging itself.

Wordless Wednesday: A White House Welcome

The White House sent this welcome letter to my daughter when she was born, a pleasant surprise arranged by my father-in-law, Jerry Kurtti. I put it in her baby book along with her first picture and locks from her first hair cut, but the book went missing about a year ago. Thanks to our movers, today it was found. I'll take that as a good omen that in our new home, we'll be making more precious memories and rediscovering lost history.

Friend of Friends Friday: 20 Slaves of William R. Stuart

Manifest of the Pioneer, a ship that transported 20 slaves from Baltimore, MD to New Orleans, LA. The passengers were enslaved by my third great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.

Yesterday, while she was looking for something else, my cousin Monique found the above manifest on Ancestry.com.  It names 20 slaves aboard the Barque Pioneer transported from Baltimore to New Orleans and owned by our ancestor, Col. W.R. Stuart.  It was a surprise to find this document because we’d searched for slave manifests before and never found anything connecting with our family’s history.  (Just goes to show the importance of going back and retracing your steps.  New documents are being added to places like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org all of the time.)

But it was no surprise that the Colonel owned many slaves. In 1853, he placed an ad in a newspaper in order to sell them because he was dissolving his partnership in a Baton Rouge-based cotton plantation. (I suspect the passengers on this ship went to work on the Colonel’s plantation). That article was hard to swallow, but this manifest is heart wrenching.   The last passenger, a boy, 4’4″  tall, was only 11 years old, the same age as my oldest daughter.  No other passenger with the same last name is listed, so little Tom Iona was probably sold away from his family.  But the painful reality of this document is assuaged by its value to researchers. It gives both first and last names of the passengers as well as their  ages.  That’s a lot more information than normally provided about slaves.  Hopefully this information will help a fellow researcher connect with their ancestor.

Here are the names and ages of the slaves aboard the Pioneer on July 20, 1848:

Joseph Cedars, 23

Charles Smith, 21

Richmond Lewis, 29

Lewis Fisher, 20

Edward Henderson, 20

Carter Lewis, 27

Elija Parker, 30

Dennis Snowden, 20

Wyatt Tabor, 26

Samuel Walker, 28

Ezekiel Mathews, 35

Gabriel Bayler, 37

Frank Taylor, 28

Ephraim Jackson, 28

Nelson Holoway, 30

Alford Bensen, 20

Ruffin Baker, 28

John Gordy, 22

Robert Mitchell, 28

Tom Iona, 11

Follow Friday: Government Shutdown & Genealogy

The Great Hall at Ellis Island, where immigrants waited to be inspected before entering the USA. (photo courtesy of Desiree Kurtti)

Among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who would be affected if the government shuts down tonight for failure to pass a national budget are those that work at National Parks.

I didn’t realize that Ellis Island is operated by our National Park Service until I visited there in February as a chaperone for my daughter’s fifth grade class.  Growing up in New Jersey and living in New York as an adult, I couldn’t believe that February was my first trip to this historic site.  As a school kid, we took frequent field trips to the Statue of Liberty.  Ellis Island was only open on a limited basis from the mid 70s to 80s and after that, closed for a massive renovation- that’s when I would have taken a school trip there.  It reopened in the early 90s when I was living in New York City, but it just didn’t have much appeal to me probably because none of my ancestors entered the country through this famous portal.  My European ancestors have been in the US at least since the early 1700s.  My African ancestors were brought here in chains. But, I imagined my daughter might feel a personal connection to this historic site since her paternal ancestors immigrated here from Ireland and England, two countries that imported many of their citizens through Ellis Island.

Her paternal great, great-grandfather, Martin Quinn was born in England around 1869.  According to census reports, he immigrated to the US around 1886.  Ellis Island didn’t open until 1892. Before then, individual states, not the Federal government, regulated immigration into the US. So, Martin Quinn probably came through Castle Garden in the Battery, New York State’s immigration station from 1855 to 1890.  My daughter’s great-grandmother, Lucille Kurtti (nee Mulchay) was born in  Ireland around 1907.  She immigrated in 1926. It’s possible that her name was misspelled and we’ll have to check the passenger lists for variations.  But with or without a personal connection to the place, it was a stirring experience to walk through the Ellis Island Museum.

In the Great Hall, our class was given pretend physicals like the newly arrived of yore.  My daughter got through with no problem so she would have waited only three to five hours before being allowed onto American soil.  I didn’t fair as well.  I had some kind of terrible eye disease. Inspectors would have detected it when they flipped my eyelid over with a with a metal loop.  (Yikes!)  Highly contagious and untreatable (anyone with this disease went blind), I would have been sent right back to wherever I came from!

16,000 people a day visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island this time of year.  Even if the government does shut down, genealogists and history lovers can virtually visit by going to www.ellisisland.org.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: New Year gifts

My cousin, Monique made this pillow for me as a Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year's gift. It displays our ancestor Tempy Burton's 1891 newspaper ad, looking for her family whom she had been separated from by slavery.

During our New Year get together while the kids were busy playing Wii, Monique and I poured over the book "History of Queen Anne County" by Frederick Emory. It's full of information about our Stuart ancestors during their time in Chestertown, Maryland.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Dionne Ford

100 Stirling Family Slaves

After spending all day amongst friends to begin the new year, my family and I sat down at our dinner table to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa.  This African-American holiday  helps restore and root us in our African culture lost in the Middle Passage. It seemed fitting to end this restorative holiday and begin a new year by listing the names of about 100 slaves I came across while researching my family tree.  Hopefully by listing these names found in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at Louisiana State University, some family researcher will be connected with their ancestors.  All of the following people were enslaved to Lewis Stirling of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana and were listed in a mortgage as collateral. These names and any other of enslaved people I come across in Louisiana will be listed on the page, “Enslaved Communities of Louisiana.”

Family Tree Magazine Blog Nomination

Yesterday, Christmas showed up a little early and in my email.  That seems to be the way I get all of my best genealogy-related surprises.

First, a third cousin, once removed shows up in my ancestry.com email a year and a half ago and jump-starts my ancestry research with her common obsession and appreciation for all things “relative.”  A year later, a complete stranger emails said cousin and me information about a third great-grandmother we didn’t even know existed, helping us reclaim another generation of our family’s tree.  Then last night, a fellow geneablogger I haven’t “met” yet named Yvonne posted a comment on my blog, congratulating me on the nomination which then showed up in my email.

“What nomination?”  I wondered. Between my daughters’ swim practices and meets, Holiday Pageant rehearsals, PTA meetings, a book proposal that I’m writing, and Christmas shopping that mocks me from my ever-increasing list of things to do, I’m a little out of the loop.

Then I remembered. Last month,  my cousin, Monique sent me an email saying she’d nominated Finding Josephine for Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs.

Family.  Gotta love em!

And I love finding out whatever I can about them, discovering new members of my extended tribe, and sharing what I find and how I find it with all of you.

You can vote for Finding Josephine or any of the other hundred plus nominees at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ft40-2011voting.

Friend of Friend Friday: Slaves of Alexander Stirling

I found the above will in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at the Louisiana State University.  The Stirling family, wealthy Louisiana planters, owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton.  I’ve been scrolling through the microfilmed documents hoping that they will include some information about her.   The Stirlings kept receipts for everything  from purchases at their favorite New Orleans clothing store to  ferry trips across the bayou. So far, Eliza hasn’t turned up in their voluminous records but scores of other enslaved people have.  Here are slave names included in Alexander Stirling’s 1808 will:

Lucy, 15

Nan, 7

Old Kitty

Hercules

Tennance

Betsy, mulatto child of my negro woman Sarah

Lucy and Nan were to be left to Alexander’s daughter, Anne.  Old Kitty was to be freed upon Alexander’s death and Hercules and Tennance would be freed when Alexander’s son, John turned 21.  For “(his) own reasons,” Alexander puts the mulatto child, Betsy and her mother, Sarah under his son, Henry’s care. (Sarah could also be under her son John’s care if she wants, but her daughter, Betsey will have to be under John’s will).  I can’t help but wonder what that’s all about.  But more importantly, I can’t help but hope that this information can be helfpful to someone searching for their ancestors.

I’ll keep posting any slave names I come across as I go.

Wisdom Wednesday: Maya Angelou’s inspiration

This morning, I woke up feeling really blue and not just because of the weather.  I spent several hours in the library yesterday with my cousin, Monique pouring through the Stirling Family Papers. The Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and I hope to find some information about her and other ancestors among the vast collection of the Louisiana based family that owned her.  But wading through these reams of documents about the Stirling’s endless acres of land, the hundreds if not thousands of slaves they held in bondage to work their land, and a free person of color  who sold other blacks to the Stirlings is really bringing me down.   This morning I was feeling like why bother researching this stuff when it’s so depressing.

But then, I opened up the arts section of the New York Times, headline “SCHOMBURG CENTER IN HARLEM ACQUIRES MAYA ANGELOU ARCHIVE” and read this:

“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them.  During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything?  The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important.  It says: `I was here. I may be sold tomorrow.  But you know I was here.’” – Maya Angelou

I can’t do anything about the degradations of the past, but I can help protect that history and honor it by telling my family’s part in it.  Thanks Maya Angelou for donating your work so that future generations can learn from it and also for helping me today to keep on keeping on!

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