Treasure Chest Thursday: Family and National Treasures

My daughters and me in front of the National Archives, Washington, DC

It’s spring break for us so we decided to take a road trip to Washington, D.C. where I took my little treasures to see a national treasure, the National Archives.  We all were in awe of the Declaration of Independence, strained to see the faded writing on the Bill of Rights and quietly took in the Emancipation Proclamation.  No kids are allowed in the research center so thank goodness my husband sat with the girls while I printed out a few things at the archives’ library. (You can research just about anything there from your ancestor’s Civil War records to census documents). It’s the third time we’ve been to DC as a family but our country’s capital is so rife with history, it would take a week at least to visit all of its treasures.  We managed to fit in a trip to the National Aquarium as well in our two-day tour. I can’t wait for the next road trip. Whether we’re passing the driving time playing the family game where we try to stump each other with questions about our ancestors or exploring all the many facets of our nation’s history while walking around DC, we learn something new each time we visit.

The National Archives research entrance.

"Wench" – Stranger than fiction truth about slavery

Old sketch of Mount Clemens, Michigan where Temple and her daughter, Josephine visited in 1905

Just as I’m finishing up the 700-plus paged tome, The Hemingses of Monticello (only 200  more pages to go!), I’ve found another ancestor-related book to add to my research list.  This one is a début novel, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez about masters on vacation with their slave mistresses at a resort in free state Ohio.

In an interview on NPR today, Perkins-Valdez said she got the idea for her novel after reading about Tawawa, a real resort in Ohio that was a popular place for masters to relax with their mistress slaves.  WEB DuBois mentioned Tawawa in passing in a biography, she said.

I was as intrigued listening to her describe happening upon this hidden piece of history as I was when I stumbled on to the secret of my great great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and his slave mistress, my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton.

When the interviewer went  on to explain that Tawawa was near mineral water and people retreated to it for what they believed were its healing qualities, I almost stumbled across my own feet for real.  Temple and her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine also traveled to a town known for  its mineral waters, Mount Clemens,  Michigan in 1905.  The premise of Perkins-Valdez’s historical novel made me wonder if Temple had ever visited Mount Clemens or anywhere else with her master, the father of her 7 children, before he died in the late 1890s.

Masters and their slave mistresses vacationing together?  A slave having 7 children with her master even after being freed and living with him and his wife for the rest of their lives?

The truth is stranger than fiction.  I’m looking forward to both in the novel, Wench.

I’ve now come across two books that seem closely related to my family’s history.   What books best describe your family, current or in generations past?

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