Wordless Wednesday: Mapping your support of Bill HR40 Study of Reparations

More than 500 people from 44 states (and a few other countries) have signed a petition telling Congress to Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations for slavery.  Thank you.  Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Maine, won't you sign too?

my push pin map of  states represented by signers of Coming to the Table’s petition telling Congress to pass HR40 to study reparations for slavery.

More than 500 people from 44 states (and a few other countries) have signed Coming to the Table’s petition telling Congress to Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations for slavery. Thank you!

Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Maine, won’t you sign too?

Motivational Monday: Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations

HR40Petition

Have you seen the June Atlantic Monthly cover article, The Case for Reparations?

I saw it over Memorial Day weekend while I was attending the National Gathering of Coming to the Table. This organization is composed of both descendants of slaveholders and the enslaved and aims to heal the historic harms of slavery.   It might sound hard to believe but, I was actually in my second reparations session of the weekend when I learned of the article.  (The Gathering facilitators polled participants beforehand to see what kind of subjects they’d want us to focus on during our weekend together.  Reparations was so popular, that our planning committee felt two “reparations” sessions were needed.)

I helped facilitate the first session and was inspired to hear the variety of forms reparations might take, in particular how my co-facilitator put the idea into action.  After connecting with descendants of the people her ancestors enslaved, she set up a scholarship fund to help support those descendants’ and others’ educations.

In the next session, my cousin pulled the Atlantic Monthly article from her bag.  The facilitators had already read it as had many of the other participants. As we went around the table talking about our own experiences of ancestors lost to lynchings, land lost to shady dealings, faith lost to the forced and unpaid labor of generations of people without recompense, all of us agreed that at the very least, Congress should pass bill HR40  to study reparations.

As I drove the six hours home from our conference site at Eastern Mennonite University campus in Harrisonburg, VA past rolling hills, pregnant pastures, grazing cows and horses, I felt inspired. I’d arrived at the conference feeling lackluster.  As a board member, I had participated in strategic planning sessions before the conference got started where we brainstormed ideas on how to partner with organizations that lined up with our missions and values while also getting the word out about our young organization. I couldn’t imagine how we would do this. But then, I could never have imagined being on any board or that an organization like Coming to the Table would even exist.  I ended up at Coming to the Table because I was researching my family’s history and came across descendants of the family that had enslaved my ancestors:

  • which led me to an article about the kin of slaves and masters, featuring my reparations co-facilitator of the education fund fame
  •  which led me to more researching and the cousin who pulled out the Atlantic Monthly article
  • which eloquently outlined that there is already an easy solution to looking at reparations in bill HR40
  • which lines up with CTTT’s missions and values.

Gotta love serendipity.

Thanks to everyone in the reparations groups and to all who came to Coming to the Table’s National Gathering for the inspiration of your individual stories. You motivated Coming to the Table to start a petition to urge Congress to pass HR40. Please sign it here.  A study of reparations is long overdue.

What has ancestral serendipity inspired you to do?

Motivational Monday: A Slave’s Story Makes History

 

When “12 Years A Slave” won an Oscar for best picture last night, it made history.  It is the first film directed by a black person to ever win the best picture Oscar in the Academy Award’s 86 year history.

When I told my 14 year-old this, she didn’t believe me.

“That’s ratchet,” she said, which means messed up.  That it took so long is messed up on the one hand, but hopeful on the other.  That Solomon Northup’s story would reach such prominence after almost being forgotten is hopeful, even if it took over 150 years.  That his story of enslavement has resonated with so many people and is recognized as American history, (not only black American) is also hopeful. That the actress, Lupita Nyong’o spoke so eloquently of the joy she is awarded based on the pain of the people she and the cast portrayed is also hopeful. That she was born on the same day as my 14 year-old who also wants to be an actress is just a bonus.

While no one has (yet :-) ) made a film about my family’s history, there is a book that touches on some of it.  “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom” by Herbert Gutman is a detailed portrait of the life of people once enslaved by the Stirling family (and other plantation owners) in Louisiana.   My third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton was enslaved by the Stirlings. While I haven’t found evidence of her referenced in its pages, Gutman’s book gives me a glimpse into how those in similar circumstances to Eliza lived before and after slavery.  Speaking of books, let me get back to writing mine – I need something to pitch to Hollywood!

Before I go, listen to what Solomon Northup’s third great-grandson had to say about the Academy Award-winning film based on his grandfather’s life and what he would say if he won an Oscar.

Motivational Monday: 12 Years A Slave


In preparation to see the film, Twelve Years a Slave, I decided to read the slave narrative on which it was based.  I first learned about slave narratives in college  and read several of these first person accounts of slavery in a course on African American history.  So essential to our American history, I tried to read as many as I could like Frederick Douglass’s and Harriet Jacobs’s. But never did I come across Solomon Northup’s amazing story that he tells in his autobiography.

I was awed by his full life as a free man in upstate New York , the deception that led to his enslavement and his years of bondage in Louisiana, the same place my ancestors were enslaved.  I’d never read a slave narrative that described so deftly the full of breadth of slavery  or the particulars of it in that deepest part of the south.  Northup’s  descriptions of what it takes to grow sugar and cotton, from planting to picking, felt almost as punishing as the beatings he endured. I felt I got a glimpse of what life may have been like for my own enslaved ancestors.

My third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and some of her children spent part of their lives enslaved in Attakapas now encompassing St. Mary and St. Martin parish in Louisiana.  In his book, Solomon Northup mentions his owner hiring him out for a job in St. Mary’s.  He speaks of joining other slaves for this job, two of whom are owned by Stewart.  According to an 1850 Federal Census slave schedule, my great, great-grandfather Col. W.R. Stuart (often mispelled Stewart) owned  59 slaves in West Baton Rouge, not terribly far away from St. Mary.  Incidentally, Stuart makes an appearance in the Mississippi slave narrative of a Nat Plummer who had been enslaved in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.     Interesting as well was that Solomon Northup’s first owner was a Baptist preacher name William Ford.   My great-grandfather, James Ford was also a preacher, but with the Colored Methodist Episcopal church. Born around 1860 in Mississippi, it’s possible that James Ford was born into slavery.   But I don’t know about my Ford roots before emancipation. I have a lot more digging to do to find where they lead. Researching black ancestry can be challenging and often times over the years, I’ve thrown in the towel temporarily. Moments like the rediscovery of Northup’s quintessentially American narrative, the prominence it is being given through Steve McQueen’s film, and the parallels between it and my own family’s history reinvigorate me.

Since I finished Solomon’s story, I’ve cracked open the “Ford” binder in my office and am rereading what I’ve gathered so far about my great-grandfather, James.  I’ve also done more digging into the people who owned Eliza and some of her children.  According to a newspaper ad that my great, great- grandmother Tempy Burton wrote to try and find her family, Dr. Robert C. Hilliard  owned her sisters Polly and Liberia. (Liberia was freed as a child). Just this weekend as 12 Years a Slave was premiering in select cities, I received a copy of Hilliard’s papers from the University of Texas at Austin.  Included was a list of slaves.  On it was the name Polly.

I can’t tell for sure if this is my second great grand auntie, Polly, but I certainly will keep trying to reclaim her.

Dr. Sue Eakin, the woman who was largely responsible for getting Northup’s story back into the literary cannon, dedicated about 70 years of scholarship to Northup and republishing his story.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take me that long to find more about Tempy’s family.

Check out Dr. Eakin’s website and blog with posts written by descendants of the people in 12 Years A Slave including Solomon Northup’s third great-grandson!

list of slaves from Robert C. Stirling papers archived at the University of Texas, Austin. On the last page, it says the slaves belonged to a Dr. W. E. Walker.  Perhaps this is Stirling's in-law - his wife's maiden name was Walker.

list of slaves from the Robert C. Hilliard papers archived at the University of Texas, Austin. On the last page, it says the slaves belonged to a Dr. W. E. Walker of Evergreen Plantation, St. Martin Parish. Perhaps this is Stirling’s in-law – his wife’s maiden name was Walker.

Surname Saturday: digging up the root of our Burton name

Allen Burton's estate listing his slaves, including a woman named Tempy (with name spelled Tempey).

1839 listing of the slaves in Allen Burton’s estate includes a woman named Tempy, like my great, great-grandmother.

Happy Summer!  Mine has been speeding by at a breakneck pace which is why it’s taken me until the dog days to post.   But I’m not complaining.  Amid driving kids to summer camp, packing and unpacking for family trips and trying to stay submerged in water to fight the heatwave in our state, the genealogy gods still managed to throw me a bone.

Right before we took our annual family vacation to Hilton Head in late June, I tried to follow up on some things in my research I’d been neglecting.  Namely, the Thomas Burton papers.

Thomas W. Burton and his wife Nancy lived in Yanceyville,  North Carolina, from about 1850 to 1908.  His collection of papers, archived at North Carolina State University at Chapel Hill, include correspondence between Burton and family members in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama as well as missives on everything from their health to the price of slaves. Since the people first documented as owning my great, great-grandmother were also from North Carolina, and she ended up in Mississippi with a possible tie to Alabama, I figured I should check out these papers, long shot or not.  I hoped they would help me discover  how my great, great grandmother Tempy Burton got her last name.

But instead, they bored me to tears.  Except for a few interesting exchanges from a relative to Mr. Burton, pestering him for never writing, some mentions of a slave, and how the Civil War was dragging ong, the collection was mostly receipts and ledgers. Worried that I might miss a clue pertaining to my family buried in the receipts,  I tried to drum up the courage to wade through the ledgers once more stored on my laptop.  As often happens, my ennui lured me to Google.  I typed “Burton, slave owners” and “Burton slaves” into the search engine, (so similar to the search words I used to find the picture of my family in the header above).  The search returned a bunch of links like the slave narratives of Annie Burton and a doctor, William Burton (whose mom’s name was Eliza like my third great grandmother).  There was also  a link for the Digital Library of American Slavery. Compiled by the Race and Slavery Petitions Project and libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, this digital collection encompasses 15,000 petitions  to Southern courts pertaining to enslaved people, their owners and free people of color in the slave owning states.  In one such petition a woman, “Tempey” is listed as Allen Burton’s slave.  (I’ve seen my great, great-grandmother’s name spelled with and without the “e”).  Among Burton’s other slaves listed were Polly, Nancy and Albert – the names of Tempy’s siblings. (Tempy had another sister, Liberia but she was freed as a child.)  Of the 50 or so other petitions I looked through on the database, this was the only one with a slave named Tempy.  The petition was made in 1839 to  Allen Burton’s estate in Alabama, two points of fact that intrigue me.  In the 1910 census Tempy lists Alabama as her father’s birth place. The filing year of the petition, 1839, was seven years before Hill Jones’ 1846 will where Tempy first shows up in a public document. I still have more work to do, but what if I’ve found the original owner of Tempy?

 

Happy Emancipation Day, 2013!

My grandmother, Louise Walton and our family's dog, Sheffy.

“On January 1, 1892, Miss Josephine Burton, Ocean Springs’ charming belle gave a very nice surprise party for her pastor, Rev. I. C. Rucker, assisted by Mrs. A.B. Stuart and Miss Violet Matthews.  A collection of $6.05 was taken, after which cake and lemonade were served.”

So, 119 years ago today, my great grandmother was throwing a party with her sister, Violet and her brother Alfred’s wife.  When I first read this notice in the personal section of the Southwestern Christian Advocate’s January 14, 1892 edition, I assumed it was a regular New Year’s Day party.  But after reading the next week’s issue, I noticed how another writer, Ada Smith of Sturgis, Mississippi, referred to January 1st as Emancipation Day.  During her church’s evening service, Ms. Smith stated that a professor read and explained the Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all slaves. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the historic document.

Since her mother and brother were born into slavery, I have a feeling that my great-grandmother, Josephine was celebrating the signing of that monumental document as much as she was the beginning of a new year and her beloved pastor. Josephine was also a devout Christian, her husband, James was a Methodist Episcopal minister, so perhaps the party was also an extension of Watch Night.

Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services, according to the United Methodist website. But Watch Night has a  special significance in in the African-American community dating back to the days of slavery.
At the end of the year, owners tallied their property and often sold slaves to pay debts, the website said. New Year’s Eve was often the last night a family of slaves would be together.  Then, when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863, slaves sat up the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.

Even though I grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church and went to church on New Year’s Eve with my parents, I never knew the history behind Watch Night connected to slavery.  I only learned of that part last night because some friends at Coming to the Table mentioned how they would be participating in Watch Night as well as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder why the slavery piece of the Watch Night tradition was never addressed in my AME congregation? Was it deliberate or simply never passed down from one generation to the next and, like a faulty link, broke the chain of this history?

This can easily happen.

I thought I knew all there was to know about my grandmother.  I lived just a few miles from her growing up and spent most summer days with her until I was 11.  She was like a second mother. So, I was shocked to learn several new things about her while she was visiting with me this holiday season – things that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for my new dog.

On the first night of Kwanzaa while eating dinner, Granny commented that our new dog was so big, he reminded her of the pony she had as a girl.  I never knew she had a pony.  It was a Shetland pony she said, which is funny since my dog’s name begins with the same “she” sound. Her pony was her transportation to school. She hated when she had to miss school because first off, she liked school and second, it usually meant she had to stay home and slaughter the pigs on her family’s farm.  She thought of them as pets, not food.  In solidarity with her condemned bovine friends,  she swore she’d never eat chitterlings the way her school pals did, but  eventually, she caved.  Indeed it was my grandmother who gave me my first (and last) taste of pig intestine.

I also never knew that my grandma could handle a gun.  She learned how to use a winchester rifle when she was about seven she said for hunting rabbits.  My grandma was a regular Laura Ingalls Wilder, just black and from Oklahoma.  Had my dog not cozied up to her during dinner, these details about my grandma’s first decade of life, the time she refers to most often now that she is nearing 100, would have been entirely lost.  And to think, I didn’t even want a new dog.

How are you celebrating Emancipation Day?

Sources: The Southwestern Christian Advocate, January 14, 1892 and January 21, 1892.

Follow Friday: Stirling Family Register of Slaves

I wonder if Princeton University will give me some kind of honorary degree for all of the hours I’ve been logging in their microfilm library.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been down there three times.  (No easy feat with two kids, boxes that still need unpacking from our move and the two hour long round trip drive).

But I had to do it.

Amongst the vast records archived at Princeton’s Firestone library is a microfilm copy of the The Stirling Family papers.  The Stirlings had at least three plantations in Attakapas, Louisiana which encompasses St. Martin and St. Mary parishes. They owned at least 100 slaves including my third great grandmother, Eliza Burton and some of her children.  I keep returning there in hopes of finding any mention of Eliza or her family.

On my last visit, looking through the last of the five microfilm devoted to their papers, I came to the best part of the documents – the Register of Slaves.  When I say best, I mean the part that holds the most promise.  Emotionally, this discovery is close to the the worst part of the papers.  The register shows that some of the slaves died as infants.  Almost none are listed with last names. But sometimes, both the mother and father of the child are listed. Reading the register is like walking through an emotional minefield.  One must proceed slowly and with caution.

But read I must. The Stirling’s meticulous record keeping of the births of their slaves could help me recover my ancestors.   While an Eliza is mentioned, as well as a Tempe, Eliza’s daughter, I don’t think they are my Eliza and Tempe.  The ages of these slaves would make them too young to be my people. But perhaps they’re your Eliza and Tempe. Once I figure out how to upload this 22 page file, you can check the register of slaves by clicking on the tab, “Enslaved People of Louisiana.” In the meanwhile, just shoot me an email if you want to look for your ancestors in the register and I’ll email you a copy.

I still have about a half a microfilm left to go so, after I catch my breath again from my own life and that of my ancestors, I’ll go back down to Princeton in hopes of reclaiming my people and maybe yours as well.

Treasure Chest Thursday: The man who met my enslaved ancestor

Peter Rene Monrose 1917-2011. He met my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton, when he was a little boy.

If ever I had a top 10 list of genealogy moments, speaking to Peter Monrose would be right up there along with finding the picture of my ancestors pictured in the header of this blog and the newspaper ad my great, great grandmother Tempy Burton wrote looking for her family whom she’d been separated from through slavery. When he was a little boy, Peter Monrose met Tempy Burton.    He said he didn’t remember much about Tempy except that she was very old  (probably nearing 100) and that he’d heard that her son had been lynched in the bayou near where she lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. In our brief telephone exchange, I felt like I’d reached out and touched my great, great-grandmother via his memories. From his distant recollection almost a century later, I was able to find a newspaper article that seems to corroborate the rumor of the lynching. While all knowledge about my ancestors is welcome, that discovery was bittersweet just like my connection to Peter Monrose.   His distant cousin Elizabeth McCauley Stuart owned  my great-great grandmother Tempy. We’re linked through slavery.

One of the things that has happened to me on this journey of researching my ancestors is that my idea of family has expanded. On the phone, he called my great, great-grandmother Aunt Tempy. Now, in grateful acknowledgement of the treasure of his shared stories, I can’t help but call him Uncle Peter.

He passed away in December. May he rest in peace.

Peter Rene Monrose 1917-2011

The photos are courtesy of Peter’s daughter, Renée Monrose.

Monumental Monday: Freedom’s Fortess National Park

Fort Monroe, Hampton, VA (photo from the National Parks Service)

Two weeks ago on November 1st, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA. a National monument. Fort Monroe is the site where slavery had it’s beginning and ending here in the U.S.

I learned about this historic event a week after it happened.   Thanks to an October snowstorm, I had no electricity, phone, Internet or cable service for eight days. I got a real taste of what it must have been like for our pre-19th century ancestors – reading by candlelight, keeping logs on the fire, and our entire family of four sleeping in the same bed to stay warm! But news of our newest national monument made my time in the dark seem like a blip on the radar. It took 150 years to bring this historic Fort to national attention so I guess I”m keeping in step by acknowledging the occasion two weeks after it happened. Better late than never.

As important a piece of our American History Fort Monroe is, I’d never heard of it until earlier this year when I read an excerpt of Adam Goodheart’s book, “1861″ in the New York Times magazine.  Goodheart wrote in detail of three slaves who came to the Fort seeking  freedom during the Civil War and Union General Benjamin Butler’s decision to keep them there by distinguishing them as contraband of war, instead of returning them to their owners as the Fugitive Slave Act required.  This opened the floodgates and thousands of slaves followed suit.  Butler would later  take over command of New Orleans.    My second great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart fought for the Confederates to  protect New Orleans unsuccessfully.  I wonder if he had a chance to see Butler?

As I read Goodheart’s  account, I immediately started planning my pilgrimage to the Fort appropriately called Freedom’s Fortress.  Even though I have yet to discover when my enslaved African ancestors arrived on American soil, or  which port they passed through, Fort Monroe symbolizes their arrival here and their place in American history.  It’s like Ellis Island and Plymouth Rock – a touchstone for my history.

As coincidence would have it, Goodheart heads the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. My Scottish American third great-grandfather,  William R. Stuart  graduated from there and went on to be a Maryland state senator. Some of his papers that describe his life as a merchant selling everything from wheat to slaves are archived at the college’s library. Tomorrow, I will speak to the college about my family’s history, from the senators to the slaves.

When Goodheart invited me, I googled the distance between Chestertown, Maryland (the site of Washington College) and Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.  I wanted to see if I’d have enough time to fit in my pilgrimage to Fort Monroe after I spoke at Washington College.  But it’s too far.  But someday, I do hope to visit both back to back, both monuments to two facets of my history.

Follow Friday: My Ancestors’ Civil War History

W.R. Stuart's Company Muster Roll for the Confederate Guards from footnote.com

As our country continues to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I’ve been trying to learn more about this national conflict.  So, I’ve been reading the New York Times’ Disunion blog as well as Adam Goodheart’s book, 1861 The Civil War Awakening.” The book’s description of  every day people as well as military heroes  made me realize I haven’t delved very far into my ancestors’ part in the Civil War.  My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton lived through this tumultuous time as a slave in New Orleans while my my great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart fought as a  Confederate to defend the Crescent City against Union forces.  I found a copy of the Colonel’s muster roll at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. over a year ago, but I’ve never been moved to learn more about his service than the little printed on the one-page document.  While he was fighting to uphold the Confederacy, Tempy was tending to her and the Colonel’s youngest child, Alfred who would have been around two years-old when his dad decided to fight with the Confederates. As much as I abhor the Colonel’s position as a slaveholder and his decision to fight to uphold their cause, reading Goodheart’s book made me curious about the battle that my great, great-grandfather fought in.

So, I pulled out the copy of his muster roll and gave it a closer look.   He signed up a year into the conflict and his service was short, from March 8 to April 30, 1862.  What made him decide to get involved in the conflict then? Why such a quick tour of duty? The note at the bottom of the muster roll says that Stuart was immediately transferred to Major General Mansfield Lovell “for local defense of the city of New Orleans and its approaches on March 8, 1862.”  With a little more digging at knowla.org, the online Encyclopedia of Louisiana, I soon realized that my great, great-grandfather had fought unsuccessfully to defend New Orleans against Union forces in a major battle that some historians believe lost the war for the Confederates. On May 1st, 1862, Maj. General Benjamin Butler arrived in New Orleans to begin the federal occupation of the town that would last through the reconstruction period.

I’m looking forward to learning more about what this time was like for my ancestors from resources like James McPherson’s  book The Negro’s Civil War and Charles Dufour’s The Night the War Was Lost.  There is quite a bit of material about this battle at the Louisiana State University’s library as well, but that will require a trip to their archives.  Meanwhile, I’m taking notes from  a3genealogy.com‘s Kathleen Brandt who has written a piece for AARP’s online site  on researching your Civil War ancestors.

Where else should I look to learn more about this battle and the long federal occupation of New Orleans that followed which would have affected both the Colonel and Tempy? Where are you looking to learn more about how this time affected your ancestors?

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