Tag Archives: American history

New Year, New Project: Stronger Together – the Story of US

It’s a new year (Happy New Year too!) and this year Genealogy Adventures will be defined by a new focus on research. At this point, I have to give credit where credit is due. Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign slogan, Stronger Together, crystallized and galvanized the focus of a genealogy project that has been brewing for the past two years or so.

The central theme of the project focuses on how millions of Americans – regardless of melanin, religion, culture, or ethnicity – are related to one another. Even if you only have one ancestral colonial line, that’s enough to connect to millions of fellow countrymen and women.

05eurosettlement16th

Map of the early American colonies.  Image courtesy of www.trinityhistory.org

It’s not necessarily a project based on changing hearts and minds. It is designed to make Americans think, and learn about the earliest period of the American colonies.

Over a decade of research has results in a rather large and extensive family tree. It’s a tree that enables me to apply all of my marketing analytics experience in order to identify and understand patterns and trends. It’s like applying the basics of ‘big data’ to genealogy. So what is ‘big data’? Boiled right down, it’s a collection of data from traditional and digital sources, usually for a company, which represents a resource for streams of discovery and analysis. Companies collect data about their customers in order for forecasting / trending, and issue-related purposes. Put another way, large data sets can be analyzed in order to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

I started applying the same methodology to my genealogy about a year ago. It’s been a truly revelatory experience.

So what associations and patterns has my rather large family tree revealed?

Roughly 48% of my American ancestral African descended, European, and Native American lines converge in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

oldvamap

The Tidewater region of Virginia in the early colonial period. The project will initially focus on an area defined by Isle of Wight in the southeast, to Middlesex in the northeast, to Henrico (including Powhatan) to the northwest, down to Surry in the southwest. Image courtesy of virginiapioneers.net

It’s not surprising. The Tidewater region is one of the oldest parts of the Virginia colony. My lines converge there as early as 1607 with the founding of Jamestown. While I don’t have names, DNA test results for me and a myriad of distantly related cousins indicate there were people of Asian descent, Middle Eastern descent, and Jewish descent back in the mists of that early colonial period. These unnamed individuals DNA is part of our DNA. Virginia keeps cropping up as the most likely place this DNA entered into ours.

native-american-territories

Map showing different Native American territories in the eastern half of the United States in the colonial period.  My own genealogy includes the Powhatan, the Catawba, the Shawnee, and the Mahican people. Map courtesy of http://www.emersonkent.com Click for larger image

Another 48% of my American ancestral DNA converges in southern Pennsylvania: notably Chester, Berks, Delaware, and Lancaster Counties in southeast Maryland..

This 48% is roughly split evenly between three groups.  Two-thirds of these groups were European. The first third are Quakers from Scotland, Wales, and England.  The second is a mix of non-Quaker Scottish, Irish, and German ancestors. The final third of my early colonial period kin were Native American, African, and Jewish peoples. DNA tests strongly suggesting that relationships between these three colonial groups of people happened at a higher rate of frequency than even I could have imagined.  

The final 4% of my DNA in early colonial America can be found within the Puritans of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

Not unsurprisingly, as colonists moved from north to south, as well as westwards, they carried their DNA, connecting millions of Americans to one another. While I know that not all who carried their DNA into other parts of the US will have mixed DNA, I’d wager that a statistically significant number of these family lines carried an ethnically mixed ancestry. It’s something that I’m seeing in countless DNA results of my DNA matches. As I’ve already covered in 1667: The Year America was Divided by Race, colonial Americans who were not part of the governing elite didn’t attach importance to melanin levels. They worked, ate, and caroused together.  They also married and/or produced children together. Millions like me will be the children of those unions.

Let me not forget the Spanish and the African descended people who were in America along the southern part of the East Coast long before the arrival of the British. Exploring and occupying territory from Florida to Tennessee, they probably made a genetic contribution to the colonial DNA pool (see  Exploring North Carolina (the Spanish), The North Carolina History Project via http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/exploration-in-north-carolina-spanish).  This came as a bit of a revelation.  I had no idea the Spanish had made it as far north as Tennessee in their exploration of the continent.

So 2017 already sees me in the midst of some serious fundraising. An initial US$ 250K to get the ball rolling with an eye towards US$ 3M overall. A small army of professional genealogists, genetic genealogists, researchers, anthropologists, historians, two American research universities, a technology university, and the British National Archives doesn’t come cheap. Nor does an estimated 5,000 DNA testing kits.

Why so many DNA kits? Quite a number of colonial records have been lost through uprisings (e.g. Bacon’s Rebellion), war (i.e. the American Revolution and the American Civil War), fire, etc. DNA testing and triangulating DNA results is one route to restoring lost and forgotten colonial family branches to an American family tree. Testing more than one person per line will be an important step.  It covers what I refer to as ‘non paternity events’; in other words, the off-chance that somewhere along a familial line a man who is believed to be an ancestor’s father turns out not to be.  Hey, it happens. We’re just being realistic.

It’s also why we’re including the British National Archives.  It has an impressive archive of American colonial era documents: everything from land grants, to tax rolls, to probate, and court records.

Of course, my inner academic is already thinking about educational outreach, and learning materials, for middle and senior schools as well as universities.

That’s the backdrop to Stronger Together – The Story of US. I’m psyched to have the opportunity to share it with you.

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From Northampton County, NC to Roberts Settlement, Indiana: the hidden history of fpoc

Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages.  And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.

I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.

The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line.  However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.

The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.

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Finding Reuben Byrd: free person of color & an American Revolutionary War veteran

Updated 23 Sep 2016 with additional Bird/Byrd family groups

Reuben Byrd of Petersburg, Virginia and Orange County, North Carolina isn’t the first Colonial-era black ancestral family member I’ve found who served in the American Revolutionary War. However, he is the first black kinsman whose war records I’ve been able to access.

Finding those records was exhilarating, empowering, and bittersweet.

I’ve been researching four different Colonial-era Virginia Byrd families for quite a while in an effort to see if they were different branches of the same family, or unrelated families who shared the same surname. Just a note that this surname is also spelt Bird. However, I’m using Byrd, the variant most seem to have adopted. Each of these groups are my kinsmen and women via both of my parents’ ancestral lines in Virginia and the Carolinas.

  1. The first group of Byrds are the descendants of Col William Evelyn “The Immigrant” Byrd I and Maria Horsmanden. This family group (relations through a nexus of marriages with Carters, Braxtons, Baylors, and Claiborn(e)s, in Virginia’s Tidewater region) are my kin via my paternal Roane line. They resided at the very apex of Virginia society.
  2. The second group of Byrds are descendants of John Byrd and Margaret Dean of Augusta County – whose descendants were also resident in Wythe County and Grayson County in Virginia. This line is a combination of European, African and Native American. They are kinsmen via my paternal Sheffey line.
  3. The 3rd group of Byrds are descendants of a white (presumably English) indentured servant, Margaret Bird, and an unknown enslaved African man. Margaret’s story begins in York County. Her descendants would come to reside in Petersburg, Essex County, and Southampton County in Virginia – as well as Northampton County, Halifax County, and Orange County in North Carolina. Reuben is a descendant of this line. This line connects to my maternal Lassiters, Joseys, Outlands, Peel(e)s, and Smallwoods in the same North Carolina counties.
  4. The 4th group of Byrds were resident in Wythe County, Virginia. They were descendants of John Dennis Byrd and Senah Rachel Porter. It was previously assumed that Dennis and Senah were enslaved. This is an assumption that is now being reviewed and researched. This line of Byrds has connections via marriage  with Byrd Group #2 and also shows Native American results in their DNA analysis.
  5. The 5th group of Byrds were resident in Hillsborough, Virginia. Dr James Henry Byrd (a member of Byrd family group #2) married Alice Fravell Byrd of Hillsborough, Virginia. Alice was the daughter of John Henry Byrd I (of North Carolina and Indiana) and Rebekah Ann Hamilton White. Alice and a number of her siblings would settle in Hillsborough.
  6. There is a much smaller group of Byrds in Colonial Powhatan, Virginia. Again, a combination of European, African, and Native American. To-date, my research for this ends around 1715. They simply seem to disappear from all official records.

So back to Reuben.

Like all free people of color in Antebellum Virginia (including the Colonial period), Reuben was required to register with his local court house. These registration records are a goldmine. They provide crucial family and vital records information, such as place of birth and place of residence. They also provide descriptions of the individual who was registering. Without paintings or sketches to go by, these descriptions are, in so many cases, the only means to catching a glimpse into what an ancestor looked like.  In Reuben’s case, he was an Essex-County born head of a Petersburg household of 5 “other free” in 1810 [VA:121b]. He registered in Petersburg on 9 June 1810: a brown Mulatto man, five feet seven inches high, forty seven years old, born free in Essex County, a stone mason [Register of Free Negroes 1794-1819, no. 576]. He’s alternately cited as being a carpenter.  Either way, he was a skilled craftsman.

In the course of researching Reuben, I came across two petitions he made for a pensions due to his service in the American Revolutionary War. In summary, he applied for a pension in Powhatan County on 15 June 1820 at the age of fifty-six years. He testified that he enlisted in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and served in Captain James Gunn’s regiment of dragoons under the direct command of Lieutenant William Gray.

From what my research has uncovered, he was present at the scene of two pivotal Revolutionary War battles: The Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina (1780, see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kings_Mountain)

Map of the Battle of Kings Mountain, courtesy of http://www.campaign1776.org

Map of the Battle of Kings Mountain, courtesy of http://www.campaign1776.org

and The Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina (1781, see  http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=2928).

Map of the Battle of Guilford Court House, courtesy of http://www.campaign1776.org

Map of the Battle of Guilford Court House, courtesy of http://www.campaign1776.org

Both battles were pivotal in the southern theatre of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina was a contributing factor to the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Benjamin Sublett testified that he met Reuben, a sixteen or seventeen-year-old “Mulatto boy,” while serving in the Revolution in May 1780. Gabriel Gray testified that Reuben served as “Boman” (military slang for valet) to his brother Lieutenant William Gray [NARA, S.37776, M804-243, frame 0362].

Transcription of the Pension Application of Reuben Bird S37776 NC Virginia, Powhatan County

To wit:
(Scans of the original appear after the transcription):

On this 15th day of June 1820 personally appeared in open court in the county court of Powhatan, in the state aforesaid, being a court of record Reuben Bird aged about fifty six years, according to the best estimate that can be made, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the provision made by the acts of Congress of the 18th March 1818 and the 1st May 1820. that he, the said Reuben Bird enlisted for and during the war of the American Revolution in April or May in the year 1780 in Hillsborough in North Carolina in the Company commanded by Captain James Guinn in the Regiment of Dragoons commanded by Col. [Anthony Walton] White of Virginia; that he continued to serve in the said Corps until the peace came, when he was discharged from service in Culpepper [sic: Culpeper] county in the state of Virginia; That he was in no battle, he being a colored man, and kept as a Bowman, although he was very near the ground where several [battles] were fought, and that he has no other evidence now in his power of his said services except the certificates of Benjamin Sublett and Larkin Self [pension application S38363] herewith exhibited.

And in pursuance of the act of the 1st of May 1820 the said Reuben Bird solemnly made oath that he was a resident citizen of the United States on the 18th of March one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, and that he has not since that time, by gift, sale, or in any manner disposed of his property, or any part thereof, with intent thereby so to diminish it as to bring himself within the provisions of an act of Congress, entitled “An act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary war”, passed on the 18th day of March one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, and that he has not, nor has any person in trust for him any property or securities, contracts, or debts due to him, nor has he any income other than what is contained in the Schedule hereto annexed, and by him subscribed, to wit; Real and personal property none; he is by trade a Brick layer, and is not very able to pursue his trade in consequence of a Rupture, which obliges him to wear a Truss of Steel; his family consists of his wife, who is about 37 years old, and one child, a female about seven years old; his wife is healthy, and by her industry somewhat contributes to support the family.

(signed)     Reuben Bird (his X mark)

16th October 1819. Powhatan County, to wit,

I was a Serjant in Captain William Mayo’s Company at the time of General Gates’ defeat at Campden in South Carolina [sic: Battle of Camden (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Camden) where Gen. Horatio Gates was defeated, 16 Aug 1780], and in the same company a mulatto boy appeared to be about the age of 16 or 17 years, by the name of Reuben Bird, who I believe enlisted under Captain James Gun [sic], in the town of Hilsbury, as we were on the way of our march to the South, and that for during the war; which I think was in the year

1780 sometime in May.                                     (signed) Benjamin Sublett

Map of the Battle of Camden courtesy of http://www.britishbattles.com

Map of the Battle of Camden courtesy of http://www.britishbattles.com

Octo. 2nd 1818

I do herby surtyfy that Rubin Bird did inlist at the same time that I did at Hilsburrow in North Carlina before Gates defeat in the the month of April about the 15th 1780.

(Signed)  Larkin Self

Virginia, to wit;

At a Court of Monthly Sessions holden for the county of Powhatan, in the state of Virginia aforesaid, at the Courthouse of the said County (being a Court of Record) on the 21st day of September 1820 Reuben Bird, a soldier of the Revolution, who made a declaration of his services in the Revolutionary War, in this court, on the 15th day of June last, under the acts of Congress of the 18th of March 1818 and of the first of May 1820, providing for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary war, in order to obtain a pension under the said acts of Congress, and a transcript of whose declaration, and of the evidence in support thereof, has been forwarded to the department of War of the United States, and returned for want of sufficient proof, this day again appeared in Court, and together with the said transcript, produced in Court an affidavit of Gabriel Gray [S8590], given before the Justice of the peace for the county of Culpepper, which affidavit was ordered to be entered of record, and is as follows, to wit; “I do hereby certify that the bearer Reuben Bird was Boman for my brother William Gray [BLWt1486-200] while he was  Lieutenant in the horse service under the command of Col. White in the Southern Campaign of 1780 and 1781. Given under my

hand this 26th day of July 1820.                                     Gab. Gray”

Click each image below for a larger image (each courtesy of the National Archives, Washington D.C.):

fold3_page_1_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_2_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_3_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_4_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_5_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_6_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_7_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_8_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_9_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_10_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_filesfold3_page_11_revolutionary_war_pension_and_bountyland_warrant_application_files

The last image in the sequence was my bittersweet moment. His petition was denied at first. I’m still working through my feelings on that. It does explain, however, why his name doesn’t appear in either the Daughters of the American Revolution database nor the Sons of the American Revolution Database. However, that first image, with Dollar amounts, seems to suggest that, in the end, he won the argument. I’ll need to track down the last parts of his file to know for certain.

So what did a wartime valet do?

I was curious about what a wartime valet actually did during this period. So I asked Tony, a war historian who specializes in 18th Century warfare (I love my British mates and contacts).

He would have been a jack of all trades. His duties apparently would have been quite varied:

  1. Attending to the care of his officer’s uniform and non-military wardrobe;
  2. Ensuring his officer’s firearm(s) and other weaponry were in good working order;
  3. Ensuring the safekeeping of his officer’s personal and battle-related correspondence;
  4. Coordinating his officer’s meals;
  5. Running crowd control in his officer’s tent;
  6. Occasionally delivering important messages;
  7. Attending to his officer’s horse(s);
  8. Attending to his officer during battle;
  9. Ensuring that his officer’s belongings were packed, secure, and ready for removal to wherever his officer needed to be;
  10. Attending to his officer’s privy (a very nice way of saying emptying Lieut. Gray’s chamber pot);
  11. Any other duties his officer saw fit.

Tony went on to say that a valet wasn’t as easily as dismiss-able a position as I initially thought. As Tony put it, no one had closer access to a commanding officer than his valet. It was a position of unquestioned trust. Everyone in camp would have known exactly who Reuben was and the officer he served.  Those seeking to advance themselves through Lieut. Gray, or seek his favour, or arrange appointments with him would have tried to get on Reuben’s good side in order to gain access to Lieut. Gray.  Reuben would have been right in the thick of things, privy to planned activities by dint of close proximity to Gray. He would have also been Gray’s eyes and ears in camp.

All the while remember this: he was a teenager at the time. 

He may not have received the recognition he deserved by his peers.  I, for one, couldn’t be prouder of an ancestral kinsman.

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1667: The year America was divided by race

Genealogical research has sent me down an American history rabbit hole once again.  I don’t mind. Being schooled on American history by genealogy is one of the reasons I Iove to do the research.  It brings my ancestors’ lives to life. History provides the backdrop against which their lives were lived and provides a vital context.

So what if I were to tell you that blacks and whites in the American colonies lived together harmoniously? Even better…what if I were to tell you that whites and blacks saw each other as equals?

You’d think I was trying to sell you a mountain of pixie dust or a unicorn. Or telling you a bedtime story.

Nevertheless, it’s true. There was a time in this country’s history when black and white were united.  Okay, to be precise, I’m going to have to come clean. I’m talking about poor whites: indentured European immigrants and European immigrants who had finished their term of servitude. I am also talking about free people of colour and enslaved people of colour.

This is the story of 2 American colonies: the one that existed before 1676 and the one that existed after 1676.  So what’s so important about that year?  Bacon’s Rebellion.

Bacon’s what? I hear you asking yourself. I know.  I hadn’t heard of it either.  It’s certainly nothing that was taught in school. Yet, it happened. I’d even go as far as to say that this rebellion defined America; more so than the American Revolution that would follow a century later.

I kept coming across references to Bacon’s Rebellion during some intensive 17th century era family research over the past few months.  I was curious about it   Was it a strange reference to some form of 17th Century acid reflux caused by excessive bacon eating?  But in all seriousness, it was an episode in our country’s history that involved many of my ancestral lines. The sons of numerous family lines fought on both sides of this conflict. On the white side of my family tree, names like Ball, Berkeley, Byrd, Carter, Lewis, Mottrom, Page, Pugh, Randolph, Roane, Spottswood, Washington, and West figure largely within this conflict. All of them were resident in the Tidewater region of Virginia (Jamestown, Charles City County and Henrico County) at the onset of the rebellion. However, when I spotted names from the African-descended/mulatto lines of my tree – Christian, Cumbee/Cumbo, Drew, Goins/Gowen, and Thomas – I had to check it out. Like the white side of the family, these ancestors were also resident in Virginia’s Tidewater region.

tidewater_region_1x

Map of Virginia’s Tidewater region.  Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

My ancestral links to this rebellion

My ancestors who were loyalists and adjudicators of the rebels:

Col. Augustine Warner – 1st Cousin
Major Robert Beverley – 2nd Cousin
Col. Mathew Kemp – 2nd Cousin
Col. William Claiborne – 1st Cousin
Col. Southy Littleton – 2nd Cousin
Lt. Col. John West – 1st Cousin
Major Law. Smith – cousin by marriage
Capt. Anthony Armistead – 1st Cousin

Ancestors who were part of the rebellion:

Henry West – 1st Cousin (banished from the colonies for 7 years)
John Sanders – 2nd Cousin (fined 2,000 lbs in tobacco)
Giles Bland – 2nd cousin (hanged)

William Hatcher – 1st Cousin (fined 8,000 lbs of pork , to be supplied to Virginia’s soldiers)

Sands Knowles – 2nd Cousin (Imprisonment and total forfeiture of all estates, lands, goods and slaves)

Henry Gee – Cousin by marriage (fined 1,000 lbs of pork)
Thomas Warr – 1st Cousin (banishment)
Col Henry Good – cousin by marriage (fined 6,000 lbs of pork)

And those who were a bit further down the colonial pecking order:

Henry Page – 1st Cousin (hanged)
William West – 1st cousin (hanged)

My curiosity was piqued. It was time to do some heavy reading.

A racial laissez faire  among the lower classes in the American colonies

Before 1676, poor whites, blacks, and mulattoes worked side by side. They lived together and caroused together.  And, they loved together. They recognised shared bonds of servitude and the sameness of their respective life situation.  So much so that they even ran away together to escape their bonds of servitude. They established communities in the mountains and the wilderness areas of Virginia, far from the reach of the colonial Establishment. These men and women formed unions/marriages and blended.

Modern American DNA results via the major DNA testing services has proven this. Are you a white-identified American with trace amounts of African DNA? If your working class ancestors were in Virginia in the 17th Century, I offer the paragraph above as a partial-explanation. The same holds true for African Americans with trace amounts of European ancestry. The paragraph above is a partial explanation of how that may have happened within your ancestry.

There was no ‘racial purity’.  That’s a modern myth. The Establishment certainly wanted to keep its bloodlines pure.  Not even the poorest white could even dream of entering that world. Purity in the 17th Century  Establishment’s mind was all about protecting its status, its privilege, its control, and its power. It’s the reason why the colonial elite only married other members of the elite. Racial purity as it’s espoused today?  Sorry, it didn’t exist.  It wasn’t even in its nascent stages.  All of that would come in the latter part of the 18th Century. When there was serious money to be made from an artificial concept and an excuse to double down on slavery.

In his work entitled People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn writes that 17th Century black and white servants were “remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.”

Edmund Morgan, an important historian of colonial America, has this to say:

“There are hints that the two despised [by the colonial Establishment] groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.”

And let’s not forget the Native Americans whose lands blacks and poor whites set up homes and communities within. They too married into this mix of black and white.

475881-make-america-white-again

America was never a white nation. Don’t ever believe that it was. Not even for a millisecond. While I am focusing on the relationship between whites and blacks, 17th Century immigrants came from far and wide to the American colonies: Chinese, Jews, sub-Continental Indians, and Moors (Muslims from North Africa) were also here.

A colonial elite gripped by class fear and paranoia

The elite of colonial 17th Century Virginia was comprised of wealthy plantation owners, rich merchants, manufacturers, traders, their Burgesses (local government) and their governors.  Yes, I know, quite a few of my British colonial ancestors were Establishment figures. Collectively, they were at the apex of colonial society. The colonial Establishment had two primary fears. The first was the hostile Indian population who controlled the nearby lands that surrounded the lands settled by European colonials.  They also feared their indenture workforce and enslaved workforce. They had to contend with the class anger of poor whites – in other words, the property-less European immigrants – and the resentment of Africans who had been stolen from their homelands and trapped in a world as foreign to them as a trip to Mars would be for us.

Historian Edmund Morgan also wrote:

Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.

Just like the spice which had to flow on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune science-fiction novels…the cultivation of tobacco in Maryland and Virginia, the cultivation of rice in South Carolina and the production of cotton in the lower South had to continue. At any price. Tell you what, the next time you watch Dune (or read the books), substitute the words tobacco, rice and cotton every time the word ‘spice’ is mentioned…it’s a mind-bender.  Herbert was so on point that it almost hurts.

The Establishment’s fear wasn’t entirely groundless either. Life in the early years of the colonies was far from harmonious. There were quite a few instances of servants organizing rebellions. Resistance to the colonial status quo by the English, Irish, Scottish, and German poor can be seen in wholesale desertions and work rebellions. Work slowdowns were fairly common. There were strikes by coopers, butchers, bakers, porters, truckers, and carriers. And there was the other major dread of a hierarchy obsessed elite: mutinies at sea. Our colonial ancestors were an unruly and feisty bunch.

A colonial rebellion plot was recorded as early as 1663.  The details of this plot show how white indentured servants and enslaved blacks plotted to rebel and gain their freedom. This plot was betrayed and all the conspirators were executed as an example.

The colonial Establishment in Virginia feared that class conflict would undermine their tobacco plantation holdings. My English ancestors in particular were perhaps most troubled by this. Between 1381 and 1549, four large peasant revolts played out in England. Each were the result of deep socio-economic and political tensions. The first rebellion, Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381), saw parts of London fall to the peasant army.  The then king (a young Richard II) fled to the Tower of London where he took refuge. While this rebellion ultimately failed, its leaders meeting some pretty grisly ends, it scarred the psyche of the English ruling elite. The lower classes in England would never be entirely trusted again. Even to this day.

The Jack Cade Rebellion (1450) was the result of local grievances focused on the corruption and abuses of power by King Henry VI’s closest advisors. The rebels were incensed by the national debt that had been caused by years of warfare against the French, and the recent loss of the king’s Norman territory.  Jack Cade led an army of men from Kent, to the south of London, and the surrounding counties. His army marched on London in order to force the government to end the corruption and remove the traitors surrounding the king’s person. Remember this revolt in particular. It’s comparison to Bacon’s Rebellion is almost a textbook case of history repeating itself.

The last English rebellion I’ll mention is Kett’s Rebellion (Norfolk, 1549). This too had a cause that is uncannily similar to Bacon’s Rebellion. Kett’s Rebellion was largely in response to the enclosure of land. Land was (and remains) a source of power in England. Privilege came with land.  If you didn’t own land, you didn’t have a voice. Without a voice, you had no economic or political power.

When the lower classes united in England, they challenged the status quo, and the way in which power was centrally controlled. To counter-act any further uprisings, the English Establishment kept its poor on a back foot to ensure they wouldn’t pose a threat to its power.

As the younger sons and/or nephews of the British aristocracy and elite, Virginia’s colonial establishment would have been well versed on class warfare and the perils presented by a united lower class.

So let’s fast-forward 120 or so years and return to the lead-up to Bacon’s Rebellion.

The seeds of a rebellion

1676backsrebel

Map of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion. Source: http://quotesgram.com

The colonial elite had a monopoly on the land. The best land, of course. Demand for the best land drove up the cost of acquisition. Which meant that poor whites and free people of color were forced to remove themselves into Native American territory to the west of the Tidewater region of Virginia. They were effectively cut off from any access to support from the colonial government. They were on their own. Which meant fending off Native American attacks on their own.

An additional grievance against the elite had to do with revenues. Fur trapping and fur trading with Native Americans was a monopoly controlled by Virginia’s elite. It’s a bit of a simplification, but true enough to say, that the colonial hierarchy controlled the when, where, and with whom the frontiersmen could engage in fur trapping and trading with. The two parties began to butt heads over this. It was another source of rising tension.

Classed as ‘rabble’, ‘the mob’, ‘uncouth animals’, etc, the colonial elite were relieved to see the back of this large underclass of people.

You can see where I’m going with this.

The colonial government used the situation to its advantage. They thought of these black and white Virginian frontiers people as an early defence system. If you think that’s me being cynical, that’s exactly what they were. And that’s exactly how they felt. They were human shields. Every attack on their farms and settlements led to a few of their number racing back to Jamestown to plead for soldiers to protect them and their families. Which, of course, alerted the colonial Government to Native American attack activity and where that activity was occurring. Of course the Establishment didn’t send any re-enforcements in the form of troops. It sent nothing.

Which, in turn, led to burning resentment for the frontiers people.

The snippet above made me think of the classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Okay…and the eponymous movie too. While the book takes place after Bacon’s Rebellion, the tensions between the elite and the frontiers people figures largely in the first part of the story. Remember the conversations between Hawkeye and John Cameron (whose farm is later attacked) where John recites his list of grievances against local government and the governor? The resentment between frontiers people and their government overlords still flamed brightly over a hundred years after Bacon’s Rebellion.

The Establishment’s worst fears came to fruition soon enough.

howard_pyle_-_the_burning_of_jamestown

The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle. It depicts the burning of Jamestown, Virginia during Bacon’s Rebellion (A.D. 1676-77); used to illustrate the article “Jamestown” in Harper’s Encyclopaedia of United States History: from 458 A.D. to 1905 (1905). Note the multi-ethnic composition of the painting. Source: Wikipedia

Nathaniel Bacon was a young member of the elite. Nevertheless, he formed a movement that was the Establishment’s worst nightmare. At first his movement was based on anti-Native American sentiment. It quickly evolved into an anti-aristocratic movement; a movement that came to symbolize the mass resentment of the poor against Virginia’s elite. Hundreds (some accounts claim up to a thousand) of white freedmen, white bond-servants, free people of colour, and enslaved blacks staged an armed insurrection against the Virginia colonial elite.

The rebellion ultimately led to the burning of Jamestown.

the_burning_of_jamestown

Engraver F.A.C. (signed lower right) of Whitney-Jocelyn, N.Y. – From p. 117 of Ilustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America. From a digital scan at the Internet Archive
Engraving captioned The Burning of Jamestown showing the burning of Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). From Illustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America: from the Earliest Discoveries to the Present Time (1857). Source: Wikipedia

Garrisons and forts were taken by the rebels. Governor Council member Richard Lee (yet another ancestral cousin of mine) recorded that the rebellion had the overwhelming support of Virginia’s population.  This support cut across class-lines, which must have been anathema to the Establishment.

So what was Bacon’s hope for the rebellion? A general “leveling”.  In other words, the equalization of wealth, opportunity – and land.

Ultimately, despite its early successes, the rebellion failed. Nathaniel Bacon’s premature death from dysentery left a leadership vacuum which was filled by less capable men. The rebellion fell apart.  The Establishment’s reprisals were swift and harsh. Some of  the rebels who came from the working classes were executed. The elite who formed the rebellion’s leadership faced varying fates: deportation back to England to face trial, forfeiture of estates and land holdings, or stiff fines.

The suppression of the Bacon revolt was critical for the colonial rulers. Suppressing it would enable the ruling elite to (from Zinn):

  • develop an Indian policy which would divide Indians and pit them against one another;
  • underscore to poor whites that rebellion did not pay through a show of superior force (English troops and mass hangings);
  • develop a practice of dividing poor white immigrants;
  • drive a wedge between free people of color and enslaved blacks;
  • isolate people of colour and enslaved blacks from poor whites; and
  • develop a practice of dividing slaves based on occupation (field worker, skilled artisan/crafts person, house worker, etc) and complexion.

Bacon’s Rebellion was followed by a series of tobacco revolts.  Once these smaller revolts were suppressed, the Establishment instigated a series of progroms to ensure social control.  Front and centre were policies and codes that controlled poor whites and black servants, and slaves.

The Establishment learned from their English ancestors that the only way to survive, and maintain power and control, was the division of its common enemy. Developing a system of inequality between black and white servants, they could fashion the allegiance of the English poor to that of their masters.

This is the genesis of the slave codes that were passed in the decades after the rebellion. These slave codes codified the system of slavery. In doing so, the codes made the status of ‘slave’ a life sentence. It was a system that saved the worst penalties and punishments for blacks. This dichotomy in how people were treated, built an unequal structure of racial slavery where black labor were slaves while white laborers were not slaves, was bound to cause resentment amongst blacks with regards to the lighter punishments meted out to their former comrades and allies. It instilled a fear amongst the poor whites that they could suffer the same fate of harsh treatment that was meted out to blacks.

This was the beginnings of institutionalized racism: a system based on the unequal treatment of whites and blacks who shared very similar circumstances.

It did not end there.  Once whites and blacks were divided, the next item on the agenda was dividing the non-English poor whites who largely came from Irish, Scottish and German backgrounds. The Establishment picked the Irish off first; re-igniting prejudices against them for their Catholicism. Anti-Irish propaganda portrayed them as unthinking brutes, animals, and rutting primates.

white-slave65a

Both a reality and propaganda. Images like the one above were used to divide whites and blacks…and to depict the Irish as ‘not one of us’.  

This approach was so successful that, once the Irish were isolated from other poor whites, the same memes were used against people of color. The wedge of religion and ‘foreignness’ was used to divide the Germans and the Scottish. Lutheranism and Calvinism were largely the religious denominations of the Germans. With preference being shown to Scottish Anglicism (The Church of Scotland), it was an effective wedge to use to split these two groups apart.   The English began to treat the poor Scots in a manner like a wealthy cousin would treat a poor relation – with a thin and meagre kind of tolerance.

How effective was this practice of divide and conquer?  Just tune in to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Read a newspaper.  Or look at the race memes that flood social media. Virginia’s colonial elite would be quite pleased to see the systems they put into play in the 17th Century didn’t merely survive – they have flourished. Take a look at how these memes have been adapted for every new immigrant culture that arrives on America’s shores.

Now I understand why Bacon’s Rebellion isn’t part of the history curriculum in the majority of America’s schools. I’ve counted only a meagre few that do cover this as part of their curriculum. No wonder most Americans have never heard of it.

Knowing what I know now, I have two fundamental questions.  The first is what would America look like today had Nathaniel Bacon lived and succeeded in his aim?  That question can’t be answered.  I can see his vision, however.

The second is whether or not America can still achieve that vision, through non-violent means of course.   In order for a nation of people to see that they have been played, in the most cynical and vicious way possible, they first have to recognize that they have been played. They have to grasp how they have been played, and why they have been played.

Then, and only then, can a system used to divide and conquer finally be dismantled.

Was your ancestor one of Bacon’s rebels?

While it isn’t a complete list of the rebels, this is the largest list of combatants that I have found online:  Frazier, Kevin (2016). Bacon’s Rebels: A List of the Names and some of the Residences of the Rebel Participants in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 in Colonial Virginia, Rootsweb. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fraz/BaconsRebels

Sources

Allen, Theodore W. (1997). The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 2: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. London: Verso.

https://books.google.com/books?id=OxwCQkCq4f0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Bacon’s Rebellion, Africans in America, Part 1, PBS.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.html

Bailyn, Bernard, Politics and Social Structure in Virginia. Seventeenth-Century America.

British National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Colonial State Papers, The British National Archives.  http://colonial.chadwyck.com/marketing.do

Gardner, Andrew G. (2015). Nathaniel Bacon, Saint or Sinner?, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2015. https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Spring15/bacon.cfm

Gormilie, Frank (2015). The Origins of Institutionalized Racism – a System to Control Blacks … and Whites, San Diego Free Press. (27 February 2015). http://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/02/the-origins-of-institutionalized-racism-a-system-to-control-blacks-and-whites

Library of Virginia.

http://www.lva.virginia.gov/search.htm?cx=003101711403383086340%3Axhathpp67to&cof=FORID%3A11&q=bacon%27s+rebellion&sa=

Matthew, Thomas. The Beginning of Progress and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion in the Years 1675 & 1676. Reprint Manuscript. P. Force, 1835. Original manuscript, 1675. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/tm.html 

McCarter, William Matthew (2012). Homo Redneckus: On Being Not Qwhite in America, Algora Publishing.

Morgan, Edmund S. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Rice, James D. (2012). Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. Oxford University Press.

Rothbard, Murray N. (1979) Conceived in Liberty, Miles Institute.  https://mises.org/library/conceived-liberty-2

Sainsbury, W. N. Virginia in 1676-77. Bacon’s Rebellion (Continued),
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1913), pp. 234-248

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4243280?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Salviati-Marambaud, Yvette. Nathaniel Bacon: A Frontrunner of the Revolution?. Vol. 19. Cycnos, 2008. http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/?id=1268

Schilling, Vincent (2013). 6 Shocking Facts About Slavery, Natives and African Americans, Indian Country Today Media Network. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/09/5-little-known-facts-about-african-americans-natives-and-slavery-17th-century-151664

Tarter, Brent. (2011). Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia, Virginia Magazine of History & Biography.

Thandeka (1998) The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy, World: The Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Vol. XII No: 4 (July/August 1998), pp. 14 –20 https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/spl/thandekawhiting.html

Thompson, Peter. (2006). The Thief, the Householder, and the Commons: Languages of Class in Seventeenth-Century Virginia, William and Mary Quarterly.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877353

Webb, Stephen Saunders (1995). 1676: The End of American Independence. Syracuse University Presshttps://books.google.com/books?id=P1etgd8yjfkC&pg=PA87

Wyatt, David (2010). Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature, JHU Press.

Zinn, Howard. (1997). A People’s History Of The United States. New York, NY: The New York Press.

 

 

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Filed under AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Race & Diversity, virginia

How genealogy got me watching historical drama on TV

Yes, it’s true, genealogy has subtly altered some of my television viewing habits. Historical drama isn’t something that’s ever really been on my radar. I’ve given the genre a few goes over the years and, well, found it wanting: characters that are given contemporary ideologies, beliefs and societal notions, really bad accents and actors/writers/directors just not in tune with how the world they were portraying really worked. It’s nit picking on my part to be sure. And, yes, I get that it’s entertainment. But still…

It all started with the History Channel’s historical drama series, Vikings – a new discovery. I actually found this gem online when I was researching the history of one of my own Roane & Matthews family’s Viking ancestors, Thorfinn “Skullcleaver” Torf-Einarsson (890 – 960), Jarl of Orkney (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorfinn_Torf-Einarsson). He’s one of my 34th great grandfathers. Apparently, he was a badass even by Viking standards – and those were some tough standards! He was immortalized in the ancient Orkneyinga saga (History of the Earls of Orkney) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orkneyinga_saga . He even has an English ale named after him: Skull Splitter (http://www.sinclairbreweries.co.uk/index.php)

History Channel's The Vikings tv series

Anyway, I came across Vikings and decided to give it a go. Just for fun. I was hooked. I still am. I can suspend my disbelief just enough to imagine the world my Viking ancestors lived in. Even better, this series kills two birds with one stone, as it were. It covers the period when the Norse people began invading eastern England in earnest. So I get to see that world from my Saxon ancestors’ perspective as well – specifically those ancestors who lived in the old kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.

Yes, the characters are suspiciously well-scrubbed most of the time, there’s our modern notion of ‘romantic love’ and there’s a bounty of attractiveness. However, what it does – and does rather well – is set up the cultural differences and opposing world views of both the Vikings and the Saxons. In other words, the series does an excellent job of depicting the sense of cultural ‘otherness’ – and all the strangeness and tensions that are experienced when two very different cultures meet, and clash. And, of course, how it portrays the stark, hurly burly, axe-wielding world of the eponymous farmer-warriors.

The fact that I can actually name ancestors who were alive in the historical era being depicted makes viewing even more compelling.

Book of Negroes banner image

I’ve just watched the last episode from the Book of Negroes series. And what a poignant, moving and somewhat emotional roller-coaster of a viewing experience it’s been. Again, the strength of this experience has been rooted in my ancestors’ experience during the American Revolution – specifically, the experience of my African-descended ancestors who were enslaved and free. From Jemimah Sheffey, who was born into slavery in the Virginia of 1770 to free families like the Goins, the Drews, the Christians, the Liggons, the Chavises and the Cleavers; I could catch a glimpse of their world.

The series explores the notion of freedom, specifically from the viewpoint of Aminata Diallo, one of the strongest multidimensional female characters to grace the small screen in quite some time. I could easily transfer her thoughts, hopes and dreams of freedom and imagine what my own ancestors might have thought.

Like Vikings, there is dramatic license to be sure. It is television after all, and meant to entertain as much as educate. Dramatized it may have been, however, one of its strengths was the stark portrayal of the precarious and hostile world free people of colour lived their lives within. It’s a subject not much discussed.

Of all my colonial era black ancestors known so far, I thought mostly of my 4x great grandmother, Jemimah. Around 5 years old when the American Revolution broke out, she wouldn’t see freedom until she was nearly 90 at the close of the Civil War. She was arguably old enough when the Revolutionary War happened to remember it. Growing up, she more than likely heard tales of promises made, dreams of and prayers for freedom offered by that revolution from slaves of her parent’s generation.

What did such thoughts and hopes mean to her and to those from her world? This series raised more questions than it answered. Which, to me, is the mark of a great series.

History Channel's Sons of Liberty series banner

Sticking with the subject of the American Revolution, the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty has also been compulsory viewing. I’m spoiled for choice in terms of ancestors who were actually part of this fight.

I’ve thought about Johann Adam Sheffey, my 5x great grandfather. He left the war-ravaged Sudwestpfalz Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany and arrived in Philadelphia on 20 September 1764 aboard the Sarah.

Image showing Johann Adam Sheffey's arrival in the US in 1764.

Johann Adam Sheffey’s arrival in Philadelphia. The name has been spelt in a variety of ways, including Scheffy, Schaff ,Scheffe and Sheoffe. Johann Adam arrived with his Kiefer, Kettering and Lohr cousins, who were also on the Sarah. This image is taken from: A Collection of Upwards of Thirty Thousand Names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French and Other Immigrants in Pennsylvania from 1727-1776: With a Statement of the Names of Ships, Whence They Sailed, and the Date of Their Arrival at Philadelphia, Chronologically Arranged, Together with the Necessary Historical and Other Notes, Also, an Appendix Containing Lists of More Than One Thousand German and French Names in New York Prior to 1712 (Google eBook) by Israel Daniel Rupp
Leary, Stuart & Company, 1896

He and his family would find themselves in the midst of yet another war in less than a decade. Whatever his thoughts about leaving one war torn country only to find himself in another, he enlisted early.

However, since the series deals more with the American colonial social elite and their perspective, I naturally think more about my Roane, Matthews and Josey ancestors. And, of course, I’ve thought about that Revolutionary War luminary in my direct line – Patrick Henry, my 6x great grandfather. I think about the how and why these families chose the colonial side over the British side. To-date, I have yet to find any members of these families who chose to fight with the British. Before the outbreak of revolution, they had all been proudly British. Indeed, their stature was due in no small measure to their family connections and history back in Britain. It’s a subject the series doesn’t really explore, but an interesting question for me to ponder nonetheless.

Patrick Henry certainly left a wealth of his thoughts and beliefs from every stage of the rebellion through to the eventual culmination of the war. I have a firm handle on him and I can see those thoughts echoed in the portrayal of the main protagonists in the series. My 7th great-grandfather, Colonel William Roane, left his in various letters. I haven’t seen any letters or journals from my colonial Josey and Matthews ancestors. Their personal thoughts, hopes and beliefs about the fight for liberty remain unknown. All I know is they fought.

The series depicts the messy and chaotic embers of the revolution. The split in pubic opinion and beliefs, the rhetoric, the economics and politics of colonials versus Parliament, the raw emotions – all of these are deftly captured and dramatized.

Genealogy has made history more interesting, relevant and real for me than any history class I’ve ever taken. History becomes more interesting and direct when you can name ancestors who had a personal stake during pivotal moments in time. So, while these shows are entertainment and dramatizations – and not the real thing – they do offer an interesting glimpse into a past that people in my family tree lived through and experienced.

If any of these series are relevant to you in this context, definitely check them out. See what you make of the worlds your ancestors lived in.

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Beyond the pale: Interracial Relations in Colonial America

A tale of gender double standards

When genealogy decides to throw me a curve ball, it doesn’t hold back. The curve ball that recently came my way was through a bit of unspoken colonial American history. It’s a slice of American history which simply hadn’t occurred to me. It’s certainly not taught in schools.

A revelation came when I was doing some research on my Turner ancestors  in Charles County, Maryland (Passing for white: ancestors who jumped the colour line: https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/passing-for-white-ancestors-who-jumped-the-colour-line/ ) In that post, I covered how this ancestral line was noted by its ‘white’ appearance by the 1850s. Further research has pushed that attribute back a further generation to the 1820s. My assumption was that this was due to earlier generations of interracial relations between white males and mulatto women.

Digitised colonial Maryland court records have revealed an unexpected and equally plausible alternative. It was an alternative I wasn’t prepared for.

Whilst nowhere near as common as interracial relations between white men and black or mulatto women – white women, typically immigrant indentured servants, had relations and sometimes married black and mulatto male slaves.  When these relationships were discovered, usually through the woman becoming pregnant, the penalties for the woman were harsh.

It wasn’t long before my research into these relationships revealed a double standard based on gender. It wasn’t a surprising revelation. White men who had mulatto children were not ostracised or penalized by their society. It was a colonial case of “boys will be boys”.  Perhaps this is because there was no societal inconvenience. The children from these unions took the status of their mothers. If their mother was a slave or indentured, the child was also a slave or indentured.  The status quo was maintained.

A white woman who produced mulatto children in colonial times experienced a different fate.   It was rare for a woman to own property in her own right. An indentured servant would also be poor – certainly not able to afford the fine which was levied against her for producing mixed-race children. So at best, she would have her period of indentured servitude extended. She might also be put in the public stocks and publicly humiliated for a few hours. More severe would be a period in the county jail. If she was truly unfortunate, she would be publicly flogged.  No matter what form her punishment took, her mulatto children would be sold into indentured service.  The period of their indentured servitude would typically last until their early 30s, whereby they would gain their freedom.

Women who continued to bear mulatto children could almost be guaranteed a severe public flogging. Each child she bore would be bound to indentured servitude, again, typically until they were in their 30s.

There seems to be a few underlying reasons for the disparity of treatment between white men and white women who produced mulatto offspring:

  • No matter how poor they were or how humble their origins, European women were seen as paragon of purity and virtue. Unmarried women were expected to remain in a state of ‘unblemished purity’ until they married.
  • Mulatto children with white mothers would eventually be free, with all the rights of free colonial subjects
  • The number of free mulattos steadily increased in colonial American.  There was a fear that a significant increase in the number of free mulattoes, as well as enslaved blacks and mulattos, would outnumber European colonists. Therefore measures and deterrents were required to limit the number of free mulattoes as well as free blacks.
  • As mulatto men and women became free and contributed their skills and labour to their colonial society, most became respected members within their communities. More than a few prospered. This raised awkward questions about the institution of slavery. The ability to depict black and mulatto slaves as property (and the usual propaganda levied against them) increasingly became tenuous as mulattoes born of white mothers and black fathers took their place as upstanding free men and women within colonial society. In short, they called into question the morality and ethics of slavery.

Interestingly, colonial law did not directly address the enslaved black fathers of these mulatto children.  Some were flogged. On the whole, the court records are silent to their fate. The onus for such transgressions, as they were seen, lay entirely with the white mothers.

History also seems to be equally silent about the genesis of these relations. How did the couples meet? How did what we think of as romantic love begin and flourish under such difficult circumstances? How did these relationships survive (in a few of the documented cases I’ve studied, some couples remained together)? The official documents provide no clues.  Then again, they wouldn’t  These were prosecution cases concerned solely with punishment. The likelihood is that one or both parties were illiterate, incapable of writing at all…much less writing moving love letters. If such letters do exist, my research hasn’t found them (although I continue to look for them!)

I’m still puzzling over why children born of white mothers and black fathers should be indentured for so long a period. 30, 31 and 32 seems to be the usual age when this class of indentured servants were freed. Perhaps it was to cover the cost of raising them before they were of an age to work (these children were taken from their mothers almost immediately). A more cynical view would be that the female children of these unions wouldn’t make attractive marriage partners when they reached and surpassed the age of 30.  Women married and produced children young in these times.  Making them old maids before they were free would diminish their marriage prospects – this is speculation and admittedly cynical speculation at that.

The Maryland state archive has a number of documents which cite the stories of white mothers who bore mulatto children: http://www.pencaderheritage.org/main/saunders/frame.html  There is an account of a Mary Turner, an Irish indentured servant, and a William Turner, who is thought to be one of her children. Mary’s punishment was particularly brutal: 62 lashes (31 lashes each for the two children she bore her black partner Joe).

Serendipity has put these two names on my radar for the past two years.  I’d always dismissed Mary as she wasn’t what I was expecting in my genealogical search.  Or, to be honest, she just wasn’t the ancestor I thought I was looking for. My expectation in researching this family line was a mulatto woman, not a white one; specifically a mulatto woman with a connection to an Irish male immigrant, or a colonial man of Irish descent.

When time and circumstances conspire to keep re-presenting the same names regardless of the databases, records and tools you use to your research…well, sometimes you have to put your seat in the upright position and take note.

Am I 100% certain that Mary Turner is the grand-mother of my great-great grandfather Patrick Turner? No. Can I continue to discount her as I have done for the past two years? No. All I can do is keep an open mind…and take note that research keeps pointing back to her.

If you’re interested in the experience of Maryland born mulatto children with white mothers and black fathers, this is an interesting document to read: Ball, Carlos, A. 2008. The Blurring of the Lines: Children and Bans on Interracial Unions and Same-Sex Marriages. Fordham Law Review, Volume 76 | Issue 6 Article 4 http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4362&context=flr&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.co.uk%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dinterracial%2520same%2520sex%2520unions%2520in%2520antebellum%2520south%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D1%26cad%3Drja%26ved%3D0CDIQFjAA%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fir.lawnet.fordham.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D4362%2526context%253Dflr%26ei%3DyKbhUPyUDe-10QXZiIHICg%26usg%3DAFQjCNGwQZxGHbwboP-W3GUU2AjA1tZ1pA%26bvm%3Dbv.1355534169%2Cd.d2k#search=%22interracial%20same%20sex%20unions%20antebellum%20south%22  (The first half of this document covers interracial relationships).

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