Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Half-white Slaves of Aristocratic Masters

This blog began, initially, to describe a search for descendants of 'Uncle' Monk, slave name Estill, the man who saved the life of my 4x-great-grandfather in 1782 and subsequently became the first slave freed in what is now Kentucky. I want to know more about the brave fellow who carried James Berry (1752-1822) 25 miles to safety, following the Battle of Small Mountain, or Estill's Defeat.

During my investigation, I came upon a family history researcher who had valuable data on a half-brother of Berry's grandson and namesake, James Berry Turner (c1820-1867, my 2x-great-grandfather). I was stunned to discover my new correspondent is African American by appearance and identification. Born where I was born; nearly my age, my new source is trying to prove she descends from a union between the half-brother (Major Squire Turner, 1793-1871) and one of his slaves.

From Madison County: 200 Years in Retrospect, by William Elliott Ellis, H. E. Everman & Richard D. Sears; Madison County Historical Society, 1985, page 216:
“We can only speculate about the white families of most of these people [former slaves graduating from Berea schools], but there is a great deal of evidence that many blacks of Madison County, including those who attended Berea, were descendants of very distinguished white families.”
The corresponding footnote reports:
“In 1860 Madison County had a population of 6,118 slaves, 980 of whom were mulattoes (16%). The Slave Census listed 881 slaveholders – 357 of whom owned sets of slaves including at least one mulatto (but sometimes as many as ten): about 40 percent of slave sets were ‘mixed’ (so that partly-white slaves were very widespread without being particularly numerous). But of the 110 elite slaveholders in Madison County (those owning 15 slaves or more), 70 owned at least one mulatto (most owned many more, of course …). The large-scale slaveholders, the wealthy and prosperous, were much more apt to have mulattoes among their slaves then [sic] were their poorer neighbors. Whether or not the half-white slaves of aristocratic masters were also their children is, of course, another (and usually unanswerable) question.”
The 1860 Slave Schedule for Madison County, Kentucky, (below) reports Squire Turner in possession of 27 souls. Seven are listed as Mulatto: nearly one in four. An 18-year-old male qualifies to be Jeremiah Turner (c1840-1917) my new cousin's direct ancestor. If our suspicions are correct; we both descend from 'Trading Tom' Turner (1764-1847), father of both Squire and James Berry Turner.

Puzzling over the realization that I share DNA with folks who look so obviously different, it was suggested I investigate a fellowship (Coming to the Table), where descendants of slaves are in dialogue about race with descendants of slave-owners. I have traveled to meet my new cousin and my harvest includes the fruits of warm companionship and a shared appreciation for researching family history.

It has proved difficult to describe the almost unfathomable relationship between between the white supremacist, pro-slavery, strict constitutionalist, Squire Turner and an enslaved woman who may have born his child. The Madison County text employs terms such as 'slavewife' and  'slavefamily.'  Edward Ball, in The Sweet Hell Inside, uses 'concubine,' once a long-term relationship has been established. Referring to today's standards, I initially referred to offspring of a 'slave rape.'

Descendants of slaves, shrugging off the idea that a single drop of Negro blood put one in the race of African Americans, are identifying themselves as Irish, or Scots, or whatever they discover in their family history. I explore coming to grips with pigmentation here.

Squire Turner may have wanted to contribute accurately to slave schedules; the record documents him as in the propertied the elite of a county in which the lawyer had grown wealthy. The nameless records, however, are far from definitive. The only earlier slave schedule (1850) lists a mulatto boy of 9, which may be a younger Jeremiah. I've found no record of Turner's human possessions, circa 1840, but 2 women in 1850 (ages 38 & 35) qualify. Unless she has become 60 years old, ten years later, neither candidate for Jeremiah's mother remain in the record as Turner's property.

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