Thursday, September 13, 2012

These Negroes Reveal A Curious Superiority

I'm coming to grips with the idea that my 3x-great-grandfather, Thomas Turner (1764-1847) or his son Squire Turner (1793-1871) fathered children by his slaves. I've been encouraged in becoming reconciled to this possibility by the caring relationship I've developed with a great-granddaughter of that union. I like my new cousin.

I've begun to wonder whether her ancestor looked like our shared ancestors. I wonder to what degree others in my family regarded Jeremiah Turner (1840-1917) as unmistakable kin. In an earlier post, I found modern acknowledgement that larger numbers of mixed-race children were appearing among the property of rich, white, Madison County, Kentuckians than were recorded by family units holding only one or two slaves in captive servitude.

I suspect his musings were far from politically correct even in his own time, but the following account expresses cultural effects that might have resulted when 'well bred' white men had offspring by African American women.
From a collection of writings by Baltimore critic H. L. Mencken titled Prejudices, c 1920. In this tract, Mencken decries the absence of arts & culture in the south.
Page 77 of The Sahara of the Bozart - [A desert of the Beaux Arts - RDH]
“… in the south, the men of the upper classes sought their mistresses among the blacks, and after a few generations there was so much white blood in the black women that they were considerably more attractive than the unhealthy and bedraggled women of the poor whites. This preference continues into our own time. A southerner of good family once told me in all seriousness that he had reached his majority before it ever occurred to him that a white woman might make quite as agreeable a mistress as the octoroons of his jejune fancy. If the thing has changed as late, it is not the fault of the southern white man, but of the southern mulatto woman. The more slightly yellow girls of the region, with improving economic opportunities, have gained self-respect, and so they are no longer as willing to enter into concubinage as their grand-dams were.

As a result of this preference of the southern gentry for mulatto mistresses there was created a series of mixed strains containing the best white blood of the south, and perhaps of the whole country. As another result the poor whites went unfertilized from above, and so missed the improvement that so constantly shows itself in the peasant stocks of other countries. It is a commonplace that nearly all negroes who rise above the general are of mixed blood, usually with the white predominating. I know a great many negroes, and it would be hard for me to think of an exception. What is too often forgotten is that this white blood is not the blood of the poor whites but that of the old gentry. The mulatto girls of the early days despised the poor whites, creatures distinctly inferior to negroes, and it was thus almost unheard of for such a girl to enter into relations with a man of that submerged class. This aversion was based on sound instinct. The southern mulatto of today (1920) is proof of it. Like all other half-breeds he is an unhappy man, with disquieting tendencies toward anti-social habits of thought, but he is intrinsically a better animal than the pure-blooded descendant of the old poor whites, and he not infrequently demonstrates it. It is not by accident that negroes of the south are making faster progress, economically and culturally, than the masses of the whites. It is not by accident that the only visible ├Žsthetic activity in the south is wholly in their hands. No southern composer has ever written music so good as that of half a dozen white-black composers who might be named. Even in politics, the negro reveals a curious superiority. Despite the fact that the race question has been the main political concern of the southern whites for two generations, to the practical exclusion of anything else, they have contributed nothing to its discussion that has impressed the rest of the world so deeply and so favorably as three or four books by southern negroes.”
These are themes that Edward Ball addresses in his 2001 book, The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the South.  He too met a cousin descended from his people's slaves. Ball describes distinctions (and economic advantages) allocated by skin color and class, even among people of color. Harleston children, though deprived of the inheritance left by their upper-crust, slave-owning father, held higher rank than darker blacks after the Civil War in Charleston, SC. Perhaps Mencken (above) in his accolades, is crediting Harleston offspring; such as the talented black photographer Teddy Harleston, or childrens' choirs his sister Ella (Harleston) Jenkins made popular as America entered the Jazz Age.

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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Two Cases for High-Tech, Racial Identity

Hypodescent is the societal practice of assigning children of mixed union to the ethnic group which is perceived by the dominant group as being 'subordinate.'
Appearances can be pretty deceiving, I figure. I was raised on Nazi stories, describing how white supremacists hunted down anyone with A SINGLE DROP of Jewish blood. As a kid I heard that a Negro was any person who had a single drop of black blood. One drop and, no matter what you looked like, you were in that other race. Well, not just ‘another’ race: you were in a race that wasn’t as good as people who were all white.

And what is 'all white,' anyway? I got to thinking how best to categorize people, based on race.

An African-American cousin and I were discussing 'octaroons' and 'mulatto,' and the whole idea of race sorta collapsed on me. I was trying to figure out how pigmentation will be handled after racism has faded from our consciousness: I had this vision where we’d each be rated by a specific, pertinent number; no longer categorized 'Non-Hispanic White' or 'Caucasoid' or whatever. I figured science would give us a number (or a code, for those embracing complexity). I thought that number or code might come from DNA research, but maybe it will be a number generated by a densitometer.

The Reflective Qualities of Melanin

But then I realized I change pigmentation throughout the year (Before my honeymoon I no idea that blacks darkened after a couple weeks in Hawaii.), so we’d each have to be a range numbers. Then, I realize I have moles and sometimes scabs like what I got from scratching chigger bites while down in Kentucky … heck I’m a vast array of skin tones!

Lighting Directors and Color Corrections Specialists, when producing close-ups for television, know that each face – from the blackest African to the yellowest Asian and the pinkest Anglo – reflect essentially the same range of colors. The pigmentation we reflect is more similar than we realize.

Amelia (Turner) Leer c1872

My whole concept of white superiority took a hit when I helped produce a radio program about skin tone. Not only does my coloration change, the rules for being the 'best' color have also been in play. Heard the term ‘blue blood?’ It meant the subject came from a fine family (wealthy, and in some way related to someone in power). Blue blood referred to the veins in a white person’s arms. The French introduced powders, even hideous looking, lead-based ointment, to make themselves whiter than humanly possible. My great-grandmother (left) employed a parasol to ward off the sun, presumably because she did not want melanin granules to expand among her skin cells.

Then, swept in by the Industrial Revolution, most workers left the fields and took jobs indoors … laboring in factories. They got pale. Wealthy whites responded by sporting sun tans. The rate of skin cancer shot up in their class, but at least you could tell by looking at their handsome, bronze skin, that they were wealthier than most of the rest of us.

While analyzing racial profiling data, a new concept of pigmentation dawned on me. Portland, Oregon police had ascribed racial categories to drivers they had stopped. We were breaking down statistics by racial categories. African Americans were stopped more frequently than Hispanics and both were stopped about twice as often as Anglos. I realized that, if we had been supplied densitometer readings, the frequency by which these people were subsequently searched would fall out on a line: the blacker the driver they have stopped, the more likely it is that Portland police officers will search them. (Plot spoiler: African Americans were half as likely to be carrying contraband, even though they were stopped twice as often, and then searched twice as often as those that police identified as white.)

Coal black folks get worse deals than ‘high yaller’ ones, I suspect.

What a weird world. Like pigmentation has anything to do with anything else: criminality, intelligence, ability to love.

Hapalogroups Unite!

It came to me that geneticists can give us a number ... or some sort of solid, identifying code that will evoke racial heritage. I'll admit that I'm not sure how informed we are when we speak of the Hispanic or Jewish race. And I'm not sure what advantage that knowledge supplies, but where our genes came from seems  important to classifiers.

And then I heard that DNA research has confirmed that all human genetic material originated in Africa. No matter how white you are, your people were at one time black.

And what of the term 'caucasian male?' Instead of a point of origin, categorizing in this way makes it important that our genes parked for a time in a certain geographical location (like the Caucus Mountains).

Like the vector scope analysis (top), my haplogroup data set becomes meaningless when we understand that most people's genetic material, over the expanse of human history, has largely traversed a mesh of similar circuits. Imagine the vast web that would connect all the places your ancestors inhabited as they led up to your parents. Would a code describing this web actually distinguish you any more accurately than the label 'Scots-Irish?' Besides, if your DNA tests don't take you back to the Yoruba or a neighboring tribe in Africa, then I would hold those results as suspect. They may be shielding you from your true humanity.

I am not the only American to be intrigued by the categorization of people by skin color. Certainly moreso than, say, eye color. I know my countrymen have put a lot of energy into discriminating epidermal hues , cranial constructions, nose flanges, etc., and mostly so one pigmented group can declare itself superior to another. So that one group can dominate (take advantage) of another. I can't see what racial analysis based on, though.

I can see that, while the original, race-based cause for such degradation is probably meaningless, the history of racial oppression is all too real.

Our history of slavery … I think that DOES have an impact on things, even today. I know from my work among Native Americans that deep, psychic pain courses through communities who identify in this way. I cannot imagine the ache that still reverberates, knowing one’s ancestors felt either the repression of repeated attempts at genocide, or endured four centuries of enslavement. To me, the horrors at Abu Ghraib are immense … and they only lasted a few years. I cannot imagine, generation after generation, suffering this kind of torment. I cannot imagine thinking that there is no way out ... even for your children's children.

Some ambitous peoples wanted to be in a group that dominated others. I guess it was easier than doing all the work yourself. Those with an enduring history of success chose not to define themselves by height, or eye color, or muscle tone ... but by skin color. And they assigned subordinate roles to children who were not precisely in their dominant parents' color range.

Some folks say that Thomas Jefferson's red-haired, African American son was quite intelligent. Yet Jefferson held hypodescent practices. Slave Tom was prevented from living his life to the fullest. Why would a man do that to his son? Martha Washington never freed her half-sister. Ann Dandridge Costin and all of Martha's nieces and nephews were treated as property, to be divided up according to Martha's 19th century will.

Yes, this race thing is tricky. The true racial identity of my olive-skinned grandmother was likely shielded from me. Maybe I'm a quintroon, but pass as high yellow. My wife is as black as a Queen of Spades ... but guess what? With the vagaries of genetics, her heavy pigmentation might deceive you into thinking she's closer to her African roots. For all I know, of the millions of our ancestors who have not yet made it into paper-trail databanks at ... more of mine may have been recently African than hers.

And I guarantee you: we are all of African descent. The amount of melanin we bear has as much to do with deservedness as nostril hairs. We have simply chosen a methodology of valuing one another. Our methodology of assigning values has no useful or meaningful measure. It fails any test of reason. Racism derives its authority from mere convention.

I assume it will not be a Herculean task to simply develop new conventions and put an end to race-based attempts at domination.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What's in a Slave Name?

Through my family history research I've come to know (virtually) my cousin Ardis. We met when I found someone online researching Squire Turner (1793-1871). I'm keen to know as much as I can about this gr-gr-grand uncle who worked so hard to defeat emancipationists as Kentucky gathered for a Constitutional Convention in 1850. It surprised the heck out of me to discover an African American woman was looking into this character.

Ardis is likely descended from a rape by Turner of one of his many slaves. Ardis and I have chosen to be 'related by slavery.' We likely both descend from 'Trading Tom Turner (1764-1847).

It's a difficult thing to prove.

What I did not appreciate, as I busied myself with collecting, sorting through and making sense of data pulled from court records, published family histories, and actual historical texts in some cases, is how easy I have it. Sure, I'm working with tiny and frustratingly incomplete data sets, but I'd never really considered how sparse slave records are.

Some of you might have seen Ron Allen's piece, Priscilla's Story, on NBC. (It includes an interview with Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family.) Allen claims Priscilla's is the only story documenting lineage from a free child stolen from her people in Africa ... all the way to contemporary, living Americans.

Could such documented history really be so rare? Given the psychic scars left among torn-apart families, a compelling desire to know and to heal must have produced a body of complete and extensive accounts.

Consider how difficult it is to research slave ancestry. Family units were fractured by slave auctions of individual family members as well as capricious, unreported murder or (like Martha Custis Washington) a complete unwillingness to acknowledge a person's own kin ... living in squalor a hundred yards away on Slave Row. Whether a mother was worked to death, died of disease, or was sold off; her children may never have realized they did not descend from the woman who raised them.

I felt compelled to blog about this when I read a well-intentioned white man, chiding fellow genealogists for using secondary sources in their research; implying that their labor was less significant for their failure to cite more of the official record. I found myself writing:
"Our whole endeavor is speculative: I don't for a moment think that, just because a government put it in a document, a fact has more veracity than if it came from a lyric in a folksong - especially if the dominant culture has a vested interest in deceiving its populace."
And I got to thinking about the deep desires among our cousins, to know as much of their Africa-to-America history as they can, and of the tremendous odds of having that curiosity fully quenched. What an ache.

Whether it was through arrogance or shame or simple neglect, my ancestors did little to record the lives of slaves they'd forbidden to become literate. I suspect my people were breeding some of their slave stock for brute strength, docility and low intelligence. I assume they contemplated no future where free men and women would one day be curious about their lineage. While they were keen to document the lineage of the finest mules they bred, my ancestors did less to publicize the name of a child's father, brought in from a neighboring farm to serve as a stud. How difficult is genealogy for descendants of children who were kept from ever touching their parents?

Genealogy angel Dr. William L. Smith drew my attention to a 4-page tool, The Historical Biographer's Guide to the Research Process. Mill's Identity Triangulation Model encourages even certified smart people believe identity is more than a name on a federal form.
"It is every known detail of a human life. Identity is determined by triangulating three things: persona, relationships, and origin."
Whether you and I are busy mining databases running on huge computer farms or thumbing through musty leaves stored in granite courthouses, we benefit from men and women who taxed themselves to build vaults and employ archivists over intervening generations. Great social endeavor went into preserving many of the records I have discovered.

Was it more than benign neglect that kept the record of millions of slaves so sparse?

If we are to live soundly in the present, we would do well to acknowledge the reality of our past. We may owe a debt of gratitude to people like my cousin Ardis, who labor under tremendous disadvantages when re-creating ancestors' identity. Brothers and sisters, calling for reparations after the inter-generational horrors of slavery, have sensitised me to appreciate how emotionally difficult this search must be.

My cousins know with certainty that identity is more than a name. The surname they bear could have been imposed by men who treated their ancestors as property. A slave name burns in a way that simulates the branding iron my ancestors likely employed as a right of ownership, as a means of establishing identity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pompey & London - Death in the Wilderness

History has a means of setting up contrasts. In an earlier post I explored tremendous risks for slaves, especially when on the frontier of what is now called Kentucky. Two notable men - both with relatively recent African ancestry - died in a no man's land only a day or so apart. Each embraced initiative when the slave experience tends not to reward such behavior.

These men, one slave, one free and both black, performed diametrically different roles in this event.

London was enslaved. He was the property of Nathaniel Henderson (1736-1794). London probably helped Daniel Boone (1734-1820) in 1775 to cut the Transylvania Path (also called the Wilderness Trace) to a remote, 20,000,000-acre claim made by Tory investors.
In September 1778, Boone had only just fled captivity among Shawnee in what is now Ohio. The talent most responsible for Boone's ability to communicate with his captors belonged to Pompey. Like Jonathan Pointer, Pompey was valued for his ability to speak English. According to Shawnee Heritage, Pompey was born about 1740. By 1755 - sometime after his capture/liberation from slaveholders on the Virginia frontier - this bilingual asset had been adopted into the tribe. Pompey had married and fathered at least one son when he - in the company of over 400 native warriors with at least 40 pack horses, the largest force to invade Kentucky en masse - approached the crude stockade later to be called Boonesborough. That he had attained some status may be inferred by the fact that Pompey bore the war party's flag of truce as braves sallied to the fort, seeking the Americans' surrender.

After negotiations broke down, natives besieged the 40 or so able-bodied defenders and their families. In most accounts, Pompey taunted the trapped pioneers with profanities. As translator, it was Pompey who sent word that fellow warriors had heard of the beauty of Boone's daughter (Boone had used cunning and force to free Jemima after her 1776 capture) and were requesting an opportunity to look upon her. Supposedly desiring to postpone attack, Boone persuaded several women to comply: it was Pompey's voice urging the women to let down their hair. Few remaining accounts declare it, but it is more than likely that the besieged "harbored a great deal of bad feelings about the presence of Pompey." In Anglos' world view, it was certainly out of place that a black man would curse them, let alone call their women to such revealing behavior.

It is unlikely that Boone - a former Quaker known to be investing in slaves by 1781 - would have thought himself profane when, as a captive earlier in the year, he deprecated treatment he found demeaning. Yale professor John Mack Faragher, quoting a Boone descendant in Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, has the famous pioneer telling Black Fish, the Shawnee war chief who had adopted him, "When I am at home I don't do this kind of work. I have Niggers to work for me. You and your Squaw calls me your Son, but this don't look like you love me."

It is not reported whether Pompey translated this for Boone.

It is worth noting that slaves confronted by Black Fish that September were armed ... and expected to defend those holding them in servitude. When he is freed in 1782, one of the first actions Monk will take is to produce gunpowder: once he has a vested interest in public safety, Monk takes steps to assure it, even though he also defends men who force his fellows to ceaseless labor, insufficient diets, and inferior clothes and shelter.

It was likely Boone who ordered London to a sentry post at the fort's kitchen when Shawnee warriors began pressing the encircled fort. Accounts differ as to whether the twenty-four-year-old "bravely volunteered" or was "directed by the Commander" to take a tremendous nighttime risk. According to Faragher:
"A small fence that adjoined the back wall of one of the cabins was set afire, and, fearing that it would burn through, several men dug through the cabin floor and London, a slave whose master was away from the settlement, squeezed out and succeeded in pushing the blazing timbers away with a forked stick. As he lay in the dark outside the fort, London saw a Shawnee warrior hidden nearby behind a tree stump. He whispered to the men behind him to pass up a loaded gun, took aim, pulled the trigger; the lock snapped failing to ignite the powder, and the warrior jerked toward the well-known sound, peering into the darkness, without making out the shooter. London cocked and pulled again, and this time the powder in the pan flashed, but the gun failed to fire. Now the Indian saw his attacker clearly, illuminated by the burst of powder, and shot him dead."
In most surviving accounts that mention him, London is lauded for his courage ... and for daring to take aggressive measures while exposed to danger. One assumes London was not provided a faulty firearm, for he defended whoever handed him the gun as well as his own life.

A nearly continuous exchange of vulgar gibes, a practice Americans called 'blackguarding,' went on for days. After some time came an insistent question from defenders: "Where's Pompey?"

Perhaps in broken English, the Shawnee or their French escorts reportedly replied, "Pompey has gone to Chillicothe to fetch more Indians."

No longer hearing the former slave's raucous jeers, 'forters' continued pressing: "Where's Pompey?"

"Pompey has gone to hunt in the woods for some of the white men's roaming pigs," came the reply.

From Faragher:

"Pompey, who took a special pleasure in infuriating the Americans, was one of the most active participants in the blackguarding. He challenged their courage and manhood and dared them to come out and fight or else surrender. But he got carelessly involved with the game, popping up from the bank of the river to hurl repeated insults and fire his gun toward the fort. The men in the bastions answered in kind with words and fire, while others took aim at different spots along the bank where Pompey might next appear. Unable to resist another retort, he jumped up one time too many and took a shot square in the face."
"Where's Pompey?" was the insistent taunt.

According to Caruso in The Appalachian Frontier, one brave yelled: "Pompey ne-pan." (Pompey is asleep.) Another corrected him: "Pompey nee-poo." (Pompey is dead.) "Redskins and settlers chuckled at the play on words," amidst the very real threat of violent death.

The most sober accounts attribute the fatal shot to William Collins, 'a fine marksman.' A few of the more chauvinist reporters give variations of an account where Pompey climbs a tree and fires into the fort. (Boone is shot in the upper shoulder, but I've found no warrior credited with the wound.)

This is from the U.S. Forest Service:
"One of the most harrassing of the sharpshooters was the negro Pompey. He had been industrially sniping from a tall tree, doing his best to pick off people moving within the stockade over which he could fire from his high perch. Finally, the exasperated Daniel Boone loaded his rifle, ole tick-licker, with a heavy charge. At the crack of his rifle Pompey came tumbling out of the tree dead."
So stunning it almost gives pause for meditation on the implications, is an almost universal allegation that, when the war party withdrew at the end of a 10-day siege, Pompey's body remained on the field of battle. Implied is that, as was custom, native warriors removed all (perhaps 37 bodies) of their fallen comrades, but neglected their adopted African American brother.

Slaves, generally deprived of any advantages to be accrued from formal education, relied on oral accounts as a means of socializing one another to their impoverished condition. It would have been wise for the dominant culture to conclude any account of Pompey's effrontery with his death ... and abandonment by his adopted people. It might serve as a warning to other slaves considering a change of allegiances.

This contemporary, Federal account (unattributed) by the forest service keeps the implied message alive:
"... apparently no Shawnee cared in the least what happened to the black body or the wooly scalp of the Negro slave. Dead or alive, a warrior's honor was safe if he still had his scalp."
It should be noted that Shawnee Heritage declares Pompey not only survived this encounter, but was known to be in Missouri the following year.

By November, 1778, London's owner appealed to the General Assembly of Virginia for compensation for his war-time loss:
"... in defending fort Boon in the County of Kentucky against an attempt of the Indians, your Petitioner had a valuable negro fellow killed - That the said negro was ordered by the Commanding officer to take a gun, and place himself in a dangerous post and to keep watch & fire on the Indians, which he accordingly did and was killed - That if the said negroe had been suffered to remain within his Cabbin, he could not have been hurt, That the loss of so valuable a slave together with the many other losses sustained by your petitioner in that Country distress him very much -"
From a supporting affidavit by W. Buchanan we hear the allegation that London "was worth upwards of Six hundred pounds." Henderson's claim was swiftly rejected.

It seems to me, picking and choosing among extant historical records, that we can believe both Pompey and London were bold ... perhaps to the point of recklessness. Neither seem to have shirked involvement when adventure called. Both expressed commitment to the social fabric webbing them in. In conclusion, I'd like to play a note on that old saw, that 'history is written by the winners.' I think it likely that accounts of Pompey's participation in the Siege at Boonesborough were colored by subsequent generations who sought to preserve a higher status in social order that was based on their skin color. Pompey remains within the folklore as a warning: persons of color should not act rudely. The account of London's behavior plays into a meme later expressed (and presently being discredited); that numbers of slaves so valued their position in southern society that they fought for the Confederacy.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Looking for Monk's People

In an earlier post, I allude to the fact that Monk (slave name, Uncle Monk Estill) saved my 4x-great-grandfather's life after Wyandot warriors shot James Berry (1752-1822) in the thigh at a skirmish called Estill's Defeat, or the Battle of Little/Small Mountain. 22 March of this year will be the 230th anniversary of this 1782 event.

I was able to interest the Madison County Historical Society in printing the following article in their newsletter, Heritage Highlights.

Partly inspired by the group Coming to the Table, I seek to build relationship with Monk's descendants. Estill's heirs freed Monk for his valor during and after the battle. I contend that not only was Berry's consciousness changed by the debt he owed a slave, but that Berry's grandson (my 2x-gr-grandfather) James Berry Turner (c1820-c1867) also believed freed slaves capable of self-determination. Turner attended an Emancipation Convention in 1849. This deviant behavior - of contemplating a means to free slaves - outraged his in-laws and strained relations with Turner's own family.

Here is the article as submitted.

20 March, 1880 - “The court-house was crowded to overflowing today with the best people of the county to witness the exercises of the Estill Centennial,” reported the Courier-Journal about this grand Madison County event. “A century ago Captain James Estill, with twenty-four men, fought a party of Wyandotte Indians on a small branch of Hinkston Creek, near where Mt. Sterling, in this State, now stands, and Estill was killed. From the fact that a large artificial mound stood near the spot, the fight is known as the battle of Little Mountain or Estill's Defeat.” 
Much had been done in preparation. H. C. Krell’s marble relief, on the flank of Estill’s monument in Richmond Cemetery, is dated 1879. The frieze of Joseph Proctor, aiming his rifle - and our attention - to the moment before Estill was impaled, was likely unveiled as part of the Centennial. 
On the University campus one hundred guns were fired. Students and schoolchildren marched in procession to the courthouse, which was decorated for the occasion. Nearly a dozen dignitaries had prepared orations, prayers and a benediction.
The names of some of the defeated can still be found on a marker that the Col. George Nicholas Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected near the battlefield.
Adam Caperton (1753-1782), John Colefoot/Coltfoot, Capt. James Estill (1750-1782), Unknown (perhaps George) Forbes/Forbis, Jonathan McMillan, Unknown McNeely & John South (The Younger, 1745-1782)
James Berry (c1752-1822), Ensign David Cook (c1756-1825) & William Irvine (1763-1819)
Others Engaged
James Anderson (perhaps 1757-1831), Henry Boyer(s)/Bowyer(s) (perhaps 1763-1821), William Cradlebaugh (c1744-aft 1832), Benjamin Dunnaway/Donway (perhaps 1757-1830), Whitson George (1766-1843), William Grim (likely William Grimes, b 1740), John Jameson (perhaps James Madison Jameson, c1741-1827), Unknown Johnson, Beal Kelly (1750-1837), David Lynch/Linch (1761-1826), Lt. William Miller (1747-1837), Rev. Joseph Proctor (c1755-1844), Reuben Proctor (c1753-c1804) & ‘Uncle’ Monk/Munk, slave to James Estill (D 1835) 
Peter Hacket(t) (B 1763) & Samuel South (c1769-1832)

To this list we must add young Jennie Gass (c1769-1782), daughter of David Gass (1732-1806) who was killed at the outset of hostilities.
To the DAR we can be grateful for specifying the most likely date of the battle: 22 March 1782. Others were involved in Col. Logan’s callout of the militia that March. The George Rogers Clark Papers in the Virginia State Archives report that in September 1783 the General ordered eight men compensated for horses lost at Estill’s Defeat: John Berry (1753-1811), David Crews (1740-1821), Stephen Hancock (c1744-c1827), Robert Harris (1749-1833), Benjamin Martin (1758-1838), John McDowell (perhaps 1757-1835), John Moore (1748-1825) & Page Portwood (1740-1779). Other evidence indicates William Hancock (1738-1818) and the Proctor brothers Benjamin (1760-1850) and Nicholas (1756-1835) may have been in the pursuit as well.
It is not clear where the Boones were during the attack. Alexander Robertson (1748-1802) was recuperating there when Estill’s station was attacked. Cotteril cites, in his History of Pioneer Kentucky that a (perhaps Charles) Hazelrigg was sufficiently knowledgeable about the battle to have given a subsequent deposition. He may have been on the burial detail of 40-50 men, which included John Harper. The primary native combatant has been referred to as Sourehoowah.
More than a hundred members of the Estill Family were to have attended the 1880 event; four of whom, Jonathan P. Estill, Maj. Jonathan T. Estill, Peter Estill, & Col. Clifton R. Estill, were living on their shares of Capt. Estill’s preempted land. Family members arrived from Missouri. They included Robert Estill, Jr. of Howard County, reportedly ‘one of the wealthiest citizens of the state;’ Robt. G. Estill of Kansas City, ‘for ten years a commission merchant’ of St. Louis; Benjamin Estill and wife of Kansas City; & T. K. W. Estill of Roscoe.
Other descendants of the ‘Heroes of Little Mountain’ addressed those assembled: William M. Irvine, then President of the Second National Bank; Judges William B. Smith and W. C. Miller; Hon. Thomas J. Scott and Hon. James B. McCreary; Col. James Caperton & Stanford attorney Wallace E. Varnon.
22 March 2012 will be the 230th anniversary of what the Richmond Register called the ‘Fiercest Battle Known.’ Recently, the freed slave Monk was honored by the 4th MCHS Walk of Fame plaque. Monk is to have sired 30 children by three wives, and a descendant of James Berry, the survivor of Estill’s Defeat whose life Monk likely saved, wants to acknowledge them. This MCHS member in Portland, Oregon is hoping readers can put him in touch with any of Monk’s known descendants. Mr. Hardesty is also soliciting all unpublished anecdotes pertaining to The Battle of Little Mountain and would like to hear from any descendants of those involved. Contact him via this page.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Warriors of Color Confront Monk

A site, purporting to deliver the history of Anishinabe Peoples, lists this account of the Battle of Little Mountain (also called Estill's Defeat):
This battle occurred in what is now Montgomery County, Kentucky. In this insignificant battle a small force of 25 white soldiers battled probably a larger force of Indian and black soldiers and lost. White casualties were 7 killed, while the casualties of the Indian and black soldiers was estimated at 17 killed and 2 wounded. The killings in the Gauntlet Grounds were intensifying during this time, as more and more whites commenced to settle down in the Gauntlet Grounds.
I know full well that the Wyandot peoples were often race neutral: it is understood that even a red-haired Anglo became a sub-chief in this time period. There were no permanent obstructions keeping Blacks taken as prisoners from becoming full-fledged People. Still, it took me by surprise to think that Captain Estill's slave Uncle Monk was not the only Black at the battle.

Upon reflection, it seems in the pioneers' best interest that all mention of armed Blacks - most likely escaped slaves - at war with ... and defeating ... militia forces should be kept secret. It must have been the pioneers' worst  nightmare.  Such intelligence must - at all costs - be kept from other slaves. It is entirely understandable that the written record, as well as anecdotes that have been passed down to us, would be silent on the subject.

Consider the implications. If true, does this knowledge make Monk's subsequent grant of freedom more remarkable? A prisoner overnight among the war party, he would have definitely known if any of his captors were black. Confronted by the idea that Monk might report that a Black Man, free or fugitive, has taken up arms, it is easy to surmise his life would become forfeit. His elimination would be the best way to prevent the spread of such incendiary information.

 The referent site represents expansively the concept of Anishinabe (whom I generally refer to as Chippewa or Ojibwa, while Wyandot is generally synonymous with Huron), and some historical accounts described are likely inaccurate. Still, this disclosure stimulates my thinking: I have heard Kentucky called the 'Middle Ground,' but never the 'Gauntlet Grounds.'

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Self-Rule in the Wilderness

In 1775, proprietors of the Transylvania Land Company (Trans = across, Sylvan = forest) have delivered enough goods to 'fill a dwelling' to about 12,000 Cherokee warriors for the right to occupy a vast swath of land in what is now known as Kentucky. At-ta-kul-la-Kul-la (Little Carpenter) says to Daniel Boone: “Brother, we have given you a fine land, but I believe you will have much trouble in settling it.” All present know this is not Cherokee land.

In 1775 this area was a No Man's Land to Anglos. King George III had forbidden colonization west of the Appalachian Mountains. Revolutionary Virgina expected these lands to fall within their purview, and profits from western land sales to fall into their colony's treasury.

Pioneers began an experiment in self-governance. Company proprietors sent James Hogg as their emissary to the Continental Congress. He carried a document (memorial) seeking to participate in their activities:
"From the generous plan of liberty adopted by the Congress and that noble love of mankind which appears in all their proceedings, the memorialists please themselves that the united colonies will take the infant Colony of Transylvania into their protection ...”
Due to objections by Virginia and fear that endorsing a project the Crown had prohibited would dash any hope for reconciliation with the King, the memorial was not presented.

Hogg's report back to his employers contained the same flowery language about liberty.
“You would be amazed to see how much in earnest all the speculative gentlemen are about the plan to be adopted by the Transylvanians. They entreat, they pray that we may make it a free government, and beg that no mercenary or ambitious views in the proprietors may prevent it. They even threaten us with their opposition, if we do not act upon liberal principles when we have it so much in our power to render ourselves immortal."
I found Hogg's next line chilling.
"Many of them advised a law against Negroes.SOURCE
To me, anyway, it all seems so incongruous. In their minds these property holders believed held a 'noble love of mankind.' It was not at all dichotomous that their slaves were conceived of as property, human beings not in any way to be considered in discussions of liberty and freedom.