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.