The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-03-21 01:37Z by Steven

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color

Louisiana State University Press
March 2017
224 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
no illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807165218

Hank Trent

Historians have long discussed the interracial families of prominent slave dealers in Richmond, Virginia, and elsewhere, yet, until now, the story of slave trader Bacon Tait remained untold. Among the most prominent and wealthy citizens of Richmond, Bacon Tait embarked upon a striking and unexpected double life: that of a white slave trader married to a free black woman. In The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, Hank Trent tells Tait’s complete story for the first time, reconstructing the hidden aspects of his strange and often paradoxical life through meticulous research in lawsuits, newspapers, deeds, and other original records.

Active and ambitious in a career notorious even among slave owners for its viciousness, Bacon Tait nevertheless claimed to be married to a free woman of color, Courtney Fountain, whose extended family were involved in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. As Trent reveals, Bacon Tait maintained his domestic sphere as a loving husband and father in a mixed-race family in the North while running a successful and ruthless slave-trading business in the South. Though he possessed legal control over thousands of other black women at different times, Trent argues that Tait remained loyal to his wife, avoiding the predatory sexual practices of many slave traders. No less remarkably, Courtney Tait and their four children received the benefits of Tait’s wealth while remaining close to her family of origin, many of whom spoke out against the practice of slavery and even fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union.

In a fascinating display of historical detective work, Trent illuminates the worlds Bacon Tait and his family inhabited, from the complex partnerships and rivalries among slave traders to the anxieties surrounding free black populations in Courtney and Bacon Tait’s adopted city of Salem, Massachusetts. Tait’s double life illuminates the complex interplay of control, manipulation, love, hate, denigration, and respect among interracial families, all within the larger context of a society that revolved around the enslavement of black Americans by white traders.

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Thomas and Sally

Posted in Arts, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-21 00:40Z by Steven

Thomas and Sally

Marin Theater Company
Mill Valley, California
September 28-October 22 (2017) | World Premiere

By Thomas Bradshaw


Thomas Bradshaw

An explosive world-premiere commission by subversive American playwright Thomas Bradshaw, Thomas and Sally gets up close and personal with our country’s first prominent mixed-race family: Thomas Jefferson and his African American slave, Sally Hemings. In this satiric comedy, Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes of history and into the home (and bed) of Jefferson: Enlightenment-era genius, devoted husband, and man of contradictions, who insisted that the phrase “All men are created equal” be included in the Declaration of Independence but did not free his own slaves, even at his death. Sex, power and identity are all up for negotiation in this provocative, no-frills vision of early America…until, of course, they’re not. Thomas and Sally takes a sharp look at how the nation’s beginnings continue to influence what it’s become.

For more information, click here.

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Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-19 01:34Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

black youth project
2017-02-23

Elizabeth Adetiba

I am not the same person now as I was when I was 14—and thank God for that. I was remarkably naive and unbearably insecure, and stuck in an environment that did nothing but exacerbate those complex internal struggles that are so typical of adolescence.

So imagine my outrage upon being continuously confronted with articles that insist on describing the affairs between Thomas Jefferson and a fourteen year-old enslaved Sally Hemings (simultaneously his slave and wife’s half-sister) as a ‘relationship.’ I cannot fathom, at fourteen, being denied the liberty to reject the sexual advances of a 44 year-old man (and not just any man, but a man who would become the President of the United States) only to have historians and writers skip over the imbalanced power dynamics and categorize it as a ‘relationship.’…

Read the entire article here.

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Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-08 01:41Z by Steven

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 115, Number 2, Spring 2017
pages 289-291

Elizabeth C. Neidenbach
Department of History & American Studies
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America. By Sharony Green. (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 199. $36.00 cloth; $24.95 paper)

Remember Me to Miss Louisa opens with an 1838 letter from Avenia White, a woman of African descent, to Rice Ballard, a successful slave-trader-turned-planter. Ballard had recently freed White, Susan Johnson, and both of the women’s children and settled them in Cincinnati. In the letter, White requested financial aid from her former master and the father of her children. She also sent him her love. How, author Sharony Green asks, do we understand this emotional tie between White and Ballard? How do we reconcile Ballard’s actions toward White and Johnson with the fact that he owned, bought, and sold hundreds of enslaved people? More broadly, how do we comprehend sexual relationships between white male slave owners and enslaved African American women and girls? In seeking to answer these questions, Green exposes the ways in which white men served as “hidden actors in the lives of many freed women and children” in the antebellum period (p. 14).

Green uses the story of Ballard, White, and Johnson as one of three case studies to argue that even as sectional tensions over slavery intensified, some white masters made “different kinds of investments in human capital” (p. 6). Such investments were often financial—emancipation, money for resettlement in a free state, or school tuition—but they were also emotional. Without denying the sexual exploitation of enslaved women at the hands of their white masters, Green indicates how “intimacy” with white men provided some enslaved black women with opportunities for freedom and financial support for themselves and their children. Recognition of such gendered paths to freedom is not new, but Green also demonstrates how “emotional and physical closeness” with white men instilled confidence and assertiveness in enslaved women, which helped them navigate new lives as free people, particularly in urban places like Cincinnati (p. 8).

Green contributes to scholarship on gender and slavery through close readings and a creative use of new sources. Her work addresses questions on the prevalence and nature of sexual relations between white masters and enslaved black women that have long interested scholars. Yet, finding evidence to adequately answer these inquiries has proved challenging. Previous studies have relied heavily on public documents, especially court records, and thus often focus on interracial couples in relation to the law. Green, however, looks to personal papers to reveal the voices of the various actors affected by white men’s investment in black women and children.

In addition to the letters between White and Ballard, Green analyzes the memoir of Louisa Picquet, a mixed-race woman purchased at age fourteen by John Williams to be his sexual partner. Upon Williams’s death, Picquet and her children gained their freedom and relocated to Cincinnati. Picquet’s memoir illuminates intimate relations with white masters from the point of view of enslaved women “who maneuvered strategically to survive and maximize the possibility of their circumstances” (p. 64). Green also investigates the experiences of mixed-race children through a study of the ten children of wealthy Alabama planter Samuel Townsend. Using the Townsend siblings’ correspondence with one another and white patrons who assisted them in gaining their inheritance, Green extends her story beyond the Civil War. In doing so, she demonstrates both the privileges provided by Samuel Townsend’s investment in his children and the limits of that privilege in a nation that continued to oppress people of African descent.

Green’s careful analysis of firsthand accounts provides a multilayered perspective on intimate relations between white male slaveholders and enslaved black women and girls. Her attention to Cincinnati shifts the focus on this phenomenon from the South to the Midwest. At the same time, Green often looks to New Orleans for comparison due to the city’s large free people of color population and notoriety for interracial relationships. It is, therefore, surprising that she does not draw on new scholarship by Emily Clark, Kenneth Aslakson, and Emily Landau that has gone far in detangling the…

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Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-08 00:48Z by Steven

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America

Northern Illinois University Press
June 2015
200 pages
21 illus.
6×9
Paper ISBN: 978-0-87580-723-2

Sharony Green, Assistant Professor of American History
University of Alabama

Barbara “Penny” Kanner Prize, Western Association of Women Historians, 2016

It is generally recognized that antebellum interracial relationships were “notorious” at the neighborhood level. But we have yet to fully uncover the complexities of such relationships, especially from freedwomen’s and children’s points of view. While it is known that Cincinnati had the largest per capita population of mixed race people outside the South during the antebellum period, historians have yet to explore how geography played a central role in this outcome. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers made it possible for Southern white men to ferry women and children of color for whom they had some measure of concern to free soil with relative ease.

Some of the women in question appear to have been “fancy girls,” enslaved women sold for use as prostitutes or “mistresses.” Green focuses on women who appear to have been the latter, recognizing the problems with the term “mistress,” given its shifting meaning even during the antebellum period. Remember Me to Miss Louisa moves the life of the fancy girl from New Orleans, where it is typically situated, to the Midwest. The manumission of these women and their children occurred as America’s frontiers pushed westward, and urban life followed in their wake. Indeed, Green’s research examines the tensions between the urban Midwest and the rising Cotton Kingdom. It does so by relying on surviving letters, among them those from an ex-slave mistress who sent her “love” to her former master. This relationship forms the crux of the first of three case studies. The other two concern a New Orleans young woman who was the mistress of an aging white man, and ten Alabama children who received from a white planter a $200,000 inheritance (worth roughly $5.1 million in today’s currency). In each case, those freed people faced the challenges characteristic of black life in a largely hostile America.

While the frequency with which Southern white men freed enslaved women and their children is now generally known, less is known about these men’s financial and emotional investments in them. Before the Civil War, a white Southern man’s pending marriage, aging body, or looming death often compelled him to free an African American woman and their children. And as difficult as it may be for the modern mind to comprehend, some kind of connection sometimes existed between these individuals. This study argues that such men were hidden actors in freedwomen’s and children’s attempts to survive the rigors and challenges of life as African Americans in the years surrounding the Civil War. Green examines many facets of this phenomenon in the hope of revealing new insights about the era of slavery.

Historians, students, and general readers of US history, African American studies, black urban history, and antebellum history will find much of interest in this fascinating study.

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Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-05 22:16Z by Steven

Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Teen Vogue
2017-02-27

Lincoln Blades

This is an important Black History Month PSA.

In the black community, many different opinions abound regarding the usefulness of Black History Month. For some, it is viewed as a necessary and critical tool for cultural celebration and propagating the importance of our collective historical achievements, which otherwise would go unnoticed. For others, it feels like a reductive display of forced lip service conducted during the shortest and coldest month of the year, in lieu of providing us with a more sustained and inclusive role in the everyday curriculum. But what we all can agree on is that presenting our history in a wholly accurate and factual manner delivered with the correct context is of the utmost importance, which is why we react so strongly to inaccurate and/or misrepresentative claims.

That irritation was inflamed this past weekend when The Washington Post published an article about a restoration that would be occurring at Monticello, the plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, which is operated as a museum. The restoration to be completed will involve unmasking a bathroom installed in 1941 just steps from Jefferson’s bedroom to reveal what the room really was: Sally Hemings’s bedroom…

Read the entire article here.

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For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2017-03-05 21:59Z by Steven

For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

The Washington Post
2017-02-19

Krissah Thompson


By excavating and restoring areas where the slave community lived and worked, Monticello is trying to more fully integrate their stories at the historic plantation. A special focus will be placed on Sally Hemings, whose room in the house will soon be on display for the first time.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The room where historians believe Sally Hemings slept was just steps away from Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom. But in 1941, the caretakers of Monticello turned it into a restroom.

The floor tiles and bathroom stalls covered over the story of the enslaved woman, who was owned by Jefferson and had a long-term relationship with him. Their involvement was a scandal during his life and was denied for decades by his descendants. But many historians now believe the third president of the United States was the father of her six children.

Time, and perhaps shame, erased all physical evidence of her presence at Jefferson’s home here, a building so famous that it is depicted on the back of the nickel.

Now the floor tiles have been pulled up and the room is under restoration — and Hemings’s life is poised to become a larger part of the story told at Monticello…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Loving’ and Virginia: a timeline of mixed-race marriage

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-02-22 02:40Z by Steven

‘Loving’ and Virginia: a timeline of mixed-race marriage

The Richmond Times-Dispatch
2017-02-19

The movie “Loving” tells the story of a mixed-race Caroline County couple – and an important story about Virginia itself. We asked the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for some insight into Richard and Mildred Loving, as well as state history. Here is a timeline from the foundation’s Encyclopedia Virginia.

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April 3, 1691: The General Assembly passes “An act for suppressing outlying slaves,” which grants county sheriffs, their deputies and any other “lawfull authority” the ability to kill any slaves resisting, running away or refusing to surrender when so ordered. The act seeks to prevent “abominable mixture and spurious issue” by prohibiting mixed-race marriages.

October 1705: The assembly passes “An Act Concerning Servants and Slaves,” which summarizes previous laws defining bound labor in Virginia. It makes distinctions between the treatment of white “christian” indentured servants and nonwhite, non-Christians, allowing for the killing of slaves in various situations without penalty.

1848: The assembly increases the penalty for the white partner in an interracial marriage from six months to a maximum of 12 months in prison…

Read the entire article here.

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Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Question of Race: An Ongoing Debate

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-19 20:04Z by Steven

Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Question of Race: An Ongoing Debate

Journal of American Studies
Volume 37, Number 1 (April, 2003)
pages 99-118
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875803007023

Peter Nicolaisen (1936-2013), Professor of English Emeritus
University of Flensburg, Germany

Not many private relationships in history have received as much press attention in recent years as that between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. First alleged in 1802 by the journalist James Callender, who based his account on stories that had been current in Virginia for some years, the affair has since then been debated both in the scholarly community and by the general public to an unparalleled degree. The results of the DNA tests on male descendants of the Jefferson and Hemings families that were published in 1998 have added fuel to the debate. Meanwhile, its focus has shifted. The majority of those who have publicly expressed an opinion on the case, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation which owns and administers Monticello, now seem to agree that a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings did exist, and that it resulted in a number of children. The questions addressed today primarily concern the implications of the affair. What does the liaison between Jefferson and Sally Hemings mean for our understanding of the man Thomas Jefferson, and how does it affect the accomplishments he has generally been credited with? Given the little we know about her, how do we view Sally Hemings’s role in the relationship, and how do we come to understand her as an individual living out her life in bondage? What, if any, are the consequences the affair has for an evaluation of interracial relationships as they existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries?…

Read the entire article here.

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A president’s past yields a modern parable

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-19 03:56Z by Steven

A president’s past yields a modern parable

The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
2017-01-24

Jenn Smith


A tree is planted and dedicated to the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, at Monticello’s Mulberry Row. Mulberry Row was the center of activity of Jefferson’s 5,000-acre agricultural enterprise. According to the Monticello website, it was populated by more than 20 dwellings, workshops, and storehouses between 1770 and the sale of Monticello in 1831.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY JANE FELDMAN

Students learn about black history in Thomas Jefferson’s family

PITTSFIELD — History can play a crucial role in our futures, if we listen to it.

In 2002, photographer, Jane Feldman, who shares her time between the Berkshires and New York City, and Shannon Lanier, the sixth great-grandson of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, worked together to publish through Random House, “Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family.”

The book details, in family album and portrait style, Lanier’s trip across the country to retrace the footsteps of his maternal ancestor, Madison Hemings, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Hemings was Jefferson’s African-American slave.

With increasing discussions and divides developing across the nation regarding race and rights, Lanier and Feldman have decided to revive a series of tours and talks — originally conducted after the book’s release — about the book and its themes of identity, family and the varying perspectives of American history and culture.

“We believe that one of the things that will help us all navigate through this complicated time in our history is the ability to understand where we’ve come from and where we are going as individuals and as a nation,” Feldman said…

…The co-authors also noted how people aren’t always as they seem; for example how many light-skinned members of the Jefferson-Hemings lineage would go on to “pass” in society, that is, take advantage of the social statuses that came with looking like a white person, including freedom from slavery.

But the side effect of passing, is some future generations grew unaware of their black heritage, some even becoming racist, without knowing their own black blood lines…

Read the entire article here.

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