Archive for the ‘Book Tour & Reviews’ Category

Portraits of Gardner Ancestors Revealed at 76th Gardner Family Reunion

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Daniel Gardner 1839-1911

Daniel Gardner 1829-1911

Melissa Boisseau Gardner 1838-1931

Melissa Boisseau Gardner 1838-1931

 

In August 2010 the Gardner family celebrated their 76th annual family reunion.  The festivities included a tour of Wessyngton Plantation. Aaron Gardner born 1804, his wife Betty born 1814, and their three sons Daniel Gardner 1829-1911, George Gardner 1830-1906, and Jackson Gardner Washington born 1831 were enslaved on the plantation from 1839 to 1865.  After emancipation George Gardner purchased 169 acres of land, which he willed to his nephew Will Gardner.  Daniel Gardner and his wife Melissa Boisseau Gardner were the parents of eighteen children.  Many of their descendants remain in the Robertson County area.  There are more African Americans carrying the Gardner surname than any other surname in the county. Two original portraits of Daniel and Melissa Gardner were revealed to descendants at the 76th Gardner family reunion.

Runaway Slave Escapes to Freedom in Canada

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Elijah Smyth or Smith was originally owned by Joseph L. D. Smith on his plantation in Florence, Alabama. When Joseph Smith died in 1837, Elijah was inherited by Smith’s minor daughter Jane, who later married George Augustine Washington of Wessyngton Plantation. 

Between 1850 and 1860, Elijah Smyth made his escape from slavery in Alabama most likely using the Underground Railroad.  He made it to freedom in Buxton, Canada.  Buxton, was established in 1849 by the abolitionist Reverend William King, and was one of four settlements in Canada which offered refuge for fugitive slaves. Buxton was located between Lake Erie and the Great Western railway, and consisted of approximately 9,000 acres of land.  The logging industry provided an income for most of its residents.

Reverend King had strict guidelines for the settlers: land could not be leased, and could only be purchased by African Americans for $2.50 per acres.  Once the land was purchased it had to be held for ten years.  Houses had to be built that were at least 24 x 18 x 12 feet with a porch, and picket fence and flower garden in front.  The town had four churches, three schools, a hotel and its own post office. In 1860, Buxton’s population was its largest with about 700 residents.

Elijah Smyth was literate. Since educating slaves was forbidden by law in Alabama, he probably was educated at the Buxton school.

Between 1850 and 1860, Elijah Smyth wrote a letter to Jane Smith’s aunt, Anne Pope. He sent the letter from Buxton, Canada.

Mrs. Pope,

Will you be so kind as I do not know who my young Mrs. is married to or where she lives. The least she will take for my papers of liberty as I am ready to pay a reasonable price.  It is better for her to get a half loaf than no bread.  If she will take a reasonable price write to me and then I will write to you and let you know what day to have a man in Detroit with my papers and will send the money by a friend to meet him.  Be so kind as to write to me in haste.

No more but kindness,

Yours truly Elijah Smyth

[Washington Family Papers]

In the letter Elijah Smyth offered to purchase his freedom.  It is unknown why he made the offer since he was already free.  He might have wanted to purchase the freedom of other family members who were still enslaved.  It also is not known whether Jane Smith responded to his letter or accepted his offer.

National Black Arts Festival Study Group Walks in Footsteps of Baker’s Ancestors on Wessyngton Plantation

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

wessyngton-cabin-june-2010

 

In addition to touring the grounds surrounding the Wessyngton mansion, National Black Arts Festival members and guests walked in the footsteps of Baker’s ancestor in the slave cabin area of the plantation.  The group went inside a restored slave cabin built ca. 1830.  In 1860, there were 274 enslaved African Americans on the plantation, housed in forty log cabins.  At the onset of the Civil War, Wessyngton held the largest African American population in the state of Tennessee and was the largest tobacco producer in America.

National Black Arts Study Group at Wessyngton Plantation

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

wessyngton-entrance-gate-june-2010

Today I had the honor of conducting a study group tour of Wessyngton Plantation for Dr. Collette Hopkins, Director of the National Black Arts Festival of Atlanta, along with a number of her colleagues and distinguished guest.  The tour included a visit to the Wessyngton mansion, Washington family cemetery, and a former slave cabin.   Participants were told about the lives of enslaved African Americans on the largest tobacco plantation in America and walked in their footsteps. 

The above photo was taken at the entrance gate to Wessyngton Plantation where I was told as a small child by my grandfather that was where my ancestors came from.  The interest in my family’s history led me on a thirty year journey of discovery and the writing of The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom.

Author Shows History Begins at Home

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation reviewed in Nashville City Paper by Todd Dills.  Click here to see review.

Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom - Resource for Educators and Teachers

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom has been released in trade paperback and is an excellent resource for teachers and educators.    The book chronicles the African American experience from slavery to freedom.  It has more than 100 photographs and portraits of African Americans who were once enslaved.  The book covers many aspects of plantation slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Genealogy, and DNA testing.

http://books.simonandschuster.net/Washingtons-of-Wessyngton-Plantation/John-F-Baker-Jr/9781416567417

Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation Presented to Gateview Elementary School Students in Portland, Tennessee

Monday, November 30th, 2009
5th Grade Class at Gateview Elementary in Portland, TN

5th Grade Class at Gateview Elementary in Portland, TN

On November 20th I had the honor of delivering a presentation about my book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation to the entire fifth grade class at Gateview Elementary School in Portland, Tennessee.  More than 100 students attended.  Prior to my visit the students had studied the Civil War, which tied into my program.  The students were very attentive and had many questions.  Following the presentation many of the students expressed an interest in tracing their genealogy.

A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name by Ann Nixon Cooper

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

On Tuesday November 4, 2008, President Barack Obama reflected on the life of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper: “she’s seen throughout her century in America─the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told we can’t; and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.”

Empowered and energized by this history-making presidential campaign, Mrs. Cooper told her story in her own voice.  A Century and Some Change is the portrait of an American who lived a rewarding and culturally rich life.

Mrs. Cooper was raised in Nashville in the home of her aunt-in-law Joyce Washington Nixon, who was born a slave at Wessyngton Plantation during the last days of the Civil War. I  had the honor of interviewing Mrs. Cooper and recording her memories in my book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation, which she mentioned in her book. 

A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name will be released on January 5, 2010 by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  Mrs. Cooper passed away on December 21st at her home, nineteen days short of her 108th birthday.

Order A Century and Some Change by clicking the icon of her book cover

 

International Black Genealogy Summit in Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Sunday, November 8th, 2009
Meet the Authors event, International Black Genealogy Summit

Meet the Authors event, International Black Genealogy Summit

I just returned from a very exciting event—The first International Black Genealogy Summit held in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 29-31, 2009.   Several hundred people participated.  Throughout the conference I shared my research experience with genealogists.  It was wonderful to speak with many people who had already read my book. The give and take of ideas illustrates that we are just at the beginning of a long and interesting journey to learn about our roots. 

At the Meet the Authors event everyone could talk to the authors of books related to African American genealogy. The authors posed together for this photo. (L-R) Tony Burroughs who wrote Black Roots: A Beginners Guide To Tracing the African American Family Tree; myself; Tim Pinnick, author of Finding and Using African American Newspapers; and (Seated) Frazine Taylor, with her book Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama.

Slave Women on Southern Plantations

Friday, October 9th, 2009
Slave Women Processing Pork on Wessyngton Plantation

Slave Women Processing Pork on Wessyngton Plantation

Enslaved African American women performed various task on southern plantations and farms.  Women on Wessyngton Plantation were not required to do any hard labor in the fields as the men did; however, they were an important part of other operations on the plantation.  Women did light work in the gardens, they knitted and sewed for the slave community and their owners, worked the looms, and did the spinning and weaving.  They were responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, making cheese, preserves, and soap. No mother with a young baby was expected to do any outside work until her baby was two years old.  There was a nursery on the plantation were children were cared for by elderly women too old to work.  Women were a vital part of the pork processing industry on the plantation as seen in the photo above.  Each week the women on the plantation would assemble at the plantation smokehouse (building in background of photo) and would be allotted bacon, meal, flour, sugar, and coffee based on the number of individuals in their families.  Hundreds of hogs were killed at each year at Wessyngton to feed the enslaved population and the Washington family.  Wessyngton had a reputation for producing  its famous Washington Hams which could be found on the menus of the finest restaurants as far south as New Orleans and as far north as Philadelphia.