On Saturday August 8th the Terry family will tour Wessyngton Plantation as part of their bi-annual family reunion. The group will tour the Wessyngton slave cemetery, the Washington family cemetery, the grounds around the mansion and a restored slave cabin. Members of the National Black Arts Festival from Atlanta will also attend the reunion festivities. Following the tour the group will dine at the Tennessee National Guard Armory. I will also autograph copies of my new book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom. The Terrys descend from Dick Terry 1818-1879 and Aggy Washington Terry born 1824. Today there are more than 1,000 Terry family members.
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Check out my article on BlackPast.org. It is an excellent resource for African American history and genealogy.
In 1860 Wessyngton Plantation was the largest tobacco plantation in the United States. The Washington family also held the largest number of enslaved African Americans (274) in the state of Tennessee. 187 of them were held on what was called the “Home Place” near the Wessyngton mansion. Eighty-seven others were held on a part of the plantation known was the “Dortch Place.”
Enslaved African Americans used various forms of resistance against the institution of slavery. Some used passive forms of resistance such as pretending to be ill, secretly destroying tools, and work slow downs. Others used more drastic measures such as physical violence toward their enslavers and running away. Several men from Wessyngton Plantation escaped and made it to free territory. One slave Davy, ran away four times and was preparing to cross the Ohio River and go north to Canada when he was recaptured.
My presentation at the Missouri History Museum was followed by a book signing, which was well attended. I enjoyed meeting the members of the St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society who sponsored the event.
One of the most exciting things about genealogical research is meeting new family members. In conducting research for more than thirty years I’ve found hundreds of relatives. I created this tree which spans ten generations and includes more than 600 names of descendants from my great-great-grandparents Emanuel and Henny Washington. I have genealogical information on all the families that came from Wessyngton including: Washington, Blow, Gardner, Terry, White, Williams, Lewis, Scott, Green and many others.
In 2008 the Gardners celebrated their 75th annual family reunion. As part of the reunion festivities I led them on a tour of Wessyngton Plantation. The tour included the Wessyngton mansion, Washington family cemetery, slave cemetery and a restored slave cabin. The Gardner earliest ancestors, Aaron Gardner, his wife Betty and their three sons, Daniel, George and Jackson came to Wessyngton in the late 1830s. There are more African Americans in Robertson County, Tennessee with the Gardner surname than any other family.
On May 17th a dedication ceremony was held at The Hermitage, the plantation owned by President Andrew Jackson, in honor of 60 African Americans who had been enslaved on the Ingleside and Cleveland Hall Plantations. Both plantations were owned by nephews of Rachel Jackson and had ties to the enslaved population at The Hermitage.
As reported by the Associated Press, a memorial sculpture of seven oak trees in the shape of the Little Dipper was laid out among a circle of thirty boulders. The piece by Lee Benson is named “Our Peace, Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Slaves fleeing to the North would follow the North Star, one of the stars in the Little Dipper.
Following the ceremony I gave a presentation and did a book signing. It was a very special and meaningful event.
My half-hour television interview with John Seigenthaler Sr, A Word on Words, is available as a free downloadable Podcast.
Mr. Seigenthaler asked me many in-depth thought-provoking questions. At the end, he said, “I learned more from your book than I learned from reading my friend Alex Haley’s book called Roots.” I hope you enjoy the interview. Leave a comment with your reaction.
On Memorial Day, we need to take a moment to tell our children about their ancestors who fought for freedom and America. During the Civil War, our ancestors fled slavery and the plantations and joined the Union Army to fight for freedom. We must never forget the sacrifices of our ancestors that we might enjoy freedom today.