Posts Tagged ‘African American History’

Oral History Key to Tracing African American Roots

Sunday, October 18th, 2009
Joseph Washington 1895-2002

Joseph Washington 1895-2002

In more than thirty years of researching my ancestry and the lives of African Americans enslaved on Wessyngton Plantation, I have had the honor of interviewing more than twenty individuals whose parents or grandparents lived on the plantation.  These individuals ranged in age from eighty to 107 years old.

Although I found hundreds of documents about my ancestors from plantation records written by the owners of Wessyngton, I learned many personal things about my ancestors from conducting interviews with elder family members. 

In 1994, I visited my cousin Joseph Washington 1895-2002 (pictured above) at his home in Mansfield, Ohio on his one hundred second birthday.  As a child Joseph lived next door to my great-great-grandparents Emanuel and Henny Washington who were born at Wessyngton in the early 1800s.  He related many stories about them to me including ghost stories that my great-great-grandfather used to tell all the children on the plantation and songs he used to sing.  Joseph told me what life was like on the plantation when he grew up there and how many people on the plantation were related to one another.

Oral history is a vital key to tracing African American genealogy and  provides many details about our ancestors that can’t be found in records.

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. 

Plantation Records Key Link to African American Past

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

List of Men and Boys on Wessyngton Plantation 1856

List of Men and Boys on Wessyngton Plantation 1856

Plantation owners used records such as slave bills of sales, birth registers, and many other documents to keep an accurate count of their slaves’ births, deaths, and their production on plantations and farms.  These documents are invaluable in tracing African American genealogy.

 

The document above is a list of enslaved African American men and boys on Wessyngton Plantation in 1856 owned by George A. Washington.  Slave owners had to pay taxes on their slaves from age twelve to fifty, so the list only identifies those in that age range who were a part of the plantation labor force.  Many of the individuals are listed with surnames: Davis, Fairfield, Gardner, Holman, Lewis, Price, Smith, Terry, Vanhook, White and Woodard.  The use of these surnames made it possible to locate them and their previous slave owners.  Many of them were also found on the 1870 U. S. Census living on or near Wessyngton Plantation.  

 

In 1964, the Washington family deposited all their family papers and plantation records in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville.  Hundreds of these documents shed light on the lives of hundreds of African Americans enslaved there.

A Thank You Letter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Letter from Queen Elizabeth

Letter from Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth acknowledged the receipt of a signed copy of my book. As is the custom, her lady-in-waiting wrote me.  The royal seal indicated that the Queen was at her summer residence, Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balmoral_Castle– for your info.

Colonial Documents Reveal African Roots

Friday, July 24th, 2009
Court Orders, Southampton County, VA, 1749

Court Orders, Southampton County, VA, 1749

Nero a Negro boy slave belonging to Henry Cooker is by the court adjudged to fourteen years of age.

Zingo a Negro boy slave belonging to John Warren by the court adjudged to thirteen years of age.

Douglas a Negro boy slave belonging to Thomas Westbrooks by the court adjudged to ten years of age.

Anarcha a Negro boy slave belonging to Thomas Westbrooks by the court adjudged to nine years of age.

Juba a Negro boy slave belonging to David Edmunds by the court adjudged to ten years of age.

Tilla a Negro girl belonging to Thomas Gillum the court adjudged to fourteen years of age.

Pompey a Negro boy slave belonging to John Barrow the court adjudged to ten years of age.

During the Colonial period, slave owners were required to pay taxes on their slaves from ages twelve to fifty years old. When Africans were brought to the colonies and it was evident that they were adults they were simply added to tax rolls called tithables. When small children and teenagers arrived from Africa and their ages were uncertain, the slave owners would have to take them into court and a judge would assign an age for the slave, which was then recorded in minute or court order books. Most of the slaves were assigned English names, although some retained their true African names. Some of the court orders also list the names of the ships the Africans arrived in and the dates of arrival. Many of these individuals can be traced in later documents such as tax records, wills, and estate settlements. These records can prove to be a genealogical goldmine for African American researchers.

Presentation for St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society

Friday, June 5th, 2009
St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society

St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society

On May 23rd I gave a presentation about my book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom to  the St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society at the Missouri History Museum.  I made many new friends among avid genealogical researchers.  I had a great time in St. Louis and look forward to visiting again.

Television Interview with John Seigenthaler Sr.

Monday, May 18th, 2009

My half-hour television interview with John Seigenthaler Sr, A Word on Words, is available as a free downloadable Podcast.

http://www.wnpt.org/productions/wow/

 

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.

How Can We Honor Our Ancestors on Memorial Day?

Monday, May 18th, 2009
USCT from Wessyngton

USCT from Wessyngton

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.

My Story in June Issue of Ebony

Monday, May 11th, 2009
Ebony Article

Ebony Magazine Article

Check out my story in this month’s Ebony. “Telling our Stories: Relaying family history to children can keep our heritage alive.” On page 94, Shirley Henderson describes my story. A photograph of my ancestors and the Wessyngton Plantation slave cemetery memorial illustrate the article.

Portraits by [Maria] Howard Weeden

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

wessyngton-portraits

In the 1890s the Washington family contracted the famous artist [Maria] Howard Weeden to paint portraits of several African Americans.  These portraits hung in the plantation mansion.  In this photograph Preston Frazer, a Washington descendant, is seen with the portraits.  The portraits remain in the Washington family.

Would you share a photo of  a portrait of your ancestors with others?  Please send a photo to me with a short e-mail telling me about it.  Also please let me know if I could post the photo and the information on my blog.  I would not post your name or e-mail address. Thank you. john@johnbakerbooks.com