Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Slave Descendant Walks in Ancestors’ Footsteps on Wessyngton Plantation

Monday, November 2nd, 2009
Archaeological Dig at Wessyngton Slave Cabin Site

Archaeological Dig at Wessyngton Slave Cabin Site

In 1991, I had an opportunity that few historians or genealogists ever have; to literally walk in your ancestors’ footsteps.  In 1989 I was approached by the president of the Bloomington-Normal black history Project and director of the Midwestern archaeological research Center, about the potential investigations of the salve cabin area on Wessyngton Plantation to get an interpretation of slave life there.  Similar digs have been conducted at the Hermitage, Mt. Vernon, and Monticello. 

The actual digging at Wessyngton did not start until 1991.  The thought of actually walking in my ancestors’ footsteps and holding objects they used in their everyday lives one hundred years earlier was surreal to me.  Three sections of the slave cabin area were selected for exploration.  One site was where the cabin of my great-great-grandparents Emanuel and Henny Washington once stood.

The dig yielded fragments of pottery and dishes used by my ancestors as well as coins and arrowheads made by Native Americans. 

The photograph above shows the site of the archaeological dig on Wessyngton Plantation where my ancestors once lived.

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.

Runaway Slaves During the Civil War

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Runaway Slaves from Wessyngton Plantation 1862-1863

Runaway Slaves from Wessyngton Plantation 1862-1863

 

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued September 22, 1862, declared freedom to slaves in the confederate states that did not return to the control of the Union by January 1, 1863.  It did not free slaves from the border  states Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee.  Many slaves from these states, however, were already free by this time due to self-emancipation─running away or being abandoned by their owners.

George A. Washington realized that his slaves would soon be tempted to leave his plantation Wessyngton.  At the same time the Union Army was recruiting black soldiers, George made an offer to hire some of his slaves for a rate of $10 per month.  From February through May 1863, twenty-four men agreed to stay on the plantation and work for the offered $10 per month.  Of those twenty-four, however; eighteen left within a few months.  The men had worked on the plantation all their lives and no doubt wanted to see what the outside world had to offer and to taste freedom.  The men must have seen the offered salary as an attempt to keep them on the plantation.  The above document lists the eighteen individuals who ran away from Wessyngton Plantation from 1862-1863.

Slave Labor on Southern Plantations

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Wessyngton Tobacco Field

Wessyngton Tobacco Field

Slaves toiled endlessly, clearing land, plowing fields, raising livestock, erecting buildings, and planting crops to transform frontier landscapes into lavish plantations.

 

The enslaved population on Wessyngton Plantation primarily produced tobacco, which was very labor intensive.  In 1860,  250,000 pounds of tobacco was produced on Wessyngton making it the largest producer of tobacco in the United States and the second largest in the world.

Slave Housing on Southern Plantations

Monday, October 5th, 2009
Wessyngton Slave Cabins

Wessyngton Slave Cabins

Housing for slaves varied from plantation to plantation depending on the owners.  Most slave quarters were generally arranged in avenues or streets and located behind the mansion or ‘Big House.’  They were strategically placed to give the owner or overseer a clear view of the slaves, so their activities could be easily monitored.

The slave settlement at Wessyngton Plantation, however, did not fit this pattern.  The lack of a clustered settlement pattern at Wessyngton was somewhat unusual during antebellum times.  This was primarily due to the hilly topography of the plantation.  The scattered pattern gave the slaves at Wessyngton more freedom and made it far more difficult to keep them under constant surveillance.

Typically, slave housing at Wessyngton consisted of hand-hewn one-room log cabins measuring 20 by 20 square feet with brick end chimneys.  Some cabins were 18 by 36 square feet.  Each cabin had log flooring and a loft, where children  slept. 

Each cabin housed an average of six individuals.  Family sizes varied depending on the number births, deaths and marriages.

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.

Dedication of Enslaved Memorial at The Hermitage

Monday, May 18th, 2009
Baker at the Hermitage

Baker at the Hermitage

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.

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.