Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee slavery’

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 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.

Enslaved African American Families on Wessyngton Plantation in 1860

Sunday, July 12th, 2009









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.”


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.


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.

Portraits by [Maria] Howard Weeden

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


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.