Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Resistance Among America's Forgotten Slaves (Many Rivers to Cross Blogging Circle Response to Episode 2)

The second episode of the PBS series "Many Rivers to Cross" aired on Tuesday October 29th and the episode reflected several stories of how in an effort to be free there was resistance. The enslaved men and women brought to American had the same desire of the forefathers, as they wanted the freedom that burns in the hearts of all men and women. The episode presented the resistance that came with the boldness of Nat Turner, the leadership of Richard Allen, and even the heartbreak of Margaret Garner. Each story was different but all had the same theme---that of resistance!

I felt disappointed however, because as much as the episode presented, it still continued an ommission that involves part of my own family history and that of thousands of others.

About 1500 miles from the site of Nat Turner's rebellion,other acts of resistance among African slaves were taking place as well. The African slaves of Indian Territory had the same yearning in their breast to be free. And not long after the Trail of Tears took the Indians west in the 1830, hundreds of Africans still wanted what all men wanted--to live their lives, choose their spouses and raise their children. Yet historians from Howard to Harvard, from Washington to Cambridge, and from New Haven to New Orleans---most overlook the story of resistance among the slave-holding tribes of Indian Territory

1) The Great Runaway in the Cherokee Nation

In 1831 Nat Turner and a band of about sixty people created terror in their efforts to gain freedom. It is said to have been the largest slave rebellion in American history. Yet, less than a decade later several dozen slaves of Cherokee Indians had the same desire, simply to live freely.

The year was 1842 and one very prosperous Cherokee lived in what is now Webber's Falls, Oklahoma. His name was Joseph Vann, and he was the son of wealthy Cherokee Chief James Vann. Joseph  was said to have lived a very comfortable and lavish lifestyle in Indian Territory and many knew him by the nickname of "Rich Joe" Vann. With more than 200 slaves, his lifestyle was more than comfortable, and he made his living from cotton grown and picked by his many slaves.

Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann

One night in November 1842 slaves awakened several hours before daybreak. They locked the doors to the Vann mansion, and took every horse and mule, as well as many arms as they had access to and scores of them left. They had one goal--to get to Mexico and find freedom. While on route to the south, they rummaged through a general store and took more weapons and headed southward.

It would be over a day and a half before the Vann household could get enough reinforcements from Ft. Smith Arkansas to joint the Cherokee militia to track the runaways. But once in pursuit, the posse of Cherokees and whites from Arkansas were on the trail.

The Cherokee fugitive slaves were joined by additional slaves from the Creek Nation, and it is said that slaves from the Mackey and Talley plantation also joined them. While heading southward into the Choctaw Nation they met resistance and they engaged in skirmishes with several who sought to pursue them. Two of the slave catchers were killed. Eventually the Cherokee authorities caught up with the fugitives about 7 miles north of the Red River. And by this time, a party of more than 80 men closed in on the fugitives. After several exchanges of gunfire, the fugitives found themselves trapped in an area with little water, and by this time the women and children were exhausted, and they surrendered. It is said that five of the leaders were executed and the remaining male slaves were confined to work on the steamboats owned by  Rich Joe Vann.

Years later an article from the The Elevator, a newspaper in Ft. Smith Arkansas retold the story:

Article from Ft. Smith Elevator  February 5, 1897

2) The Seminole Resistance 1848
Life continued in bondage in Indian Territory in all of the slave holding tribes. And in spite of new restrictions established in the tribes after the 1842 Cherokee Runaway, the Seminole effort would end differently.

In 1848 a mere six years after the Cherokee Slave Revolt, about 100 slaves made a successful effort to leave Indian Territory and made it to northern Mexico. Lead by Seminole leaders John Horse and some traditionalist Seminole leaders, these Black Seminoles settled in Nacimiento, Coahuila, Mexico. Many would remain until slavery was abolished in the United States. Some later returned to the United States and settled near Ft. Clark Texas, where many of the men from this community were enlisted in the US Army and formed the now renowned Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.

John Horse, aka Gopher John, engraving by N. Orr
John Horse, Black Seminole Leaders

3) Persistent Runaways from Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations

Evidence of resistance among other slave holding tribes comes from two sources, newspapers, and military records. Newspapers throughout the Indian Territory would contain ads of runaway slaves. And even in nearby Arkansas newspapers one would find ads placed by prominent slave holders.

In 1851 the Choctaw Intelligencer was a bilingual newspaper published in the Choctaw Nation. Several ads pertaining to fugitive slaves can be found.

4) Single Slave Resistance, and the Burning of Lucy

More stories of resistance can be found including the story of one slave who admitted that he had murdered Robert Harkins his master. After confessing to the murder he implicated compliance of a female slave named Lucy, who denied any part in the murder. The slave who confessed then committed suicide and the woman Lucy, who was active in the Presbyterian church where slaves were permitted to worship, was burned alive by an angry mob. Hundreds were said to have come to witness the burning of the slave woman, in spite of others testifying to her innocence and doubtful evidence. The burning of the slave Lucy occurred in 1858. The incident went unreported for over a year to authorities, although hundreds who lived within a day's ride were said to have come to witness the burning of Lucy. 

In a Master's thesis from the University of North Texas, scholar Jeffrey Fortney Jr. tells the story that was suppressed for many years--that of the burning of the slave woman called Lucy.

5) Closer to My Ancestor's Home in Skullyville, Choctaw Nation
I often wonder how much my own ancestors who lived in the Choctaw Nation may have wanted to be free and whether they had heard of Lucy and how it may have touched them. After all, they were Choctaw slaves and Lucy, was also Choctaw. My gr. grandmother was not yet born when Lucy died, but her mother was alive as was her grandmother, and their lives had been in the Choctaw Nation since arrival in 1831.

 My family lived in Skullyville, and I am sure that Sallie's mother knew the people involved in the Choctaw slave uprising, that occurred on the Hall plantation not far from the Perry home in Skullyville. It was said that there had been talk in the vicinity that abolitionists were active in the northern part of the Choctaw Nation. Most of the details of the slave uprising are limited, but it is said that on the Hall Plantation, that an overseer had influenced the uprising, The name of only one person is generally mentioned, a Hall slave, who it is said actually assisted in squashing the uprising was Jake Hall.

As I reported in an article on another blog devoted the Choctaw Freedmen, the enslaved men on the Hall estate attempted to seize their freedom.  There they were met with resistance by members of the Hall family and the overseer. Several of the slave holder's family subsequently died in the altercation. Yet according to one of the stories from the Indian Pioneer Papers, Jake Hall the slave intervened in some way, and he was able to stop the fighting and prevented further bloodshed. Little else was mentioned about him, except that he died in the Civil War.

I kept reading that part in the interview about Jake Hall dying in the war, and I found not the "loyal slave", but a man Jacob Hall who as soon as the opportunity came, freed himself and enlisted in the US Colored Infantry. He became a soldier and a Freedom fighter. I told his story on another blog in the article "In Search of a Slave Called Jake, I Found a Soldier Called Jacob."

After last night's airing of Episode 2 of Many Rivers to Cross I was happy to see that the resistance and the resilience of the human spirit in the basic desire to be free was there among enslaved people.

But I must still ask the question of Dr. Gates and all of the historians----when will history reflect my people?
I know where the ancestors are from and I know that they resisted, but I must still ask---when will history reflect the stories of the enslaved in Indian Territory. No longer can they be ignored.

The were resilient, they resisted, and it is time to tell those stories!

(The African American Blogging Circle is a group of African Ancestored Genealogy Bloggers who are sharing their thoughts and opinions about African American history and told through their own personal lens. Their stories are told in response to the PBS Series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. )
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

African American Genealogy Bloggers Respond : Many Rivers To Cross

What a great week!!! The bloggers have come out to share their own thoughts and opinions after the first episode of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross."

Last week, seven genealogy bloggers decided as a group to join a circle and to blog about their own family stories, after watching the first episode of the PBS documentary. They jumped right into the process and some amazing family stories have been told, many using the same theme from the first espisode---the African side of the family.

While most of the African American genealogists in the African American blogging circle have not identified their first African ancestor who may have arrived in America, most did choose still to address the history of their personal family lines, and to make the connection between their American based family to the African side of the family.

Terry Ligon, was the first of the bloggers to address the series, and he began by a simple expression of hope. His hope is that the series will include his ancestors-not specifically, but in a geographic sense. His ancestors (like mine) have ties to Indian Territory. And this is an arena that Dr. Gates has admittedly little information--the story of those who were enslaved by the Five Civilized Tribes, the five Slaveholding tribes that took black people with them on the trail of tears. These Black people were not taken as friends or associated, but as slaves as human chattel. The Indians were southerners and like many of their white southerners, they took the culture of the South with them--including southern Black slavery.  Ligon's post is African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross. A few days later, Terry decided to follow up, with a second blog post: Crossing Rivers in Indian Territory.
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On my blog, (My Ancestor's Name) I decided to address the story of Priscilla, the young girl brought to America from Sierra Leone. For genealogist Thomalind Polite, Pricsilla's story is the story of many children and adolescents brought to America. One of the lines I have documented to the late 1700s is my maternal line, and I decided to present this portion of the story, through that of my maternal line, and my oldest identified maternal ancestor, Martha. For me, Martha, a great great great grandmother, is my "Priscilla." The article that I wrote is "Who is My Priscilla?" All families that descend from enslaved people, have one or more "Priscilla's in our lines. The task is to find them.
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Nicka Sewell Smith also addressed the need to find the "Priscilla's" in our line. But she took the role as teacher. Embracing the style of writer bell hooks, Nicka Smith becomes the teacher and shows her readers different methods and strategies to find their own "Priscillas." Smith is a genealogist who like today's descendants of Priscilla from the Ball Plantation, she too has made that pilgrimage to Africa, to Cameroun specifically where one of her lines is known to have come from. Her blog, "Who is Nicka Smith" was full of advice for researchers to tell that part of their story.
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Vicky Daviss-Mitchell took the name of the documentary, "Many Rivers to Cross" and incorporated it into a sentimental exploration of the actual "rivers" in the east Texas communities where her ancestors lived.  Her piece was called "River of Life, Rolling on the River". Told from the perspective of her Texas Ancestors, she addressed the road blocks, and takes the reader to the shores of those real rivers that at some times, may have seemed uncrossable. Her blog is called "Mariah's Zepher".
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Blogger and author Melvin J. Collier decided to follow his ancestor's route from Africa to Virginia. He looks at the journey from a number of possible scenarios and takes the readers there. His strong sense of logic and his natural ability to explain, made his post a wonderful read. He goes into detail exploring the various regions of Virginia and asks if there was even the possibility that a Virginia line, could have emerged in the northern Virginia community where he now lives. His blog is Roots Revealed.
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George Geder is well known to many in the genealogy community. He chose to focus on the "Door of No Return", shown in Episode 1. He quickly moved beyond the issue that historians debate whether the Maison d'Esclaves was the right point of departure.  He knows that the site is the symbolic point of departure from the western shores of Africa. He also takes the reader in a fast forward point in the 1960s when a teacher told him that he had no place of origin, and that Negro must be written with a small "n" for there is no place for a "negro" and that no place of origin for a "negro" had ever been defined. What an impression to make upon a child by a teacher! His post is "Wanders, Wonders, Signs and Other Writings.
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Drusilla Pair well known for her Find Your Folks blog and her efforts to teach and to take genealogy "outside of the box", introduced herself to the blogging circle. Her first reaction to the series is simple--some survived the middle passage and some did not--but the family made it, and the proof of that survival is as she says, "the proof is me"! Her blog is Find Your Folksand we all look forward to her thoughts as the series unfolds.
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One useful tool was shared with the community beyond the team of bloggers. Lowcountry Africana shared the documents from the Ball Plantations that were mentioned in Episode 1. Those with ties to So. Carolinas and Ball family plantations, may find their researched enhanced by examining the documents on Lowcountry Africana Ball Plantation Documents.
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Tonight Episode 2 of The African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross, will air.

The team of bloggers of the African American Genealogy & History Bloggers will be watching and writing, so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Who is My "Priscilla"? Many Rivers to Cross - Episode 1

Silhouette of an African Girl

The first episode of The African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross, aired on Tuesday evening on PBS. In that beginning episode, the story of the beginning of the African slave trade was outlined. In that segment, the harsh cruelties of the slavery system revealed a complicated story taking captive Africans from West Africa to North America.  

I watched the program, and reflected on how my own family story is incorporated into the story that unfolded in the documentary. As a genealogist with over 25 years of research, I have had the fortune of being able to take several lines of my family history to the original places in America where my various lines were planted. And thanks to DNA, I can also determine where in Africa at least three different lines began.From my maternal line, I know that a female who started out in Nigeria, ended up in Virginia. From my father's side,, I know that at least two of his gr. grandparents have lines that began as Balanta people in Guinea Bissau. But there is a wide gap from a that of a captive in West Africa, to being an enslaved woman or man in Virginia, or Tennessee. 

After watching the program, I decided for this first piece to look at one of my lines in more detail and to tell part of that story from the perspective of that one line. I was most captivated by the story in "Many Rivers to Cross" with the story of Priscilla from the Ball Plantation. This is a story that I have read about before, and seeing it on the program made me pause, and then I knew where I would go after this first episode. I begin with a simple question:

Who is my "Priscilla"?

I don't know her name, but I do know her daughter, or her granddaughter.

My oldest documented female ancestor on my maternal line is a woman called Martha. Martha was born in Virginia, about 1795. But her mother---her name is never mentioned--it is only known that she was "brought to Virginia."  But from where?  From the West Indies? Or directly from Africa?

Ages, as we know are approximate, and at best this birth year is an estimate, but her daughter Martha was born, it is said in Virginia about 1795, and I know that she gave birth to a daughter in the 1820s called Amanda. It was through Amanda that the few slivers of early family data are known, But thanks to mitochondrial DNA testing, Martha's line is said be directly descended from the Yoruba and Fulani, in Nigeria and Niger.

Nigeria! While knowing this tiny piece of data, I ask, what kind of journey did Martha's mother make, And who was this young African girl? Was she alone, with her mother, or orphaned like Priscilla?

And what route did she make from the Yoruba kingdom to America? There are many maps that reflect the countless numbers of voyages to the Americas from West Africa. Which one was my young girl on? And when did she arrive? In the 1700s---but when?

Image: Copyright 2003  Pearson Education

From where she may have lived, Martha's mother most likely journeyed from inland Yorubaland to the coast. And since her origins point to Nigeria, and specifically to the Yorubas, I also ask if her point of departure was Badagry? This is the largest slave market in western Nigeria, and had she come from this region, her small tiny footsteps definitely had to have trod through this area.

The town of Badagry sits on the coast of Nigeria not far from the Benin border. Signs throughout the town point to many places reflecting the history of the town as a center of slave the Nigerian slave trade. 

One can easily note that more than one family, and more than one group of people were involved in the slave trade in Badagry, a town where I have personally traveled. When I visited there in the late 1980s there was not a lot of emphasis on the town's slave history, But today, at least six different sites point to the era of the slave trade, and invite visitors and tourists to come and learn more about what happened. 

I cannot help but ask, whether Martha's mother passed through one of these places that today bring those visitors and tourists:

Did Martha's mother walk along the beach behind this wall to an unknown fate?
Badagry Slave Port

Was Martha's mother, held in a Barcoon cell similar to this one in Badagry known as the Brazilian Baracoon that held thousands before they were taken to the Americas?

And would she have been branded at this market before being placed on the vessel that would take her to an unknown future in Virginia in British North America?

Slave Market in Badagry, on the coast of Nigeria

Somehow in spite of the horrors of the unimaginable, the young girl who would become Martha's mother survived.  

Who was she, and how did she fare?
Who first enslaved her?
Did she have have any tenderness or kindness shown to her in her life?
Was her only joy to have been the mother's joy at birth when Martha was born?
And did she live to see Martha for long in her life, or was her child sold away from her?

Only a few details remain and they come through the few facts about Martha, her daughter. Martha, though born in Virginia was taken at some time from to Tennessee, enslaved by "Squire" Robert Campbell of Maury County Tennessee. Martha would give birth to several children during the 1820s. It is known that Martha and her children were living in the 1830s and would live through the Night the Stars Fell. By the 1850's some of Martha's children would be taken to Mississippi, as slaves of William "Tandy" Young, of Tippah County, in the town of Ripley. The Tennessee slave holder died and Martha's children "were taken in the draw" as the slaves in the estate were divided. Martha's children and grandchildren would live to see freedom and and the other chapters in that family line would eventually unfold.

But I still must pause and ask, who was Martha's mother?  

Who was my "Priscilla?"

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(The African American Blogging Circle is a group of genealogy bloggers who have decided to share their family stories seen through their own lens. As the PBS Series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross Airs, the bloggers will be sharing their stories as seen through their own personal lens. Click here for a list of the participating bloggers.)

Looking at Many Rivers To Cross - Blogging Through the Series

Many within the African American community have been awaiting the series "Many Rivers to Cross". A smaller group within the African American genealogy community has also been awaiting the same series, as we will be blogging our way through the series. 

Our goal is to put our own historical and genealogical spin on the story as well. We have therefore created a blogging circle in which we will share our own family saga in relation to the time periods reflected in each episode.

The series is divided into many six time periods:
Episode 1: The Black Atlantic  (1500-1800)
Episode 2: The Age of Slavery (1800 - 1860)
Episode 3: Into the Fire (1861 - 1896)
Episode 4: Making a Way Out of No Way  (1897-1940)
Episode: 5 Rise! (1940 - 1968)
Episode 6: It's Nation Time  (1968 - 2013)

We shall share pieces of our own histories in relation to the program and also give our own insights into our personal stories as we reflect upon our own family's journey through the American experience.

My fellow bloggers include:
*Melvin J. Collier, Blogger and Author of two books on his family history. His blog is: Roots Revealed.
*Vicky Daviss Mitchell, Genealogist and Blogger. Her blog is: Mariah's Zepher,
*George Geder, Activist and award winning blogger. His writings will appear on Medium.
*Terry Ligon, Genealogist and videographer Chickasaw Freedman researcher. His blog is Black And Red Journal.
*Drusilla Pair - Genealogist, University administrator and blogger. Her blog is Find Your Folks.
*Nicka Smith - Genealogist, Photographer, and Blogger. Her site is Who Is Nicka Smith?
*Angela Walton-Raji, Author, Genealogist, Blogger and Podcaster. The blog is My Ancestor's Name.

The first episode has just aired and in the following days, the relevant blog posts will be posted. Join us as we embark upon the same genealogical journey together.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Remembering the Grandparents The Book of Me: Prompt #7

For this prompt I am focusing on my paternal grandparents- Sam and Sarah Ellen Walton.

What were their names? 
Samuel and Sarah Ellen Walton

Where were they from?
She was born in Arkansas and he was born in the Choctaw Nation.

Were they related?

Where were they born?
My grandmother was born in Horatio, Arkansas, and my grandfather was born in Skullyville, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.

Photos Yes, see above images.

What did they do? As a young man, Grandpa Sam worked first as a teamster driving a team of horses. He later developed a profound love of cars. He then served in the Pioneer Infantry during World War I. After the war, he worked a number of jobs, but frequently as a chauffeur and driver.

Did I know them?
I knew my paternal grandmother only. Grandpa Sam died years before I was born. But knew my grandmother Sarah Ellen very well.

What was my relationship with them?  
I had a close relationship with Grandma, and spent a good amount of time with her in the years before she died.

If I didn't know them what have I researched about them? Grandpa Sam's family history provided many surprises with the strong ties to the Choctaw Nation. Although I did not know him, I have learned so much about him. And in addition, his mother, my gr. grandmother had a strong influence in my life. Both Grandpa Sam and Grandma Ellen,had a very strong interest in education, and worked tirelessly for the next generation to be educated. And of course researching my grandmother's history led me to several Civil War Union soldiers all closely related to her. I have researched both sides in great detail.

But because Grandpa Sam died long before I was born, I only got to know one of my grandparents - Sarah Ellen Walton. And I have truly enjoyed researching her family history. She was born into a large family though based in southwest Arkansas, her family had Tennessee roots. When following the history of her Tennessee line, I was more than surprised to find four civil war soldiers closely connected to her family. Later research would also reveal the exact location of the family and where they lived in Tennessee, and where they had been enslaved. The estate still stands today.

Slave holder's estate, Giles County TN

In addition--I was able to add more names to the family line, when a valuable estate record was found when the slaveholder died. The estate inventory listed all of the slaves by name, including my gr. grandfather. And this research opened more doors to the family history.

Grandma and Nannie
Some of my fondest memories were those of my grandmother Sarah Ellen, as well as those memories of my gr. grandmother Nannie, as we called her. They were actually mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and not mother and daughter. But they lived together for over 40 years, even after Grandpa Sam had died. My memory is of them working together, on massive quilting projects together.

(One of my own quilt projects, influenced by the two quilters--Grandma and Nannie)

 I also fondly recall their working in their large backyard garden where they seemed to grow everything from turnip greens, to corn, to tomatoes, to string beans to purple hull peas. And I always remember the lovely "bachelor buttons" pretty wild flowers that lined the fence with sprigs of mint in between.

My life was influenced and enriched by both of these beautiful elder women, who brought with them their country ways, their methods of cooking and their stories.

 I wish Grandpa Sam had lived, as I would have loved to have heard his voice, but these two ladies made my childhood rich and filled with many joys and adventures. They both filled that grandparents's space so well. I miss them both.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Journals and Diaries The Book of Me Prompt # 6

Three of my many journals kept over the years

From the beginning, I loved writing, and from childhood onward, somehow the art of picking up a pen, putting it to paper, and watching thoughts transform magically into words on a cream colored tapestry was like magic. From the time I learned to write, I loved the feeling and smell of a new tablet, and would write my name, and random words, and sentences--ah, the art of writing!  

This love of new tablets and simply writing continued as I progressed through school. I loved any and all subjects in school that required me to write---from spelling, to English grammar, to book reports! There was something about retreating and having a private relationship between me, my pen, and paper. But at that time I was not journaling---I was simply enjoying the mechanics of writing.

I remember how thrilled I was when Scheaffer made the ink cartridge pens. This was real writing---with ink! No rolling ball point for me---I had ink! My parents had ink pens, but those required dipping and pulling a lever to suck the ink into the rubbery balloon compartment. But when the ink cartridges came--life was simple. One could have the beautifully smooth lines in either blue or black, and no levers to pull. The process of writing with ink was simpler and neater.

The old Scheaffer Pens

But I wanted a reason to write---but sadly, no poems lay inside of my soul, and I had no stories to write about that I knew of at that time. So I doodled with no direction. And when I was not doodling, I was reading. It was eventually through reading that I got my inspiration! It was a sobering story written by a young girl about my own age. She wrote about a trying time when she and her family had to living in hiding, and she wrote about her life living upstairs in a secret apartment in Amsterdam. It was the Diary of Anne Frank!! 

Actual Anne Frank Diary Image

She told a story of tragic times. And like all young people who read it, I was mesmerized by her story. But for me there were two things---the story of her family living in refuge, during during the years when Jewish people were persecuted. And also for me there was another story or rather another lesson that I learned from Anne. It was a simple one, but I got it---she told her own story! And I wanted to tell mine.

Now for me, as a young adolescent I wasn't sure that I had such a story to tell in my small Arkansas town. But the act of telling one's story, and writing it down captivated me. So, at 15, I tried my hand---and I began with a small pink diary, the kind that came with a key. I did not have a lot to talk about, but I had the space to write my own thoughts in my own special place. Quickly I was frustrated as I tried to record things every day, finding myself without words and incidents that I felt were noteworthy. So I quickly abandoned this desire to write for some time. I didn't keep that journal and dismissed those small musings, but yet I still wanted to write.

I didn't write regularly during my college years, but took it up again during my graduate school years. During those times as I was exploring life and trying to define myself, I found that without a real confidante, I would simply try to work things out on my own---and thus began my real journaling journey. I found that during times of stress, the relief that I sought would come when I found the time to settle down and write.

Journaling took me through the career choices that I made and the many friendships formed and lost over the years.  I was able to map my directions in life and sometimes during major milestone events, the journals were there to simply give me a chance to pause, record and reflect.  

Sample pages from some of my journals

There are many gaps in time---some gaps span months and some gaps span years. I have gone from the beautiful expensive leather bound books, to colorful spiral blank books, to simple academic composition books, and back to bound books with gold leaf edges. In some journals I ran out of space, and in some I simply got tired of the binding and switched to another, leaving the previous one half-filled.

I told very few people that I kept a journal and I rarely met anyone else who did. I often wondered if there were other women of color who kept diaries and had any of them ever been published? I would not have that question answered till the mid 1980s when Gloria Hull published a journal kept by Alice Dunbar Nelson. And what a journal it was! Alice Dunbar Nelson, was at one time the wife of one of my favorite writers--the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The book was called Give Us Each Day, and this was her journal that spanned many years of her life.

The Journal of Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Reading her journal was the breath of air that I needed. This woman was amazing--she was an activist, a lecturer, a teacher, and an advocate for the vote, and for women's rights. And she kept a diary! I knew that my journaling was a good thing and this was the inspiration, that encouraged me to continue to make my journal over the years the companion that sometimes became a good launching pad for some of my projects and ideas.

Now as a mature adult, I am of course no longer enthralled by pretty lines artfully made on nice paper. The magic now comes from the outlet of emotion and thought that journaling has provided for me over the years. And also, at times the journal was what got me through difficult times. 

I am often surprised when I find one of my journals in odd places throughout the house---wondering why I last left that particular volume in that particular place or room.

I also wonder someday what future generations may think should they ever endeavor to read them and should I ever choose to leave them where they can be found and linked back to me. It's funny that I have never thought about that before sitting down to write this piece about the journaling experience. 

But, I often wish that my own ancestors had left journals and diaries for me to read, so perhaps in a sense of obligation to the future descendants, I shall label each one with some basic genealogical data so that they will know from whom those words in multiple journals come.

I guess I journal because I can, and because I have a story to tell.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Researching in Tennessee - Exploring Chancery Court Records

Examining Abstracts From Chancery Court Records
(Photo Courtesy of Carla Coleman)

After arriving in Nashville Tennessee yesterday to attend the 34th annual AAHGS conference, one of the first things that I had to do was to take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Tennessee State Archives.  Tennessee is one of the states that I research and I was anxious to look at any records that might exist from Giles County Tennessee.  

I was directed to the Reading room on the second floor of the archives, and was excited to finally have the chance to really explore in depth so many resources from the entire state of Tennessee. The room was a vast room with items from every county in the state.

Reading Room at the Tennessee State Archives

I pulled a volume off the shelf that reflected records from the Chancery Court of Giles County that spanned several decades from the 1830s until 1900. What a find! This book revealed records that reflected interactions among the citizens of Giles County. I was surprised that among many of the records were some explaining how some debts were settled with an exchange or sell of slaves. And in many of those records, the slaves were named. 

Chancery Court Abstract reflecting a bill to sell slaves in Giles County Tennessee

There were other simillar records and I took my time, in the event of seeing the names of my own ancestors from the Bass family reflected. I did not find any references in that particular volume pertaining to my own family, although I was looking at only one of four volumes. So I am not sure if I had a feeling of relief that I did not see any reflection of their being sold or bartered, or if I was disappointed not to find anything bearing their names.

I did have one surprise, while searching the volume. I saw an item pertaining to a gentleman who was to receive land. The man's name was Jessie Jones and his wife's name was Mary. She had recently died and there was an interest in the land, for it belonged to the wife and not the husband. I thought I had recognized the name Jessie Jones and realized that he was a man whom I have seen in census records from Giles County. I have used an image from the 1870 census bearing his name, in a genealogy presentation. Jessie Jones was also said to have never been enslaved, which was consistent with information that I had about him. Apparently, there had to be a resolution made in the courts to award the land that was officially that of his late wife, to him, the surviving husband. 

 I shall take advantage of the opportunity to return to the Archives again, while here, as I can see that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the many gems on the shelves at the Tennessee State Archives.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My House - Sweet Memories The Book of Me Prompt #5

My childhood home, Ft. Smith Arkansas

As I am told, we lived in a rented house until I was born, and a few months afterwards, my parents purchased an old house on a hill in Ft. Smith. It was the only home I ever knew, and it was, for me, my kingdom!

The house sits on a corner, in Ft. Smith Arkansas, on North 13th are R Streets, and the property actually occupies two and a half lots, with a small rental house on the side street. It was that house where my dreams were born. In that yard I learned to ride my bike--first with training wheels and then later, when I got a sense of balance, I rode the real bicycle that I got for Christmas when I was eight.

The sidewalk on the front below the hill  was where I learned to skate, and where I would draw the hopskotch markings and entertain myself. And I got plenty of skinned knees on that walk way. I also recall that many times the sidewalk on the entire street would be wet on a very dry day--stemming from an underground spring said to be someplace in the vicinity.
The sidewalk in front of house

For many years, we had a garage in the back--where I would sometimes get my nerve to walk upstairs and look at the old relics of the past-- including my old baby bed, discarded pieces of furniture, and memorabilia that I only wish that I had now. But it was later taken down and a car port was added to the back of the house instead.

The property at one time had lots of trees and shrubs---including my favorite plum tree that I used to climb and feel that I was on top of the world. A pecan tree and the plum tree provided shade in the backyard, in the hot humid summer. The side of the property had two massive elm trees, with two beautiful lilac bushes that always made spring so beautiful--not the mention the jonquils that would miraculously appear between our house and the small rental house on the side.  Today the only remnants are one elm tree, one tree stump, and the old walnut tree that is immediately next to the little rental house on the side street.

Gone are the many trees and shrubs

The house was my place of refuge, and in my mind--my way to explore the world. Inside was the entrance foyer, a room to the left side was the front bedroom--my parents room. To the right, the living room, with french sliding doors separating it from the dining room with a built in china closet. The kitchen was in the rear, and my brother's bedroom was off the kitchen, and my own bedroom was in the back off another small hallway.

There, my dreams were made. My joys, and my imagination were filled with books, and music from classical to jazz. In the living room the piano was there, during my 10 years of classical piano lessons, but I much preferred music from my parents' record collections. When I was not listening to music, I was reading, and as much as I loved to be in that old house, because of the books that I read, I knew that I had to get out of the house, get out of the town and see the world that I had come to long for through the many books I read.

This was the place that soothed my soul.

When my mother died in 1997, the spirit of that house began to fade. Once her presence was gone, I knew that my own ties were fading. She had kept the spirit of my dad there, and once she left, I knew that a chapter was closing.

I look with memory at that house on the hill, and smile for it was a place that nourished me, that cradled me, and protected me, and that house on the hill planted seeds for me to go forth and see the world.

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