Monday, March 18, 2024

Is This the Drennen Slave Girl who Found Her Freedom? I Call Her Amanda!

 Twelve years ago I wrote a story about The Escape of the Drennen Slave Girl. The incident occurred in 1850 in Pittsburgh. There were only a few facts known about the young girl who escaped. She was a 14-year-old girl traveling with John Drennen and his wife through Pennsylvania. In Pittsburg, they stayed at the Monongahela Hotel  during that trip, while the young girl stayed in the servants' quarters of the hotel.

At the hotel a piece of his luggage was damaged and was sent out to be repaired.  He sent the young girl to see about the damaged piece, and he did receive his luggage. However, the enslaved girl was now gone. She did not return.

The girl was about 14 years of age, and Drennen described her as being part Cherokee. This statement stood out to me, because John Drennen at that time was the Indian Agent to the Cherokees, and it was Drennen himself who compiled the 1851 Drennen Roll. Upon the loss of his slaves, there were several articles that appeared in the local press about his lost slave girl. 

Was the girl really part Cherokee?

Did he happen to know this with certainty?

Would his being an Agent to the Cherokees have been a source of information about her? 

When how did she come to  John Drennen's ownership?

Was she sold to him by a Cherokee?

Well I may have found part of the answer today in Austin Texas!

Years ago, the personal papers of John Drennen. These papers were sold to the University of Texas at Austin several years ago. And today I visited the  Briscoe Center for American History in Austin Texas to examine the personal papers of John Drennen of Van Buren  Arkansas. While there, I had the incredible opportunity to examine the personal papers of John Drennen which are part of the Charles G. Scott Collection. Charles G. Scott was the son-in-law to John Drennen.

My interest in the case goes beyond a study of the Drennen slaves. It goes beyond a story of a man whose slave girl ran away. It is personal. John Drennen owned my ancestor Patrick. He lived on the estate of John Drennen, and I have asked myself over the years---did he know this young girl?  We they siblings?

While researching this, I know that Drennen owned numerous slaves, but up the hill on his personals estate, he owned a small number of slaves at the Drennen home. And I have always known that my ancestor Patrick was one of them. Eight slaves were part of the home estate, and no others.

1850 Slave Schedule Arkansas, Crawford County

But then today, a fascinating document appeared from one of the boxes. This was an 1845 document that reflected the acquisition of six slaves from Auguste P, Chouteau, to John Drennen. Auguste P. Chouteau was a member of the Chouteau Trading Post in what is now Oklahoma. His father's trading post traded primarily with Osage people, but he had a strong knowledge of Indian Territory, including the Cherokee Nation as well. In fact, Chouteau's Trading Post. In fact, Chouteau's Trading Post was a major trading spot in the early 1800s, between Cherokee and Osages nations. 

Drawing of Chouteau's Trading Post
Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society

So I held in my hand a document from 1845 reflecting the sale of six slaves ages 45 years to 2 years of age. The document revealed that in 1845 John Drennen acquired the six enslaved people: Charity aged 45, Aleck aged 17, George aged 12, Mary aged 12, Amanda aged 10, and Moses aged 2. 

Image from Charles. G. Scott Collection 
Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin

I sat there for some time looking at the names of the six people being sold, to John Drennen, the highest bidder. Were one of these names from 1845 the young girl who escaped to freedom?

Of the many articles that appeared in the press about her daring escape to freedom, her name has never been mentioned. Over the years I have kept my eyes open for someday knowing her name. Since the slaves who resided on the Drennen estate to have appeared to be a family, and prior to this time, I only knew the name of my ancestor Patrick residing on the estate. I cannot prove a direct definitive tie between Patrick and the young girl, nor can I consider the small family of slaves to be directly related to me. However, they do share the same history  from Drennen Reserve, therefore I still embrace them as an ancestral family. 

Although I have never known her name; and the only document that may have reflected her, was only a shown as a tic mark on a slave schedule among the eight slaves on Drennen Reserve. For me, over the years and previously the names of others also enslaved by Drennen were not known except that of Patrick, my known ancestor owned by Drennen. But this visit today revealed to me the names of six of John Drennen's eight slaves that he owned in 1850 a mere five years after they were purchased from August P. Chouteau in 1845. And one of them was a young girl of 10 years. She would have been of age to have been 14 o4 15 years of age five years later on the trip to Pennsylvania. Could this be her?

After sitting and reflecting for some time after finding this document, I am more confident that I have been able at last to identify her name her. It is Amanda!  She is the only the third Amanda among my own ancestors---and this Amanda has come to me from the papers of John Drennen of Van Buren Arkansas!

This is only my first day of research and so many more files await me. However, I think I can now say her name! I shall continue to search to see if more evidence appears, but today's search has already yielded a precious find.

Until more is known----I shall and I can call her Amanda!