Late one night in 1862, a slave waterman named Dempsey Hill slipped into the customs house in Beaufort, N.C., removed copies of the latest nautical charts and buried them in the local cemetery-- the one people now call the Old Burying Ground.
This essay originated in discussions with Dr. Makini Chisolm-Straker and Katherine Chon on the history of human trafficking in the American South-- and especially in eastern North Carolina.
A project called Last Seen—Finding Family after Slavery has been documenting the efforts of African Americans to find their families and other loved ones after the American Civil War. Most of the documents that the project has collected and put on-line are newspaper notices like this one about a family in Perquimans County, in northeastern … Continue reading “I Desire to find my Children”
In the 1870s and ‘80s, a group of ex-slaves called the Wilmington Jubilee Singers traveled throughout Great Britain, giving concerts in which they sang hymns and spirituals in a close harmony style, either a cappella or accompanied only by a pianist.
Finally, I want to look at a silk lace and linen shawl. By itself I don't suppose it's anything rare or valuable. But in this case it's special because of who owned it: one of greatest freedom fighters in American history, Harriet Tubman.
John H. Scott was a free African American saddle and harness maker in Fayetteville, N.C. until 1856, when he left the town and settled in Oberlin, Ohio. Two years later, he became famous for taking up arms and liberating a fugitive slave that federal marshals had captured in Oberlin and were planning on returning to slavery.
A painting called "The Hunted Slaves" is another of the treasures at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC, that speaks to North Carolina's coastal history. Done in Liverpool, England, in 1862, Richard Ansdell's oil painting depicts a pair of fugitive slaves defending themselves against a slave catcher's dogs in the Great Dismal Swamp....
As I look through the historical collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I also found another important artifact from eastern North Carolina: a postcard, dated ca. 1910, of a convict labor camp in Laurinburg, N.C.
Allen Parker’s Recollections of Slavery Times is one of the most important historical accounts of slavery and antebellum life on the North Carolina coast. Today, as we approach its 125th anniversary, I want to talk about Parker, Recollections and a special group of students that I taught when I was a visiting professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
This is a single story from the life of a woman named Chloe that was held in slavery at Indian Ridge in Currituck County, N.C., in the first half of the 1800s. It is only one brief moment in her life, but it is the only one that history has recorded. The passage, though brief, says a great deal about her and about the lives of other enslaved women on the North Carolina coast.
The most exciting historical source I found in coastal Maine this week was an old tintype portrait of an African American man named John H. Nichols who escaped from slavery on the North Carolina coast and settled in Lewiston, Maine, after the Civil War. In a 1921 issue of the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine, I also found the life story of John H. Nichols....
Last winter I visited the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, N.C., to see a rare and extraordinary group of historical manuscripts: a collection of four inscriptions written by Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim scholar, teacher and trader from West Africa. He wrote them while he was being held captive on the North Carolina coast two centuries ago.
I recently found this map in an old book called The Williams History: Tracing the Descendants in America of Robert Williams, of Ruthin, North Wales, who Settled in Carteret County, North Carolina, in 1763. The map describes a largely forgotten group of Quaker settlements that flourished on the North Carolina coast more than 200 years ago.
“One of the first things that I remember was my Pappy waking me up in the middle of the night, dressing me in the dark, all the time telling me to keep quiet. One of the twins hollered some and Pappy put his hand over its mouth to keep it quiet.
Wilmington, North Carolina, ca. 1858. A 12-year-old boy named William runs toward a camp of men, women and children that had fled slavery. "I had heard it told so often at my father's fireside that I knew almost directly where they were."
On January 24, 1801, Susan Johnson's diary describes a visit to a Methodist church in Wilmington, N.C., that was a strange new experience for her: enslaved Africans and African Americans made up the large majority of the congregation. In addition, she may have been sitting near a young boy who would grow up and become one of the most important voices for freedom and justice in American history.
My daughter Vera Cecelski just told me that Historic Stagville in Durham County still has a few tickets left for its Jonkunnu Lantern Tour! The Tour will include a Jonkunnu procession featuring incredible local drummers, some amazing dancers and lots of schoolchildren and it’s this Saturday, December 8th, at 5:15 PM! You can get tickets by calling (919) 620-0120.
Susan Johnson arrived at “Mr. Mallett’s rice plantation opposite Wilmington” on the 9th of January 1801. Here her diary’s entries began to give me a dark, foreboding feeling like that in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as Susan entered a part of the North Carolina coast where most of the people were enslaved and her route followed what was called “Negro Head Road.”
On the 21st of December 1800, Susan Johnson left New Bern, N.C. Her husband, Samuel William Johnson, had re-joined her, and they traveled together. Three days later, on Christmas Eve, they arrived in Fayetteville. Though the state’s largest inland town, Fayetteville was still not home to more than 2,000 people, including both free citizens and the enslaved.
After her husband returned to the Black River on Nov. 27, 1800, Susan Johnson remained in the town of New Bern, N.C., for nearly a month without him. She was the guest of her first cousin, the wealthy heiress Frances Pollock Devereux, and her husband, John Devereux. Susan’s diary describes many of the ways that she spent her time in New Bern during that month. Above all, Susan read. She read constantly. She read on her own, aloud to others and practically at all hours.
After leaving her home in Stratford, Conn., Susan Johnson arrived in Suffolk, Va., on the 22ndof November, 1800. The next morning, she re-boarded the stagecoach and headed south into North Carolina for the first time.
Tom and Bland and I and all the good people who are sharing this voyage on the Belle of Washington with us are now looking ahead to Edenton, our next port of call, and Edenton for me has always been and remains, far and away above all else, the town of Harriet Jacobs.
I want to conclude my look at runaway slave advertisements from Albemarle Sound with another love story. This one comes from Chowan County, where the Belle of Washington will dock tonight.
The second runaway slave advertisement that I want to talk about concerns an enslaved man from Bertie County, N.C., his love for his wife and a long and impossible journey.
As we begin the next leg of our voyage on the Belle of Washington, I thought that I’d conclude my look at runaway slave advertisements with three stories from the Albemarle that I found especially moving.