On Blogging and New Projects and Antebellum Slavery

Slavery in the Antebellum South - The "People"

A family in bondage, around the time of the Civil War.

I love the blog format. I realize it’s a touch passé, but then again, so am I – so it works for me.

The thing about blogging is that I don’t have to spend much time or energy contemplating who “likes” what I have to say, or how my meandering interests are received by the world at large. I don’t have to compress my verbiage to 144 characters, or worry about whether it’s going to be re-tweeted to people I don’t give a rats a$$ about, who will later insult me for my peculiar point of view. Call me a Luddite. I’ll take it as a compliment.

My readership is small but they are into the same eccentric stuff that I find fascinating. That’s all I care about. I can write and put info out there that six months or a year from now someone will find, and find valuable, and maybe they won’t even bother to say so, but I can tell from the time they spend on the site that they find something of value in my small contribution to the history of our various families.

All this is very nice. It’s comforting. I know I’m not howling into the wind. My living, breathing, family members may not care (they don’t.) But there are folks (distant cousins six times removed) who are investigating old poets, Civil War soldiers, publishers, printers, and Socialist Radicals, who really do “get it”. They want to know more. They keep coming back.

So here I am, and I’m here to serve.

While I was back in Indiana, surrounded by books, my honeybees, chickens, the gardens, trees, darkness at night, and day after day of essential, contemplative quiet, it occurred to me that there were many more stories to tell in addition to the Welsh family line that this site is mostly focused upon. One of those topics involved the Crews, Wyche, and Jones family’s relationship to slavery.

I read about ten books on the subject of slavery while I was in Indiana. Since I’ve been home in North Carolina, I’ve started collecting slave stories and documents associated with the family. Much of the documentary material is dry, anonymous, and perfunctory. But I have come across a few tidbits that give depth and life to my 2-dimensional view of the subject.

Just to be clear, I was raised with the sanitized, Gone With The Wind view of my family’s involvement in this ugly piece of American history. My grandmother was proud of her ancestors’ slave-owning heritage. In her mind it placed her family squarely in the upper classes – better than the “poor whites” who could not afford slaves and who she considered beneath her social strata. Her version of the pre-Civil War situation was that her family “was good to their colored people”. She told me that after the war, the “people” stayed on the farm in Oxford rather than going North or escaping with the occupying Union Soldiers.

Some of them did stay. I know this from first hand meetings with their descendants.

Some did not stay. I would venture to guess that most did not stay.

If my grandmother honestly believed her ancestors were “good to their colored people”, then she never had the opportunity to read some of the slave narratives from former slaves who were resident at Tar River Plantation (our family’s “seat” in Granville County, North Carolina.) Then again, I suppose “good” can be a relative term.

I’m a creature of the latter part of the 20th century. The idea of slavery is abhorrent to me. The Civil Rights Act was passed when I was in diapers. But I still recall separate water fountains, bathrooms, and I very clearly recall school integration. I am a person who is simultaneously fascinated and horrified by my family’s past in regards to this subject.

I’m a person who is keenly aware that every economic and intellectual advantage I got, was got as a result of the advantages my ancestors received from their status as wealthy, slave-owning, plantation owners. The black kids who grew up at Tar River Plantation, just south of Oxford, North Carolina, didn’t grow up in a world where a college education was an expectation, where a family library was part of the furnishings, where introductions and opportunities came as a matter of course based upon whose grandchild I was. I had a leg up. I know this. That leg up was taken by force from the labor and liberty of generation upon generation of people enslaved by my various family branches.

And it pisses me off.

I can’t be one of those Confederate Flag waving Neo-Nathan Bedford Forest wanna-bee’s, because I actually recognize that the Antebellum South succeeded only because her entire labor force was in bondage. There’s no honor in that. I’d rather march with the proto –Socialists in Wales and demand fair wages and decent housing, than identify with the brutal victimizers who gave me my leg up and gave me the intellect and curiosity I have today.

Do I seem a little conflicted? I am.

Boy howdy, am I conflicted.

The only thing to do with conflict is discuss and debate. And so I’m going to begin exploring some new themes on the blog which might inspire both. Look for a few new tags and categories on the subject of Slavery. I’m just starting to collect this information, stories and first-hand accounts, but I hope to develop a growing picture of the African / African American side of my family story that so far has been completely ignored by history and the family genealogists who came before me.

I do love the blog format. It gives me so many good opportunities to explore the ideas and projects that rattle around in my brain.

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