Plantations as Complex Historic Places

…the most recent post from Our Folks’ Tales, Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s blog “dedicated to telling the stories of enslaved people, free people of color, and the descendants of these individuals.” You’ll also find there good pages of links for African American history and genealogy. I’ve added this blog to the links on this site. I also left a long comment in response to this entry re: plantations, and invite you also to share your thoughts. More conversation on this topic is currently happening on the Coming to the Table Facebook group.

 

Book launch! The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom

I am thrilled to announce publication of James Bacon’s The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom–a book long in the making, shaped with skill, determination, and love.

In 1857, William Bowie, an enslaved man and skilled carpenter, was manumitted by the will of Roderick M. McGregor, of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Roderick’s birth name was Magruder, but in 1820 his father, John Smith Magruder, petitioned the state legislature to change the surname of his children to McGregor. Because Maryland law, by that time, forbade the manumission of slaves, Roderick’s will instructed his executor (his brother Nathaniel M. McGregor) to take William Bowie, his wife Matilda, and four of their children–Thomas, Nathaniel, Margaret, and Boston–to Washington DC, where they were to be hired out to work for a year, thereafter to have their freedom, a house, and a horse and cart. Once that was done, William Bowie received in cash the balance of the $500 Roderick McGregor had allotted to his welfare.

At that time, all members of the Bowie family were illiterate and had lived their entire lives in slavery. In 1913, just fifty-five years later, William A. Bowie, eldest son of Nathaniel Bowie, co-founded with John W. Lewis the Industrial Savings Bank, the most sound and successful black-owned bank in Washington, D.C.

And that is only one of the remarkable stories told in this book. From the Bowie family come tales of flight and capture, separation and reunion, Civil War service and multiple aliases, successful businesses and long marriages. On the other side of his family, James Bacon is descended from some of New Jersey’s earliest black property-owners, and important conductors on the Underground Railroad.

I have corresponded with James Bacon almost from the inception of this web site, and know him to be a dogged and thorough researcher. As you read this book, remember that behind every paragraph lie years of searching and careful recording; of corroboration and double-checking; of searching for graves and for documents; of squinting through miles of microfilm, then embracing the dazzling new world of online genealogy. Thanks to such efforts, The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom is, in itself, a reunion of the lost and the loved.

Just one footnote, for readers of the American Clan Gregor Society yearbooks… You may have read in an early article by C.C. Magruder, about the descendants of John Magruder of Dunblane (a grandson of Alexander Magruder the Immigrant, and Roderick McGregor’s great-grandfather), that Roderick freed all his slaves. This is far from true. He freed only William and Matilda Bowie, along with four of their children. Also to his credit, he had earlier purchased Matilda from a distant Maryland plantation in order to reunite her with William. However, the rest of the Bowie family, along with many others, remained in bondage, and an unusually large number of enslaved men are known to have run away from Roderick’s Prince George’s County plantations over the years. When recaptured, some of those men were sold, as were (apparently) several women or girls for whom there is no record of running away. These included two sisters in the Bowie family, who were not reunited with their siblings, nor with each other, for upwards of sixty years.

So while we celebrate the rise of the Bowies and other families, and while we give thanks for moments of conscience or expedience that led to the isolated acts of manumission that helped them on their way, let’s not forget the wider context of enslavement: an economic system entirely dependent on the institutionalization and social acceptance of crimes against humanity.

On this site, you can read about William & Matilda Bowie, Runaways from Roderick McGregor, Interrelations among these families, as well as the wills and estate inventories of Roderick McGregor and his father, John Smith Magruder. All these pages will be updated, as time allows, in response to publication of The Ties That Bind.

The Ties That Bind: From Slavery to Freedom is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy it! Read it! 

How do we know that Alexander Magruder/McGruder was indentured in Maryland?

Duncan McGruther sends the following query:

From the Scottish Archives it does not appear that Alexander the Immigrant would be ‘a poor indentured servant’, so where in USA is this Indenture held, and can someone please post it online?
Alexander was captured in a Civil War battle against Cromwell – Dunbar (Sept 1650) in Scotland, or Preston (Aug 1648) or Worcester (Sep 1651) in England all fit date wise, though the latter date is very late (impossible?) to give time for Alexander to be transported across the Atlantic in time to start buying land in America in 1651. Alex’s family were the most senior officials in the Duke of Perth’s household, and in turn the Drummonds Of Perth were King Charles I particular favourite Dukes in Scotland. So if Alex did not have money directly he would have had access to it. I do not doubt as a Prisoner of War Alex would have been exiled and transported, but he would not have been poor, hence him buying up land on his arrival in Maryland.

These are important questions, that help to clarify the relationship between Scottish and American records; so I’ll respond point-by-point.

  • Prisoners of war who were transported and sold into indenture were not necessarily poor men to begin with.
  • No individual documents of indenture survive from Maryland’s early years. Entries regarding indenture do survive in Colonial records.
  • There is no evidence at all that Alexander was buying land by 1651 or even 1653. The colony offered “headrights” of land to anyone who brought settlers into Maryland, whether family members or servants. Indentured servants (whether prisoners or those who voluntarily indentured themselves) were also entitled to a headright at completion of their indenture.
  • Note that a headright existed only on paper. The recipient then needed to find his or her 50 acres, hire a surveyor, and pay the court clerk to record the details. Still to be done: find labor to clear the land and to build a house plus outbuildings, and then to plant the land in tobacco and corn. These details go far to explain why many former servants simply sold their headrights and went elsewhere to look for a life.
  • Speculation that Alexander was in Maryland as early as 1651 arises from a claim for land made by one John Ashcomb in reward for having brought several people into the colony, including “Alexander Mathoda.” It is important to note that a statement that so-and-so brought someone into the colony is not always literally true. Often it means that the claimant is entitled to a “headright” of 100 acres (1630s-1640s) or 50 acres (by Alexander’s time) in the name of that new person. Claiming in the name of an indentured servant is a common circumstance.
  • The reason some believe this record from 1651 refers to Alexander is that the same man, John Ashcomb, assigns land to “Alexander Macruder my servant” on 19 November 1653. That phrasing (“my servant”) indicates that this land is due to Alexander on completion of indenture. If that “Mathoda” entry is, indeed, our Alexander, then the commonly-held belief that he arrived with other prisoners on The Guinea in January 1652 is wrong.
  • The next definite trace in the land records is from 7 October 1653, when Charles Steward assigned 50 acres to “Alexander Macruder.” The 50 acres were due to Stewart for importing his wife “into the Patuxent.” (The Patuxent is the principle river in southern Maryland, which was, at the time, the center of the colony and included its capitol at St. Mary’s City.)
  • The question about Alexander’s indenture is how/why he got free so quickly. Money from home–from the Drummonds or directly from his own family–is the most obvious explanation. Early redemption was not common, but clearly occurred.
  • As well, men with skills were able to earn money on the side and purchase their freedom. Given his family of origin (described so clearly by Duncan) we have every reason to believe Alexander was fully literate, a rare skill in Maryland of the 1650s. Both Aschcomb and Steward signed those land assignments with “X.” That two men may have owned Alexander’s indenture jointly also suggests that he was initially sold at a very high price–possibly because of literacy, possibly because he came from a privileged class, or both.
  • In his book Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland, historian Russell A. Menard studied two groups of indentured men in early Maryland. His second group, which included Alexander, consisted of  “all of the 137 men identified as indentured servants in the headright entries found in the first 300 pages of liber AB&H of the patents series and who arrived in Maryland between 1648 and 1652.” Among other things, this puts the latest limit for Alexander’s arrival at 1652. It probably also indicates that Menard accepts the “Mathoda” entry as referring to Alexander  McGruder/Magruder.
  • 72 of those men later appear in the records as free men. Subtracting those who died, left the colony, or disappeared from the records without explanation, 56 remained in the study group whose economic lives Menard followed. About 75% of those 56 men acquired land in the colony, most holding between 50 and 400 acres. Alexander Magruder was one of three men (the others were John Bogue and Nicholas Gassaway) who owned more than 1000 acres when they died.
  • It is important to bear in mind that in this study Alexander was compared to other formerly indentured men. Most land in the colony was owned or otherwise controlled by a small number of wealthy and well-connected men who had never been indentured.
  • A related fact: Menard reports that 43 or 44 (around 75%) of those 56 men participated in local government in some way during their lifetimes–from serving on juries to holding minor offices such as constable or overseer of highways. We know from other sources that Alexander Magruder was one of the 25% who did not. Menard notes that formerly indentured men of his time largely were shut out of high office, those positions having been locked up by earlier arrivants and/or wealthier individuals. Interestingly, the two exceptions were Bogue and Gassaway, both of whom obtained relatively high military and/or civic positions.
  • For full info on Menard’s work, click the Bibliography tab on this site, then click Early Maryland. I have been quoting and paraphrasing from Chapter V: The Age of the Small Planter, pages 174-175 in the 1985 edition. His notes cite individual land patents.
  • Charles Kurz (also in the Bibliography) cites early entries for Alexander Magruder in the Maryland Archives’ Land Records as Liber AB&H, Folio 352 & following. I don’t have copies of them. Theoretically, they are available on line and I am seeking help from the Maryland Hall of Records to actually find them. (Those who have used the MSA site will need no explanation!)

New info from Duncan McGruther re: McGruthers of Meigor & the first McGruders/McCrues in Ultster

A new missive from Scottish researcher Duncan McGruther:

I have recently confirmed some information that was not available to me when I wrote my book MacGrouthers in Scotland to 1855, and feel I am in a position to make some reasoned speculation on the source of the McGruthers of Meigor wealth. In 1620 the McGruder family, tenants in Innerclair alias Wester Craigneich, acquired the lands of Meigor near Comrie, Perthshire. In an era when it was almost unheard of for any tenants to acquire land, they became the first McGruther landowners in Scotland. The date is intriguing. Around this time the Dukes of Perth family became one of the ‘Undertakers’ in what is now Northern Ireland of a scheme to populate the land there with Scottish and English tenants – the Plantation of Ulster. Scottish Perthshire names begin appearing from then on in Ulster, including John McCrue, father and son, whose ancestors’ written testimony speculates their name was derived from McGruder.
Thus, the Drummonds of Perth, to curry favour with the King (whose Scheme was the Plantation of Ulster) undertook to supply tenants for Ireland. The McGruders supplied their junior family members, but extracted Meigor in Scotland as their price. The McGruders who moved to Northern Ireland themselves got 9000 acres of land. The Source of the McGruder/McCrue name is thus Perthshire, and there is no separate Irish McGruder (or variations thereof) name.
This may explain why, since [my] book was published in 2007, no Ulster McGruder/Magruder/etc has come forward.

Meaning of “Craigneich” ???

A reader just asked me the meaning of Craigneich, the farm near the foot of Glen Artney  where Alexander McGruder/Magruder presumably was raised after the death of his father. Though no longer associated with our family, in Alexander’s time the place had long McGruther/McGruder/MacCrouther associations and was his father’s homeplace. In Maryland, Alexander named one of his properties Craigneich (now most often spelled Craignight), which suggests a strong attachment to this wee farm.

I have read that Craigneich means “rock of the raven,” but have never found confirmation of that. Nor have I had any luck asking locals. The online Dictionary of the Scots Language gives neich as a variant of nech(e), a verb meaning to draw near (intransitive) or to draw near to (transitive). Considering the standing stones on and near the present-day Craigneich–including one in a field by the road, close to the buildings and visible from both the road and the driveway–we can speculate that the name might mean something like “gathering stone” or “meeting stone.” This is, I stress, pure speculation on my part. Perhaps someone reading this can shed some light?

Here are a couple of sites with information on the Craigneich stones: Peter McNaughton’s Highland Strathearn and The Northern Antiquarian. ** Peter McNaughton gives the meaning as “Craig of the Horse,” and I’m hoping he can shed light on the etymology.

 

 

New date for reading at The Potter’s House

Tues, May 24: 7 pm: reading from and talking about Trafficke, along with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree, @ The Potter’s House, a D.C. institution since I was too young to drive. 1658 Columbia Road NW, DC, 202-232-5483. Come early, eat supper, buy a book…

We were initially scheduled for the 26th, but in the meantime The Potter’s House decided to make Thursdays the night for jazz…so drop by for that.