I am happy and impressed when anyone takes the time to actually read Trafficke, much less review it. I was exceptionally pleased when I learned Jon Curley had reviewed it on Galatea Resurrects, an outstanding venue for engagements with poetry books and projects. Jon brings great historical depth to his review, and writes more eloquently than I do about why and how the method and poetics of Trafficke matters. I was so pleased by his words that it took me a couple of times through to realize that our family’s 200 years of slave holding–the book’s ultimate ethical challenge–was never mentioned. Take a look at the Galatea page now and read the ensuing comments and discussion. Sean Pears (a brilliant young writer now working on a PhD in Poetics) took the lead; Karen Branan chimed in; Jon responded with generosity and insight; and I added my thoughts. Taken together, this is an outstanding way to review a book and to keep bringing hard truths to consciousness. We all have to learn, and sometimes we have to learn in public. I’m grateful to Jon, Sean, & Karen, and to Galatea Resurrects for providing the forum. http://galatearesurrection26.blogspot.com/…/trafficke-by-su…
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!)
If you’re nearby…I’ll be reading from my Magruder book, Trafficke, on Friday, October 9th, 7:00 pm @ University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. University Center, Room 303.
Follow signs in the building. Parking is open to visitors (other than handicap or reserved spaces) after 4:00 pm on Fridays. If you’re there, be sure to say hello! I’ll also have books there for sale.
Here are my upcoming readings from Trafficke, in case you happen to be in any of these neighborhoods. Unless noted, all events are free and open to the public.
In recent months I have read from and talked about Trafficke at a house reading/book launch in Washington DC, at a meeting of the DC chapter of Coming to the Table, in two readings at the AWP conference, at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, at the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs, the University of Illinois/Springfield, George Mason University, a house reading in Illinois, at Busboys & Poets/Hyattsville, MD, at The Writers Center, Bethesda, MD, and at The Potter’s House, DC. Many thanks to those who turned out to support me, and to join the discussion.
Several readings have been shared with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2016), her investigation of a “kinship lynching” within her family in Jim Crow Georgia. I’ve recently discovered that Karen, too, is a Magruder descendant. See my post for 12 March 2016. Read about The Family Tree on Karen’s web site.
Now it’s summer, when I literally head for the hills…so no events scheduled until Fall. Here are two to look forward to–
Monday, Sept 24, 3pm: Karen & I will be speaking at the Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University. Building & room: Research 163. Visitor parking: Mason Pond Deck. Joining us will be Anthony Cohen, an African American historian who has twice walked to Canada on routes of the Underground Railroad, and in 2014 followed in the steps of his great-great grand uncle, who returned from freedom in Canada to enlist for service in the Civil War. A documentary of that journey, Patrick & Me, will be released nationwide in 2018. Committed to embodied encounters with history, Tony both directs his own foundation—Button Farm Living History Center, in Germantown, Maryland—and serves as Director of Historical Interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he is developing an immersion program in the experience of the enslaved at Great Hopes Plantation.
No details yet, but Karen & I expect to be speaking in Baltimore in October…stay tuned!
One day long ago, when the world and I were young, I sat down to write what I thought might turn into a 10 or 15 page sequence of poems about Alexander Magruder. I had three questions: who was he? what was he? and what, in 1652, was Maryland? Twenty years later, here is the result: 177 pages of historical narrative, prose poetry, and verse. When an interviewer asked me why I embarked on this tremendous journey, I wrote back: That’s like asking Frodo Baggins why he left the Shire! No one can predict where a path will lead.
Following my original three questions led me into deep darkness and strange light; to libraries and archives, farms and graveyards; to Scotland eight times; to new friends, new cousins, and kind strangers; to a theory about how and when and why American Magruders came to believe (and have so fiercely clung to) the idea that we are part of Clan Gregor; and to very hard truths about our Magruder legacy in the American south.
Fair warning! Trafficke is not your typical book of family history or genealogy. You may want to read an excerpt before parting with your hard-earned dollars. Find an excerpt at Apartment Poetry 5; or at Evening Will Come, where it appears with a short statement about other poets whose work influenced the inception of Trafficke.
From the book’s back cover:
“If ignorance is innocence / all is true all is false.” Thus Trafficke plows under the surface of our collective amnesia and unearths a family past–beginning in Reformation Scotland, ending in slavery’s abolition in Maryland–that is our American past. History and myth, treachery and self-preservation, prose and verse collide and change places, caught in the dialectic eddies and splinters of Tichy’s luminous formal invention. This is a work of piercing lyric intelligence and fearless heart. Trafficke changes all the rules. — Peter Streckfus
To help Trafficke become a small press best-seller, please purchase a copy at Small Press Distribution.
Or, if you would like a signed copy, contact me through this site.
For more about the book and its making, visit its very own Traffickeblog.
My new book, Trafficke, will be released in March by Ahsahta Press. Trafficke began in 1994 with a few simple questions: who, and what, was Alexander Magruder? And, for that matter, what was Maryland in 1652? Those questions, and the answers, have led me down many roads I could not have imagined when I set out. The resulting text travels through Scotland and Maryland, McGruther/Magruder family history, and the whole arc of slavery in Maryland, from the 1660s to Emancipation…and a little beyond.
You can place a pre-order at Ahsahta Press or wait for it to show up on Amazon. Once the book is out, you’ll also be able to purchase a signed copy directly from me, or order it through your favorite independent bookstore.
The day was waning by the time we got to Historic St. Mary City’s replica of a typical prosperous 17th c. plantation, but we made the best use we could of the remaining light. Enjoy! Godiah Spray