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…
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!
At the end of 2014, in a meeting of the DC chapter of Coming to the Table, I met Karen Branan, a retired investigative journalist. My book Trafficke was in production; Karen was negotiating a contract and putting last touches on her book, The Family Tree. We realized immediately that we were in some way related, through the Beall family who, like the Magruders, were among the first arrivants to Colonial Maryland. We next realized that though our foci were different, each of us had been investigating for decades our ancestors’ culpability in slavery and white supremacy.
Today, I finally did my homework and discovered that Karen, too, is a Magruder descendant. My line runs from Samuel Magruder, Alexander’s grandson, born in what was then Calvert County MD, about 1687. Karen is descended from Samuel’s sister, Verlinda Magruder, born 1693, who married John Beall, son of Alexander Beall and Elizabeth Coombs. Samuel and Verlinda’s parents were the well-documented Samuel Magruder and his wife Sarah (also believed to have been in some way related to Ninian Beall, though we’re pretty sure now that she was not his daughter). I have at least one more Beall in my line–Charity Beall, who married Haswell Magruder in 1762–but haven’t yet figured out if that ties me more closely to Karen’s family.
So now you have one more reason to drop by Karen’s web site and read about The Family Tree: a lynching in Georgia, a legacy of secrets, and my search for the truth at karenbranan.com. One truth Karen discovered is that she is related not only to white men involved in the lynching, but also to one of the four black victims. On her site, you’ll find links to thoughtful and enthusiastic reviews and to several radio conversations. The Family Tree is available in hardback, as an e-book (Kindle or Nook), and as an audio book (CD or streaming). Karen is working hard to promote the book–more accurately, to use her book to promote conversation and action. Check out her scheduled appearances in numerous states. Invite her to yours!
Don’t forget: this Sunday, 28 Feb 2016: 2:00-3:30, I’ll be reading from Trafficke, with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree (Simon & Schuster, 2015). @ The Writers Center, Bethesda, MD. Unknown to each other until we met at a gathering of Coming to the Table in 2014, we each spent 20+ years researching our families’ history–in my case, Alexander’s true Scottish origins and the history of slave-holding among his descendants/my ancestors in Maryland; in Karen’s case, a “kinship lynching” within her family in Jim Crow Georgia. I’m a poet, she’s a journalist, and as fate would have it we are distant cousins, both descended from Ninian Beall in Maryland. (I haven’t yet figured out if Karen is also descended from Alexander…) Please come out and join the conversation. Free parking on Sundays in the lot across the street from The Writers Center.
4508 Walsh St
Bethesda MD 20815
GPS users please note: Enter “Chevy Chase” as the city…though, really, it’s Bethesda.
Read about The Family Tree on Karen’s web site–including rave reviews.
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 Maryland State Archives Online is constantly changing, which can be confusing for users but more often presents new opportunities for research without leaving home. Today I want to draw your attention to the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland database. Now expanded and easier to use, this database includes more than 300,000 names of people both black and white. It searches Census records from 1776-1880, and 26 additional categories of records, including runaway ads, chattel records (sales of slaves), manumissions, slave jails, accommodations docket (fees for housing runaways), and assessment records (assessments of slaves in estate inventories). Most of the records are from 1830-1880. The database provides basic information, sometimes a description of the person, the name of the owner, and a full citation to the Maryland State Archives (MSA) Record Series from which the information has been transcribed.
Runaway ads can be extremely important sources of information. Slaveholders provide the most complete information about a slave when in it is their interest to do so, so the ads often include personal characteristics and skills, as well as full name, appearance, height, and distinguishing marks. They also include speculation about where the runaway might be headed, and most often that is back to where they came from or where they have family members. Browsing the ads for runaways from Magruder plantations, I’ve learned that one man likes to dress well; that another is a good carpenter; that a woman is an excellent cook; that another woman talks too much; that another man had been free to hire himself out in Washington City, but had recently disappeared, probably headed for Baltimore and then to Pennsylvania and freedom.
Good luck in your search.
For at least a year I have been promising to compose a page about Priscilla Gray and her descendants. Priscilla was a mulatta “born of a white woman,” indentured as a servant to Sarah Magruder, widow of Samuel Magruder (d. 1711). Technically, Priscilla was a free woman, because her mother was a free white woman, but long periods of indenture imposed on both mothers and their illegitimate children kept women like Priscilla in virtual slavery for years, sometimes for life.
In 1727 Priscilla was convicted for the same crime her mother had committed–bearing an illegitimate mixed-race child–and sentenced to seven additional years of servitude to Sarah Magruder. Her child was sentenced to 31 years of servitude. It was rare in Prince George’s County, in those years, for a woman to be prosecuted more than once for the crime of “mulatto bastardy.” Priscilla, her daughters, and other women held in bondage by the Magruders and families with whom they intermarried seem to have comprised a majority of the repeat offenders. In all, Priscilla bore seven children and served an additional 35 years of bondage for the “crime” of childbirth. Her daughters–each of whom was held in servitude to the age of 31–suffered the same fate, their terms of service extended with the birth of each child. Some of Priscilla’s daughters and other descendants did manage to survive long enough to obtain their freedom; others not. Slaves named Gray were named and manumitted in Magruder wills right up to 1860, the eve of Emancipation.
There are many gaps in my information on the Gray family. I hope in future to fill some of those gaps; but for now, here is what we know about Priscilla Gray and her legacy. If you are an African American descended from Priscilla, please get in touch, and teach me more about your family’s story.