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…
…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.
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.
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!
I recently had my DNA tested. After a little research, I chose Ancestry.com b/c 1) it’s easy to use; 2) huge number of family trees to match to (plus historical records to verify and document your tree); 3) they keep the DNA, so as technology improves you may get more results; and 4) the raw DNA data is easily downloaded, then uploaded to other sites with more powerful technical analysis tools.
I’ve uploaded my data to Family Tree DNA (for a moderate fee) and to GEDmatch.com (free). These allow you to match one-to-all (a fishing trip) or one-to-one (to zero in on someone who looks like a genuine match). I am barely beginning to understand it all, but am pleased so far.
Also, my family tree is complete (as far as I know it) on Ancestry and is public.
I have found the tutorials on the site linked below to be very helpful, including Lesson 2 which helps you figure out which company to start with. The answer may depend on where your ancestors were from, as well as what kind of information you are seeking. If you are looking for relatives within the time frame of a typical family tree, don’t skip the autosomal (atDNA). The others will take you back into deep time, but won’t show spouses, other children, cousins, etc., just a son-to-father-to-father chain or a daughter-to-mother-to-mother chain.
On the other hand, for African Americans searching for a white male ancestor, the Y-DNA test may be the most efficient way to start.
GEDmatch.com has a whole page of links for learning, under the title DNA for Dummies.