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! 

Upcoming readings from Trafficke

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.

Read about Trafficke on my website http://susantichy.com/books/trafficke/ or the Ahsahta Press website https://ahsahtapress.org/product/tichy-trafficke/

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!

 

Legacy of Slavery in Maryland: Searchable Database of 300,000 names

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.

Priscilla Gray & Her Descendants, in bondage to Maryland Magruders for 150 years

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.

More on the Mullin/Mullen Family

I have just finished a major overhaul of my page about the Mullin/Mullen family, whose members were manumitted between 1803 and 1817. The first to gain freedom were “Old Basil” Mullen and his wife Ester or Easter, who were manumitted by the will of Benjamin Hall in 1803. (Benjamin Hall was the father of Eleanor Hall [widow Clark] who married John Smith Magruder.) Basil was a carpenter, and it seems he immediately set about earning money to purchase and manumit his relatives. In 1806, he manumitted his daughter, Sarah Digges, with four of her children, having purchased them from Henry Lowe Hall (son of Benjamin and brother of Eleanor Hall Magruder). In 1810 he purchased another daughter or daughter-in-law, Dolly Mullen, with one of her children, and a son, Basil, who was also a carpenter, with his wife Suck [Sukey] and one of their children. Finally, in 1814, Basil purchased his son Joseph with wife Kate and two daughters from John Smith Magruder, and manumitted them in 1817. Read more about this hard-working and loyal family and the process of “bootstrapping” to gain freedom.

More on family of William & Matilda Bowie

James Louis Bacon, a descendant of William & Matilda Bowie, is working on a family history that includes the Bowies, as well as his Jackson ancestors who were key figures in the Underground Railroad in Jersey City, New Jersey. He has very kindly shared information about the Bowies and answered many of the questions left open in my page about William & Matilda. I have updated that page, accordingly.

William & Matilda and three of their children were manumitted by the will of Roderick McGregor. (Two older sons were not included in that manumission.) One of their grandsons (William A. Bowie, son of Nathaniel Bowie) was co-founder of a bank in Washington D.C. and prominent in the black community. Considering that Nathaniel was 15 when he was manumitted, that his parents were illiterate and that he himself received little formal schooling, it is truly impressive that his son William achieved so much. I am very grateful to Mr. Bacon for sharing this information and pointing me to articles and advertisements in the Washington Bee (a black newspaper in  D.C.) that detail William A. Bowie’s career. I look forward to reading the history of his family, on both sides.

I also have new information about slaves inherited by Roderick McGregor’s wife, Ann Eleanor Eversfield Berry (widow Eaton), in 1832. I’ve not yet had time to update the page on the slaves of Roderick McGregor, but will do so soon.

Wills of John Read Magruder Sr. & Jr. (& of George Lee)

Today I published info from the wills of John Read Magruder Sr (d 1811) & Jr (d 1831) under Slavery’s Legacy. Buried in there is some detail from the will of George Lee, a close family friend. There are no surnames in the lists of slaves from the two Magruder estates. The surname Gillam appears in Lee’s will, and all three documents include some family relationships among the slaves. Lee gave immediate freedom to a “yellow woman” named Letty and her son Carter, and freedom after ten years to Letty’s “yellow girl” Anna.