Trafficke arrives in March!

trafficke-coverMy 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 read a description at SusanTichy.com, find an excerpt in the online poetics journal, Evening Will Come, and follow the book’s adventures on its very own website, Traffickeblog.com.

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.

What would America look like…

…if the contributions made by slaves in the building of this country were memorialized as we memorialize those who gave their lives in military service?

If their gravestones aren’t well marked and their lives continue to go unrecognized, there are new injustices every year. Why isn’t their suffering and contribution memorialized?… We should honor their service. We should honor the service, even if it was involuntary service, of those who contributed to our nation’s economies and acknowledge what they suffered and overcame.

Will Hairston, from Coming to the Table: A Collection of Stories
Coming to the Table (CTTT)

 

African-American Magruders in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862

I’ve just published a page on Af-Am Magruders Named in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862.

All those enslaved in the District of Columbia were emancipated by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 16 April 1862. Slaves were freed immediately and slave holders had 90 days to file a petition for compensation. Though the 3,100 slaves emancipated comprised less than 1% of enslaved people in the U.S., its ultimate impact was far greater, providing a legal framework and precedent on which the Emancipation Proclamation was modeled.

The website Civil War Washington has transcribed and indexed those petitions, with images of the original documents attached–an outstanding resource for any African-American searching for ancestors in the city. Because both owners and the enslaved frequently moved back and forth across city limits, this source also should be searched for those with Maryland or Virginia roots. Most former slaves left their owners immediately and by 1870 70% of the approximately 3,100 emancipated people had left the city. So even if your family has no known connection to DC, you should take a few minutes and search these petitions. The site is well designed and both quick and easy to use.

As always, the best sources for details about enslaved people are those created at moments when it was in the slave owner’s interest to provide a full name and a full description. In this case, owners had to present their slaves for examination, or, if a person had run away, produce witnesses who could testify to the slave’s condition and value. Petitions provide surnames, physical descriptions, and, in many cases, details about the enslaved person’s skills, living situation, and family members. Petitioners also had to say how and from whom they acquired each person–more priceless detail for genealogists.

More than 150 slave holders failed to file a petition. To receive compensation, each had to swear (among other things) loyalty to the Union; so most of those who failed to file are assumed to have been Southern supporters or known sympathizers. Others were residents of Maryland or Virginia, whose slaves had been living–perhaps hired out, perhaps fugitive–in the District. On 12 June 1862 Congress passed a supplemental act allowing slaves whose owners had failed to petition to file petitions for their own freedom. Each of these supplemental petitions includes the individual’s request for freedom plus the testimony of witnesses who could verify ownership, residence in the District, and other details. These “supplemental petitions” were the first instance in which slaves were allowed to petition and give testimony in a Federal court, another legal precedent with far-reaching consequences.

On my page, I list the African-American Magruders I found named in the petitions, with a few notes on their circumstances and possible connections to other families or individuals.

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.

A resource for African-American Magruders

Many thanks to James Louis Bacon for directing me to Civil War Washington, which includes a number of Emancipation Petitions from the war years. In a quick search I found several African American Magruders/McGruders, and others who were owned by, freed by, or had been sold by Magruders / McGruders or McGregors.

Choose “Texts,” where all are searchable by key words. Be sure to search under all possible spellings. The number of documents is not tremendous, but all have been transcribed, and include personal descriptions, detail about how the petitioner acquired the services of each person, and, in some cases, family relationships. Some had been brought from to D.C. from Maryland or Virginia. Good luck in your quest!

The effects of small slaveholding in Maryland

From Barbara Jean Fields’ Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century–some context on the problem of tracing African-American family members in Maryland.

Though almost anyone would select slave trading as the villain of almost any piece, small-scale slaveholding does not seem as obviously type-cast for the role of villainy. Nevertheless, much of the suffering incidental to slavery in Maryland resulted, directly or indirectly, from the small size of slaveholdings, a characteristic that had become steadily more marked over the years from the Revolution to the Civil War. Few holdings in Maryland would have rated the name “plantation” in the eyes of slaveholders from the lower South… (p 25)

Despite Fields’ claim that this was a growing phenomenon in the early years of the Republic, Russell Menard describes very similar patterns in the late 17th c. In the period 1658-1710, nearly half of all slaveholders owned only one or two people, and only 15 out of the 300 surveyed owned more than 20. “More than half of the slaves lived on plantations with ten or fewer blacks, nearly a third on estates with five or fewer…making isolation and loneliness a prominent fact of life for Africans in the Chesapeake colonies.” Evidence suggests that some slaves in this early period, especially those who were married, had more autonomy in their daily lives than was common in later periods. (Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland, pp 266-69)

Back to Fields:

The most common slaveholding in Maryland by 1860 was one slave; half the slaveholders owned fewer than three slaves, three-fourths fewer than eight, and 90 percent fewer than fifteen slaves. (p 24)

Small holdings divided family members among several owners, exacerbating the potential trauma of sale and attacking the integrity of family life even when the question of sale…did not arise. Husbands and wives might live apart…seeing each other only when granted permission… What went for husbands and wives also went for parents and children, and doubly so for  grandparents and grandchildren, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles. (p 26)

The desire to be reunited with family members figured prominently in escapes, as owners made clear when advertising…[For example], the purchaser of Barbary Williams, a fifty-year-old woman who escaped soon after being sold by her deceased owner’s estate, mentioned five different neighborhoods to which the fugitive might have gone seeking relatives, including her husband. (p 26)

The division of family members among a number of small slaveholders multiplied…the danger of a family’s disruption by the financial mischance or simple human mortality of an owner. Small slaveholders were more vulnerable than planters to the financial reverse that might require the liquidation of slave property. Slaves with families parceled out among several such owners must have lived in permanent apprehension of disaster, especially since the evidence of that disaster’s having befallen others lay constantly before them. From the death of an owner slaves had more to fear, furthermore, than the possibility of sale. For every slave sold upon the death of an owner, many others must have been simply sent elsewhere–to the residence of an heir, for example–where old attachments would be sundered as surely as if a sale had taken place. (p 26-27)

Here is one painful example from early Magruder history: in 1734, Sarah Beall Magruder (wife of Samuel Magruder, son of Alexander the immigrant) left her nine slaves to nine different heirs in eight households.