Joe Tichy, 1924-2016

For those of you with American Clan Gregor Society connections, I wanted to let you know that my father, Joe Tichy, passed away in September. Joe wasn’t a Magruder, though it was hard at times to remember that. On his mother’s side, he came from Tennessee/Georgia hill folk. On his father’s side, he was a second generation Bohemian-American whose grandmother never learned English. When he married my mother–Margaret “Peggy” Bubb, 10th generation descendant of Alexander Magruder–he had no idea he was also getting hitched to a Scottish-American identity that had already endured for three hundred years and was not ready to quit. In the end he surrendered, acquired a kilt he couldn’t afford, and became Assistant Chieftain (which translates as business manager or executive director) of the American Clan Gregor Society. He held that position for 28 years, during which he transformed the society from an old-fashioned, Washington D.C.-based family club to a wealthy nonprofit with an active national membership. Though the ACGS is a different beast now–due in part to changing times, and in part to people like me who have realized we Magruders aren’t even MacGregors–in my parents’ day it was solid and stolid, full of formal and “respectable” people devoted to their Scottish heritage and the idea of kinship…just occasionally letting their hair down enough to have a good time. (Were any of you at the Gathering–I can’t remember where or when–when the pipe band got into the hotel elevator, 2 a.m…guests on all floors madly phoning the manager to complain…in vain…because the manager was in there with the pipers, riding up and down for…was it an hour? God help their ear drums!)

I don’t know if free whisky for the pipe band was traditional or one of Joe’s brighter ideas, but here’s a tale I know belongs just to him. It’s from page 160 of my book, Trafficke.

Baltimore, 1967, the annual gathering of the American Clan Gregor Society, flawed only by the unpracticed hands of office staff called in to serve the Saturday banquet—climax of the weekend, evening dress only—when the regular wait-staff go on strike. My father, who will later remind me of this night, assumes it’s a union problem, but doesn’t ask. He’s not a Magruder, though married to one, and holds no sway. Jump to 1976, and my father, handsome in his new kilt, has been running the Gathering for four years. In the cocktail hour before the banquet, he’s checking details, admiring the centerpieces, the flags, and the large banner of the Fiery Cross, hung, as always, behind the head table. But there’s a wee problem. The wait-staff, all black, refuse to work in the banquet hall so long as that banner is there. My father asks to speak to them, and with (I am sure) great charm and tact, explains the history of the Fiery Cross, its legendary use as a symbol to call the clan to arms—men running picturesquely over the heather, house to house and glen to glen, carrying hand-sized pitch-pine torches in the shape of a double-armed cross. See? It’s there on the banquet program, too, above a few lines from Sir Walter Scott. Nothing at all to do with the KKK. He is sure of this, and sure that his explanation has put their minds at ease. Nevertheless, he takes down the banner, mentions it to no one; and neither at the banquet nor afterwards does anyone remark on its absence. My father runs the Gatherings for more than twenty years, and the banner is never seen again.

OK, yeah, it was naïve on his part to believe there was no connection–however twisted–between Scottish clans and the Klan: that was the whole point of putting this story in Trafficke, so readers could see what my father couldn’t. Looking back now, I can see other reasons this story got under my skin, how it sums Joe up in so many ways. He didn’t know much of the relevant history–and he certainly wasn’t a civil rights activist–he was just a guy with a banquet to run. And a problem. Now, he could have just taken the banner away and got on with the evening. Or he could have insisted it stay, that the meaning of a burning cross in the ill-defined past of the Scottish Highlands trumped its meaning in America. That is what he told the waiters, after all. But he didn’t do either of those things. He accepted that the banner had different meanings for different people, and he talked to them about it. He tried to make them, and himself, more comfortable. Did it matter? Were any of those black waiters one whit happier after his explanation? Who knows. If they were, it was probably not due to what he said, but simply that he made the effort to turn a confrontation into a conversation.

For those of you who knew him, you’ll be happy to hear that he kept his gift of gab, and his famous sense of humor, to the end.

Trafficke is here!

trafficke-cover

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.

 

Thank you for a terrific year!

WordPress tells me that Magruder’s Landing received more than 7,000 visits in 2014! That’s more than a tenfold increase over 2013. I am truly astonished, and thank you all for your interest, your encouragement, and your willingness to share information, photographs, and sources. I’ll do my best to keep you coming back in 2015.

Slaves imprisoned in Baltimore to evade DC emancipation & Union Army recruiting

A followup to my post on DC emancipation petitions…

The following is a partial list of people who were jailed in Baltimore by slave owners hoping to evade the April 1862 D.C. emancipation and/or the Union Army’s recruitment of black soldiers in Maryland. (Slaves in Maryland were not emancipated until January 1864, when the state adopted a new constitution.) This snapshot shows page 337 of Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, edited by Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, et. al. (The New Press, 1992). The correspondence from which the list was extracted is dated July 27, 1863, in Baltimore.

This volume is an extract from The Black Military Experience, Series 2 of the multivolume work Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 (Cambridge University Press, 1982). The abbreviation in the last column notes the owners’ disloyalty to the Union, that being a condition for recruitment of their enslaved workers.

I will try to track down the rest of the list. Please write if you have the list or know where it can be found.

 

From _Free at Last_, ed. Ira Berlin et.al. The New Press, 1992.

From _Free at Last_, ed. Ira Berlin et.al. The New Press, 1992.

For the benefit of those searching for ancestors, here is a searchable list of the names: Charles Dorsey, William Sims, Samuel Davis, John Francis Toodles, Henry Toodles, Henry Wilson, James Dent, George Hammond, Charles Foote, Michael Fletcher, Betsy Ward, Virginia West, Ellen J. Roberson, Lena Harrod, Rachel Harrod, Sophia Simmons, Martha Wells, Susan Collins, Willie [Collins?], Martha Clark.

I have checked the names of those from Prince George’s County. All but one of the slave owners’ names are familiar to me, neighbors and possibly kinfolk of Magruders. The surnames West and Clark also occur among those enslaved by Magruders in Prince George’s County and the District of Columbia.