Plantations as Complex Historic Places

…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.


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!

More on Washington & May (or Mary) McGruder

I could as easily have titled this post “Do as I Say, Not as I Do.” I say to always search census records with multiple spellings, and then, if you still don’t succeed, try searching for neighbors. Apparently, I did neither of these things the first time I searched for census records for Washington Magruder and his wife May. I was also under the sway of Alice Maude Ewell’s 1931 memoir, in which she wrote that Washington and May had been free for many years before the war, and that after the war they moved to Washington.

Well, on a second try, I found them still in Prince William County, Virginia, in 1870 and 1880. So if they did “follow their children to Washington City,” as Ewell put it, they did so at a very advanced age. I found no records for them prior to 1870. In 1870, three children named McGruder lived with them, the youngest possibly a grandchild. In 1880, due to extreme fading of the ink, their name has been transcribed on as “McGruden.” The only child with them at that time was seven year-old James Ward. In both years, they lived next door to Alice Maude Ewell with her parents and many siblings. Read all about it on the updated version of Washington McGruder

Probing the Past

I’ve added a link to my blogroll for this excellent site (from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Gunston Hall Plantation). You’ll find, in addition to resources for teachers, a fully-searchable archive of 325 probate inventories from the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia from the period of 1740 to 1810. As the introduction says–

Probate records provide valuable information about the lifestyles of people during the colonial and early national periods. Such listings of possessions, from a time when household goods were not widely mass-produced, illuminate a family’s routines, rituals, and social relations, as well as a region’s economy and connection to larger markets. They also shed light on attitudes and policies toward slavery. For famous people, these records enrich our knowledge and understanding of their daily lives and values. For ordinary people, they offer a rare glimpse into their lived experience. These records also provide an opportunity to engage in comparative studies with other eras and to analyze how culture changes over time.

The project was begun by researchers at George Mason’s home, Gunston Hall Plantation, as a way of building a context for data about Mason and life on his plantation. The criteria used in selecting the 325 estates therefore assure that this is primarily a portrait of the wealthiest planters of his day. A few others sneak in because they have features of special interest, such as room-by-room inventories. Three Magruders by name and other Magruders by female descent are included. Note that in the record for Nathaniel Magruder (who met the room-by-room criterion) the transcriber omitted two pages, including the page where slaves are inventoried. All pages seem to be present in the scans of the original document.