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! 

New date for reading at The Potter’s House

Tues, May 24: 7 pm: reading from and talking about Trafficke, along with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree, @ The Potter’s House, a D.C. institution since I was too young to drive. 1658 Columbia Road NW, DC, 202-232-5483. Come early, eat supper, buy a book…

We were initially scheduled for the 26th, but in the meantime The Potter’s House decided to make Thursdays the night for jazz…so drop by for that.

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!

 

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.

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!

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.