The Alabama Black McGruders, published at last!

Thirteen months ago I announced that this greatly expanded book by and about the Alabama Black McGruders was nearing publication. Ha ha! But this time it’s happening–available for purchase today on Amazon.

The Alabama Black McGruders tells the story of Charles McGruder Sr. (1829-c.1900) and his parents, Ned and Mariah McGruder. The enslaved black grandson of Ninian Offutt Magruder (1744-1803), a white enslaver, Charles was born in Alabama on the plantation of his white aunt, Eleanor Magruder Wynne. Through a series of events, Charles came to be exploited as a breeding slave and, according to oral history, fathered 100 children.

During the Reconstruction era, Charles and his last wife, Rachel Hill (1845-1933), acquired ownership of land, possibly with help from his white cousin, Osmun Appling Wynne (1804-1877), and established a McGruder homestead where Charles gathered many of his children. They, in turn, established family and community networks of solidarity that allowed them to withstand the rigors of KKK terror and Jim Crow oppression. Now scattered throughout the U.S., and abroad, the Alabama Black McGruders have preserved their oral history, expanded it through research, and maintained their family identity.

In addition to the story of Ned, Mariah, Charles, and Charles’s children, you will meet numerous descendants and learn of their contributions to American arts, education, government, law, science, medicine, and business. The narrative is augmented by nearly 200 pages of archival records, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

J.R. Rothstein, a family member and the principal author, has worked with a team of family historians and genealogists, other researchers, and editors, to craft and document this narrative of the family through multiple generations. I am honored to have worked on the manuscript, in a role that evolved into lead editor and chief nag, taking hundreds of hours over the past year and a half.

The current price of $19.99 for this hardback book of more than 500 pages won’t last–J.R. will need to raise the price considerably to break even–so order your copy now (and maybe another for your local library or historical society). At the moment the shipping time is long, but that may improve as more copies are purchased.

A call-out to descendants

I’ve been trying to think of ways this site can do more to help people find each other–those who share ancestors, those who can share stories. I get a lot of interesting comments, but comments at the foot of a web page are often a dead-end, no follow-up. So let’s generate conversation in a different way.

If you are descended from people enslaved by white Magruders/McGruders & would be willing to share what you’ve learned, please get in touch by using the Contact page (which sends me an email). I would like to run some small features on your families & your research journey. You can write it, I can write it, or we can write it together.

I am particularly interested in Maryland and Washington DC stories, because that’s my area & I might be able to connect some dots; but I’m open to all. It was common for ties between families linked by slavery to endure after Emancipation, sometimes for generations. So even if your genealogical search hasn’t broken through the barrier into slavery times, please share what you know.

If you are descended from white Magruders/McGruders & have information about those your ancestors enslaved–from family sources or your own research–please join in. I can feature your work, as well, or perhaps you can connect some info from your family to someone else’s search.

I probably won’t be featuring families from the Sawyerville, Alabama, line, since those descendants are doing such outstanding work of their own, but as the new book takes shape I’ll try to post some teasers, so you know what to look forward to.

Once again, if you want to take part please use the Contact function (also linked at the top of every page). I can’t wait to hear from you!

The Dodson Family

From Magruder wills, census records, Registrations of Free Negroes, and other sources, I have been trying to construct relationships among various free, enslaved, and newly emancipated Dodsons in Prince George’s County and Washington DC. from the late 18th c to Emancipation. If you are an Af-Am Dodson or descendant and have information, questions, or theories, please get in touch. Even if you just want to say “Hey, I’m a descendant!” I’d like to hear from you. Please use the CONTACT tab or click here to contact me directly. This works much better for me that trying to follow up on comments.

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.