You may recall that my manuscript consultant suggested an epilogue. How about 1758? That’s the year Eliza and her husband, Charles Pinckney, return to South Carolina after a lengthy stay in England. Charles dies in July. Malaria claimed a lot of lives in colonial America.
Prior research had been pretty laser-focused on the years 1738 to 1744. With many historic tomes, in fact, I just stopped reading at 1745. I barely read Eliza’s letters after her marriagein ’44.
Well that’s not entirely true. I read them two or three times, but I didn’t MINE them and their footnotes for personal events and tone and history.
So I had to ask: what was Charles Town like fourteen years after my original narrative ended? Also, because one character flees to Philly, what was the City of Brotherly Love like in 1758?
Imagine my glee — yes glee! — to learn about an early abolitionist who published the very first unequivocal position against slavery in the western world! His name was Anthony Benezet and he was a Huguenot-turned Quaker. The Quakers adopted the proclamation in Philadelphia in 1758. *
I found a Library of Congress lecture by one of Benezet’s biographers, Maurice Jackson, and listened to it in its entirety (those of you who know me understand how rare that is).
Why isn’t he better known?
His pamphlet or Slave Almanac was later copied in large measure by better known abolitionist John Wesley and relied upon by the likes of Granville Sharp.
I noodled around Ben Franklin’s early career as a printer (he was out of the business by 1758) and his then equivocal stance on slavery — or at least his unwillingness to attach his name to those early anti-slavery pamphlets.
The other thing to know generally was that the French and Indian war was going on. It was the reason why Charles and Eliza Pinckney had returned to South Carolina. They wanted to secure or sell their properties.
Fun fact: the Join or Die flag originally referred to the necessity to cooperate in the fight against France and only later was coopted by the Revolutionaries battling Britain.
* The proclamation was approved at a Quaker Yearly meeting in 1758 but not printed until 1759.
In other news, the wisteria is blooming and I got my hair cut. New glasses ordered. All systems go!
And I’m making a tunic. Ha! I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the spirit of ‘saying their names,’ the names of the enslaved “property” in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s estate are listed below. Black people were enumerated in testamentary documents along with furniture, horses and mules, jewelry and land, making clear their status as chattel.
[The names listed in bold on the list are names I’ve used in my novel (in its second edit now)].
It’s also worth noting that at the time of her marriage to Charles Pinckney (May 27, 1744), Eliza’s father included about two dozen enslaved people as part of her dowry. The record tells us that Quashee (aka John Williams) was a matter of dispute between Eliza’s father and her fiance. Both men wanted him and for good reason — he was literate and an extraordinarily skilled carpenter. Eliza’s husband-to-be won out and Quashee went on to oversee and help build the newlywed couple’s new home on East Bay.
Also note: it’s a mistake to think that slaves named after days of the week were so-named out of a heartless, objectifying inattention on the part of auctioneers and owners, much like some names were based on slave trading ships (see recent post about Phillis Wheatley). In some African cultures it was common. For instance, Cudjoe (variants: Cuffy, Joe) means Monday; Quashee, Sunday.
This short piece was written to a prompt in an AWA class.
I have come, unwilling, afraid. A sticky heat. An unmooring. A destruction. A pale lady pats my cheek, making bird sounds. “Ooh! Ooh!” She turns to a man, the colors of his jacket, a glaring affront after the dark hold, the grey sea.
“Susanna, no! Be reasonable, my dear.” He clomps along the dock, pats another on the head. “Like her. What about her?”
But Pale Lady kneels. Now my chin is in her hands. I clutch the carpet scrap around my shoulders. It is filthy. Whether she chooses me for good or for ill, is impossible to know.
+ + +
The man with the bag of coins approaches. He knows a buyer when he sees one. “She’s yours for a trifle,” he announces and husband hands over a few bob. It’s likely he, the seller, thought the girl about to die. Any money was better than none. And then Susanna Wheatley, her husband, and the newly purchased girl clambered aboard a carriage to take them the few blocks from the wharf to Boston manse.
The enthusiasm his wife exhibits puzzles John Wheatley until he realizes that the dark-skinned skinny girl looks to be just the age their Sarah was when she died. Seven years old. This girl is missing her front teeth, just as Sarah had been. Their poor, dear Sarah, taken by the pox before even her grown teeth came in. So this vanity purchase — what else to call it? — driven by a grief-soaked nostalgia, would have to be tolerated.
“Mary will teach her Latin,” Susanna gushed on the ride home. Her husband tucked his chin down to dissemble, the enthusiastic plan striking him as pathetic, absurd.
“We shall call her Phillis,” he said. “After the ship.”
A thriving servant. They refused the moniker, ‘slave’ — as if to do so made a difference. She, the slave Phillis, took to words like a duck to water. John Wheatley’s tolerance, a state he expected to be brittle and difficult to maintain, transformed into pride. The little darkie had something of genius about her and how well the white ruffles of her cotton lawn cap framed that Senegambian face! Her teeth grew in. She mastered English and not just Latin, but Greek as well. So proud, so possessive but willing to share were the Wheatleys, that they found a printer on State Street who rolled plates with ink, plates with their Phillis’s words on them and he, the printer, printed them. Poems.
A council was convened. John Hancock, a short man with a bit of bluster (to put it nicely), the Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, Samuel Mather, others — their one purpose to determine the authorship of the folio. Surely, it could not be her? A slave! A collection of precise poems filled with lofty and literary images, language suitable for the illustrious poets of the age.
But, never mind all that for now! After gently, reverently nodding to Toni and Maya in the shadows, let us call forth that skinny black girl with a gift of the tongue — Phillis Wheatley — for she, too, must be on the Capitol steps today, beaming with pride.
Look at how this current orator’s yellow coat glows with promise! See how the red satin head band across her crown and the beads elegantly tucked among her braids, speak to the past that she calls upon us to repair. She, Amanda Gorman, can certainly speak with authority about the ‘belly of the beast’ — just as Phillis could have (but didn’t) lament the belly of the slave trading ship, the Phillis. Imagine being named after the vessel that ruptured and destroyed your former life! Imagine being poked with that perpetual reminder. “Phillis! Oh, Phillis! Come here!” “Phillis! Say it again, more slowly this time.”
If a ‘skinny black girl descended from slaves’ can position herself on the side of hope and mercy, surely we comfortable white people can do the same? Certainly, we must do better than we have done? We’ve all suffered these long-lasting four years, ‘bruised but whole,’ as the young poet says, a twenty-two year old who might as well be descended from Phillis Wheatley, herself. Seek harm to none she, Amanda, sang and: repair the past.
On a day we stumblers of the 21st century thought would never come, at this tattered end of a vulgar destruction that wrecked even the experience of time, let us take the words of the young poet into our hearts! Let us honor her lineage and what she says about the future! And then let us take her words back out onto the streets and continue the fight because as she, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, pointed out in incandescent glory — we are unfinished.
+ + +
* references: Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi; The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, America’s First Black Poet and her Encounters with the Founding Fathers, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.;a history docent in Lexington, Mass. who characterized John Hancock as “an asshole;” as well, of course: the inaugural reading by Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb.
** It is not true that Wheatley was published in Boston. No one dared touch her work. She had to go to England to find a printer.
Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.*
Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2008. Print.*
Haulman, Kate. The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.
Hart, Emma. Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-century British Atlantic World. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2010. Print.*
Higginbottom Jr., A. Leon. In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.
Hoffer, Peter Charles, Cry Liberty, The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739. Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.*
Hurmence, Belinda. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves. Winston-Salem, NC: J.F. Blair, 1989. Print.*
Hurmence, Belinda. My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2013.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Barnes & Noble, 2005.
Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1984. Print.*
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LeMaster, Michelle, and Bradford J. Wood. Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories. Print.
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Eliza Lucas – PhD Thesis
Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks
Kindred, Octavia Butler
Sapphira and The Slave Girl, Willa Cather
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
The Good Lord Bird and Song Yet Sung, by James McBride
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Water to My Soul, Pamela Mueller
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill
Underground Airlines, Ben White
Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Nostalgia, Dennis MacFarland
Plantation Patriot, Francis Leigh Williams
The Indigo Girl, Natasha Boyd* (have not read yet)
The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehesi Coates
Movies / TV
The Civil War (Ken Burns)
John Adams – HBO series
Daughters of the Dust
Twelve Years a Slave
Tours / Historic Sites
Boone Hall Plantation
The Charleston Museum Drayton Hall Magnolia Plantation — both the enslaved cabin tour and the big house tour Magnolia Cemetery McLeod Plantation Middleton Place Aiken-Rhett House Old Charleston Jail Rebellion Farm : for a weekend of indigo dyeing in a pole barn with Sea Island Indigo Stono Slave Rebellion Marker Sullivan Island Wappoo Plantation Marker
Faneuil Hall Middle Passage Ceremony, August 13, 2015 The Granary Burial Grounds (where John Hancock’s ‘servant’ Frank is buried, as well as Crispus Attucks) Mt. Auburn Cemetery (burial sites of Harriet Jacobs and Mary Walker) The Jackson Homestead The Royall House and Slave Quarters (spent a night in the quarters with The Slave Dwelling Project)
Have I converted PeeDee to Pee Dee and PonPon Road to Pon Pon with a space? Did I switch all references to the Berber people to “Tuaregs” instead of Twuareg or Tuarog?
Have I made sure every “genteel” references refined society and not “gentiles” (oops)? Did I consistently spell lightning without an “e” in the middle and do I maybe have one too many thunderstorms?
Did I flesh out the “tag along slave” Phoebe enough for the reader to be able to see her?
Does the traumatized, silent Maggie speak early enough in the story for her late chapters to land?
Have I eliminated the second explanation of “free by courtesy”?
(if you’re curious, it’s a state of emancipation brought on by custom, not by papers like manumission papers or a will — often occurred in situations when an enslaved person was repeatedly promised that they’d be freed by will and then their owner failed to write or update their will. If that slave then acted as if they were free for long enough, they’d be considered “free by courtesy”).
I probably don’t need to add that ANY version of freedom for a Black person in the 1740’s was tenuous and subject to the violent whims of white people.
Did I eliminate enough text in the middle for the pacing to work better? Is there too much Eliza?
If my mustee character (half Pee Dee, half African), Indian Pete, is based on Prince Alston, a man described in Archibald Rutledge’s memoir, Home By The River, will it be enough to add a citation at the end?
From Home By The River: Prince Alston had a “kinship with nature as unfeigned as it was intimate.” He was “untouched by any human school of philosophy … but deeply read in the oracles of God.” Prince once plowed a field with a half wild bull that other field workers would walk a quarter mile out of their way to avoid, earning him no end of admiration.
Have I fixed all the erroneous capital H’s that I managed to insert while fixing the naming of a ship, the Hound? (Hounds show up with surprising frequency).
My dear cousin Ginny printed out the manuscript for me! With almost all the inputs, too. It will be very different to give it a read through on paper.
Thank you Ginny!
Today I woke with this thought: if we hold onto the House and flip the Senate (and trump wins), we would be able to impeach AND convict him. Given all the totalitarian strategies being employed by trump and Barr to steal the election, maybe this is the thing to focus on?
Hazel ship plus historic ship plus — sigh — Chadwick Bozeman. May he sail free.
Pin by Liz, my father’s Army picture, and from Twelve Years a Slave, Chiwetel Eijofor.