Labor Day seemed an appropriate day to visit the new display marking the Middle Passage down on Long Wharf, Boston. It is yards from the Atlantic and the site where Africans were unloaded from ships and sold.
I took a lot of pictures, so that I could read later. Why? Parking fees were obscene. I set my timer for 35 minutes, determined not to pay more than $18. But we didn’t really want to pay even that, so we didn’t dally. Made it back in under twenty minutes. High fives at the parking pay kiosk.
Most of the business along Long Wharf these days is tourism.
Almost all of the marker’s text was devoted to highlighting local luminary African Americans, like Phyllis Wheatley (blogged about here). I expected the narrative to reveal the horrors of the slave trade, so this surprised me a little. Did you know, for example, that the Guinea ships could be smelled from four miles off, so vile was the hygiene and carnage? Or that a loss of life in the neighborhood of ten percent was an acceptable margin in terms of turning a profit?
If you read my Facebook post on this yesterday, you’ll have seen the LONG laundry list of ways that the North profited from slavery, pictured below.
Next time we go, I’ll bring flowers and we’ll look for on-street parking.
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.*
Kenslea, Timothy. The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in the Early Republic. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2006. Print.
Krebs, Laurie. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Indigo Planter. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.
Legrand, Catherine. Indigo, The Color that Changed the World, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print..
LeMaster, Michelle, and Bradford J. Wood. Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories. Print.
McCandless, Peter. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
McCarthy, B. Eugene, and Thomas L. Doughton. From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007. Print.
McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds. Oxford University Press, 1995.
McKay, Nellie Y. (editor). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. Print.
McKinley, Catherine E. Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.
Mueller, Pamela Bauer. Water to My Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Jekyll Island, GA: Pinata Pub., 2012. Print.
Mullin, Michael. Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. ACLS History E-Book Project. 2004.
Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti. Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.
Nelson, Louis P. The Beauty of Holiness. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Northup, Solomon, and D. Wilson. Twelve Years a Slave Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853. Print.
Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, and Elise Pinckney. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Ed. Marvin R. Zahniser and Elise Pinckney. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 1997. Print.
Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.
Rhyne, Nancy, and Sue Alston. John Henry Rutledge: The Ghost of Hampton Plantation: A Parable. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Pub., 1997. Print.
Rhyne, Nancy. Tales of the South Carolina Low Country. John F Blair Pub, 1982.
Rivers, Larry Eugene. Slavery in Florida, Territorial Days to Emancipation. Florida: University Press, 2009.
Rogers, George C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1969. Print.
Rucker, Walter C. The River Flows On. LSU Press, 2008.
Russell, Franklin. The Okefenokee Swamp. Time-Life Books, 1986.
Rutledge, Archibald. Home by the River. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941. Print.
Rutledge, Sarah. The Carolina Housewife. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1979. Print.
Smith, Mark M. Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 2005. Print.
South Carolina Slave Narratives. S.I.: Native American Book, 2009. Print.
Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.
Twitty, Michael W. The Cooking Gene. HarperCollins, 2018.
Vernon, Amelia Wallace. African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. 1993.
Walsh, Lorena S. From Calabar to Carter’s Grove. Rutgers University Press, 2001.
Williams, Frances Leigh. Plantation Patriot; a Biography of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.
Wood, Peter H. Black Majority; Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Knopf;, 1974. Print.
Wulf, Andrea. Founding Gardeners. Vintage, 2012.
Zacek, Natalie. Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
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)
I “attended” a three hour seminar with Anne Lamott this weekend. I’ll probably be talking about it for a while. She went over many of the tools explicated in her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, but first let me say how happy I was to hear that she includes research in writing time!
Here’s a little taste of the rabbitholeI went down this week for my novel.
“Wherever Africans were enslaved in the world, there were runaways who escaped permanently and lived in free independent settlements. These people and their descendants are known as “maroons.” The term probably comes from the Spanish cimarrón, meaning feral livestock, fugitive slave or something wild and defiant.”
Smithsonian article about The Great Dismal Swamp and its long history of maroon communities. Written September 2016 by Richard Grant featuring the archeology of the intrepid Dan Sayers.
“By downplaying American marronage, and valorizing white involvement in the Underground Railroad, historians have shown a racial bias, in Sayers’ opinion, a reluctance to acknowledge the strength of black resistance and initiative.”
It is well known that researching the history of enslaved people is difficult. For one thing, primary sources are few and far between.Then there’s white ignorance and racial animus in creating secondary sources.
Even in the instance of the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected first person accounts from Blacks who had lived under slavery, the narratives are inherently unreliable because they were recorded by white people.
Think: white person with a clipboard.
Think: Black person talking to a white person with a clipboard.
Even with the best of intentions, we can assume that white minds listening to Black thoughts and speech applied some kind of filter. And we can also assume that Black speakers shaped what they said in some way because of their white audience.
Enslaved people had little by way of possessions. A community in a remote swamp likely owned or collected even less than those dwelling “on the street” (a common naming for a collection of slave quarters).
Slave communities are nevertheless of great interest to archeologists, as evidenced by Dan Sayers in this article and by recent excavations at Monticello and Mount Vernon.
My research has also turned up references to maroon communities in the swamps north and west of Charles Town. It seems that these groups may have initially been comprised of Natives, who then welcomed fugitive slaves. The Smithsonian article posits the idea that whites fleeing indentured servitude also found their way to some of these remote areas.
Update on Second Edit of my novel: the sagging middle is getting slashed (good example of another thing Lamott talked about, the famous advice to “kill your darlings”) and the ending is being expanded.
I’m back to the pin board for the final year of chronology. (Lamott also uses this visual trick, by the way, though she described taping pieces of paper around her entire living room).
It’s important to have a map of your story SOMEWHERE. I’m not adept enough to keep it all in my head. For some stretches, this pin board had every chapter pinned to it, color-coded by POV. After a while the directory in Word on my laptop served as an outline, because I put each chapter in a separate word doc and used a consistent naming protocol that arranged them chronologically.
Right now I’m working on two large documents so until I resurrected the pin board it was a little like flying blind.
A second edit is so, so important, Lamott said, so much so that she won’t show her work to anyone until she’s done one. (oops!)
Before the second edit comes what she calls “the shitty first draft.” That’s a liberating shorthand for all kinds of things, but perhaps mostly as encouragement to forgo perfectionism or debilitating ideas about inspiration.
Another way to say it, she shared, is from Nike: Just Do It.
The heat has been brutal. Today a little less so. Do you know what it’s like walking a dog on paved sidewalks in 97 degree heat?
And lastly, I call yesterday a good day. How unfamiliar the sensation of relief twinnedwith hope! Biden and Harris both gave great speeches. You can view on YouTube (August 12).
After both portraits were complete and Quashee had finished carving a pair of beautiful frames, there was little else to distract from the boys’ pending departure other than deciding where to hang the pictures. Mother auditioned the southern wall in the parlor, then the wall along the stairs, and finally, opted for the interior wall of the dining room. Morning and midday light flooded this wall and, of course, the painter Mr. Theus had cautioned about the damaging effects of direct light. Mother liked the placement, however, and stood firm.
Mother’s philosophy of life often placed the value of daily, casual pleasure above an object’s long term survival, unlike Father who would choose conservation every time. He protested her preferences, calling them ‘extravagant’ and ‘trivializing.’ But Mother wasn’t careless. Rather, she believed that lovely possessions were meant to be enjoyed, even at the cost of a diminished life span. She would hang the portraits where she could enjoy them with every meal — sunlight or no!
Father sometimes acted from a misplaced sense of authority in these domestic squabbles. In this case, I think the fact that these portraits were an extravagance to begin with made it harder for him to agree to the acceleration of their demise. I’m not sure why he offered up resistance, though, even I could see he would not prevail.
Yesterday, while Father was out seeing to the construction of canals along the Upper Field, Mother had the portraits hung. She declared their bottom edges perfectly parallel with the chair rail and beamed with delight. The sun beamed in as well. Even though the light that washed in was the wan light of winter, the sun made me worry, but it also brought the portraits come to life. At tea, Mother offered a stream of comments cheerfully enough, as if there were no undercurrents. Father assumed his place at the head of the table, glancing at the wall. If a man can brace himself without moving so much as an eyelash, my father did so then. Mother wasn’t crowing exactly, but close.
“Now look at those magnolia blossoms on the lower edge of the frame,” she exclaimed between bites of boiled bread pudding. “Our own Quashee’s work! What an expert hand! Why the petals alone make me swoon, never mind the carved stamen! Have you noticed?” Yes, of course we had noticed – on numerous occasions, in fact, each time at her proud insistence.
“It would be proper for the boys to eventually inherit these paintings,” Father said in a neutral manner. Mother grunted and spooned up more pudding. “The hall offers frequent viewing, too,” Father said. “Every entrance and exit affording a glance.” Mother seemed not to hear him. She was enjoying her pudding, making soft, barely audible moans. I believe Mother was using her gustatory pleasure as a means to stonewall him.
Father tried another tack, suggesting the fabrication of small cloth shades. These could be lowered over the canvases on sunny days. A compromise! A creative solution! Mother guffawed. She topped off her tea and then rattled on as though Father had not just spoken.
“Just look how the sunlight shows off all that refined carving!” She adopted her didactic manner — the importance of motifs, shadow and relief, and so on – acting the teacher to her slightly moronic students. Suddenly and with some vehemence, she condemned the shade idea as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘tasteless,’ and ‘a sorely misguided attempt to alter the nature of time’ – which was ironic, given that the commission of the paintings was itself an attempt to arrest time.
I turned to look at the paintings. The likenesses to my brothers were good, amazing in fact, but in the sunlight, which threw the carved wood magnolia blossoms into sculptural relief, it seemed that the frames were the focal point, not the portraits. In fact, the frames overwhelmed the faces that they surrounded. Since Mother’s taste was so often unerring, I thought it might be that I had yet to see the wisdom of her pairing. On the other hand, what if she’d miscalculated and the aesthetic mistake stood as evidence of her deep disturbance at her sons’ imminent departure. They would be gone for years.
Later in the afternoon, I closed the drapes in the dining room, figuring to protect the paintings for at least a portion of the day. The rust-orange cloth glowed with afternoon light, dimming the room somewhat but not entirely. For the first time since the portraits had been hung, I looked at them in the solitude of my own thoughts. There was dear George, chin thrust out, well on his way to becoming a man. It was easy to imagine how he’d look in two, three, even four years. The cheeks would be thinned, perhaps, his hair darkened undoubtedly, but he would wear an expression essentially unchanged.
Tommy was altogether another matter. For the entire sitting, I’d wondered which of my younger brother’s many moods the artist would attempt to portray. Even though Tommy had squirmed, whined, and been peevish, Mr. Theus had seen past all that to my brother’s vulnerability and incredibly enough, captured it. The expression on the canvas suggested tenderness, regret, and fear – the true attitude of an eight year old on the verge of leaving his mother for many years.
For all Mother’s talk about the easy and daily viewing of these pictures, I suddenly wasn’t sure that being reminded of her younger son’s very apparent lack of readiness for a long voyage and extended separation would, in fact, be pleasing to her. Once the thrill and novelty of the portraits subsided, mightn’t that vulnerable gaze accentuate the jagged edges of her broken heart rather than the opposite? How could Tommy’s eyes, rendered so close to tears by the artist’s skillful brushwork, do anything but haunt her?
* * * *
Painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The painter Copley was born the year before this scene takes place but the quality of both the painting and frame signal the kind of wealth accessible to Eliza’s family. In fact, it’s likely they knew the Isaac Royalls, both families having lived on the tiny island of Antigua for some of the same years. Both families may even have left partly for the same reason — the discovery of evidence supposedly showing that the enslaved were planning to blow up a building during a celebration of King George’s birthday and then take the harbor. That was in 1736.
The Isaac Royall house is situated not far from here in Medford, MA. It’s where I participated in a sleepover with The Slave Dwelling Project (see link on sidebar). Wrote about it here.
Sending children to England for schooling was not uncommon among the colonial upper class. Eliza Lucas herself sailed to England at the age of 11, returning when she was 14.
I believe the record shows that her brothers sailed from Antigua to England and not from South Carolina. One of many things that I changed.
Quash is a real figure of history, a literate bondman with high level carpentry skills. Later on in 1744, when Eliza got engaged to Charles Pinckney, her father and fiancé had a tug of war over him. Eliza’s husband prevailed. Quash was later baptized as John Williams and manumitted by Eliza’s husband and went on to acquire land and slaves and to purchase or free his immediate family members. At some point he disappears from the record, making me wonder if his success was unacceptable to his white neighbors.
See: Red, White, & Black Make Blue / Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life by Andrea Feeser.