What’s in your name? Colonialism.

Colonialism is in a name.

Enslavement. Enslavement is in a name.

In 1800, Virginian Edmund Jennings Randolph (of constitutional Virginia Plan fame) was mortgaged to the hilt.

To satisfy creditors and manage his finances and those of his family, he made the following agreement:

“…Now this Indenture witnesseth that in order to secure the payment of the debts aforesaid more effectually and the sum of one dollar in hand paid by the persons first named, he the said Edmund Randolph hath bargained, sold, aliened, assigned and transfered, and by these presents doth bargain, sell, alien, assign and transfer to the said Thomas Jefferson, Foushee, Hylton, William DuVal, Samuel Macraw, Lewis and Philip Norborne Nicholas their executors, administrators and assigns the following slaves partly in the possession of the said Edmund Randolph, and partly in the possession of Wilson Cary Nicholas on a hire for years, to wit; Dick, Judy and their children Sukey and Lucy and Sam, Aggey and their children, Succordy, Mourning, Edmonia, Lewis, in the said Edmund Randolph’s possession; the following negro slaves hired by the said Edmund Randolph to Wilson C. Nicholas for a term of years, and especially Blenheim, and his wife Phillis and children Charles and Moses, Harry and Nanny his wife and children Watt, and Billy and Jemmy and his wife Dolly and child Lydia and Jenny Willard Lewis and their increase present and future…”

“….on a hire for years….

Dick, Judy and their children Sukey and Lucy and Sam, Aggey, and their children, Succordy, Mourning, Edmonia, Lewis….

and especially Blenheim, and his wife Phillis and children Charles and Moses,

Harry and Nanny his wife and children Watt, and Billy and Jemmy and his wife Dolly and child Lydia and Jenny Willard Lewis

and their increase present and future…”

So.

Let’s examine that, even if you have not found any indication, any evidence (yet) of your ancestors outright owning, enslaving people under the American race-based slave system, that doesn’t mean that your ancestors could not have hired or rented enslaved men, women, and children. The way Edmund was “hiring,” renting out these people to “Wilson C[ary] Nicholas for a term of years.”

That the American race-based slave system supported the rental of human beings. The way you can rent furniture today.

Let’s focus on Blenheim.

Blenheim is a battle. A vital English military victory. It is an event.

Blenheim is an English palace. It is a home. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Blenheim is this man’s name.

Blenheim is a father of two men, Charles and Moses.

He is recognized to be the husband of Phillis. Since churches under America’s race-based slave system did not acknowledge the marriage of “property” (as enslaved people were deemed to be property under 1800’s law and social practices), Blenheim and Phillis would not have been given their right of marriage recognition. It is likely that they jumped the broom.

Whatever America said, Blenheim and Phillis were united under God. So were Harry and Nanny. So were Jemmy and Dolly.

How does an enslaved man, deemed legal property under America’s historic laws and social practices, carry the name of an English palace, an English military victory?

Perhaps Blenheim (the man, the husband, the father) was born on the date of the Battle of Blenheim‘s victory. Perhaps Blenheim’s birthday was 13 August. Or 2 August. Depending on Julian or Gregorian calendars. Either way, maybe Blenheim’s name gives us Blenheim’s birthday.

Maybe Blenheim was named simply because whoever named him had been reading up on English history and decided Blenheim was an excellent name for an English victory, and an enslaved man.

Maybe they simply liked the way “Blenheim” sounded.

But consider, this enslaved man was of African descent. His heritage, his history was likely African. I say likely, because we do not know his parentage. And we know that American enslavers could force privileges with enslaved women under their legal and social power. There is no evidence that anyone in Edmund’s family fathered Blenheim. But we do know that extended members of Edmund’s family fathered enslaved children with women they enslaved.

This enslaved man, of African descent, through his name, carried the history of his colonial enslavers all the days of his life.

But Blenheim lived his own life. I am sure he made his own life, beyond the history of his name. I am sure that Phillis, Charles and Moses, they were Blenheim’s light. They were Blenheim’s life.

In researching names of enslaved individuals, consider the origin of their name. Consider that colonialism, and enslavement could imprint itself on this person’s name.

Hearing your name called, imagine every time you hear it, you know it is not your history or your heritage being honored, but the history and heritage of those who captured and continually suppressed your heritage, and oppressed your ancestors, your descendants, and your own life.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

You’ve Seen The Film! Now Read The Book!

In (still) trying to come to terms with Season 8 of GoT (Tormund’s there. Let’s focus on Tormund.), I ran across this in my fandom-Google-stumbling:

Sansa Stark and Scarlett O'Hara in Game of Thrones and Gone with the Wind

Courtesy of David Crow’s piece “How Gone With the Wind Influenced Game of Thrones“, published on Den of Geek. Copyright May 2020.

Apparently “George R.R. Martin frequently mentions Gone With the Wind in interviews”…

My first thought was a simultaneous cacophony of “Lord in Heaven, help us one and all” and “FFS”.

Then I thought, “Well. Damn. I ain’t read that…thing.”

Make no mistake, I grew up on the movie. I defy you to find a White Southerner, particularly female, who didn’t see it at least once in the 90s. My memory of Gone With the Wind did not come from a marketed VHS copy, but from a VHS you could record on, the ancestor of DVR, a…whatever-the-hell those orange-boxed ones were…Maxell?…TDK?…anyways, it was recorded off of ABC or CBS. Some publicly, widely available television channel. Prime time. I distinctly remember that as the years rolled on, the greatest enjoyment of watching our VHS copy was not the actual film, but in the quickly-dated fashions and technology in the commercials. And the M&Ms commercials. Y’all should’ve seen how much we loved M&Ms and those original Mac computers.

Even if I didn’t have a copy of the film, the stories of my family connected to Gone With the Wind would have been passed down anyways. This makes my family sound more “connected” than we actually are, but what I mean to say is that no, we weren’t extras lying on stretchers in that famous scene in Atlanta, and no, we weren’t extras at Twelve Oaks flouncing around in those bell skirts. But. One of my grandmothers fell in love with the idea of Scarlett to the point that she christened the hog on the farm she was raised on “Scarlett.” And painted the word “Tara” over the pen. Yup. Y’all. Welcome.

I mean.

I just.

There you go.

And I defy you to find a White, Southerner, and particularly female family history that doesn’t have some similar story connected to the impact this book and this film made on a particular generation of the South. The “BuzzFeed quiz” question of the White Southerner Female Generation of 1940 (when Gone With the Wind premiered) was not what Disney Princess you were, but if you were more of a Melanie or a Scarlett. God forbid you were an India. At least if you were a Belle you got to sleep with Rhett. Allegedly.

Anywhos, I can only speak for the White Southerners. I can only testify as to what has been passed down to me as a White Southerner. And that’s what I aim to challenge myself to do by reading the damn book this whole thing was based on, and then influenced the generations who influenced me.

Full disclosure, Pt. 1, I visited Margaret Mitchell’s home in Atlanta once. That’s about all I know about Margaret Mitchell.

Full disclosure, Pt. 2, beyond visits to battlefields and poring over National Park Service materials that were published for the recent 150th observations and anniversaries of the 1860-1865 American Civil War (I specify the years, because I still maintain that America’s War for Independence was America’s first civil war), I am by no means, an expert on that American Civil War. I am not reading Gone With the Wind to examine its historical content. (You want historical-accuracy examinations of this novel, honey, I’m sure they’re out there. Godspeed. Ask a Park Ranger.)

I’m reading this book in an effort to get off the porch and really face this thing. Especially Scarlett “That Woman” O’Hara.

That woman has been my shadow whether I blessed-well like it, or not. As soon as folks figure out where I’m from, and how long my family’s been below the Mason-Dixon, two things usually, historically pop out of people’s mouths:

“Where’s your accent?” (SIGH.)

“So, you’re like Scarlett!” (…….n.o.)

I mean, for L.A.N.D. S.A.K.E.S, Scarlett Bless-ed O’Hara was a piece of shit racist, and if you just feel like shimmyin’ on past that fact, she was about as mean as twenty cottonmouths in the middle of summer and a few Mama-Bears-Who-Think-You’re-About-To-Threaten-Their-Cubs-So-You-Better-Run-Forrest-Run combined! Why in the WORLD do we “pedestal” this person?

Welp. I aim to figure that the fudge out. Because like it or not, being a Southern female means you have to face the Specter of Scarlett. Thanks, Margaret Mitchell. And David O. Selznick. Sigh.

Lord in Heaven, help us one and all. Amen.

And, Full Disclosure, Pt. 3, I will be following up my virgin-reading of Gone With the Wind, with Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

You’re standing in a Barnes & Noble

…or your local independent bookseller.

There’s two books on the same topic, same person, or same event you see before you. Both reasonably priced, and priced in a reasonably similar range. Similar enough that you have no idea which to pick up and purchase.

A friend of mine, wishing to become more comfortably versed in the historic debates surrounding our Constitution (they were genuinely shocked that the United States had an entire government under The Articles of Confederation before we crafted our current one in the 1787 Constitutional Convention), asked for book recommendations, and after a pause, asked how I choose my history books in the first place.

FOOTNOTES: I pick up the book, flip to a page and pick a number, any number corresponding to a footnote. I flip to the footnotes in the back, and see what source is being highlighted. Is this a primary source? Something from history, from the examined historic person, or from a witness to a historic event? Or are the footnotes focused on secondary scholarship? Is this author quoting another scholar, another work? Is that scholar and their work one I trust?

If it’s a topic, person, or event I’m relatively familiar with, I choose the book that has more primary sources from the period highlighted in its footnotes.

If it’s a topic, person, or event that I couldn’t distinguish from Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden (translation: I dunno know shit about it), honestly it matters a little less whether it’s a primary or secondary source at this point in my scholarship. If I don’t know about something, I’m just trying to get a general context, wrap my head around the situation, and figure out what questions to ask. Then I can move forward in my “deeper dive” among the primary sources.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Who is this author crediting for their scholarship, thanking for helping them in their journey? That can tell you a lot. There’s one book I keep on my shelf as a “Danger-Will-Robinson” warning of what maybe not to do when interpreting history. Anonymity is kept here to protect those who be guilty of misrepresenting the depth of their scholarship. It wasn’t so much that they made false claims with the information included, but in a book about a complex and multi-faceted conflict, the book’s bias seemed heavily weighted toward one particular side. Representation of opposing sides was relatively quiet. Danger, Will Robinson.

About two chapters in, I flipped to the footnotes. Plenty of primary sources. Check. Exactly what I was looking for. I flipped to the acknowledgements. Ah. There was the rub.

The folks mentioned in the acknowledgements were representatives of a particular side that this book seemed to lean towards. Any mention in the acknowledgements of other representatives of opposing sides, or other invested perspectives of this historic conflict, were absent. Absent to the point that you wondered if this author had done due diligence and even reached out to the representatives of these other invested perspectives. Checking the Acknowledgements before I purchased could have helped me detect this obvious bias early. Lesson learned, and well-remembered.

That’s it. I hope this might be helpful.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

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American-born Queen

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photo source: Goodreads

Born Lisa Halaby in Washington, D.C. of Syrian-Lebanese and Swedish descent, Queen Noor Al-Hussein is a graduate of Princeton (1974), an activist, a mother and grandmother, and the widow of King Hussein of Jordan. Her memoir Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, held a place on my mother’s bookshelf for years. I am grateful that my mother told me about American-born Queen Noor, as much as she told me about American-born Princess Grace.

H.M. Queen Noor on international nuclear disarmament, speaking at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum:

“… I see the potential [of nuclear weapons] for continuing and expanding what are already irrational arms races…increasing insecurity in those regions and eating up absolutely desperately needed human development resources, especially now when so many populations in those regions are under severe economic pressures, [and] the destabilizing consequences of climate change.

As a Muslim, just to add, I share the moral and spiritual concerns about the genocidal role of nuclear weapons, first expressed by the scientists who created them and witnessed the horror of their destructive impact and were the first advocates for what we are talking about tonight. The Holy Koran declares that killing an innocent is tantamount — one innocent life — to killing all of mankind.

…[nuclear disamament is] going to be a very complex process. I don’t think we should give up. I would ask our audience, any one of you that can have any impact on any group or individual or political decision maker to please engage, because one person … And the impact one person can have or the loss of one person — and I would add my husband to the mix as well — on the direction in which critical events go may have an impact for generations.”

Copyright Off The Porch History, 2021, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and H.M. Queen Noor, 2018

“Previous to 1861…

…there weren’t any policeman, but there were [slave] patrollers instead.

Their duty [of the slave patrollers] was the same as that of the policemen today.

If the slaves had a corn-shucking party or a prayer meeting, and if they made too much noise, the patrollers would arrest them.”

-Testimony of Jane Pyatt

[“[Jane Pyatt was] Age 89 when interviewed by Thelma Dunston in Portsmouth (Virginia)… Mrs. Pyatt was born in Middlesex County. At only three months of age, she was sold with her mother to a Norfolk slaveholder who shortly moved to Portsmouth.”]

All quotations from We Lived in a Little Cabin in the Yard, ed. Belinda Hurmence, part of the Slave Narratives of Virginia (WPA, Federal Writers Project).

copyright Belinda Hurmence, LOC/WPA and Federal Writers Project, and Off the Porch History 2020

“Q. Considering we live in an Age wherein Mens Opinions, as to Matters of Faith, are various…”

“…how shall one so behave ones self in respect to those who differ from us, as not only to avoid Error, but also to prevent ourselves from rashly condemning those who embrace not the same Opinions, as we do?

A. We ought to keep to the plain Text of Scripture, and affirm nothing as necessary to Salvation, which is not clearly revealed in it, without permitting our selves to draw far fetcht [far-fetched], or too subtil [subtle] Consequences thence; or ingage [engage] ourselves in metaphysical Arguments about Things which are above our Reach; and this Method might make us more Charitable to, and less hot against others; because the many Controversies which divide us, are commonly upon such Things, as the Scripture has not clearly decided in Favour of either Party. The Errors we ascribe to one another, often respecting the Manner of Things, which in many Cases Holy Writ has not determined.”

From The Athenian oracle. volume 3, 1728. Page 471.

Copyright Hathi Trust, The Athenian oracle (1728), and Off The Porch History 2019.