A classic from the magazine Punch (1849).
Colonialism is in a name.
Enslavement. Enslavement is in a name.
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…”
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
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:
Apparently “George R.R. Martin frequently mentions Gone With the Wind in interviews”.
My first thought: “Lord help us, it’s that thing again.”
And then: “Huh. Well. I ain’t never read it.”
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 those orange-boxed ones were…Maxell?…TDK?…anyways, it was recorded off of ABC or CBS. Some public, widely available television channel. Prime time, y’all. Seems unthinkable today. And this was the 90s (the latest decade to make a nostalgic commercial comeback).
I distinctly remember that as the years rolled on, the greatest enjoyment of watching our VHS copy was not the actual film, but the commercials featuring rather quickly-dated fashions and technology. Plus 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 connections to Gone With the Wind would have been passed down. This makes my family sound far 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 then proceeded to paint the word “Tara” over the pen.
There you go.
I defy you to find a White, Southerner, particularly Female family history that doesn’t have some similar story nearly intoning the impact this book, and this film made on a particular generation of the South.
If Ye Olde BuzzFeed were abuzz in 1940 (when Gone With the Wind premiered), then ye “BuzzFeed quiz” question of that WWII White Southerner Female Generation would not determine which Disney Princess you were (I think it was basically just Snow White at that point), but instead, you would discover if you were more of a Melanie or a Scarlett. God forbid you were an India. And what a relief (in their minds) if you were Belle, so then you could sleep with Rhett to your heart’s content. Allegedly.
Anywhos, I can only testify as to what has been passed down to me as a White Southern Female born of many generations of (surprise, surprise) White Southern Females. And yet, unlike past White Southern Females in my family line, I have never read That Book. Seen the movie. Should (?) maybe (?) read the book.
Full disclosure, Pt. 1, I visited Margaret Mitchell’s home in Atlanta once. That’s about all I know of Margaret Mitchell. She had a typewriter.
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 and ask a Park Ranger.)
I’m really reading this book in an effort to get off the porch, and understand why my grandmother felt the need to paint “Tara” over the pigpen. What spell did this book weave? Especially that of 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 historically pop out of people’s mouths:
“Where’s your accent?” (SIGH.)
“So, you’re like Scarlett!” (um…….no.)
For land sakes, Scarlett O’Hara was an unapologetic racist! How is it a compliment to be compared to her?! Why do you feel the need to lead off with that comparison, boo bear? You gonna compare the men in my family to David Duke?
But if you just feel like shimmyin’ on past that fact that she was a racist, Scarlett O’Hara Twenty-Five-Thousand-Married-Names was as mean, unflinching, and unapologetic as Lucy Parke Byrd, the first wife of William Byrd II.
September 6, 1710: “My wife against my will caused little Jenny [a woman enslaved by the Byrds] to be burned with a hot iron…”
January 31, 1711: “My wife quarreled with me about not sending for Mrs. Dunn when it rained [to lend her John]. She [Lucy Parke Byrd] threatened to kill herself but had more discretion…”
February 5, 1711: “My wife and I quarreled about her pulling her brows. She threatened she would not go to Williamsburg [Virginia’s colonial capital] if she might not pull them…”
February 27, 1711: “In the evening my wife and little Jenny had a great quarrel in which my wife got the worst but at last by the help of the family Jenny was overcome and soundly whipped [for her resistance]…”From the “Diary of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1709-1712”
Scarlett O’Hara was not a Fortune 500 CEO, CFO, or COO. FFS, she was far more like Lucy Parke Byrd; claiming a woman was her property, and beating her with a hot iron, while her husband and family would have the same woman whipped (tortured) without a second thought.
WHY do we “pedestal” this person?
I don’t know. But I need to know since people keep referencing her so much whenever they discover that I am White, Southern, and Female.
Copyright Off The Porch History 2021
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
A native Virginian.
First seated female MP of the British House of Commons. Second elected.
That’s it. The fact that the first (in/famous), unlikely-to-suffer-fools, female MP to take her seat in Britain’s ancient, traditional Parliament, was born in Danville. Took her seat as MP 1 December 1919.
Copyright BBC, New York Times, Off the Porch History 2020
…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.”]
copyright Belinda Hurmence, LOC/WPA and Federal Writers Project, and Off the Porch History 2020
“…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.
-the more liberated you are… We need to say we are still here, that we have grown and survived and done better than that-we have thrived [Young people] need to hear that now, in 2012 as much as in 1952.”
Copyright Dr. Maya Angelou 2012 and Off the Porch History 2019
is to rewrite it.”
Copyright Oscar Wilde [1891, The Critic as Artist] and Off The Porch History 2018
“…the wisdom of our forefathers is, not to tread exactly in their steps, and to do the same things in the same manner;
but to act in such a way as we might
suppose they would, did they live in these days, and things were so situated as they are at present.”
Thomas Sheridan, British Education: Or, The Source of the Disorders of Great Britain. Being an Essay Towards Proving, that the Immorality, Ignorance, and False Taste, which So Generally Prevail, are the Natural and Necessary Consequences of the Present Defective System of Education. With an Attempt to Show, that a Revival of the Art of Speaking, and the Study of Our Language, Might Contribute, in a Great Measure, to the Cure of Those Evils. In Three Parts [available for free, in its entirety, with Google Books]
Copyright Thomas Sheridan 1756 and Off The Porch History 2018