Friday, August 29, 2008

Remembering Katrina

On the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, some recommended reading: the special Katrina issue of Southern Cultures, cover to cover. Amazing stories, including a riveting first-person account, from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, of taking the high ground in an elegant, "safe" old inn, being engulfed in water up to the second floor, floating out into open sea, holding on for dear life to the limbs of a live oak tree, and more.

An update to their story: the live oak tree has since died, and it's been refashioned into angels standing watch where the old inn used to be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Traces of the Trade" in Hillsborough Sept. 6

A couple of months ago, Al blogged about "Traces of the Trade," a documentary made by a descendant of the DeWolf family of Rhode Island, "the largest slave trading family in U.S. history" according to the film. The documentary follows the steps of the filmmaker Katrina Browne and a handful of other descendants as they retrace the paths over which this trading took place: from Bristol, Rhode Island to Ghana to the Caribbean.

The film premiered at Sundance and has been shown on PBS (see trailer). And because the family included a good number of Episcopal priests, it has been taken up by the Episcopal Church nationally as part of the church's ongoing work of reconciliation with its complicity with slavery and racism.

On Sept. 6, as part of a conversation sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina at St. Matthew's church in Hillsborough, the film will be shown. After the film, I'll be part of a panel discussion--in which I'll be bringing our own Thomas Ruffin to the table.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Greening up the Garden


Frank Harmon's beautiful design for the North Carolina Botanical Garden's new visitor education center, slated to be the first Platinum LEED building in the southeast, is coming to life! Director Peter White took Tucker and me, along with Laura Moore (a neighbor and member of the Community Design Commission), on a fascinating hard hat tour today. This generously proportioned, green, and welcoming facility will have a transformative impact on the way the Garden is experienced.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Asheville Before School Starts

I made a very quick trip out to Asheville before school starts--been hearing a bunch about the place and, of course, it was everything I'd heard and more. Reminds me of Burlington, Vermont, Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon--the combination of restaurants and grunge and people with money, too. I'm looking forward to spending some more time out there in another year. But right now I want to talk about four things in particular.

As I was driving up Patton Street, towards (what I understand to be) the center of town, I saw an obelisk. And I said, ah, that must be a monument to the Confederacy; I'm guessing it was put up in the early twentieth century. So, after parking the car in a nearby lot (complete with spray-painted "Tourists Go Home"--gotta love the local flavor!) and a walk back there, I see that I was pretty much on the mark. It's a monument put up in the late 1930s to Zebulon Vance--governor of our state during the Civil War. And, of course, it was put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. So I was pretty close; and what to my wondering eyes did appear in front of it, but a smaller granite monument put up in the 1924, also by the UDC, marking Dixie Highway and commemorating Robert E. Lee. So far, so good. Actually, calling this stuff is like shooting fish in a barrel--every southern town needs its confederate monument and they're almost all from the early twentieth century. So you can impress your friends and family by making these kinds of predictions. Let's see, big monument; southern town; ... "well, [affecting voice of authority], I bet that's an early twentieth century monument to the confederacy." And almost all the time you'll be right!

So a walk down towards the enormous courthouse and what do I see: a bunch of hippies surrounding a magnolia tree. As close readers of GreeneSpace will recall, I love magnolia trees--and so does pretty much everyone else, which is part of the reason why the moonlight and magnolia school was so popular. They were camping out, protesting the impending destruction of the tree to create ... a condominium, right next to the park they're building! They crux of this seems to be a decision by the local authorities to sell land left to the city by George Pack. One recent report talks about it in this way: "The park land was willed to the people forever by two deeds of the late and benevolent George Pack. The deeds and land now in question are said by many to have been improperly, if not illegally, sold by Buncombe County Commissioners in November 2006." Hmm, I'd want to see the deeds (or will, I take it in this case)--sounds like a gift in fee simple absolute, but perhaps there was a restriction on use or sale?!

Now, I part company with hippies on some issues--like property rights. However, I'm always happy to see people exercising their constitutional rights in order to encourage the rest of us to spare trees from the ax--particularly the ancient, beautiful, and slow-growing magnolia. Sounds like a new piece of what I might call hippie jurisprudence. There's something about trees, which appeals to my sense of vested rights. The old ones are venerable in part because they are old; they've survived the test of time, so that alone is a reason to preserve them, it seems to me. (Not to mention that trees as a stand-in in southern literature for families.)

Anyway, after a short time at the protest, I spotted yet another monument to the side of the courthouse. And this time as I approached it, I guessed--based on the stones--that it was from the 1880s or 1890s. Bingo! 1893 monument to soldiers at Chickamauga in 1863. Ah, gotta love monuments and monument law--and what a day when you see them all combined.

And now I'm ready for school to start, because this has been just the perfect summer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

For Ashley

Earlier this week came the hard news that Ashley Osment's cancer has returned. The rare form of ovarian cancer that struck her last year, which had seemed to respond to treatment, was only hiding out. It has returned in the bottom of both of her lungs. She has gone through one round of carboplatin/taxol and avastin chemotherapy through her blood stream, and on August 25 she'll undergo a second round.

Her friend Maria Palmer has thoughtfully created a web site where she is posting her daily prayers and meditations--a lovely way to be present for Ashley without being intrusive at a time when it's hard to know how to help. Our love goes out to Ashley and her family.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too many Joneses!

Cute post, Al, but it's obvious I'm no Obama. I'd love to take his courses. Or teach some pale semblance of one of them again someday. But first I have to get this obsession with State v. Mann behind me--which I may soon do if I'm lucky.

On Saturday my goal in the archives was to bear down on Thomas Jones of Chowan County, the Thomas Jones who died in 1822 and was father of Elizabeth Jones and owner of a slave named Lydia. (Lydia subsequently became the property of Elizabeth and was kept hired out until Elizabeth entered her majority at age 18.) Whose family did he come from? Was it true--as it seemed likely, at least, on the surface--that he was the son of the Thomas Jones of Chowan who helped to draft North Carolina's constitution of 1776? That Thomas Jones sounds like quite a fellow. According to Samuel Ashe's Biographical History of North Carolina, he

was bred to the law, was one of the very finest men of the province in genius and learning. About the time of the arrival of James Iredell at Edenton, Mr. Jones was clerk of the court. He was not a man of large means, but was esteemed one of the principal men of his community. He was married and had an interesting household that was on terms of intimacy with the Johnstons and others of that social circle. In 1771 Iredell mentions him as "one of the best as well as most agreeable men in the world."

He died in 1797, leaving a will that named three sons, Zachariah, Levi, and Thomas.

Now, the Thomas Jones who was the father of Elizabeth died in 1822, possessed of over 600 acres. He was a justice of the peace and was evidently well respected. Given the frequency with which these people named their children after themselves, it seemed likely to me that there was a direct line here. And how interesting to re-discover this founding North Carolinian who had been lost to history and to connect him to this important case.

Except, not so fast. It turns out that in the archival file of estate records titled "Thomas Jones, 1754-1798 (more than one estate)" (not even the state archivists can tell these Joneses a part), there's a document dated 1795 that says, "Thomas Jones, son of the late Thomas Jones esquire attorney of law deceased late of Edenton in Chowan County is dead," having died without leaving a will, and thus that Francis Jones, son of this Thomas Jones, is appointed his executor. More confusion ensues, because the will of the Thomas Jones who seems to be the father here, the lawyer and clerk, is dated 1797!

There must be a story here, but unfortunately not a clear enough line to determine that Elizabeth Jones was the grand-daughter, or even great-granddaughter, of Thomas Jones the forgotten old patriot, a man who had his moment but then, according to Ashe, disappeared from public life 20 years before his death.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

What Do Sally and Senator Obama Have in Common?

They both are interested in Justice Thomas Ruffin's 1830 opinion in State v. Mann! Sally writes about it and Obama taught it in his seminar on current issues in racism and the law at the University of Chicago back in 1994. How do we know this? The syllabus for the course is up on the New York Times' website. Pretty interesting set of readings!

I have some more thoughts on the syllabus--and why it's not getting more attention--over at the faculty lounge.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"The South Part of Virginia" c. 1657

To follow up on the post below on the contested North Carolina/Virginia line, here's a great old map.


Nicholas Comberford’s 1657 map, The South Part of Virginia Now the North Part of Carolina. The east coast of North Carolina is drawn along the bottom edge of the map. The map extends south as far as Cape Fear and north as far as what appears to be the Virginia border. The western part of the map (on the top edge) is marked as Tuscarora Indian territory. Between the Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound (labeled the Roanoake Sound), the map is labeled “This is a swampy wilderness;” the land north of Albemarle Sound is labeled the same.

The original is in the New York Public Library.

Here's another version of Comberford's map, a nice color image--but the heading isn't quite the same! This one is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Quakers with slaves

At right is the cover of the Chowan County grand jury indictment, in spring 1829, of John Mann for the assault and battery of the slave Lydia. (From the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.) The charge was presented by a man named Josiah Small. Yet the slave's owner, as Ruffin's opinion in State v. Mann tells us, was named Elizabeth Jones, who for all this time has eluded historians. Who was Josiah Small and what concern was Jones' slave to him? This document was my first clue in a long journey to find the answer.

Elizabeth Jones was Small's ward. Married to her older sister Matilda, Small assumed guardianship of Elizabeth and two of her brothers after the death of their father Thomas Jones, in 1822. To that household Elizabeth brought the slave she had inherited, Lydia. By 1829, Elizabeth was still a minor (barely, at 17), and Lydia was 23.

What's most interesting to me about the Small household is that Josiah Small was from an old Quaker family. He was a descendant of John Small (c.1639-1700), a Virginia Quaker whose family was among the waves of Quakers who scurried down to North Carolina to escape the wrath of Virginia's governor William Berkeley. A faithful servant of Charles I, "a King's man to his autocratic fingertips" as one historian writes, Berkeley suppressed all dissent from the Church of England, even after Cromwell came to power. By 1660, he'd succeeded in getting the Virginia legislature to pass a law requiring the imprisonment of all Quakers until they left the colony. He stayed in office until his death in 1677.

This was happening during the same period when the boundary line between North Carolina and Virginia was up for grabs. The North Carolina charter of 1663 was at apparent odds with the one of 1665; in conflict was a swath of territory about 30 miles deep from where the line currently is to the middle of the Albemarle Sound. The dispute wasn't settled until William Byrd's survey of 1728--which means that for some 60 years, it was an open question.

The dispute had to do with differences of opinion on the location of Weyanoke Creek, which was supposed to be the boundary. The creek couldn't be found any more. Virginia claimed it was the same as Wiccon Creek, a tributary of the Chowan. North Carolina said it was the Nottoway River. But as William Boyd points out in an introduction to William Byrd's work, major questions of tobacco and trade routes were involved.

As early as 1679 Virginia had prohibited the importation of North Carolina tobacco, a condition which greatly retarded the economic development of the northeastern part of the province, where the soil was well adapted to tobacco culture. If the boundary ran through Nottoway River, North Carolina tobacco could be shipped down that and other streams to Albemarle Sound and thence to points without the colony.

As the debate lingered on, in 1714, Governor Spotswood of Virginia, "claiming that North Carolina continued to grant lands in the disputed region and that 'loose and disorderly people daily flock there,' proposed that Virginia survey a line through the Nottoway River and North Carolina one through Wiccon Creek, and that all settlers between those lines be removed." !! That didn't happen. When Charles Eden became governor of North Carolina, he managed to reach a compromise on the boundary. The line he proposed is the one that eventually, in 1728, was surveyed by a company including William Byrd II.

It's a more complicated story than that, but let me return to the Quaker Smalls. Because of this confusion, it appears that some of Josiah Small's ancestors may have "moved" to North Carolina simply by staying put. At any rate, by the late 1700s his father Benjamin was well established in Chowan County. On his death he left an estate of more than 500 acres and some 18 slaves. Josiah inherited about half of this, plus he had other holdings. By the time of the 1830 census, Josiah had 17 slaves.

Quakers were certainly better off in North Carolina. Under the Carolina Charter of 1663 (written largely by John Locke), "No person . . . shall be in any ways molested, punished, disquieted, or called into question for any differences in opinion or practice in matters of religious concernment, but every person shall have and enjoy his conscience in matters of religion throughout the province."

Quakers had many inconvenient practices and beliefs. They would not swear an oath in court. They considered everybody equal, rich or poor; all were brothers and sisters. Whether you were a lord or a servant, to them you were "thee." They would not fight. And of course, they thought slavery was wrong.

When did the Small family decide to become slaveholders, and why? We know that certain Quakers in Chowan County were considered dangerously abolitionist at least through 1795, when Josiah's father Benjamin, who did own slaves, would have been around 50. In December 1795, some Quakers in Chowan County were accused of actively promoting emancipation. Responding to a perceived "situation of great peril and danger" brought on by "the society of people called Quakers,"--by their "insatiated enthusiasm . . . as to partial and general emancipation"--a grand jury resolved that "speedy and resolute measures ought to be adopted by the good sense & spirit of the people" to combat their pernicious influence." This document links the Quaker agitation to "the miserable havoc & malfeasance which have lately taken place in the West Indies," which must have been a reference to the 1791 revolution in Haiti. Historians have finally understood how terrifying that event was to slaveowners throughout the South--an event too explosive to even talk about. But in my research into the first three decades of the 1800s in Chowan County, I haven't yet found any evidence of Quakers standing on principle against slavery. Perhaps it was there, but the Smalls and many of their relatives by then were well assimilated into the slaveowner class.

A reasonable explanation for this phenomenon of slaveholding Quakers comes from Seth B. Hinshaw's history of Quakers in North Carolina: "The religious conviction that slavery was morally wrong developed quite slowly," he writes. By the time it took hold, Quakers in eastern North Carolina had been owning slaves for many years, handing them down (as we see in the Small family) from generation to generation. It's not a great answer, but it's the best I can do.

Some of this information will turn up in the law review essay I'm writing as a follow-up to my talk on State v. Mann at the Ruffin symposium last fall. I want to acknowledge how helpful the web is for a project like this--rather, how handy the web is for connecting historical researchers with genealogists. A lot of what I know about the Small family comes from genealogical sources, especially Janice Eileen Wallace, with whom I had a fascinating email correspondence. The same is true for Elizabeth Jones and her descendants, for which Sally's Family Place and Sally herself have been very helpful.