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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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This is a list of Black officers employed by English traders in West Africa. This record is just one page from the extensive archives of the Royal African Company.

The Royal African Company (RAC) was formed in 1660 by the royal Stuart family and City of London merchants. Trade focused on the west coast of Africa with a primary interest in trade for gold. That focus would shift to human trade. The RAC shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. By 1752 its assets were transferred to the newly formed African Company of Merchants that would operate until 1821. The page I’ve shared has to be from a company ledger produced after 1765.

Many company records have been digitized and are accessible via a genealogical database. It is interesting to peruse these records and see the number of Black men employed by the company. These men listed may have been stationed at the trading post, Cape Coast Castle.

Cape Coast Castle (as rebuilt by the British in 18th century), Ghana

The first man, Cudjoe, was a cabboceer and linguist. Cabboceers were African men appointed by their leaders to supply European traders with trade goods including slaves. The third man Frederick Adoy was a writer, as are several other men on the list. Adoy was the son of a cabboceer and had been educated in England. Writers were the equivalent of clerks for the company. Adoy had the advantage of speaking the native languages. The last man Philip Quaque was born on the Cape Coast but taken to England as a child in 1754 by a missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. There, he went to school, was baptized and may have studied theology at Oxford. In 1765 he became the first African ordained in the Church of England. In that same year he received his commission to serve as chaplain and spread the gospel back in Africa.

In October he and his English wife Catherine Blunt boarded the ship The King of Prussia, captained by Shepherd. If you switch over to the slavevoyages.org database, you can search for a vessell named King of Prussia.

Entry from Slave Voyages Database

The entry notes in October 1765 Captain John Shepherd and crew departed London for West Africa. After safe delivery of any goods and departure of passengers, like Quaque, Shepherd and company factors began trading activities. When the ship departs, 216 enslaved people are in the hold of the ship. At least 189 survived the voyage, with 107 sold in Grenada and 82 sold in Nevis. Shepherd than returned to London by the fall of 1766.

Quaque never returned to England, except for a short visit in 1784-1785. His wife Catherine died a year after arrival at the Cape Coast. Over time he would eventually marry two African women who bore him sons. He focused his missionary efforts on starting a school primarily for Afro-European (i.e. mulatto) children of the elites. He wrote frequently to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel back in London. You can read his own words.

He describes in great detail his successes and challenges, challenges that included the fact he was no longer fluent in the local language. His family ties remained within the community but his cultural connection had been distorted by a childhood and devout Anglican upbringing in England. Local and global politics, as well as wars, hampered his mission at every level yet he persevered. For extra money he even worked as a writer/clerk like Frederick Adoy.

Sometimes Quaque had no students and sometimes he had over a dozen. He taught them reading, writing and arithmetic, and of course religion. He had dreams of expansion and wrote of wanting to hire Adoy and fellow Black writer John Acqua (also educated in England) as his teaching assistants. The school never thrived though it did survive. Quaque’s sons, educated in England, even assisted him for a time. Quaque died in 1816 after fifty years of service.

Cape Coast Castle Dungeon

What must he have thought of the slave trade? In the place where he taught brown and black children in a school room, down below brown and black children were chained in the holding cells awaiting transport to the New World. As a writer he would have chronicled the trade that took place. He had been chaplain to the English traders and missionary among his African people. While he vilified slavery, especially later in life, his actions suggest he believed religious conversion would save his people. Still, his criticism would be an important part of the growing abolitionist movement. And while, as indicated in his letters, he may not have felt successful, his legacy endures as does his school.

Sources and Additional Reading

Bartels, F. L. “PHILIP QUAQUE, 1741—1816.” Transactions of the Gold Coast & Togoland Historical Society, vol. 1, no. 5, Historical Society of Ghana, 1955, pp. 153–77, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41406590.

slavevoyages.org

Royal African Company Records 1694 to 1743

“One of their Own Color and Kindred” Philip Quaque and the SPG Mission to Africa, by Travis Glasson, DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199773961.003.0007

The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque the First African Anglican Missionary

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I have come to think a lot about what’s in a name or a label. What is conveyed? Should some names or labels be forgotten, erased from memory? But what might be lost along the way? What insights from human history, and how names and labels were used, might inform who we are today? Take the label “turpentine negro.”

The colonization of America resulted in the development of a naval stores industry. Naval stores are products — tar, pitch, turpentine and rosin – produced from pine and at first primarily used in early ship building. Tar was needed to seal wooden ships and ropes. Turpentine would become a vital ingredient in a range of manufacturing from paints and varnishes to paper production. Europe had relied upon Sweden for its tar but with the “discovery” of the New World and its expansive forests, new opportunities emerged for Britain to develop its own naval stores in the colonies. New England forests were tapped for awhile but it was the abundant long leaf pines of the southern colonies that would prove to be most lucrative, especially in the Carolinas and later in Georgia, Florida and Texas.

I first learned of this tree and the concept of naval stores while researching a colonial-era Bostonian. As a young man he joined a business venture where he sailed to the Carolinas, purchased tar and pitch, and then returned to sell the naval stores in New England. I wondered what was the source of tar and how was it produced. In learning about tar, I learned about turpentine production and that’s how I learned about the “turpentine negroes” and “turpentine niggers.” The words, this classification of human beings, can be found used hundreds of time in mostly southern newspapers from the 1880s to 1940s.

turpentine workers

I know there was turpentine in the house where I grew up. I just don’t remember how my father used it. This is when I really miss my brothers’ memories because when I think of turpentine, growing up in Virginia, it was something very much in the male realm. I don’t think my mother did anything with it except disparage it for its scent.

Disparage. To regard or represent as being of little worth.

Turns out, since before the Revolutionary War, southern Blacks were essential to the production of naval stores. The nature of the work meant they lived in the pine woods. There they formed a unique culture. The first Black workers were mostly enslaved, often hired out by their owners. Even after the Civil War, these workers, now technically free, continued to apply their skills in the turpentine orchards, traveling from pine woods to pine woods across state lines.

Over many generations these men and women produced the goods that helped keep the world’s greatest fleets afloat. They produced goods that enabled improvements in the manufacturing of a diverse range of products. Their labor was valued but they were disparaged as human beings, by whites and sometimes other people of color as well. Thus the distinction that was made by the label, turpentine negro.

Frederick Law Olmstead during his travels in the South wrote in 1855, “There are very large forests of this [long leaf pine] tree in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama; and the turpentine business is carried on, to some extent, in all these States. In North Carolina, however, much more largely than in the others; because, in it, cotton is rather less productive than in the others, in an average of years. Negroes are, therefore, in rather less demand; and their owners oftener see their profit in employing them in turpentine orchards than in the cotton-fields.

If we enter, in the winter, a part of a forest that is about to be converted into a “turpentine orchard,” we come upon negroes engaged in making boxes, in which the sap is to be collected the following spring. They continue at this work from November to March, or until, as the warm weather approaches, the sap flows freely, and they are needed to remove it from the boxes into barrels. These “boxes” are not made of boards, nailed together in a cubical form, as might be supposed; nor are they log-troughs, such as, at the North, maple-sap is collected in. They are cavities dug in the trunk of the tree itself. A long, narrow ax, made in Connecticut, especially for this purpose, is used for this wood-pecking operation; and some skill is required to use it properly.

A considerable amount of turpentine is shipped in barrels to Northern ports, where it is distilled; a larger amount is distilled in the State.

The orchards operated under a task system. Workers were assigned specific tasks. Olmstead is noted as describing, an overseer had “ten hands dipping + six hands getting timber, seven hands at the cooper shop, five hands at the still, one hand cutting wood, and three wagoning.”  After the Civil War, with slavery’s end, the system essentially remained the same.

As C. W. Wimster recalled in a 1939 Federal Writers Project interview:

My folks believed in education, an I was sent to school regular when I was a boy, but worked in the summers. When I was about ten years old we moved to a camp at Martin, seven miles from Ocala, an I was promoted to talley “man”—keeping tally on the number of trees boxed or streaked by each nigger. Niggers do all the labor in the woods, an most of the work around the still. The manager, foreman, commissary men and woods riders are all white men. At each camp there will be from 50 to 200 niggers, accordin to the number of “crops” worked. A crop is about 10,000 trees.

turpentine worker’s home, georgia

The white folks live in fairly good homes at one side of the camp, and the niggers in their quarters at the other side in two-or three-room cabins or board houses. We always aimed to have separate quarters for the single niggers to keep them from messin up with the married men’s wives. But this didn’t always work, and there was many a fight on account uv them mixin at night in the woods.

One of the jobs that Wimster later took was “as manager of eight camps owned by a New York concern at Opal, Okeechobee County. This was a big virgin woods in low, swampy country, and the outfit was a big one of 120 crops. There I had charge of 400 niggers and nine woodsmen (riders).

three turpentine pickers

When asked about the home life of the Black people in the Florida turpentine camps, Mr. Wimster replied: “Turpentine niggers are a class by themselves. They are different from town niggers, farm laborers or any other kind. Mostly they are born and raised in the camps, and don’t know much about anything else. They seldom go to town, and few of them ever saw the inside of a school house. In nearly every camp there is a jack-leg preacher who also works in the woods, and they usually have church services on Sunday at one or another of their houses.

And every camp has its ‘jook’, as they are now called, but the original name of this kind of a joint was a ‘tunk’. This is a house where the men and women gather on Saturday nights to dance, drink moonshine, gamble and fight. Between dances or drinks, young couples stroll off into the woods and make love. … The supreme authority in a camp is the foreman. To the niggers he is the law, the judge, jury and executioner. He even ranks ahead of God to these people.”

In a 1903 New Orleans newspaper they were described as the worst character of criminal for the police to deal with when they came to town to spend their money. I suspect there were few things worse than to call a successful Black man a “turpentine nigger” nor was it uncommon for a person of color to say, “What do you think I am a turpentine nigger?”

turpentine worker

In 1942, author Lillian Cox Athey wrote of the long established industry that stretched from North Carolina to Texas. She noted that long leaf pine covered about 1000 miles, with more than 1200 turpentine camps to be found in the woods and over 45,000 workers. She presents a romanticized view of the camps and their management. And as for the workers:

Excerpt from Evening Star, Washington, DC, 1942

At a 1946 Southern Forestry Convention, one report noted that the times were changing and that the “old fashioned turpentine negro” was to become a shadowy creature of the past. In a post-war world, workers were going to towns, “wearing zoot suits and driving trucks and making money.”

The language is regional. Searching old newspapers the terminology is primarily expressed in deep southern publications. More recent use of the words appears in the historical novels of writers with southern roots. Studying the characterization of these workers from antebellum times to just after World War II suggests that this regional history is also a national if not indeed global history. Shining a spotlight on people, labeled turpentine negroes, illuminates once more the ties that link North and South in the American slave economy and offers the opportunity to think about who benefited from that economy, who suffered, and the enduring legacy long after slavery ended.

Sources of Images & Further Reading

Outland, Robert B. “Slavery, Work, and the Geography of the North Carolina Naval Stores Industry, 1835-1860.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 62, no. 1, Southern Historical Association, 1996, pp. 27–56, https://doi.org/10.2307/2211205.

Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Turpentine workers. Georgia. United States Georgia, 1937. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017770332/.

Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Overseer in the turpentine woods. Georgia. United States Georgia, 1937. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017770378/.

Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Turpentine worker’s family near Cordele, Alabama. Father’s wages one dollar a day. This is the standard of living the turpentine trees support. United States Alabama Cordele, 1936. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017768046/.

Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Turpentine worker’s family near Cordele, Alabama. Father’s wages one dollar a day. This is the standard of living the turpentine trees support. United States Alabama Cordele, 1936. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017763012/.

In the great pine forests of the South – gathering crude turpentine – North Carolina. , ca. 1903. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2003663487/.

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… then there’s Steve who decides to make a cedar tongue and groove liner for the drawer that will hold some woolens. Last year, in 2020, around this time he’d crafted a dining room table out of three different woods, made a cutting board out of some of the remainders, and gave me some of the shavings from the tapered legs so that I could experiment with some wall art.

This year he received a commission (from me) to create a side table. He purchased some live edge wood and is experimenting with mortise and tenon jointwork for the legs. That incomplete project is leaning against the wall in his woodworking shop with one experimental leg sticking out. The focus right now is to methodically complete the cedar lining for one drawer, and with the remainder make some cedar blocks to hang in the closets.

The former owners of the house left behind a large wooden piano seat top. He’s planning to turn that into a utilitarian table to help organize his work space and properly sort out works-in-progress. I asked, silly me, why don’t we grab a hammer and some nails and put legs on that thing right now. With an arched eyebrow he described his plan to make a frame, the seat will rest on the frame, and legs will attach to the frame, just like the dining room table.

But of course.

2021 was a hard year physically (though not as hard as some I can remember!). He is not pleased at how long it is taking him to complete a project or sometimes even to saw through a thin sheet of wood. As his “sous chef” in the shop I am picking up a whole new language involving woods and tools. I’ve learned how to loosen a hold fast and help make a handle for a delicate Japanese saw blade. But mostly what I’m learning is a different kind of patience. Patience in working with the wood … you can’t rush it or you’ll destroy the wood or worse yet tools. Patience with that fellow as he learns, at least I hope he’s learning, to be patient with himself as he moves forward in the world at a different pace.

Oh, did I mention he has plans to make another dining room table? The plans are just in his head for the moment. When he starts to sketch it out on random pieces of paper that he leaves lying around the house then I’ll know he’ll make it real. At this pace … and keeping in mind I will co-opt his time with gardening related matters … he may not finish that table until Christmas 2022. And that’ll be just fine.

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painting by donald langosy

Now on view at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, MA, an exhibit of works by artist Donald Langosy. Learn more on the center’s website: https://www.multiculturalartscenter.org/. If you’re unable to make it into town, the website also presents a virtual gallery.

painting by donald langosy

FYI, it was my pleasure years ago to take a peek inside his studio. Enjoy.

https://wordsandimagesbycynthia.com/2016/07/07/in-the-langosy-studio/

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Working with what’s available in the house … cucumbers, white wine vinegar, light brown sugar, kosher salt, garlic, red peppers and oregano. We’ll see how this batch turns out.

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thai basil

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When I saw Donna’s photos from Lovell, Maine I knew I wanted to share them and so I asked her for some words to accompany them. She shared a poem written by her partner’s daughter, Kristin Roberts, and suggested Kristin’s words might work instead. A perfect pairing. The poem, written by Kristin in the 7th grade, attests to her sensitivity and great observational skills about nature, about the people who engage with the Lovell landscape, and about the passage of time. Please enjoy this lovely pairing of words and images that capture the season.

Photo by Donna Stenwall

Autumn

Crimson, buttercup, marigold leaves swirl rustling around in rhythm of Autumn. The icy winds swipe.

Bee charmers with nets on their crowns, collect the pure golden honey from dripping cones. Farmers collect apples just before the tart crispy fruit turns to ripe.

The bitter winds nip at my face, redden my cheeks, numb my fingers, while icy blue Jack frost freezes Queen Anne’s lace.

Warm golden summer’s gone.

Photo by Donna Stenwall

Oaks and birches are stripped bare. Rifle shots ring out in echo as sharp eyed hunters bring down swift graceful deer.

Sweet singing birds long ago flew south, replaced with huge black crows with their loud mocking mouths.

Soft fluffy snow will soon replace corpsed grass. And the awful sight soon will pass.

Photo by Donna Stenwall

My lawn is littered with bright leaves, each unique in its own way. Dark misty evening is extended. Gray dawns are gloomy, bright mornings have ended.

Brilliant gay summers will be here at last, when the silver season after golden Autumn soon comes to pass.

by Kristin Roberts (1981-2011)

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