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Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Embark – to board a ship

Disembark – to remove or unload cargo or passengers from a ship

Detailed 1781 Map of West Point on the York River, in Virginia. Rochambeau Collection, Library of Congress.

Between 1724 and 1739 at least 18 vessels owned by Englishman William Gerrish engaged in the slave trade. His ships departed from London, sailed to Africa, and transported their human cargo to Antigua, St. Kitts, Montserrat, South Carolina and Virginia for disembarkment. The first ship, at least as identified in the Slave Voyages Database, was called the Negroes Nest. Others were named Flying Horse, Gaboone, Guinea Hen, Hester and Jane, London Spy, Sea Nymph, Speaker, Gally and Tryall. Over 2,933 men, women and children survived the various voyages though that is only a fraction of the original number embarked. 

In 1739, one of his ships, the Black Prince, docked at the York River to sell her cargo. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette noted that the Black Prince had lately arrived from the Gold Coast of Africa with a choice parcel of slaves to be sold at York Town along the York River. The captain, John Sibson, and crew departed London in May 1738 and arrived at their destination in Africa by September. Trade and re-outfitting was completed by March 1739. In that month the Black Prince departed Africa with 137 men, women and children shackled in the hold or maybe chained on deck. The ship reached York Town in May with 112 enslaved people remaining alive. Selling immediately commenced. By October the Black Prince had returned to London.

Between 1732 and 1739, Sibson served as captain of three slave ships, the Black Prince, the Ann and Elizabeth, and the Sarah and Elizabeth. For each four trips he made with these ships he departed London, traveled to Africa and took his cargo to Jamaica, St. Kitts, the Americas, and the York River. On these four voyages he collected 888 men, women and children. 723 survived the journey to their ports of disembarkment.

Between 1698 and 1762, the York River was a point of disembarkment for at least 163 slave ships whose captains sold 31,056 men, women and children. Again, this number represents only a fraction of the people originally boarded in Africa. One can use the Slave Voyages Database to account for some number of those who died along the Middle Passage. When the ships were emptied of their human cargo, captains sought to fill their ships with tobacco. That goal was not so easily achieved as evidenced by an ad Captain Sibson of the Black Prince placed in the Virginia Gazette:

“I find it has been industriously reported for many Years, that Ships which come from Guinea here with Slaves, are never after in Condition to take in Tobacco; which is very absurd and ungenerous, and great Discouragement to bring Negroes here: But I cannot think any Man, who has any Notion of a Ship, can ever imagine any one will venture his Life and Fortune to Sea in a Vessel that is not Sea worthy. However, to clear up all Doubts of that kind, if any Gentleman has Mind to ship any Tobacco on board me, I will cause a Survey to be made of my Vessel by whom they shall desire. and her Condition shall be reported accordingly. I am the readers most obedient servant, John Sibson.” Records indicate he was successful in his endeavor and did indeed depart with a cargo of tobacco.

William Gerrish died in 1741, a respected West India merchant. There are a number of John Sibson’s to be found in various databases one of whom died in October 1739, the month and year that Sibson returned the Black Prince to London. As for the Africans dispersed throughout the West Indies and the Americas … different methods will be needed to tell their stories by the numbers or otherwise.

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My first thought was that in November, September and October ran away. But I dug a little deeper and discovered that the first ad for the return of September and October appeared in an October newspaper.

The year was 1736. Described as two new Gambia negroes, September and October were enslaved near Charleston, South Carolina. They wore brown breeches and jackets with brass or white metal buttons. No mention of shoes in this ad nor details about skin color, hair texture or their ability to speak English.

The man who wanted them returned was Thomas Monck. How long the property of Monck it is unclear. Probably not long. If long enough then he would have added to the description that they carried his brand upon their chests. That was Monck’s documented chosen way to mark property, whether horses or people.

Using the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, you can search by slave ship itinerary. I entered as place of purchase “Gambia.” In 1735 Captain John Coe departed London in the ship Princess Carolina, a vessel owned by David Godin. With a crew of just over a dozen men, he sailed to Gambia and there purchased 211 slaves. In 1736 he delivered the 180 men, women and children who had survived the voyage. Among them was likely September and October.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is south-carolina_gazette_1736-10-30_3.png
South Carolina Gazette October 1736

Sources & Further Reading

https://www.slavevoyages.org/

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Late evening zooms are wearing me down but I am going to try to watch tomorrow at 7pm, “Every Pecan Tree: Trees, Meaning and Memory in Enslaved People’s Live.” It is part of a lecture series produced by the Harvard Arnold Arboretum.

The title was provocative and made me think about trees in my life. I photograph a lot of trees and as the sun pours through the window now I know at some point, I hope at some point, I will bundle up and head out the door with my camera. The branches are all mostly bare of course but with several days in the 60s coming … I will try to get some before and after shots. Some things might accidentally bloom by week’s end. We’ll see …

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pecan tree. I’ve got books that help me identify birds and herbs, butterflies and moths but none about trees. I think I take trees for granted. The only tree I think I ever learned to recognize by leaf and seed was the maple tree because it grew next door in my Aunt’s yard and my brother grew one from one of its helicopter seeds and my dad actually planted the resulting seedling in our backyard though he did so with a big sigh because he knew one day its shade would cover his garden but he did so for the smile on my brother’s face.

Our yard was small but for the most part you don’t need a lot of space to grow trees.

We had a green gage plum tree. It was on the fence line so that meant the neighbors could pick some plums if they wanted too. My dad made wine that was apparently very tasty. He never let me drink it though. I suspect it was rather high octane. There was an apricot tree that I think produced one apricot over the span of its long life. The next door neighbor had a huge black walnut tree but I don’t remember people eating the nuts back then.

Across the street a neighbor had a towering pear tree that bloomed so white in spring. When the wind blew it was like snow was falling. The smell was divine. The fruit was so so. Small, green, hard to eat fresh but my mother would make small jars of pear jam that we’d eat on hot biscuits. Down the street was a sprawling mulberry tree. I heard stories of people making mulberry wine but mostly people hated the mess the berries made as they fell to the ground and they squished beneath your shoes. I fixed my dad a plate of them once, using my new tea party set, and he ate them with a smile. Citrus trees that people mentioned were before my time. No apples in the neighborhood and today that seems strange.

During the lecture, Tiya Miles, Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard University, will explore “the importance of trees as protectors of bodies and spirits, as sites of violence, as memory keepers, and as historical witnesses in the Black experience of captivity and resistance. Ultimately, time spent with these examples will underscore the centrality of the natural world to Black, and indeed, human, survival.”

If you’re interested in the lecture, you can find out more information here: https://environment.harvard.edu/event/every-pecan-tree-trees-meaning-and-memory-enslaved-people%E2%80%99s-lives

Meanwhile, I think the air has warmed just enough for me to venture out into the world with my camera. We’ll see which trees speak to me.

Have a good day!

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When Jupiter ran away with Venus where did they go?

When they rested in a field did they look up into the night sky and try to find themselves amidst the stars?

When they sheltered beneath a tree, lips pressed tight in silence as the white man walked nearby, did Venus rest her head against Jupiter’s chest and find calm in the beat of his heart? Did he press his hand to her stomach and pray to old gods and new?

They found solace in each other but where were they to find sanctuary in New England in 1741?

Mr. Gerrish and Mr. Rawlins, of Dover, New Hampshire, wanted each of them back. They had paid for the runaway advertisement together. The child would belong to Gerrish because he owned Venus … Venus age 35 or 40 who wore rings on her fingers and gold rings in her ears and who combed her hair and usually tied it up high like an English woman.

Rawlins owned Jupiter, age 35 or so, and kept him well-dressed because as Rawlin’s property his being well-kempt was a good reflection on Rawlins.

How did they meet, Jupiter and Venus? Was one running an errand to the other’s household? Had one of them been rented into the other’s household? Maybe, just maybe, their eyes met across the market as they attended the needs of their masters’s families.

The genealogies of Gerrish and Rawlins are well-documented. As for Jupiter and Venus …their story, their lives, have been lost to time but they have not been forgotten.

Source: Boston Post Boy, June 8, 1741

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When Steve tapered the legs of the dining room table he made by hand this pandemic season … I gardened, he made furniture … these pieces of wood were left behind. Now he told me about these pieces before I actually saw them and said, “I can turn them into a fan for you to do something with. I just need to get the right bolt.” “You mean like a Japanese fan?” He shrugged. “Yeah, more or less.” And I exclaimed with glee, “Yes, make that and we’ll hang it on the wall.”

Given that I don’t work with wood yet and he can’t read my mind yet, we each merrily traveled down a mental path completely unaware that we were not on the same page. He made the fan, 9 pieces bolted together and because of the nature of the design they have to hang down and not up as I had imagined in my head. And while I thought it was a totally him piece … his creation … he seemed stuck on this idea of collaboration. Well, I do declare. “You can stain it like you did the table,” I said. He nodded slowly then said, “But I think a watercolor wash might be better. That’s just me.” And for an eternity … actually only a few moments … we went back and forth. Finally I threw up my hands in exasperation. “Okay, mister, I’ve got some watercolors somewhere. What’s your vision?” He shrugged. “I don’t have one. You’re the artist.” He walked away as I semi-glared.

And then I began to play …

… knowing that nothing would be perfect and that I was learning along the way.

There are nine leaves to the fan. I began to think of the leaves as nine opportunities to tell a story or vignette. I think that is how I will handle such an opportunity in the future.

Watercolor on wood. You can’t get much more ephemeral so who knows I may use these same thin pieces again one day. But this fan can stay as it is for a bit because a certain someone is beginning to work on a new table. A much smaller table. We’ll see what falls by the wayside this time for our next collaboration. Be well,everyone. 🙂

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If you only listen to the first 6 minutes, it’s illuminating. And if you pour yourself some tea and make a plate of snacks, listen to the full hour.

https://www.loc.gov/item/2015669138/

It is the Pete Seeger oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Beacon, New York, 2011 July 22. I also highly recommend: https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-rights-history-project/articles-and-essays/music-in-the-civil-rights-movement/

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While puttering around the kitchen this morning I suddenly yearned for a particular cup of tea. I could see it clearly, could almost smell it. But instead of Lipton tea with sugar and a long pour of Pet’s evaporated milk, I made myself some chai. I smiled at the memory though. Lipton’s was my mother’s tea. Really, the family’s tea. She never added anything except a bit of sugar but my brothers would empty the can of milk and the sugar bowl. Awhile back I noted my oldest brother’s grandson doing the same. I happened to be sitting by my brother at the time. I looked at him and with a raised eyebrow asked, “Well, I wonder where he learned that from?”

Yellow onions were a fixture in our home too. I’ve not cooked with them probably in 15 plus years having made a gustatory switch to red onions. But while walking through the grocery store earlier this month the yellow onions caught my attention. I was compelled to pick up one. Slicing through that first yellow onion brought tears to my eyes with its wonderfully pungent scent. A forgotten scent remembered. As I washed my hands before I accidentally rubbed my eyes I remembered how my father used to cry as he cut these same onions. It was a task that my mom often had him do. Now I know why. But I can’t help myself. Every time I cut one I now raise the half to my nose and inhale deep. I don’t feel compelled to eat them raw, as I must have as a child, and as I remember my father doing all the time. There is something simply serene in slow cooking with the onion, sauteing it in butter, or slicing it up for roasting vegetables. There is an upwelling of familiarity and home even in a different time and place and home.

There are other foods, flavors, scents from childhood that are “upwelling” this month. They come unbidden and they are welcome and so far they have always brought a smile.

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Pinto beans simmering in a pot with a ham hock and bay leaf. To my young mind, those beans seemed to cook all day. Then we ate it served over white rice. My father and I had sweet tooths. We spooned sugar on top of our beans and rice. It is the only dry bean I remember my mother cooking. I heard about red beans but she only cooked pinto (except, I forgot, for the black eyed peas you have to cook to ring in the New Year). I don’t remember if there was a particular day of the week for cooking beans and rice. For instance, pot roast, baked chicken, baked rice pudding, for example, they were Sunday foods, something special. I suspect beans were a weekday food because she could put the pot on the stove on a low flame and do all those other household tasks. Kale or collard greens might be served on the side. Probably mustard greens, too, but I didn’t like her mustard greens (another dish where my father would sprinkle some sugar). I remember the taste of kale seasoned with pork and spooning the potlikker that was left in the bottom of the pan. Once my younger brother was banished from the table for doing something rude and so I had the potlikker all to myself. That little hellion came up behind me and tossed in a handful of food scraps meant for Fuzzy, our dog. I was furious but I stilled loved him afterwards. That was in Virginia. Forty years later living in New England I’ve learned to play with my beans, making bean salads, mixing the colors and textures, sometimes getting so caught up in “painting” with the colors — red, white, black, green — that I lose sight of taste. But I have not done a thing with pinto beans. Until now. Why now? Because the Whole Foods shopper substituted a can of pinto beans for my requested can of white beans. The can is sitting on the kitchen counter. It makes me smile when I look at it. Soon I’ll open it. Served on the side will likely be kale cooked with olive oil and garlic. Brown rice most likely. No sugar anymore. Just good food and good memories to share.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/potlikker-from-slave-plantations-to-today/7129/

https://www.thespruceeats.com/your-black-eyed-pea-questions-answered-1640029

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branches

I’ve only done one art installation. It revolved around the childhood food memories of former slaves living in the deep south. It was an installation that was visual and tactile with hanging branches and shells. Thankfully, people found it thought provoking. A new installation comes to mind based on the experiences of children enslaved in New England. The concept is based on the content of advertisements in newspapers from the 18th century. With regard to slavery, you can divide the ads into at least two categories: “to be sold” and “runaway.” And then there were a few ads I came across that one might almost categorize as “giveaway.” These ads most often involve young children.

“A negro infant girl about six weeks old to be given for the bringing up. Inquire of John Campbell Post-Master to know further …” (1706)

Imagine walking into a room lit by flickering lamplight. Against the wall there would be a simple desk and chair and on the desk accessories strewn about appropriate to the times including a ledger book. Nearby stands a period printing press. In the air are sounds one might hear to give a sense of place, perhaps the scratch of a quill pen on stationery, the shuffling of papers, the machinations of the printing press, and maybe someone whistling or playing a bone flute with some ditty of the day. And in the background, steadily becoming louder, is the sound of a child crying. And that building sound might draw the viewer’s attention to a different part of the room where there is a big wooden block, not unlike an auction block, and upon the block is a straw basket. The cries emanate from it. Hanging, or projected onto the wall, is that ad: “A negro infant girl about six weeks old to be given for the bringing up.”

Then one might enter a different room, a small room, dimly lit. Scattered about would be household items appropriate to the times including clothing for young children. The sound in the air this time? Perhaps the babble of young children, the gurgle of a baby and then a mother’s voice, frantic yet calm, as she tries to rush them, to shush them, and get them moving out a door. That door slams shut, “Wham!” and then the ad is projected on the wall:

“Ran away from their Master … a Negro woman with four small children, three of them mulattos, the youngest a Negro that sucks or is lately weaned …”

In a later newspaper advertisement I would find that that same woman would runaway from that same man this time with just her now two year old Negro child. What was this woman’s story? What was her name? What happened to the other children? What choices had to be made?

The following ad particularly struck me because it helps bring to life in a different way the economic linkages between north and south long before this land was ever one nation.

“Any person with a Negro man slave or slaves to sell or to be transported to Virginia for a market may repair to John Cambpell Post-Master of Boston … transport will be free …”

For this ad the viewer would be directed to walk into a room that is a carpenter’s shop or a blacksmith’s shop or even a distillery. You’d hear the sounds of men at work, orders being placed. Then as the din dies down you hear a man with a British accent call out a list of names to come to him … Cato, Scipio, Jupiter, Prince. Maybe he’ll say, “Gentlemen, you’ve done fine work but I have need to send you away.”

Why revisit the past?

So that the past will not be repeated. But also so that we better understand what actually happened. Just these few ads paint a different picture of colonial New England for me. The historic landscape is deeper, richer and darker. It gives further credence to how the contagion of slavery is part of the very foundations of this country. We cannot move past something if we do not understand what it is that we are trying to move past.

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Photo by Arnold Genthe between 1920 and 1926.

Yesterday I was looking for inspiration and one of my favorite sources for such is to peruse the online collections of the Library of Congress. What a treasure. I used those collections extensively when pulling together a “walk through history” through the life of Joseph Anthony Horne. And as part of that journey I learned about photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). Genthe is best known today for his photographs of Chinatown, the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and his dreamy portraits of actors and actresses like Isadora Duncan, politicans like Theodore Roosevelt and literary figures including Jack London. I revisited his Library of Congress collection with a different eye, I suppose, than previously and was delighted to discover photographs he’d taken in the 1920s in New Orleans. One of the things he sometimes did in Chinatown was to walk the streets and hide his camera to try and obtain those candid shots of people just living not posing for the camera.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.
Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

But he also made eye contact with people and there must have been something about him such that they would pause just a moment for him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

New Orleans was one of the world’s great banana ports. I can imagine Genthe, perhaps on assignment in New Orleans, taking a morning stroll with his camera to the wharves and capturing the work of the day, the unloading of bananas. He captures the dignity and beauty of men hard at work. They did not pose for him but they did stop and smile at him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Genthe

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/agc/

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