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Archive for March 2012

2

The Door Is Open. Who Are You? Slave Dwelling Project Visits Friendfield Plantation

“The door is open! The door is open! Who are you? Who are you?" According to “Old Reliable” Terry James, those are the words I uttered as I slept in a slave dwelling at Friendfield Plantation on the night of March 23, 2012.
Joseph McGill at Door of Slave Dwelling, Friendfield Plantation

While my wife will easily explain that I often talk in my sleep, it is the words that I used on this particular occasion that are somewhat disturbing. Let me try to explain.

Point # 1.
The week prior to spending the night at Friendfield, I spent March 15 – 18 with the group Coming to the Table. The Coming to the Table story is about connecting people and the past to the present and future in a way that is relevant for our nation.

Housed at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peace building, CTTT was launched when people whose ancestors were connected through an enslaved/enslaver relationship realized they had a shared story that remained untold. Today, they and many others believe that the legacies and aftermath of slavery impact our nation in seen and unseen ways and they are committed to writing and telling a new story about our nation’s past and the promise of our collective future.

At this gathering, I was told that the ancestors are always with me whether I want their presence or not. At this gathering we engaged in a healing ritual where each individual called on their ancestors to forgive or be forgiven.

Point # 2.
While I was comfortable with leaving the door open as we slept, Terry James insisted that we not only close the door but lock it also. The two of us spent about three minutes trying to lock that door.

Point # 3.
The publishers of my blog came up with the idea of communicating live via Facebook with anyone who wanted to know about the experience at Friendfield. Before, I drifted off to sleep, I engaged in a real time chat using my Blackberry. One person asked the question about what the ancestors were saying, a question I totally avoided.

Sleeping in 29 former slave dwellings prior to Friendfield is my personal indication that I avoid attempts to channel or communicate with any of my ancestors or those who enslaved them. While some may think that connecting with the ancestors might be a good thing I strongly disagree. There was no doubt that they were all strong people individually and collectively for any resistance to the institution of slavery could be life ending.

I choose not to connect because I know that what the enslaved endured beyond the walls of the slave dwellings was a life of which no one should be subjected. To tap in to that life in any way would only provoke anger in me and I cannot continue the Slave Dwelling Project as an angry Black man. To that end, I still welcome anyone who wants to commemorate their ancestors in their own way to share the slave dwelling experience with me.

Friendfield Plantation National Register

Now to the matter at hand. Since 2010 it was my desire to spend the night in a cabin at Friendfield Plantation, the obvious reason being its ancestral connection to First Lady Michelle Obama. First Lady Obama’s great-great grandfather Jim Robinson was enslaved there and lived there after emancipation until the 1940s. The anticipation of staying there was so great that I put it on the 2010 schedule only having to remove it because I did not go through the proper channels. As fate would have it, I met the owner, that and the assistance from an influential colleague got me in.

I always offer others the opportunity to share the experience of spending the night in a slave dwelling with me. With the exception of Terry James who has eight stays, I will get an occasional acceptance to my invitation. This was not the case with Friendfeild. Because of the historical significance of Friendfield, people were clamoring to share the experience. Unfortunately, I only could get permission for a total of four people to stay, however due to some unforeseen circumstances, it again came down to only Terry and me staying at Friendfield.

Through various means, I tried to make contact with First Lady Michelle Obama, to no avail. I imagined the Slave Dwelling Project being endorsed by the First Lady. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Ed Carter the property manager. Ed gave me a great tour of the cabins and the grounds and made some good suggestions of places to eat. He also made the restroom available in the nearby office building.

The Cabins

There are six extant slave cabins at Friendfield Plantation of various size and condition. I had the choice of two to spend the night. I fell in love with the first one that I saw but we took an obligatory look at two more. It was interesting that the year the cabin was built was inscribed on a brick very near the top of the chimney on the cabins that we explored. The date on the cabin I chose was 1849, it measured approximately 30 by 20 feet which is larger than most I’ve stayed in to date.

Slave Dwelling, Friendfield Plantation

The cabins that I did not choose were more modern as people continued to live in them after emancipation. Seeing how the cabins were modernized with electricity made me think about the possibility of Jim Robinson, First Lady Michelle Obama’s great-great grandfather who continued to live at Friendfield long after Emancipation.

One cabin had a tin roof which made me think a lot about the house of wish I was raised in Kingstree, SC. Ed told me that some of the slave cabins were lost to an out of control grass fire, a situation that was similar to what happened at Goodwill Plantation near Columbia, SC. Ed showed me the spot in the slave village where the chapel used to be located, similar to Hobcaw Barony and Mansfield Plantations both in Georgetown County, SC.

The Grounds

Friendfield is currently privately owned and for sale, all 3000 plus acres can be yours for 20 million dollars. Though not originally that large in mass, the current owner combined bordering plantations to create what is now Friendfield. Two mansions are on the property. The grounds and the mansions are beautiful and well maintained with great potential for interpretation, tourism, hunting, bird watching, farming, etc.

Friendfield Plantation Grounds. Photo by Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project

It was the wide expanse of the former rice fields that captured my attention. It gave me a good indication of why at one point in Georgetown County’s history it grew more rice than any other place in the world. It also made me think of the slave labor necessary to grow rice. As we walked on the berm deeper into the rice field, I could physically see the engineering skills necessary to grow rice. As I saw evidence of alligators that crossed the berm, I thought about how they, snakes and mosquitoes would threaten the lives of the enslaved people. I also thought about where in Africa the enslaved came from. An educated guess would be that they came from a region in African that grew rice.

The Stay

“Old Reliable” Terry James showed up just as he said he would. The mosquitoes made both Terry and me think about the night we stayed at Mansfield Plantation which is also located in Georgetown County, SC. As soon as he arrived, we decided to leave the property seeking food. On our way back to the cabin, we encountered a snake which I did not hesitate to run over with my car. Ed Carter showed up to the cabin and met Terry and to check our safety and sanity. The three of us were pleasantly surprised that the mosquitoes were not active inside the cabin. Ed alerted me to a product called Thermacell which seemed to be working.

After Ed left, Terry began to check the cracks and crevices with his flash light for spiders, snakes or bats. I am certain that the Hopsewee Plantation, also in Georgetown County, SC was on his mind. At Hopsewee as Terry was closing the door to the cabin he saw that a snake had shed its skin right above the door. Terry’s action with the flash light is the very reason I like to get to each location no-later-than 5 PM so that I can conduct those type inspections during daylight.

We got the door to the cabin locked with great effort, Terry donned the slave shackles in preparation for sleep. It was not long after he laid down that he was out for the count. The publishers of my blog came up with the brilliant idea for me to communicate in real time via Facebook. To that end, I answered all questions as fast as my Blackberry would allow. I recall signing off around midnight. I recall waking up briefly during the night because it started to rain. The sound of the rain on the cypress shingled roof was quite soothing so going back to sleep was effortless.

The Departure

The next morning, Terry did not hesitate to tell me about my talking in my sleep. Ed showed up to make sure that we made it through the night. After packing our belongings and sealing up the cabin, I accompanied Terry on a personal tour of the grounds using the information that I gained from Ed on the previous day. Terry who is a professional photographer was thoroughly impressed and took lots of photographs. He was just as amazed as I was to see the vastness of the rice fields. Before we went our separate ways, we both had one more good laugh about me talking in my sleep.

Ed Carter, Friendfield Plantation, 2012. Photo by Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project

The Door Is Open

We talked about the upcoming stay in Columbia, SC and the fact that several media representatives have expressed an interest in sharing the experience. That should be interesting because I know that different media outlets do not play well together.

Additionally, it has always been an open invitation for anyone to share the experience pending approval of the property owner. Terry can verify that with the exception of only one of his eight stays, it has been only the two of us staying in the cabins. So for those of you who talk a good game, “The door is open!” “Who are you?”

About the Slave Dwelling Project

For more information, please contact Joseph McGill

Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403
Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: joseph_mcgill@nthp.org | www.preservationnation.org

Drayton Research Update: Efforts to Emancipate Abigail, Mahala, Rebecca and Abba

In 1821, Rebecca Perry Drayton, widow of John Drayton of Drayton Hall, petitioned the House of Representatives, seeking permission to free three family slaves named Abigail, Mahala and Rebecca. Abigail was described as "an old family nurse ... now between eighty and ninety years old." The petition was denied [1].

In a petition to the Senate filed in 1827, Rebecca Drayton requested permission to emancipate a slave named Abba she had inherited twenty years earlier "from a very near connection" under the promise that Abba would be emancipated. This petition was denied as well [2].

Petition to Emancipate Abba, 1821

Above: Legislative Notice, Petition of Rebecca Drayton, 1827 Date: 1827-12-01; Paper: South-Carolina State Gazette And Columbia Advertiser. With Kind Permission of GenealogyBank.com. This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004

The "very near connection" from which Rebecca received Abba may have been Tobias Bowles, husband of her daughter Susannah Drayton. Bowles willed to mother-in-law Rebecca Perry, in his will dated 13 Oct 1807 and proved 4 Nov 1808, the largest portion of his estate, "on condition that she, her Executors or Administrators do & shall within three months after my decease, in due form of Law, emancipate & set free my slaves named Harriett, Thursa, Bunfy, Auba & Kit & the issue of the females to be born after the date of this my will."

Bowles provided Rebecca Perry Drayton with sufficient means to accomplish his will: after special bequests were satisfied he left to her "all my bank shares, monies at interest, houses lands & slaves & the issue of the females to be born after the date of this my will [4]."

Rebecca Perry Drayton's Will

Thirteen years after she petitioned the Senate, Rebecca Perry Drayton accomplished by will what she could not accomplish by petition. In her will dated 10 May 1837 and proved 5 Oct 1840, Rebecca made provisions for slaves Abba, Mahala, Rebecca and Richard. Rebecca bequeathed a portion of her estate to trusted friend Francis Y. Porcher, that he might purchase a house for Abba and contribute to her living expenses:

Item, to my friend Francis Y. Porcher I give my servant Martha, for him to take care of and maintain for my sake. All the rest and residue of my estate I give to my Executor Dr. Francis Y Porcher on the following trusts that is to say my Gold Watch, wearing apparel and furniture, I desire him to keep or dispose of for the use of my faithful woman Abba, whom I have given to him by deed, so as to enable him to do justice to my intentions toward her, and to discharge in my place the debt of gratitude which her long and diligent service in my old age and sickness, has entitled her to. All the rest of my estate both real and personal, I desire him to sell at public or private sale as he may think fit, excepting Sam and Sophy, to whom I desire he should allow the privilege of choosing their owners.

The final clause of Rebecca's will further defined her wishes concerning Sam and Sophy: "N.B. Sam and Sophy are to stay with Abba, unless they think proper to choose an owner."

Of the proceeds of the sale, she willed to niece Rebecca Giles $250. After this bequest was fulfilled, Francis Porcher was to use the proceeds of Rebecca's estate sale to purchase a small house and invest the remainder. The house was to be Abba's dwelling place for the remainder of her life.

Rebecca Drayton's will also included provisions for Mahala and Rebecca, perhaps the same Mahala and Rebecca she had requested permission to emancipate in 1821. After Abba's death the interest on the principle sum was to go towards living expenses of former slaves Rebecca, Richard and Mahala for as long as they lived. After their deaths Rebecca Perry Drayton bequeathed the principle sum to her great grandchildren on the condition that they not contest the will.

To further prevent challenges to her will she included the provision that "if my descendants or any of them shall dispute this will, on account of the arrangement made for the relief of the slaves therin mentioned, then I give the said house and capital of the fund so invested to the use of the said Francis Y. Porcher, discharged from any other trust forever." Francis Y. Porcher was appointed sole Administrator of Rebecca's estate [5].

View Rebecca Perry Drayton's Will Page 1, Page 2

Rebecca Perry Drayton's Estate

An inventory of Rebecca Perry Drayton's estate was made at her residence on Bull Street in Charleston on Oct 4, 1840 [16]. Here Abba's name is rendered "Abby." We also learn more about Mahala, Rebecca and Richard from the estate inventory. Enslaved ancestors listed in the estate were:

  • Sam, 40 years old, a carpenter
  • Jacob, a laborer, 20 years old, unsound
  • Jennett, 18 years old, servant
  • Abram, 50 years old, laborer
  • Lucy or Lucia, 35 years old, servant
  • Silla, 21 years old, servant
  • Sophie, 25 years old with her three children, viz Dolly, Josiah & Sarah
  • Martha, an old woman
  • Dye, 25 a cripple and her child an infant
  • Esaw, 23 years old, a laborer
  • Sarah, 40 years old, servant
  • Richard, 20, at carpenter's trade
  • Rebecca, 18 years old, servant
  • Mahala, 19 years old, servant
  • Abby, 50 years old, nurse
  • View Estate Inventory Page 1, Page 2

    Were Rebecca Perry Drayton's Wishes Carried Out?

    We know that, if Rebecca Perry Drayton's wishes were carried out, her Executor Francis Y. Porcher sold the bulk of her estate and used a portion of the proceeds to buy a small house for Abba to live in for the rest of her life.

    If he carried out her wishes, he also invested the rest of the proceeds from the sale, and used the interest on the principle sum to contribute to Abba, Rebecca, Richard and Mahala's living expenses.

    Question: Did Francis Y. Porcher sell Rebecca Drayton's estate? Did he disburse funds for Rebecca, Richard and Mahala?

    An advertisement for the sale of Rebecca Drayton's house and servants appeared in the Charleston Courier in January of 1841.

    Above: Detail from Advertisement for Sale of Rebecca Drayton's Estate, 1841 Date: 1841-1-13; Paper: Charleston Courier With Kind Permission of GenealogyBank.com This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004 View Full Advertisement

    The estate account return filed with the Charleston Probate Court reveals more about Francis Porcher's administration of Rebecca Perry Drayton's estate.

    Here we see that Rebecca's house was rented until it was sold in 1841. We also see entries for the sale of Dye, Jacob, Jeannett and Scilla in February of 1841, and the sale of Lucia and Esaw in August of 1841:

    Above: Detail from Estate Return, 1840-1842, Estate of Rebecca Perry Drayton [9]. View Full Record, Page 1, Page 2

    We also see notations in October and November of 1841 for payments made "to Abba for negroes:"

    Above: Detail from Estate Return, 1840-1842, Estate of Rebecca Perry Drayton [10]. View Full Record, Page 1, Page 2

    Question: Can we find an African American named Abba or Abby living in the city of Charleston after 1840 (date of Rebecca's will), in a house owned by Francis Y. Porcher or the estate of Rebecca Perry Drayton?

    The 1861 Census of the city of Charleston finds free person of color Abby Cripps residing on Hanover Street in a house owned by Francis Y. Porcher. Is Abby Cripps the same person as Abba [6]?

    Abby Cripps, 1861 Census Charleston

    Above: Abby Cripps, 1861 Census of the City of Charleston Adapted from Charleston, SC City Council, Frederick A. Ford, compiler. 1861 Census of the City of Charleston, South Carolina: for the Year 1861, p. 100.

    The 1860 Federal Census also shows Abby Cripps Living in Charleston, City ward 7. Her household members were [7]:

    Name Age Gender Occupation
    Harriett Ross 50 F Domestic
    Susan Ross 20 F
    Thomas Brown 24 F
    Virginia Brown 17 F
    Abbe Cripps  58  F  

    Above: Abby Cripps in the 1860 Federal Census Charleston, SC, City Ward 7

    Abby Cripps died in Charleston on 22 Mar 1866, from pneumonia. Her place of residence was 27 Hanover Street. The attending physician was H. Baer. Abby was buried at the MachPelah Cemetery [8].

    Above: Death Record for Abby Cripps, 1866. City of Charleston, SC Returns of Deaths, 1819-1873. Microfilm Available at Charleston County Public Library, South Carolina Room.

    Abby Cripps in 1860 Census

    Above: Detail from Death Record for Abby Cripps, 1866 Left Side of Page

    Above: Detail from Death Record for Abby Cripps, 1866 Right Side of Page

    Question: Is Abby Cripps, shown in the records above, the same person as Abba or Abby referred to in Rebecca Perry Drayton's will and estate inventory?

    This is a question for further research. Abby or Abba's age is listed as 50 in the estate inventory made in 1840. Abby Cripps is listed as 58 in the 1860 census, and 56 in the Charleston City Death record made in 1866. We must learn more about Abby Cripps before we can speculate.

    Slaves Sold from Rebecca Perry Drayton's Estate

    From the estate return above we learned that Dye, Jacob, Jeannette and Scilla were sold in February of 1841, and Lucia and Esaw were sold in August of the same year.

    Question: Who purchased the enslaved ancestors sold from Rebecca Drayton's estate? Can we locate bills of sale?

    To answer this question we can consult the South Carolina Department of Archives and History's Online Records Index [11]. Here we find only two abstracts of bills of sale from F.Y. Porcher, Executor of the estate of Rebecca Drayton.

    Images of the bills of sale abstracted in the South Carolina Department of Archives and History's Online Index are within the free collection South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872 on Fold3.com.

  • Abstract: Porcher, F. Y., Exor. of Rebecca Drayton to R.E. Dereef, Bill of Sale for a Slave Named Dye and Her Child Dye [12] Record Image: View on Fold3.com [14]
  • Abstract: Porcher, F. Y., Exor of Rebecca Drayton to F. Stall, Bill of Sale for a Slave Named Jacob [13] Record Image: View on Fold3.com [15]
  • Questions for Further Research

    We know that a slave named Auba belonged to Tobias Bowles, and in his will written in 1807, he bequeathed her to Rebecca Perry Drayton, widow of John Drayton at Drayton Hall, on the condition that Rebecca would emancipate her. We also know that Rebecca Drayton petitioned the Senate in 1827 for permission to emancipate a slave named Abba.

    Question: Is Auba, referred to in Tobias Bowles' 1807 will, the same person as Abba, who Rebecca Drayton sought to emancipate in 1827?

    Absent further documentary evidence we cannot say but it merits further investigation.

    Join the Search

    We continue to compile the Drayton family documents and will update this page as we learn more. If you have documents which shed light on these questions, we would love to hear from you! You can write to us at info@lowcountryafricana.com or use our Contact Form.

    References Cited

    [1] South Carolina. Department of Archives and History, "Records of the General Assembly." Drayton, Rebecca, and Other Inhabitants of Charleston, Petition and Supporting Statements Asking that Drayton be Permitted to Emancipate Three of Her Family Slaves, ca. 1821. Series S165015, Year ND00, Item 1876, Record 13. Abstract online at Digital Library of American Slavery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

    [2] South Carolina. Department of Archives and History, "Records of the General Assembly." Rebecca Drayton, Petition to House of Representatives, ca. 1827. Series S165015, Year ND00, Item 2831, Record 18. Abstract online at Digital Library of American Slavery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

    [4] FamilySearch.org. South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977 [database online]. Salt Lake City, UT, USA, FamilySearch.org, 2011. Original data: South Carolina. Department of Archives and History. South Carolina Probate Records, Columbia, SC, USA. Will of Tobias Bowles, Charleston, SC, 1808, Will Book 31 (1807-1818), p.105.

    [5] FamilySearch.org. South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977 [database online]. Salt Lake City, UT, USA, FamilySearch.org, 2011. Original data: South Carolina. Department of Archives and History. South Carolina Probate Records, Columbia, SC, USA. Will of Rebecca Drayton, Charleston, SC, 1840, Will Book 42 (1839-45), p. 185.

    [6] Charleston, SC City Council, Frederick A. Ford, compiler. 1861 Census of the City of Charleston, South Carolina: for the Year 1861, p. 100. Published by Evans and Cogswell, Original from Princeton University, Digitized by Google Books 10 Oct 2008. Full-text available online at http://books.google.com/books? id=BGouAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0.

    [7] Ancestry.com. "1860 United States Federal Census" [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls. Year: 1860; Census Place: Charleston Ward 7, Charleston, South Carolina; Roll M653_1216; Page: 470; Image: 572.

    [8] City of Charleston, SC. "Returns of Deaths, 1819-1873." Microfilm Available at Charleston County Public Library, South Carolina Room. Death Record for Abby Cripps, 1866.

    [9] and [10] FamilySearch.org. "South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977" [database online]. Salt Lake City, UT, USA. Charleston Returns Book B (1835-1841), page 51, Estate of Rebecca Perry Drayton, https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list#page=1&region=UNITED_STATES, accessed 10 Sept 2011.

    [11] South Carolina. Department of Archives and History. On-Line Records Index. http://www.archivesindex.sc.gov.

    [12] South Carolina. Department of Archives and History. On-Line Records Index. http://www.archivesindex.sc.gov. Abstract, Bill of Sale, F.Y. Porcher to R.E. Dereef, 2 Feb 1841, Series S213003, Bills of Sale, Vol. 5W (1839-1843), p. 276.

    [13] South Carolina. Department of Archives and History. On-Line Records Index. http://www.archivesindex.sc.gov. Abstract, Bill of Sale, F.Y. Porcher to F. Stall, 8 Feb 1841, Series S213003, Bills of Sale, Vol. 5W (1839-1843), p. 278.

    [14] Fold3.com. "South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872" [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Fold3.com, 2010. Original data: South Carolina. South Carolina Probate Records. Columbia, SC, USA: South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Bill of Sale, F.Y. Porcher to R.E. Dereef, 2 Feb 1841, Bills of Sale Vol. 5W (1839-1843), p. 276, http://www.fold3.com/image/#1|269368648, accessed 7 Mar 2012.

    [15] Fold3.com. "South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872" [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Fold3.com, 2010. Original data: South Carolina. South Carolina Probate Records. Columbia, SC, USA: South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Bill of Sale, F.Y. Porcher to F. Stall, 8 Feb 1841, Bills of Sale Vol. 5W (1839-1843), p. 278, http://www.fold3.com/image/#1|269368650, accessed 7 Mar 2012.

    [16] Fold3.com. South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Fold3.com, 2010. Original data: South Carolina. South Carolina Probate Records. Columbia, SC, USA: South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Estate Inventory of Rebecca Perry Drayton, Inventories Book A (1839-1844), p. 107.

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