Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross – Episode 2: The Second Middle Passage

Last night, the second episode of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross aired on PBS.  This episode, entitled “The Age of Slavery,” chronicled major events and activities that occurred after the American Revolution which greatly affected the lives of free and enslaved African Americans. One of those major activities was the invention of the cotton gin. By April 1793, an inventor named Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin; it was a machine that automated the separation of cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fiber. 

Hence, in 1793, the “Curse of the Cotton Gin” began.  Although it spurned a great economic boom in the South, I call it a “curse” because its invention resulted in the displacement of around 1 million enslaved African Americans in the Upper South to points southward.  Enslaved labor was needed for this booming industry. Thus, the Second Middle Passage began. More family separations occurred. More tears were shed. More blood flowed from feet and toes as a million enslaved people were sold away, transferred, or taken down south to work laboriously in those hot, infamous cotton fields. In many cases, these dreadful journeys were “walking journeys”. Imagine being forced to walk for weeks from Nash County, North Carolina to Leake County, Mississippi. That was the “walking journey” my great-great-grandfather Robert “Big Bob” Ealy had to take.

Once the million tired souls arrived at their Deep South destinations, the following is what many of them had to endure in those hot, infamous cotton fields, especially if they labored on large plantations.  Observing enslaved people in the cotton field on a large plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, Frederick Olmstead provided the following description of this extensive, back-weakening labor:

“We found in the field thirty ploughs, moving together, turning the earth from the cotton plants, and from thirty to forty hoers, the latter mainly women, with a black driver walking about among them with a whip, which he often cracked at them, sometimes allowing the lash to fall lightly upon their shoulders. He was constantly urging them also with his voice. All worked very steadily, and though the presence of a stranger on the plantation must have been a most unusual occurrence, I saw none raise or turn their heads to look at me. Each gang was attended by a "water-toter," that of the hoe-gang being a straight, sprightly, plump little black girl, whose picture, as she stood balancing the bucket upon her head, shading her bright eyes with one hand, and holding out a calabash with the other to maintain her poise, would have been a worthy study for Murillo.” [Frederick Law Olmsted, The Cotton Kingdom (New York: De Capo Press, Inc., 1953), 432.]

Anyone researching Mississippi ancestors will immediately notice much evidence of the Second Middle Passage in their family trees.  In 1870, most of the older former slaves in Mississippi, as well as other Deep South states, were not born in Mississippi.  This is quite evident from the 1870 census.  Let me show you want I mean. 

I took a snapshot of the Lena community of Leake County, Mississippi, where Grandpa “Big Bob” Ealy remained after gaining his freedom. I wanted to see the birthplaces that were reported for many of his neighbors, who were enslaved just five years prior.  Only a few were born in Mississippi.  The following transcription just shows the oldest people in the household. I recorded these African-American households from pages 313-319.

House #
Names
Ages
Birthplace
802
Henson, Jeff
65
Kentucky
807
Henson, David
50
Tennessee
 -------, Mina
45
Virginia
808
Hanson, Stephan
40
Alabama
 ------, Easter
33
Tennessee
809
Henson, Hannah
33
Mississippi
811
Anderson, Charlotte
40
Alabama
815
Ratliff, Samuel
35
Mississippi
 ------, Kitty
35
Mississippi

 ------, Lydia
60
Georgia
816
Cherry, R.S.
75
South Carolina
 ------, Jane
70
Virginia
Harris, Emaline
50
Virginia
817
Dew, Benjamin
50
South Carolina
 ------, Eliza
48
Georgia
823
Simms, Scott
30
Mississippi
 ------, Lucilia
26
Virginia
832
Fickland, William
20
Mississippi
 ------, Jane
17
Alabama
 ------, Ann
60
Virginia
833
Turner, G.W.
50
Alabama
838
Mann, Tony
21
Mississippi
 ------, Hannah
23
Tennessee
839
Harris, Eliza
30
Virginia
Delvin, John W.
25
South Carolina
843
Parrott, John Armstead
32
Virginia
 ------, Jane
26
Mississippi
844
Reid, Rachel
36
North Carolina
845
Pettigrew, Mariah
45
Virginia
857
Wright, Hiram
57
Tennessee
 ------, Judy
55
Tennessee

 ------, Mary
33
Tennessee
859
Ely, Robert    (“Big Bob” Ealy)
51
North Carolina
 ------, Jane
48
Virginia
863
Lindsey, Allen
25
Mississippi
 ------, Jane
27
Virginia
883
Hill, James
65
South Carolina
 -----, Amanda
40
Virginia
Jones, Cutz
65
Virginia
885
Rice, Andrew
23
Mississippi
 -----, Frances
25
Alabama
886
Kennedy, Nancy
45
Alabama
 ------, Malissa
25
Alabama
887
Washington, George
50
Georgia
 ------, Harriett
40
Georgia

 ------, Charles
21
Alabama

 ------, Jacob
19
Alabama

 ------, Daniel
17
Alabama

 ------, Edmond
12
Mississippi
888
Beaman, Jacob
60
North Carolina
 ------, Violet
50
North Carolina
889
Luckett, Calvin
65
Georgia
 ------, Nelly
75
Virginia
Source: 1870 Leake County, Mississippi Census, Pages: 313B – 319A; Image: 118 -129

Just within that small area containing the African-American households that were closest to Grandpa Big Bob’s house, the 1870 census-taker recorded Virginia as the birthplace for most of the older adults.  Alabama was second.  Even Grandpa Big Bob’s wife, Grandma Jane, had come from Virginia.  Her enslaver, William Parrott, had moved to Leake County, Mississippi shortly before 1840, transporting her and the rest of his slaves with him from Lunenburg County, Virginia.  I cannot even begin to fathom how tiresome all of their journeys were.  And for most of them, that journey was undoubtedly a sad one, as many of them left behind parents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, etc. whom they never laid eyes on ever again.  Oh, how far we have come!

The African American Blogging Circle is a group of genealogy bloggers who are sharing their family stories, seen through their own personal lens, from the PBS series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.  Click here for a list of the participating bloggers and check out their stories.

Watch Episode 2

3 comments:

  1. Excellent observation Mello; I'll have to employ this methodology when I reconstruct the communities of freedmen in Indian Territory...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Terry. Am enjoying your posts as well.

      Delete
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