Entries by Mariann S. Regan

Dispensing with Plantations

My South Carolina ancestors profited greatly, in wealth and influence, from the institution of slavery.

Several plantations are perched on the branches of my maternal family tree.  At least two of them, Boone Hall  and Hopsewee, have been destinations of Joseph McGill’s courageous slave-dwelling project.

Let’s get this naming of plantations dispensed with. Here are those I’ve found on my tree so far. Each is listed after an ancestor of mine who bought the land, supervised the building, sold the house, lived in the house, or was related to someone who did one of those things.

Linked to my 8th great-grandfather, Nathaniel Johnson (1644-1712), Governor of South Carolina from 1702-1709:

Nathaniel Johnson

Silk Hope Plantation from south-carolina-plantations.com

 

Silk Hope Plantation Marker from south-carolina-plantations.com

Silk Hope Plantation Marker from south-carolina-plantations.com

Linked to my 7th great-grandfather, Jonas Lynch (1650-1691):

Jonah Lynch

Blessing Plantation from South Carolina Department of Archives and History

 

Jonas Lynch

Rice Hope Plantation from wikipedia.com

 

Linked to my 6th great-grandfather, Edward Croft (1696-1756), is Bermuda or Belleview Plantation on the Wando River. No photos available.

Linked to my 6th great-grandfather, Thomas Boone (1696-1759) and my 5th great grand uncle Thomas Lynch, Sr. (1727-1776):

 

Thomas Boone

Fairfield Plantation on the South Santee River, from wikipedia.com

Linked to the wife of my 6th great-grandfather Thomas Lynch (1675-1738), Margaret Fenwick   (1680-1716):

Margaret Fenwick

Fenwick Hall, built in 1730 on the Stono River, from wikipedia.com

Linked to my third cousin four times removed, Robert Boone Jenkins (1821-1884 ):

BrickHouseRuins

 

Ensconced in homes like these, my ancestors became influential in their local and national governments. A first cousin six times removed, who lived at Hopsewee, even signed the Declaration of Independence.

The residents of such great houses may have gained their whole world. Yet after admiring these buildings, I must ask myself:  Did they lose their own souls?

No one can know another person’s heart—not even in the present, much less the past. And it’s not up to me to judge my ancestors or anyone else. Yet I have to wonder Why they lived as they did. I wonder How they felt about creating and sustaining their lifestyles with slave labor.

Here is the hypothesis I’m now testing: My ancestors and the people of their class, without realizing it, swallowed a profound guilt for the unnatural act of owning other human beings. That guilt lodged in them so deeply that they couldn’t even feel it as such, much less admit it to themselves.

Meanwhile, their psychological defense systems were silently working overtime to deny and palliate that core of guilt, so as to distance all hints of guilt from their conscious thoughts.

I’ve found some support for my hypothesis by getting to know my ancestors and their white antebellum culture. These characteristics stand out to me:

They worked hard to prove to themselves their own goodness. My ancestors and their fellow planters were avid churchgoers: Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians. At services and in assemblies they would rehearse overlapping arguments that slavery was God’s will, that the sons of Ham were cursed, that the slaves were better off on plantations than in the wilds of Africa, that as a group they were good slaveholders who treated their slaves kindly (except for “necessary” discipline, of course), and that teaching their slaves to be Christians was the Lord’s work. In letters, they insisted that their own slaves loved and respected them, no matter what might be the case on a neighbor’s plantation.

They held fast to their belief in themselves and their virtues. Looking back, we might well be convinced (as I am) that slavery was an evil and inhuman institution, which inflicted immeasurable devastation and despair upon hundreds of thousands of human beings. My ancestors and their class, caught up in the daily workings of this evil system, could not realize its magnitude and survive at the same time. Tied to their communities, they would be hard-pressed to have “Amazing Grace” moments. Their psychological defenses automatically supplied them with attitudes that were insular and delusional, beliefs in the graciousness and courtesy of a slave-based society. These beliefs held back the self-doubt that would have destroyed them.

They blamed the victims. This mechanism is commonly used throughout history, mainly without conscious intent, to keep groups of people from blaming themselves. It seems that this unconscious strategy is built into our neural software, for our own psychological protection. As if by magic, we look at those who threaten our self-image and see our own imagined worst faults, magnified, in them. It’s not us, it’s them.

Because the very presence of African slaves threatened the good self-images of white owners, a host of negative stereotypes about slaves arose and took hold in Southern culture—to deflect unspeakable guilt away from slaveholders. We carry the legacy of these stereotypes about blacks to this day.

  • Stereotype #1: Slaves are poor, dependent, childlike, and unintelligent. This stereotype reassured white owners that they themselves were truly intelligent, rich, and in solid control of the plantation. They could believe they acted like kind and generous parents to their slaves.
  • Stereotype #2: Slaves are unreliable, dangerous, and savage, ready  at a moment’s notice to kill their white masters. (1) This stereotype reassured white owners that they themselves were blameless, that there was no violence inherent in slavery, and that slaveholders were not the barbaric ones.
  • Stereotype #3: Slaves are lazy and deceitful and shiftless, a burden to manage. This stereotype helped convince white owners that they themselves were hard workers who labored constantly for the good of the household. Others might tend the crops, but whites did the real work.

~~

Except for the abolitionists, the whole country—looking the other way—colluded to preserve the institution of slavery until the Civil War erupted. This de facto acceptance of slavery may well have caused widespread, unacknowledged guilt in the “land of the free.” For that sufficient reason, the nation in general may have hastened to adopt these negative, guilt-allaying Southern stereotypes of blacks. Even now, too many people believe them.

denial

In Reconstruction, Eric Foner explores the ways that many whites in power after the Civil War ignored the needs of the emancipated slaves for education, jobs, and suffrage.(2) I would imagine that the more completely our citizens became aware of past wrongs, the more they had to deny their own complicity, and therefore the more they dismissed the pain of the newly freed black population. We can recall Ronald Reagan’s infamous fiction of the “welfare queen,” now a staple of popular culture. That myth has been quite useful in helping white citizens deny their historical guilt.

  • “The Negro is always with us, as we are with him. There he is before our eyes, the symbol of our sin, the living reminder that our words are wrong.” (3)

We are in the same story still. As a nation, we seem unable to confront our history of slavery and its continuing effects. My parents never mentioned slavery, probably for shame—though they would never have admitted to shame. I thought all my ancestors were poor—and they were, after the Depression. Yet I did not learn about my slaveholder ancestry until I was in my 50s.

Here is an artful, ironic documentary film about our national dilemma: Moving Midway. A contemporary Southern family, still feeling attached to their old plantation home, choose to move the entire structure, in one piece, away from city traffic and into the nearby countryside. During this project, African-American relatives and descendants of the family’s former slaves appear and weigh in.

MovingMidway

 

This film includes many soft-spoken and carefully nuanced conversations that are amusing, sad, and bristling with loose ends.

 

NOTES:

(1) Of course, enslaved people want to break free. The American Revolution bodied forth that truth for the new nation.

(2) “Rehearsals for Reconstruction,” in Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. HarperCollins: 1988, 35-76

(3) James McBride Dabbs, The Southern Heritage. Alfred A. Knopf, 1958. 267-68. He is speaking about desegregation here, in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954.

 

What Matters Most?

Remember Boone Hall, that much-toured plantation house in South Carolina? It was the subject of my January 8th post.

My ancestors include a host of Boones, a genealogical labyrinth. Today I’m looking at John Boone’s 1776 will, which bequeaths Boone Hall to his nephew, also a John Boone.

Three things about this will strike me as important.

First, this will names nine enslaved people: Will, Will’s wife Hagar, Israel, Murriar, Gate, Hagar the Cook, Big Tony, Mulatto Frank, and Bob. These first names may help some people search for enslaved ancestors. Relevant last names would be Boone, Durand, White, and Croft. When I finish identifying all my slaveholder ancestors, I’m going to post all their wills with all the first names of slaves mentioned.

John Boone tries to preserve slave families in his will: “My desire is that my Negroes be Divided in families, and if it should so happen that it cannot be Equally done that the Difference be paid in Money.” That is, if anyone disputes the division of slaves, money (rather than breaking up slave families) should settle the argument.

Listing each slave by a single name, although somewhat helpful to family researchers now, still reveals a method of dehumanizing people during slavery. Paring a person down to one “friendly” name is a paternalistic mask for absolute power. This practice goes beyond condescension. It robs descendants of the records used to build a family history—yet one more reason that slavery is called this country’s “original sin.”

Boones, slavery, American Revolution

The drive at Boone Hall. Ancestry.com

Second, this will exposes the irony of history and the potential blindness of human nature. It was written on June 22, 1773, and signed on June 4, 1776. Revolution was in the air. John Boone himself had served in South Carolina’s second Provincial Congress, which (like the congresses in all the colonies) opposed the authority of Britain’s Parliament. Soon the world would hear that famous Declaration from Philadelphia:

  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Yet on the threshold of this proclamation, in June of 1776, the Boones were signing this will and divvying up their Negroes just like they divvied up their swampland, carts, and stock. Treating people like chattel plainly violated the principles on which the Revolution was based. Somehow, our young country allowed this blatant contradiction. I find it ironic that the Boones and their fellow planters fought in the American Revolution to free themselves from British rule, only to live for the next 85 years in absolute dread of a violent revolution against their own persons–in the form of slave revolts.

  • “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”– George Santayana, 1905

I would put this challenge to Santayana’s ghost: Are people actually capable of changing their behavior in the light of history?

Boone, slavery, American Revolution

In John Turnbull’s “Declaration of Independence,” the five-man committee presents its draft of the document to the Second Continental Congress. Wikipedia commons.

 

Third, this will of John Boone reminds me once more that family historians cannot expect to complete their jobs.

Here are those I can identify in the will:

  • John Boone, author, is the youngest son of my 6th great-grandfather, Thomas Boone I.
  • John Boone, inheritor, is one of (probably) three surviving children of my 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Boone II.
  • Sarah Gibbes is the (future) wife of John Boone, inheritor.
  • Capers Boone is an older brother of John Boone, author of the will.
  • Levi Durand is the husband of Susannah Boone, daughter of Thomas Boone I.

Here are those I cannot identify, although I have tried:

  • “My Nephew William Boone”
  • “My Niece Mary White daughter of James White”
  • “My Nephew Henry White”
  • The two (2) Mary Whites who are signers

Maybe I’ll make even further efforts to identify this second group. And maybe I won’t.

You’ve heard the saying, “Art is long, life is short”? Hippocrates, its author, meant that it takes a long time to acquire expertise (as in medicine—and I’d add genealogy), but you have only a short time in which to do it.

Put simply: I have too many ancestors to research in one life span.

So far, family members (and my own research) have supplied me with over 900 people in my family tree, most of them not completely researched. Added to these, I’ve inherited a sketch of the Boone-Fraser genealogy containing 294 people, all needing to be checked and connected to official records. I’m in a sea of waving leaves. Not to mention the bushels of documents, letters, photos, and newspaper stories waiting be archived beside the ancestor charts I am methodically building, one Lego at a time.

I’m dancing as fast as I can in this game—or I should say, this art.

Guess what?  I’m not going to finish. Hippocrates was right.

Some kind relative is going to inherit this odyssey from me. In digital copies, in photo and archive boxes . . . whatever I can manage.

Meanwhile, I hope to tell more Stories—in this blog—about Why and How my ancestors made their decisions and lived their lives. These Stories will naturally involve Why and How this whole country is still struggling to heal from the trauma of chattel slavery and racism.

For each Story, I’ll need to pause my research train and invoke my muse. And life is short.

I’d love to hear from readers. How do you prioritize your own work? What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

~~~

Here is the will of John Boone (1734-1777). It is a transcription, preserving abbreviations, spelling, punctuation marks, and line breaks. 

 

WILL OF

JOHN BOONE

 

In the Name of God Amen I John Boone of Christ Church Parish

now of sound memory do make this my last Will and Testament

Item I Give and bequeath unto my Nephew John Boone Son of

my Brother Thomas Boone & his heirs after the death of my

Mother, my Plantation in Christ Church Parish, Item I Give

my Mother the work of Will and Hagar the Wife of Will, Israel,

Murriar, Gate, hagar the Coock, big Tony Mulatto Frank &

Bob, during her life, I also Give her the use of my boat

Carts & Stock on said plantation during her Life, Item after

The death of my Mother I Give & bequeath unto my Nephew John

Boone Son of my Brother Thomas Boone five negroes Namely

Will, Hagar wife of Will, Israel, Murriar & Gate & their in-

Crease, but if the said John Boone dies before my Mother,

Then I Give the said five Negroes & their increase to my Ne-

phew Thomas Boone son of my Brother Thomas Boone & his heirs,

I also give my Nephew John Boone, my Boat, Carts, & Stock on

said plantation, Item. I Give to my Nephew Henry White the

Will of John Boone Page 2.

use of fifty Acres of high Land out of my Plantation in

Prince Frederick’s Parish, to be run Square from his House up

the Branch. I also Give him the use of fifty Acres of Swamp

out of said Plantation beginning at the Head of the Lake and

Continue up the Swamp, during the Space of ten years and no

longer Item. I Give & bequeath unto my Nephew William Boone

& the Issue of his Body My Plantation in Prince Frederick’s

Parish, but if my Nephew William Boone should not have any

lawfull Issue at the time of his Death, I then give the said

Plantation to my Nephew John Boone Son of my Brother Capers

Boone and his heirs but if he should be dead at the time of

the Death of the said William Boone I then Give the said

Plantation to the Eldest son of my Brother Capers Boone then

Living and his heirs, And I Give all my Stock on said Plan-

tation to my Nephew William Boone Item. I Give and bequeath

the remainder or Residue of my Estate including the Negroes

given to my Mother and not otherways Disposed of with all

their Increase to my Brother Capers Boone and my Nephew  Levi

Durand & their heirs, to be Equally divided between them,

out of which I Will that each of them shall pay to my Niece

Mary White Daughter of James White, the sum of four thousand

pounds, and I do farther Will that the money remain in their

Hands they paying her the Interest half Yearly, And I do fur-

ther will that the Money be paid to her in one year after

she is married, and in Case she dies before Marriage I then

Give her full power to dispose of it by Will, as she pleases,

my desire is that my Negroes be Divided in families, and if

it should so happen that it cannot be Equally done that the

Difference be paid in Money, My Will is that my Brother

Capers Boone and my Nephew Levi Durand shall pay all my Debts

and funeral Charges Lastly I do hereby Constitute Nominate

and Appoint my Brother Capers Boone and my Nephew Levi Durand

Executors to this my last Will and testament given under my

hand and Seal this twenty Second Day of June in the Year of

our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy three. This

was Signed the fourth day of June One thousand Seven hundred

Will of John Boone Page 3.

and Seventy Six Witness

Mary White

Sarah Gibbes

Mary White

Reverend John Leighton Wilson Returns from West Africa to South Carolina

In 1853, John Leighton Wilson was 44 years old. He and his wife Jane had spent the last 18 years doing mission work in West Africa.

Why? Because Wilson believed the South had wronged Africa by kidnapping and enslaving so many of its people. Bringing the Gospel to Africa was his gesture toward repaying that enormous debt. He also felt called to this mission. His “lifelong interest in the spiritual welfare of the Negro” (1) began in the Presbyterian church of his South Carolina childhood. The congregants there included both whites and slaves.

 

Wilson first lived in Cape Palmas, Liberia. Later he lived at Gaboon (“A” on this GoogleMap).

Wilson first lived in Cape Palmas, Liberia. Later he lived at Gaboon (“A” on this GoogleMap).

But why did Wilson return to the United States in 1853? There are hints that he was exhausted and worried about his health, and perhaps his wife’s health also. The record also shows, I believe, that he wanted to write about Africa and slavery—to educate whites, and especially his fellow Southerners.

Upon his return in 1853, Wilson was made secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in New York City. His position, held from 1853 to 1861, allowed him time to write Western Africa: Its History, Conditions, and Prospects (Harper and Brothers: 1856), a book now digitized by Google. He had traveled widely in West Africa, taking many trips into the interior and along the coast.

John Leighton Wilson

John Leighton Wilson in his forties.

Wilson also wrote to protest against the slave trade. His protest writing began in Africa. In 1850, on a trip near the African coast, he noticed ships from Spain and Portugal. Natives told him those ships belonged to slave traders, who by night collected cargoes of slaves to sell in Brazil.

Those activities were illegal. The slave trade had already been abolished in 1807, by both England and the United States.

Wilson took action. He wrote to a friend in England, who convinced the prime minister to print Wilson’s letter and distribute it as a pamphlet. As a result, British warships were sent to the African coast.  By 1855 the slave trade there had been choked off.

A few years later, back in the United States, Wilson again found himself writing to protest the slave trade. For in the 1850s, many Southerners were pressing to revive the slave trade and legalize it.

Wilson must have felt a strong call to answer these Southerners. As a minister, he was a credible author for an article in the Southern Presbyterian Review, entitled “The Foreign Slave-Trade: Can It Be Revived without Violating the Most Sacred Principles of Honor, Humanity, and Religion?” (October, 1859). (2)

John Leighton Wilson

Wilson’s article suggests several nuances in his character. Not only was he a good man – he was a strategic writer and a powerful persuader.  I would make three points about his article:

First, Wilson knows his audience – the slaveholding Southerners. More than anything else, these people want to believe they are good and honorable. They would turn a deaf ear to anyone calling them callous or greedy. Wilson knows that. He says:

  • We have too high an estimate of the good sense, the Christian moderation, and the honorable bearing of the Southern people, to believe that they ever will, either from motives of retaliation, or the hope of gain, lend their countenance knowingly to the revival of a traffic which, in its progress, must necessarily trample in the dust every sentiment of honor, humanity, and religion.

Whether or not Wilson fully believes this statement, it makes an excellent persuasive strategy.

Second, Wilson knows that many Southerners (and others) in his audience have persuaded themselves that slavery is good for Africans, that it “civilizes”  unfortunate savages. Instead of disagreeing, Wilson folds this same pro-slavery idea into a theological concept. Slavery itself is inherently evil, but God in his mercy has turned it into a good:

  • Whatever wrong-doing there may have been in connection with the original establishment of [slavery] . . .  every right-minded and honest man must see that it has been overruled by a kind and merciful Providence for the good of those of the African race who were brought to this country. They are happier, better, and more useful men and women, than they would have been if born and brought up in the wilds of Africa, or than they would have been if their forefathers, upon their arrival here, had been turned loose to roam the swamps and woods of America . . .

. . . and so forth, elaborating on a concept that is transparently paternalistic to us today. Does Wilson believe what he is saying? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s hard to reconcile his words here with his own conviction that the South has wronged Africa by kidnapping its people, or with his wife’s decision to free her 30 slaves in 1833. I can’t help doubting whether Wilson is totally behind his argument here.

Still, it would be plausible to Wilson’s readers for him to express this popular idea—an idea voiced by such others as Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.  And Wilson’s theology does help to win over his audience, for he’s implicitly claiming that slaveholders are instruments of divine Providence. If Wilson is being less than thoroughly candid, he’s doing so for a cause he deeply believed in—keeping the slave trade outlawed.

John Leighton Wilson

Advertisement for a Slave Auction in Charleston, SC. 1769. Wikipedia commons.

 

Third, Wilson purposely leaves a loophole in his own argument, only to close it swiftly and with an expertise that overrides all objections. The loophole is built into the second point. It goes like this: “If God has now made slavery into a good thing, then we should probably buy some more slaves so that we can do some more good.” Wilson easily counters this mischievous conclusion:

  • [Resuming the slave trade is] not only to practice a deception among ourselves, but is virtually doing evil that good may come, and sanctioning the odious Jesuitical dogma, that the end justifies the means.

Wilson’s article is really a kind of Story.  The heroes are Southerners. The plot is that they are brave enough to let go of the slave trade, thereby keeping their honor and nobility.

By writing this particular Story, Wilson chooses not to abandon his friends and neighbors and family members. Instead, he exhorts them to be heroes. If he hates the sin of practicing slavery—and I believe he does—he still loves his own people who are complicit in that sin.

~

 Wilson finally returned to the South in 1861, by coincidence on the last day the trains were running before the Civil War changed life for everyone. He and his wife rented a small farm near his boyhood home and lived there throughout the war and afterwards until their deaths.

As home mission secretary for Southern Presbyterians, Wilson helped arrange the chaplain service for the Confederate armies.

When Sherman burned Columbia in 1865, not far from his home, John Leighton Wilson was the first one to send food to that shattered city.

John Leighton Wilson

The Burning of Columbia, by William Waud. 1865. Wikipedia commons.

 

Notes:

(1) The Daily Item of Sumter, SC, August 13, 1970, 23.

(2) Wilson’s article can be found in “From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909,” in the Library of Congress.

 

 

The Genealogist’s Muse: Asking Why

Story.

That word resounded from RootsTech last week. Genealogists were calling for Stories of our ancestors and families, as they explained that Stories would have more appeal and meaning to everyone than lists of “dry” facts.

Story is a vital concept, even a bit magical. I capitalize the word in order to use it in my own way. In my view, a Story that is meaningful has certain necessary elements.

Everyone would likely agree that a Story must include Who, What, Where, and When. Professional genealogists, who earn our justified praise for mastering and navigating the world of intricate databases, can determine those facts about an ancestor’s life to the extent humanly possible. They deserve our respect and gratitude.

I believe that a Story must also address How and Why. This is where a Story’s meaning and appeal lies.

“How” can mean just a straightforward chronological sequence. We may ask, “Tell me how my ancestor’s life happened, from first to last.” That simple plot is ensured by the meticulous techniques that professional genealogists use to verify dates.

But another meaning of “How” merges with “Why.” We want a Story to help explain the causes and effects operating within our ancestors’ lives, so that we can better understand the causes and effects in our own lives. We all live among big questions:

  • Why and How can historical events profoundly change our life’s course?
  • How and Why are our lives influenced by the lives of friends and family?
  • Why and How do institutions manage our choices? Are we free, or not?
  • How and Why are our emotions and beliefs unique? Or are we all alike?
  • Where do our personalities come from—God, family, local custom, fate, DNA?
  • Why and How do we commit both good and bad acts? Who are we, really?

These questions, and thousands like them, are mysteries. No answer could meet the genealogical proof standard.

Yet we are always looking for a Story that asks these questions for us again and again, to make us think further about life. Musing about these questions . . . that’s part of our humanity.

In a Story, ideas and feelings about How and Why are built into the motivations and conflicts of characters . . . the words of dialogue both said and unsaid . . . the unexpected twists and junctures of plots. That’s how a Story speaks to our inner selves.

Asking Why: This is the fundamental Muse of a Story. The storyteller ventures into some momentous Why questions and invites ideas in response. This pursuit may seem over-the-line to those who distrust subjectivity. But asking Why is human and inevitable.

 

John Leighton Wilson

This is a generic Greek Muse, but she seems to be Erato, the muse of love poetry. Clio is the muse of history, and Calliope is the muse of epic poetry.

 

The much-touted liberal arts— “the arts that liberate us”(Montaigne)—are all about these musings of How and Why. The fields of history, literature, philosophy, and religion are full of people reading texts, asking Why, and exchanging ideas provoked by their reading. Same for the social sciences: psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology—more Why questions, more rich speculation, more threads of reasoning, more concepts. These academics are asking the same questions we’re all asking: How can we understand our lives?

Will Genealogy move toward Stories? Genealogy might choose to become a combination of art (“liberal art”) and science. It would be in good company, for practicing medicine is both an art and a science, or so they say. Medicine deals in human contingencies. It calls for wisdom and judgment as well as facts. Doctors even now ask patients for their “narratives.”

All of us have ideas about human nature. We’ve all lived life and known people. Our intuitions have been educated by our experience. Genealogists are entitled to create Stories and enrich them with ideas by suggesting Why their characters (ancestors) act and choose as they do.

 ~ ~ ~

Here’s an illustration. I’ll combine Why and How with verifiable facts, in a rough sketch—a plan for a Story.

This Story would be about the Reverend John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886). He is one of my relatives-by-marriage, the uncle of the wife of my grand uncle. He spent 18 years of his life as a missionary in West Africa, among the Grebo people of Cape Palmas and then the Mpongwe people at Gaboon.

I would muse about Why he chose this life, and that question would be the undercurrent of this Story. Wilson’s South Carolina neighbors stayed home and work their farms, using slaves. Instead, Wilson became the first Protestant missionary to Africa. Why was Wilson so different?

I’d start this Story with an imagined internal monologue of Wilson’s evening prayers—with my imagination informed by my research. It is October 14th of 1850 in Gaboon, West Africa. Wilson is asking God for strength in his task of converting Mpongwe speech to writing. This takes him long hours with the Mpongwe. He must coax their leaders to agree, letter by letter, as they slowly inscribe Bible passages. His days are filled with strife. It is little better, he thinks, than Cape Palmas in Liberia, a few years back. There both the natives and the freed American Negroes disputed Wilson’s mission plans. They even argued with each other. (1)  How frustrated and stymied a person could feel while spreading the Gospel! He prays for endurance.

In his prayers a memory arrives, through God’s grace. He is a youth again at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. Here slaves and whites worshipped together, the slaves in the galleries. This memory steadies him. In this church he received God in sunlight through plain church windows. He realized that every human being deserves freedom. He knew that the South now owed the Gospel to Africa, having taken so many of Africa’s people into bondage. He foresaw his own destiny, to pay this human debt. As a youth he saw all around him slaves who were forbidden to read, yet expected in church to learn the Word of God. Now in Gaboon, praying, he remembers his early conviction that it is no sin to hate slavery. He reaffirms that he lives to compensate for the damage of slavery by teaching Africans to read. He has been called to this. Yes, the work is hard. So was earning his D. D. from Columbia Theological Seminary.

Wilson gives thanks to God that his wife Jane has been with him in West Africa, from the start. She has nursed him through malaria and assuaged his doubts. Their spiritual centers agree. They feel their labors are well rewarded whenever they glimpse light and self-confidence and knowledge in the eyes of the Mpongwe who are learning to read. That light is a reflection of God’s light. He and Jane know that to be true.

To the Story, I would then add this inscription from Wilson’s tombstone:

 

Tombstone of John Leighton Wilson. From ancestry.com

Tombstone of John Leighton Wilson. From ancestry.com.

REV. JOHN LEIGHTON WILSON D. D.

THE FOREIGN MISSIONARY

BORN MAR 25, 1809 DIED JULY 13, 1886

EIGHTEEN YEARS A MISSIONARY ON THE WESTERN COAST OF AFRICA

THIRTY THREE YEARS SECRETARY OF FOREIGN MISSIONS

HE RESTS FROM HIS LABORS AND HIS WORKS DO FOLLOW HIM.

GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE.

After the inscription, I could explain my identification with Wilson, contributing to the “Why Africa?” question. I know hatred of slavery, too, and I feel the wrongs of history. Although I am not a doctrinal Christian, I do admire the ministries of Jesus, the “going forth” part. The Episcopal church of my childhood said these words to our departing congregation: “Remember the poor, pray for the sick, and be kindly affectioned one to another.” I understand why Wilson would leave home and family and neighbors for this kind of radiant hope. Perhaps I share his sense of reward in my work as a volunteer literacy tutor. One of my students is black, the other Latina. Whenever they have a “eureka” moment while reading a paragraph, or solving a division problem, the light in their eyes might as well be the light of God for the effect it has on me—never mind whether I’m a believer or not.

Next in the Story I would describe John Wilson finishing his prayers, rising, and preparing for his night’s rest. My facts come from his passport application and quotations by those who knew him.  He is six feet tall with gray eyes, a ruddy complexion, dark brown hair (at age 41), and a broad frame. He has a calm, measured walk. He is “massive in proportion, reminding one of the Doric order of architecture.” (2) One friend said, “His life was like the easy flow of a mighty river, when at its average height, bearing immense cargoes to their destination, and yet doing it with so much ease and quietness as scarcely to attract attention.” (3)

But on this night, October 14th of 1850, John Wilson’s ease and quietness is broken by the evening mail. A letter arrives from his sister to tell him that his father, William Wilson, has died. This letter has taken many months to travel from South Carolina to Africa.

The next morning, October 15th, Wilson sits down to write a reply. His handwriting is widely spaced, its letters like slight whitecaps on a huge ocean. He writes to his sister,

  • “Your letter of the 5th Jan announcing the death of our dear, aged father was handed to me last night. My mind was prepared to receive this intelligence by your previous letter of the 5th of [illegible] which had come to hand only one week before. And the dear man is gone! I can scarcely realize it. How many touching associations has the announcement awakened! That homestead, identified almost with our existence, how changed. The church he loved and frequented, how sensible his absence be felt! Ah, the joyous meeting in Heaven, husband, wife and daughter all embraced in the same arms of love. I can scarcely repress the desire to be there, too, and instead of grieving, I almost rejoice that our dear father is released from his intense suffering. And yet I can scarcely force my mind to the conclusion that I shall write his dear name on the back of no more letters—shall say “dear father” no more. Be it so, since thou dear Father in Heaven has so ordered it. . . .”

Here are more possible reasons for Wilson’s eighteen-year stay in Africa. I cannot identify with this saintliness, but I can try to imagine Wilson’s faith as his foundation. He is able to work far from his family, in remote regions, because he absolutely believes in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. “Everyone was sure of the purity of his aims.” (4)

 

John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886). Property of Mariann Regan

John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886).   Property of Mariann Regan

 

John Wilson and his wife Jane could work intensively for eighteen years, far from home. That’s how powerful their motivations were. Why? Many reasons, in many combinations. No one can see all that is in a person’s heart.

 ~ ~ ~

 There is more to this Story. How did Wilson deal with his fellow Southerners when he returned home? How did he respond to the widespread movement to resume the slave trade?

 

 

(1) The Daily Item, Sumter, SC, Thursday, August 13, 1970, 24. Material for this article is taken from “Dr. John Leighton Wilson,” a paper by Mrs. J. W. Scott, Dr. Wilson’s granddaughter, obtained from the Sumter County Historical Society.

(2) E. T. Thompson, Presbyterians in the South. John Knox Press: May, 1973.  I, 306.

(3) W. W. Mills in The Daily Item, 26.

(4) Robert L. Dabney, in Thompson, II, 292.

Photo ID Answers, and Questions about Us Viewers

Thanks to those of you who joined the game of identifying my grandmother Laura (1872-1935) in her photos!

Photos attract me. I’m always hoping that if I try really hard, I can see “behind” certain photos into emotions, personality, or even character. Do any of you share that wish?

To identify Laura, I’ll add one more photo to the 3 from the last post. I’d like to explain some patterns that I believe I see.

Fraser, Kirven

1. Laura and Her Siblings as Children, c. 1885. Property of Mariann Regan.

 

Fraser Kirven

2. Laura as a Young Woman, c. 1896. Property of Mariann Regan.

 

Fraser, Kirven

3. Laura as Mother, c. 1920. Property of Mariann Regan.

 

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura and Harriett Fraser

4. Laura and Harriett, c. 1930. Property of Mariann Regan.

 

In photo 4, Laura is on the left. I’m sure of that, because those who knew her have told me so. Compare her face in photo 4 and photo 3 (Laura is in the center). She has rounded cheeks. Both expressions are soft and smiley, I think. My late cousin Tom once told me, in an outburst of emotion, that Laura was the sweetest and kindest and gentlest woman he ever knew.

Now look at photo 1. My pick is that it’s Laura on the left. Here are my “reasons,” or intuitions perhaps, behind that guess:  Her expression in photo 1 resembles her expression in photo 4.  Her cheeks are slightly rounded. Her head is tilted slightly, and she looks amused. Both expressions make her look approachable, as she does in photo 3 also.

Photo 2 is the outlier, I think. In this formal photo (colorized later), she looks serious and almost severe. Not so approachable as she looks in her other photos. Her eyes are big, though, like those of the left-hand girl in photo 1.

Many of you matched the Laura of photo 2 with the girl on the right in photo 1. Yes, I can see that similarity. Both of those faces have a guarded, even vigilant quality. I’m thinking that right-hand girl in photo 1 could be Harriett, who is also the one on the right in photo 4, as relatives have told me. She wears a wry smile in photo 4, in an otherwise hard face.

Identifying photos tells us a lot about ourselves. We are dealing with a multitude of automatic cues from our brain when we “read” photos—or when we “read” strangers.

Even though our impressions flash by, almost too quick for conscious thought, they’re strong signals. They exist to help us figure out what people are really like. And, of course, they might be wrong. . . .

 

Sepia Saturday and a Fearless Female: Child, Young Woman, Grandmother. Can You ID Her Through the Years?

My grandmother, Laura Fraser, was a woman who knew her own mind. She chose to marry Tom Kirven, a South Carolina farmer who lived two counties away from her family. Their wedding was in 1897, and she gave birth to six children before 1907.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura Fraser, Tom Kirven

Laura Fraser in the 1890s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

In 1908 a deranged tenant farmer ambushed her husband and blasted him with a shotgun. Tom survived only because a thick memo pad, in the left pocket of his jacket, blocked enough of the shot to keep him alive – but not in good health. Laura saw Tom through his recurrent “bad spells.”

In the years after the shooting, Laura endured two miscarriages and several months in a TB sanatorium before she and Tom had one last child in 1915 (my mother). When Tom died prematurely in 1921, Laura and her oldest son teamed up to manage the family farm.

Yet it was Laura alone who decided in 1933, when the Depression hit Sumter County full force, to yield their farm to the bank. All those now living on that farm (Laura’s son, his wife and children, and Laura herself) had to move 30 miles to Eastover and sharecrop another man’s land. It was a hard blow to the family—a kind of exile. Those were hard times. I have Laura’s account book for the first year of that Eastover period.

Laura died in 1935, before she could know that the family would be able to regain their original farm and finally move back home in 1943.

Let’s try recognizing Laura over the years. Here is a photo from the 1880s of four siblings. One of them is Laura, but I don’t know which one. Their names, in alphabetical order, are Donald, Harriett, Laura, and Miller. Can you see Laura?

Fraser, Sumter, South Carolina

Four Children of Ladson L. Fraser, c.1885. Property of Mariann S. Regan.

The two boys have “Little Lord Fauntleroy” decorative collars, and the two girls do look rather fearless, especially with their short haircuts. Did the family choose a reverse-gender gamin look for the girls, just for fun? Here is Manet’s 1862 sketch of a boy, “le gamin au chien,” meaning “the urchin with a dog.” (It was well into the 1900s before Audrey Hepburn and others popularized the female gamine style.)

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina

Edouard Manet, "Le gamin au chien." Wikipedia commons.

You may recall my earlier post of Coit and Marion, two of Laura and Tom’s sons, with bows on their hair. Well, my family did like practical jokes.

Finally, here are the sisters (in alphabetical order) Harriett and Laura, years later, when they were both grandmothers. I’ve been told that this photograph was staged as a joke. Harriett’s nickname was “Hat,” and that’s why each woman is sporting a silly hat.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura and Harriett Fraser

Two Sisters in the 1930s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

Can you tell which one is Laura? (This time, I do know.)

How difficult is it to see Laura through the years as a child, young woman, and grandmother?

What about your own ancestors? Can you identify them through the years?

Your thoughts are welcome!

Goodbye to the Black and White Church. Part 3 of 3.

We’ve been reading a historical document written in 1909. It’s a 100th anniversary retrospective of an old Southern church.

We’ve seen that in referring to the times of slavery, the writer has mentioned “the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers.” He has assured his audience, “Ample provision was made for the religious instruction of this unfortunate class [the slaves].” We read the church rules for slaves in the last post.

Going further, the records show that before the Civil War this church received 184 colored members “on profession.”  And this church was zealous about raising funds for the Southern Board of Foreign Missions. Both these facts suggest, possibly, that this church was not insular–that it was accepting of all people.

Father Kizito Sesana embraces a child. Father Kizito Comboni is founder of the Koinonia community association that brings together the abandoned children of Kenya. istockphoto.

Then came the Civil War itself. Did that earth-shaking event provoke discussions of the issues of slavery, morality, and religion within this church? After all, the entire nation seemed to be debating the justice or injustice of slavery. What did this church believe?

I found only two glancing references in this historical church document to the Civil War and its aftermath.

Here is the first reference:

  • “Although the services for the colored people under the shed were discontinued shortly after the war, the records show that quite a number were received into the church as late as 1867, and on the 18th of May of that year 12 were received, and two weeks later 7 others. On the 19th of October two others were received, but the days of Reconstruction had come and there were not more accessions. Indeed a large proportion of the colored members had already forsaken the church, and on the 29th of June, 1869, after having twice cited them to appear and show cause for their protracted absence from the church, the Session dropped from the roll the names of 87 colored members. There were still a number whose name were retained upon the roll, but while we find no record of it, they were in all probability dropped very soon for the same reason.”

This seems to mean that most freed slaves voted with their actions and left this church. Nothing here about the issue of slavery.

The other glancing reference is this passage about how white church members would gather before church services to discuss the progress of the Civil War:

  • “[To tell] . . . of the tense feeling and blanched faces as little groups gathered together and repeated in whispers the rumors of some great battle, and the loss of friends and loved ones; the intolerable suspense, long drawn out, often ended only by a confirmation of the worst fears. There is no hint of those sage discussions which went on out under the spreading oaks, as the movements of armies were traced, of the tactics of Lee and Jackson criticized: discussions that grew so absorbing at times that even when the strains of music from worshippers within reminded them that the service had begun, it was felt that it was needful to tarry yet a little, until some point which involved the welfare of the country might be settled. After the lapse of nearly half a century, how the scene comes vividly before us! Even now we can see that good old elder as he takes from his vest pocket that snuff box, and tapping the lid, opens and passes it to his neighbors as they stood around, and then after a flourish of the bandanna, and the conventional sneeze, the discussion would begin afresh!”

Nothing here about the issue of slavery, either. This scene of the “little groups” of parishioners is full of nostalgia and warm emotion—like a story by Hawthorne, that typical romantic American novelist.

By contrast, the account of the slaves’ disappearance from church seems factual and unemotional.

Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1841 (Peabody Essex Museum)

On balance, it seems to me that this church history document is virtually silent on the moral or religious questions about slavery.

What does that silence say to you? Interpretations welcome.

[Thought question. No wrong answers.]

Destroyed during the fighting that engulfed Harpers Ferry in West Virginia during the Civil War, the ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church stand high atop the historic town and overlooks the Potomac River. istockphoto.

 

 

The Church Was Black and White, Part 2. Commandments, Rules, Slaves, Owners.

The last post began to examine a document from an old Southern Presbyterian church. It was written in 1909 to review and celebrate 100 years of the church’s history.

Thank you for all your thoughtful comments! This document surely does prompt many interpretations.

The moral “discipline” of the church seemed to apply to both slaves and masters. The Session met to judge infractions by members and mete out punishments. They suspended offenders from church for given periods—or “indefinitely.”

Session House. By Spencer Wagner (sp?) in 1978. Property of Mariann Regan.

Moving on, the author of the document writes,

  • “As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .”

On the “welfare of black brothers” he offers the following thoughts, quoted here in sequence:

  •  “Ample provision was made for the religious instruction of this unfortunate class. Under date of June 1837, the Records show the following action:
  • ‘Resolved [that the Session meet with a delegation from another church] for the purpose of employing a missionary for the improvement of the colored people.’ . . . A shed, with comfortable seats, was erected near the church, for their benefit, and there the pastor preached for them regularly. . . . This service was held before the regular church service, and they were then required to repair to the galleries of the church. . . . As a result of these efforts in their behalf, 184 were received into the communion of the church during the pastorate of Mr. V, who was especially zealous in his work among them.
  • “The following ‘Rules for the Regulation of Colored People’ adopted in 1847, will prove of interest:
  • “Rule 1st. That the colored people required when they arrive at the church in time, to repair immediately to the shelter constructed for their accommodation.
  • “Rule 2nd. That no colored person, or persons, will be allowed to come to the church without a good excuse, after regular service is commenced.
  • “Rule 3rd. That all colored persons, from about ten years old, be required, with the exception of such as have infants under their care, or are nurses, for white persons, to go to the gallery, before services commence in the church.
  • “Rule 4th. That colored women with their children be required to stay in an orderly manner, immediately about the church, and that nurses of course be subject to their owners.
  • “Rule 5th. That boys in attendance on their owners will not be allowed to come down from the gallery until service is over, except in case of rain, or they are called by their owners.
  • “Resolved. That four persons be requested by this church to see that the foregoing rules be observed, and when they are violated, to discipline, or cause to be disciplined the person, or persons, who may violate them—the mode of discipline to be whipping.”

Here I’ll include a previous passage, with further examples of church policy on the behavior of black members.

  • “The following black members were admonished and suspended for irregularities in their Christian character: Billy, the property of W, for playing the Violin where a party of blacks were collected together, Arthur the property of X, for offering to sell eggs on the Sabbath, Binah and Cato, the property of Y, for quarreling.”

In the practices of this church, the beliefs of Christianity and the regulations of slavery appear to be combined and pieced together. To some it may have seemed like a natural “fit,” but to others perhaps not. The abolitionists thought that slavery was fundamentally un-Christian, and that abolishing the institution would help save the souls of the slave masters.

Religion and slavery were both powerful institutions in the South. Some Bible verses were used to justify slavery, while others could be used to condemn it.

Liv @claimingkin, an exceptionally generous reader, has shared with me relevant Scripture and interpretive Christian teachings. I am indebted to her references for the following concepts and passages:

On the one hand, the model of the Suffering Servant, in imitation of Christ, could assure a slave that suffering under an unjust master was good in the sight of God. 

On the other hand, some Christian thinkers point out that “slavery in the ancient Roman Empire was closer to the modern-day employer-employee relationship, not the slavery of other eras based on kidnapping and racism, which Scripture abhors.”

The vast range of Bible verses about slavery includes this sample:

1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”

1 Timothy 6:1-2: Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.”

Ephesians 6:9: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

Colossians 4:1: “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”

Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The historical document of this church allows us to glimpse the daily lives and behavior of our ancestors, both black and white. It lets us make better-informed guesses about their inner lives—their minds and hearts.

What are your own thoughts and interpretations? What does this document suggest to you about how our black and white ancestors viewed themselves, each other, their religion, and their customs?

(Thought questions. No such thing as a wrong answer.)

 

The Church Was Black and White. Your Thoughts?

Here is the Church,
Here is the steeple.
Open the doors
And see all the people.
–Old childhood rhyme

Fraser

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

Not long ago, one of my second cousins—I’ll call him Fred—located me through this blog. Fred was new to me—a twice-removed relative of my maternal grandmother (née Fraser), but with another surname.

Another unknown South Carolina relative had handed Fred my family memoir. Copies of my book are being passed around down there in the South, from one unknown relative to another. Several new cousins have written to me. No one has complained. Yet.

When Fred read my book, he decided to send me all the Fraser material passed down to him by his great-grandmother. Fred wanted me to verify or correct the details and then prep this material to be archived, maybe by the South Carolina Historical Society.

Fred didn’t have to ask me twice. He was offering a ton of material, a treasure trove. More for the family tree!

Fred’s stash gave me the first clues for discovering those once-famous planters / slaveholders / ancestors I’ve been blogging about during the last few months—such as the English immigrant from Barbados with a land grant. Or those wealthy Irish and English rice planters whose plantation houses are still open to the public for tours in South Carolina. I have more ancestors like these, to be described in later blogs.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

But right now, I want to discuss a document I found yesterday, on one of Fred’s computer discs.

This document is a nineteen-page typed history of a typical old South Carolina church I’ll call Q Church. It was delivered as a celebration address to the membership in 1909, at the church’s 100-year anniversary.

This church was Presbyterian. They had both black (slave) and white (free) members, as did my Kirven ancestors’ Black Creek Baptist Church in Darlington. They believed strongly that the church should have full oversight of moral infractions by church members.

Background: Many antebellum Southern churches acted as moral guardians of their members’ behavior. The Black Creek Baptist Church of my Kirven ancestors sent four deacons to your home if you were charged with moral infractions like dishonest business deals or fistfights. The deacons “labored with” you and perhaps gave you another chance. If you were judged past reclamation, you were thrown out of the church. My great-great-great grandfather was expelled for drunkenness, and my great-grandfather for an unproven charge of bastardy.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

The author of this 100-year anniversary celebration address laments the recent lapse of church “discipline.” He fondly recalls antebellum times, when “utmost care was exercised in the reception of members . . . cases of discipline besprinkle the pages of the records very freely.” He cites examples from the records he has studied:

The Session of Q. Church met . . . for the purpose of taking into consideration a charge brought against Daniel, the property of R.S., for lying. After taking the testimony of Old Friday and Bess, his wife, the property of T.U., it appeared that there is a small deviation from the truth, in a single word, by Daniel. . . . We have therefore resolved that Daniel stand suspended for six months from church privileges. . . .

But this exercise of discipline was by no means confined to the negroes. The very first case on record is that of one of the most prominent members, who had an affray with a neighbor, and while the Session acquitted him of blame in the matter, it took occasion to express the hope that in the future all members should avoid such altercations. 

Only two pages further on, we find a matron in the church indefinitely suspended for making a statement derogatory to another, and then denying that she had made such a statement. Later on we find four ladies brought before the Session charged with “a want of filial affection towards their father, a violation of the 5th commandment,” and were indefinitely suspended, and the decision announced to the congregation. . . .

As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .

Here are a few questions for your comments: (But comment on anything you wish.)

  • What do you suppose this document goes on to say about slavery and this church’s members who are slaves?
  • This document is full of surnames. Do you think it is more of a genealogical document or a historical document? Or is there no distinction between the two?
  • In general, what do you think of this tradition of church discipline? Do you believe it is no longer practiced, or does it linger even today?

A "manse" was a house for a full-time preacher. Photo credit Mariann Regan

 

Sepia Saturday 2: Answers to Photo Quiz for “Boys with Bows.” With added photos.

Hi! This is Saturday’s blog from 2/16, with the answers added after each round of questions. ENJOY!

To help distract us from the “February frazzles,” I thought a photo quiz might be fun.

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are three of my uncles. They are brothers. From left to right they are William Coit Kirven, McDonald Fraser “Donnie” Kirven, and Joseph Marion Kirven. The photo was taken about 1910 in is Sumter, South Carolina.

  1. Can you identify the kind of outfit each of the two younger boys is wearing?
  2. Why do these two have bows in their hair?
  3. What object are they both holding?
  4.  Look at the three expressions. Which boy do you think grew up to be Chief of Police in Sumter?
Question 1: I considered “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” which was a running joke in my family, but those images typically showed a white and lacy collar. I looked up “sailor suits,” prompted by Coit’s clothes, but most images didn’t quite fit, especially for Marion’s collar. Yet among the images I also found turn-of-the-century Victorian clothing for boys, with dark collars that were not always flared like a sailor’s. The search engine delivered to me the following image among others from a “sailor suit” search — a vintage photo of a Victorian boy, descending the stairs, whip in hand, with a collar somewhere between Coit’s and Marion’s collar styles. The person who answered “sailor suit” in the comments, though, is essentially right. So Kudos to Mary–who probably noticed that both boys’ ties are also sailor-style.
Question 2: My best guess: They both have bows because they both still have curls. Bows accompany curls — though dark bows, to match the suits. They haven’t gotten their “boy” haircuts yet. This custom still lingers in some families, where the first trip to the barber’s is a rite of initiation into boyhood. The toddler curls are left on the floor of the barbershop.
Question 3:  This one stumps me. I can’t see what is within the circle of white ribbon, and even if I could, would I know what it was? Maybe Maureen Taylor’s book will tell me. Thanks for the suggestion, Cheri!
Question 4:  In my opinion, Coit wears the most unflappable expression. But one person guessed “Donnie,” which also makes sense–good guess, Nigel. (In my own larger version of the photo, Donnie’s expression does look a good bit softer.) Coit became Chief of Police in Sumter, soon after his daring solo exploit at the Claremont Hotel in 1934, when he alone foiled two escaping robbers in the middle of the night. There was a shoot-out, two against one. Coit killed one robber, and suffered in return only a hole in his hat. The whole story is in my book. Here is what Coit looked like then:

From The Item, September 20, 2009

Now, the next photo:

(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here is one of the three boys, years earlier.

  1. Which one is he?
  2. Why is he dressed like a girl?
Question 1: This is Marion. Just look at his eyes, here and in the first photo. I thought this would be the easiest question, but no one guessed it.
Question 2: Infants of both sexes–this is 100 years ago–were often dressed for photos in long, sometimes lacy clothing. I don’t always see a bow on boys, even in those photos. But this face just calls for a bow. A girl-boy face, I suppose, and that’s why i used it on the cover of my book as an icon of “The Baby” who always needs saving.
(c) Mariann S. Regan

Here are two of the three boys, years after the 1910 photograph.

  1. Which two are they?
  2. Why is one sitting and the other standing?
Question 1: This is Coit and Marion. Again, look at Marion’s eyes. Notice the “turn of the century” long socks, as in the picture above of the Victorian boy. One person commenting thought it might be a “memorial photo,” and I can see that Marion does look somewhat “stiff.” As the youngest boy, he was usually on guard. In adulthood, though, he developed an irresistible sense of humor that endeared him to everyone.
Question 2: Marion was unusually short, as a man. One (fairly tall) relative tells me, “You could stick a broom handle straight out from your shoulder, and Marion would walk right under it. He was hilarious.” In my opinion, Coit is sitting down to hide his relative height–the photographer doesn’t want him to tower over Marion.

Thanks for playing, everyone!