alabama · slavery

Book makes Alabama Heritage magazine

IMG_8605.JPGMy husband walked into the house today with a heavy box from the University of Alabama Press.

What was inside?

Several copies of the Fall 2017 issue of Alabama Heritage magazine. Among the stories is an article I wrote. The article concerns the historical actors in Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America (Northern Illinois University Press, 2015), a book about white men’s emotional and financial investments in an unlikely group: enslaved women and children.

The beautiful illustrations the magazine selected put on display our messy shared past. Among them are illustrations of nineteenth century politicians like New York Senator William Seward, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas and Alabama Senator Clement Claiborne Clay. All of these men were consulted about the best place to relocate the children from one Huntsville , Alabama,  who were freed by their masters.FullSizeRender.jpg

Telling of this mess – and by mess, I mean, among others things, that interracial ties, coerced or not, were as difficult to discuss then as it is now  –  is a copy of an 1861 letter from Elizabeth Townsend. She was one of several children freed on the eve of the Civil War. Her deceased father Edmund Townsend had been a white Huntsville planter. Her mother was a free black woman. In 1861, just a few weeks after the Civil War began, Townsend wrote her brother from Xenia, OH. There, she attended Wilberforce with her cousins and sibling, all newly freed, too. Septimus Cabaniss, a Huntsville lawyer and later, a Confederate politician, oversaw the settlement of a $200,000 estate, worth $5.1 million in today’s currency, that would be distributed to Townsend and her freed kin. Their case is extreme, but likely not as unusual as one might think.

I’ve addressed this research several times on this blog and at various talks. Just wanted to share again. I am especially grateful to share this work with readers beyond academic circles. The women and girls in the Townsend family also appear in an essay in a newly released edited collection published by the University of Georgia Press.

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Elizabeth Townsend’s 1861 letter. A student at Wilberforce, then a boarding school, she was freed on the eve of the Civil War.
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William Bolden Townsend, journalist, educator, and lawyer, descended from a white planter in Huntsville, Alabama.
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William Seward, Clement Claiborne Clay and Stephen Douglas, antebellum statemen consulted about where to settle freedchildren in one Huntsville family.
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12 thoughts on “Book makes Alabama Heritage magazine

    1. Thanks for your support!!!! Yup, ten plus years. I can still remember the day I fell off my chair in a library upon discovering I was reading a letter written by a newly freed woman to her former master, saying among other things, she needed money for fuel and household “articles.” Sitting in a folder with letters to him from his business partners (i.e. fellow domestic slave traders). Hard to write. Hard to read. So happy to share it.

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      1. Indeed! And to find nine letters in all from people who were clearly not men and not white just sitting in a file…we are fortunate to look over these women’s shoulders to find meaning in their experiences. What courage they had.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes! Who’d think to look for these gems? I can’t imagine… but the joy of stumbling on it has to feel amazing! I need to return to the Library of Virginia for more research and I can’t wait. They need to set up a bed for me in there. I never like to leave! LOL

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      3. We have to fight for it, just as we do to write!! 😀 Keep up the great work. I’ll let you know when I get a copy. Very anxious to learn more!

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