Thursday, January 18, 2018

Slave owners in the family tree

 My mother, Judith Anson Robinson, did much of the family interviewing, letter writing, ordering of books and microfilms from genealogy libraries, and traveling to midwestern and northeastern states to learn our family's heritage back to the first colonists to America. Together, when I was a  teenager, we discovered the gateway families that led back to some very famous medieval names. Mom kept up her hobby after I went off to university, and when we got a 1984 Macintosh computer and put the mini-floppy discs into the hard drive, she filled up her copy of Personal Ancestral File version one. She had to call the PAF programmers in Salt Lake City and tell them they needed to build a bigger mousetrap. After my mother passed away, I continued to research some of the more obscure names or previous dead ends, which is much more fascinating to study than famous royal or aristocratic types.

One of the things that would have broken my mother's heart is that despite most of our family coming from Yankee New England (where some Puritan colonists traded in Native American and African slaves), or being Quaker abolitionists, there were a few slave owners hiding up in our family branches, on her side and my father's. They bought human beings at a market, and kept them captive to labor on their lands, sometimes in worse living conditions than the domestic animals were treated.

In my research on my father's side of the family (Robinson in New England and later Indiana and Iowa; and Carter in Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana), I found a Mary Brent who married James Carter in the early 18th century. In Ancestry.com, someone tagged a photo to Mary Brent's father, Hugh Brent, and this is it--a deed of two slaves from father to daughter. Mary was only 13 years old at this time. Her father died six years later.

With the help of my friend Jo Ann Butler, author of three books on 17th-century Rhode Island, I transcribed the document.

Know all men by these Presents that I Hugh Brent of ye

p’ish [parish] of Christ Church in ye County of Lancaster aforesd Psnt [Present] for and in

Consideration of the natural love & affection which I have and bear

Unto Mary Brent my Daughter Have Given and Granted And by

these presents doe for my selfe my heires Extor [Executor] and admnstr give

and grant unto the aforesd Mary Brent one Certaine mul-

latoe slave named and commonly known by the name of Jack

and one Certaine negroe slave named and commonly known

by the name of Mingoe To have and to hold the aforesaid

Negroe and mulatoe slaves unto the aforesaid Mary Brent

And the heirs of her body Lawfully begotten and if she dyes with

out such issue that if ye aforesaid negroe and mulatoe slaves shall

be and remaine unto to my son Charles Brent and his heirs for ever.

In witness whereof I have hereunto putt my hand and Seale ye this

12th  day of September anno Dom 1710

Hugh Brent    The seale

Signed sealed & deliverd

In presence of

John Turberville

Wm Dare

Recognized in Cur [Court?] County Lancaster [Virginia] 11 day October

Anno Dom 1710 & Recorded  Rob Taylor
Human beings with only one name, doomed to a lifetime of forced labor. And if they had children, the children belonged to the masters and could be sold away or kept, but they, too, were slaves for life. Forever.

Mingoe, a "certain black," meaning that he certainly wasn't of mixed race, had no parents or children recorded. Perhaps Jack, the "certain mulatto," was the son of Hugh Brent, or Hugh's father? We'll never know because slaves' genealogies were not recorded.

Encyclopedia Virginia says that
'Salvation came to the colony in the form of smoking tobacco, or what King James I called a "vile and stinking custom," when John Rolfe cultivated a variety of tobacco that sold well in England. In 1619, a General Assembly convened, bringing limited self-government to America. That same year brought the first slaves to Virginia. For most of the 1600s, white indentured servants worked the colony's tobacco fields, but by 1705 the Virginia colony had become a slave society. Nearly all power was in the hands of white male landowners, who ran the government and, by law, belonged to the Church of England. Women who married and worked at home were considered "good wives"; those who refused such "proper" roles were considered troublesome.'
This Hugh Brent, 1660-1716, my seventh great-grandfather, was born to parents who emigrated from Kent, England, in 1642. They received lands at the mouth of the Rappahannock River in Virginia, at present-day Weems. Hugh was 11 when his father died, and 14 when his mother passed. He was still a teenager when he married Katherine Swann and started his family.

Hugh's youngest child, Mary Brent, the girl in the document, married at age 27 to James Carter, another tobacco planter with slaves. When James died in 1743, he left a will naming slaves he was giving to his wife and adult children.

Item I give my son HUGH two negroes Mingo & Sharlott. [This is 32 years after Mary Brent Carter was given a man named Mingoe. Could this be the same man?]
Item I give my Son CHARLES [my ancestor] and his heirs two negroes Sue and Winny and their increase.
Item I give to my Daughter Ann and her heirs two negroes great Dick and Hannah with her increase.
Item I give to my daughter CATHERINE and her heirs two negroes Robin and Dinah with her increase.
Item what negroes I die possessed of not yet willed or bequeathed I leave to my dear and loving wife MARY during her widowhood only and after her marrying again or decease to be equally divided among my surviving children.
Item my personal estate I leave to he equally divided among my wife and children or the survivors of them.
Another ancestor, Capt. Thomas Carter, owned numerous plantations, which would have been "staffed" by probably hundreds of slaves. When he died in 1700, he left his wife, Catherine Dale Carter, a "negro named Dick," the home plantation, and a third of his personal property.

In sorrowful memory of Jack and Mingoe, Dick, Sharlott, Sue, Winny, Hannah, Robin, and Dinah, and hundreds more African slaves of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the families they were torn from. 

I hope to call you family when we meet in heaven someday.

Christy K Robinson is author of this website and these books. Click the book titles to find them in paperback and Kindle.

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

1 comment:

  1. That is heartbreaking! We don't want to know what bad things our ancestors have done. We'd rather be wiped clean of those old sins. But like you so eloquently say, may Heaven make us all truly family. When I think of the painful lives of those poor people sold as slaves, the only consolation I have is that they are now in Heaven and will never hurt again. I'm obviously not the one who makes the judgement call, but I also think of the slave owners and sellers as having gone in the other direction when they met their Maker! When we're faced with human rights, civil rights, and other basic moral issues, may we choose better than our ancestors did! And may God had mercy upon us all.


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