Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Weeping Time


With grateful acknowledgements to the author, Professor Kwesi deGraft-Hanson

‘The Weeping Time’: The story of the largest slave auction and a descendant’s homecoming journey


 
In this column, members of Georgia Humanities and their colleagues take turns discussing Georgia’s history and culture, and other topics that matter. Through different voices, we hear different stories.
This week guest contributor Kwesi J. DeGraft-Hanson, a landscape architect in Atlanta, unearths the place and the people of the nation’s largest slave auction.
By Kwesi J. DeGraft-Hanson
Kwesi DeGraft-HansonTo recoup losses suffered in gambling and stock market speculation, Pierce Mease Butlerauctioned off 429 enslaved persons in Savannah on March 2 and 3, 1859. It was the single largest slave auction in recorded U.S. history.
Butler and his brother’s widow, Gabriella Butler, owned a rice plantation on Butler Island, near Darien, and a nearby cotton plantation, which were worked by 919 enslaved persons. In February 1859 he had the 919 enslaved persons appraised, and their value was placed at around $500,000.
Detail of Platen map (1872) of Savannah, showing location of Ten Broeck Race Course, upper right. Image: Georgia Historical Society
Detail of Platen map (1872) of Savannah, showing location of Ten Broeck Race Course, upper right. Image: Georgia Historical Society
Butler’s agents surreptitiously transported 429 of these persons to Savannah via rail or steam packet, and then sent them to the recently reconstituted Ten Broeck Race Course, named for one of America’s more famous racehorse owners at the time, Richard Ten Broeck of Metairie, Louisiana. The track was located west of downtown Savannah, on a site currently occupied by an elementary school and a plywood factory. In the week before the sale, buyers inspected the enslaved in the horse stalls where they were quartered at the racetrack. On the sale days, the enslaved were brought to a room underneath the grandstand and auctioned off.
One eyewitness to the event, newspaper reporter Mortimer Thomson (alias “Doesticks”) of the New York Tribune, recorded the details in an article titled“Great Auction Sale of Slaves at Savannah, Georgia.”
Rain fell torrentially during the two days of the auction, letting up only after the last person had been sold. The enslaved surmised that God was weeping during the sale. According to Thomson, all the enslaved grieved, but “none wept.” The 429 men, women, and children put up for sale were dispersed throughout the South. The sale had been advertised not only in Georgia’s cities but also in Charleston, Mobile, Memphis, Vicksburg, Richmond, and New Orleans.
Butler slave sale ad for Tuesday, February 8, 1859, by slave broker Joseph Bryan, Savannah Republican newspaper, page 2, Column D.
Butler slave sale ad for Tuesday, February 8, 1859, by slave broker Joseph Bryan, Savannah Republican newspaper, page 2, Column D.
Families were “torn asunder.” Children were sold alongside parents, but single young adults and the elderly were auctioned separately. Butler, present at the sale, occasionally shook hands with some of the enslaved and gave each person sold a dollar. He netted $303,580 at the end of the sale (the equivalent of more than $10 million today). Slave broker Joseph Bryan popped champagne bottles and, with auctioneer Thomas Walsh and Pierce Butler, invited the new slave owners to a toast. Subsequently, wagons and ships laden with former Butler enslaved persons departed Savannah in myriad directions.
The Ten Broeck Race Course disappeared long ago, and its location is not well known today. I wanted to rediscover the place. No Savannah maps dating to the 1730s showed a race course, but a keyword search for Ten Broeck turned up a news article about the inaugural race at the course on January 7, 1859. The president of the Savannah Jockey Club, which raced at the track, was Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar. He advocated reopening the African slave trade and was part-owner of the Wanderer, the last slave ship to bring enslaved Africans to Georgia, in November 1858 — violating the 1808 federal law that had ended the slave trade.
Savannah Jockey Club members at Ten Broeck Race Course, circa 1890s. Photo: Georgia Historical Society
Savannah Jockey Club members, circa 1890s, at Ten Broeck Race Course, site of the largest slave auction in U.S. history. Photo: Georgia Historical Society
At the Georgia Historical Society (GHS), in Savannah, an 1872 map by Charles Platen indicates a race course west of Savannah, corroborating Mortimer Thomson’s account that the race course was three miles west of the city. The GHS also owns a plat showing the boundaries of the former Ten Broeck property. Subsequent comparison of other maps confirms that the Ten Broeck Race Course was located in a way that placed the former grandstand where the Bradley Plywood Corporation’s office building stands today.
In 2011 the Savannah chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority invited me to speak at Savannah’s Beach Institute about the Weeping Time. Anticipating a question about where the enslaved persons ended up, I began a search that took me to a website listing some of the Butler enslaved persons who had been sold. The author of the site was Annette Holmes.
Holmes, of California, is a direct descendant of John and Betsey, a couple sold at the Weeping Time. She discovered this poignant and important heritage inadvertently. In 2004, watching a PBS documentary,Africans in America, she heard of the Weeping Time slave sale. The story caught her attention because the maiden name of her maternal grandmother, Henrietta Cox, was Butler, and she was originally from Louisiana.
Annette Holmes and her extended family. Photo: Annette Holmes
Annette Holmes (2nd row, center) and her extended family. Photo: Annette Holmes
Using the website Ancestry.com, Holmes found the 1910 U.S. census, where her grandmother Henrietta was listed as an eight-year-old girl in her parents’ Louisiana household. Her father was listed as James (Jim) Butler, and her mother as Hannah Butler. Searching the 1880 and 1870 censuses, Holmes found her great-grandfather James (Jim) Butler listed as a young lad in his parents’ household, in Red River Parish, Louisiana. His parents were listed as John and Betty [sic] Butler, who the census revealed had been born in Georgia, as were their two oldest offspring, Kate and Violet — born in 1853 and 1858, respectively. The remaining children of John and Betsey were all Louisiana-born, the first arriving in 1861. Holmes realized that the family had moved from Georgia to Louisiana between 1858 and 1861 — and had likely been sold at the Weeping Time.
Holmes located Mortimer Thomson’s 1859 New York Tribune article. Thomson saved a copy of the sale catalogue, featuring names, ages, and descriptions of the enslaved persons initially proffered for sale, including Holmes’s great-great-grandparents, John and Betsey, along with their two daughters Kate and Violet. By incredible good fortune, Holmes was able to find her ancestors. In Holmes’s words:
Some of the slaves were listed along with their chattel number, what kind of work they did on the plantation, and for how much they were sold. After scouring the pages [of the catalogue], lo and behold! On page 11, there was a listing for:
#99 Kate’s John, 30, rice, prime man
#100 Betsey, 29, rice, unsound
#101 Kate, 6
#102 Violet, 3 mos.
Sold for $510.00 each.
Since 2011, I have invited Annette Holmes to visit Georgia, so that she could visit her ancestral land, and we could give lectures on our research. So far, despite the generosity of a number of individuals and institutions, sufficient resources have not been found to make it possible for her family to join her on this journey. But I remain hopeful that soon they will be able to experience a homecoming, more than 156 years since the Weeping Time.
Kwesi J. DeGraft-Hanson, Ph.D. (Emory University), is a landscape architect in Atlanta who also specializes in reclaiming and preserving the sites of historic landmarks and landscapes like the Ten Broeck Race Course.
Kelly Caudle of Georgia Humanities provides editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” colum

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Good day


We have another mini-holiday coming up, two days in Richmond, a very kind present from Kina, Victoria and Lyulph. Today has been the nicest day so far this summer, glorious sunshine all day, temperature at 19.00 still 25C. Tomorrow and Monday will be a bit cooler with possible thunderstorms and on Tuesday we come home, to welcome Daniel, a former research assistant, who has a day in London on his way from Kazakhstan to Washington,

Photos 11.00 this morning: my office, bedroom window.






Saturday, August 15, 2015

Monday/Tuesday


We had a mini-holiday on Monday and Tuesday, staying overnight at Shelley's in Lewes where we attended Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail. Tim Ashley , The Guardian June 14, 2015 said it was

‘Mesmerising, sensitive, at times troublingly erotic, the whole thing forces us to rethink a remarkable work. Outstanding.’


We also thought it was a uniformly superb performance. Had a very brief chat with our friend Chi-chi Nwanoku who plays the double bass in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the end'

Then on Tuesday our Eritrean friend Mebrak who lives in Lewes picked us up and took us to Anne of Cleves' house - she didn't live there, it was let to much humbler mortals - and then on a tour of the Sussex Downs, the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. 

The journey was enlivened by an animated conversation about the recent Amnesty International report on human rights in Eritrea. We all agreed that there were major grounds for criticism, but that Eritrea hadn't been given credit for its achievements in economic, social and cultural rights. Nor had the author of the report considered the huge burden placed on Eritrea by Ethiopia's refusal to accept the award of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, chaired by the British Judge Sir Eli Lauterpacht, though both parties had agreed in advance to accept it. That refusal, and Ethiopia's occupation of a huge swathe of Eritrean territory, had forced Eritrea counter the threat of aggression by conscripting school leavers and keeping them in the forces indefinitely.The government had now decided, however, to limit compulsory military service to two years, eliminating one source of legitimate criticism by the UN and international human rights agencies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bahrain press conference summary from BIRD


EVENT SUMMARY

On Wednesday, 12 August 2015, there was a Press Conference at the House of Lords discussing political relations between the UK and Bahrain. Chaired by Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary HR Group, speakers included the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) Media Coordinator, Andrew Smith; the Stop The War Coalition National Officer, Stephen Bell; and former Bahraini MP Jawad Fairooz.

Lord Avebury began the event by giving an overview about the recent political events in Bahrain, to begin the discussion as to whether the Kingdom is moving in the right direction. Notably, he pointed towards the government of Bahrain’s recent decision to close al-Wasat; the only independent newspaper in the country. Describing it as “another nail in the coffin of freedom of speech” as part of the “relentless campaign to silent voices of dissent”, he called upon the UK government to “condemn the decision and demand its reinstatement.” Similarly, he drew attention to the recent decision to imprison Ebrahim Sharif, Considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, he is detained on deliberately vaguely termed charges of “inciting hatred”. The cancellation of the visit to Bahrain by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was additionally given as an example in which the country is stifling free speech, in being unwilling to allow any independent investigation to expose its systematic use of torture and human rights abuses. Lord Avebury also brought up the recent positive decision in the case of Isa al-Ali, who was recently granted asylum in Britain, having fled Bahrain after being tortured by the authorities for partaking in peaceful protests. Lord Avebury thus concluded that rather than “moving in the right direction”, Bahrain was “never stable or reformist” in its continued attack against freedom of expression., and was most definitely travelling in the Wrong Direction.

Andrew Smith from CAAT then drew upon the extent of UK arms sales to Bahrain to evidence the British complicity and support in the country’s human rights abuses. Crucially, UK’s eurofighter jet sales to Bahrain and the £15 million naval base further solidifies their relations with the repressive regime. With Saudi Arabia being the UK’s biggest buyer of arms, they are providing the means in which Saudi Arabia is able to exert its influence across the Gulf through brutally suppressing any opposition, as currently seen in the humanitarian crisis of Yemen. Andrew Smith went on to say that the UK must make a choice: “either we are on the side of those who want democracy, or those who don’t”, and the UK government has unfortunately chosen to make alliances with the latter. In doing so there is an innate contradiction in their supposed support for human rights.

The construction of the new naval base in Mina Salmon port was also discussed at length by Stephen Bell. Whilst the British Empire may no longer be in existence, it is the continued imperial interests of the UK that are the principal driving force behind the construction of the naval base. Yet the concerns such as ISIS, the Syrian Civil War and a nuclear Iran cited by the UK government are redundant in justifying British military presence in the Gulf, as not only has the West now reached a historic nuclear deal with Iran, but their most effective military base in terms of logistics is that located in Cyprus. Instead, Defence Minister Michael Fallon has outlined how Britain is keen to exert greater influence in the gulf region as the United States shifts its focus towards Asia Pacific. Overall, the UK seeks to “continue the role of British foreign policy as a subcontractor to the US”; a position which has resulted in us increasing defence spending to 2% of GDP whilst other departments face significant budget cuts.

Jawad Fairooz also called for the need for meaningful reform in Bahrain and an in-depth investigation into the human rights abuses perpetrated by the government. By providing an overview of UK relations in the kingdom, he outlined the extent to which Britain has remained involved in supporting the al-Khalifa family. Rather than being complicit in the crackdown on dissent, the UK government should pressure the kingdom to ensure that the British standards of freedom of speech and human rights are enjoyed by all citizens of Bahrain.


The Q&A session principally concerned itself around the question of how British foreign policy should change to ensure meaningful change is realised in Bahrain. Notable suggestions included engaging with trade unions in Bahrain who are pushing for the realisation of their rights, as well as the need to inform the UK public to a greater extent about what is happening in the country. Furthermore, pushing for an independent UN investigation into torture in Bahrain was seen to have the potential to put important pressure on the Kingdom, whether or not the investigation would be refused or not. By joining together with activists and civil society, greater influence can be exerted to ensure that the government of the UK and Bahrain stop continuing down the Wrong Direction.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Statement by Lord Avebury, vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, on the closure of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat

A huge step back was taken by the government of Bahrain last week when it suspended the country's only opposition media outlet, the newspaper al Wasat.

According to the Govenment's statement published on the state-controlled news agency website, the suspension was occasioned by the newspaper's

"violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries". 

Mansoor Al-Jamri, the editor-in-chief of al-Wasat, is an internationally known journalist and in 2011 he was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award.

The Foreign Office says that

"our aim is to help Bahrain to return to a stable and reformist state with a good human rights record, while protecting our significant defence and security interests and enhancing our bilateral relationship".

This 'temporary closure' by the Orwellian 'Information Affairs Authority' is another nail in the coffin of freedom of expression in Bahrain, coming on top of a relentless campaign by the absolutist al-Khalifa dynasty to silence the voices of dissent. 

The Government must now recognise that Bahrain was never stable and reformist, nor did it ever have a good human rights record. In 2011 the Bahrain International Commission of Inquiry identified a host of violations covering torture, arbitrary detention, denial of the rights to freedom of assembly and of expression, yet the UK pretends that we are implementing Bahrain's invisible "human rights and political reform programme" through the provision of technical assistance, training, and best practice sharing.   

This policy has manifestly failed, and there should be an assessment of its outcomes with a view to its cancellation. In the meanwhile the Government should condemn the closure of al Wasat and call for its immediate restoration as the European Union did last week.

Ends