It be filled with my LOVE always
December 27, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

"One of the most enigmatic objects on display in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is "Ashley's Sack." On loan from South Carolina's Middleton Place, this unbleached cotton sack features an embroidered text recounting the slave sale of a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and the gift of the sack by her mother. Until now, Ashley's identity has been unknown. New research by Mark Auslander traces Ashley's Sack from the initial gift during the era of slavery to the present."
posted by roomthreeseventeen (43 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
The most heart-breaking line in that story is the transcription that reads: “Slave Jack 800, slave Rose 700, slave David 800, old woman 100”

No name, just "old woman."
posted by pwinn at 12:18 PM on December 27, 2016 [16 favorites]


"Some volunteer guides complained that the sack, and the powerful reactions it engendered, distracted from the core mission of the tour: to highlight the wealth, political leadership, and cosmopolitanism of the white Middletons."

JFC. That line makes me so damn angry.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 12:22 PM on December 27, 2016 [81 favorites]


I have seen this branch of the Smithsonian referred to as the Blacksonian. Is that an ok way of referring to it, a handy but loving name, or is it now taken as in poor taste?
posted by Postroad at 12:26 PM on December 27, 2016


This is a great piece! I'm not sure I agree with his contention that a girl of 6 would not have been able to embroider this, though (reason for ruling out some others of the 18 possibles) but the other pieces of data seem to line up, so it makes sense that he's found the right one!
posted by corb at 12:30 PM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Is that an ok way of referring to it, a handy but loving name, or is it now taken as in poor taste?

I've never heard this before (so there may be context I don't know); but I'd put it pretty strongly in the 'bad taste' column.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:31 PM on December 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


Is that an ok way of referring to it, a handy but loving name, or is it now taken as in poor taste?

If you have to ask, you already know the answer.
posted by Etrigan at 12:45 PM on December 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree with his contention that a girl of 6 would not have been able to embroider this

A girl of 6 could be technically capable of doing this handwork, but would probably not have the impetus to record this information without an adult, so either way it would probably be the work of adult agency.
posted by Miko at 12:47 PM on December 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is that an ok way of referring to it, a handy but loving name, or is it now taken as in poor taste?

Contextual, as is everything. I know a lot of people who call it that; most of them are black and are using it lovingly. I'm not black. I'll personally stick with the NMAAHC. That is a mouthful, though, so it was ripe for nicknaming. You'll have to make the decision for yourself as to what is most appropriate for you, and what you can say without a hint of derision or irony. No rulebook available, just thought and sensitivity.
posted by Miko at 12:50 PM on December 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


If you have to ask if you should be calling it Blacksonian, then you shouldn't call it that. That doesn't mean it's in bad taste for black people to call it that.
posted by latkes at 12:50 PM on December 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


[very much suggest people end the Blacksonian derail (filling in today for vacationing mods)]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:54 PM on December 27, 2016 [47 favorites]


No. I asked and did not know because I saw it referred to someplace that was merely saying it was a great museum but difficult to get into at this day so plan ahead and try to get tickets. There was no inference of badmouthing the place. And for sure The New York Times, using that reference, is not being nasty.
posted by Postroad at 12:58 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


And for sure The New York Times, using that reference, is not being nasty.

Wesley Morris gets to use it. Thomas Friedman doesn't get to say that his cabbie called it that so it's okay for him to.
posted by Etrigan at 1:03 PM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


The sack is one of many heartbreaking pieces in the NMAAHC, some of which have been held in private collections just waiting for an appropriate time and place for display.

Thanks for this post.
posted by allthinky at 1:12 PM on December 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


The research and sleuthing that goes into tracing people who were only allowed first names makes this all the more impressive. Even more impressive: the preserving of artifacts like these that help make this history hit home for people today who find it hard to grasp. I'm glad the museum has turned out to be a huge draw (my brother was trying to get tickets today at 6:30am).
posted by ldthomps at 1:14 PM on December 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


That line makes me so damn angry.

I've been to Middleton Place several times, and I'm quite mad about it too. It's a rice plantation, I don't care what some volunteer thinks the core mission is, the history of the place is as much about the slavery that went on there as it was about the member of the Continental Congress who once owned it.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:25 PM on December 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


The most heart-breaking line in that story is the transcription that reads: “Slave Jack 800, slave Rose 700, slave David 800, old woman 100”

No name, just "old woman."


I don't know if this is a thing outside of feminist theology (probably it's originally from the wider feminist and/or literary criticism worlds), but I've found it helpful to read sacred texts with this in mind -- who gets a name, who doesn't get named and why... My former priest said the Eucharistic Prayer with emendations:

"Lord God of our fathers and mothers, God of Abraham and Sarah, Issac and Rebekah and Jacob and Rachel and Leah", and that was helpful, too.

But for me the most heart-wrenching line is on the sack itself:

"It be filled with my love always"
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:38 PM on December 27, 2016 [20 favorites]


I've been to Middleton Place several times, and I'm quite mad about it too. It's a rice plantation, I don't care what some volunteer thinks the core mission is, the history of the place is as much about the slavery that went on there as it was about the member of the Continental Congress who once owned it.

Previous discussion, with lots of links.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:51 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


That line makes me so damn angry.

See also @AfAmHistFail [previously][working link to the referenced article in previous fpp].
posted by sparklemotion at 2:41 PM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I saw the Smithsonian AAHC museum a couple of years ago and, as a privileged white dude, can report that it was haunting and humbling. I don't remember Ashley's Sack but there was so much and we only had a few hours to explore it.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:29 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I posted this to my knitting blog's Facebook page earlier today (it's not knitting of course, but I sometimes post things from other craft mediums when I think they're too great not to share). It's gotten 286 likes and 110 shares so far. Such a powerful piece.

Rose and Ashley never saw each other again, though they would have been free to search for each other when slavery ended ten years after they were separated. There must have been so many ex-slaves who spent the rest of their lives looking for their family after emancipation without ever finding each other. There's no end to the incredible amount of pain and hardship slavery caused.
posted by orange swan at 5:07 PM on December 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


"There must have been so many ex-slaves who spent the rest of their lives looking for their family after emancipation without ever finding each other. "

I read a history of the African-American community in Peoria not that long ago while researching a neighborhood I'm interested in, and stumbled across this horrifying, horrifying letter to the editor, which I posted about once before and remain obsessed with wanting to solve. This was printed in a local newspaper (Daily Journal) in 1881. The kidnapping would have been in 1851; Illinois was a free state. (I don't know if the "typos" are original to the letter or are the fault of the newspaper typesetters.) I'm becoming more and more obsessed with finding out if anything ever came of his search:
Calvert, Texas, May 14, 1881 -- To the Mayor of Peoria, Ill: Please condescend to read this letter, and then give it to some colored minister of any church. My name is Charles Borzezar, and I was born about three miles from Peoria, Illinois, and when I was about nine or ten years old, I was stolen away from my home and brought south and sold into slavery. My father was a farmer and his name was Borzele or Borzezar, and I never spoke a work [sic] of English until I was sold into slavery. I had one sister, younger than myself, named "Maria." When I was stolen I think it was on a Saturday evening, and I had been to a horse race. My mother was named Julia, but she was dead before I was stolen. I also had once uncle named "Sharco," and his wife was named Maria. My aunt and uncle had two sons, via, [sic?] Charlie, and Henry. Mr. Mayor, please condescend to drop me a postal card, acknowledging the receipt of this letter, and give me the name and address of some colored man in Peoria, and you will very greatly benefit the oppressed.

You [sic] very humble servant,
Charlie Borzele

Send my card or letter in the car of J. B. Raynof, Calvert, Robertson county, Texas.
I believe my people spoke French. I am now thirty-nine years old.
Peoria was known for its horse races and had a notable horse track; the owner of it built a shanty town for the jockeys and workers to live in. And there were a great many French-speaking people in the area in the 1850s, it's entirely possible to have grown up speaking nothing but French. Abraham Lincoln made one of his first major speeches against slavery in Peoria in 1854. And in 1851 slave traders were stealing children from deep, deep inside a free state, 150 miles from the nearest slave state border. Almost unimaginable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:25 PM on December 27, 2016 [53 favorites]


Haunting. Thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:25 PM on December 27, 2016


I have been having this conversation for years, trying to explain that the most important thing Thomas Jefferson (and many of the other founders) ever did was pretend he had the right to own other human beings. There's almost no other mass atrocity we'd make this exception for, but for slavery it's an annoying footnote to an otherwise luminous career? No. Absolutely not.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:48 PM on December 27, 2016 [22 favorites]


Agree with 1adam12 and I've been trying to find the right words for about an hour...
posted by jbenben at 6:01 PM on December 27, 2016


The emotions in Ruth Middleton's embroidered, understated words are so palpable. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2016


Eyebrows, that wouldn't be a crazy thing for a group of Mefites to get together and try to solve! I've been doing a lot of genealogical research for my husband's family, and as I recall Illinois in particular has also put a lot of their records online recently. That is a horrible story - but with the age range involved, not impossible to get more info on - as we see by the Sack, oral history and written history may exist for this.
posted by corb at 6:50 PM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


So much of the African American History Museum was just staggering. The shackles pulled from a sunken slave ship - adult sized, child size. The rows upon rows upon rows of names of people who were lynched. The slave cabin. Emmett Till's coffin. Harriet Tubman's prayer shawl. Bits and pieces from so many people whose lives were stolen from them. I didn't see this when I was there, but I hope I'll get to go back and try to grapple with more of what there is to see and understand.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:00 PM on December 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've tried to find out any information about the people my ancestors held as slaves, but all I have to go on is their first names and the dates of death and hometowns of my ancestors. Not that their lives are really any of my business anymore, it would just be nice to know that things worked out for them after slavery became illegal in New York.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:12 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I went to Middleton Place last year at Christmastime. It's such a beautiful place - my family and I spent the whole day wandering around the grounds. I have probably a hundred or more photos of everything we saw, from alligators to rice paddies to a slave cabin and a huge garden full of what I think were peonies.

Now I'm going to RTFA and learn more about it.
posted by bendy at 8:35 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


A little more than 150 years ago it was legal to own another human being in the United States of America. Every time I'm reminded of this I'm absolutely floored. I swear to god there should be billboards reminding Americans this on every fucking corner in the country.

This history of this sack is so incredibly powerful and I can't wait to visit the AAHM next month and see it in person.
posted by photoslob at 8:35 PM on December 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


There must have been so many ex-slaves who spent the rest of their lives looking for their family after emancipation without ever finding each other.

"The "Lost Friends" column, which ran from the paper's 1877 inception well into the first decade of the twentieth century, featured messages from individuals searching for loved ones lost in slavery. This searchable database provides access to more than 1,160 advertisements that appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate between November 1879 and July 1885."

I can only read five or six at a time.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:11 PM on December 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


There's almost no other mass atrocity we'd make this exception for, but for slavery it's an annoying footnote to an otherwise luminous career?

I dunno, is that true? Don't we make exceptions for the genocide of Native Americans, among many other things? Seems like, if you're rich, white, and (sometimes) do some good things, history will turn a completely blind eye to the atrocities, as long as said atrocities mainly have POC victims.
posted by greermahoney at 9:32 PM on December 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I really just don't have the capacity to understand how slavery could have been so acceptable to so many people. I guess imagine they thought the slaves less than human, but wouldn't expressions of love like this show even the most hardened of slavers that these are indeed people with feelings. I just can't imagine the suffering these people endured, I mean I literally can't imagine it.
posted by ill3 at 10:04 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


You know, I sometimes close my eyes and i imagine myself as Rose, then as Ashley, then as Ruth. Other times I imagine Emmett Till, then his mother. If I take deep breaths, I can make it for about a minute before the grief and rage and fear suffocates. And then I open my eyes, and I realize I'm still not ready to take my daughter to the museum yet. I've done this off and on since the museum opened. I've had friends that have visited and called it transformative. And I still can't do it. I fall apart every single time I think about how I, or someone, is going to tell my daughter one day that people used to be able to own her, to hurt her, to kill her without consequence.

And so I wait. I send blessings to Ashley, to Emmett, to all of them, I thank God my daughter wasn't alive in pre 1960 America, and I support organizations and causes like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and the Smithsonian. I don't know why I'm not strong enough to be a faithful witness to their bravery and strength, but I'm not.

And as for the comment above, I don't call it the Blacksonian, because while it's a cute term, it doesn't pay respect to the wonderful African art museum or the Blacks whose achievements are on display at the air and space museum or the American history museum, etc. It's limiting.
posted by anitanita at 12:00 AM on December 28, 2016 [32 favorites]


I really just don't have the capacity to understand how slavery could have been so acceptable to so many people.

My history teacher explained it away saying that Christianity then taught that pretty much only white people had souls, so it was acceptable to treat others like animals. And then I hear Sarah Palin saying how God put coal and oil here as a blessing for Americans and I think...Yeah, I'm sure some people bought that soul bullshit, too. And then maybe everyone else went along because they benefited and couldn't see how to beat the system so they joined it. Fear. Stupidity. Complacency. A toxic cocktail of all three. *Shrug* That's all I got.

But seriously. Owning people. Somehow went along as "normal" for thousands of years, up until 150 years ago. And, of course, is still happening now all over the globe, but it's just out of fashion, so we don't talk about it much. I mean, here are in the 21st century, and there's a (small) backlash against even calling ourselves pet owners - we're their 'human companions." So it's really hard to reconcile both of those cultures existing simultaneously on the same planet. We've got people who won't eat honey because it enslaves bees and we've got people who buy and sell other people, right in the same places, even. I'd say that future generations will be perplexed by us, but I don't think we're going to have too many of those.
posted by greermahoney at 1:15 AM on December 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really just don't have the capacity to understand how slavery could have been so acceptable to so many people.
I live in the Arabian Gulf where modern day slavery still very much exists. Some justify it based on religion, others that the conditions they provide are still much better than their slaves would experience in their home countries. (Of course, they're typically called 'maids', 'domestics', 'farmhands', etc. never actually 'slaves'). It's horrifying how badly people are willing to treat those they see as less than themselves.
posted by genuinely curious at 3:34 AM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've just returned from my first trip to Louisiana (loved it, btw) - and took a tour of Whitney Plantation, which is framed from the point of view of slavery. Sobering and heartbreaking.

What surprised me was just how large and integrated the slavery "industry" was - not just in the states that used slave labour for crops like like sugar cane, rice, and cotton - but in states where slaves were "bred" (I can't tell you how f*cking sick it makes me to type that word) to be sold, states (in this case, Pennsylvania) where slave transports and cages where built, and states where insurance policies were written so you could replace slaves when they "expired".

Slavery in the US was a state sponsored machine that was designed to break the backs of an entire race of people in order to provide the cheapest possible labour. People were given names not of their choosing (or no names at all) - to make sure they knew they were property, not human. A notion that continued even when slavery ended - the slave quarters of most of these plantations remained inhabited until the 1970's!

I've always been baffled by Plantation tours that romanticize the Big House life... I mean, the only equivalent I can think of is if there were tours of the beautiful gardens and grand homes of Nazi Concentration Camps - cause, you know, free labour!

I still think that many people in the US still have not reckoned with the lasting impact slavery has had on the country. We, rightfully, build monuments to traumatic events such as Pearl Harbour - any efforts to shed a light on what it meant to be a slave should be applauded.
posted by helmutdog at 6:52 AM on December 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


One afternoon researching General Grant and the establishment of contraband camps, I stumbled along letters from Mr. Spotswood Rice to his children and to the woman who owned his daughters.

To his children he said:
Your Miss Kaitty said that I tried to steal you But I'll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood. If I had no confidence in God I could have confidence in her But as it is If I ever had any Confidence in her I have none now and never expect to have. And I want her to remember if she meets me with ten thousand soldiers she [will?] meet her enemy. I once [thought] that I had some respect for them but now my respects is worn out and have no sympathy for Slaveholders. And as for her Christianity, I expect the Devil has Such in hell. You tell her from me that She is the first Christian that I ever hard say that a man could Steal his own child especially out of human bondage.now I want you to understand that Mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remember this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the quicker youll get their. For we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up through...Glasgow and when we come to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root nor branch... I have no fears about geting Mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self.

Mr. Rice ended up living in St. Louis with his wife and daughters. His daughter Mary was interviewed for the WPA Slave Narratives and spoke about Miss Diggs and her life in slavery.

Every time live gets hard, I remember Mr. Rice and how he would not stop until he found freedom and justice. May we all be as strong.
posted by teleri025 at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


Thank you teleri025. That letter made me think of the one written by Jourdon Anderson, just after the end of the Civil War, to the man who used to own him.
posted by I have no idea at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Jourdon Anderson's letter is the best. Henry Bibb's letter to his former master is also a powerful read. I can only hope to have that much grace in the face of incredible hardship.
posted by lilac girl at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh man... I live in Charleston and my great grandmother was a (white) Martin from Charleston (born 1876, after emancipation), and reading through some of the names in the footnotes it's looking at least probable that I'm directly descended from these particular slave owners. Time for a deeper dive into my genealogy.

But what I really came here to say is that this quote and the reactions to it stirred me:
"Some volunteer guides complained that the sack, and the powerful reactions it engendered, distracted from the core mission of the tour: to highlight the wealth, political leadership, and cosmopolitanism of the white Middletons."

My initial response was that this does not surprise me one bit, especially as it refers to "the more veteran volunteer guides" (emphasis mine). Today's Charleston, on the whole, is progressive and liberal, but the state sanctioned segregation of the past is a lived experience for many citizens. The segregationist present is a whole other derail.

Thinking about it a little bit more though, I realized that this is true across the United States. Brown vs Board of Education was in 1954, so anybody over about age 70 *lived* segregation. Clicking through to the source material linked from that paragraph you read a first person account of a tour guide who heard visitors say things like "Listen, I just wanted to say that dragging all this slavery stuff up again is bringing down America." Who goes on these tours? Visitors. Visitors from everywhere. Including us 40 and 50 somethings who were raised by parents and grandparents for whom, at one point in their lives, segregation was not just de facto, but de jure.

The "veteran volunteer guides" perspective is novel to us and enrages us anew, but the quotidian racism couched in terms of engendering national pride by sweeping the past under the carpet is what truly terrifies me. Because that's what we elected.
posted by ElGuapo at 2:31 PM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


anybody over about age 70 *lived* segregation.

Segregation was outlawed by Brown but it was unevenly distributed before Brown and after Plessy. The US was a weird mix of segregation mandatory vs. segregation outlawed and some places in-between.

This does not mean that people were/are not totally ignorant about a lot of this, but the lived experience angle (and what we know about people's tendency to generalize from their own experiences) varied widely. I've been spending a lot of time on this site today and it's interesting looking at the real damage done by Plessy where the judicial system that was supposed to, nominally, help people instead really dismantled a lot of what black activism of the 19th century had worked to build up.
posted by jessamyn at 2:46 PM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


You don't have to over 70 to have been accustomed to segregation. My parents are in their sixties and both graduated from segregated high schools well after Brown. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, of which I am a graduate, were not meaningfully integrated until 1971. In the height of irony, they are now largely resegregated, as are of course public schools throughout the US. Our legacy of slavery and bigotry is not in the past, and now it rises again.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:18 PM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


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