When and Where did our Extended Family Encounter Slavery?

The Georgia census records for 1870 indicate that Eliza Hope Dane Cartwright was living on the farm near Carrollton, GA, with her children and a “servant” named. . . .  The circumstances of Reconstruction are difficult to imagine.

In my mind, I am tempted to imagine this situation as being like that of the character played by Sally Fields in the movie “Places in the Heart,” which takes place in Texas in the 1930s.  The character named “Mose” (played by Danny Glover) offers to work for room and board.  This African-American field hand plays a critical role in the white family’s efforts to harvest the cotton rapidly in order to win the prize for bringing the first bale of cotton to the gin, which will yield enough money for Sally Fields’ character to be able to pay off the debt on her farm.  In the concluding scene of the movie, Mose appears along with the various white characters as they all share in the Lord’s supper — an image of reconciliation for which the movie has been both praised and criticized.

In the case of Eliza and the black servant in Georgia in 1870, there is not much that we can say about the situation. The records from 1860 do not indicate that slaves were living with the Cartwright family, but that does not mean that the Cartwrights were necessarily uninvolved in the institution of slavery. However hard Eliza and her children may have worked with the black servant, it appears that they were not able to succeed with their efforts in farming the land from 1859 (when Eliza’s husband Joseph died) until 1871 when they left Georgia to travel to Arkansas to pursue a homestead claim under the 1862 Homestead Act.

My brother Paul has discovered some McDaniel family records from Kentucky that make it clear that Francis McDaniel owned slaves. Francis’s son Enos is one of those who are listed as contesting provisions of their father’s will (February 1829) pertaining to the manumission of slaves.

According to the records of Harrison County, Kentucky, in the late 1820s, a lawsuit is brought by a group of three plaintiffs, “Jane, Joseph and Alice, persons of color, vs. the heirs of Francis McDaniel.”

The summary Paul found notes that “the purported will of Francis McDaniel, dated 17 July 1826, and which has been rejected by the court, emancipated the above named 3 slaves. Frances McDaniel was about 60 years of age when the will was acknowledged; he died in the winter of 1829. He was stricken with a paralytic stroke above four years before his death. On 16 July 1826, one of his daughters was married against his will. William Tucker was a near NEIGHBOR and a Methodist minister. he (McDaniel) requested that Samuel Tucker write the will. He (McDaniel) stated that he had made advancements to some of his children which were recorded in a memorandum book, but that the believed one of his sons had taken the book. He expressed his wish to manumit 3 of his slaves. . . .” (Harrison County, Kentucky, Book E, 1828-1835, p. 15)

A subsequent document (dates Dec. 1829) indicates that some of his sons were summoned and they agreed to this manumission. “His wife had requested on her deathbed that at his death, the female slave (the mother of the other two) should be liberated.” (Book E, see also E:124,)

Records from 1835 indicated that Enos McDaniel is the executor of the 1829 will and provides a list of those persons who have received portions of the estate, but it does not mention the three former slaves. (p. 57)

All we know are the first names: Jane, Joseph, and Alice. It would be interesting to know whether these three former slaves took on names like “Washington” or whether they chose last names that indicated their affiliation with the McDaniel family . . . Or, were these beneficiaries of the will also heirs in the biological sense in the same way that the provisions of Thomas Jefferson’s will referred to manumission of slaves who happened also be his biological children by the slave Sally Hemmings.

Notice also the role played by the Methodist preacher, Samuel Tucker in this incident, who is charged to draw up the will pertaining to the release of the slaves. This is another instance where the intersection of religion and race indicates that religious faith was deeply entangled in the oppression of African-Americans for good and ill.

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About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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