I have a new post up at Pith, all about some of the dead folks in Bell’s Bend. I am pretty proud of the thematic coherence. I have the dead folks just found at the ramp where the ferry used to be, the folks who first put in the ferry, and the folks who worked it.
So, I thought, since I’m paying for this geneology.com membership and since I’ve about learned all there is to know about my dead people, why not put Dr. Jack through their search engines and see what they come up with.
As you will be unsurprised to learn, it was nothing.
But I had the good Doctor’s owner’s name, so I typed that in–William H. Macon–and I learned three things 1. Even though you can find slave census records from Tennessee on geneology.com, they are not exactly helpful, because they don’t list names, just age and sex; 2. William H. Macon was approximately the same age as Jack Macon; and 3. William’s father and one of William’s sons were both named John.
Let us briefly review the facts of Jack Macon’s life–allowed to wander freely around the state unaccompanied; practicing medicine, after the Nat Turner revolt, once slaves practicing medicine was outlawed, his white patients petitioned for him to be allowed to continue practicing; and he was eventually freed and opened a little shop on Front Street.
I don’t think you have to be a historian to wonder what I wonder–was Jack William’s brother?
I keep thinking, too, about the fact that you could have a slave census in which slave names weren’t listed. And, yes, it’s easy to see it as evidence that the whole society didn’t care about them as beings and as a further way to strip them of their humanity. But I also think this is yet another way in which the reality of slavery being something families did to themselves is masked so that white people never have to directly confront it. You could name your son after you and yet count on the state to help you to keep that relationship legally non-existant.
You probably don’t have to go much further than Ida B. Wells-Barnett to see someone articulate that white anxiety about black rapists is a distorted mirror of reality in which black women have been prime targets for white rapists. And I wonder if this anxiety we have as a society about the distruction of the black family doesn’t have to do with the long shadow of how our whole society was set up to thrive on the ongoing creation of family members who were then systematically stripped of their family relations and protections and sold to benefit the head of the household.
I don’t know how long it takes to get over a fucked-up family that fucked up, but it seems like it might be a long, long time.