Strangenesses

1. I lost my voice. I was in the middle of a sentence and it just stopped working. No pain or anything. Just there was noise and then there wasn’t. It’s back now but it’s all weirdly squeaky. Again, no pain or anything. Just not quite right.

2. You remember my complains about the hypnotism book? Ugh. I had to stop reading it because he took a moment to address all the things I wanted him to address–He believes Mesmer was celibate and shockingly naive about the women orgasming, for instance–but then he posits that we can tell what kind of psychological issues Mesmer had by the shape of his body.

I repeat: A man who believes that one of Mesmer’s failings is that, toward the end of his life, he began to believe in paranormal phenomena, also believes we can derive insight into Mesmer’s personality through the exacting science of looking at his body shape. No, not even his body shape but the body shape artists gave him when they drew or painted him. But Mesmer’s the silly one?

Plus, it’s supposed to be a history of hypnotism, but actually it’s only a history of hypnotism in Europe.

3. Now I’m trying to read Bobby Lovett’s The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930. There’s some great stuff in there. He says that our friend, Jack Macon, was never freed, that he was working in Nashville and sending buttloads of money back to Maury County. The sentence is footnoted, but the footnote seems to be the wrong source. So, I’m not sure how he knows that. But it seems to me that it might be right.

I’m more disturbed (not at him, just in general) by his claims that Nickajack Cave (and thus the dam and lake) was originally Nigger Jack Cave. Wikipedia doesn’t really clarify. I mean I don’t know how you get from “Ani-Kusati-yi” to “Nickajack.” Help, someone.

He also claims that Sherrod Bryant’s slaves were his extended family and that there were, in fact, many black people in Nashville and the surrounding area who owned slaves, because they owned their family members (apparently, depending on the decade, it could be more or less easy to get everyone freed, so just living together owned by the one free member of the family was the best of a bad situation).

This article says that Bryant owned 21 slaves in 1850. He also had a huge family. Holy cow. Anyway, the slave census is thus:

All Slaves Owned:

Age Gender
50 Male
44 Male
25 Male
14 Male
14 Male
12 Male
8 Male
8 Male
9 Male
8 Male
7 Male
5 Male
1 Male
35 Female
30 Female
26 Female
15 Female
9 Female
5 Female
3 Female
3 Female
1 Female

His family in 1850 is thus:

Sherrod Bryant 68
Henrietta Bryant 44
Robt Bryant 23
Sarah Bryant 13
Ailsie Bryant 11
Jno Bryant 16
Zoneye Bryant 9
Laura F Bryant 7
Mary A Bryant 5
Geo M Bryant 0
Milia A Bryant 18

Now if one were me, one might indeed look at the ages of those folks and just how many children Bryant held as slaves and start to wonder if we’re not looking at a couple of his brothers, their wives, and children.

Here’s how Lovett claims Bryant came to be free. He’d been an indentured servant to a white woman in Virginia, earned his freedom, had a kid with her, came to Nashville, and had a huge family with a different woman and owned a bunch of people. In Nashville. According to Lovett, the white woman and her kid move to Murfreesboro and it’s Henderson Bryant, the son of Sherrod and this white woman, who founds Bryant’s Grove.

This is obviously much different than Fagan’s story, which reads–

Such was the case with Bryant, who was born into slavery in Granville County, N.C., in 1781 where his master actually provided him schooling within the household.

He relocated to the Tennessee frontier near the settlement of Old Jefferson on the Stones River and immediately began buying land, a guaranteed mark of wealth and power at that time.

The 1850 U.S. Census shows Bryant owning $15,000 worth of real estate and an additional $10,900 of property including slaves, farm implements and livestock.

He came to operate two large farming operations, one in present-day Donelson in Davidson County and another in northern Rutherford County, which was later deeded to his four sons.

Bryant owned 21 male and female slaves ranging from infancy to 44 years old by the time the U.S. Slave Census enumerator came knocking on Sept. 26, 1850.

So, either Bryant’s Grove was founded by this mysterious Henderson Bryant (who I did find in Mufreesboro in the 1860 census) or it was the Murfreesboro farm of Sherrod.

The Butcher and I were talking about this, though, because Sherrod is often held up as the “See! Black people owned slaves, too!!!!” example. But the moral room between “I can sell my children and my brothers and sisters and I do because I own them” (a position held by white slave owners about their non-white relatives) and “I own my brothers and sisters and their children so that no one can sell them” is huge.

So, I’d love to know Lovett’s source for the claim that those were Sherrod’s family members. I’d love to even know how to judge whether that was true.

11 thoughts on “Strangenesses

  1. On a minor point: I have heard the same Nickajack derivation from my father, who grew up in Lincoln county. Doesn’t mean it’s real, but a lot of people seem to have heard it, and believed that it was, or could be, true.

  2. Ugh. Well, that’s lovely. I’m so happy to frequently use a term that may be the childish way of getting to say a “naughty” word without getting in trouble for it.

  3. Oh, this is interesting:

    http://donchesnut.com/genealogy/pages/cherokeeplace.htm

    Nikutse’gi (also Nukatse’gi, Nikwatse’gi, or abbreviated Nikutseg’)

    Nickajack, an important Cherokee settlement, about 1790, on the south bank of Tennessee river, at the entrance of Nickajack creek, in Marion county, Tenn. One of the Five Chickamauga towns (see Tsikama’gi). The meaning of the word is lost and it is probably not of Cherokee origin, although it occurs also in the tribe as a man’s name. In the corrupted form of “Nigger Jack,” it occurs also as the name of a creek of Cullasaja river above Franklin, in Macon county, N.C.

    So, that makes it sound like “Nickajack” isn’t a corrupted form of “Nigger Jack” but that “Nigger Jack” is a corruption of “Nikutseg'”.

    Like I said, interesting.

  4. Stephanie, the essay to which you cite was first published in a “journal” best known for Holocaust denial and other forms of specious historical revisionism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnes_Review The author, Robert Grooms, is better known for his publications on White Aryan Resistance sites like “Resist.” Right away, readers should be exercising scrutiny about the agenda of the piece.

    Most of the “evidence” that Grooms uses is drawn — albeit in a highly distorted way — from Johnson and Roark’s Black Masters. Inconveniently for Grooms, many historians have read Black Masters and know that he’s taking some known facts and twisting/exaggerating/greatly exceeding the evidence to suit his interpretive agenda (which is to allege that black slaveowners — who comprise an exceptionally small part of the Southern slaveholding population — basically showed the way to cruelty against African slaves. Yes, Ellison owned slaves. No, he was not a “good master” (which is, in itself, an oxymoron — that Grooms appears to think there was such a thing is an indication of where his head is at). But also no, Ellison was not engaged in a massive slave breeding operation and no, he was not some sort of sado-masochistic weirdo. Only someone who was eager to find a black “bad guy” for slavery’s cruelest harms would have been able to get such a wrongheaded reading out of a nuanced, well-written, and morally complex book.

    In the interest of keeping frith, I’m going to assume you just were looking for stuff off the Internet and came up with something that looked legit — it has footnotes, it cites to monographs, etc. However, any reader should have serious reservations about Grooms’ misuse of secondary sources and I’d further observe that he himself has done no primary research to support any of his more controversial findings — and in fact, he’d not be able to support his findings in the primary documents. Therefore, I’d point you directly to the secondary sources if you’re interested.

  5. It seems like having a life of study where your primary goal is to harvest and twist others’ research to buttress your own world view would be incredibly frustrating.

    Yes, when I study I have a worldview that I bring with me. But I always attempt to stay open to what the texts have to say. More often than not I’ve found myself pruning and shaping parts of my world view to reckon with the new information I’ve learned. But then again, several years ago I altered my worldview to a state of permanent “you never know all the facts” ness. This Robert Grooms fellow strikes me as someone who is sadly intractable.

  6. Lovett’s source (or one of them) is a descendant of the Bryant family who has been doing genealogy for years and years and years. I met her at a conference and she showed me photos of the Bryant family.

  7. JCC, that’s really good to hear. One thing that’s obvious from Lovett’s book is that a lot of free black people in Nashville HAD to own slaves, if their family members were enslaved, in order to keep their families together. Getting one’s freedom was just not as easy as your owner declaring it so and there was no guarantee, if you were granted your freedom, that you’d be allowed to stay in Tennessee.

    So, if you wanted to keep your family together and here, you had to do some things that look strange to us. I would not at all be surprised to learn this was Bryant’s case, just because over half of his slaves were under the age of ten and he’s only got four young adult male slaves.

    If you were honestly trying to run two huge farms in the most efficient manner possible, you’d have a lot more men in the prime of their working years than four.

    But I’m no historian and I don’t know the family lore. I’m just saying, knowing how farming works, and knowing they didn’t have tractors, those enslaved people’s ages don’t look like an efficient workforce for two farms.

    I’m really excited to read that the Bryant family is working on a book. Bryant’s story, no matter what, is incredibly interesting and I’m looking forward to reading what they have to say about the matter.

    Thanks, Bridgett, for getting at the problems with that piece with more nuance than I could. It was a terrible system and soul-corrupting. I don’t think we should be surprised to find some black slave owners were terrible.

    But you’re right that there’s an agenda behind the claims of white people that black people were just as bad or worse. It misrepresents why most black people owned slaves and it shifts moral culpability onto the victims.

    In general, a good guide to how trustworthy a source is about race is whether the source uses the term ‘Negro’ and whether the source is writing after 1970 (generally). If you find the source using ‘Negro’ to refer to black people and he’s writing in the contemporary era, he’s probably a racist dick.

  8. Sherrod was my 3rd Great-grandfather and there is a lot of MisInformation around. I do not know where Lovett got his information. If you want the TRUE story, my father, Carl Bryant has been researching for at least 10 years. He can be reached at chiefbryant@att.net

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