Things oh things

  1. It smells so bad outside, but the dog and I went for our walk anyway and at the far end of our walk was a young dead skunk who’d been hit by a car. I have nothing against skunks, so it was a little bit of a bummer to see one dead. But I was super impressed with the radius of stink left in its wake.
  2. It looks like I’m writing a piece about the Napiers for the Scene for Black History Month. The black Nashville Napiers are descended from a white guy who was one of many Napiers who owned a furnace and was in the metal smelting business. He never married–the white guy. As far as the census shows, he was usually the only white guy even living on his plantation. Sometimes there was a young white guy, too, possibly a nephew, I’d guess. But otherwise, just him, like a king surrounded by serfs all tied to him and his land.
  3. So, Napier was, on the surface, a bachelor. Montgomery Bell was, too, I think. He came to mind because of the furnace connection. And Isaac Franklin nearly was. Nowadays, if someone’s a bachelor, the possibility that he’s gay suggests itself. But in those days, it seems like a lot of gay guys just went ahead and got married. Marrying for love wasn’t the only reason people got married. You didn’t have to like your spouse. Family pressure and all that. Getting married was the easiest path. So, I feel like staying single was some other marker back then. It meant something else, but I’m not sure what. Other than that you probably were fucking your slaves. But you could do that and be married.

10 thoughts on “Things oh things

  1. OK, so this is a massive tangent, but … I’m really not comfortable conflating slaves and serfs. Because, for one thing, despite the 18th-century myths, a landowner really couldn’t sleep with all the women living on his estate. And if he had tried to, there were avenues of appeal the women and/or their families could have used to make him stop. But for another, more important, thing, if they had been serfs they could have gone off to Nashville and lived here for a year and that would have made them legally free, and there was no such thing as a Fugitive Serf Law. The ownership relationship in a serfdom system is between a person and land, not a person and another person, and that makes a huge difference.

  2. Yes to what nm said. Also, I’m wondering about the fluidity of masculine ideals because, let’s face it, the South is in a huge period of economic change between 1830-1860. The US acquires 25 million acres of Cherokee land (which gets gobbled up…incidentally, we need to talk about John Vann sometime because he’s a very interesting guy in his later life with a shitload of money and slaves and land and businesses) and the region accelerates to producing 70% of the world’s cotton supply. That’s just to say that the conditions for patriarchal instability is at maximum. I guess I have a lot of questions about whether the urban Southern metals man had the same kind of relationship with his (mostly male) workforce as the plantation master. Charles B. Dew’s excellent work on Buffalo Forge (Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge) might give you some insight into how those forges worked as social units — it’s not written with the intention of analyzing gender, but there’s a lot you’d find helpful in there, even give you a much better idea of the kind of work the Napiers (white and black) would have been doing.

  3. All I meant by the king and serf analogy is that there wasn’t anyone his equal (or near it) who could have pressured him to behave. He was tucked away from all prying eyes.

    The white Napiers owned, as I’m learning, a ton of furnaces, stretching from Dickson County south into Northern Alabama.

    So, I read Elias Napier’s will. He’s the white guy with some of the bunch of furnaces owned by all the Napiers who is the grandfather of J.C. Napier, a really important black guy from Nashville. A couple of interesting things stood out to me. One is that the three furnaces he owns “owned” their own slaves. So, he had slaves on the farms he owned, but those see to be “his,” and the men (I assume they’re mostly, if not all men) who go with the furnaces. When he provides instructions for how his slaves should be divided up, the furnace men aren’t included.There are separate instructions for how to deal with them and he seems to hope his executors will sell the staff of the furnace and the furnace together.

    Two is that. even though he frees a bunch of slaves, he also gives away a bunch of slaves.

    Three, he’s really concerned about the welfare of a young enslaved boy named Solomon who he finds “bright.”. He frees Solomon in his will and then leaves him $50 for his education and $500 (!!) to give him a start in life when he becomes a man.

    But here, to me, is the really weird part. He says the boy’s mother is a “mulatto girl called Angeline.”

    Well, let me back up. Elias also frees his seamstress Judy, her kids, and grandkids. Her kids are pretty clearly his kids. Her grandkids (at the time of the will) have the last name “Lott” but I didn’t find man on the farm with that last name.

    He also frees his cook, Lizzie (or Elizabeth). He gives all the furniture in the house to Judy and Lizzie to divvy up among themselves. He literally says “their division made by themselves is to stand” which I find pretty remarkable, because you don’t often see enslaved women being given authority to make decisions about valuables. Granted, they would be newly freed, but still.

    He also gives Judy and her family a farm to live on for a year while they get their lives together.

    Okay, back to Solomon: “This boy is to be put under the care and charge of Judy and Lizzie to be subject to their controll under my Executors until he is twenty one years of age and in the case of the death of Judy and Lizzy, then he is to be under the care of one of Judy’s children which ever he may choose.”

    What is going on here?! Clearly, Solomon is also his son. He gave him as much money as he gave his favorite relatives and more than some he didn’t like. But, if Solomon has a mom, why is he giving him to Judy and Lizzie? Can I suppose his mom is dead? Might she live on another farm? The boy’s only six years old, if that tells you anything.

  4. They should have just asked Taneya to write this. I’m sure she knows as much as anyone about the Napiers. Or maybe they did and she said no. I shouldn’t speculate without knowing.

  5. I’m not sure it’s so clear that Solomon is Elias’s son, though given his color he might be the son of one of Elias’s white relatives. Angeline gets bequeathed to relatives, together with her youngest daughter Judeanna (17th item). I can certainly think of scenarios in which Elias frees one slave mistress and all their children, but keeps the slave mother of another of his children enslaved, but it seems unlikely.

  6. Maybe Solomon really was that smart?

    Or, more likely, he was the son of one of Elias’s relatives, and doing it this way kept the relative’s wife quiet. With all the quitclaims and debts mentioned in the will, possibly the money involved actually came from Solomon’s father.

  7. Or…and this is moving out on a limb so slender that it might not support all the speculations that go into it…Angeline is apparently someone’s bi-racial mistress, which makes Solomon potentially (if our guess is right about his paternity) very light-skinned. Judy and Lizzie are freed house servants with highly desirable skills, but definitely black. Perhaps he wants Solomon to know his place — a free trained artisan and part of an artisanal community, but one that doesn’t identify as white. But it could be as simply as Judy and Lizzie are going to be free and Angeline will remain a slave and he doesn’t want any questions about Solomon’s status after he’s dead and can’t advocate for the kid.

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