10 Jun 2023

Today, my brain wandered while I vacuumed my house. As I chased away the dirt and dust of the past week, I started thinking about my mother’s parents and all the things they told me when I was very young. My Confederate grandparents were given an oral history about our family from their own grandparents, who lived through the Civil War. They told me stories of our family with pride, and were happy to be giving to me what was given to them. By passing on their cherished heritage to me, their only grandchild, they were upholding a tradition.

They told me that I was lucky, because I could be both a Daughter of the American Revolution, and a Daughter of the Confederacy. They told the story of an ancestor, captured by the Yankees and put into a POW camp. This relative wrote home on stationary that he had turned upside down, because he would not write under the Union Flag image that was at the top of the paper. My grandparents would always correct me, when I said “Civil War” and reminded me that it was “The War Between The States.” My grandmother thought Gone with the Wind was the greatest movie ever made, read her copy of the book so much that it nearly dissolved, had the record of the sound track, and frequently quoted phrases from the movie.

I have a receipt for $1,000 that was paid by my grandfather’s grandfather for one 13-year old Black teen named Ruben. My grandfather talked about Ruben, in a letter, writing that the price of $1,000 was quite high in 1861, as such transactions were usually around $500 to $600. He lamented that the investment was lost, as Ruben “wandered off” after the Civil War was over, never to be seen again. I have a photograph of my great, great grandfather, Jacob See Wamsley, the man who purchased Ruben. There is no way to look at him and know much about his personality, feelings and thoughts, although his DNA is in me. All I have now are random facts about his life, a few photographs and documents, and many questions.

My grandmother was fond of reminding me that I was a direct descendant of John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence, representing New Jersey. I’ve seen his small signature on the copies of that document, as the original is so faded as to be illegible. I have joked about how easy it is to be descended from a man who fathered 13 children.

As I knelt down to catch the dust bunnies living under our bed, I wondered for the first time if John Hart was an enslaver. I never thought of that before; he was from New Jersey. I don’t associate enslaved people with New Jersey. I put the hose down, and went to my computer to search the internet. He was. “On his prosperous plantation, Hart had many cattle, sheep, swine, horses and fowl, and he also owned 4 slaves.” (From an essay written by Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence titled “John Hart.”)

I doubt my grandparents would be able to or be interested in understanding the impact of family histories like ours on today’s country. I am a bit more enlightened and informed than they were, and still I struggle to uncover the parts of me that were shaped by the legacy of what my ancestors did, and that were buried in the depths of my psyche by my beloved Margie and Pappy.


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