My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part VIII

During the 19th century, almost all of my ancestors lived either in or adjacent to the “Quaker Belt” of the central piedmont of North Carolina. Quakers, Moravians, and Wesleyan Methodists dominated the religious landscape of that region of the Old North State. My great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., lived in Chatham County on the eastern side of that region. He owned 14 slaves and had been a pro-slavery Unionist as a member of the General Assembly of North Carolina during the 1840s and 1850s. He retained his political identity as “a constitutional Union man” until President Lincoln requested troops to suppress the rebellion in South Carolina and the rest of the Lower South. Hackney and most of the conservative, pro-slavery Unionists in North Carolina, then became reluctant supporters of secession, which became a reality on May 20, 1861. Hackney served as an officer in the Home Guard.

In the western half of the Quaker Belt, however, my ancestors in Forsyth County and some of the counties that surrounded it were even less enthusiastic about the political situation that had emerged. More of my ancestors are buried in God’s Acre, which is how Moravians from Germany referred to their graveyards, at Friedland Moravian Church in Forsyth County than anywhere else. Five of them belonged to the Friedland Society when it was created in 1771. Another, Tycho Nissen, became its first pastor in 1775, although he’s described as an “Akoluthe,” or non-ordained minister, who led them until they became a congregation in 1780. Nissan moved to Salem in the same county and worked as the gravedigger and headstone engraver for the Salem Congregation (Moravian) and later became the night watchman too.

Friedland Moravian Church shaped the faith of my great, great grandfather David Williard, his six brothers, and his four sisters. Interestingly, David Williard was born on the Fourth of July, 1823 (exactly 47 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence). Later in adulthood, he and at least three of his siblings would become members of Primitive Baptist churches. But they all began as Moravians.

All seven Williard brothers fell within the age range that made them subject to America’s first general military draft (i.e., conscription), enacted by the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America in the spring of 1862 and expanded in the fall of 1862. Governor Zebulon Vance, defending the rights of North Carolina, objected strenuously to this law that seemed to contradict a major principle of the rebellion. The Federal government followed suit with a national conscription act in 1863, resulting in draft riots and racial violence that same year in New York City.

The expansion of the Confederate conscription law in the fall of 1862 not only raised the age limit for enrollment but also allowed an exemption from the draft for one owner or one overseer on each plantation that had 20 or more able-bodied slaves. In North Carolina, that provision applied to the elite planter class, to which my great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., did not even belong with his 14 slaves.

One can easily imagine how that made the yeoman farmers of the central piedmont feel. Owning either few or no slaves, their religious convictions did not naturally support pro-slavery opinions (which is not to say that most of them were “radical” abolitionists). Some of them became reluctant secessionists like Hackney after President Lincoln’s call for troops. However, many were either passively or actively resistant to a war that would be fought by the poor for the benefit of the rich.

David Williard, the oldest of the brothers, and William Williard, the youngest, were both privates in Company A, 10th Battalion, North Carolina Heavy Artillery. Alvarius and Joseph Williard were both privates in Company A, 21st Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. Yancey and Jacob Williard were both privates in Company K, 42nd Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. I’m not sure how the seventh brother, Pinkney Williard, was affected by the draft. He might have evaded it, had a medical condition, or served under a different first name. Certain occupations were exempt, but not farmers like him.

Like many conscripts from North Carolina, Joseph Williard deserted on December 26, 1864, with “one gun & accoutrements” valued at $65.23. Yancey Williard deserted in the summer of 1864, but he returned in September under an amnesty program by the Governor of North Carolina. In spite of that, he seems to be my only relative whose headstone has Confederate references, with the name of his military unit and an engraving of the Confederate battle flag, which became infamous in the 1960s as a symbol of white supremacist ideology and opposition to racial desegregation.

Yancey Williard’s name appears in a list of soldiers that was published in the Daily Conservative newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 20, 1865. It was to inform their loved ones that their company had been captured during the First Battle of Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina. To be more precise, finding themselves outgunned by the Union navy and separated from the rest of their regiment, they surrendered to Union forces under a white flag of truce on the afternoon of Sunday, December 25, 1864. Earlier, during the stillness before sunrise on that Christmas Day, a surgeon aboard the Union vessel Ben de Ford named David W. Hodgekins wrote these grief-laden words:

How sadly we have fallen that the anniversary of the day of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to declare peace on earth and good will to men, should be spent in endeavors to take the lives of our fellow creatures in war. The Sabbath we are commanded to keep holy [is] desecrated to gratify men’s wild ambitions. [That we wage war on] this Sabbath . . . seems more than desecration.

The other four Williard privates seem to have endured longer, although two of them were sick for long periods of time during 1864. David Williard suffered from chronic dysentery for at least six months, while Jacob Williard spent at least nine months in various military hospitals. But it was Alvarius Williard who would become a witness to history at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865, when the Army of Northern Virginia was surrendered by General Robert E. Lee.

I’ll never be able to know the degree to which these Williards were relieved that the fighting into which they had been pressed came to an end. I’d like to think at least a few of them were kindred spirits with other individuals from the Quaker Belt who were drafted, served, and remained Unionists in their hearts under circumstances beyond their control. I do know, however, that these Williards had cousins who resisted the rebellion actively on the homefront, which will be the subject of my next reflection in this series because the choices they made stand in direct opposition to the choices of my great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr.

Had those cousins lived in the same county as Hackney, 3rd lieutenant in Chatham County’s Home Guard, they might have killed each other. Each one would have been viewed as a patriot or a terrorist, depending on who would have described them.

The following editorial that was published in the Weekly Confederate newspaper in Raleigh on July 27, 1864, refers to those cousins and others as tories, outlaws, deserters, and murderers. The cousins were among those who had been arrested “for killing an officer of the law,” those who broke them out of jail, and those who tried to reach Union territory in Tennessee. The editorial also decries the political opinions of William Holden, who was the editor of the North Carolina Standard newspaper in Raleigh and would run unsuccessfully as a “peace candidate” against Governor Zebulon Vance in 1864. Lastly, it connects the actions of those cousins and others with a secret brotherhood known as the H.O.A. or Heroes of America. That sounds completely made up, but it was a real organization that worked hard against the Confederate government’s activities in North Carolina. While I don’t know if the cousins belonged to the H.O.A., this editorial testifies to the fear its name invoked:

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My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part VII

Even before a convention of the people of North Carolina passed an ordinance of secession on the first day that it convened, May 20, 1861, preparations were being made for war. In the previous month, for example, the Governor of North Carolina had ordered the seizure of all Federal property in the state. The General Assembly, on May 2, 1861, made it illegal to administer to state officials “any oath or affirmation to support the constitution of the United States.” And on April 29, 1861, my great, great, great, grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., was asked to chair a meeting for the purpose of establishing a “Home Guard” for Chatham County, where he lived. His report about that and another meeting several days later was published on May 22, 1861, in the same issue of Raleigh’s State Journal newspaper that announced the passage of secession.

Hackney and three others were appointed to visit Raleigh for a conversation with the governor about this company, which was being formed by those too old for or legally excused from service in “the regular army.” Hackney was elected 3rd lieutenant of the company, and together with the others:

The company pledged themselves, by resolution, to protect the peace and security of the District, and to look to the interest of those who may volunteer in the service of their country, and especially to take care of their wives and children. . . . The company by resolutions, pledged their services, their fortunes, their honors, and their lives to protect the institutions, and the civil and religious freedom of their native land.

On the same page of the State Journal that Hackney’s report appeared, there was a summary of a report from the Southern Baptist Convention. The newspaper noted the importance of that document, which “approves of the Southern Confederacy,”  as “an expression of sentiment from the largest religious denomination in the country.” It goes on to state that “[the report] will form a bright spot in their history, and be an honor to them for all generations to come.” But that was a false prophecy.

The Southern Baptist Convention had been formed in 1845 when white Baptists in the South withdrew fellowship from Baptists in the North after a slave-owner had been forbidden from becoming a missionary. 150 years later, the “messengers” of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, acknowledged that historical reality, apologized for their failure to support the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and stated that they “lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and . . . recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past.”

Similar tensions and strained relationships emerged within other traditions too.

As noted in the May 29, 1861, issue of the North Carolina Standard newspaper, the Rev. Dr. William Norwood, Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Georgetown in the District of Columbia, refused to allow the prayer for “the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority” to be read in worship for his congregation. Like the rest of his colleagues, Dr. Norwood, a native North Carolinian, had received explicit instructions from his bishop to continue to use that prayer and been warned that failure to do so would be in “willful violation of his ordination vow.” Later that same year, he resigned as the Rector of Christ Church and moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Even the Moravians in North Carolina, who were collectively and culturally further removed from the centers of power than both Southern Baptists and Episcopalians, wrestled with politics and prayer. The records of the Board of Elders for the Salem Congregation (Moravian) in Salem (now Winston-Salem) include this description of a discussion on April 17, 1861, about praying for the President of the United States:

The prayer for the President and the Union in our litany was spoken of. For a considerable time it was prayed every Sunday, and its repeated omission of late has been remarked upon. The Board did not come to a determination whether or not it should be regularly used under the circumstances.

Like Salem, Bethania was another Moravian town in North Carolina. And like other ordained ministers in this Christian tradition with German roots, the pastor of the Bethania congregation kept detailed church records, including a congregational diary. The Rev. Jacob F. Siewers’ last entry in that diary for 1860 refers to a worship service on January 31 with lots of hymn singing and a simple meal together called a lovefeast. It was a custom to gather in the church on New Year’s Eve for that service in order to enter the New Year with prayer. He concludes the entry with his own prayer, which is a heartbreaking plea to God for mercy in the coming storm of 1861:

Cloudy and miserable under foot. . . . About 8 P.M. we had the lovefeast at Bethania; there were several pieces sung by the choir. In spite of the high water and miserable roads there was quite a number in attendance. . . . After 12 a prayer was offered, and the Text of New Year’s Day read. Thus closed this eventful year, with heavy clouds lowering around the destiny of our Beloved Country. May God, our God in Mercy spare us from the fearful results of Disunion and Civil War, and cement us again in peaceful Brotherhood, and Christian Bonds as a nation.

The storm of violence, of course, did eventually appear on the horizon, beginning with the first major battle of the Civil War in Virginia in July of that New Year. What it revealed, however, were not only divisions between North and South but also between the Confederate government of North Carolina and the administration of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and between North Carolinians loyal to that Confederate government in Raleigh and those who resisted it to protect their loved ones and their livelihoods. That tension between citizens left behind in their communities and the Home Guard, which supposedly existed to protect them, was very high in the “Quaker Belt” of the central piedmont, where Quakers, Moravians, and Wesleyan Methodists dominated the religious landscape, where I was raised, and where most of my ancestors lived in the Old North State.

And they lived on both sides of that divide. While my great, great, great grandfather served as an officer in the Home Guard for Chatham County, I have other ancestors who were born to Moravian parents in Forsyth County and were drafted as enlisted soldiers in “the regular army.”  But there are clues this was not their war, and their cousins would take that disaffection with rebellion to another level of resistance.

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My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part VI

On April 12, 1861, South Carolina artillery fired on Fort Sumter, which was surrendered the next day. On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln asked for 75,000 troops collectively from states that remained loyal to the Union to suppress the rebellion. The Governor of North Carolina, John Ellis, refused to send any troops for what he envisioned as a military invasion. In his response to the U.S. Secretary of War, Governor Ellis described the President’s request as a “violation of the Constitution and a gross usurpation of power.” On April 17, 1861, he issued his own proclamation, calling for the General Assembly of North Carolina to meet in a special session on May 1, 1861, for the purpose of  “[united] action in defense of the sovereignty of North Carolina.” Governor Ellis also ordered the seizure of all Federal property in the state.

On the first day of that special session, legislation was passed to hold an election on May 13, 1861, to select 120 delegates to a convention of the people of North Carolina. Unlike the earlier vote in March, this was not about whether to hold a convention but only about whom to send. The General Assembly had already made the decision on behalf of the people that the convention would meet in Raleigh on May 20, 1861. Furthermore, there would be no restrictions on its scope and no popular referendum on its decisions. The mistakes of the past wouldn’t be repeated this time.

Above and to the right is a partial list of counties in North Carolina and the delegates from those counties who were elected to serve at that convention. The list was published in Raleigh on the front page of the North Carolina Standard newspaper on May 22, 1861. In several places, the names of the entire slate are given along with the actual vote count, including the results from Chatham County. That’s where my great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., a former state politician and the owner of 14 slaves, lived. Note that his name appears on the list of eight candidates in Chatham County. Three of those candidates were elected as delegates. Hackney came in sixth. Also on the front page that day was a defense of “the old Union men,” like Hackney, “who exhausted all honorable means to save the Union.”

The delegates who were elected to that convention owned an average of 30.5 slaves each and came with opinions that had been shaped by the President’s request for troops. More than half of them belonged to the elite planter class based on the total number of slaves that they owned. The convention voted unanimously to secede from the Union on the first day that it convened, May 20, 1861. But that is not to say that everyone in the room was equally enthusiastic about it. The editor of the North Carolina Standard was there as a delegate and later recalled the scene in this way:

I remember well that when the act of Secession was consummated the body looked like a sea, partly in storm, partly calm, the Secessionists shouting and throwing up their hats and rejoicing, and the Conservatives sitting quietly, calm, and depressed.

My great, great, great grandfather would have been in the latter group if he had been elected as a delegate. But it’s important to remember the embarrassing truth that he and most of the other slave-owning, pro-slavery Unionists were only reluctant secessionists because they believed it would eventually lead to the destruction of the institution of slavery. They, of course, were right about that. Yet they would not remain in the Union if it required them to bear arms against South Carolinians.

One of those Unionists-turned-secessionists was Zebulon Vance, who would later become the wartime Governor of North Carolina. In some of his correspondence before he had concluded his term as a U.S. Representative, he wrote that it would be suicidal for North Carolina and the other states of the Upper South (i.e., Delaware, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Arkansas, and Missouri) to join forces with the Lower South. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what half of them did. Listed in order of secession, those four states were Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.[1] Zeb Vance’s private fears, shared by many, would prove to be prophetic.

This is how secession was announced in Raleigh’s State Journal newspaper on May 22, 1861, including a sick and twisted use of the biblical story of the Exodus (i.e., the suffering of the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt, their deliverance by the hand of God, and their arrival in the Promised Land) to describe the imagined suffering of secessionists and their liberation in this moment. There is no mention, of course, of the enslaved Africans who were actually in bondage and comprised 33% of the total population of North Carolina, according to the 1860 United States Federal Census:

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BACK TO POST Yes, I am aware of the debate over different ways to order this list. North Carolina had the last state convention to pass an ordinance of secession on May 20, 1861, while the earlier ordinances passed in Virginia and Tennessee were ratified by popular referendums in each of those states on May 23 and June 8, 1861, respectively. However, the only debate that matters here is about the sin of slavery.

My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part V

On February 28, 1861, there was a state-wide referendum in North Carolina on whether to hold a secession convention and, in the event it was held, the election of delegates for that convention. This was a limited poll, of course, in which the only voters were white male taxpayers.

At the end of the day, those particular men narrowly defeated secessionism by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672. Unionist support, however, was actually stronger than those numbers suggest. That’s because there were also Unionists who voted in favor of holding that convention for the purpose of sending Unionist delegates there to control it. Out of 120 total seats at the convention, Unionist delegates would have had about 80 of them. Most of these Unionists were like my great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., who was an as-it-was-with-slavery Unionist, not an as-it-might-be-without-slavery Unionist. The North Carolina Standard newspaper described Hackney, a former state politician, as “a constitutional Union man” in a report about a Union meeting that was held in Chatham County on December 27, 1860.

The ten counties listed above and to the right are part of the election results that were published in the North Carolina Standard on March 6, 1861. Chatham County, where Hackney lived, elected three Unionist delegates and overwhelmingly opposed holding a convention by a vote of 1795-283. (“Chatham has covered herself with glory.”) Forsyth County, where I was raised, elected two Unionist delegates who ran unopposed and overwhelmingly rejected the convention too. Alamance County, where my mother grew up, also elected two Unionist delegates and voted down the convention. (“Three cheers for Alamance for electing straight out Union delegates!”) And the same story was repeated in Guilford County, where my father was raised, with the election of three Unionist delegates, 2771 votes against holding a convention, and only 113 votes for it. Five of those counties are in the “Quaker Belt” of the central piedmont, where Quakers, Moravians, and Wesleyan Methodists would provide fertile soil for disaffection with a pro-slavery rebellion to take root.

Some of the other counties listed there, where the convention vote was much closer, are further east, near the coast. Generally speaking, that tracked with popular support for secession across the Old North State, with less enthusiasm the further west one traveled (i.e., toward the Blue Ridge Mountains) and more enthusiasm the further east one traveled (i.e., toward the “inner banks” along the coastal sounds).

This pro-Union verse, sung to the tune of Dixie’s Land, was published in the North Carolina Standard on February 6, 1861. It reflects a mood that remained popular as late as April 3, 1861, when the following editorial appeared in the same newspaper, together with other reminders that “the disunionists were voted down on the 28th of February” and that Unionists like my great, great, great grandfather were “not unsound on the question of slavery.” Alas, “not unsound” here means pro-slavery:

North Carolina will not secede from the Union for existing causes. Nearly all the Union candidates in this State advocated a Convention; if they had opposed it, it would have been voted down by 30,000 majority. We state this as one of the strongest evidences that the State is not disposed at this time to secede. It will not do to say that the people of North Carolina are submissionists. They are just as brave as other people, and because they are, they are not ready to fight shadows. . . .

We repeat, North Carolina will not secede. Virginia will not secede. The late action of her Convention shows that she is watching and waiting. She sees no good cause just now to join the war dance of secession. Our disunion friends may as well hang up their fiddles. The people will keep step to no tune of their playing.

Nine days after those words were published, on April 12, 1861, South Carolina batteries opened fire on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The fort was surrendered the next day. Then, on April 15, 1861,  President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation asking for 75,000 troops collectively from the states that remained loyal to the Union for the purpose of suppressing this rebellion by South Carolina and the other states of the Lower South. Listed in order of secession, those six states were Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

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My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part IV

My great, great, great grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., was first elected to the House of Commons in North Carolina’s General Assembly in 1844 as a member of the Whig Party from Chatham County. He served four two-year terms in a row, through 1851. After the dissolution of the Whig Party in the 1850s, he became a Democrat and ran for the same office in the same county on the anti-Know Nothing ticket in 1856. He served one two-year term with that new political identity. One letter to the editor in The North Carolina Standard newspaper, referring to Hackney’s opinions about the 1856 presidential election, claimed that he believed old-line Whigs and Democrats “ought to unite now to save the country by sustaining that candidate who would most probably beat the black Republican ticket.”

“Black Republican” was a disparaging term used to highlight the anti-slavery views of the Republican Party, which had only been formed two years earlier in 1854. The two-part article on the right from The North Carolina Standard newspaper describes a Union meeting that convened in Chatham County on December 15, 1860, and then reconvened on December 27, 1860.

Many of the people who attended similar meetings in the Old North State were like Hackney. He was an as-it-was-with-slavery Unionist rather than an as-it-might-be-without-slavery Unionist. They believed the best path for protecting the institution of slavery was to stay in the Union, and that secession would very likely result in slavery’s destruction. Although Hackney no longer held a seat in the General Assembly and didn’t make a formal speech at either of these meetings in Chatham County, he “was called out” to offer some remarks at the second gathering with the larger crowd and “explained his position as a constitutional Union man.”

The resolutions that were passed at that second meeting include a lot of highly qualified language. There is much concern expressed at the end about equal rights, not for individuals but for states. While the perception that states’ rights were being trampled upon fueled these debates, the fifth resolve hints at the real source of the anxiety: “That our Legislature should pass such strong retaliatory laws against those States which have attempted to nullify the fugitive slave laws, as in their wisdom may seem right and proper and in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.”

That becomes even clearer on January 4, 1861, at a meeting in Chatham County that was initially convened in response to President James Buchanan’s call for “a day of fasting, prayer and humiliation.” The President intended that as a way to calm the storm of unrest in the North and in the South following South Carolina’s ordinance of secession, which was adopted on December 20, 1860. The meeting took place at Love’s Creek Baptist Church, where Hackney had served as a deacon long before he was first elected to public office. After the prayer service, Hackney, two ordained ministers, and two other men “were appointed a committee to draft resolutions.” The Fayetteville Observer newspaper noted that their work didn’t take very long:

Although Hackney and others spoke of their desire to preserve the Union, that was only true “provided that the Federal laws are faithfully executed and [their] rights of property respected.” As the first resolve plainly states, that property included enslaved human beings, and the will of the people gathered inside that Baptist church was that “citizens hereafter shall be unmolested in the enjoyment of said property.” My great, great, great grandfather owned 14 slaves at the time he helped to write those words. That is a difficult but necessary truth to acknowledge. This really happened, and despite all of the rhetoric about states’ rights as the primary Southern issue, protecting the institution of slavery was the motive behind it.

North Carolina did not secede from the Union until May 20, 1861. The larger political story that led to that, including what happened on the ground in Chatham County, warrants its own reflection. It’s a story that’s not as simple as one might imagine it to be. Ironically, the Unionists, both pro-slavery and not pro-slavery, won a state-wide victory in February of 1861 that almost certainly aided the secessionist movement in the long run. When secession did become a reality, most “conservative” pro-slavery Unionists like my great, great, great grandfather didn’t resist it. They joined it.

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My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part III

I’m a native of the Old North State and received my undergraduate degree in religion from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is not too far from the town of Kernersville where I was raised. My next adventure was in New Haven, Connecticut, at Yale Divinity School, as I prepared myself for ordination in the Episcopal Church. Other than a semester overseas in London and a summer of archeology in Israel, it was the first time that I had ever lived out of the South.

Those of us seeking ordination spent at least one year working at a field placement during our three years of theological studies. That was usually a church where we would help out a couple of times a week. Only a few of my peers drove further away from New Haven to get to their field placement than I did. Mine was a West Indian, Anglo-Catholic parish in Stamford, Connecticut. Most of the parishioners were people of color from Jamaica and Haiti and other islands of the West Indies. They loved joyful but formal high church liturgy with sanctus bells and lots of incense.

The vicar, who was a New England man through and through, and about 10% of the congregation were white. He had roots in neighboring Rhode Island. Unknown to me at the time, he also had the same first, middle, and last name as an 18th-century sailor who came to Bristol, Rhode Island, and whose family is highlighted in the documentary Traces of the Trade. That sailor went into business as a privateer and slave trader. The family business eventually included not only the ships used to bring slaves from West Africa to America and to the Caribbean but also their own plantations and slaves in the Caribbean and sugar cane from those plantations that was then sent to their own rum distilleries in America. When the importation of slaves became illegal in 1808, they continued the dismal trade, first by smuggling slaves into the United States and then by focusing on their international holdings.

It seems counterintuitive to suggest that not only the Southern seminarian but also the Northern vicar might have shared historical ties to the institution of slavery in this country. We tend to think of the evils of slavery as somehow contained within the borders of slave states, both Union and Confederate, at the time of the Civil War. But slavery was legal for more than 200 years in the North, and the mere fact of the abolition of slavery doesn’t mean that racism had also magically been abolished.

In New York City, for example, the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 confirmed the worst fears of Irish and German residents because the Democratic Party had warned them that freed slaves would flee north and take their jobs away from them. Antiwar newspaper editors fanned those flames, referring to the “nigger war” as an overreach by the federal government. The result was several days of draft riots in the city in July of 1863 that included attacks on black people, lynching deaths, and even “[the] sport of mutilating the black men’s bodies, sometimes sexually.”

Traces of the Trace showed me the extent to which ordinary Americans were also entangled in the institution of slavery. Townspeople in Bristol, Rhode Island, for example, invested in the business empire there with its vertical integration of slave trading, Carribean plantations, and American rum distilleries. And the Episcopal Church invested in it too. So profits from slave labor were shared far and wide.

On the second line, to the far right of “Daniel Hackney,”  the numbers “1  1  1  –  2  1  –  1” note the seven slaves of Daniel Hackney, Sr., in Chatham County, North Carolina, for the 1820 United States Federal Census.

My great, great, great grandfather, Daniel Hackney, Jr., certainly shared in those profits. He owned slaves just like his father before him. The most slaves that Daniel Hackney, Sr., who died in 1835, is known to have owned is seven according to the 1820 United States Federal Census for Chatham County, North Carolina. His son owned nine slaves that are recorded on the slave schedules for that same county in the 1850 United States Federal Census. As I’ve described in detail previously, the younger Hackney then owned 14 slaves that are listed on slave schedules with the 1860 United States Federal Census. He doesn’t rank, however, on the list of top 100 slave owners in Chatham County. Six more slaves would’ve made him a “planter.”

In 1860, slaves comprised 33% of the total population of Chatham County, which is located right in the middle of North Carolina. That happens to be the percentage of slaves in the total population of the whole state in the same year. The reality, of course, is that some far western counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains had a very small percentage of slaves and many counties to the east and far south of Chatham County had a much higher percentage of slaves with respect to total population.

Compared to Virginia, which had more slaves than any other state, “North Carolina had a slightly higher proportion of slaves and a slightly higher proportion of slaveholding families.” In Chatham County, “one in three people . . . was owned by someone else, and one in three families had slaves.” That is just astonishing to me, although I know it really shouldn’t be. Nearly 4 million human beings were enslaved within the borders of the United States. I’m embarrassed by these truths from 1860.

But I am not embarrassed to learn about this history. Katrina Browne produced and directed Traces of the Trade and founded The Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. She’s also one of the descendants of the family that created the business empire in Bristol, Rhode Island, which profited from slave trading, slave smuggling, and slave labor. Here’s something that she said in the documentary:

Once you really start to face the history and open your heart — now that I’ve done that — I can say it actually becomes very natural to want to make things right, not out of personal guilt, but out of grief.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. He is also an African American whose Baptist father came to church with his Episcopalian mother when they were still dating and living in the heart of segregated America in the 1940s. His father watched his mother walk to the front of the church for communion, kneeling beside white people and drinking from the same cup that they did. His father had never seen whites and blacks drink from the same glass or even from the same water fountain. Bishop Curry recently spoke at the dedication of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and said this:

We need not live the past again. We do need to know what it was.

Earlier I described a church in New England that brought together people from different regions with diverse cultural backgrounds and histories. It was, in many ways, a glimpse of the heavenly banquet that I believe we all get invited to join. Only then will all wrongs have been made right. That does not mean, however, that we can’t take a step in the right direction to address some wrongs in the present. What that requires is for us to see things not as we wish them to be, but as they really are. And as an Episcopal priest, it seems fitting for me to let Jesus have the last word:

. . . the truth shall make you free.

Click here to read all of the reflections in this series.

My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part II

At the end of last month, the New York Times published an article with news about an important essay from the 19th century that was recently discovered at the New York Public Library. Written in either 1855 or 1856 and titled “Individual Influence,” it’s “a roughly 500-word sermonlike meditation.” Near the end, the author notes his belief that “all influence opposit to divine perverts human nature into brutality from infancy into distant years.” Those words were written in the handwriting of a slave from Chatham County, North Carolina, named George M. Horton and “belonging to Hall Horton.” This slave had taught himself how to read with a Wesleyan hymnal.

Horton was a poet who sold his verses to undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. While he never made enough money to purchase his freedom, he did make enough to buy his time back from his master. So he spent his days working on the campus and writing poems. “Liberty and Slavery” protested his status in bondage and was the first of his verses published in a newspaper. In 1829, Horton “became the first African-American in the South to publish a book.”

The manuscript of “Individual Influence” was kept by Henry Harrisse, “a French-Jewish immigrant who arrived in Chapel Hill in 1853.” Harrisse was ridiculed and harassed by his students at the university, who were “mostly the sons of wealthy [slave-owning] planters.” He made a scrapbook with Horton’s essay, documents related to his problems with his students, and articles about Benjamin Hedrick.

A native North Carolinian, Hedrick was graduated at the top of his class from the University of North Carolina in 1851. He returned to teach there in 1854 after studies at Harvard University in Massachusetts. When asked by a few students if he would support John C. Frémont as a Republican presidential candidate, Hedrick answered honestly that he would. Soon thereafter, a newspaper article was published that “[advocated] the ouster of those with ‘black Republican opinions’ from the colleges and seminaries of the state.” Here’s part of his public response to the controversy:

cannot believe that slavery is preferable to freedom, or that slavery extension is one of the constitutional rights of the South. . . . Born in the “good old North State,” I cherish a love for her and her people that I bear to no other State or people. It will ever be my sincere wish to advance her interests. I love also the Union of the States, secured as it was by the blood and toil of my ancestors; and whatever influence I possess, though small it may be, shall be exerted for its preservation.

Two weeks later the faculty and trustees of the university voted to dismiss him.

Chatham County, North Carolina, was home not only to slave George M. Horton but also to slave-owner Daniel Hackney, Jr., who is my great, great, great grandfather. Hackney represented the people of Chatham County during the 1840s and 1850s in the House of Commons, as the lower chamber of North Carolina’s General Assembly in the capital of Raleigh was then called. He was a member of the Whig Party but, after the disintegration of that political party in the 1850s, he became a Democrat.

Hackney appeared on what was described as the “Democratic anti-Know Nothing ticket” in Chatham County for the General Assembly. They were opposed to the Know Nothing candidates, who were anti-immigration, anti-Catholic, etc. Because he had switched political parties, people were very interested in Hackney’s opinions about the 1856 presidential election. Hackney’s preferred candidate was former President Millard Fillmore, who was the last member of the Whig Party in the White House. Although the American “Know Nothing” Party nominated Fillmore as their presidential candidate, Hackney’s support of him shouldn’t be seen an endorsement of Know Nothing policies. That’s made clear in this letter about Hackney that was front-page news for The North Carolina Standard newspaper in Raleigh:

In 1844, when Hackney first ran for the House of Commons, his name appeared in various newspapers on a list of candidates for the Whig Party. Sometimes the announcement included candidates all the way up to Henry Clay for President of the United States. This example, from The Raleigh Register newspaper, included information about an important and very hotly debated national issue — possible annexation and statehood for the Republic of Texas.

My great, great, great grandfather belonged to the political party that was opposed to a hasty annexation of Texas. Many Southerners viewed Texas statehood as a way to expand and protect the institution of slavery. Some feared, however, that it could lead to a war with Mexico. In his “Raleigh Letter,” Henry Clay said he opposed the annexation of Texas “at the present time.” It was meant to suggest to anti-slavery Northerners that he stood against the expansion of slavery, while placating pro-slavery Southerners with the strong hint that he would welcome Texas in the future. Regardless of whatever good and noble things he may have endorsed as a private citizen, as an elected public official, and later as an ordained minister of the gospel, Hackney seems to have been consistent in his support of the institution of slavery in the decades before and the years during the Civil War. I wish that I could say otherwise. He was a man of his times.

Things might have turned out differently for him if the churches of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, to which Hackney’s church belonged, had taken to heart their own words, rooted in the Christian gospel, in their partial, anti-slavery resolution in 1835. The inability of that association more than a decade later in 1847 to provide a clear — or any — answer to the question of whether it is contrary to the gospel for Christians to “keep [human beings] in bondage for life” explains why Hackney was able to represent his church at association meetings right up to the Civil War.

I also wonder how his life might have been shaped if he had received an education like Benjamin Hedrick, who was able to speak against slavery honestly and counter-culturally in spite of the cost to himself both personally and professionally. Unlike Hedrick, my great, great, great grandfather was very popular. He received more votes than any of the other candidates in the race to represent Chatham County in the House of Commons. That victory would be repeated again and again and again.

But the juxtaposition of his name and the “For Sale” notice to the right of the list of Whig candidates below in The Greensboro Patriot newspaper is an unsettling visual reminder of what life was really like in North Carolina in 1844. While I can’t change the past, in the spirit of George M. Horton’s sermonic essay, my prayer today is that my individual influence, by God’s mercy and grace, will not be “opposit to divine.”

Click here to read all of the reflections in this series.

My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part I

Last night C-SPAN’s series on American history, American Artifacts, highlighted the Saving Slave Houses Project. These structures, which are vanishing, witness to our nation’s original sin of slavery — enshrined in the United States Constitution, where each slave was to be counted as three-fifths of a whole person for the purpose of determining the number of representatives in the United States Congress from each state. The contrast between that reality and the “self-evident” truth set forth in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal” is hard to understand.

I watched that program with great interest because I was surprised to learn, only this year, that I have slave-owning ancestors. That’s not the narrative I’ve always told people about myself: I’m the grandson and great-grandson of tobacco farmers in North Carolina. While that’s a true statement, it’s not the whole truth. Further back, some of those who came before me mentioned slaves in their wills. One person in particular stands out, although his slaves are not referenced in his will because they were presumably freed at the end of the Civil War by the Union army.

His name was Daniel Hackney, Jr., and he’s my great, great, great grandfather. He was a politician in the General Assembly of North Carolina in the 1840s and 1850s, a member of the Whig party who became a Democrat, a slave-owning Baptist deacon who became a post-slave-owning preaching elder, and a Unionist (an as-it-was-with-slavery Unionist rather than an as-it-might-be-without-slavery Unionist) during the years before secession who would then be elected 3rd lieutenant in the Confederate Home Company for Chatham County, North Carolina, during the Civil War.

The Chatham County slave schedules from the 1860 United States Federal Census don’t include the names of Hackney’s slaves. They are simply counted as property under his name. 14 in total, most of them children, including a one-month-old baby. 13 were black, one was biracial. There were eight males and six females. None were fugitives or had been manumitted. Together they lived in three slave houses.

When I first saw this, I kept a copy of it on my beside table. I stared at it every night before trying to fall asleep, haunted by the fact that I was directly connected to the institution of slavery in America. So I’m reflecting on all of this in a series of posts.

For now, however, I’ll begin with Hackney’s strong religious identity. In 1823, at the age of 20, he was baptized as a Christian and became a follower of Jesus Christ. He was one of the first deacons for Love’s Creek Baptist Church, which is located about two miles east of Siler City, North Carolina, when that congregation was organized in 1833. After his service in the Home Guard and his former slaves were no longer his “property,” he was finally granted a license to preach in 1866 and ordained as a preaching elder in 1871 in the Sandy Creek Baptist Association.

Interestingly, in 1835, that association had opposed not the institution of slavery entirely but, specifically, “buy[ing] and sell[ing] Negros, for the purpose of speculation or merchandise, for gain” as “inconsistent with the spirit of the Gospel of Christ” and advised churches “to exclude members who will not abandon the practice.” Later, in 1847, the association was asked this question: “Is it agreeable to the gospel for members of the Baptist Church of Christ to buy and sell human beings, or keep them in bondage for life?” The only answer referred back to the minutes of the association for 1835, which ignores the part about lifelong bondage.

So it is not surprising that Hackney frequently represented his church at meetings of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association during the more than three decades between the time those first statements were affirmed 1835 and his receiving a license to preach. Clearly, owning a lot of slaves was not, in itself, a reason to be excluded.

When he died in 1884, Hackney’s will included a charitable bequest in the amount of $100 to the Baptist Foreign Missions in China. A newspaper announcement of that bequest noted that it was in fulfillment of a promise he had made 35 years earlier, which would have been in the middle of his political career and long before his slaves were set free. His obituary declared that from his baptism until his death, Hackney “made his secular interests subservient to his religious duties.” It pointed out that he had been a successful businessman earlier in his life and “accumulated a handsome estate, which he used liberally in promoting the cause of Christ.”

Like most of us to one degree or another, Hackney seems to have been a tangled knot of contradictions. For him, Asians were worthy of conversion to Christianity while Africans were bought and sold as part of chattel slavery. The latter was not seen as something contrary to his “religious duties” and provided the source of his wealth. That wealth was then used “to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love,” quoting a hymn verse that was written the same year Hackney started preaching.

One of the things I love about America is the fact that our ideals about universal human rights can be the source of a reformation from time to time. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery in the 19th century; civil rights legislation that ended racial segregation in public places in the 20th century; and our discussions about racial discrimination, law enforcement, and the dignity of every human being in the 21st century are examples of this.

Blessedly, the same thing happens from time to time within Christianity. Christian faith can become the means by which some of those knots become untangled. As the late African-American preacher Peter Gomes, formerly of Harvard University’s Memorial Church, noted a decade ago at Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City:

[I]t is instructive to examine how the religion of white slave owners became an instrument of liberation for slaves, rather than the instrument of docility the slave owners had hoped.

“The Christian faith was stronger than the Christians who used it,” he said, because white Christians could not corrupt Jesus’ truth.

I find that to be a hopeful testimony of faith not only for myself but also for my slave-owning ancestor. Hackney, too, in words from the Book of Common Prayer that are addressed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is “a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming.” He rests in those everlasting arms — but not because some thought he was “a man of intellect and great force of character,” as the Wilmington Morning Star newspaper said of him after his death.

No, he rests there only because he is forgiven.

This I believe.

Click here to read all of the reflections in this series.

“. . . a time to mourn.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

The mass shooting in Las Vegas, resulting in at least 58 deaths and more than 500 injured people, was one of the first things discussed today during a spiritual retreat with the heads of churches throughout the Anglican Communion at Canterbury Cathedral in England. Silence was observed this evening at the beginning of Evensong in that mother church of Anglican Christianity, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, offered this prayer for the victims.

Post-Election Word from the Rector

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Americans went to the polls this week on Election Day and revealed how divided we remain as a people. On our campus that same day, St. Bede’s Chapel was open not only for prayers for ourselves, our community, our state, and the nation but also for two services of Holy Eucharist. Those who came were grateful for the invitation to remember something that unites the followers of Jesus and to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd in the midst of so much pushing and shoving, metaphorical and otherwise, over the past year. Many who were not able to be there told me that they were grateful, too, knowing our prayers surrounded them with the love of Jesus.

This week I also completed a formal request for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church to become a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails. As I’ve talked, written, and preached about over many months, this is an international fellowship that seeks reconciliation over revenge and that began at Coventry Cathedral in England. It is a powerful witness to Christian forgiveness that has inspired countless people around the world. We can be a part of that witness as peacemakers in the City of Houston.

That witness to peacemaking begins in our personal relationships, including those that comprise our own household. It will continue within our common life here at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Our new community norms that were created before Election Day seem even more important to uphold now. The way that we talk to one another, whether in the pews or in the parking lot or in the public square, really does matter if we bear the name of Christ. Those who are baptized do bear it.

The doors of our church are open as wide as the arms of the Crucified One. Those who cross that threshold bring with them a diversity of political, social, and, yes, even theological beliefs. They belong to households of one, two, or many if there are young children or older parents under the same roof. They encounter a community of faith that honors marriage, including marriage for our brothers and sisters in same-gender relationships, who are treated as the children of God that all of us are. They meet Christians here who not only worship together but also serve together, reaching out to people in need in the surrounding neighborhoods while recognizing humbly their own spiritual impoverishment. This includes our commitment to help refugee families begin a new life in this country. Together we journey home to God.

But don’t wait passively for others to come to us to discover all of this. Tell the story of our church, which offers something for which people hunger and yet too often can’t seem to find in the world around us. Rather than turning away from the dark corners of that world, allow the light of Christ to shine through each of our lives and dispel the night. Such an act of love is more powerful than we can possibly imagine, especially in a culture stripped of grace. Invite a friend or a neighbor to join us on Sunday, November 13, at 4:00 p.m. for a special screening of Generation Found. This documentary film highlights the impact of Archway Academy, which is the largest high school for teenagers in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse in the United States and which meets on our campus because our members helped to create it.

If we want to heal our fractured communities, a good place to start is by receiving love in our community of faith and letting it overflow from our hearts into the world around us. We can do that through our prayers, including prayers for those whom we have made our enemies; through our presence in worship, not only to nurture our own spiritual life but also to encourage other Christians in their faith and their struggles; and through our promises in the Baptismal Covenant to love our neighbor and to respect the dignity of every human being as we leave the church, stepping onto Main Street in the fourth largest and most ethnically diverse city in America.

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I look forward to seeing you at the Lord’s Table each Sunday morning, where we are invited to bring to God, week after week, our hopes and our fears, our joys and our sorrows, our laughter and our tears. Together we are strengthened there with God’s grace to continue our mission “to know and share the love of Jesus Christ.” Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector