My Last Will and Testament, Part I

When Cornelia “Nealie” Dunevant was about 17 years old, she became pregnant by the son of a wealthy, slave-owning planter in Caswell County, North Carolina. It was a very likely scenario that I described in my earlier post “Bright Star and a Family Tree Secret,” which has been updated to reflect the fact that DNA testing seems to have confirmed the story. Nealie is my great-great-great-grandmother, and Weldon Edwards Williamson is my great-great-great-grandfather. About a year after the birth of their daughter Telula in 1855, Weldon, having moved on, married another woman. This man who lived to see the 20th century had 27 slaves in 1860, when he was 27 years old, and then fought for their continued enslavement as a Confederate cavalry officer.

Weldon’s father was “Royal George” Williamson, who “owned” 142 enslaved Africans as his personal property according to the 1850 United States Federal Census. The slave trade that began in British America and was enshrined in the United States Constitution, where each slave was to be counted as three-fifths of a whole person, had flourished. Royal George’s great-great-great-grandfather Arthur Allen I created an estate in Surry County, Virginia, that illustrates well the growth of that awful trade in the buying and selling of human beings over nearly two centuries.

Arthur appears in Virginia in the middle of the 17th century. In 1665, as one of Surry County’s wealthiest men, he built a magnificent house that still stands today and would later become known as “Bacon’s Castle.” It’s the oldest brick dwelling in North America and one of only three surviving examples of High Jacobean architecture in the Western Hemisphere. The other two examples are on the island of  Barbados.

It was Arthur’s son, Arthur Allen II, my ninth great-uncle, who inherited this house. After the son had served for a second time as Speaker of the House of Burgesses, he was reelected in Surry County to that lower chamber of Virginia’s General Assembly but did not take his seat there in the spring of 1691 because he refused, “through Scruple of conscience,” to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Since William and Mary had ascended the English throne after the Glorious Revolution, Arther Allen II wouldn’t take those oaths that were required of all public officials until 1702, after the death of the deposed King James II, when he was sworn in as a member of the governing body of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

Something that apparently did not trouble his conscience was his shift from the use of indentured servants to enslaved Africans on his estate. According to Preservation Virginia, which now owns Bacon’s Castle, there were four slaves on this plantation in 1675, 13 in 1700, 76 in 1830, and as many as 300 at the outset of the Civil War.

Although the Virginia roots of America’s original sin of slavery go back 400 years ago to Jamestown, with the arrival there in 1619 of “20 and odd” Africans who had been captured from a Portuguese slave ship, slavery as an American institution that was based on racial identity was really fueled by Bacon’s Rebellion. That was an armed rebellion, which included both poor Europeans and poor Africans, against the royal governor of Virginia in 1676. For four months of that year, Arthur Allen II’s house was occupied by 70 of these rebels, who plundered his belongings and destroyed his crops. So that is the origin of the nickname Bacon’s Castle. This video explains what all of that has to do with the history of chattel slavery and, in a real sense, the forging of the idol of white supremacy in British America and the United States:

While the title of this series of posts is “My Last Will and Testament,” I didn’t quote from anyone’s legal will, although I did refer to the large inheritance of a plantation. My next post, however, will contrast the will of Royal George Williamson and his great-grandfather William Eaton. One contains nary a word of religious language, while the other includes an introduction with some beautiful theological statements that I embrace wholeheartedly as a Christian. Yet both of those documents pass on human beings as property to the next generation. The one with Christian language does so, without any hint of conflict, as if dealing out cards in a game of poker.

Interestingly, my wife is a graduate of the law school at the College of Willam and Mary, and for six and a half years I served as Associate Rector at Bruton Parish Church, where we were married in 2003. We had wanted to do something a little different for our rehearsal dinner on the night before the wedding. So our family members and wedding party guests drove with us in a caravan from Williamsburg to the small town of Surry, taking a car ferry across the James River to get there.

I always found it impossible not to think about American history on that ferry ride. On one side of the river was the site of the Jamestown settlement. On the other side was Surry County, which, at least back then, had a landscape that surely didn’t look much different than it did in the 19th century. Eating and laughing at the Surrey House Restaurant, we were sitting about seven and a half miles from Bacon’s Castle without a clue about the history of that place and my connection to it (and without a clue about my wife’s connection to Jamestown), both as a member of the family into which I was born and as an American whose real white privilege is a result of that.

The next time I’m on that ferry and feel the wind in my face, I’ll be thinking about our rehearsal dinner and our wonderful years in Williamsburg, but I’ll also be thinking about all of this. I hope and pray that, by God’s mercy, my conscience will still be troubled by the latter and my love for others will have been shaped by it.

There’s a temptation to read the opening stanzas of William Cullen Bryant’s 1866 poem about the end of slavery’s “cruel reign” and believe the empty fields that still surround Bacon’s Castle, “seem[ing] now to bask in a serener day,” symbolize a promise fulfilled to African Americans after the Civil War. That freedom, however, eroded rapidly after the end of Reconstruction as the sun set on the 19th century. The effects of widespread lynching and other forms of violence inflicted upon African Americans, the voter intimidation and disenfranchisement of African Americans, and the white supremacist ideology frequently praised in the words of guest speakers before cheering crowds at the unveiling of Confederate monuments in the early 20th century sadly remain with us today. Lord, heal us and help us all.

O THOU great Wrong, that, through the slow-paced years,
Didst hold thy millions fettered, and didst wield
The scourge that drove the laborer to the field,
And look with stony eye on human tears,
Thy cruel reign is o’er;
Thy bondmen crouch no more
In terror at the menace of thine eye;
For He who marks the bounds of guilty power,
Long-suffering, hath heard the captive’s cry,
And touched his shackles at the appointed hour,
And lo! they fall, and he whose limbs they galled
Stands in his native manhood, disenthralled.

A shout of joy from the redeemed is sent;
Ten thousand hamlets swell the hymn of thanks;
Our rivers roll exulting, and their banks
Send up hosannas to the firmament.
Fields, where the bondman’s toil
No more shall trench the soil,
Seem now to bask in a serener day;
The meadow-birds sing sweeter, and the airs
Of heaven with more caressing softness play,
Welcoming man to liberty like theirs.
A glory clothes the land from sea to sea,
For the great land and all its coasts are free.

No Adjournment on February 22, 1868

Presidents’ Day is officially a federal holiday established by an Act of Congress in 1879 to observe the birthday of the first President of the United States, George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732. But it’s clear that February 22 was important to many Americans before that honor was mandated by legislation. For example, on Saturday, February 22, 1868, a delegate from Chatham County to the Constitutional Convention of the State of North Carolina introduced this resolution:

Resolved, That in respect to the memory and in honor to the distinguished services of General George Washington, he, who was “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” this Convention adjourn until 10 o’clock, A. M., Monday next.

My fourth great-uncle, Elijah B. Teague, was a delegate from Forsyth County to that same Constitutional Convention. He had been elected to that position in November of 1867 as a Republican. That election was held at the direction of the United States Congress, in which North Carolina was not represented at the time because of its secession during the Civil War, and by the Commanding General of the Second Military District of the United States Army. The purpose of that convention was to write a new constitution so that the state could be readmitted to the Union.

On that Saturday morning, only 16 delegates voted in favor of adjourning to honor our country’s first president on his birthday. 75 delegates, including Teague, voted against it. A differently worded resolution was then adopted by a majority vote:

Resolved, That with profound reverence for the memory of George Washington, we will honor the day of his birth, not by adjourning, but by proceeding to engraft upon the Constitution the great principles of justice and liberty, which have made his name illustrious.

It is fitting, I think, that they immediately took up the Report of the Committee on Suffrage for the rest of the day. In other words, they would eventually have to decide who was eligible to vote in state elections and what would disqualify someone from holding public office. Four days earlier, the delegates had received the Report of the Committee on Suffrage, along with several minority reports from members of that committee. Two delegates, for example, invoking the words “tyrannical and unjust” to describe the demands of the Federal government, wrote that by resisting “negro suffrage and negro equality” until it is forced, “we will not have consented to our own humiliation, and will at least, have preserved our honor and self-respect.”

Another minority opinion had been expressed at the beginning of February in the form of a motion to add the following words to the section of the state constitution that described the Executive Department:

No person of African descent or of mixed blood, shall be eligible to the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or any other Executive office.

11 delegates supported that motion. 83 delegates, including Teague, opposed it. Also rejected by 83 delegates, included Teague, in early February was a motion to add these words to the section of the state constitution that described the state militia:

. . . white and colored persons shall be organized into separate commands, and no white man shall ever be required to obey a negro officer.

The Report of the Committee on Suffrage included a recommendation that anyone who had been elected to public office should be required to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of North Carolina, “not inconsistent therewith.” The final form of the state constitution that would be adopted took that same minimal oath and required voters to take it too. There were several attempts, however, to expand that oath, such as swearing that:

I am truly and devotedly attached to the Union of all the States, and opposed to any dissolution of the same, that I entertain no political sympathy with the instigators and leaders of the rebellion, or with the enemies of the Union, nor approbation of their principles or purposes, that I will neither by word or act encourage or countenance a spirit of sedition or disaffection towards the government of the United States or the laws thereof, and that I will sustain and defend the Union of these States, and will discourage and resist all efforts to destroy or impair the same.

26 delegates, including Teague, voted in favor of that expanded version. 73 delegates voted against it. So my fourth great-uncle didn’t always vote with the majority at this Constitutional Convention. But the end result was a pretty amazing document for its time and the second of only three constitutions in the history of North Carolina.

That second constitution declared that the people of North Carolina are grateful to God “for the preservation of the American Union.” It further stated “that there is no right on the part of this State to secede” and “that every citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution and Government of the United States.” And the list of rights near the beginning of that constitution included these words:

Slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than for crime whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and are hereby, forever prohibited within this State.

Universal male suffrage was a major feature of this constitution. Those voting rights, however, would be severely restricted after the Democratic Party regained control of the General Assembly of North Carolina and many public offices across the state in the election of 1898 through violence and voter intimidation. Once in power, conservatives in the General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment in 1899 that would impose a poll tax and a literacy requirement for male citizens to be able to vote. That constitutional amendment was ratified by a popular vote in 1900 that was marked by further violence and voter intimidation to ensure that it passed.

In 1900, nearly 30% of male voters in the state were illiterate, and disproportionally African American. That African American voters were the intended victims of this constitutional amendment is evidenced by the fact that it also also included a grandfather clause. The clause allowed an illiterate male to vote if he registered by 1908 and was a direct descendant of someone who had been registered to vote prior to Reconstruction. Sadly, it would take the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to restore much of this deliberate erosion of the voting rights of African Americans.

In the meantime, the guest speaker for the 1905 dedication of Forsyth County’s new Confederate monument in Winston, North Carolina, was the Honorable Alfred Moore Waddell, Mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina. I’ve written previously about his white supremacist views and his leadership in the only successful coup d’etat in American history within the borders of the United States. That was in 1898, when an armed white mob seized control of the City of Wilmington, murdering innocent citizens and forcing the mayor, board of aldermen, and chief of police to resign.

Another important figure in the organized plot to exploit racial tensions in North Carolina to benefit the Democratic Party in the election of 1898 was Robert B. Glenn, whom I’ll write about separately. He would become the Governor of North Carolina in 1905, and a high school would eventually be named in his honor. I know that since I was Valedictorian of the Class of 1988 at Robert B. Glenn High School in Forsyth County, North Carolina. I wonder what my fourth great-uncle, Elijah B. Teague, who publicly affirmed “the great principles of justice and liberty,” would think of that.

Snow White and the Ten Commandments

Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Reverend Neil Alan Willard, M.Div.
Lent III, March 4, 2018

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . . (Exodus 20:1-2)

Yesterday, my wife Carrie and I enjoyed spending the afternoon with some friends at the Hobby Center downtown for the musical Memphis. The lead male character is a fictionalized version of the pioneering disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. As a DJ, he introduced black music to a wider — and whiter — audience on the radio. Down the road, and beyond the scope of the musical, he would become famous as the first person to play on air a recording of Elvis Presley. That young Elvis would be taken around town by this white man to complete his musical education by meeting African American club owners and music stars.

In the musical, set in the segregated South of the 1950s, one of the main things that’s painful to watch is the racism that provides tension throughout the story. However, as if that’s not enough, there’s a jarring dissonance in Memphis between Christianity as it’s meant to be, like the image in the last book of the Bible of “a great multitude which no [one] could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne” of God, and old rules about how good Christian white people were supposed to act in the South.[1] It was an inversion of the biblical image in which a perversion of Christianity reinforced the walls between the races.

I’ve been wrestling with that same dissonance within my family tree over the last six months or so. As some of you heard me share during a recent Faith Forum on the theme of reconciliation, my wife strongly suggested to me last summer that I should find something else to do in my spare time other than checking the latest political news constantly. Fair enough, I thought. So one night when I was having trouble falling asleep, I decided that it might be a fun distraction to explore the past through Ancestry.com. And it was fun to discover in my wife’s family tree a truly delightful scoundrel who spent some time as a prisoner at the Jamestown Colony and four Unionist hell-raising cousins in my family tree who broke out of jail multiple times in Confederate North Carolina, barely escaping the hangman’s noose the last time.

But I didn’t expect to meet Daniel Hackney, Jr., my great-great-great-grandfather. He became a Baptist deacon in 1833 in Chatham County, North Carolina. After the Civil War, he was licensed preach in 1866 and then ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1871. He, too, was a Unionist throughout his political career as an elected representative in North Carolina’s General Assembly during the 1840s and 1850s.

But Hackney was a pro-slavery Unionist, believing, like many of the conservative politicians of his day, that secession would ultimately be the surest and quickest path to the destruction of the institution of slavery. That, of course, is exactly what happened. So I guess we can all agree he was right about that one thing at least.

The 1860 United States Federal Census included slave schedules that reveal the fact that Hackney, just like his father before him, owned slaves. It doesn’t include their names because they are simply counted as property under Hackney’s 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. The dissonance between that harsh reality and Hackney’s complete devotion to the work of Baptist churches after the war without seeming to regret the past is astonishing, although it’s important to acknowledge that he would have been raised not to hear that.[2]

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . .” That sentence introduces what we Christians traditionally refer to as “The Ten Commandments,” which we’ve been reciting together at the beginning of our liturgies each Sunday throughout this season of Lent. But the Bible itself refers to this collection not with that familiar title but as “The Ten Words” or “Decalogue.” Interestingly, in the Jewish tradition, that sentence is neither an introduction nor a prologue to everything that follows but stands alone as the First Word.

As an aside, yes, there’s more than one way to divide up this familiar-sounding text into ten parts. In fact, there are three different ways to count those Ten Words. I’ve already mentioned the traditional Jewish way that counts the first sentence alone as the First Word before moving on to count not having other gods and not making idols, together, as the Second Word. Roman Catholics and Lutherans also combine no other gods and no idols as their First Word and split the commandment against coveting into not coveting a neighbor’s spouse as the Ninth Word and not coveting a neighbor’s possessions as the Tenth Word. Anglican, Orthodox, and Reformed Christians keep all that coveting together as the Tenth Word and count not having other gods as the First Word and not making idols as the Second Word. Got that?

So counting to ten can be more difficult than we often imagine! Back in 2006, Lynn Westmoreland, who’s a member of the United States House of Representatives from Georgia, co-sponsored a bill that would have declared the Ten Commandments to be “fundamental principles” and “the cornerstones of a fair and just society” and also would have required them to be clearly displayed in the United States Capitol. He believed people needed “to understand and to respect” these commandments. But when Westmorland was interviewed about this, he stumbled when he was asked,

What are the Ten Commandments?[3]

“Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Ummmmm.” And then he admitted, “I can’t name them all.”[4] Now to be fair, as my wife told me, that’s like asking Americans to name the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White. You might come up with Sleepy, Bashful, and Sneezy, while completely unable to recall Grumpy, Happy, Dopey, and Doc.

The issue with Westmoreland wasn’t the fact that he stumbled when he was asked to list the commandments. After all, there are different lists. Rather, it was the sanctimonious way he wanted to impose this on everyone without fully embracing it himself. And make no mistake about it, these ten words are spoken directly to Jews and, by extension, to Christians who accept the Hebrew Bible. They presume a redeemed and worshiping community like the one that surrounds us right now.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . .” That First Word in the Jewish reckoning isn’t a commandment at all. Rather, it’s a “statement of who God is and what God has already done for Israel.”[5] That one sentence really summarizes most of the Old Testament — using God’s revealed name, “I am Yahweh your God,” and reminding us of that God’s liberating actions, which are not merely anchored in the past but are a continuing reality in the lives of God’s people from generation to generation, including our own.

It’s easy to miss the plain reading of the text that God didn’t just bring those people from long ago out of the land of Egypt, God brought you . . . and me out of the land of Egypt. God brought us out of bondage. As Christians, we might say with the late Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson that “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt.”[6] This God brings life out of death, good out of evil, and sets us free. Each of us needs to be set free from something.

Occasionally we get to see that deliverance in dramatic ways in the world around us. I’m grateful, for example, that people in the 1860s saw the end of the institution of slavery throughout the United States and that people in the 1960s witnessed the Civil Rights Movement. America’s original sin was enshrined in the words of the United States Constitution, where each slave was to be counted as three-fifths of a whole person. And I hope the shadows of that, which linger in our own time, will one day be dispelled by the light of God’s love — the same love that we have seen in the face of Jesus Christ, who healed the afflicted and, from the cross, forgave his tormentors. Those in bondage to hatred aren’t really free, even if they seem to be.

But I know that even if a miraculous shift like that happens in our society while I’m still on this earth, the dissonance between my personal life and the words of the Decalogue will remain and never go away. That’s part of living, breathing, and being human. That’s part of knowing that we need to be forgiven and embraced and loved. And it’s important for me, spiritually, to listen for that dissonance, even if I’ve been taught not to hear it or the people around me don’t want me to acknowledge it.

I thought about that while reading Larry Parsley’s review of the novel Godric, which was written by Frederick Buechner. The book takes its title from the name of the story’s main character who observes that “nothing human’s not a broth of false and true.” Parsley says that “Godric’s early life breaks most of the Ten Commandments.” Eventually, however, he settles into the life of a Christian hermit whom people, for whatever reason, seek out for healing. And this is how Parsley’s review ends:

In Godric’s latter days, an obsequious monk named Reginald of Durham is dispatched to write Godric’s hagiography. As Reginald tries to pretty up the often ugly past of his subject, he justifies himself: “. . . for the sake of him who is himself the Truth, I leave some small truths out.” But Godric opposes the literary airbrushing techniques of Reginald at every turn. When Reginald tries to tell Godric his name is Saxon for “God reigns,” Godric corrects him and says his name literally means “God’s wreck.”

Over the course of reading this book, I was struck by my deep and persistent temptation to serve as my own Reginald, to tell stories of my life in such a way that the ugly parts are excised and the good parts are magnified. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I, too, am “God’s wreck.” Thankfully, though, I am God’s. And sometimes, God even moves through me . . .[7]

I don’t know about you, but I love the oddly comforting image of being God’s wreck. That’s something I share with my great-great-great-grandfather and why it’s o.k. to talk about his life not as I wish it to be but as it really was. It’s o.k. for me to be honest with God about my own life too. God hears the dissonance, even the parts that I do not, taking those notes and composing something new that’s beautiful and eternal.

And that’s the invitation each one of us has received today — to bring our true selves to this Table, to be fed here, to be loved here, to be forgiven here, knowing that God will one day right all wrongs, those done not only to us but also by us. This I believe.

AMEN

BACK TO POST Revelation 7:9 (Revised Standard Version).

BACK TO POST I also didn’t realize until last month that the same dissonance is present in the history of my alma mater, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Founded in 1834 to educate Baptist laity and men entering the ordained ministry, and named Wake Forest College in 1838, it was originally located near Raleigh in the town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. According to Twitter’s @WFUHistory, which highlights the six-volume History of Wake Forest College:

In 1860 Wake Forest was given the estate of Mr. John Blount for sale, which they sold for $12,153.19 Confederate dollars. All the money was invested in Confederate bonds, which were worth nothing by the time the college reopened in 1865. Of this $12,15319 over $10,000 came from the sale of Mr. Blount’s [16] slaves by The Board of Trustee’s Treasurer, Mr. J. S. Purefoy. The money from his estate was to be part of the college’s endowment.

BACK TO POST Bob Allen, “Baptist Congressman Can’t Name Ten Commandments,” Ethics Daily, June 22, 2006.

BACK TO POST Allen.

BACK TO POST William Johnstone, Exodus 20-40, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2014) 23.

BACK TO POST Robert Jenson, quoted by Stanley Hauerwas in “How to write a theological sentence,” ABC Religion & Ethics, September 26, 2013.

BACK TO POST Larry Parsley, “‘A Broth of False and True’: Frederick Buechner’s Godric,” Mockingbird, February 28, 2018.

My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part X

After the end of the Civil War, my great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., no longer “owned” 14 human beings as “property.” Their new status as free persons had been guaranteed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863, and freed slaves within the borders of states in rebellion and by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865, and abolished slavery throughout the United States. Hackney, a former politician and former Confederate Home Guard officer and now also a former slave owner, would spend his post-war years devoted to the work of Baptist churches. He had served as a deacon at Love’s Creek Baptist Church in Chatham County, North Carolina, since 1833. But he was granted a license to preach in the Sandy Creek Association of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1866. Eventually, he was ordained as a preaching elder in that association in 1871, serving as a pastor, without seeming to regret the past or even noticing its dissonance with Christian faith, until his death on December 28, 1884.

My great-great-grandfather David Williard and his brothers, having been drafted to fight for the Confederacy, returned home to Forsyth County, North Carolina, after the war to resume farming. These men born to Moravian parents didn’t own slaves before secession, so nothing about that reality changed afterwards. However, the economic ruin that had been wrought by the rebellion was obviously different. And so was the psychological trauma of having participated in wartime violence that their Moravian grandparents and great-grandparents would have found abhorrent as members of an originally pacifist Christian community. A line had been crossed. They were now Americans who happened to belong to the Moravian Church (or Primitive Baptist churches), and not Moravians who happened to live in America as in previous generations.

Elkanah, William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard — my second cousins, fourth removed — returned home to Yadkin County, North Carolina, after remaining Unionists throughout the war and actively opposing the Confederacy in the Old North State. It was suggested that they were members of a secret resistance movement known as the H.O.A. or Heroes of America. There was a warrant for the arrest of William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard and 11 other Unionists for murder “with malice aforethought” after an attempted arrest that led to a shootout with state militia. And Elkanah Willard, who can be seen in this photo with his prophet-like beard, was the subject of conversations with North Carolina’s wartime governor and chief justice because of his brash defiance of the authorities. Even though the arrival of the Union army ensured that the murder case would not be pursued, it’s astonishing these brothers just resumed their old lives.

So my ancestors represented at least three of the groups of people who were living in the “Quaker Belt” of the central piedmont of North Carolina during the Civil War: The wealthy who encouraged young men to volunteer to fight in a war that would mostly benefit slave owners; the yeoman farmers who were drafted into the Confederate army, many of whom deserted or resisted passively; and those who actively rebelled against the rebellion for the sake of the Union. However, when monuments were raised in the 20th century in Chatham and Forsyth Counties to commemorate the historical events of 1861 to 1865, the speeches that accompanied their unveiling glorified ordinary citizens who stepped forward to fight for the Confederacy with patriotic zeal, ignoring, in a real sense, all three of these groups.

The monuments themselves ignore these same groups and the African Americans who were enslaved by the rule of law, beginning with the Constitution of the United States, with the imagined blessing of God in the Bible. Those slaves were the human subject of “property rights” that Christian people like Hackney wanted to protect for themselves and their own economic gain by talking about the equal rights of states rather than individuals. However, African Americans were very much on the minds of men who gave speeches that praised these monuments before cheering crowds.

After 20 children unveiled Chatham County’s new Confederate monument before a large crowd in Pittsboro, North Carolina, on August 23, 1907, Chief Justice Walter Clark of the North Carolina Supreme Court was introduced as the guest speaker for the occasion. In his remarks, which the Raleigh Times newspaper published, Clark suggests the possibility that the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution “to secure the rights of the newly emancipated colored people” was not adopted legally.

Clark would later give the 1920 commencement address at St. Augustine’s School (now St. Augustine’s University) in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s a historically African American educational institution that was founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Church for the education of freed slaves. Unbelievably, his remarks included these words:

 It is true that our colored people wear “the shadowed livery of the burnished sun” and there is no social equality between the races, but the latter condition exists in every country where there are two or more distinct races of people. The colored people do not wish social equality, and the white people would not tolerate it, and there the matter ends. It is not a matter of debate, but is settled and not a cause of strife like the divergence in language, in religion, in national aspirations which exists in nearly every other country. . . .

There has been some times complaint as to what is known as the “Jim Crow cars,” which are established by law. At the North, where there are few colored people in proportion to the population, the railroads cannot afford to furnish separate cars for them. With us, where nearly one-third of the people are colored, and probably one-fourth of the travelers by rail, it is better for them and the whites that separate cars should be furnished for them. The real objection is that sometimes these cars are inferior to those furnished the whites. This is contrary to the law, which requires the same rate to be charged for fare and the same and equally good accommodations furnished for both races. When this is not done it is not because of the law, but in violation of it, and the remedy is by application to the Corporation Commission to require better accommodations.

As to suffrage, which I do not intend to discuss in any way, I think that the wiser heads among the colored people have discouraged any attempt to intermeddle in politics and that the colored race has lost nothing but gained much by abstaining from doing so against the wishes of the white people, notwithstanding the decision of the United States Supreme Court that the “Grandfather Clause” is void.

Forsyth County’s new Confederate monument had been unveiled in Winston, North Carolina, on October 3, 1905. The guest speaker that day was the Honorable Alfred Moore Waddell, Mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina, who said, “I thank God that monuments to the Confederate soldier are rapidly multiplying in the land.”

Wadell had been a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate cavalry and was a United States representative during the 1870s. He also participated in a coup d’etat known as the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, when white Democrats overthrew the legally elected officials of the city and expelled black Republican leaders. Emboldened by Democratic election victories in the fall of 1898 throughout most of North Carolina, an armed white mob seized control of the city. Before sunset, they had forced the mayor, the board of aldermen, and the chief of police to resign.

Waddell, who began his term as the Mayor of Wilmington under these violent and racist circumstances, had made clear his unvarnished white supremacist views in a statement before the election that was published in the Constitution newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 21, 1898. This was part of the intimidation of African American voters that, together with at least one city precinct in which the ballot boxes were stuffed, contributed to the wide election margins by white Democrats:

So I do not believe those monuments truly reflect or honor the historical events of 1861 to 1865. They certainly are not honest about the white supremacist ideas that undergirded the celebrations after they were erected. Not even General Robert E. Lee thought these “enduring memorials of granite” were a good idea. He wrote a letter in 1869 to decline an invitation to return to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with officers who had participated in the battle there for the purpose of marking on the ground where such memorials should be placed. This is how he ended his letter:

I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered. Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee.

W.E.B. Du Bois was a historian, civil rights activist, and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also known as the NAACP, and wrote these words in 1931 in a publication of the NAACP called The Crisis:

The most terrible thing about War, I am convinced, is its monuments, — the awful things we are compelled to build in order to remember the victims. In the South, particularly, human ingenuity has been put to explain on its war monuments, the Confederacy. Of course, the plain truth of the matter would be an inscription something like this: “Sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.” But that reads with increasing difficulty as time goes on. It does, however, seem to be overdoing the matter on a North Carolina monument: “Died Fighting for Liberty!”

Last summer I happened to read an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times newspaper that was written by a self-described “black daughter of the Confederacy.” Her name is Lisa Richardson, and, like me, she’s the descendant of a Confederate soldier. The difference, as she notes in her essay, is that she finds herself in that category most likely “through coerced sex and rape,” which was tolerated within the institution of slavery. Also like me, a victory for one side of her family meant defeat for another side of her family. In Richardson’s case, however, the end of the rebellion brought an end to the institution of slavery and, therefore, freedom to her slave ancestors. With her, I rejoice that the rebellion did not succeed in its aim to deny that freedom to millions of human beings whose ancestors came from Africa. With her, I lament that white supremacist ideas have survived the fall the Confederacy, emerging renewed as those statues were dedicated and, sadly, continuing into our own day:

History isn’t being erased, but it is being corrected. Relocating a Confederate statue to, say, a museum, is an acknowledgment that we see the naked emperor; we see through the contorted logic that it is possible to separate the Confederacy from the institution of slavery . . .

As for my Confederate ancestor, [Jeremiah Dial, who enlisted in the 31st Regiment, Arkansas Infantry,] I consider him without bitterness. He was a man of his time, his family, his community and his culture. He probably wasn’t particularly evil — just an ordinary man, without the advantage we have: [more than a century and a half’s] perspective on the Civil War. I have met a few of his white descendants — my cousins — and we regard each other with genuine affection.

To those who would keep Jeremiah Dial frozen in time, forever trapped at the moment he chose a cause on the wrong side of humanity, I believe you do him a disservice. To those who use him as an excuse to fly the flag of modern-day anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, you have no right.

To all the bronze Confederate soldiers, in whom I see the image of my great-great-great-grandfather, I would extend this grace. Without resentment or rancor, I would move them into museums and there tell the story of their lives. I would end their utility as flashpoints for racism and division, and, once and for all, allow them to retire from their long service as sentries over a whitewashed history.

I’m grateful that recent scholarship is filling in the gaps in the history of the world that surrounded and shaped the opinions of both my slave-owning and non-slave-owning ancestors in the 19th century. In 2014, for example, Cambridge University Press published Rebels against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists by Barton A. Myers, and McFarland & Company published Civil War in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt: The Confederate Campaign Against Peace Agitators, Deserters and Draft Dodgers by William T. Auman. I’m also grateful that I’ve been able to learn details about the connections that my great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., had to the institution of slavery, both personally and politically, thanks to the resources of Ancestry.com and its affiliates. Even when I disagree with them, it’s amazing to read his thoughts about the events of the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s in local newspapers.

From my point of view, there is nothing to fear about shining a light on the shadows that have been ignored for too long. As for this particular series, there may be future posts about other Unionist cousins of mine whom I discovered through their own testimony and the testimony of their friends and neighbors before the United States Southern Claims Commission several years after the end of the Civil War. Some of that testimony includes references to and claims of secret membership during the war in the Red Strings, a biblically-inspired nickname for the Heroes of America.

I’m also pondering a final post that somehow imagines a conversation, centered on reconciliation, between me and Hackney. However, that will necessitate some time and some prayer to do honestly. So perhaps it will appear in a future season of Easter. That would seem appropriate since I am, like Hackney was, an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The promise of Easter is that God will one day make all things new, including the conflicted and sin-wearied hearts of Hackney and me with our prejudices, our imperfections, and our many mistakes. As the First Letter of John in the New Testament reminds those of us who are called Christians:

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts . . .

To that, I say, “Amen, amen, and amen.” The Lord is merciful to all. This I believe.

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

My Slave-Owning Ancestor, Part IX

My great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., was appointed to chair a public meeting at Love’s Creek Baptist Church in Chatham County, North Carolina, on August 29, 1863. That was nearly two months after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Hackney, a former politician, owned 14 slaves, served as a deacon at Love’s Creek Baptist Church, and was 3rd Lieutenant in Chatham County’s Home Guard. His report about that meeting was published in the September 10, 1863, issue of the Fayetteville Observer newspaper in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

After Hackney and other speakers addressed the assembly, those present declared “full confidence” in the Confederate government and “abiding faith” in Divine Providence. They expressed their opinion that “a reconstruction of the Union is a thing impossible” and disapproval of so-called “peace meetings” in various parts of the Old North State. Finally, they resolved that it was their duty “to sustain the President of the Confederate States and the Governor of North Carolina, in the discharge of all their constitutional duties.”

I have other relatives who were just as unwavering in their convictions as Hackney was, only not for his cause.

On November 10, 1862, Henry W. Ayer wrote his official report to Governor Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina about war-related manufacturing contracts in Forsyth County. His letter ends, however, with a dire warning about Elkanah Willard, whose name comes from the father of the Prophet Samuel in the Bible. This Willard is my second cousin, fourth removed, and lived in Yadkin County, which is adjacent to and west of Forsyth County. Here’s what Ayer said about him, and note that Richard M. Pearson was the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court:

I am authorized and requested by Chief Justice Pearson to lay before your Excellency the following facts, There is a man in Yadkin county near Mount Nebo . . . named Elkanah Willard, who openly defied the law, first, By rescueing his brother who is a conscript (he himself is not) from a guard who had him in custody by a display of arms and open force. Secondly, by putting Capt Fleming and the men accompanying him at defiance, in such a way that they were obliged to shoot him down or rush upon him armed as he was at the iminent danger of their lives The Capt says he could have shot him down or at the risk of his life have attempted to arrest him but as he was a man of most desperate character and has 5 older brothers as bad as himself, the better plan he thought was to let him alone — It is the opinion of the well affected neighbors in order to avoid bloodshed that the best policy would be to send an officer with 12 to 15 armed men — to arrest him, supposing that this display of force would let them see their resistance was hopeless and that they would surrender without opposition Whereas it tampered with and not put down at the start it may result in some dreadful evil. The effect of armed men in the neighborhood, would be wholesome in many ways, as there is some disaffection in that part of the County. This man Willard has said he would rather join the Federal Army than ours — The above statement are facts, vouched for by Judge Pearson. Any thing else coming to my knowledge will be promptly reported to your Excellency.

That same year, 1862, Elkanah Willard was indeed arrested for speaking in favor of the Union and rescuing a draft-dodging brother. But that was only the beginning. He was eventually released from custody, legally or illegally, before his next escapades.

15 men gathered in the Bond Schoolhouse, named for a Quaker and near the Deep Creek Friends Meeting House, in Yadkin County on the night of February 11, 1863. That group, which was evading the Confederate draft and making plans to cross over to Union territory in Tennessee, included William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard, who were three of Elkanah Willard’s brothers. Their number increased to 16 early the next day when another member of their party joined them with a newspaper. Anxious to hear news of the war, they forgot to post a guard. So they were caught by surprise when at least 12 members of the state militia, having been tipped off about their hiding place, rode out to the schoolhouse to arrest them. The shootout that ensued left two men killed on each side, two men wounded among the Unionists, including Benjamin Willard, and no one in custody after the state militia withdrew.

According to one recollection, “the Willard boys did most of the shooting.” The next day, February 13, they were named along with the other 11 surviving Unionists in a warrant for the arrest of all 14 of them for murder “with malice aforethought.” A few days later, four of them — but none of the Willard brothers — were in custody. That’s the context for attorney R.F. Armfield’s letter to Governor Vance about this incident and how it fit into political debates about the Confederate draft, which was extremely controversial in North Carolina because that draft was not controlled by the state. So states’ rights were, ironically, being trampled upon by the First Congress of the Confederate States of America for the sake of immediate necessity.

After summarizing details of the shootout, Armfield ended his letter to Governor Vance with some cautionary advice. Although the governor was strongly opposed to the Confederate draft on the basis of states’ rights, he zealously rounded up deserters and returned them to their regiments in the Confederate army. That would bring him into conflict with the chief justice of the state supreme court, who did not believe that the governor had authority to do that. So Armfield wrote:

But my principle object in writing this letter is to ask you what we shall do with those four murderers we have and the others if we get them? Suppose we try them for murder, do you not believe our supreme court will decide the conscription act unconstitutional and thus leave these men justified in resisting its execution? I believe they will, and tremble to think of the consequences of such a blow upon the cause of our independence. It would demoralize our army in the field and bring the first horrors of civil war to our own doors and then perhaps subjugation to the enemy, which no honorable man ought to want to survive. . . . I hope you know I am conservative for the rights of the citizens and the States, but for my country always, and for independence at all hazards.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Chief Justice Pearson had the four men who were being held in custody released on a writ of habeas corpus. He believed their detention was illegal. The General Assembly of North Carolina would keep trying to increase the governor’s authority in what would become a continuing legal battle with the state supreme court. So these would not be the last arrests made in this particular case.

More than a year later, in the summer of 1864, three of the 14 surviving Unionists, including William Willard, were captured as they tried to cross the mountains. Those three men were taken to the Yadkinville jail in Yadkin County. But they were rescued in a jail break by a group of armed men, led by Elkanah Willard. The editorial from the Weekly Confederate newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, that concluded my last post in this series began with a description of that jail break and claimed that my Willard cousins and others in league with them belonged to an organized resistance movement known as the H.O.A. or Heroes of America.

The New York Times multi-year series Disunion included a post on the shootout at the Bond Schoolhouse called “Blood in the Carolina Hills.” That post contains this interesting sentence: “It proved harder to keep the Willards jailed than to keep a beagle in a pen.” It also offered a description of the work of the Heroes of America:

The [H.O.A.] undermined the Confederacy primarily by encouraging and aiding draft resisters and deserters. An “underground railroad,” operated in cooperation with abolitionists, led deserters and conscripts to safety in Tennessee and Kentucky, where many enlisted with the Union. The organization’s badge, a red string attached to a coat lapel or a home’s threshold or window, gave the Heroes the nickname the Red Strings. The device was adopted from the biblical Book of Joshua, in which a woman in Jericho concealed from capture two Israelites on a reconnaissance mission, then helped them escape by lowering them down the city wall on a red rope. They promised that on their return as conquerors, she and her family would be protected by a “scarlet thread” she was to fasten to her window.

After the Yadkinville jail break, Elkanah, William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard joined a large party of men with arms and ammunition stolen from the Home Guard and, on July 10, 1864, headed toward Tennessee to try to reach the Federal lines there. This group divided into two companies, each one led by an individual “who had from time to time been successful in piloting many conscripts across the line.” While one of the companies arrived safely on the other side, the other one, which included my Willard cousins, was surprised and attacked by the North Carolina militia.

Although many of the men in that company were killed, the Willard brothers were captured and taken to Camp Vance, which was six miles outside of Morganton, North Carolina. They escaped from Camp Vance but were captured again.

At that point, Elkanah Willard was sent to the Morganton jail, from which he escaped on his own. And his brothers were sent to the Forsyth County jail, from which a sister helped them make a daring escape.

The report about that jail break by the Winston Sentinel newspaper in Winston, North Carolina, was republished in the Daily Conservative newspaper in Raleigh on January 31, 1865. As seen above and to the right, it appeared right below a call for prayer and thanksgiving in a proclamation by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. Here’s a 1906 account of this final jail break story:

The last place [William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard] broke jail was Winston [in Forsyth County, North Carolina]. A sister of the Willard boys secreted an auger and a chisel upon her person, left her home in Yadkin county and went to Winston and after undergoing a rigid examination by the jailor, she was permitted to go up stairs to see her brothers. When she left the jail she left the auger and chisel with them. With the auger and chisel, they bored and cut out of the jail and made good their escape, and avoided being shot or hanged, as a detachment of state militia had been ordered there to take them out and hang or shoot them, and arrived the day after they escaped.

Soon after this the welcome word “peace” was heralded from Florida to California, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. And they like thousands of others, at the close of the war, returned to their shattered homes penniless. All indictments against them was nole prosceivied [sic].

In other words, the murder case involving William, Benjamin, and Lee Willard and the other 11 men who had been at the Bond Schoolhouse during the shootout with members of the state militia would not be pursued after the Union army arrived.

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

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.

Even before secession was official, Hackney joined others for a “grand rally” on May 18, 1861, to raise up volunteers in Chatham County for what would become Company E, 26th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. Here’s how that event was described in a historical sketch written sometime before March, 1863, and republished in the Chatham Record newspaper in Pittsboro, North Carolina, on September 15, 1915:

The day came and with it a large assembly of gentlemen and ladies anxious to join the company or to persuade the hesitating to do so. Speeches were made by William P. Taylor, S.S. Carter, Daniel Hackney, and William G. Headen, encouraging the young men to rally to the call of their country and take up arms against the usurpations of a tyrant as their ancestors did in the memorable struggle of 1776.

In the western half of the Quaker Belt, however, my ancestors in Forsyth County and some of the counties that surrounded it were 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 First Congress of the Confederate States of America in the spring of 1862 and expanded in the fall of 1862. Governor Zebulon B. 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 K, 21st Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. Yancey and Jacob Williard were both privates in Company A, 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:

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

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.

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

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. The sugar cane from those plantations was made into molasses and then sent to their own rum distilleries in America.

The circle was completed by loading their rum onto their ships that sailed back to West Africa, where it was traded for slaves. Later, they continued the dismal trade after the importation of slaves became illegal in 1808, 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 “[n****r] 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 Trade 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.

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