I love history! I love to read biographies and historical fiction, and I love to watch historical movies and shows. I just find people fascinating in general. So, of course, I am curious about my own family history and the people that I descended from. The curiosity is exponentially greater because I was adopted. I know some of my maternal relatives, but my father’s side is a complete mystery. I, however, did get my DNA analyzed and it revealed some incredible findings in my ancestry: West African, British, Irish, Finnish, Scandinavian, French, German, Native American, & Jewish (?). One day, I would like to delve deeper and investigate this more.
However, the most valuable and informative document I have is a a biography of my maternal great-grandmother that was written by my grandmother. It’s filled with not only important information like names and birth dates, but also lots of anecdotes that give me a peek into what life was like for my greats and great-greats pre and post slavery. These stories are both fascinating and heartbreaking, but it also makes me proud to be a part of their legacy. In honour of them and of Black History Month, I’d like to share a little from this booklet that my grandmother, Rebecca, wrote.
There is a story told about my great-great grandfather, Sam Stewart:
Her father Sam Stewart was born in slavery. He was owned by Mr. Harris, sold to him by his former slave owner, Mr. Stewart. He was sold to Mr. Harris when he was about 10 or 11 years of age. The last time he saw his mother was when he was standing on the block to be sold. She was crying and waving goodbye to him. They were living in Virginia at this time. Mr. Harris brought him to Georgia. He was brought up by the Harris plantation. Mr. Harris made him overseer of other slaves. He was the whipping boss. After the slaves were freed, he went back to Virginia looking for his parents. There, he found two cousins who told him his parents were dead and took him to where they were buried. He returned to Georgia. He chose not to be called Sam Harris and went back into his parents’ name, the name of Stewart.
Sam Stewart went on to marry my great-great grandmother, Susan, pictured above. Their daughter, my great-grandmother, Annie Clara, by all accounts seemed to be a very well-respected and admirable woman, and dearly loved by all of her children. There is a little anecdote about the holidays, and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to watch this unfold.
Christmas was always a happy time of the year. A time of the year to which all, especially the children, looked forward with great anticipation. She and her daugher, Susie, named after her mother, would be in the kitchen baking cakes. The house would be filled with the aroma from the cakes they were baking. There was a long trunk in the hall where the cakes were kept. There were chocolate cakes, lemon, cheese, and coconut cakes. Even on Thanksgiving day, she celebrated each one after the president changed the dates. On Christmas Eve night, the children would go to bed early after they had put out their boxes to get their Christmas in. They would hear the older people sitting around the fireplace laughing and talking and eating nuts. They could hardly wait for morning to come. They would get up early and get their boxes of goodies. There would be raisins, orange slice candy, nuts and fruits along with whatever gift they would get for Christmas. Her daughter, Lucy Lee, would put out her box on Christmas Eve, even after she became a young lady, courting. Up until she left for Boston, Massachusetts, she would say, “Mama, I want you to fix my box.” Those were happy days.
My great-grandmother loved God, and prayed often for her family, which is very large. How amazing would it be to build out that family tree! (I’m a nerd…that would be amazing for me!) She died at the age of 92, when I was just 3 months old. I don’t think she was aware of my existance, but I think how cool it would be to sit down and talk with her and listen to more of these stories. I think also of my great-great-great grandmother who had to watch her son be sold and sent to another state, knowing she would likely never see him again, and I wonder how many prayers she said for him. No one’s family is perfect, but I do believe that I am who I am today, in part, as a result of the prayers of these strong women in my lineage.