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Logo of the Universities Studying Slavery ConsortiumKing’s and Dalhouse University will be hosting a pre-conference panel at 3pm, November 1, 2021 on the theme of Slavery and Reparations: African Nova Scotia, Canada and Beyond. The panel discussion will feature Dr. Andrea Douglas, Director of the Jefferson School African America Heritage Centre in Charlottesville, Virginia; Cikiah Thomas, Chairperson of the International Working Committee of the Global African Congress; and Delvina Bernard, a PhD candidate at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia studying reparations and reparatory justice. The event is in anticipation of the 2023 Universities Studying Slavery Conference that will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The panel will be followed at 6pm by a keynote lecture by Sir Hilary Beckles, a noted professor and lecturer on social justice and minority empowerment. Dr. Afua Cooper, professor of Black Canadian history at Dalhousie University, will be the Discussant.

Attendance is free and the event will be held over Zoom. Click here to register.

For additional information on the event and participants, download the full flyer.

CSSC Faculty Studying Slavery: Mary Jo Fairchild

By Danielle Cox
Posted on 10 September 2021 | 12:00 pm — 
A headshot of Mary Jo Fairchild

This post, written by Mary Jo Fairchild, is one of a series that documents work studying slavery by faculty members of the CSSC.

As an archivist and historian, I gravitate towards projects that leverage research and interrogation of historic records to support and uplift social justice-oriented community work. Working with the research committee of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston (CSSC)  gives me the opportunity to flex and engage both of these seemingly disparate devotions.

I remember the first time I began researching the College of Charleston’s ties to slavery and oppression. It was 2010 or so and I had recently completed graduate course work in American History with an emphasis on African American History at the College of Charleston. Not long after, I was appointed the Director of Archives and Research for the oldest and largest private archive in the state, the South Carolina Historical Society. My daily duties revolved around operating a bustling reading room, where students, community members, and scholars would visit and subsequently spend hours examining historic letters, diaries, newspapers, ledgers, images, maps, pamphlets and more. Very quickly I became adept at connecting a researcher with a document or record stored in one of the crowded vaults that might help answer the question that brought them to the archives.   

Of course, I had questions of my own and on one quiet afternoon, I fired up the old microfilm machine in the back of the library to examine capitation tax records for clues about the identity of a person named Tom Peace, whose name appears in the minutes of the Board of Trustees in several instances throughout the 19th century.  At his death at “about 75 or more years” of age in 1887, the Board of Trustees published a tribute to “Old Tom, the janitor” which included the fact that Tom “boasted that he had Indian blood in his veins and his physiognomy justified the claim.” 1

A page with newspaper clippings and handwritten text announcing the death of Tom Peace

Let me pause here for a moment. Capitation tax records deserve what Shereen Marisol Maraji and Gene Demby, hosts of NPR’s Code Switch podcast (consider this a HUGE plug for one of my favorite podcasts!), call a brief explanatory comma. Prior to emancipation, free persons of color in the city of Charleston were required to pay an annual “capitation tax” or head tax. Basically, free Black people (also referred to as free persons of color in the antebellum South) had to pay the city for their “free” status. Since the white ruling class could not benefit directly from the unpaid labor of free persons of color, they enacted an ordinance that taxed them to make up for the profits they would generate if enslaved, the default status of Black people in antebellum the South. The records include the names, ages, occupations, real estate holdings, and more for free Black people living in Charleston from 1811 to 1860. It is essential to acknowledge that the original purpose for keeping records for capitation taxes was rooted in the subjugation of Black lives. Nearly 300 years later, the words on the page provide the inheritors of the records with a valuable source for learning more about individuals who occupied what CSSC’s own Executive Director Bernard Powers calls an “anomalous” status, completely “dictated by the region’s commitment to slavery” in his monograph Black Charlestonians, A Social History, 1822-1855. 2

Examination of capitation tax records yielded no direct information about Tom Peace, although starting in 1845 there is a woman named Isabella Peace listed. By 1850 and 1852, the records indicate Isabella Peace was living on “St. Philip’s street near George” and at the “corner of College and George”, respectively. Both of these locations are at the heart of the college campus. I began to speculate. Was it possible that Isabella was some kin or relation to Tom Peace?

A black and white microfilm scan listing the names and streets of several individuals, including Isabella Peace of St. Philip Street

A decade after I first found Isabella Peace in the capitation tax records, I am now an archivist in Special Collections at the College of Charleston and work regularly with the College’s archives; so, not long ago I picked up the research thread I still held in the back of my mind for Tom Peace and decided to look a bit deeper. I followed financial transactions and discovered that the Treasurer of the College, Charles Fraser, was making regular monthly payments for “Tom’s wages” to a woman named Anne Wagner starting in 1829.

A handwritten receipt for $30 paid by Charles Fraser to Ann Wagner on 13 July 1829.

Could this be the Tom Peace to whom the Board of Trustees paid tribute in 1887? It is certainly possible since Tom Peace was said to be 75 years of age at his death which would make him 17 years old in 1829. Furthermore, according to the Charleston City Directory published in 1830, Anne Wagner resided at 52 St. Philip Street – again, at the heart of campus in the antebellum era. Did Ann Wagner hire Tom’s labor to her neighbors at the College of Charleston? Could Isabella Peace listed in the capitation tax records have been Tom Peace’s daughter? The silences and omissions of the historical record leave us with more questions than answers. Had the labors of men and women like Tom and Isabella Peace been properly acknowledged, compensated, and valued, we would have more than a set of financial transactions to mark their lives. It is time to mark their names and publicly acknowledge their roles and contributions.

As I said at the top, I am frequently drawn to archival research projects but I learned how to wield historical research methods for racial justice from the many scholars of race and slavery I’ve worked with in the archives. Edda Fields-Black taught me about multi-generational Black kinship networks in the Sea Islands and Toni Carrier helped me understand how to help people trace their family history when their ancestors were enslaved. Darlene Clarke Hine taught me how to look for the contributions of Black women in the historic record when the white record-makers did everything they could to erase them and Andrea Williams brought her graduate students to the archives to experience how people of African descent, enslaved and free, are present in the archives if one looks close enough and reads the silences. Gerald Horne demonstrated how the rare published travel diaries in the archives offer important perspectives absent in business ledgers and diaries kept by enslavers and Rita Reynolds took me along her journey to tell the stories of free Black women living and working in South Carolina during the antebellum era. I poured over the pages of eighteenth century ledgers searching for the name of Priscilla, a young girl kidnapped from her home in West Africa and enslaved by members of the Ball family, scratched on a page in iron gall ink to help Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Edward Ball tell her story to a national audience.   

I am humbled to continue to use the skills I’ve learned over the years to participate and contribute to the mission and vision of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston. In solidarity with other entities and programs on campus including the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World program, the CSSC provides a platform and support for scholars, faculty, students, the larger community to collaboratively mine evidence from the past, both material, written, and what exists “in between the lines”, to demonstate how the College of Charleston would not exist as we know it without the contributions of people who were historically marginalized.


Sources

College of Charleston Archives, Historical Series. Special Collections and Archives, College of Charleston Libraries.

Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1855. University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Farrell, Jessica. “History, Memory, and Slavery at the College of Charleston, 1785 – 1810.” Chrestomathy: Annual Review of Undergraduate Research Vol 7, 2008: pp. 52 – 71: https://chrestomathy.cofc.edu/documents/vol7/farrell.pdf

Rogers, Kaylee. “Overworked and Underpaid: ‘Black’ Work at the College of Charleston”. Chrestomathy: Annual Review of Undergraduate Research, Vol 7, 2008: pp. 227-247.

“South Carolina, Charleston, Free Negro Capitation Books, 1811-1860,” https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/3405101.

Charleston City Directories: https://www.ccpl.org/city-directories


Footnotes

  1. CofC Board of Trustees Minutes, April 1887.
  2. Powers, Black Charlestonians, pg. 36 -37.
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