December 8, 2012

Just My Opinion

Did any of your ancestors own slaves?

None of my CoffeE ancestors did but, suspected CoffeY ancestors did own some.  How should I feel about that?

I read a blog this morning entitled "Coming to Terms with Slave-Owning Ancestors."  Now, just reading the title might infer that the writer - unidentified as far as I can determine from the website it appears on - believes some people might be deeply troubled and seek some sort of atonement for the fact that a colonial era ancestor owned slaves.

Reading further, I noted that the author did come away with a very strong, personal reaction after finding a slave owner in her ancestry.  The author wrote that it was necessary:
" understand the historical climate of the day. Sadly, slavery was a fact of life in this time period of Virginia. In your research you will find slaves, and your ancestors may have owned them, or may have been them. But as a woman in the 21st century, seeing the names, ages and prices evoked a strong visceral reaction. I felt sick. Even though most of my family left the South before the Civil War because of their abolitionist ways, some had still owned people."

Finding out that your parents had sex* might cause a visceral reaction, even sickness, because you could never want to picture that in your mind. But, having such a strong reaction to something you knew existed (slavery) that began at the end of the 17th century and ended in 1862, might be an over reaction.  Perhaps however, the author never even suspected that her ancestors might have been slave holders.

Knowing that some of my people were slave owners makes little difference to me. I am certain that the knowledge has no profound effect on who I am. It was something people did then.  Without slaves, we would likely not have advanced out of the colonial era.

Blacks were not the only slaves in that era. Many plantation owners grew their land holdings by importing indentured servants who, if they had no special skills, worked alongside slaves in the tobacco fields.

Edward Coffey researchers know that he was an indentured servant.


*Please forgive the analogy to parental sex, but it's the first thing that came to mind that might evoke a visceral and sick reaction in a child when it finally realizes that it got here because the parents had sex. I would be interested in any reaction readers might want to share after finding their ancestors were slave holders. You can leave comments here or, drop me an e-mail.

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