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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Roots and Fruits
It would have been particularly shaming for me to have discovered that my ancestors were amongst the slave-owners compensated by the British government on the abolition of slavery in 1833, especially when some of them at least had been so vocal in the abolitionist movement.

I was relatively confident in their integrity, but not entirely: after all, they certainly knew and corresponded with slavers, such as Pierce Butler (no relation), who sent his son to my great*4 grandfather's school in Chelsea and was visited in America by said ancestor's own son. Moreover, they were just the right class to have had a few "field workers" labouring sight unseen on some Antiguan plantation. People are pretty susceptible to long-distance hypocrisy: it's not as if most of us in the West are unaccustomed to live relatively well off the back of cheap foreign labour even today. So it was with some trepidation that I checked the compensation database (which I recommend generally, by the way - it's a fascinating site).

Luckily it gave me the all clear. I feel very relieved, which is a little strange in itself, but a measure I suppose of how invested I am in this eccentric but mostly harmless - indeed, often benevolent - crew, whose deeds have occasionally enlivened this journal.

Thankfully, I suspect my lot were way too poor to have been involved and they weren't seafarers, so not even in that way!

Same here! I checked all my grandparent's surnames and two names did appear in the registry. However, it's unlikely that they were actually related in any close way to anyone in my family. My paternal grandfather came from just on the English side of the Welsh border and there was a wealthy landowning family with the same name, but my father's efforts to trace our family history in that direction just found generations of illiterate farm-labourers who would never have had any spare money to invest. Similarly with my grandmother's maiden name. She and her sister worked at a cotton mill owned by a man with the same surname as hers, but there was no family connection that anyone knew about.

I see nothing shameful nor humiliating in having slaveholding ancestors, nor in their having been financially compensated when slavery was abolished, nor in their having been slaveholders who advocated for the abolition of slavery.

There's nothing very rational in feeling shame or pride in the actions of anyone who was long dead before one was born, I"ll freely admit - but alas I'm not wholly immune to this common folly.

Probably just as well I can't figure out which Smiths I come from, as I suspect they were gung ho for any scam going, judging from what little I know of my grandfather.

OTOH the Swedish side believed in Hard Work and they were far too poor even if Sweden had had any hand in the trade.

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I di dont know that! Thank you for the link! I do know that my relatives who came over to start the town of Vasa in Minnesota in the early nineteenth century did all their own work. There are plenty of journals and documents about it, plus many, many family stories.

Well, Utopia wasn't the freest of societies, come to that. Sweden does seem to have a lot of dark sides, once one begins to look them out...

I don't think I still had direct ancestors in the UK by 1833--most of them were in America by then (save some still in Norway) and those were all yankees. As I come from several long lines of religious dissenters, though, I think I remember that one branch were huguenots who, upon fleeing France, moved to their plantation in the new world. I think those are the only ones likely to have had slaves.

Until you go back much further, of course, because I am significant parts Celt and Viking, and some ancestor or other undoubtedly owned a relative of another ancestor. Or at least it seems likely.

My family came to the USA before it was that. They settled in New England in the 1630s. Unlikely that in 300 years they are clean of it.

Even as late as the civil war some people in the North were profiting from slavery.

It's an avenue I haven't explored for my family at all, because I didn't know that Jews were allowed to practice their religion in slave-owning colonies until quite recently, and, technically, slave-owning is really heavily discouraged in Judaism so I didn't know until I checked the Diaz family that there *were* Jewish plantation owners in the colonies.

I did an quick check and found possible names, but the family surname is Lyon, which is not uncommon, which means they may not be related to me at all. Still, the family name is there, so it's worth checking up one day. If it turns out they're not related, it will sort out which Jewish Lyon family in early 19th century London wasn't mine at all, which saves a lot of other legwork. So... not a cheerful check, but a handy one. Thank you!