Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Well, this is embarrassing!

The Old Plantation, ca. 1790-1800. Watercolor ...
The Old Plantation, ca. 1790-1800. Watercolor by unidentified artist. Original painting in Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Author Kevin Levin, over at Civil War Memory, tweeted this post the other day, alerting all interested parties to the existence of the Sons and Daughters of Antebellum Planters, 1607-1861. When I read the post, I thought Mr. Levin was joking. I followed the link, though, and I can tell you, people, this is a real thing in the world.

"Antebellum Planters"? Really? By this they mean plantation owners, which they define as 500 acres or more. Now we all know you couldn't run a 500-acre plantation back then without slave labor. What's funny (in the ironic sense) is that they seem to realize on some level that this is a pretty lame euphemism for what they're really talking about--slave owners, not to put too fine a point on it--for in their mission statement they put "planters" in quotation marks every time the word appears. So why not just call it what it is? It's the Sons and Daughters of Slave Owners Society.

They have posted on their website a list of ancestors who are pre-qualified, as it were (click on the tab that says "Ancestors"), and as a dyed-in-the-wool genealogy nerd, I couldn't resist reading it to see if any of my family's folk were on there. Not that I really expected to find any, mind you, because my family (direct lineage, at any rate) tended to be small farmers, and most of them didn't own slaves.

There are some founding fathers on the list, like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and a few other names you might recognize, along with some Mayflower families. There are a few surnames on there that appear in the outermost branches of my genealogy, but none that jumped out at me as being direct ancestors, until I got nearly to the bottom, where I saw, to my horror, a fourth great-grandfather--to wit, one Reuben Nail.

A closer examination of the list against my genealogy database later revealed not one, but two Edwin Conways, my eighth and ninth great-grandfathers, so it seems I'm doubly qualified for membership.

Now, that's embarrassing.

Among the Sons and Daughters of Long-Dead Slave Owners' objectives are
"To study and apprecaite [sic] the rural and country life led by our ancestors in all of the original colonies and territories from which the 48 states of the continental United States are derived;
To inculcate true patriotism and a strict devotion to historical truth"
Well, they can't spell. That much is clear. (Reuben couldn't either, as he signed his Revolutionary War pension application with his mark.) And they don't know how to use spellcheck. So you have to wonder just exactly how accurate their version of history might be. Or maybe you don't: It's probably an easy guess that they believe in Black Confederates, that the war wasn't over slavery but States' Rights, and that the North started the war. I'd be willing to bet that they're every man jack of 'em unrepentant Lost Causers.

And I wonder, too, do they admit to membership the African-American descendants of these "planters" and the slaves who made that nice "rural and country life" (isn't that redundant, by the way?) possible by their labors? And while we're on that subject, Reuben's original stake appears to have been land taken from loyalists: Wonder, if I became a Daughter of the Defeated member, if I'd be rubbing elbows with descendants of those Englishmen who also contributed to my ancestors' life of leisure in the country?

No, wait. Of course not. Membership is "by invitation only". That's a time-honored Southern circumlocution for "Gentile Whites Only". In their case, it does double duty, for if they had to accept applications from all qualified Sons and Daughters of Dead Slave Owners, they couldn't consistently reject all the Brits and Blacks without jeopardizing their 501-c status.

Oh, yeah. Didn't I mention? They're a charitable organization! Chartered in (where else?) Texas. Of course, their "charity" so far seems to consist mainly of putting up plaques, benches, and statues in places that are already quite wealthy, like Callaway Plantation in South Georgia, a former working plantation still in the hands of the original owner family until very recently. It is now a sort of open-air museum where--wait for it--you can pick cotton. I am not making this up. 

And they have insignia!


Isn't it cute? It's a picture of The Big House! Probably not safe to wear out in public, though: too inflammatory.

All joking aside, I'm all for remembering the past, lest we be condemned to repeat it and all that, but celebrating an ancestor for the sole reason that s/he owned slaves? I don't think so. In fact, it embarrasses me no end that I might have cousins, no matter how distant, who do think so.

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