Slave birth, marriage, and death records are somewhat nonexistent in many states. However, the state of Virginia and it counties yield the most reliable proof of plantation owners, slaves, and family origins. When slaves there gained their freedom, many of them took the family names of their masters. In some cases, the master was the biological father of slaves born on the plantation. The original names of slaves had been lost long ago when these people were stolen from their land and forced into the slave trade.
Freed slaves usually assumed surnames from the paternal side of their family. Therefore, the original slave owner’s name passed down through the generations of freed slaves. This name passed from one generation to the next generation, as my ancestors married and produced offspring.
Regular courtships occurred between slaves in the microcosm of the plantation system. Almost every large plantation had an elder who instructed young men on how to win the hearts of the young women they desired. Because the colony did not recognize slaves as full members of the society, they didn’t have the same rights as their owners. The right to marry, for example, was for the owners and their descendants. Slaves could not legally marry so they practiced their own rituals to honor unions through marriage. In the case of marriage, culture and convenience dictated the custom for many slaves living on the plantation.
Slaves living within the plantation system of colonial Virginia participated in a ceremony called Jumping the Broom. This ceremony dates back to the 1600s. It was a marriage ritual created during slavery. Jumping the Broom was a brief ceremony that symbolized the leap into a married life as wife and husband. It occurred in the presence of families and friends. The broom used in these ceremonies had both symbolic and spiritual importance. The straws of the broom represented family; the handle represented the Almighty; and the ribbon represented the tie that binds the couple together.
From the beginning of the anti-slavery movement, it took nearly one hundred years for the practice of slavery and servitude to end. This movement took place during the years between the 1770s and the 1860s. As a result, black churches began marrying black couples, baptizing black children, and recording the new surnames that former slaves chose for themselves.
I was able to trace the marriage records of ancestors on my father’s side back to 1823. In the 1930 census records, my great- great-grand father was the head of household. He was the owner of his home, which was valued at eight hundred dollars. He resided at house number 117, Washington District, Richmond County, Virginia. He worked on a steamer boat and his wife worked at home as a laundress. She took in laundry and did washing and ironing.
My ancestors had their own unique rituals for courtship and marriage just as the plantation owners who held my ancestors in bondage had their own rules for marriage, self-preservation, and wealth building. The owners of the Glen Roy and Green Plains Plantations were among the wealthiest in Mathews and Gloucester counties in the Virginia colony. Slave owners used their wealth as a way to determine their social standing. One way they preserved their wealth was by structuring their own plantation society around the family.
During the colonial period, when a wealthy woman gave her hand in marriage, her fortune automatically transferred to her husband. Their newly combined possessions would dictate their status, which was dependent on their wealth. The clothes, type of transportation, architecture, landscape, and hairstyles of the wealthy couple would help to define their social standing. Thus, materialism served as a motivating force in the dehumanizing chain of supply and demand that kept slavery going for years.
During the American Civil War, federal troops ravaged the Glen Roy and Green Plains plantations and destroyed most of their material possessions and wealth of the families there. Gunboats came up the Ware River and marauding parties scoured the neighborhoods, plundering and destroying all that they could not take with them.
I suppose history is something that we live and learn. It wasn’t until I started searching for my father that I learned this particular version.
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Genre – Christian/ Historical/Inspirational
Rating – G
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