American Descendants of Slave Owners

*prologue: yrmama’s daughter, Serena Williams said, “But yrmama I thought you were just going to write about candidates.” yrmama shrugged and answered, “well everything is connected to everything so it will all come around.”

Half of my children were born in Iowa and are descendants of humans who enslaved other humans for over a hundred years. Seriously, yrmama’s people got on that stick immediately. I think the first direct-line ancestor of mine who was part of all that came to Virginia in 1713. William Clopton. From there he and his pals just went nuts enslaving people, buying land, marrying each other and spreading their plantations across the south. It looks to me like it was the youngest sons in those generations (who probably inherited less) who gradually moved westward and took their slaves along. A lot of times it might have been illegal to buy and sell slaves in a particular state, but if they brought their own along when they moved it was just fine. So they did! Case in point, my great great great grandfather, David, listed 18 slaves on the 1820 Virginia census. Then his little family moved west, through Kentucky to Illinois. By 1830 the family had zero slaves and had figured out how to farm for their own damn selves. Some of David’s siblings kept people in bondage all the way to the bitter end in 1865.

This legacy gave me undeniable privilege because no matter what, poor white people have fewer obstacles and more unearned power than poor people of color. It gave my immediate family just enough of a leg up to be aloof, intellectual poor people. I think the harm done to my ancestor’s souls by all those generations of mistreating people, prospering while their unpaid workers built everything and cleaned everything and did the farm work was ultimately completely crushing. It trickles down too, into a mushy, ever widening and very, very slowly diluting delta of unhappiness and resentment.

My compulsion to document this part of my destructive family tree is like picking at a scab. I want to see what’s under there because I know it’s not good. My therapist gently suggested that if I continue doing genealogy I consider looking for where the streams of love and spiritual goodness run. Easy for her to say. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, except maybe more explanation and documentation of those festering undercurrents of dysfunction and unhappiness. I kind of want to see the deluge that isn’t coming through the dike because I’ve got my thumb stuck in it. I want to see it evaporating because I’ve stopped it up good.