Useful Articles from Academic Journals (IV)

Some articles in academic journals can be very helpful for biographical information about specific un-famous people, as shown by the following biographies of three antebellum enslaved people and the reminiscences of one woman raised in a slave-owning family:



John Hebron Moore, “Simon Gray, Riverman: A Slave Who Was Almost Free,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 49, No. 3 (December 1962), pages 472-484.

This article tells the story of Simon Gray, enslaved to Andrew Donnan in Natchez, Mississippi, who was hired out to Andrew Brown to run flat boats of lumber down the Mississippi River. Gray’s work was highly unusual for a U.S. slave; he was literate, lived privately with his family, supervised white employees in his boat crew as well as other slaves, was paid a wage, negotiated sales for his employer, and owned firearms. Based on the business ledgers and correspondence of Andrew Brown & Co., the author tells of Simon Gray’s activities for the company from 1845 to 1863, and names some of the other slaves Gray supervised.


William A. Byrne, “The Hiring of Woodson, Slave Carpenter of Savannah,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 77, No. 2 (Summer 1993), pages 245-263.

Byrne tells the story of Woodson through the correspondence between his owner, William Duncan, and his hirer, Godfrey Barnsley, between 1859 and 1862.  Much information about Woodson’s work, lifestyle, and habits. Includes an unusual 1860 photograph of the Barnsley slave quarter showing houses and slaves at the time Woodson lived there.


Mrs. Myrtie Long Candler, “Reminiscences of Life in Georgia During the 1850s and 1860s,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 33, (March 1949), pages 37-48 (Part I); (June 1949), pages 110-123 (Part II); (September 1949), pages 218-227 (Part III); (December 1949), pages 303-313 (Part IV); Vol. 34 (March 1950), pages 10-18 (Part V).
Written in 1945, this is not an academic article, but is the reminiscences of an eighty-nine-year-old woman. Born in 1856 into a privileged slave-owning family in Newnan, Coweta County, Georgia, daughter of Major Yong James Long. Writing during WWII, Candler turns her thoughts “backward to a happier time . . . when I was a little girl in Georgia.” The family slaves are mentioned by name throughout the reminiscences, but Candler devotes Part II to particularly describing seventeen slaves with whom she most closely associated as a child (“I loved them then and love them now, and I am going to try to present them so that you will know them as I did”).  Of course, Candler only knew them as a very young white child, and remembered them through the sentimental and nostalgic lens of 80 years; nevertheless, the reader will learn many interesting things that do not appear in other kinds of sources, such as how “Black Mammy” decorated her house with fashion prints cut out from Godey’s Ladies Book magazine, and what kinds of flowers she grew in her garden.  Kinships among the slaves are described, and the fact that “the two Nancy’s were given to Ma from Grandpa Grantland [Samuel Grantland of Upson County].  The story ends at the close of the Civil War as all members of the household, black and white, begin to adapt to a new South without slavery.


Loren Schweninger, “A Slave Family in the Ante Bellum South,” Journal of Negro History, Vol. 60, Issue 1 (January 1975), pages 29-44.

Schweninger investigates the family of Sally, enslaved to Charles S. Thomas in Albemarle County, Virginia. Based largely on the manuscript biography of James P. Thomas (written in 1911, deposited at Howard University) and antebellum correspondence of the Rapier family, the article describes the work she did, where she worked, her children, slave sales, the emancipation of a son, James P. Thomas, and Sally’s death. Liberal use of quotations from the original autobiography and letters gives the article a vivid and personal appeal. Includes a genealogical chart of Sally’s family.


Next time, I will suggest effective ways to access the world of information in academic journals.


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