“…the Black History of Pocahontas Island.” Washpost


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6 Responses to “…the Black History of Pocahontas Island.” Washpost

  1. Fred says:

    Interesting history.

  2. LeaNder says:

    I agree, Fred,
    James Stewart is no doubt a fascinating man. I love this type of people, hopefully he finds support/ers. … Always good to preserve local history. May inspire some who ‘takes over the torch’.
    To be honest, the passage below triggered reminiscences of the plot of a novel by Philip Roth, The Humain Stain. What a pity Gregory Schneider didn’t ask him if he heard about it. I am joking. I would have been satisfied with the question: might? You met one, heard about it only?:
    “In colorful terms, he tells how mixed-race children were sent to live on the island: We had a lot of out-of-wedlock mulattos over here. You might have seen a child walking along over here white as snow, and [the] mama walking along dark as a bag of coal.
    see second paragraph of plot:
    The story of his ancestor Charles Stewart is an interesting intersection between literary history and Black history. Are there different versions of the essay around? Is there a larger context? I have this very, very vague memory trail. How did America deal at that time with both Indians and Blacks in literature? Unfortunately my main focus was British literature, admittedly.
    On first sight it seems Unz.org edited the original slightly.
    Stewart 1884: Charles Stewart, My Life As A Slave. An Autobiographical Sketch. Edited by Annie Porter. – Harper’s New Monthly Magazin, No 413, 1884
    Who was Annie Porter?
    This edition has a second Civil War image added versus the apparently edited Unz.org version.

  3. Fred says:

    If you are concerned about people being erased from history try Mexico:

  4. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, Fred,
    I once asked a German a pretty embarrassing question. Where did you learn this excellent German, turned out he wasn’t even a descendant of a black American soldier. 😉
    people learn. 😉

  5. Tidewater says:

    Tidewater to LeaNder,
    You ask: “How did America deal at that time with both Indians and blacks in literature?” First, let’s leave out the Indians–“Native Americans” now,of course–because these are two ‘yuge’ topics. As to black people–‘Negroes’, or ‘colored people’ when I was growing up (and I think “person of color” is not all that bad a term– my understanding of the matter is that it was impossible, certainly in the 18th and just about most of the 19th century, in the south, to write about blacks or slavery or interracial matters, including the question of mulatto children. It was far too dangerous a topic, any conversation about it potentially explosive. I think it must be difficult anywhere there are large numbers of blacks living with whites, as in South Africa. You might remember that there was something very strange going on deeper in the south than Virginia, the question of the code duello, imported from Northern Ireland. If you wrote about taboo racial matters and someone killed you for it, a jury most likely would not convict. Even more recently Huey Long was assassinated because his organization was playing the race card against the family of the man who killed him. Wilbur Cash, who wrote ‘The Mind of the South’, committed suicide, most likely in part because of his awareness of that he was breaking the deadly serious social code. Then there is the murder of Ambrose Gonzales in Columbia, S.C. It goes on and on.
    Who did write about The Peculiar Situation? Kate Chopin did. She is considered a kind of American Maupassant, and she is important. She wrote one novella “Desiree’s Baby” in which the white mother, who, having given birth to a perceived ‘quadroon’, almost certainly ends up as ‘gator meat with her child out in the bayou. Turns out the black (Duffy) gene came from her husband. Typical New Orleans Creole scandal. (I didn’t realize for a long time that “Creole” is a loaded word in Louisiana.) But this was written in the 1890’s and that would not have gone over well in Richmond, even then.
    I had no idea that the story of Charles Stewart would turn out to be about horses! (Thank you for your attentiveness , it made me read the article. I’ve read a bit too much of these slave matters once upon a time in WPA pamphlet essays.) It has taken me off in a number of directions. My mother was from Southampton County, and on a trip there once she pointed out down a narrow overgrown side road as we drove by, where a family had lived at the end of it that had been slaughtered by the blacks. The Nat Turner rebellion was something that was very much a part of her awareness of the story of Southampton County, and I don’t suppose it has been forgotten now either by many people there. (Where black and white famously get along very well together and have for a very long time.) Though it has now taken on a certain mythical dimension. The gentlewoman in that house had failed to escape because she was accustomed to carefully dressing in front of her mirror before going out. Vanity then becomes a part of the tale.
    I have a little theory about how the Nat Turner rebellion got started. The Quakers did not run a tight ship and slaves worked an eight hour day or thereabouts and got the weekends off. Nat went up to Norfolk and heard about the French revolution and the Santo Domingo uprising in the port city. He was a preacher, good with words, and his two executive officers were the real force behind the organizing and execution of the uprising.
    I once read an account of how a young Confederate officer was walking around a Petersburg slave pen not unlike the one where Nat Turner’s father was held before being put up for sale, when a black guy beckoned him over to the fence and began to try to persuade him to buy him and make him his (armed) orderly/ man-servant for the duration, win or lose. He told the young officer he was really sick, tired and bored with being penned up, and wanted to see some action. He pointed out that it looked bad that the young officer didn’t have an orderly, he was obviously a gent and should do better by himself. So they discussed the matter, back and forth, I don’t know if the price came into it or not, or was fixed by the owner with the pen’s boss captain, but after a while maybe the young Confederate officer realized that this was quite a confident guy, and maybe confidence was exactly what he was going to need, given what he was going into, and so he bought him, and they got through the war together.
    So that mention of the father of Nat Turner was very interesting. I don’t even know if you know what I am talking about, but it was a black uprising in Virginia’s “Southside” (a Richmond term Tidewater Virginians dislike, meaning south of the James, where begins “Dixie.” I don’t think that they like that term “Dixie” either, by the way.) Some fifty or more white citizens were killed. Sometime about 1834. It had enormous repercussions.
    A number of the blacks involved in it were incarcerated at Central State Mental Hospital for life after many of the leaders were hanged. I had some ancestors who were involved in the judicial process. (Nat would go to Death Row today, would he not?)
    There are a large number of black people in Southampton County named “Turner”, by the way. This leads to Southampton arguments that “Turner” is one of the most common names in the world. Which I doubt. It was Willy Lloyd Turner, also executed, who I kind of got to know, who started his memoirs with a great line: “I was born in sho-nuff hard times.” I noticed Charles Stewart used “sho-enough;” also he called Carolina “Kyealina” or something such, and in Richmond in the 1930s the word “car” would be pronounced “kyar”, so a lot didn’t change. I don’t think he would say “poorly” but rather “po’ly”. My grandmother used the term so much that I thought there was such a kind of disease as “Poly” –not polio–when I was a boy.
    I was thinking you could deconstruct Charles Stewart’s story historically before I bothered to check the internet. For example, he was the rider of ‘Young Sir Archy’? That rang a little bell. Sir Archy, surely the sire of that horse, was possibly the greatest horse in American history. He is the Rosetta Stone of American race-horses. Sir Archy has been compared to the marvellous ‘Godolphin Barb,’ the famous Arabian from whom all great European race horses descend. Godolphin had been a gift from one Muslim ruler to another, from perhaps… the bey of Algiers to the emir of …Aleppo? Then sent as a gift to Louis XV, where the story goes that he became a cart horse, the smaller Arabians being completely misunderstood by Europeans. Everything changed when he got to England. The lady who wrote ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ also wrote a novel about him. Time for me to finally read “Misty” and then send it to my French/ American nieces.
    There’s been a mysterious upwelling of horses recently in my existence. Monday I took the Russian in my life up to Richmond to an important appointment in an office building off of the Lee monument which I have driven by a thousand times in other years and had never been inside. (Freeman always saluted when he went round the circle.) She was forty minutes late on a well-planned trip and I was in a black mood as she pushed me to drive faster than eighty and arguing that a cop would probably let me off, we were just going with the flow. (These Russians will go hell for leather, it ought to be more widely understood!)
    I did a very skillful series of insider maneuvers in Richmond (which baffled my restive and blatant front seat driver into silence) after I realized that I could not exactly mentally picture the route in from the Boulevard exit. This put us on Monument avenue only about ten minutes late, and me in a better frame of mind, so I told her why Little Sorrel faced north and Traveller faced south, and how an important corporation dealing with highly volatile fuels later bought out by Texaco was founded by a gent both I and my late brother crewed for at different times, who had gotten his start from a boyish enthusiasm for mixing up different types of high explosives and setting them off in the many cannon that used to line the grassy, tree-lined median along Monument Ave. I think he used timed fuses, so there was a sequence. He got better and better at it, and there was quite a fuss about it, finally. It seemed to me that there are fewer cannon now.
    I walked the nice cobblestone alley up from North Allen to Meadow while I waited and was interested to see how much work has been done to fix up the backs of houses along Park Avenue. It looked like there are a lot of walled gardens now. Then I made sure we went to the VMFA, though she demurred at first. Then: “Up to you, baby.” Which is something I taught her and has a story behind it. I heard it from a young black guy who was in love, and had asked his girlfriend what to do “with the IRS we got coming back”, and that was her response and he was SO PLEASED. We drank coffee and sat outside on the new terrace and she knelt and tried to see if the koi would swim through her fingers for a caress as hers used to do. (They didn’t but came close.) She became deeply absorbed in the new McGlothlin (sp?) wing where everywhere I turned I saw something much more than just interesting. The VMFA is the big leagues now! It’s just as good as Zurich. (The story of how McGlothlin’s wife, a brilliant art student, loved and figured out how they could get ahold of the Luminists, like Martin Johnson Heade, is a great story. She did the same thing that Mr. Paul Mellon did with English art. About the time they were giving it away, he just happened to realize he was fascinated by it; and he started buying.
    I yanked the Cossack away to go and see the Paul Mellon wing. She’s now as slender as a girl, from starving herself and Russian suffering. She limped a little beside me holding my hand–something I have never done much of and which makes me uncomfortable after a while–but I think the art was like a restorative for her from the grind and maybe we were for each other. We are both a bit beaten down but I am not whinging, that’s just how it is. (Maksim dead, and Louis Philippe too. Both were cruel unnecessary stunners, which should not have happened, right out of the blue.) I thought she seemed a bit patronizing to the equestrian paintings and sculpture. I am not. Odd, she hates Matisse, too. Very Romanov, she. (Good thing the effing Faberge Tsarist Russian easter eggs exhibit was down. I got over them at about age fourteen. She got very interested till they told her she would have to wait. She wondered how Virginia got them, a good question. I told her how. Like a rich lady bought them after the Russian revolution.)
    I specifically wanted to pay my respects to Mill Reef. It always gives me a lift. I once shook Mr. Paul Mellon’s hand and consider him to be a Magus and a damn understated genius. But Mill Reef is also about being a punter. I am too chicken to have ever gone out to Longchamps, for example, or, once there, to have even placed a bet. I have this thing about the horses, realize that there is poetry in them, love the talk, as it were, of the Turf Register, at least every now and then, but leave it at that. I am not sentimental about horses. I once watched a stallion run away with a very skilled rider as I was holding on to my own seat atop a gentle old mare named Duchess whose mouth I was just about yanking out to put the brakes on (we were for some idiotic reason lined up in a charge and going down-hill, too, and the horses got out of control thinking it was supper time.) The stallion was named Pedro. There was nothing to be done to stop him. He slammed hard sideways into a barn and his rider barely managed to abandon ship. I was surprised that neither Pedro nor his rider were injured. Later I watched Pedro being put to stud, covering a mare. It was VERY interesting. He had to be assisted, which was also VERY interesting, and then the huge pendulous moment passed and things went awesomely. Oh, why is that so satisfying? Jeffrey Bernard has a story about a famous stallion who had a foible, as he covered a mare, of looking straight up at the sky, something almost mysterious, which fascinated the horse people who hung around gawking. (A Heavenly Hallelujah?) Anyway, I am not sentimental about someone betting all three of his plantations on a horse race based on a tip, as Charles Stewart mentions. Even if the man won.
    In ‘Talking Horses’ (page 19) Jeffrey Bernard mentions “Bernard’s Guide to Gambling Types.” It is not a happy listing. It is kind of scary, actually. He ranks himself at Number 7. ‘Every dog will have his day, but it’s once in a lifetime.’
    Mill Reef was the horse that was running in the Chantilly Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe when Bernard– who later on became the writer of the famous “long suicide letter” series of columns called “Low Life” in the English magazine Spectator– learned that he had been sacked from Sporting Life magazine for his failure to make much sense the night before at a National Hunt dinner at a hotel in Kensington, “to which I was invited as guest of honour to present an award to the woman point-to-point rider of the year…” (Women don’t forgive that kind of thing.) Badly hungover, he had arrived in Paris unaware of his imminent financial crisis. Told about his new situation, he realized that he had a bit more than one week’s salary left, so he put it all on Mill Reef. He won a small fortune and lived off it until he found another job, or was it another woman? He was said to have “had many wives, some his own.” He had been given a very useful formal written evaluation from the Headmaster of his school that he was completely unfit for British public school life, which released him into the world of Soho and allowed him then to become a writer about the British horse world, a job he got on a tip from his bookie. Once he had entered Soho for the first time, he was said “never to have looked up.”
    At this point I might add something important. His successor as the writer of ‘Low Life’ is the great Jeremy Clarke, and while at the beginning of his taking over the column the argument among Specator old hands was that Jeremy was not quite as good as Jeffrey, I don’t think that that is any longer the case. Jeremy Clarke is one of the finest (and funniest) writers in English today, and that includes his occasional writing about the race track. There is, incidentally, a brilliant little gem of a recent essay about his thoughts in a French restaurant about France and the French when he is off somewhere in the Midi, which can be found under ‘Jeremy Clarke, of the Spectator’, and if you run into a pay wall just keep looking. You can find it.
    I had meant also to show the Cossack a painting that I like, “Retour de la Chasse.” Which shows a worn out man leading a worn out horse, and a worn out dog following along, all together walking home from the races, all of them completley exhausted, bowed forward into what seems to be a deadly north wind. But I forgot. Instead, she and I discussed the two little Stubbs painting of dogs, she unsurprisingly preferring the bottom one, a Spaniel, I the top one, a little white dog, a terrier (?), I do not know how the paint was put on, so complicated it is. All Stubbs’s grooms have badly broken noses, and they seem like they might be a bit sinister under certain circumstances, and I am sure they were definitely tough customers.
    Katherine C. Mooney’s “Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Race Track” tells the story of Charles Stewart and others. Reading his story off of the internet I had slowly became aware of what Mooney talks about, that he had been a sports super-star. He hobnobbed with Kings! John Randolph, Wade Hampton II, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, these are names famous to this day! There is the story of one black rider who was warned by Andrew Jackson that he was watching to see if he spat tobacco juice in his horse’s eyes, as was one of the tricks, and the black rider told the President that he didn’t need to, none of Jackson’s horses ever got close enough. Fact is: “Black jockeys won fifteen of the first twenty-eight runnings of America’s best known race” the Kentucky Derby.
    According to Edward Hotaling: “Above the clubhouse entrance to Pimlico Race Course, a huge wall sculpture, serving as a logo for the track, shows three mounted jockeys. But they’re in silhouette, so the tens of thousands of people who walk under them every Preakness Day have no idea the middle rider was one of the many great black jockeys who once starred in America’s first national pastime.” (Will Walker.)
    I didn’t realize that the New Market (or Newmarket Jockey club) race course, was about a mile east of Petersburg in Prince George County. Or that the southern counties of Virginia, in those best years of Col. William Ransom Johnson’s career (1807-1808) when his horses won 61 of the 63 races they had entered, were the epicenter of American horse racing. This was said to be due to the Virginia planters’ assiduous inattention to the management of their plantations and their crops in favor of becoming great sportsmen. (I’ve seen that with boats.)
    Interesting to me, too, is that Sir Archy is said to have been buried in Goochland County (where he was born?) not too far to the east of C-Ville, where I am now, and beside him lies not only an old trainer–was he a black man?, he might have been but not necessarily– but also a dog who would have been a loyal companion to both. Of course, the North Carolinians deny this, but then they would. I’m glad that UNC found no traces of a horse’s grave at Sir Archy’s last home in North Carolina’s Northampton County. Of course, how in the world did they get him back to Goochland? I just learned this, and I will never look at my picture, Retour de la Chasse, the same way again.

  6. Bill O'Gorman says:

    I think the picture to which you refer may be “Retour de la course”returning from the races

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