My homeplace is in Clarke County, Alabama. The specific location is known to residents as Indian Ridge. I was taken away from my homeplace at age seven. I became a refugee child in Chicago, Illinois. I have lived and been educated in three other states in which little was taught of the history of the Mississippi Territory or the part of that Territory which became Alabama.
In 2016 I decided to study my family history and to join a group working to construct a community wide genealogy. I eventually figured out that I could not work effectively without filling in some of the gaps in my historical knowledge. This is a partial record of the works that I have used to reduce the size of my historical knowledge deficit.
Clarke County, Alabama
Knowing nothing of the history of the county, I started with this work, which is now in the public domain and therefore freely available to anyone with an internet connection. It is more of a reference than a read.
BALL, T. H. (1882). A Glance into the Great South-East, or Clarke County, Alabama, and its surroundings, from 1540 to 1877. [With a map.]. Grove Hill, Ala. https://archive.org/details/glanceintogreats00ball
The DNA cousin who leads our working group gave me the assignment of learning how “our ancestors” reached the location on which I was focusing. I found that assignment to be overwhelming, at least partially because as a professor of comparative family systems, I have issues with identifying “our kin” in a bilateral kinship system.
Therefore, I starting working on the narrower goal of discovering how my ancestors arrived on Indian Ridge. To date, I have only identified ancestors who were of African descent and enslaved and ancestors who were white slaveholding settlers. Therefore, I started with a focus on these two population groups. People with Native American ancestry or a history of descent from free people of color will need to consider different population subgroups.
The Internal Trade in Enslaved Africans and Forced Migration
There are a number of books that helped me to understand the general forced migration patterns of the internal slave trade from the eastern seaboard of the US into the Mississippi Territory.
Pargas, D. A. (2015). Slavery and forced migration in the antebellum South. New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Baptist, E. E. (2014). The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism, New York, NY: Basic Books.
Deyle, S. (2006). Carry me back: The domestic slave trade in American life. Oxford, U.K: Oxford University Press.
Some of the ancestors that I have successfully identified entered the area around the time of the Creek Civil War and the War of 1812. I have already focused on the importance of the Old Federal Road for those who came to my homeplace from or through Georgia.
Hudson, A. P. (2010). Creek paths and federal roads: Indians, settlers, and slaves and the making of the American South. Chapel Hill (C.: University of North Carolina Press.
My childhood fascination with a marker on Old Line Road led me to focus on Andrew Jackson’s line of March from Tennessee to the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson’s line of march demonstrates how those who followed him from Tennessee could have ended up in my homeplace.
Remini, the most widely known of his biographers, mentions that Jackson’s troops widened the roads through the mountains and that some of them were scouting Alabama lands for themselves. This is not the first time in history that “war roads” became settler roads.
One of the reasons that Jackson was so determined to take Alabama from the so called “Creeks” was the richness afforded by its rivers. The borders of my home county are formed by the Alabama river on the east and the Tombigbee on the west. My home place is to be found in the triangle formed by these two rivers before they merge to form the Mobile River. They are a reminder of what it means to be “sold down the river.”
Sledge, J. S. (2015). The Mobile River. Columbia, S.C.: University of Carolina Press.
Ward, R. (2010). The Tombigbee River steamboats: Rollodores, dead heads, and side-wheelers. Charleston, SC: History Press.
While some of my ancestors arrived in the area of my homeplace around the time of the Red Stick War (Creek Civil War) and the War of 1812, others did not arrive until It was possible to travel more easily “up the river” or after October 22, 1820.
October 22: The steamboat Harriet reaches Montgomery after ten days of travel from Mobile. This was the first successful attempt to navigate so far north on the Alabama River, and it opened river trade between Montgomery and Mobile.
I have reason to believe that these figures represent an important undercount of the African American population The figures do not include those who lived in Alabama as runaways or maroons and they do not include those who lived among Native Americans.
It is possible for ships designed to sail the ocean to go up river, but in the case of the Mobile River, it makes much more sense to not do so. Some of the problems with trying to sail up this river were brought to my attention when I read Sylviane A. Diouf’s Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America.
Reading Dreams of Africa in Alabama is what brought Diouf’s work on marronage in the United States to my attention. This work forced me to wonder why there were few documented cases of long settled maroon communities in the swamps of Alabama. It also reminded me that the campaigns led by Andrew Jackson prevented the British from becoming a choice in the gulf borderlands the way they had in the Chesapeake.
Africans and Native Americans
From the expedition of Hernan de Soto until the present, the relationships between Native Americans and people of African descent in the Southeastern United States have been dynamic and complex. In order to increase my ability to understand that dynamic, I added works published in different time periods by those with diverse theoretical and philosophical orientations.
I added works that deal with the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, as well as Seminole Nations. These groups were once referred to by historians as the “Five Civilized Tribes.”
I think for me the largest “take a ways” were how the concept of slavery and the relationships with people of African descent changed in these groups over time. I know that enslaved Africans used wars among whites as opportunities to steal themselves. I have read about how some of them used this opportunity during the War of 1812.
I now have a better understanding of why my African descended ancestors who came late to the Mississippi Territory could not runaway from enslavement by whites to freedom among Native Americans. By 1860 even the Seminoles who lived in “Indian Country” were holding African descended people as slaves. It is a complex story beyond my current explanatory goals.
Doran, M.F. (1978) Negro Slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes. Annals of the American Association of Geographers , 68(3), 335-350.
Jeltz, W.F. (1978) The Relations of Negroes and Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. The Journal of Negro History, 33( 1), 24-37.
Snyder, C. (2007). Conquered Enemies, Adopted Kin, and Owned People: The Creek Indians and Their Captives. The Journal of Southern History, 73( 2), 255-288.
Twyman, B. E. (2001). The Black Seminole legacy and North American politics, 1693-1845. Washington, D.C: Howard University Press.
Krauthamer, B. (2015). Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South. University of North Carolina Press.
Katz, W. L. (2012). Black Indians: A hidden heritage. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Miles, T. (2015). Ties that bind: The story of an Afro-Cherokee family in slavery and freedom. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
Zellar, G. (2007). African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Littlefield, D. F. (1979). Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial period to the Civil War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
Wasserman, A. (2010). A people’s history of Florida, 1513-1876: How Africans, Seminoles, women, and lower class whites shaped the Sunshine State. Sarasota, Fla.: A. Wasserman.
Giddings, J. R. (1858). The exiles of Florida, or, The crimes committed by our government against the maroons, who fled from South Carolina, and other slave states, seeking protection under Spanish laws. Columbus, O: Follett, Foster and Co.
Belko, W. S. (2015). America’s hundred years’ war: U.S. expansion to the Gulf Coast and the fate of the Seminole, 1763-1858.
Guinn, J. (2005). Our land before we die: The proud story of the Seminole Negro. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin.
Frontiers and Borderlands
I admit to becoming fascinated with historians defining and debating the concepts of “frontiers” and “borderlands.” I added a few books that allowed me to look at my homeplace from that perspective.
When I return to the study of Alabama history, I will start with modern text that reflects the changes in models of historiography since I was in school.
Dupre, D. S. (2018). Alabama’s frontiers and the rise of the Old South. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
For the time being, I am reading some science fiction and taking my historical study over into Mississippi.