Megan Kunze, my great niece, is an archival archeologist. Insatiably curious, tenacious, (she might say obsessive) she sifts through courthouse documents, old newsprint, obituaries, church records, genealogical websites, and only the deities knows what other mysterious sources she uses in search of information on our shared Sherman/Alberti ancestry. One recent finding of hers seems especially timely in light of current events. With the wealth of information Megan has found on our ancestors I guess it’s not surprising that she would find slave owners among them. When she is finished I suspect there will be no undiscovered skeletons left rattling around in our ancestral closet.
While digging deep into the archives Megan recently found that Maria Louesa Glascock, my second great grandmother (Megan’s fourth) came from one of the largest slave holding families in Virginia and Missouri. The Glascock family came to America early in the seventeenth century approximately the same time the Sherman family arrived in 1637. Megan tracked the Glascock’s back to Virginia, where they raised tobacco. They bought and sold black slaves to work in their tobacco fields and maintain their household. To give some perspective on the number of slaves owned collectively by white tobacco farmers in Colonial Virginia; forty percent of the population in Virginia in 1790 were black slaves. Don’t be surprised if more slave holding ancestors are found in our ancestry. Two thirds of Americans today have slave owners among their family, especially if those ancestors were from the South, as the Glascocks were. In 1860, they were counted among the 385,000 southerners who owned slaves.
Our grandmother, Maria Louesa Glascock moved to northeast Missouri (Ralls County) because of her influential uncle Stephen Glascock. He was a graduate of the prestigious William and Mary College back in Virginia, whose president at that time was James Madison, later to become president of the United States. The Glascock family was well-known and James Madison aided Stephen Glascock by an introductory letter that enabled him in becoming the first official surveyor in the Marion and Ralls County area of Missouri. This included the still nascent Mississippi river town of Hannibal. Once arriving in Missouri and mapping the area, Stephen also speculated in property. He wrote back to his Virginia relatives, convincing them that Missouri was a slave friendly area, and that the geography and climate in Ralls and Marion County was favorable for raising tobacco. That’s basically how our Glascock relatives arrived in Missouri. They came by horseback and wagon from Virginia, encouraged by the glowing reports from Stephen Glascock. They brought their many slaves with them.
The Glascock’s, who were neighbors of the Clemens family in the Hannibal area, were undoubtedly known, and perhaps inspirational in the later writings of the celebrated author Samuel Clemens (who wrote under the pen name of Mark Twain). For those few who have not read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, many of the sites in his stories were originally owned by Stephen Glascock, or the Glascock family. Jackson’s Island, where Huck hides out with the runaway slave Jim was originally named Glascock Island. Tom Sawyer and Becky get lost in a cave once owned by Stephen Glascock. The Mississippi wharf where the steamboats landed in Hannibal is still to this day named Glascock Landing. It’s the landing where an eight year old Samuel Clemens stood and watched 15 chained slaves waiting for the steamboat. It carried them downriver to one of the many slave markets on the Mississippi River. He later wrote” They had the saddest faces I have ever seen.” I wonder if some, or all, might have been owned by our Glascock relatives.
I took down a blog several weeks ago because I was troubled by my insensitive pride in being a descendent of the Glascock family (who were influential in the early founding of this country) and the contradictory shame of being a descendent of that same family of major slave holders. We’re watching this confusing and contradictory mix of shame and pride play out daily in the national news. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held slaves but knew it was inherently wrong. James Madison, fourth president of the United States, and friend of the Glascock family, argued that slavery was incompatible with our country’s principles, even though he owned over one hundred slaves, brought them to the White House, and sold them for personal profit.
When we look closely at the men that founded this country we find they struggled with the immorality of slavery. Most of them knew slavery was inherently evil but continued to own them to sustain their positions of power and wealth. Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words “all men are created equal” as part of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, owned more than 700 slaves in his lifetime. Twelve presidents owned slaves, eight while serving as president.
The nation continues to struggle with the way we treated the native Indians, and the current topic of how we used the blacks as slaves. What has historically made this country great is our ability to come to a consensus on what is wrong, and then collectively try to fix it. It’s painfully apparent we’re still in the working stage of trying to fix past wrongs. The only thing I know with certainty is that our country’s history of slavery was inherently evil, and residual racism still exists. We need moral leaders who will admit this and lead us down a path that will heal and unite us, not divide us.
If we continue to take down statues, the only one remaining might be the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln was venerated as the president who ended slavery, and once said “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” I have, to some extent, resolved my inner conflicts of shame and pride in my Glascock lineage by putting it into the context of history. Slavery was a morally reprehensible stain on our country in which my Glascock ancestors participated. Slavery should never have happened, yet it did. It was part of our country’s history and hopefully we’re not through with our efforts to complete our task of making all men equal. I hope we can do it peacefully with restrained reason. If there was ever a time for moral leadership, this is the time.
Footnote: Plans are afoot to follow Megan’s archival trails up with an actual non-virtual trip to the northeast area of Missouri to unravel more history on the Glascock relatives. It will probably include the Ralls County Courthouse, the city of Hannibal and its museums, the original sites of the Glascock plantations and properties; some made famous by the celebrated author Samuel Clemens. Our guide of course will be the seasoned internet bloodhound Megan. I suspect Megan’s idea of heaven would be to find an elderly Glascock Aunt in Hannibal who has kept a shoebox filled with old Glascock love letters, bills of sale for Glascock slaves, diaries started and never finished, political gossip about Stephen Glascock, who became among other things, a Missouri Senator. Maybe add some correspondence between Samuel Clemens and our grandmother Maria Louesa Glascock, who were born two months apart in the year of 1835. And at the bottom of the box some down and dirty heated correspondence between the Glascock’s that supported the Southern Confederacy and the Glascock’s who supported the Northern Union. Don’t be surprised if Megan comes up with some of this information without the Aunt’s shoebox.