Garden Update – First of the Year

So yesterday was my first real ‘work day’ of the year in the garden.  I’ve been piddling around here-and-there all year, but yesterday was the first ‘back-breaker’ as it were.  Odd-number years are never good for me because of the Legislature and this year was particularly bad because I was juggling so many bills and hearings.

All-in-all, everything looks good despite the benign neglect as it were.  The grass is reviving the in back.  The front yard is probably a lost cause.  I know I’m going to eventually have to re-sod, but that’s for another day.  (This session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 198, (Kirk Watson) prohibiting home owner associations in Texas from banning xeriscaping; I might keep that in the back of my mind.)

SI ExifI cleaned out all the beds in advance of next week’s annual mulch laying *sigh*  It looks good after it’s done, but it’s a nightmare to get it out.  That’s a blog entry in-and-of-itself.  The Turk’s Caps (Malvaviscus drummondii ) are doing really well.  They truly are my go-to plantings – they seem to thrive in almost any condition.  There are heaps of them on the Town Lake running trail.  That’s how I stumbled on them; literally.

I found some great portulacas at The Natural Gardner a few weeks ago for my two stone urns.  I’m very happy with those.

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The ‘wild meadow’ experiment I tried last year seems to be doing very well, too.  Probably because we didn’t have any significant freezes over the winter.  The blue daze (evolvulus), daisy bushes (euryops), lantanas (verbenaceae), blue potato bush (lycianthes rantonnetii), and plumbago (plumbaginaceae) are all coming on.

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I also planted a Black-Eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia).  I love these, but wasn’t able to find one last year.  SI ExifThey’re supposed to be pretty prolific re-seeders, but alas not for me.

I’ve been trying to reign in my penchant for buying garden tchotkes, but I couldn’t resist this chicken planter.  If I can’t SI Exifhave a real chicken coop, this is probably the closest I can get.

Now that I’ve written about it, I’m going to go enjoy it – grilling a couple zucchini pizzas and quaffing a Pink Cadillac Margarita (you MUST make this drink!)

Genealogy and the Moral Dilemma

So I ran across an interesting article last week on Slate George W. Bush’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was a Slave Trader.  The article traces the genealogical research establishing that this progenitor of the Bush family was, in fact, Thomas ‘Beau’ Walker, a notorious English slave trader during the last quarter of the 18th Century.  Notwithstanding the heinous trade in which he was engaged, one of the more compelling parts of the article, to me, was the way in which Beau Walker died:

Zachary Macaulay’s journal entry for Oct. 24, 1797, is as follows:

“You have heard of the noted Beau Walker, an English slave trader of these parts. He arrived at the Isles Du Los [off present-day Guinea] lately in an American Brig being bound to Cape Mount [in present-day northwest Liberia] for slaves. He had scarce arrived at the last place, when exercising his usual barbarities on his officers & crew, they were provoked to conspire against him.  As he lay on one of the hencoops a seaman came up & struck him on the breast with a handspike, but the blow being ill directed, did not produce its intended effect and Walker springing up wd soon have sacrificed the mutineer to his fury, had not a boy at the helm, pulling a pistol from his breast, shot him dead on the spot. His body was immediately thrown overboard. Thus ended Walker’s career, an end worthy of such a life. The vessel left Cape Mount, and it is supposed has gone for the Brazils or South Seas. There could not possibly have been a more inhuman monster than this Walker. Many a poor seaman has been brought by him to an untimely end.”

Anyroad, one of the other interesting aspects of the Slate article was the ‘declined to comment’ responses from several members of the Bush family when asked about this revelation.  This has been on my mind a lot since I started genealogy research in earnest several years ago.  What can one really say in the 21st Century when slave ownership is found in the family history?

I’m not happy to report that slave ownership in my family was not uncommon, particularly given that we were in Virginia beginning in the 1690s, moving south (the Carolinas) and westward (Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama) during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  I’ve discovered several wills and other probate documents which transferred possessions and people from one family member to others.  Through the probate records of Stewart County, Tennessee for example, I was able to discover a significant amount of information about my fifth-great grandfather, Mackey McNatt, and his children through the ‘division of Negroes’ belonging to his estate.  Indeed, I was finally able to identify who my fourth great grandmother actually was when I found a deed-of-gift record for Dinah McNatt to her “beloved son,” Enoch; that ‘gift’ being a slave.

The irony of this discovery is not lost on me considering that for many, many African-Americans, there is simply little-to-no documentary evidence to be had which traces lost ancestors before the 1850s, 60s, and 70s.  Slaves were chattel to be divided with the estate when the time came.  Generally just first names, this is typical of the scant records available to researchers today:

“In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.  In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.”

The excerpt above is from a 7 October 2009 article in the New York Times by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor – In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery, a fascinating genealogy of Michelle Obamasugar in the bloodIn addition to this article about Mrs. Obama’s family history, I recommend Sugar in the Blood:  A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire, by Andrea Stuart.  A fantastic book which traces slavery and slave families on a sugar plantation in Barbados.  (Terry Gross did a great “Fresh Air” interview with Ms. Stuart earlier this year – it’s really worth a listen.)  Much like Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, this story traces a family where one side owned the other as property.

Like so much we discover when we delve into our family roots, slave ownership is not something one relishes or wishes to acknowledge, but it is one of those unpleasant realities we risk uncovering.