A Love That Survives: Reconstructing Families in the Aftermath of Slavery

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 3:10 PM
Room 305 (Hynes Convention Center)
Judith Ann Giesberg , Villanova University, Villanova, PA
Twenty five years after she was sold away from her children, Mrs. Elizabeth Williams still held out hope of finding them.  The end of slavery rekindled her hopes of reconstructing her family, although she had been sold twice, changed her name, and moved thousands of miles away.  With the memory of her children still vivid, Williams took out an advertisement in the Christian Recorder seeking information about her children, filling her ad with the names of people and places, in hopes that someone somewhere might respond with information.  She reached out in particular to “preachers in the neighborhood of Woodbury, Tennessee,” where nearly a lifetime ago, Williams last saw her children.  In vivid prose, Williams captured not only the heady anticipation of a mother who had never given up hope but also the stark realities faced by freedwomen and men hoping to reconstruct families made in slavery.  “Any information given concerning them,” the ad entreated, “will be very gratefully received by one whose love for her children survives the bitterness and hardships of many long years spent in slavery.” [1]

Under the heading “Information Wanted,” from 1864-1870, nearly seven hundred advertisements were placed in the Christian Recorder by former slaves hoping to locate lost loved ones.  This paper examines the text of these ads for what they reveal about the familial desires of freedwomen and men in the aftermath of slavery.  How were black newspapers and churches enlisted to the work of family reconstruction? What words did parents use to describe children, wives for husbands, children for parents, and what can these choices tell us about freedwomen and men’s familial expectations? What can the ads tell us about familial survival in slavery and in its aftermath?

[1]          “Information Wanted by a Mother Concerning Her Children,” The Christian Recorder, March 17, 1866.

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