Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black Family History on "History Detectives"

I've written about History Detectives before.  People who think they have interesting items with historical relevance contact the program, hoping to have research confirm the items' importance.  For Black History Month, I decided to collect links to all the stories having to do with black family history.  I was surprised and delighted to see how many there were!  I've listed them chronologically in order of the events or documents they focus on.  Most of the segments no longer have the videos online, but all of them have PDF files of the transcripts (which really could use some editing!), so you can at least read the text of what was said.

A 1667 land grant to a black woman named Christina, the wife of a former slave, was signed by General Richard Nicolls, the first governor of New York.  The property, which is now in downtown Manhattan, was referred to in the document as being in "the land of the blacks."

A viewer has a photocopy of the record of the manumission of his ancestor Agnes Mathieu, which was granted through a court case in New Orleans in 1779.  The manumission is unusual because it was signed by Bernardo de Galvez, the governor of Spanish colonial Louisiana, whereas most such papers were signed only by the former slaveholder and notarized by a local clerk.

A Continental Army muster roll from 1780 includes the name "Paul Cuffee."  This turns out to be the same Paul Cuffe well known as a Quaker whaling captain and shipbuilder.

Someone bought an 1821 document at a flea market and believes it was a "freedom paper" for the man named on it, John Jubilee Jackson.  Jackson was actually freed in 1818 and the document is a seaman's protection certificate.

Among her grandfather's possessions, a woman found an 1829 bill of sale for a female slave named Willoby.  The woman wants to learn whether Willoby lived long enough to see emancipation.  (I've posted about this segment in some detail.)

The owners of a beautiful home in Natchez, Mississippi, learned that it was built in 1851 by Robert Smith, a free black man.  The owners have also discovered that Smith arrived in New Orleans on a slave ship and now want to know how he came to own the house.

A banjo bought at an auction had a note inside stating that the instrument dates to the mid-1800's and was bought from a former slave by an abolitionist family.  The segment traces both of the families to find the truth of the story.

A face jug discovered in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1950 is traced via the Underground Railroad to its origins in South Carolina.  (This museum catalog shows other examples of face jugs.)

A ca. 1861 tintype of what appears to be two Civil War soldiers, one white and one black, is analyzed in depth, including the relationship between the two men, to answer the question of whether a black man actually served in the Confederate army and carried a weapon.  The tintype was appraised on an Antiques Roadshow episode, and later the owner asked History Detectives to find more information about it.
A woman in South Carolina has some old family letters, including one written in 1877 by her grandmother's brother, suggesting that he was going to Liberia as part of the "Back to Africa" movement.  But the woman doesn't know if he actually made it there.

A Grand Army of the Republic photograph from about 1900 shows two black men in a group of about twenty men.  Along with discussing racial integration (or the lack thereof) in the time period, the investigation tries to identify the two black members of the GAR post.

A poster titled Our Colored Heroes tells the story of two black soldiers during World War I who defended a post against more than twenty Germans.  The poster has a quotation from General John Pershing praising the two men.

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