What was slavery like, for Sarah Emmerson?

+7 votes

My 3rd Great grandmother was Sarah Emerson (born 1826, SC), who was a slave of Henry Emerson (1800-1884). Sarah is not to be confused with Sarah Beverly Emerson (1792-1865). Henry fathered three children, with my grand (Thomas, Nancy, and Julius). Something about the slave schedules and her move, to Georgia, make me wonder about what her life was like. The picture painted, of slavery, does not seem like what she lived. Although she appears to have moved to Georgia, as a free woman, Henry moves to Georgia, around the same time (?)...but not in the same household. I often get ancestry messages, asking how I am related to Henry (as my dna results show a clear connection). There is so much information about Henry, but nothing about slavery. The Emerson family is well-researched, but I find myself having to explain that my grandmother was his slave. With so many researchers, I am surprised that this is not something that is documented...or just understood. 

We are currently looking for Sarah's grave, but my family has enjoyed hearing about this history. It is very different, when you can link an exact family member. I wish that I could have gotten more information, from my family...most of them passed, before I started my journey. Any information, or "picture painting" of her life, would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for any info!

in Genealogy Help by Nicole Russell G2G Crew (560 points)
If you'd like to learn more about life under slavery, most of the slave narratives are on Project Gutenberg and can be read for free.

1 Answer

+8 votes

Sometimes slave relationships could be pretty complicated. There's really no way to know the specifics of her case without doing more research though. I turned up one case, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Buckner-1516, where this guy fathered two sons with one of his slaves, and he went to some lengths to provide for the sons and have them freed after he died, but he apparently just gave their mother and her daughters (of unspecified but obviously suspicious parentage) to his estranged daughter. I kind of have to wonder how well that worked out. Sometimes you'll find a lot of information in county records, but they can be hard to get to and search.
I would say, off hand, something like 5-10% of slaveowner wills I've read single out a slave child who was pretty obviously the child of the testator. I saw one where the son was the testator's only child, and he not only manumitted the son but also left an instruction and legacy to have the son transported out of the colony (circa 1710). That's exceptional though, and I'd say the most common thing is that they single out the child to go to some family member rather than being sold off. Manumission seems to have been pretty rare, and I've only seen it done with sons, not with daughters.

by Living Buckner G2G6 Mach 5 (56.8k points)

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