The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-06-04 18:18Z by Steven

The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 1 (June 2013)
pages 21-45
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jat082

Pierre Force, Professor of French and History
Columbia University

n 1813 a free man of color named Charles Decoudreau living in New Orleans went to court to repossess a house on the edge of town he had sold two years before to Charles Lamerenx, a white man from Saint Domingue. Despite being on opposite sides of a racial divide, the men and their families had much in common as “Atlantic creoles.” In this study, I test the meaning and explanatory power of Ira Berlin’s concept of “Atlantic creole” by telling the story of two families, one “black” and one “white,” whose paths briefly crossed in New Orleans in 1811.

Berlin’s work on “Atlantic creoles” is a powerful intervention in this field because it begins by telling a familiar story and proceeds with a much less familiar one. The familiar story is that of Africans being forcibly taken to America and stripped of their African identities, and developing a new creole or African American culture that was the product of their experience as slaves working in the plantations. Important as this story is, it captures “only a portion of the history of black life in colonial North America, and that imperfectly.” The story as usually told begins with an unadulterated “African” identity that was somehow erased or transformed by the experience of slavery and gave way to a creole identity that was a mix of various African, European, and Native American components. Inverting this story of origins, Berlin shows that the Africans of the charter generations were always already creole: their experiences and attitudes “were more akin to that of confident, sophisticated natives than of vulnerable newcomers.” Atlantic creoles originated in the encounters between Europeans and Africans on the western coast of Africa, starting in the fifteenth century, well before Christopher Columbus sailed to America. In a few coastal enclaves, …

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Obama Has Ties to Slavery Not by His Father but His Mother, Research Suggests

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, New Media, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2012-07-30 23:47Z by Steven

Obama Has Ties to Slavery Not by His Father but His Mother, Research Suggests

The New York Times

Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s biography — son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — has long suggested that unlike most African-Americans, his roots did not include slavery.

Now a team of genealogists is upending that thinking, saying that Mr. Obama’s mother had, in addition to her European ancestors, at least one African forebear and that the president is most likely descended from one of the first documented African slaves in the United States.

The findings are scheduled to be announced on Monday by, a genealogy company based in Provo, Utah. Its team, while lacking definitive proof, said it had evidence that “strongly suggests” Mr. Obama’s family tree — on his mother’s side — stretches back nearly four centuries to a slave in colonial Virginia named John Punch…

…The findings come as more and more Americans are discovering their own mixed-race heritage. Elizabeth Shown Mills, a former president of the American Society of Genealogists, said the Internet, coupled with the ease of DNA testing and heightened interest among both amateur and professional genealogists, was helping to reveal the extent of racial intermingling over the centuries…

…The team used DNA analysis to make the connection, and it also combed through marriage and property records to trace Mr. Obama’s maternal ancestry to the time and place where Mr. Punch lived. The company said records suggested that Mr. Punch fathered children with a white woman, who passed her free status on to those children, giving rise to a family of a slightly different name, the Bunches, that ultimately spawned Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham

…The team spent two years examining Mr. Obama’s mother’s past, focusing on the mixed-race Bunch line. The researchers said that over time, as the Bunches continued to intermarry, they became prominent landowners in colonial Virginia and were known as white.

“We sort of stumbled across it,” said Anastasia Harman, the lead researcher. “We were just doing general research into the president’s family tree, and as we started digging back in time, we realized that the Bunch family were African-American.”

There is no evidence that Ms. Dunham had any inkling that she might have had African-American ancestry, said Janny Scott, her biographer. By the mid-1800s, according to a 2007 article in The Chicago Sun-Times, one of Ms. Dunham’s Bunch ancestors had a son who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The group traced two major Bunch family branches, one that lived as white and stayed in Virginia for generations and another that left for the Carolinas. In North Carolina, the Bunches were recorded as “mulatto” in early records, and their descendants are also the president’s cousins…

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Professor Ira Berlin: Slavery

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-03-30 21:56Z by Steven

Professor Ira Berlin: Slavery

U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium
Meet the Historians

Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor of History
University of Maryland

These renowned historians and experts chatted with students online. Read the transcripts.

Ira Berlin is a leading historian of southern and African-American life. He is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. Most recently he has published a book “Many Thousands Gone,” which is a history of African-American slavery in mainland North America during the first two centuries of European and African settlement. He is also the editor of “Remembering,” a book-and-tape set, which incorporates poignant voices of people who had been slaves. The recordings of interviews with former slaves were conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the early 1930s. The interviewers included such luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston and John Lomax, who talked to the ex-slaves about their relationships with their former owners and their relationships with other slaves. In addition, Professor Berlin has written or edited numerous other books on African-American history including, “Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South,” “Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era” and “Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War.”

US: It’s a little after 10 in the morning on April 12, 1999, in College Park, Maryland. We are here with Professor Ira Berlin. 

Ques: How long was the average time interval between capture in Africa and arrival in the plantation?

Berlin: There is no meaningful average. The Atlantic slave trade lasted over 4 centuries. And, of course, connected very different places in Africa and America. But throughout the trade’s long history, the Atlantic crossing rarely took less than a few weeks. And, sometimes, it took many months. If viewed from the point of capture, travel from the interior of Africa to a plantation in the New World could be well over a year.

Ques: What percentage of Southerners were slaveholders?

Berlin: In 1860, the South had a population of 12-1/2 million. Of those, 4 milliion were slaves. The vast majority of the population was white. Of the whites, only 400,000 owned slaves. If the average slave-holding family contained 5 individuals, then only 2 of the 8 million whites held slaves or were members of families that held slaves.

xena: How about Northern percentages?

Berlin: First, slavery in the North was largely a 17th and 18th century phenomenon. The largest concentration of slaves in parts of the Middle Colonies: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island never reached above 20% of the population. The vast majority of Northerners did not own slaves, either…

…xena: How were mixed-raced children looked upon?

Berlin: By law, children followed the status of their mothers. So that a descendant of a free man (white or black) and a slave woman would be a slave. Meaning many people of equal white or European descent were slaves and they were treated as slaves by their parents and other white people. However, throughout the period of slavery, the black community always accepted people of mixed descent a s part of their own community and incorporated them into African-American society…

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Family Tree’s Startling Roots

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2012-03-21 19:16Z by Steven

Family Tree’s Startling Roots

The New York Times

Felicia Lee

Thirty-nine lashes “well laid” on her bare back and an extension of her indentured servitude was Elizabeth Banks’s punishment for “fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave,” according to a stark June 20, 1683, court document from York County, Va. Through the alchemy of celebrity and genealogy, that record and others led to the recent discovery that Banks, a free white woman despite her servitude, was the paternal ninth great-grandmother of Wanda Sykes, the ribald comedian and actress.

More than an intriguing boldface-name connection, it is a rare find even in a genealogy-crazed era in which Internet sites like, with more than 14 million users, and the popular NBC program “Who Do You Think You Are?” play on that fascination. Because slavery meant that their black ancestors were considered property and not people, most African-Americans are able to trace their roots in this country only back to the first quarter of the 19th century.

“This is an extraordinary case and the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present,” said the historian Ira Berlin, a professor at the University of Maryland known for his work on slavery and African-American history.

Mary Banks, the biracial child born to Elizabeth Banks around 1683, inherited her mother’s free status, although she too was indentured. Mary appeared to have four children. There are many other unanswered questions, but the family grew, often as free people of color married or paired off with other free people of color.

Ms. Sykes’s family history was professionally researched for a segment of “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” a new series that has its debut Sunday on PBS.

“The bottom line is that Wanda Sykes has the longest continuously documented family tree of any African-American we have ever researched, ” said Mr. Gates, the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. He was referring to the dozens of genealogies his researchers have unearthed for his television roots franchise, which began in 2006 with the PBS series “African-American Lives” and includes three other genealogy-inspired shows. Mr. Gates said he also checked Ms. Sykes’s family tree with historians, including Mr. Berlin…

…Johni Cerny, who is the chief genealogist for Mr. Gates’s television programs, noted that many African-Americans with white ancestry could trace their heritage beyond the 1600s to European ancestors. She said 85 percent of African-Americans have some European ancestry.

The unique thing about Wanda is that she descends from 10 generations of free Virginia mulattos, which is more rare than descendants of mixed-race African-Americans who descend from English royalty,” Ms. Cerny wrote in an e-mail message.

More than 1,000 mixed-race children were born to white women in colonial Virginia and Maryland, but their existence has been erased from oral and written history, said Paul Heinegg, a respected lay genealogist and historian. Mr. Heinegg’s Web site,, features books and documents like tax lists that provide information about those families…

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