A story of race and family
When you grow up in New England you don’t hear much about slavery. Despite many Rhode Island “shipping” fortunes based in the slave trade, slavery seemed to be from a remote time and place. Rhode Islanders, more than most, had reasons to want to put those days behind them. My mother’s Rhode Island roots are distant from the seafaring communities, so I don’t suppose we had much of a role in the slave trade. Occasionally, around 1700, one sees a slave or two in their farming homesteads, but no more than that.
Or so I thought. I think for one part of my Rhode Island family, slavery was very real. One of the only things I knew about my great great grandmother, Emma Lamphere Darling, was that she was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She reportedly said, concerning her family’s move up to Rhode Island in her late teens, that her father had lost his business in the Civil War, and besides, a “white woman” wasn’t safe down there.
I guess you would have to know my family to understand how strange this seems to me. My parents deliberately rejected the racial prejudice they may have observed in childhood and set out, in the 1960′s, to make the world a more equitable and loving place. They were involved in local civil rights efforts, and were adherents to the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Those are stories for another day, but my parents built a family that now contains grandchildren of all colors. Two of those are my beautiful daughters, so my sympathies are closely aligned with my daughters’ interests, and their ancestors who were, undoubtedly, slaves.
But I think part of studying family history is uncovering everything, whether it’s flattering, happy, attractive, reasonable, or none of those things. If you learn with great interest about the experiences of a Revolutionary War ancestor, wouldn’t you want to know about an ancestor who lived through an equally turbulent and polarizing time in American history?
The only artifact I have of Emma Lamphere is her picture, taken before the removal up north, and another picture which I believe to be her as a middle-aged woman. No notes, letters, diaries, or possessions. The usual records a genealogist might use reveal only glimpses of her, and may be the work of others: sadness about her mother’s death in 1878, and listing her oldest son as a resident of her household in Providence in 1910 even though he was living with his wife and two babies 10 blocks away.
I set out months ago to learn more about Emma’s father, Russell Lamphere. I purchased some microfilm newspapers from the Alabama State Archives. I did, indeed, learn more about Russell’s business; he had a tin shop. What I also found were indirect clues to Emma’s life story. No history class ever really prepared me for the atmosphere that was reflected in The Tuscaloosa Observer.
The roll I purchased commenced in 1860. Stories of the day were detailed at length: the presidential election, John Brown’s trial, and the need for the South to become more self-sufficient (such as “Southern Insurance”, or boys withdrawing from northern colleges). But every single page was also filled with strident and outraged defenses of slavery. And not infrequently, the buying and selling of slaves was clearly illustrated.
FLOGGED AND ORDERED TO LEAVE – The Lexington (Miss.) Advertiser of Friday last has the following:
We understand that a man by the name of Miller was unceremoniously stripped, flogged and ordered to leave the neighborhood, by several citizens of Tobula on one day during last week. Although Miller claimed to hail from Perry county, Ala., still his conduct and intimacy with the negroes in the neighborhood, created the belief that he was a secret abolition emissary. We learn that he passed through this place a few days ago. He alluded, we understand, to the whipping he received, in good humor, although he complained that the strap with which he was whipped “hurt awfully”.
MORE AFRICANS COMING. – The Sea Coast (Miss.) Democrat learns from good authority that a cargo of African slaves is expected in Ship Island Harbor the latter past of the present month. They will be landed without secrecy, the consignees trusting to the predominant sentiment of Mississippi for an acquittal, in the event of a government prosecution.
ADMINISTRATOR’ SALE By virtue of the order of the court of probate, of Tuscaloosa County, the undersigned Administrator of the Estate of William L. Bealle, deceased, will sell at PUBLIC SALE, at the Plantation lately occupied by said decedent, in said county, on the 17th day of December next, the following slaves, belonging to said estate, viz: Marin, Mary, Harriet, Mipta, Ellen, Henry Fox, Henry Cody, Moses, Jake, George, Dub, Tom, Alfred, Orry, Mary Ann, Sophia, Francis, Evaline, Edmund, Tol, Ad, Richmond, Steph, Martha and her child Tiny; together with other personal property belonging to said estate, to wit: Horses, Mules, Oxen, Cattle and Hogs, and one Carriage, one Hack, Wagons and Farming Utensils.
TERMS OF SALE: Notes with two approved securities, payable first of March, 186(?), with interest from the day of sale.
Charles S. Bealle, Administrator
“The slave sale is indefinitely postponed”
As 1860 turned to 1861 the war went from a skirmish to a drawn out battle. The paper suggested that any young man who had not enlisted be derisively “bonneted” by the local women. Jeers at the north filled much of the paper. I realize now that my ggg-grandfather Russell Lamphere could never have remained loyal to his Connecticut roots in that atmosphere. I have a record of an “R. Lamphere” enlisting in a regiment at the Tuscaloosa City hall on April 25, 1860 in response to a call from the Alabama legislature … I suppose that was him.
As for Emma, she was born in 1857 so the Civil War and the slaves being freed were among her earliest memories. I can only imagine the talk she grew up with, of hating the north, resenting the growing destruction and poverty all around her, and fearing these people who suddenly had gained the rights of human beings. Given what I read in the paper, an impressionable young girl could easily be convinced of the righteousness of the south’s cause. How much she must have resented her pragmatic father for turning about and returning to New England!
Emma grew up in an atmosphere of hate and oppression, and war. The defense of slavery is soul-crushing for all parties, and it’s something that she lived with. She was probably insecure about her northern roots, and once up north, lonely for her southern roots. All in all I suspect Emma’s happiness was a casualty of that war. In the end she died too young, leaving children and grandchildren to mourn her. But somehow I know that the fact that her descendants stepped far beyond racism to a more loving, peaceful place is something that she would not resent. I suspect her life was hard enough that she would not wish it on anybody. So Emma, we are not living your life. But we are living your legacy.
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