New book tells the story of slaves in Athens
You know that pre-war mansion with white columns set back from Prince Avenue where Pope Street rises behind Emmanuel Episcopal Church? It was built by Mary Ann Lamar Cobb and her husband, Howell, and was brand new when the aftermath of the panic of 1837 wiped out Howell’s wealth. His father, John Addison Cobb, using credit and money from his plantations, was a diver and developer – our first inland neighborhood, Cobbham, was part of his businesses. Howell had co-signed his father’s notes, and the panic – much like a stock market crash – resulted in possible bank foreclosures on the Cobbs, forcing them to sell all of their considerable assets, including the Carters: George and Silva and their children Aggy, Polly, Eliza, Robert, Nelson and Ellick.
“The Carters were probably told that their public auction, along with that of the fine furniture, was needed to cover the debts of the bankrupt Cobb family. They were probably told to be patient and to behave. But all appearances of paternalism and imagined bonds of affection fell to ashes when human beings were forced to stand on a large porch of a magnificent mansion perched on a hill. Then they had to accept that the people they knew and served for a lifetime had the power and intention to sell them along with other valuable but ultimately disposable goods.
This passage is quoted from Seen / Invisible: lives hidden in a community of enslaved Georgians, just published by University of Georgia Press.
This meticulously documented scientific work is an attempt to delve into the past of a wealthy and prominent family in Athens and Georgia and unearth clues to the lives of the people they owned – difficult due to the lack of written details left behind. by people who were generally kept illiterate, but possible in this case because the Lamar-Cobb families wrote a lot among themselves, often mentioning the people they owned, and some of the slaves also wrote letters which were kept in the family archives, now in the Hargrett Library at UGA. The authors include a rich selection of excerpts from these letters, so that owners and landlords tell the story of what it was like in Athens and on the plantations during slavery.
The Lamars and the Cobbs were two of the richest families in Georgia, and their fortunes were united by the marriage of Mary Ann and Howell – but not completely: Mary Ann had one of the first prenuptial agreements, and he kept her property in her name and thus protected them from the financial ruin of her husband.
As a result of their amalgamation, the Lamars and Cobbs owned 13 plantations in Georgia, including Cowpens, near Athens in Walton County. They developed a proto-chain business management system that enabled Mary Ann’s brother John B. Lamar to manage all of the plantations at his Macon mansion through the careful hiring and supervision of overseers, thus freeing Howell to throw his heavy. energies in politics, leading him into the highest areas of state, national and confederate governments. Central to John’s chain management was constant mail and courier communication and the ability to move equipment, slave laborers, food, and supplies between plantations as needed.
This book focuses on some of the enslaved people in this franchise, their constant maneuvering to keep their families together – or at least in touch – and their abilities to play the system knowing how to approach their Lamar-Cobb owners for approval. for various programs to bring family members together or in better positions The Lamars and Cobbs believed strongly in the “humane” oxymoronic treatment of those they enslaved – except, of course, when they had to sell them to the fullest. offering (and this episode was an aberration). Even so, if they needed a mother in one plantation and her son or daughter or husband in another, well, it was just business. And being on the plantation under the overseer rather than in the mansions of Macon and Athens (yes, the Cobbs soon built another one) was kind of a ban, even though they were in the house there, rather than in the fields.
Even in the cabins, however, families kept in touch thanks to those who could write and drivers who brought supplies and also took rides to enslaved visitors with vacation passes from a plantation or home. in row to another. And in the plantation or in the big house, slaves, without rights or power, always understood how to resist demands that violated the unwritten rules of bondage – a revelation, as well as one of the ways in which slaves could actually earn money. silver, which sheds light on a subject that has been buried in whitewashed stereotypes.
Many of the people who come to life in this book, like Silva Carter and her daughter Aggy, were like members of the great Cobb family. Aggy, who grew up helping care for the 12 Cobb children and became Mary Ann’s most loyal servant, was immediately bought out by John B. and returned to her sister after this forced sale.
Nonetheless, “This experience shaped all decades of his life. It taught her that she alone should shoulder the burden of protecting those she cared about most. Their safety required her to use the few tools she possessed to convince Mary Ann, through countless daily interactions, that she and her family were loyal, dedicated, and utterly irreplaceable. His success in taking up this challenge carried first his father and his brother, then Isaac, Louisa and Fanny. [her husband and daughters] on the rocky banks of slavery and finally in the safe harbor of emancipation. Half a century after the auctioneer’s hammer fell, a few blocks from where it started, Aggy Carter Mills died in a house of her own, a wife, a grandmother and a free woman. Others weren’t so lucky.
The authors – Christopher R. Lawton, Laura E. Nelson, and Randy L. Reid – are what you might call “citizen historians,” in the sense that although they are academically trained, they are not professors of the world. university that publish to avoid perishing. Seen / Invisible has an immediacy and freshness that makes a compelling read, and in addition to the abundant excerpts from the correspondence, there are images, facsimiles of documents, useful genealogical tables, and some mind-boggling maps of Mast Production manager Larry Tenner.
Especially about this past: “It’s not even in the past,” as Faulkner wrote. There are a lot of people walking around Athens and Georgia right now who are descending from Lamar-Cobb property and slavery that still affects their lives and ours.
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