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3 Local Warehouse African American Studies- Slavery and Reconstruction

Slaves in the Family

by

Slaves in the Family Cover

 

 

Excerpt

My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves.

"There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family," he would say. "Religion, sex, death, money, and the Negroes."

"What does that leave to talk about?" my mother asked once.

"That's another of the family secrets," Dad said, smiling.

My father, Theodore Porter Ball, came from the venerable city of Charleston, South Carolina, the son of an old plantation clan. The Ball family's plantations were among the oldest and longest standing in the American South, and there were more than twenty of them along the Cooper River, North of Charleston. Between 1698 and 1865, the 167 years the family was in the slave business, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery to the Balls or bought by them. The crop they raised was rice, whose color and standard gave it the name Carolina Gold. After the Civil War, some of the Ball places stayed in business as sharecrop farms with paid black labor until about 1900, when the rice market finally failed in the face of competition from Louisiana and Asia.

When I was twelve, Dad died and was buried near Charleston. Sometime during his last year, he brought together my brother, Theodore Jr., and me to give each of us a copy of the published history of the family. The book had a wordy title, Recollections of the Ball Family of South Carolina and the Comingtee Plantation. A distant cousin, long dead, had written the manuscript, and the book was printed in 1909 on rag paper, with a tan binding and green cloth boards. On the spine the words BALL FAMILY were embossed. The pages smelled like wet leaves.

"One day you'll want to know about all this," Dad said, waving his hand vaguely, his lips pursed. "Your ancestors." The tone of the old joke was replaced by some nervousness.

I know my father was proud of his heritage but at the same time, I suspect, had questions about it. The story of his slave-owning family, part of the weave of his childhood, was a mystery he could only partly decipher. With the gift of the book, Dad seemed to be saying that the plantations were a piece of unfinished business. In that moment, the story of the Ball clan was locked in the depths of my mind, to be pried loose one day.

When I was a child, Dad used to tell stories about our ancestors, the rice planters. I got a personal glimpse of the American revolution, because the Balls had played a role in it--some of us fought for the British, some for independence. the Civil War seemed more real since Dad's grandfather and three great-uncles fought for the Confederacy. From time to time in his stories, Dad mentioned the people our family used to own. They were usually just "the slaves," sometimes "the Ball slaves," a puff of black smoke on the wrinkled horizon of the past. Dad evidently didn't know much about them, and I imagine he didn't want to know.

"Did I ever tell you about Wambaw Elias Ball?" he might say. "His plantation was on Wambaw Creek. He had about a hundred and fifty slaves, and he was a mean fella."

My father had a voice honed by cigarettes, an antique Charleston accent, and I liked to hear him use the old names.

"Wambaw Elias was a Tory," Dad began. "I mean, he picked the wrong side in the Revolution." When the Revolutionary War reached the South, Wambaw Elias, instead of joining the American rebels, went to the British commander in Charleston, Lord Cornwallis, who gave him a company of men and the rank of colonel. Wambaw Elias fought the patriots and burned their houses until such time as the British lost and his victims called for revenge. The Americans went for Wambaw Elias's human property, dragging off some fifty slaves from Wambaw plantation, while other black workers managed to escape into the woods. Wambaw Elias knew he had no future in the United States and decided to cash in his assets. Eventually he captured the slaves who had run away, sold them, then took his family to England, where he lived for another thirty-eight years, regretting to the last that he had been forced to give up the life of a slave owner.

In the Ball family, the tale of Wambaw Elias and his slaves passed as a children's story.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780345431059
Author:
Ball, Edward
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Location:
New York :
Subject:
People of Color
Subject:
Biography
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
Afro-americans
Subject:
Slavery
Subject:
South carolina
Subject:
Slaves
Subject:
Plantation life
Subject:
African Americans
Subject:
Slaveholders
Subject:
Charleston Region (S.C.) Biography.
Subject:
Charleston Region
Subject:
cultural heritage
Subject:
Charleston Region (S.C.) Race relations.
Subject:
Ball family
Subject:
Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
December 1998
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
544
Dimensions:
8.2 x 5.51 x 1 in 1.0625 lb

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Related Subjects


Biography » Historical
History and Social Science » African American Studies » General
History and Social Science » African American Studies » Slavery and Reconstruction
History and Social Science » Sociology » Slavery

Slaves in the Family Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 544 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345431059 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Ball's impressive detective work and the black voices it records build a monumental and extraordinary case history of the rise and fall of America's most shameful institution."
"Review" by , "A tour de force....[A] remarkable book....Part oral history, this unique family saga is a catharsis and a searching inventory of racially divided American society."
"Review" by , "Everyone should read and learn from this luminous book....Like Alex Haley's Roots, through which African American history came into national focus....The book is not only honest in its scrupulous reporting but also personal narrative at its finest."
"Review" by , "Ball is a first-rate scholar-journalist....Outside Faulkner, it will be hard to find a more poignant, powerful account of a white man struggling with his and his nation's past."
"Review" by , "A masterpiece...remarkable....[A] large omnium gatherum of enchanting fireside anecdotes, secrets teased out of reluctant fragments from the remote past..."
"Synopsis" by , A former Village Voice columnist journeys into his family's slave-owning past, telling the story of black and white families who lived side by side for five generations.
"Synopsis" by , The moving, critically acclaimed story of one man's journey to find the descendants of the slaves who lived on his own family's plantation. "A work of breathtaking generosity and courage".--Pat Conroy. 48-page insert.
"Synopsis" by , NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"[A] LANDMARK BOOK."

--San Francisco Chronicle

"POWERFUL."

--The New York Times Book Review

"GRIPPING."

--The Boston Sunday Globe

"BRILLIANT."

--The New Yorker

"EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND LEARN FROM THIS LUMINOUS BOOK...Like Alex Haley's Roots, through which African American history came into national focus...Slaves in the Family has the potential for creating a perceptual shift in the American mind...The book is not only honest in its scrupulous reporting but also personal narrative at its finest."  

--San Francisco Chronicle

"BALL IS A FIRST-RATE SCHOLAR-JOURNALIST...He's also a good detective, tracking down the many descendants of Ball slaves from New York to California and back in the South and coaxing them, often with some difficulty, to tell their stories...Outside Faulkner, it will be hard to find a more poignant, powerful account of a white man struggling with his and his nation's past."

--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A MASTERPIECE...REMARKABLE...It is a work about slaves in the family.  But it is also a large omnium gatherum of enchanting fireside anecdotes, secrets teased out of reluctant fragments from the remote past, the real lives of blacks and whites whose stories had been lost in the disintegrating churn of time until Edward Ball's patient reconstructions."  

--The Raleigh News & Observer

"A TOUR DE FORCE...The heart of this remarkable book consists of his sleuthing--tracking down and interviewing the descendants of former Ball slaves across the country... Part oral history, this unique family saga is a catharsis and a searching inventory of racially divided American society."

--Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)

"A PAGEANTRY OF PASSIONS AND STRUGGLES."

--African Sun Times

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