Friday, March 16, 2012

Cecelia and Fanny

This small and very interesting history of the relationship between slave and mistress was based on just 5 letters. These letters, all from a run away slave named Cecelia to her former mistress, show the remarkable relationship that existed between the 2 women from before the Civil War to after it. The 5 letters were found among the papers belonging to the Ballard family of Kentucky. All of the letters are from Frances T. Ballard (Fanny) to her slave Cecelia. They were saved by her son, Rogers Clark Ballard. The letters from Cecelia to Fanny are missing.

The story starts in 1846. Cecelia is 15 and Fanny is 20. They live in Fanny's father's house in Louisville. The 2 women have been visiting Fanny's relatives in Washington, D.C. and Fanny's father decides to take them to Niagara Falls, a popular tourist destination at the time. Across the falls is Canada and freedom for Cecelia. For reasons that are not documented, Cecelia decides to escape to Canada, leaving her mother and brother in the Ballard household. This would not have been hard for her to do. Canada was a short 8 minute boat ride across the river and there were systems in place to help slaves who wished to escape.

Fanny and her father woke up one morning and Cecelia was gone. Fanny's father was angry, he rarely had a slave escape and he blamed the abolitionists who were in Niagara Falls. Fanny had received Cecelia as a gift for her 14th or 15th birthday, a common practice of the time. The 2 women had basically grown up together as Cecelia had arrived at the Ballard house as an infant when her mother was purchased to work there.

Local Canadian records indicate that Cecelia was in Toronto, arriving before November 1846. She chose a name for herself: Cecelia Jane Reynolds. In that month she married Benjamin Pollard Holmes, who was also an escaped slave. This was a monumental event for Cecelia. Slave marriages were not recognized in the southern United States.

Beginning in the early 1850's Cecelia started writing Fanny. Cecelia was concerned about her mother and brother and wanted to make sure they were safe. The correspondence was interesting because in 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act had become law. Giving Fanny her address could have been trouble for Cecelia. Cecelia stayed in Canada until 1861. Her husband had died and Cecelia, her daughter and 2 sons moved back to the US. to Rochester, New York. Rochester had a thriving black community at the time. She met her second husband while working as a housekeeper for a white family. She married William Larrison in April 1862. William enlisted in the Union Army in December 1863. A marriage certificate of this wedding still exists.

Meanwhile in 1861, Fanny's husband was appointed clerk of the US District court, a position he would hold throughout the war. Kentucky was a Union state in the war, but those sentiments started to wane as the war went on. Fanny and Cecelia reconnected in Louisville in the late 1880's or early 1890's.

Cecelia was interested in purchasing her mother's freedom. Little is known about this event, but Fanny did indicate in a letter that Cecelia could buy her mother out after her servitude was over in about 6 years. Cecelia also contacted Fanny for monetary help after her husband had died and she was not receiving a Civil War widows pension. Fanny's son also help Cecelia out financially.

This is an interesting little (less than 200 pages) book. It details the life an urban slave in Kentucky, which was a border state in the Civil War. The book starts off slowly giving background information on the status of slaves in Kentucky. The book also slides off onto tangents most notably the history of some black Civil War regiments and legal cases dealing with slave's rights after the war. It is however very interesting. This is a great choice for students who have to read a book for Women's History Month or Black History Month.

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a really interesting book. I'm going to recommend it to a few people who love history and nonfiction. I always like reading your reviews!


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