Only 150 years ago . . .

Only 150 years ago, if you had enough money, you could purchase another human being.  Can you even begin to comprehend that?  I am not a fan of the modern trend of judging our ancestors according to today’s more enlightened standards, and I’ve always been proud of my great-great-great grandfather, a Confederate general important enough to be mentioned in some histories of the time and a real Southern gentleman according to many published contemporary accounts.
Even so, I definitely felt uncomfortable when my cousin Ward (he’s my second cousin thrice removed, to be precise, and we “met” while both of us were researching the General online) sent me the picture above earlier this week.  It’s a picture of the General’s wife, Elizabeth Oliver Hagan, known as Bettie, and her “personal servant,” Cornelia.  All evidence suggests that there was a loving bond between the two women:  Cornelia is seated while Bettie stands; the hand on the shoulder bespeaks affection; and she was buried next to Bettie (although her grave is not marked).
But I still cannot wrap my head around the notion that barely 100 years before I was born people–nice people–my great-great-great grandparents–could seriously think it was acceptable to own other human beings and call them slaves.  I know that people are still being enslaved today, but it isn’t legal; it isn’t acceptable; and it isn’t practiced by respected members of society.


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  1. Julie says:

    I have found it unsettling to read through my family wills and see people/slaves listed as property.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I was googling General Hagan yesterday and found that LSU’s Special Collections holds some of his papers, which include records of the buying and selling of slaves. I also read an account somewhere of an even earlier ancestor making one of his slaves wait on an Indian chief, which the slave found upsetting.

  1. July 21, 2010

    […] July 21, 2010 by lesliesholly My cousin Ward sent me a copy of a letter today, written by my great-aunt Bodae Hagan Saxe to a cousin some time in the 1970s, in which she recounts some of her family memories and stories.  Here’s what she had to say about Cornelia, my great-great-great grandmother’s personal servant: […]

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