Tuesday, July 8, 2008

FreeJoe, Part II

Last week, I posted about Göran's ancestor, "FreeJoe" Harris. Yesterday, we received in the mail the books we had ordered about FreeJoe's life and about the genealogical research of FreeJoe's biographer, Mr. Earnest E. Lacey. As we immediately dug into these fascinating texts, we started to learn more of the nitty gritty details of FreeJoe's life.

One of the things I learned is that FreeJoe's mother was a slave about whom we know relatively little, except that her name was "Comfort." His father was Comfort's slave master, and he was born the property of the same slave master. The name that Göran inherited, "Harris," was originally the name of his ancestors' slave master. I'm not sure what to think and say about the parental sentiments of someone who raises his own flesh and blood as a slave. The best thing I can say is that John Harris had the decency to emancipate his son at the age of 36. The emancipation papers of Joseph Harris (a facsimile of which is provided in The Search for FreeJoe) states dryly, "I John Harris... have manumitted, emancipate, and set free, and by these presents do manumit, emancipate and set free, a negro man slave named Joseph and sometimes called Joseph Harris" (p. 131). That's as close as the document comes to admitting that he is "manumitting, emancipating, and setting free" his own son.

I said in my earlier post about FreeJoe that "like other Americans in search of freedom," he headed for the frontier, ultimately settling in Shelby County, Tennessee. FreeJoe may have left for the frontier "like other Americans," but his motives were considerably different. His wife Fanny, the woman with whom he had fathered a number of children, was owned by a different slave master, a Samuel Leake. It was Leake who headed for the frontier in search of "freedom," bringing with him a train of slaves. FreeJoe came along, to stay with his family.

FreeJoe was eventually able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of his wife and two of his daughters. But the other nine children he fathered by Fanny remained slaves until Grant's armies secured their freedom, and the freedom of all other slaves in America, in 1865. Their mother, Fanny, died that same year, at least having the satisfaction of knowing that the freedom she and her husband had worked so hard for would soon be the right of all her children.

Last night, I spent several hours on the LDS genealogical site fleshing out Göran's family tree. Families were big back then. FreeJoe had eleven children, and his children (and their children) had similarly large families, so FreeJoe today has descendants like the proverbial "sands of the sea." We were chuckling last night about the fact that Göran's grandmother insists he has "zillions" of cousins. She may only have been exaggerating slightly.

We can hardly wait to learn more about them...


MoHoHawaii said...

Wow! This is so exciting. You guys must be thrilled.

J G-W said...

We are elated. It's still pretty overwhelming though... We're still kind of in shock, but it's a good shock. Being in regular touch with members of his family in Memphis has helped us adjust to the idea slowly. Gradually we'll have this whole new set of relationships, this whole new family.

But to go from literally knowing nothing, to suddenly having this big network of people who have such an amazing history, and who are so amazing, and so eager to have us in their lives... It's not really exaggerating when I tell folks that this is the best thing that's ever happened to us.

What a journey this has been for Göran...

Kawone Harris said...

I ran into this hold post. My quest from the a few years back to uncover my family roots led me back to FreeJoe Harris, as well. Having visited the cemeteries and churches, particularly the annual family reunions. In fact, next year the Harris families from Chicago, Memphis, Paris (France) and St. Louis will gather together in Tennessee for a combined reunion.

In any case,, this was to point out a video produced by the BBC that your friend may be interested in viewing.

“Roots in Wales”. The film is narrated by Eddy L. Harris, author of South of Haunted Dreams (Simon
& Schuster). Mr. Harris is descended from Joseph Harris, an African-American, who was born at “Golden Meadows” in Goochland
county in 1796. Also known as the
“old Harris house”, Golden Meadows was home to Mr. Walter Joyce and his grandmother for many years.

Kawone Harris said...

The following article is a synopsis of the film “Roots in Wales” written for the BBC by producers John Pierce Jones and Inge Hanson. The Director for the film was Alun Huws, BBC Staff Director. The Society is grateful to Ms. Hanson for making this
synopsis available to be reprinted in the newsletter.
An astonishing number of black Americans have Welsh surnames. The Welsh Chapel in Los Angeles
scrapped a membership drive to contact every person with a Welsh name listed in the LA phone book because
75% belonged to blacks with no apparent connection to Wales. “Davies” is one of the most common
family names among American blacks.
What is Wales’ relationship to black America? Answers unfold as Eddy L. Harris, a black American author
famous for his top-selling, controversial books chronicling his search for his identity, investigates the
origin of his own Welsh surname. He has already traveled the globe seeking his roots - through Africa, Harlem
and the Deep South. Now Harris heads for Wales to track down ancestors he has traced to a mulatto
slave fathered by John Harris, a Colonial planter from Goochland, Virginia whose ancestors likely hailed
from Wales.
Harris’s trek will illuminate Welsh/American connections forged through immigration and slavery from
the unique perspective of a black American looking to Wales for Answers to his past, a refreshing reversal
from previous documentaries where the Welsh look at America. At the same time, Harris is asking universal
questions about what roots, identity and our family name means for each of us. Harris’ travels take him
from Virginia plantations to Welsh farm houses as he visits cemeteries, examines courthouse records, and
talks with all kinds of people to uncover clues to his ancestry. In the end, it does not matter whether Harris‘s
ancestors were Welsh. This program focuses on the meaning of the search for roots and belonging which is
the continuing and controversial theme running through all of Harris’s books.
Along the way, Harris can look at what being Welsh means, to the people who simply bear Welsh names
and to those raised here in Wales. His perspective as a black American can illuminate race issues here: does
racial prejudice exist or are we as accepting as we like to believe? The journey is underscored by music
ranging from Negro spirituals and the blues to Welsh hymns.
Eddy Harris will present the programme. He is published by Viking/Penguin in the UK where reviewers
praise him as the equal of Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux. He is the author of Mississippi Solo, Native
Stranger, South of Haunted Dreams, and Still Life in Harlem. Harris divides his time between Paris and his
hometown, St. Louis, Missouri where he is a professor of creative writing and African American Literature
at Washington University. He is also in demand as a lecturer and for guest appearances on television and
radio talk shows.

Also see South of Haunted Dreams: A Ride Through Slavery's Old Back Yard

J G-W said...

Kawone -- Thank you so much! I will let Granville know... We'll be in Memphis again in August, and will be sure to let other members of our branch of the Harris family know...

Kawone Harris said...

NP. Correction...that reunion will actually be in St. Louis. I typed Memphis because I have been there tooo many times.

Have Good Day!