Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage

Lineage societies have long played a role in honoring the history of our nation. We tend to think of them as old (sometimes stodgy) organizations. But new lineage societies are formed all the time. One of the newer ones and one that is long overdue is the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage (SDUSMP). It is a non-denominational, interfaith nonprofit, 501 (c) 3 charitable organization “dedicated to the memory, education, and historic preservation of artifacts and landmarks of slavery in the United States and its economic, psychological, and cultural impact on today’s society.”

The Middle Passage was part of the Atlantic slave trade, the segment of the triangular trade where millions of people were taken from their African homelands and shipped to the New World as slaves. SDUSMP is focused on those who were sent to the British colonies that became the United States, as well as the early years of the country when the slave trade was still active. (You can read and download the Society’s first newsletter for free).

The organization’s objectives are Historical, Education, Memorial, and Patriotic (from the website):

  • To promote the connection of descendants of the Forced American Heroes, the American slaves of African descent, to their ancestors through genealogy research;
  • To proclaim, through education, the role played by the Africans forcibly brought to United States in creating our great nation, including their patient endurance of the cruelties of American slavery, their resourceful intellect; their extraordinarily strong will and spirit, and their connections to their descendants who have gone on to make our country even greater. We want to especially commemorate the connections to all military soldiers;
  • To educate the nation and world about the contribution of the enslaved and their descendants;
  • To cherish and to strengthen the family ties among the members of the SDUSMP; and
  • To collect, protect, and preserve the materials necessary for a complete history of slavery, and to mark the places of the sacrifice of these men, women, and children; our ancestors.  This is including, but not limited to, historically significant sites such as churches, battle sites, freedom trails, grave sites, plantations, and museums.

Membership is open to any person 18 years of age or older who can prove that they are a blood descendant of someone who was an enslaved person in the United States or those colonies that became the United States. Discover more about the organization and becoming a member at www.sdusmp.org.

On May 20, 2017, the society will host a conference in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. The daylong program will run from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., following by an awards banquet starting at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to all, with members receiving a discount. The program includes a variety of topics including, DNA, enslavement, documenting stories with video, forgotten patriots, and more. Find out more on the SDUSMP website.

African Captors and White Captives: Flipping the Story on Slavery

When Americans discuss slavery, we usually think of the white people who enslaved Africans and African-Americans. The more knowledgeable include Native Americans and other people of color who were also enslaved by whites. But slavery also worked in other directions. For example, whites who were captured and enslaved by Africans.

Those travelling on ships near and around Africa often fell victim to pirates, or even to natural causes crippling their ships and leaving them at the mercy of African captors. They were often enslaved by their captors, or sold into slavery with others. Conditions were usually at least as harsh as those that enslaved people in America suffered at the hands of whites.

Among the most notorious of locations was Tripoli, held by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire. They kept slaves under the most dreadful of conditions. Tensions between the U.S. and Tripoli escal
ated during the early nineteenth century when the Barbary Wars erupted with the Americans fighting the forces from Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. In fact, the part of the first line in the Marine fight song that says “to the shores of Tripoli” refers to the Battle of Derne in 1805, the first time that the American flag was raised in the old world.

Many were taken captive and held in slavery for months or years before being repatriated. Many never made it home. Some who did wrote narratives of their experiences as captives, which were published for the public to read.

Paul Baepler published a good collection of these stories in his 1999 work White Slaves, African Masters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). He provides a good introductory discussion of Barbary captives, then selects nine authors from Cotton Mather to ordinary individuals, discussing various experiences as captives. He finishes with a bibliography of mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century publications of captives’ stories. An excerpt from Dr. Jonathan Cowdery’s account of his captivity with the crew of the U.S. Frigate Philadelphia in 1803:

 

 

Nov. 24. — The Bashaw refused to furnish necessary clothing for the sick, or any thing for them to eat, but sour filthy bread. — Captain Bainbridge contracted with the Danish consult o supply the sick with beef and vegetables for soup every day.

Nov. 27. — Our men complained of their hard usage, in being compelled to lie on the cold damp ground, to eat bad bread, to work hard, and to be bastinadoed [caned] by their drivers.

Nov. 30. — One of our men in a fit of despair attempted to kill himself; but was prevented by the Turks, when in the act of cutting his throat. The wound did not prove mortal.

If your ancestors lived on the coast and were seafaring people, some of them may have been white slaves. Start looking for them. More importantly, start thinking about how you would feel if your ancestors were suddenly on the other side of slavery. Do you take a more conciliatory tone towards your own ancestors who owned slaves? Do you explain it away as being part of the time and culture, but reverse the discussion when the situation is reversed and the slavers become masters and the masters become slaves? Why is that? It certainly makes for an interesting discussion, both internal and with other family members, and will make an interesting addition to your family history.