“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.” ~Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose
Sophia. Say her name aloud. She isn’t in any history book you have ever read. There are no monuments celebrating her resilient spirit or that of her daughter Lucy—or her other nameless children sold away from her. She was a mother, a daughter, a friend—and a slave. Take a moment to simply imagine her. She doesn’t need you to of course. Her story lives on in those that who don’t even know they are chapters in her book. How could they . . . Sophia is invisible other than as a sentence in a will or court case.
In the Last Will and Testament of Edmund Littlepage (1813), King William County, Virginia, Edmund emancipates two of his slaves, Sophia and their “mulatto” daughter Lucy. She cannot be freed until she is twelve years old. He doesn’t call her his daughter of course; but he does provide for her and her mother Sophia at the same time he orders other slaves sold at auction in Richmond, VA and indicates the profits should be used to build a mission school. Without a doubt, Sophia had children in that pool of human beings designated for sale.
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s a-going to trouble the water
I know the average reader doesn’t want to go on from here. Neither do it. But we must. Wade in the water children . . .
In 1818, Lucy and her mother Sophia petition the legislature for emancipation and the right to remain in the Commonwealth of Virginia as free people. Lucy has to do that again as the wife of John Dungey and later as his widow to continue to receive the support awarded her in Edmund Littlepage’s Will. http://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/full_case_detail.asp?CFN=097-1885-002#img
White citizens from Lucy’s community and surrounding areas signed petitions for her and her husband to retain their freedom.
There are 485 pages of testimony and text—at this point, I am simply leaving a trail of crumbs and cutting a hole in the veil so other researchers can fill in all of the gaps. I may never be able to plainly read the sealed letter, but it will not be because I wasn’t inspired to open it. As a single mother of two amazing children who also has a full time job, I’m fine with passing on the seeds of this flower to those who will come later. I simply need someone other than me in this locality to carry Sophia and Lucy’s names in their mouths and hearts.
These “snippets” of local history are designed to spark curiosity, research and efforts at healing. The water is indeed troubled. If we don’t wade in together, the tide of turmoil will never recede. We owe so much more to our children. Plant the seeds; they will tend the garden.
The strategic and intentional plot to pit African and Native Americans against each other to prevent mobilization of resistance efforts may be buried history, but it is not invisible. You simply have to read to find it.