|Enslaved from birth, George Fordman was not Black, but part indigenous and part white. George Fordman explains to his interviewer how he came to be enslaved in a tragic history that begins with White people forcibly driving his indigenous ancestors from their home in Indiana in 1838. After his ancestors walked all the way to Alabama, the George family “automatically” enslaved them, even though they were not Black. In this excerpt the interviewer recounts the words of George Fordman as he describes the “dark trail” of his childhood, in which the reader learns that George Fordman’s enslaver was his father and his grandfather. At several points in the interview, the interviewer inserts their own narrative and conclusions.
Teachers may need to warn students before reading that this excerpt refers to an enslaver incestuously raping an enslaved person. The excerpt also references an enslaver’s death.
…As Eliza George, daughter of [enslaver] Ford George and [indigneous enslaved person] Courtney Hawk, grew into young womanhood the young master Ford George went more often to social functions. He was admired for his skill with firearms and for his horsemanship. While Courtney and his child remained at the plantation Ford enjoyed the companionship of the beautiful women of the vicinity. At last he brought home the beautiful Loraine, his young bride. Courtney was stoical as only an Indian can be. She showed no hurt but helped Mistress Hester and Mistress Loraine with the housework.
Here George Fortman paused to let his blinded eyes look back into the long ago. Then he again continued with his story of the dark trail.
Mistress Loraine became mother of two sons and a daughter and the big white two-story house… [in Kentucky] became a place of laughter and happy occasions, so my mother told me many times.
Suddenly sorrow settled down over the home and the laughter turned into wailing, for Ford George’s body was found pierced through the heart and the… [half white, half indigenous] Eliza, was nowhere to be found.
The young master’s body lay in state for many days. Friends and neighbors came bringing flowers. His mother, bowed with grief, looked on the still face of her son and understood—understood why death had come and why Eliza had gone away.
The beautiful home on the Cumberland river with its more than 600 acres of productive land was put into the hands of an administrator of estates to be readjusted in the interest of the George heirs. It was only then Mistress Hester went to Aunt Lucy and demanded of her to tell where Eliza could be found.
‘She has gone to Alabama, Ole Mistus’, said Aunt Lucy, ‘Eliza was scared to stay here.’ A party of searchers were sent out to look for Eliza. They found her secreted in a canebrake in the lowlands of Alabama nursing her baby boy at her breast. They took Eliza and the baby back to Kentucky. I am that baby, that child of unsatisfactory birth.
The face of George Fortman registered sorrow and pain, it had been hard for him to retell the story of the dark road to strange ears.
My white uncles had told Mistress Hester that if Eliza brought me back they were going to build a fire and put me in it, my birth was so unsatisfactory to all of them, but Mistress Hester always did what she believed was right and I was brought up by my own mother.
We lived in a cabin at the slave quarters and mother worked in the broom cane. Mistress Hester named me Ford George, in derision, but remained my friend. She was never angry with my mother. She knew a slave had to submit to her master and besides Eliza did not know she was Master Ford George’s daughter..
[The following is the conclusion of the interviewer:] The truth had been told at last. The master was both the father of Eliza and the father of Eliza’s son…
Formerly enslaved person
|Birth Year (Age)
|AL or KY
|Themes & Keywords
|Family, Violence, Resistance, Escape
|Trigg County, First Person, Enslaver Father, Notable