|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 the full interview (see link below) George Fordman describes the “dark trail” of his childhood, in which the reader learns that George Fordman’s enslaver was his father and his grandfather.
In this first person excerpt, the interviewer records George Fordman’s description of the funeral of Mistress Hester Lam, who had enslaved George Fordman and his family. Mistress Hester Lam emancipated the family five years before the Civil War. Due to the incestuous rape committed by her son, Hester Lam was George Fordman’s paternal grandmother and great-grandmother.
… It was customary to conduct a funeral differently than it is conducted now, he said. I remember I was only six years old when old Mistress Hester Lam passed on to her eternal rest. She was kept out of her grave several days in order to allow time for the relatives, friends and ex-slaves to be notified of her death.
The house and yard were full of grieving friends. Finally the lengthy procession started to the graveyard. Within the Georges’ parlors there had been Bible passages read, prayers offered up and hymns sung, now the casket was placed in a wagon drawn by two horses. The casket was covered with flowers while the family and friends rode in ox carts, horse-drawn wagons, horseback, and with still many on foot they made their way towards the river.
When we reached the river there were many canoes busy putting the people across, besides the ferry boat was in use to ferry vehicles over the stream. The ex-slaves were crying and praying and telling how good granny had been to all of them and explaining how they knew she had gone straight to Heaven, because she was so kind—and a Christian. There were not nearly enough boats to take the crowd across if they crossed back and forth all day, so my mother, Eliza, improvised a boat or ‘gunnel’, as the craft was called, by placing a wooden soap box on top of a long pole, then she pulled off her shoes and, taking two of us small children in her arms, she paddled with her feet and put us safely across the stream…
At the burying ground a great crowd had assembled from the neighborhood across the river and there were more songs and prayers and much weeping. The casket was let down into the grave without the lid being put on and everybody walked up and looked into the grave at the face of the dead woman. They called it the ‘last look’ and everybody dropped flowers on Mistress Hester as they passed by. A man then went down and nailed on the lid and the earth was thrown in with shovels. The ex-slaves filled in the grave, taking turns with the shovel. Some of the men had worked at the smelting furnaces so long that their hands were twisted and hardened from contact with the heat. Their shoulders were warped and their bodies twisted but they were strong as iron men from their years of toil. When the funeral was over mother put us across the river on the gunnel and we went home, all missing Mistress Hester.
Formerly enslaved person
|Birth Year (Age)
|AL or KY
|Themes & Keywords
|Trigg County, First Person, Enslaver Father, Notable