Unknown No Longer: Remember the Women
Since 1987 the United States has observed Women’s History Month officially as a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society. I have been working with the collection of Sarah Harriet Apphia Hunter (1822-1874) of Essex County, Virginia. She was the youngest of four sisters who lived at the Fonthill plantation. Her three-part diary, correspondence, account books, receipts, slave inventories, hiring records and lists illuminate areas of history that provide a glimpse into plantation society where a female presided.
She recorded the births and deaths of slaves as well as mother-children groupings. In particular, I became fascinated with the detailed lists of gift and supplies she distributed among her enslaved workforce. What must it have been like to receive calicos, flannels, petticoats, old dresses, bonnets, and aprons? What prompted her to give such an array when most slave owners provided so little? Even after slavery ended Sarah kept records of the freedpeople’s hours and wages. Her records are filled with notes about the people who enabled her to live comfortably. Among the enslaved women Sarah listed I learned of Sappeana who had five children; Martha Ann was one of her children; another offspring was William who was born in 1841. And another offspring of Sappeana’s who was born in 1839 contracted the mumps in 1859. We just made available in the Unknown No Longer database an 1846 bond.
Of course, if you want to see more, stay tuned as we are always updating the site. And our library is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Hunter documents are located in Mss1H9196a FA2 Box 28 Series 13 Folder 1a – 1c. Working with these documents gave me the opportunity to review Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s classic, Within the Plantation Household, Black and White Women of the Old South, (1988) and Patricia Morton’s edited edition, Discovering the Women in Slavery (1996).
What a pleasure this has been to discover through these records the Virginia women, both enslaved and slave-owning, who were entrapped in slavery created by a benevolent slave owner and subsequent employer. We are delighted to bring this bit of history to you!
The Unknown No Longer database continues to grow as new names are added. Please visit the database website and discussion board at unknownnolonger.vahistorical.org.