A Mississippi Slave Emancipation Story from 1821 that Caught My Attention

This is from the public and private acts section of Turner’s Mississippi Code of 1823.

Of Lucinda Jcfferson.

By An act to emancipate Lucinda Jefferson, passed November 24, 1821, the said girl Lucinda Jefferson is emancipated, set free from slavery and is invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of any other free white female in this state:– It having been represented to the general assembly, that John Hopkins, Esq. of the county of Jefferson, did some years ago, purchase the said girl as a slave, whom be then believed and still believes to be the offspring of free white parents, who had by fraud, been made to pass as a slave: And the said John Hopkins having represented to the general assembly, that it is his wish that the said girl be restored to her natural and civil rights.

There is something going on here that is not being fully told. He “purchase[d] the said girl, whom he then believed … to be the offspring of free white parents” and that Lucinda “had by fraud, been made to pass as a slave….”  What, exactly, happened here?  There’s at least a (Faulkner) short story hiding in this legislation.  Below is an image from the 1823 code.


Perhaps I should offer a prize to anyone who could guess how I happened to trip over this statute.

Notes on Re-reading from an unexpected source

Near the end of Evelyn Waugh’s  A Handful of Dust, one of the characters, on an expedition into parts of the Amazon, becomes sick and lost and gets rescued by a guy raising cattle.  The rescuer is part native and part English, and grew up with his father reading to him, but never learned to read himself.  By the time Waugh’s character arrives, the cattle farmer had had one long-term visitor read to him but no more.  The library his father left was a more-or-less complete Dickens, some later lost through rot and swamp conditions.  But what he wished was to have someone else come along and read to him, and the character on an expedition but lost and very sick arrives and the cattle farmer shows him the books:

He unwrapped the nearest parcel and handed down a calf bound book.  It was an early American edition of Bleak House.  

“It does not matter which we take first.”

“You are fond of Dickens?”

“Why, yes, of course.  More than fond, far more.  You see, they are the only books I have ever heard. My father used to read them and then later the black man… and now you.  I have heard them all several times by now but I never get tired; there is always more to be learned and noticed, so many characters, so many changes in scene, so many words… I have all Dickens books here except those the ants devoured. It takes a long time to read them all– more than two years.

The ellipses are in the original.

Notes on re-reading: Decoding the April 7th section of The Sound and the Fury

The final events of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury take place over Easter weekend of 1928.  The first section, “April Seventh, 1928,” is from Benjy Compson’s point of view and takes place on Saturday, although with Benjy free-associating across time from the 1890s to 1928.  The last two sections, April 6th and April 8th, take place on Good Friday (from Benjy’s brother Jason Compson’s point of view) and Easter Sunday (not tied to a particular character, although roughly from the point of view of Dilsey, a family servant who essentially holds the family together– she saw the first and saw the last).

The first (Benjy) section is all as-if by a camera, but leaping by free association across time.  Names and other cues are used in ways that might at first seem almost a practical joke (in some passages, the character Quentin is Benjy’s brother; in others is his niece) but that quickly become anchors that show time-shifts between different eras of the story.

By the end of undergraduate school, I’d read the book at least three times (and another three or four since), and had written in the first two pages of my copy of the book my decipherment the dates of each passage in the Benjy section.  These dates can be identified with precision with totally internal cues– I am a little surprised on my most recent re-reading that I had any doubt that passage E could have taken at any time other than 1910.  Here are my notes.

tsafwf one

 

tsafwf

Some name/date clues in the Benjy section for those interested:  Caddie (as in golf caddie) and Caddy (the sister), Quentin (he, Benjy’s brother) and Quentin (she, Benjy’s niece, named after her uncle), and Maury-Benjy-Benjamin (Benjy was named after his uncle, at first, and then his name was changed after Uncle Maury was shot) all provide date-cues.

I’ve skipped here the second section, narrated by Benjy’s brother Quentin at the end of his year at Harvard, and dated June 2, 1910.  Unlike the 1928 Easter dates, I’m not sure what these dates signify, other than that they are a few months after his sister Caddy married.   In my efforts to find some explanation for the selection of that date, I noted that Halley’s Comet was visible both at the time of Caddy’s wedding in April and on June 2nd, but haven’t drawn any significance from that.


Notes on re-reading: Blue jays go to Hell on Fridays and The Sound and the Fury

One of the Southern sayings of my childhood was that “blue jays go to Hell on Fridays” (my father’s punch-line was to always, having raised this on any day but Friday, ask if any listener could specifically recall seeing a bluejay on Friday).  Apparently, the part of the folk-tale I never heard was that they went to Hell to carry sand to use in the torment of the damned.

Each time I re-read The Sound and the Fury, I notice things I had not before.  Some are small things– something called a hame string comes up twice, first, when Jason Compson, working in a hardware store, sells one to a farmer, who annoys Jason by taking the time to decide whether to by a 15 cent one or a 25 cent one, and then, later, when Jason catches his 17-year-old niece Quentin looking through the mail and says, “I’ll take a hame string to you.  That’s what I’ll give you.  Going into my papers.” I could guess, but, looking it up, I learn it’s a leather strip used in the tack of a draft animal to attach supports to the collar.

The final events of the book take place on Easter weekend in 1928.  On Sunday, there’s this:

Luster went to the woodpile.  The five jaybirds whirled over the house, screaming, and into the mulberries again. He watched them.  He picked up a rock and threw it.  “Whoo,” he said.  Git back to hell, whar you belong at. ‘Taint Monday yit.”

So is Luster suggesting they spend the weekend in Hell, or that they have an extended stay on Easter?