"Relative Wealth" and community racial perceptions
Ned Heite: At the Historical Society of Delaware the other day, I was looking at the Duck Creek taxables list for 1779. It contains a really good survey of the various families involved in our study of the Bloomsbury site and the Mitsawoket community.
Interestingly for the race-perception issue, there is only one person on the entire list for whom a racial designation is made, and that is Ned Gibbs, Negro, at 6 pounds. The Gibbs family are a prominent black family, and were then as well. The numbers are pounds sterling assessed, which had inflated to ten wartime pounds for each old pound.
John Durham Jr.
James Rayond esq
The list may have been pretty old, if the John Durham, Jr., is the one who was dead three years by then.
Frank W. Sweet on being well-to-do & judgments as to race:
In early twentieth-century South Carolina, at the height of the Jim Crow era when the one-drop rule was supposedly the law of the land, Louetta Chassereau, an orphaned infant of known, documented, but invisible African ancestry was placed in a White orphanage and adopted by a White family. As the little girl matured, her White adoptive family became influential in the White community. She married very well indeed, to a wealthy White man (F. Capers Bennett), in an upscale White church (Spring Street Methodist Church in Charleston). Throughout her marriage to Bennett, she voted in White primaries (Democrat), her children attended White schools and when they grew up, joined White churches (two became Episcopalians and two were Methodists). The godparents of her children were White (Mr. and Mrs. I. M. Fishburne), he being the president of the local Farmers & Merchants Bank. The problem came when Mr. Bennett died. His will left all to his beloved wife, Louetta. But his relatives contested the man's will on the grounds that their long and fruitful marriage had been illegal all along, because Louetta had started life as a Black baby. In a terse opinion, Bennett v. Bennett,1940 South Carolina, (most of which is the above summary), South Carolina Supreme Court Justices Milledge L. Bonham, D. Gordon Baker, E. L. Fishburne, Taylor H. Stukes, and L. D. Lide ruled that over her lifetime, Louetta had become irrevocably White, and they dismissed the will contestation unanimously. (From "Essays on the Color Line and the One-Drop Rule" by Frank W. Sweet, September 15, 2004.)
C.A. Weslager's rendition of Clem Carney's story (as related at the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Center in 1980) about himself is instructive regarding "colored" folks' thoughts vis-a-vis the institutionalized color line:
"Clem told me he was born in 1869. He once worked for a white farmer. The farmer had a table for the family and for the white hired hands, and then he had a table for the black hired hand and then he had a table for Clem apart from the white table.
"This was how he was making a distinction between these three classes and the farmer would pass the food from table to table. Clem told me that he took a horse saddle to a white family and stayed overnight. They wanted him to come inside, but he said he didn't want to. Then he said that he wasn't white.
Clem looked as white as anybody you could imagine, but he knew that there was a racial admixture in him and he wasn't white. So they threw a horse blanket out to him so he could sleep on the bench."