Slavery In Our Past

Actor Ben Affleck discovered a slave-owning ancestor in his past during an interview with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the PBS celebrity ancestry program, Finding Your Roots. Mr. Affleck asked the program not to air that portion of the interview. That omission became a recent big news item. In his apology on Facebook, the actor explained, ““I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

That discovery is brutal. I can attest from firsthand experience.

My ancestors owned slaves. Nothing prepared me for the shock.

Yet the truth lay open on my lap, in black and white and shades of brown: a manumission contract–freedom papers–fragile with age, listing slaves owned by the Websters, a Maryland branch of the family I had never known about. Found in a forgotten trunk in my parents’ basement.

My decision was to write about it.

Soldier’s Heart, the novel, will be released this November, 2015. As I find words to tell the story behind the story, I’ll share that secret, too, for the sake of our future. Is confession of slavery in our past necessary? Yes. And repentance? Of course.

Sadly, so late. But not too late.

Elizabeth Thorn Monument Gettysburg

Just 22 miles west of my house is a paradise for folks who love monuments. Especially Civil War monuments.Elizabeth_Thorn_monument_Gettysburg[1]

There are 1,328 monuments and markers in Gettysburg National Military Park. How many of the monuments honor women?

Only one.

Situated near the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse, the Women’s Memorial depicts Elizabeth Thorn, who took over as caretaker of the cemetery while her husband fought with the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry in Virginia. Thorn was also six months pregnant, mother to three sons, and caregiver to her elderly parents when the Battle of Gettysburg drove them from their home. They returned to a looted house and emptied pantry. And dead soldiers everywhere.

She started digging. The men detailed to help found the task unbearable and abandoned her. She dug 91 graves before she rested. Her baby was born later that month. A girl. She lived only 14 years.

My fellow sandwich generationers, join me in counting our blessings. Poor Elizabeth looks exhausted.

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