Many, many moons ago, as part of my degree I studied slavery and emancipation in the USA as one of my minor options. Consequently I was intrigued when J. R. Rothstein approached me about his book recently published book The Alabama Black McGruders as it traces his own ancestry back to those times. Although I sadly don’t have time to read and review the book, I am pleased to be able to share an extract from it today. Please be aware that historical reference may be offensive to modern life and I have removed foot notes for ease of use on the blog.
Published by Redstone on 13th February 2022, The Alabama Black McGruders is available for purchase here.
The Alabama Black McGruders
The Alabama Black McGruders tells the story of Charles McGruder Sr. (1829 – 1900-c), his father Ned (1795 – 1853-c) and mother Mariah Magruder (1800 – 1880-c).
Charles, the enslaved black grandson of a white slave owner, Ninian O. Magruder (1744 – 1803) was born in Alabama on the plantation of his white aunt, Eleanor Magruder Wynne (1785 – 1849) in 1829.
Through a series of events, Charles, a carpenter, came to be sexually exploited and forced to sire a hundred children, including fifty-two sons, with numerous women.
During the Reconstruction era, Charles, his last wife Rachel Hill (1845-1933), and their children, received reparations from his white relative and enslaver, Osmun A. Wynne (1804 -1877).
Charles’ children established communal and business networks and institutions to support their families and communities. Today, the Alabama Black McGruders continue to impact the story of the United States in areas of culture, government, law, science, medicine, academia, and business. This is the story of their origins.
An Extract from The Alabama Black McGruders
Charles Forms Numerous Families & Becomes a Breeder of Enslaved People
It was in this time of success for the Williams—William A. Ferrell and William A. Wynne—that, according to Alabama Black McGruder family lore, Charles Magruder was exploited as a stud to breed enslaved people.
Charles’s exploitation was part of a larger effort by entrepreneurial enslavers and slave traders to breed human beings for forced labor in chattel slavery.
The prohibition of the importation of slaves from Africa after 1807 limited the supply of slaves in the United States. In the same period, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the new republic and opened up vast new territories to settlement. The invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s had enabled expanded cultivation and increased the demand for labor in cotton-producing areas. As a result of all these factors, the domestic slave market expanded rapidly in the early 19th century. During this time, the terms “breeding slaves,” “childbearing women,” “breeding period,” and “too old to breed” became familiar. Planters in the Upper South—Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina—sold slaves in large numbers to the Deep South, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. At least a million enslaved people were trafficked from eastern states to the newer frontiers—some sold to slave traders, others forced to migrate with their owners. According to historian E. Franklin Frazier, in his book The Negro Family, “there were masters who, without any regard for the preferences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did their stock.” According to Alabama Black McGruder oral history, Charles Magruder was one of these “breeding slaves.”
According to Lucille B. Osborne, “Charles’s slave owner wanted him to have as many slave children as he possibly could so he could have more slaves, to have more money, so that he could keep the plantation going.” Charles also is reported to have been hired out as a breeder, sent from plantation to plantation in order to sire children.
Jeptha Choice, a non-related former enslaved person from Texas, was also wielded as a stud to ‘breed’ enslaved people. His experience may provide insight into the experiences of Charles Magruder. Jeptha stated the following:
The old Massa was mighty careful about the raisin’ of healthy nigger families and used us, strong, healthy young bucks to ‘stand’ the healthy, young gals. You see when you was young, they took care not to strain me, an’ I was a pretty good nigger, as handsome as a speckled pup, and I was much in demand for breedin’. You see in those days people seemed to know more about such things than they do now. If a young, scrawny nigger was found foolin’ ‘round the women, he was whyupped, and maybe sold.
Later on, we, good strong niggers was ‘lowed to marry, and the Massa and old Missus would fix the nigger and gal up in new clo’se and have the doin’s in the ‘Big House’. White folks would all gather round in a circle with the nigger and gal in the center. Then old Massa would lay a broom down on the floor in front of ‘em an’ tell ‘em to join hands and jump over the broom. That married ‘em for good.
When babies were bo’n, old nigger grannies handle’ most all them cases, but until they was about three years old, the children wan’t ‘lowed ‘round our regular living quarters, but were wet nursed by nigger women who did not work in the field and kept in separate quarters. In the evenin’, the mammies were let to see ‘em.
We was fed good and had lots of beef and hung meat and wild game. ‘Possum and sweet yams is mighty good . . . ‘Course sometime they was grief, too, when some of the niggers was sold. Iffen old Massa sold a nigger man that was married, he always tried to sell the wife to the same folks so they would not be separated. Children under twelve were thrown in. But sometimes a nigger would be sold to someone, and the woman to someone else; and then they’d be carryings-on. But they was so ‘fraid of getting whipped, or maybe killed, that they went peaceful-like—but mighty sorrowful. The children went with the mother . . . . I’ve been married eight times but haven’t got any legitimate children that I know of. I’ve got some children from “outside” women I’ve had to “stand” for, but I don’t know how many. You see, them old days was different from what it is now!
Another narrative, collected from an unrelated former enslaved person named Maggie Stenhouse, records that:
During slavery there were stockmen. They were weighed and tested. A man would rent the stockman and put him in a room with some young women he wanted to raise children from. Next morning when they come to let him out the man ask him what he done and he was so glad to get out. Them women nearly kill him. If he sa’d nothin’ th’y wouldn’t have to pay for him. Them women nearly kill him. Some of the slave owners rented these stockmen. They didn’t let them work in the field and they kept them fed up good.
The experiences of Luke Blackshear parallel those of Charles Magruder in many ways. According to a slave narrative conveyed in 1938 by his descendant, Ida Blackshear, Luke, too, was wielded as a stud to breed enslaved people:
Luke was six feet four inches tall and near two hundred fifty pounds in weight. He was what they called a double-jointed man. He was a mechanic—built houses, made keys, and did all other blacksmith work and shoemaking. He did anything in iron, wood or leather. Really he was an architect as well. He could take raw cowhide and make leather out of it and then make shoes out of the leather.
Luke was the father of fifty-six children and was known as the GIANT BREEDER. He was bought and given to his young mistress in the same way you would give a mule or colt to a child …
Although he was a stock Negro, he was whipped and drove just like the other Negroes. All of the other Negroes were driven on the farm. He had to labor but he didn’t have to work with the other slaves on the farm unless there was no mechanical work to do. He was given better work because he was a skilled mechanic.
Once on the Blackshear place, they took all the fine looking boys and girls that was thirteen years old or older and put them in a big barn after they had stripped them naked. They used to strip them naked and put them in a big barn every Sunday and leave them there until Monday morning. Out of that came sixty babies.
They was too many babies to leave in the quarters for someone to take care of during the day. When the young mothers went to work, Blackshear had them take their babies with them to the field, and it was two or three miles from the house to the field. He didn’t want them to lose time walking backward and forward nursing. They built a long old trough like a great long old cradle and put all these babies in it every morning when the mother come out to the field. It was set at the end of the rows under a big old cottonwood tree.
When they were at the other end of the row, all at once a cloud no bigger than a small spot came up, and it grew fast, and it thundered and lightened as if the world were coming to an end, and the rain just came down in great sheets. And when it got so they could go to the other end of the field, that trough was filled with water and every baby in it was floating ‘round in the water drownded. They never got nary a lick of labor and nary a red penny for any one of them babies.
Cornelia Andrews, another unrelated formerly enslaved person from North Carolina, recounted the belief that her father may have been a breeding “stock nigger.” She states:
I ‘specks dat I doan know who my pappy wuz, maybe de stock nigger on de plantation. . . Yo’ knows deyain’t let no little runty nigger have no chilluns. Naw sir, deyain’t, dey operate on dem lakdey does de male hog so’s datdey can’t have no little runty chilluns.
According to Lucille Burden Osborne, Charles was considered a “valuable piece of property” and a prized slave by his owner. Additionally, because Charles was moved and rented from place to place, from plantation to plantation, he had to start a family anew in each one. Gwendolyn Hubbard reports that Charles had five different “legitimate” families during slavery. The names of just four of the women are known. Wilmar McGruder, however, asserts that only three of the wives were legitimate.
Between 1854 and 1859, William A. Ferrell managed to gain control of the black Magruder family, even after his remarriage to another woman, leaving Salina Ann Wynne enraged. The Alabama Black McGruder oral history indicates that during this period Charles cohabited with many unknown women on a variety of plantations in the region—the details of which are lost to history. Two significant relationships, however, did emerge from this time, both with women named Mary: Mary May and another Mary, for whom there are few details.
J.R. also shared a photograph of his great-great-great grandmother, Rachel Hill.
There is also a YouTube clip available to watch here about the family that was part of an ABC mini-documentary series.
About J. R. Rothstein
J.R. Rothstein is a real estate attorney, investor, and a Fulbright Scholar. He enjoys history, nature, good stories, and community work. He lives in New York City.