I was gratified to see the front page acknowledgement of Aiken's black founders. The real history of the South was never taught in any history class I ever had.
The first I heard about Aiken's founders was at a Black History month program at Aiken’s unitarian church two years ago. I had never seen this in any paper before this week since I moved South. I was really fascinated and started doing a little more research on my own.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that the historical figure Henry Laurens – who is widely revered in this state – turned out to be the senior partner in the slave trading firm Austin and Laurens in Charleston, making him one of the richest men in North America. George Austin was the husband of Ann Ball, Henry's wife Eleanor’s, sister. Austin and Laurens import-export firm sold some rice and tools but mostly they were in the business of selling humans.
Apparently there were three measurable parts to the success of a plantation family: land, money and slaves and then about the same time the landowning elite added a fourth – bloodlines including horses and dogs for the hunt.
“Slaves in the Family” by Edward Ball, is the story of the the Ball family, one of the oldest and longest standing plantations in the South. Between 1698-1865 close to 4,000 black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them through Austin and Laurens. This book is by far the most fascinating one I have ever read about the South and part of its history and according to a blurb on the jacket by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “[An] unblinking history not only of [Edward Ball’s] ancestors but also the people they held as slaves… it reminds us of our common humanity and of the ties that still bind us no matter the wounds of the past.”
I highly recommend this brilliant book. It follows both the white and black journey through the six generations the Balls owned slaves and what happened to many of them up to now.
We all have so much to learn about our past that can help us understand each other with more compassion and empathy. Thank you for the article.