nancy weston

with friends like these….

Nancy Weston



She lived in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1850s as a free woman. However, in order to satisfy the laws of the state, she was a ‘nominal slave’ legally owned by a white friend. She was also the grandmother of writer Angelina Weld Grimke.

‘The Face of Our Past: Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present’ edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin

I would love to write a book or a screenplay based on this one sentence: she was a ‘nominal slave’ legally owned by a white friend.   That has really got my imagination going.  I’ve actually never heard of nominal slaves before.  I read a bit about them today.  Interesting stuff.  Most of what I read was connected to writings pertaining to black slave owners, and the Weston name in S. Carolina came up frequently.  But Nancy was ‘owned’ by a white friend.  I am fascinated.


Between 1800 and 1830 slave states began restricting manumission, seeing free blacks as potential fomenters of slave rebellion. Now you could buy your friends, but you couldn’t free them unless they left the state — which for the freed slave could mean leaving behind family still in bondage. So more free blacks took to owning slaves benevolently. Being a nominal slave was risky — among other things, you could be seized as payment for your nominal owner’s debts. But at least one state, South Carolina, granted nominal slaves certain rights, including the right to buy slaves of their own….

We do, however, need to acknowledge a less common form of black slaveholding. Whites in Louisiana and South Carolina fostered a class of rich people of mixed race — typically they were known as “mulattoes,” although gradations such as “quadroon” and “octoroon” were sometimes used — as a buffer between themselves and slaves. Often the descendants and heirs of well-off whites, these citizens were encouraged to own slaves, tended to side with whites in racial disputes, and generally identified more with their white forebears than black. Nationwide maybe 10 percent of the mixed-race population (about 1 percent of all those identified as African-American) fell into this category.

7 thoughts on “nancy weston

  1. Hi,

    I think you’ll find the following story very fascinating. It’s regarding the 1925 Rhinelander trial that took place in New York. It concerned a ‘mixed’ race woman married to a white man and his so called discovery of her family background and what transpired because of it.

    I want to thank you for including these images on your blog. So many of these people have been lost in the history books. This is my way of giving them a voice. And flickr is their stage and blogs like yours.

    Thanks again ~

  2. Hi Omega!! Thank YOU for your absolutely wonderful photostream! I’m hooked. So much rich history you offer. Thank you, Thank you!!

  3. Amazing how things work out — I stank big time in history class. What they taught when I was in school bored me to tears. This is probably my way of getting back at them. 😉

    tiffdjones — you’re very welcome and thanks again.

    Take care ~

  4. When Thomas Jefferson died he freed four children of Sally Hemings but not her. Instead he gave her to his daughter Martha. Martha did not free her either but gave her “her time”, which made her free in all but name.

  5. According to my gggg uncle’s will which had a codicil, Nancy and her children were to be placed in the “care” of his eldest son, Montague, who was her sons half-brother. Cane Acre plantation was sold and out of the proceeds a house was bought for Nancy in Coming Street in downtown Charleston. Having been the mistress of the plantation, Nancy was now reduced by the Grimke family to abject poverty – taking in washing. Montague’s first wife died at the age of 23. When he re-married, things became very bad for the boys – Archibald and Francis. Montague attempted to enslave them as his house servants – with predictable results. They rebelled and were beaten. They were even taken to the workhouse on occasions. Nancy, their mother, was a formidable woman with great moral and physical strength, and yet knew the limitations of her position. On one occasion Archibald who was in bare feet cut his foot on some glass on his way to Montague’s house. He went back home to be nursed by his mother for a few days. Montague stormed down to their house and demanded that Archibald come to his house. For once Nancy stood up to him and told him that Archibald was his half-brother. She was sent to the workhouse where she starved herself for a week in defiance. Montague was persuaded by friends to get her out of there and seek medical help. Nancy was also very anxious that her sons receive an education – despite the restrictions. The boys went to school at night.
    I mentioned earlier about Nancy’s physical strength. She had a withered arm. However, despite that, when Henry lifted his arm to strike her on one occasion when he was married to Selina Simmons, she threw him to the floor, and he never tried that again.
    At the moment, having done genealogical research on the Weston family, all I can fathom out is that her parents were John and Betsy Weston. Now John may have been a slave-owner and Betsy one of his slaves.

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