with friends like these….
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.