War was the answer for slave girl Mariah

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2006

One of the most interesting and rapidly growing field of book collecting is in an area called "Black History" and "Black Memorabilia."

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Many black people in America take great pride, aiming to restore a lost heritage, even though it often involved bitter experiences.

I often receive catalogues of books and ephemera since I began collecting five years ago. I recently got one which contained a riveting document. It was about slavery, but it wasn't a Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom like story of brutality and wanton cruelty. It was a mundane legal document transferring ownership of a young woman named Mariah. It truly illuminates the awful horror of slavery, perhaps better than that of Uncle Tom on the whipping post.

The legal document was written in Newton County, Georgia, on January 21, 1841, and gave a slave Mariah owned by Thomas Freeman to his daughter Elizabeth Stamps.

It is as follows: "In consideration of the natural love and affection, which I have and do bear to my daughter Elizabeth Stamps and the heirs of her body, I hereby give and convey unto Doctor William D. Conyers in trust for my said daughter one negro woman by the name of Mariah about twenty-three years of age, and her increase from the date of this instrument (the three children which she now has excepted) to have and to hold the said negro and her increase from the date of this instrument unto the said William D. Conyers in trust aforesaid. In the event the said negro woman Mariah does not suit the said Elizabeth, then and in that event, the said Conyers, trustee, is hereby authorized and permitted at his discretion to sell the said negro woman and with the proceeds of said sale purchase another negro girl or woman."

To paraphrase a common expression used today, for Mariah and "her increase," war was the answer. Without liberation, they would have continued as slaves in America perhaps for many future generations. The awful burden would have continued to hang over our nation.

They were freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. We then truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave.

We redefined the words written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence that said "all men are created equal."

Abraham Lincoln, in his 2nd Inaugural Address, spoke in stark and unforgiving language:

"If God wills that the mighty scourge of war continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

The days and years after the war would be tough for Mariah and her increase and the millions of other black citizens, but as Martin Luther King said quoting an old Negro spiritual:

"Free at Last,

Free at Last,

Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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