Every summer I assign myself a project that will enrich my life as a writer and librarian. One summer I read/reread all of Toni Morrison’s books. Another summer I read nothing but Octavia Butler. This summer I’ve been doing something different ... compiling a list of all of the enslaved people mentioned in the wills of the Peay family of South Carolina.
I’ve read that the family owned 1,000 people on multiple plantations. Reading the wills is helping me understand the family that controlled every aspect of my ancestors’ lives, including, for example, how some ended up in Alabama.
I had been wondering why I had so many DNA matches in Alabama. It turns out one of Austin Ford Peay’s daughters, Mary Lucilla Justina Peay Poellnitz, moved to Marengo County, Ala., with her husband, and took her inheritance — 30 slaves — with her. Those enslaved people are all mentioned by name in her father’s will.
At some point, it occurred to me that this list I’m creating has probably been done already, but I’ve decided to keep going. Typing these names is therapeutic and informative because I know many of these human beings listed amongst mules and tools and wagons and tablecloths and silverware and other ordinary things ... are my people.