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Charity Folks, Lost Royalty and the Bishop Family of Maryland and New York

Abstract

Charity Folks is a ghost of slavery who refuses to be silenced. Folks finds herself in the company of Margaret Garner’s beloved daughter, the young girl known only as “Cecelia, a slave,” Sara Baartman, Sally Hemmings, Sojourner Truth, Queen Nannie and countless unnamed others who haunt historical memory precisely because they carry the weight of the Diaspora’s traumatic past. Collectively and individually, their lives testify to the multifaceted legacies of enslavement, attempts by captives to dismantle it, as well as attempts to suppress its most violent and horrific truths. Their recovered pasts underscore the competing interests involved in remembering, constructing, and commemorating the lives of enslaved women specifically and black women more generally. Charity Folks is not as well known as the bondwomen mentioned. Yet, she is just as present.Charity Folks is examined as both a micro-history whereby details of her life are used to make larger arguments about Revolutionary America and biography noting the exceptional nature of her life given a particular moment. I argue that despite a presumed absence in the historical record, Charity Folks, and countless enslaved women like her, not only shaped the history of early Revolutionary America but their imprint is quite visible. As a micro-history, Charity Folks challenges scholars to restructure their methodologies for doing Black women’s history in early America. This methodology orphans neither the African nor the enslaved past. It renders all aspects of African American women’s lives with meaning.

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