Delia's Tears

Delia's Tears

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Delia's Tears
    Book Description:

    In 1850 seven South Carolina slaves were photographed at the request of the famous naturalist Louis Agassiz to provide evidence of the supposed biological inferiority of Africans. Lost for many years, the photographs were rediscovered in the attic of Harvard's Peabody Museum in 1976. In the first narrative history of these images, Molly Rogers tells the story of the photographs, the people they depict, and the men who made and used them. Weaving together the histories of race, science, and photography in nineteenth-century America, Rogers explores the invention and uses of photography, the scientific theories the images were intended to support and how these related to the race politics of the time, the meanings that may have been found in the photographs, and the possible reasons why they were "lost" for a century or more. Each image is accompanied by a brief fictional vignette about the subject's life as imagined by Rogers; these portraits bring the seven subjects to life, adding a fascinating human dimension to the historical material.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16328-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    David W. Blight

    Can photographs taken in another era in the service of scientific investigation be considered a crime against humanity in a new, more enlightened era? How should we judge, indeed even react to, the remarkable daguerreotypes of seven African-American slaves taken in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1850? How should we assess the nakedness of Delia, Jack, Renty, Drana, Jem, Alfred, and Fassena? Is there an ethics to how we view or explain these images and their origins? Do we only perpetuate their exploitation with our gaze, our study, our explanations of their use in these photographs? Do we sometimes unintentionally continue...

  4. Key Individuals
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Map of Columbia, South Carolina, 1850
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
    • Delia
      (pp. 3-4)

      She was not supposed to be there. Nothing in her life so far had prepared her for this. All those years of working, sweating, laboring in the fields and later in the forge, none of it had so much as hinted at this. Oh, she knew there were places, other places where everything looked and smelled different, where the air seemed lighter and the light less harsh—she knew these places existed, but she was never supposed to be in one. Perhaps she had even seen a photograph, once, in the great house. But she herself was never supposed to...

    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Discovery
      (pp. 5-21)

      It was in an old wooden cabinet, tucked into a remote corner under the eaves, that they made their discovery. Lorna Condon, Daniel Jones, and Ellie Reichlin, employees of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were looking for publication materials, documents that had been put away so long ago no one could remember where they were stored. The attic was a likely place, but progress would be slow and a little unpleasant. In the hot and stuffy attic, with no clear pathway through the heaps of assorted objects jumbled together and apparently consigned to oblivion, it...

    • Renty
      (pp. 23-24)

      The moment his foot touched the floor a spasm shook his body and raised the skin up on his arms. The sensation did not last long, departing almost as soon as it had come, almost as if it had come upon him by mistake, but still he made no motion to counter its effect. He welcomed the chill, knowing he would be warm again soon enough.

      After slipping out without disturbing the others, he eased himself down onto the cabin steps. It was becoming a habit, this business of rising early. His body seemed to have lost interest in sleep,...

    • CHAPTER 2 A Dam’d Poor Town
      (pp. 25-34)

      As Henry Brayne piloted his vessel into a natural harbor and up a river way, his view was arrested at the water’s edge by rampant vegetation. Every inch of land was covered with growth of one kind or another. Marsh grass and rushes were plentiful along the shore, while farther inland great oaks extended their moss-draped limbs in all directions and pines stood tall in discrete clusters. There were also walnut and fruit trees, and here and there palmettos gave a showy display. Brayne could not see far into the landscape as he steered the two-hundred-ton frigateCarolinaup a...

    • Alfred
      (pp. 36-37)

      He was no longer aware of his body. His hands worked fast, moving among the delicate branches with graceful dexterity to snatch fiber from the bolls and stuff it into a sack in one easy gesture. But he was unaware of his actions all the while. As he moved from plant to plant, his mind had slowly loosened its grip from his body to take in aspects of life quite apart from the one in which he now found himself. It was a kind of dream, yet one more vivid because his eyes were open and the images familiar. He...

    • CHAPTER 3 Cotton
      (pp. 38-48)

      “There are few sights more pleasant to the eye than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom,” a Southerner once observed. Stretching clear across the landscape and embracing the full breadth of the horizon’s easy curve, in row upon row the wiry shrubs clung to the earth and drew from there the prosperity that made men heavy with power. In the late summer and early autumn months, when the bolls burst open into soft white blooms, the immense cotton fields of South Carolina had the “appearance of purity, like an immaculate expanse of light, new-fallen snow.” The sight...

    • Jack
      (pp. 50-51)

      The earth was hitting back, each blow to the ground coming back on him hard up through the hoe shaft. It felt like doing the work of two men while another beat on you. He continued chopping as if expecting matters to improve, but with each strike he managed only to dent the ground or behead the offending growth. Embedded in the soil, out of sight from man and beast, the weeds meanwhile continued their work of choking life from the cotton plants. There was another world beneath the surface of this one, a world no less brutal in its...

    • CHAPTER 4 Transformation
      (pp. 52-65)

      The cotton boom that occurred at the turn of the nineteenth century made men rich in both the North and the South, but reliance on a single crop also put them in a precarious position, and they felt their vulnerability keenly. As a writer for an Alabama newspaper noted, “The slaveholder dresses in Northern goods, rides in a Northern saddle . . . reads Northern books. . . . In Northern vessels his products are carried to market and on Northern-made paper, with a Northern pen, with Northern ink, he resolves and reresolves in regard to his rights.” The North...

    • Jem
      (pp. 67-68)

      A small crowd stood at the corner of Gervais and Main. He considered crossing the street and taking the long way around to avoid the gathering, but curiosity got the better of him and so he joined the group. Standing back a bit from the others, he listened as a man in fancy dress discoursed on the virtues of a new and potent elixir, a bottle of which he held aloft as if it alone proved the contents’ healing abilities. Many of the man’s words were obscured by the sound of horses clattering by with wagons and carriages in tow,...

    • CHAPTER 5 Humbug
      (pp. 69-87)

      Doctor Robert Wilson Gibbes was rarely idle. “One of the most striking features in the character of Dr. Gibbes,” a contemporary noted, “is his untiring industry and indomitable energy. Remarkable for order and system, few can equal him in the amount of his labours.” The doctor cared for the families and slaves of important men, including the cotton planter Wade Hampton, but he occupied himself in other ways, too. During his lifetime he was twice mayor of Columbia, taught chemistry, geology, and mineralogy at South Carolina College, published a newspaper, and started a preparatory school for medical students. Gibbes was...

    • Drana
      (pp. 89-90)

      He did not have to treat her that way. It was not fair. She only stopped for a moment, just a moment to catch her breath. She had been distracted, it was true, but she also needed a moment to catch her breath. The ground was so hard that she had worn herself out and needed to rest. Master had understood this—he spared her a whipping, didn’t he? But he—he was never so kind, not with her.

      It was just like that time

      She heard a sound, somewhere off to the left, and pressed deeper into the hedge....

    • CHAPTER 6 The Big Fish
      (pp. 91-109)

      It was a fine early October morning in 1846 when a handsome, powerfully built man nearing his fortieth year stepped from the gangway of theHiberniain Boston harbor. Though travel weary, the newcomer was full of enthusiasm for what he might find in the New World, and immediately he set out to make his way through the city to Pemberton Square, perhaps asking for directions along the way. The autumn foliage was in full display, the colorful leaves standing out brightly against the clear sky in a spectacle unlike any the visitor had previously seen in nature. As he...

    • Fassena
      (pp. 111-112)

      Taking pleasure in the feel of the wood, he ran his hand along the surface of the table, his touch firm and the movement evenly paced. After weeks of sawing, shaving, and planing the raw pine, and then many more weeks preparing the pieces for assembly, he was nearly done. All that remained was the wax finish. But this was the moment he liked to judge the quality of his work, to stand back and observe the object’s shape from many angles, and then consider it more intimately through the medium of his fingertips. This was the moment when the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Truth Before All
      (pp. 113-130)

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      So begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, an unprecedented document in the history of the known world, one that gave birth simultaneously to a new nation and to modern democratic government. In the wake of this audacious assertion of political independence, a declaration with human equality at its core, other peoples would follow the example set by the American patriots, including those...

    • Jack
      (pp. 133-134)

      Time had slowed, permitting him to consider the fine details of the moment thoroughly and without haste. His senses were intensely alive, and yet he also experienced everything as if from afar, as if it were happening to someone else. The water moved quickly, a cold blur against his skin, but he could also feel the subtle movement of his eyelashes as the current rushed across his face. The flesh on his cheeks was gently pushed upward by the water, and occasionally something brushed past him, a small leaf or twig, a grain of sand. It was all strangely calming....

    • CHAPTER 8 Storm, Blood, and Fire
      (pp. 135-153)

      Horrid murder, the newspaper announced on the front page alongside the daily poem, Irish jokes, and news from around the country. Murder itself was not a particularly unusual event, but in this case the crime was exceptionally brutal. The body had been discovered in the Congaree River, some ten miles below Columbia. Bruising on the victim’s breast and shoulder suggested a struggle, but these marks were insignificant compared to the fatal blow, which had landed on the poor man’s neck at an angle, as if someone had stood over him and brought the force of many thousands down on him....

    • Jem
      (pp. 155-156)

      The voices in the other room followed a pattern. It started with a low rumble, after which there was a period of relative quiet when one of them told a story. This ended with an outburst of voices as everyone expressed their delight with the tale and its unexpected outcome. Next they took turns making remarks, the men loud and confident and the women speaking softly, tentatively. Before long the cycle would return to where it started, with everyone speaking at once, a low rumble spilling easily from the room.

      He stood just outside the door, shifting his weight from...

    • CHAPTER 9 A Positive Good
      (pp. 157-172)

      When the young freshman from South Carolina rose to stand before his fellow representatives on Capitol Hill, he seems to have had little notion of the chaos he would unleash. Though inexperienced at addressing the House, James Henry Hammond was well versed in arguing his convictions, the soft stuff of opinion for him easily fusing into a hard core of universal truth. Having discovered his love of debate as a college student, he knew how to state a case and to state it forcefully. Subsequently, as a newspaper editor, he had sharpened this affection for argument into a powerful political...

    • Drana
      (pp. 174-175)

      She had never seen him before. At first she had supposed he was a speculator and wanted to take her away from her people, away from her home, but he did not behave right for that. He did not seem interested enough to be a speculator, this heavy-set, balding man who talked peculiar. Oh, he took an interest, but at the same time he kept to himself. He did not put his hands into her mouth, like a trader would, checking her teeth for rot. He did not poke and prod and press his soft, round hands into her flesh...

    • CHAPTER 10 Niggerology
      (pp. 176-191)

      The guests were told to arrive at eight o’clock. As the carriage wheels turned on the avenue that ran from Garner’s Ferry Road to Millwood, Wade Hampton II’s country seat, those invited to the ball were met with a splendid sight. Gone were the trees that had previously obscured the great house like a dense curtain. The road now snaked uphill through a grand lawn broken only by the occasional pine tree, shrub, or flowerbed, while up ahead the house rose to take center stage where it could inspire envy and admiration, just as it had been designed to do....

    • Alfred
      (pp. 193-194)

      He braced himself as best he could. As the cart jolted against every rut and rock in the road, his body clattered painfully against the wood slats upon which he sat. The old jenny mule meanwhile marked time with her hooves. The cart was an old one, at least as old as the mule. Both were hardly ever used now. They were all that could be spared for this unusual and unexpected journey. The overseer was not happy about any of it. All a waste of time, he had muttered as they drove off.

      Dust rising from the road made...

    • CHAPTER 11 Opposite Views
      (pp. 195-211)

      The science of race gained momentum during the 1840s, when Samuel Morton’sCrania Americana(1839) andCrania Aegyptiaca(1844) were buttressed by the more accessible writings of Josiah Nott and James Henry Hammond. Nott’s paper on hybridity and hisTwo Lectures,and Hammond’s letters to the English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, extended ethnology’s scientific and political influence while also appealing to the general public. In 1844 the political application of ethnology was further exercised when John C. Calhoun, then secretary of state and involved in diplomatic efforts to annex Texas as a slave state, contacted the nation’s premier Egyptologist, George Gliddon....

    • Jem
      (pp. 213-214)

      It smelled like the Devil. A powerful, dense odor hung in the air, one that no perfume could hide. It had a body, a shape, and a form to it. It was a thing that had risen from the depths of the earth, and he believed that nothing from such a low place could do man a service. Not for one moment the whole time he was there could he escape this odor. He held that fact as a sign to be heeded.

      A white man had met him at the door. It was early yet, hardly a soul to...

    • CHAPTER 12 Investigations
      (pp. 215-228)

      The view was not much to look at. The landscape between Charleston and Columbia consisted almost entirely of pine forest, affording passengers little more to gaze on than a restless blur of green and brown. There were no sublime vistas of towering, snow-capped mountains to dwarf the traveler and make him feel his mortality with a keen ache; no water-filled gorges to quicken the blood with the thought of pitching headlong into the depths should the bridge fail. Neither were there picturesque scenes of country life to break up the monotony of travel. The journey upcountry was decidedly short on...

    • Delia
      (pp. 230-231)

      Jumping from the wagon as it passed the entrance to the estate, she hurried off in the direction of the slave cabins. She was expected to change her clothes and return to the forge as soon as possible, but when she could no longer hear the sound of the wagon as it continued down the road, she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her dress and slowed her pace. Her feet dragged in the dirt, raising little clouds of dust as she went.

      She was grateful to be alone.

      It had been her first time in the city, and...

    • CHAPTER 13 Evidence
      (pp. 232-249)

      A hearty storm battered New England, pitching torrents of rain down upon the people gathered outside Tremont Temple. It would have been a dismal scene, the sodden crowd pressed together in the night, were it not for the newly installed gas jets and a Drummond light, also known as a limelight. These fixtures cast a magnificent glow on everything within their range, lighting the temple like daylight itself. Spirits were thus high and the atmosphere festive despite the poor weather. The fireworks planned for the previous night had been canceled, but tonight—opening night—no matter what extremes nature might...

    • Renty
      (pp. 251-252)

      “What you doing up, girl?”

      “Can’t sleep.” She lowered herself down on the step and pulled a thin blanket around them both.

      “That makes two of us,” he said.

      They stared into the darkness for a while, each pursuing a different thought far into the night. He was grateful for the blanket and for the warmth of her body next to his. She was good, his youngest. Always putting others before herself.

      “What did Old Man Taylor say?”

      “Huh?” He only half heard her question.

      “Old Man Taylor—what did he say to you when he came by?”

      “Oh, him?”...

    • CHAPTER 14 Scientific Moonshine
      (pp. 253-268)

      Late in the year 1850 a young man encountered Agassiz’s article on “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races.” Moncure Daniel Conway, a student not yet nineteen, read every word with the eager anticipation of one hungry for knowledge, and he found the professor’s argument powerful. The claims that the different races of mankind had not originated from a single pair and that black people had never nor would they ever achieve a civilized state rang true for the youth from Warrenton, Virginia, the words shaping his very soul. Conway adopted Agassiz’s position as his own and sought converts...

    • Fassena
      (pp. 270-271)

      The white man had given up and was walking away, but a call soon brought him back, smiling like a fool and struggling with his oversized book. He said, “Good day,” and from that moment onward hardly stopped talking, explaining that his job was to help count all the people in the country, so that the government would know just how many there were now living in each state of the Union. It was something they did every ten years, and this year for the first time they were counting the Negroes, too. It was a big job, to be...

    • CHAPTER 15 Epilogue: Revolution
      (pp. 272-294)

      It was still dark when they descended the high hill and crossed the river, the significance of their intended actions looming large before them. What lay ahead would perhaps have deterred a different group of men, yet this small and righteous army of twenty-two moved as one, pushing forward with like determination and resolve. Their crusade was a just one, and no man could convince them otherwise. Unified in purpose, John Brown and his men emerged from the forest, cut the telegraph wires, and stole quietly into the sleeping town of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

      John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 295-334)
  10. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. 335-336)
  11. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 337-340)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 341-344)
  13. Index
    (pp. 345-350)