When I sat back down at my computer at home the first thing I did was order a remote-controlled camera from Amazon for $29.99. At that price I don’t expect much quality from the pictures, but I’m not looking for art, I’m looking for… what? Something I can see, something I can put up on these pages so you don’t think it’s all been a figment of my imagination. So I don’t think it’s been a figment of my imagination.
Next I did a Google search on Aiden from the library. It was easy to find him. He told me he was a history professor and from all the Duke gear he had — notebooks, t-shirt, coffee mug – it figured that must have been where he taught. Bingo. Aiden Nye Mann, professor of various varieties of History at Duke from 1980 to 2017, receiver of a long list of awards, prizes, fellowships and grants. His specialty was, unsurprisingly, the antebellum period in the south, in particularly North Carolina, particularly, Orange County surrounding Hillsborough. (For those of you who have trouble remembering the meaning of antebellum, (me!) the word is from the Latin, ante, meaning before and bellum, meaning war.) A little more digging turned up an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD from Duke. Duke has his picture on their History department page with the word Retired. The entry says he studied and taught comparative slave systems, with a special interest in the development of slave society and the evolution of slave life. His specialty was a new branch of study of the period termed “hard history,” which concentrates on the lives of ordinary slaves rather than those who escaped the bonds and succeeded in white society. Of course I was aware of that after the chat we had had at the library. Dr. Mann, according to the article, is single and lives in Hillsborough.
And now, I thought, he holds court on the second floor of the local library, surrounded by students, at least I assumed they were students, backpacks overflowing with notebooks, hardback books, bottled water and an array of energy bars.
After I finished reading about Dr. Mann I looked up the newspaper records he and Rafe told me about. I found them online at the Library of Congress, my homework assignment, and, sure enough, there was the Hillsborough Record from the years 1820 to 1879. The newspaper pages are photocopies that vary in quality from difficult-to-read to impossible-to-read. Here’s the front page from the Hillsborough Record, 1840. I’m attaching it just to give you an example, although this one is in far better shape and more readable than most:
The newspaper was 4 pages, with national news on the first and second pages, the local news and advertisements on page three and almost all advertising on page 4. The example above (this is just a piece of the front page) is the transcript of a speech given by a member of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. Then, and now, it’s pretty boring, but all of a sudden the names of famous politicians of the time – John Q. Adams, Henry Clay, President John Tyler – speeches by Frederick Douglas and other famous people, appear and suddenly the period comes alive. Whoever reported the speeches included asides that transmit the atmosphere – laughter, hoots and jeers from the opposition, shouts from the balcony – so you can almost smell the vitriol in the chambers. Some things never change.
The fourth page has the advertisements; some are funny like this ad for a brass band that is looking to be hired out to provide music for various functions. See if you can make it out. This will give you some idea of the difficulty of reading these newspapers:
I’ve cleaned the screen shot up as much as I could. It’s nice to see that the Hillsborough Brass Band is much better than that piece-of-crap Boots’ band, who only seem to know two tunes.
Here’s a review of a music recital put on by the young ladies of the Burwell School, another all-female academy in Hillsborough. I’ll post the clipping and then transcribe it:
“The Fall session of this school for young ladies closed on the 27th ultimo. The extensive preparation for the accommodation of pupils to the last session, it seems, was fully warranted, and the increase in their number was quite equal to their ability to accommodate; thus proving both the superior excellence and advantages of the school, and its just appreciation by parents and guardians. At the close of the last session, the parents and friends of pupils were permitted to enjoy a rich treat in hearing the performance of the music scholars in which they exhibited a proficiency which could not fail to afford high gratification. Mr. Kerne, the teacher in this department, has few equals, and perhaps no superiors, in the state, in his qualifications as an instructor in Music.”
It was when I got to the third and fourth pages that I began to see why Dr. Mann gave me this assignment.
I don’t care how liberal one is, and I count myself among the most liberal of men, when you see something like this you begin to have more of an understanding of the period and the sickness, the blight, the abomination that was slavery.
These individual ads ran in the paper sometimes for weeks. One can’t help giving a silent cheer when they crop up week after week because it must mean that the runaways have not been captured and are still on the loose. At least that’s what one hopes.
There’s a certain sick feeling that grows in your heart as you read these notices, sales of men, women, and children, rewards for runaways, admonitions to anyone aiding a fleeing slave, all recorded in the same manner, as if the newspaper employed someone to take down the information, write it up, and collect the payment for running the ads. And I suppose they did, though I believe there were only a few employees at the Hillsborough Record and it’s just as likely that the chief editor did all this sort of work as well as putting together the other pages of national news. One of the ads on the back page informs readers that they can find some excellent turnip seeds for sale at the offices of the Record. The editor was probably in charge of turnip seed sales as well.
I’ll keep reading the paper and putting up examples of this sort of thing. I wonder if Rafe thinks I’ll find something that relates to Ada, the spirit who lives, or exists beneath my house. Or the second grave he is searching for. Perhaps.
And now I’ll leave you with another little story from the paper. This is a news report, not unlike the crime news reports of our time.
I’ll transcribe it for you, as it’s a bit difficult to read:
“Shocking Death. – Mr. Ludwick Albright, in Alamance County, came to a shocking death on Tuesday the 24th ult. He had been drinking freely, and was left seated before the fire. After about an hour one of his sons returning, found him lying upon his face, with his head and shoulders in the fire, and dead. His head was nearly consumed, and his hands dropped off at the wrist upon his being lifted up.”
God. I hope he doesn’t show up in the crawlspace.