USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘slavery’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Carrollton Courthouse

Title: Carrollton Courthouse

Category: Legend, Ghost-Story

Informant: Evan A. Lewis

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 80s

Occupation: Retired— Radio Broadcaster, Laundry Mat Owner, Koren War Vet, etc.

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

Henry Wells was a former slave released from bonds immediately following the outcome of the Civil War. After the Pickens County Courthouse was burned down in 1856 after the raids on the town by Union forces, a new courthouse was build in its place. Almost immediately following the construction of the new courthouse, the building burned to the ground again due to mysterious circumstances.

The town believed that Henry Wells was to blame for the fire and the townspeople conspired together to bring him to justice. After a warrant was put out for his arrest, Wells fled from a gathering lynch mob by secretly hiding in the construction of the third courthouse for the county. As the mob gathered below, Wells made his way up into the attic to look down from the window directly above the action.

Much to his horror, a storm was rising, and lighting violently struck the window that Wells was looking down from. His expression was then imprinted via the lightning bolt on the pane of glass that Wells was looking down from.

Context/Significance:

The Pickens County Courthouse is located in Carrollton, Alabama, which is 35 miles west of Tuscaloosa. The historic building is being restored and a large arrow points to the window and the mysterious lightning portrait. An interpretive marker on the grounds tells the history of the courthouse and the story of the face in the window.

The conclusion of the story has disputed endings. Some say that Wells was able to safely hide from the mob, while others claim that he was found out shortly after and either shot or hung after admitting to his crimes.

Some years after, the face of Henry Wells can still be seen in a ghostly outline from the streets below as the building has been saved and maintained as a historic landmark.

Personal Thoughts:

When I was younger, my family often took long road trips to Mississippi to visit family. Much of my family’s history can also trace its roots back to Alabama and farming. My mother and grandfather took me to visit old grave yards and historic landmarks such as this. My mother pointed out he face in the window and I’ve seen it for myself.

The truth behind the story is highly debatable as scientists continue to research the ability of lighting to capture photographic images on glass. Other accounts of this happening can be found from the same century and evidence was once collected from a Mrs. Norborne B. Powell.

Mrs. Powell was standing at the window of a home at Chennuggee Ridge, Alabama, when the glass was struck by a bolt of lightning. Her image appeared on the glass, right down to a hat and cameo pin she was wearing. The Chennuggee Ridge photograph wound up in the hands of Mrs. Powell’s grandson, Dr. Edward H. Cary who at one time served as president of the American Medical Association. Believing it to be a priceless artifact of Alabama history, he sent it to the Department of Archives in Montgomery in 1920. Someone there, however, dropped the photograph and it was shattered.

Image: 

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Legends

Building of the Pyramids Through Canals

BACKGROUND:

Not much is known about how the Great Pyramids of Giza were built. Often viewed as something that simply shouldn’t have been possible, many struggle to figure out how exactly materials were transported. One legend tells a story of the Egyptians architects instructing the laborers to build canals that would transport materials to the site via boats and rafts. Though probably not the most practical of solutions, the free cost of slave labor made things as impractical as canal building, completely possible.

MY THOUGHTS:

When first hearing this legend, I was skeptical. While the Egyptians are famous for their ingenuity, I couldn’t help but feel like building canals simply to transport materials. It wasn’t until my source explained that the slave labor at the time meant that there was virtually no risks in doing things that required that much more effort.

Customs
Legends

Camp Basement

K is a freshman majoring in psychology who attended the same camp almost every summer before college. The campers were told this story in the basement where the events occurred at nighttime to explain why one wall is newer than the rest.

“The camp used to be a homestead, around 1812, and the family who lived there was part of the underground railroad. The escaped slaves were hidden in the basement of the house, and one night confederate soldiers showed up to confiscate the slaves and punish the family for helping. As soon as the father opened the door, he was shot in the face, and the soldiers continued to kill everyone else in the family. When they reached the basement, they decided not to kill the escaped slaves – a mother and child – but rather make them suffer. They barricaded the two in the basement behind a new wall. It’s said that at nighttime you can still hear the child scratching the wall.”

K’s story encompasses many ghost story motifs, such as the wrongful deaths of those involved and the liminal space of the basement. It is also a lesson to young campers, both not to go out at night and not to go in the basement, and helps them to feel more connected to camp through the knowledge of it’s history.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Xica da Silva

Xica da Silva was an African slave woman in Brazil long before the nation abolished it in 1888.  She was able to gain her freedom through marriage into the Portuguese court.  A particular royal Portuguese official (Tax Collector according to my informant) “fell desperately for her” and she gave him sexual favors, winning her emancipation.  The collector, who was becoming wealthy and powerful due to the success of gold mining in Brazil, had a palace built for his wife.  Even though the colony in which they lived was landlocked, he also built a ship and a lagoon for the ship, just so Xica could feel the sensation of sailing.
My informant says that it was Xica’s rise out of slavery and into wealth and luxury that made her legendary among the slaves.  I asked her if Xica was some kind of hero to the slaves or did anything to benefit them, and my informant said that Xica, through sex, earned only her own freedom and in fact had slaves herself.  This story remained a popular local legend until the emancipation of the slaves in 1888, and has now apparently become a migratory legend.  When the slaves were freed, their labor was replaced by that of immigrants.  My informant’s family, originally of Italian descent (she had one Portuguese grandmother; the rest of the family were Italian), emigrated to Brazil in 1890, where her grandfather grew up on a coffee farm.  He heard this historical legend from the local workers, who were former slaves, and he passed it to my informant, who recalled it as the story “that impressed me the most” of all those she heard from Brazilian lore.  She said that Xica was indeed a historical person, and that the essence of the story is true (how Xica used sex to buy freedom and lived in abundance as the wife of a wealthy nobleman), but that the popular imagination among the slaves may have exaggerated the amount of gold and luxury she enjoyed.

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