Thursday, March 9, 2017

Women’s History Month: The Legacy of Hannah Richards | March 8, 2017

Black History Month | Women's History Month | Library of Congress | Archives



(The following guest post was written by Beverly W. Brannan, curator of photography in the Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tintype of Hannah Richards from the William Henry Richards Collection

The Library purchased the collection of William Henry Richards (1856–1941), a law professor at Howard University, in 2013. The collection includes manuscript and visual materials, including a tintype of Hannah Richards, William’s grandmother, who was born in captivity but later freed. Research into her life—a story of determination and resilience—suggests she may have motivated William’s successful career. Besides being a law professor, he was a civil rights activist and a supporter of temperance and women’s right to vote and own property in the District of Columbia.

The library edition of Ancestry.com shows that Hannah Richards was born in Virginia, probably near Danville, around 1800. She belonged to Gabriel Richards (1739–1826), who moved to Roane County, Tennessee, in about 1805. He later relocated to McMinn County, Tennessee, where he died in 1826, freeing Hannah in his will. But there is more to the story.

Freed slaves were always at risk of being re-enslaved after being kidnapped or jailed for trivial offenses. Hannah almost lost her freedom for keeping company with a man. She was arrested in 1828, according to databases, and charged with harboring “a certain Negro slave Sandy without either written or verbal authority from . . . the said boy’s master” for two years. Papers filed in McMinn County court stated that Sandy had been “with her at her place of living on Sunday nights.” Hannah was fined $2.20 for “harboring and entertaining” Sandy, $2.00 for her jail fee and $0.75 for the justice of the peace. She was warned that if she did not pay all the costs as well as an additional $2.00, she could be sold into slavery for nonpayment of debt.

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