When I titled my blog it was because we are a middle class family who falls in between the cracks of society. We’re not poor enough to get any kind of welfare assistance; but still don’t have enough money to eat or make ends meet each month. We’re in the middle.
But over the past few months, I’ve discovered that this is really nothing new for my family. We’ve been falling through those “in the middle” cracks of America for centuries now.
It starts way back before the Second Spanish Period of Florida’s history, with a man named George J. F. Clarke and his wife, Flora. Dude was awesome! As Lt. Surveyor General, and Surveyor General for a short time, he knew every inch of East Florida. He could grow anything he decided to in the sandy and unforgiving soil of Florida, and was quite well known for this. He was an inventor who came up with a horse driven sawmill that quadrupled output. That little device earned him about 22,000 acres of land granted to him from the Spanish government….the traditional grant was only 16,000. He was a military man, a businessman, he ran a tavern. He is the guy who plotted out the old city of Fernandina. When history dudes write about him, they sing glowing praises (read Heaven’s Soldiers or Cana Sanctuary by Dr. Frank Marotti). If you mention Spanish Florida his name gets put right up there with names like Zephaniah Kingsley (read most stuff by Dr. Daniel Schafer) and Jesse Fish.
George Clarke is THE GUY who raised the stars and stripes over Florida for the very first time…because he was the fucking Lieutenant Governor of the state at the time!
George Clarke, and men like him, were the guys who you went to if you wanted to ensure that your mixed race children would be able to inherit your property. Especially once US rule made being able to marry the person you loved illegal; if they had more of a tan than you did at least.
He was the guy who added his voice to the damage claims against the US government made by free black land owners who incurred losses during Florida’s Patriot War. His friend, Zephaniah Kingsley, made frequent statements against the American version of slavery; considering it a horrifically brutal existence. Their little clique didn’t view skin color as a mark of mental deficiency, and saw slavery itself as something temporary. They considered it the responsibility of the slave owner to ensure that a slave could learn profitable skills that would hasten their way to freedom, and give them the skills to thrive once their slavery was over. One member of this group, writing under the name “Juridicus” even went so far as to openly endorse the idea of a black president as far back as the 1820’s.
We don’t tell this story in my family though. Why? Because Flora, George Clarke’s wife, was a slave. The couple have two children, Felicia and James (James is my great, great, great, great, great grandfather), who are born slaves, and manumitted by their father, before the couple can finally secure Flora’s freedom as well. They have a long (albeit strange) marriage and a whole lot more kids. Their children and grandchildren go on to do some pretty awesome things too. For example, founding the entire fucking state of Washington!
But this part of my family’s history has been erased.
We don’t want anyone to know there are [whisper] colored people [whisper] in our family tree. We REALLY didn’t want people to find out it happened more than once either. George and Flora’s sons go on to marry [whisper] black women [whisper] as well.
Meaning that as Florida fell to the United States, and new racist Jim Crow laws became more and more prevalent, my family’s legacy was stolen. We were stuck in the middle, between two racial identities that left no room for anyone to exist in the middle. Anti-miscegenation laws meant that, although my ancestors were light skinned, they were legally considered black.
A white man from Georgia named Louis H. Rossignol would eventually fall in love with one of George Clarke’s granddaughters. A woman named Susan Clarke. Their relationship would last for decades, until Louis’ death. They would have five children, plus raise two more from a previous relationship Susan had with another wealthy planter.
But once Louis dies, the family looses everything.
Illegitimate half-breed bastards don’t get to inherit property.
It didn’t even matter that the same people making these decisions were the same ones who had previously protected this and other similar families from this kind of thing. In the end, nothing mattered except for someone else’s opinion of their worth based on the legal definition of their skin color. The one drop rule was all that mattered in the end.
Susan is mentioned in history books as being one of the most influential women of her time.
But she isn’t mentioned in her own family at all.
All because she too fell in the middle.