It was a Sunday afternoon when the telephone rang at Martel House, on Rice University’s campus.
“Hello, Dan! Sorry to bother you, but I am here with Mrs. Fay Williams and we would like to check an information with you,” Sam said.
“No worries, Sam,” Dan replied. “I am grading papers and could use a break. Plus, my family is at a kid’s birthday party right now, so your timing could not have been better. How can I help you?”
Sam is a financial consultant who doubles as an activist with the Nia Cultural Center in Galveston and as an adviser to the Texas Historical Commission. He met Dan, an associate professor of history at Rice, during the meetings leading up to the Mellon Sawyer Seminar “Diasporic Cultures of Slavery: Engaging Disciplines, Engaging Communities,” held in Bahia, Brazil, earlier this year.
“Mrs. Williams believes some of her ancestors are in your database. Can you help us locate them?,” Sam asked.
“Sure! Does she have any information we can start with?”
“I am looking for my ancestors, John and Julian,” Sam had put Mrs. Williams, a well-established attorney at law in Indianapolis with deep ties to Galveston, on speakerphone. “They were originally from North Carolina, but boarded a ship in New Orleans, called Palmetto, bound for Galveston sometime in 1846.”
Dan ran a search with that criteria on SlaveVoyages’ Intra-American Slave Trade Database and it returned six records of voyages. He then looked for the names of the people carried on the website’s Enslaved database and found five individuals named John who sailed in the Palmetto in 1846, but no information about Julian.
“Impossible!,” Mrs. Williams exclaimed. “I am sure that they traveled together. They were both teenagers, about two years apart, John being the eldest.”
Dan selects one of the voyages and notices a John listed next to a Jordan fitting that description. He then looks up a copy of the original ship manifest, located in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, available online via Ancestry.com and sees John’s name written right below Julian’s, with John described as “brown” and Julian as “yellow.”
“Found them! We misspelled Julian’s name but all the other details have been correctly transcribed,” Dan explained. “We will fix this issue in the next database deployment.”
The manifest provided no indication but Mrs. Williams clarified: “I know they traveled together because John and Julian were siblings, possibly sons of their North Carolina owner, and their story has been passed down to generations in my family.”
Daniel B. Domingues da Silva is an associate professor of history at Rice University. He is the author of The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1787-1860 (Cambridge Unversity Press, 2017) and the host of SlaveVoyages.org.
This post was published with permission from Mrs. Fay Williams.
The post “John & Julian” first appeared in Echoes: The SlaveVoyages Blog. It is part of a series of posts exploring the history and legacies of the slave trade to Texas.