I was all set to write a diary on unemployment and how valuable it is, owing to I was unemployed for three months this year thanks to government inaction, and then I went hunting for word histories and happened upon this:
That red boxed item got me thinking.
I was raised on the assumption that when someone back in the day -- 1850s back in the day -- talked about "our peculiar institution," he -- usually he -- was offering a tiny apology for slavery. "It may be peculiar, but it's ours, ... and it's here to stay."
Words ... change. I know this more than many people because I collect word origins for a living. For example, pollution used to be how one referred to ejaculate -- and copious pollution was just as supposedly masculine a thing then (16th century Spain) as it is now.
Cattle's story is interesting. The part I care about for current purposes is that cow, the plural of cattle -- an unrelated word, incidentally -- was once cu.
Pecu-liar. That pecu there is cattle, which back in the day -- 1200s -- meant "I own that thing that's walking on my grass." Goats, horses, heifers, all cattle.
Fast-forward a few centuries to "our peculiar institution."
Peculiar doesn't mean strange. It means "these people we own":
"Peculiar," as it modified "institution" in both popular and political antebellum discourse, meant particular to, the private property of, from the Latin peculiaris, "not held in common with others," and peculium, "private property," especially "property in cattle" (the pecu of peculiar).We could vomit over this for however long, examining the uses that clearly refer to property and the uses that hinge more on "thing about us," ...
Or we could move on to Free Frank McWorter, who bought his wife's freedom when he was 40, bought his own freedom two years later and went about buying his children's and grandchildren's freedom with money from the city he'd founded, which was racially integrated when that didn't happen.
Roughly 80 years before Brown, this town had an integrated school:
The integrated schoolhouse, constructed about 1874, stood outside of New Philadelphia northeast of North Street. The land was part of Frank McWorter’s original real estate holdings (Matteson 1964:20; Shackel 2006:Chapter 2). According to local residents, the schoolhouse was the scene of many social and cultural activities (Matteson 1984:19-21).
We are most of us fortunately unable to imagine thinking up a business by which we might make enough money to buy our relatives. Free Frank McWorter secured his last name when he was 60, a year after he bought the land and incorporated New Philadelphia. He had bought his freedom eighteen years before, and he had been buying his relatives' freedom in the years since.
At Career Day, or whatever your school called it, I bet nobody wanted to make enough money to buy anyone's freedom. The notion today is as despicable as it is laughable. People are free by default.
But for Frank, who was born before America has fought and won its freedom and who died before he no longer had to buy his relatives' freedom, the default was thinking of ways to make enough money and find enough legal and physical security to not be like every other black family in the 1830s.
Scroll down to page ninety-four and look at the name changes.
On the next page is more reality:
The money paid for the land could instead be added to the savings to purchase an additional family member.
... government surveys and contemporary private descriptions show that the land purchased by Free Frank and his sons was all first-rate.The book is fascinating, gloriously more detailed than I could hope to be here, including in describing how Lucy McWorter helped raise the money to buy that land and her children and grandchildren. Part of the reason it is so rich is that the writer is one of McWorter's great-great-granddaughters, and part of the reason is that she is very good at what she does. Her goal is not to present an emotional retelling of the story. Her goal is to present the facts so the reader will supply the emotion, such as in this passage:
By purchasing and emancipating Solomon, his second son, Free Frank had accomplished part of his goal. Yet there still remained as slaves in Kentucky his two daughters and their children. While he was in Pulaski County, Free Frank doubtlessly again reassured the owners that he would return and purchase them, too. But another eight years would pass before that would occur.He would return, eight years and 500 miles later (though this site indicates the distance as 300 miles).
New Philadelphia is now uninhabited, and Frank McWorter died in 1854. But despite his too-small corner of history, Frank McWorter and his legacy are doing pretty well.
New Philadelphia is on the National Register of Historic Places. McWorter's grave, near Barry, Ill., mere miles from the town he founded, is one of three Illinois graves designated on the register. The others belong to President Lincoln and Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas.
On Jan. 16, 2009, the New Philadelphia Town Site -- the first town incorporated by a black American -- was approved as a National Historic Landmark.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated president.