The Bill of Sale

An Antique Document Hangs on My Wall

A Daily Reminder of How Precious is Freedom

 

After the death of my grandmother in 1963, my father was going through her papers and found a bill of sale for a slave. It was assumed that the bill of sale was from an estate for which my grandfather had been the executor.

 

 

The verbatim words of the document are:

georgia green County March 18th 1836

Receved of William Fleetwood the Sum of one Thousand Dollars for the purches of A Negro Boy Named granvill Aged About Nineteen years old this day sold to him             the right and titel to wich Slave I Herby Warrant and defend Against the Claim            or Claims of Al persons whatsover and I likewise Warrant the Above Slave to be healthy and sound in all respects Whatever and A Slave for life given under my hand and Seal

Test

Thomas Eaeing[?]                                           [signed] Daniel Connel

 

This document came into the possession of my parents when I was nineteen years old - just the age of Granvill. When I looked back upon that time when I was a child and teenager living in the South, I marveled at how much, and yet how little, things had changed in the one hundred twenty seven years since a boy my age was torn from his home and sold as just another piece of property. At nineteen, I was a student at Florida State University, and for the first time in my life was able to be friends with an African American - another student who lived in my dorm.   Growing up in a segregated South, I had never had the opportunity to know any African Americans socially or as schoolmates. My only experiences with African Americans had been with the occasional maids and workers hired by my parents, and those were rare because my family was not wealthy.

One of those experiences, however, sparked a life realization. As I remember, I couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old when my father hired two Black men to help put up a fence on our property. It was a hot, steamy Florida day, and my father and the men were working hard.  I remember, as boys of eight or nine are prone to do, being impressed by the bulk and muscles of one of the men. He was probably in his thirties, and I remember looking at his arms and thinking how much bigger they were than my father's. He was very friendly and spoke to me as though I was just another member of the group rather than a nuisance of a boy getting in the way. Something happened to cause the man's hand to slip, and he cut it badly on the fencing wire. It bled profusely for a while, and he got blood all over the handle of a tool they were using. As I looked at that blood, I suddenly realized that that man was no different from myself.  He bled the same blood and experienced the same pain. I cannot express how much that one experience shaped my thinking from that day forward. As a Caucasian in the 1950's South, I was surrounded by prejudice in the words and actions of most of the people I encountered. My father was paramount in my world with those damning ideas. He was not a bad or evil man, but he was a man of his time and circumstance that made him a purveyor of prejudiced ideas. Those prejudiced ideas were washed from my mind by the blood of that man. I remember years later coming across that tool, seeing the blood stains that were still on the handle, and thinking of that day of enlightenment. I owe that man a debt that can never be paid.

I often wonder about Granvill. He was a young man who surely had the same basic thoughts, fears, and desires as myself. Yet he was trapped in the most damnable situation for any human - that of being without freedom. Did he live to a ripe old age? Did he marry and have children?  Did he escape via the Underground Railroad? Or was his life short and bitter? If he did live to rear a family, he would have been in his early forties at the beginning of the Civil War. I would like to dream that he tasted freedom, and that his children and children's children formed a family with strong ties and the knowledge that their ancestors were proud Africans who had finally conquered the evils of slavery to produce a vital, productive African American family.

Later in my life, with the advent of the Internet, I did my best to find out something about William Fleetwood and Daniel Connel but was able to find little. I did communicate with a Connel in eastern Georgia, but we soon came to the conclusion that his was not the family who had been involved with the sale.

It is incredible to think when you look at our rich, multi-cultural society in the United States that for almost every African American, there was a Granvill somewhere in the past.  Sometimes when I think of my African American friends, neighbors, and business acquaintances I am dumbfounded.  For I consider them just other persons in my life and do not often think about the horror that was the life of their forefathers. That's when I think about Granvill and shudder at the paltry testament to his life that hangs on my wall. That's when I think about that strong man who bled on the handle of that tool so many years ago. That's when I think about how that blood cleansed my mind. That's when I am grateful that those common expressions of prejudice in the 1950's South somehow managed to avoid my soul.

 

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