Just as I’m finishing up the 700-plus paged tome, The Hemingses of Monticello (only 200 more pages to go!), I’ve found another ancestor-related book to add to my research list. This one is a début novel, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez about masters on vacation with their slave mistresses at a resort in free state Ohio.
In an interview on NPR today, Perkins-Valdez said she got the idea for her novel after reading about Tawawa, a real resort in Ohio that was a popular place for masters to relax with their mistress slaves. WEB DuBois mentioned Tawawa in passing in a biography, she said.
I was as intrigued listening to her describe happening upon this hidden piece of history as I was when I stumbled on to the secret of my great great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and his slave mistress, my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton.
When the interviewer went on to explain that Tawawa was near mineral water and people retreated to it for what they believed were its healing qualities, I almost stumbled across my own feet for real. Temple and her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine also traveled to a town known for its mineral waters, Mount Clemens, Michigan in 1905. The premise of Perkins-Valdez’s historical novel made me wonder if Temple had ever visited Mount Clemens or anywhere else with her master, the father of her 7 children, before he died in the late 1890s.
Masters and their slave mistresses vacationing together? A slave having 7 children with her master even after being freed and living with him and his wife for the rest of their lives?
The truth is stranger than fiction. I’m looking forward to both in the novel, Wench.
I’ve now come across two books that seem closely related to my family’s history. What books best describe your family, current or in generations past?