There she blogs!

All about my passion for discovering who I am and from where I've come!


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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it must have been like for slaves when freedom landed upon their doorsteps.  I think it’s best to let someone who lived it speak about it.  The following excerpts are taken from a book written by my 2x great grand uncle, Henry Clay Bruce.  The title of the book is “The New Man. Twenty-Nine Years a Slave. Twenty-Nine Years a Free Man.”  It was published in 1895.

“For the first few weeks I was well pleased with the pay I received, and thought I would soon have plenty of money, but now I had a new problem to solve, which was to support and clothe myself and a wife and pay doctors’ bills, which was something new to me. I had never been trained in the school of economy, where I could learn the art of self-support, as my master had always attended to that little matter from my earliest recollections. Now I had expenses to meet of every kind. The necessaries of life were all very high, including house rent, and by the time I paid up my bills on Saturday night, I found my week’s earnings well nigh gone; this was the case right along. I also found that I had to make my own bargains for whatever necessaries we needed, and to provide for a rainy day, all of which experiences were new to me, yes, very new, and were a source of annoyance for a long time, because it taxed my mind each day to provide the necessaries for the next week and from week to week. I had lived to be twenty-eight years old, and had never been placed in a position where I had occasion to give this matter a single thought, for the reason that my master had it to attend to, as before stated.

Henry Clay Bruce    March 3, 1836 ~ September 1, 1902
(Image:  Library of Congress)

I found myself almost as helpless as a child, so far as managing and providing for personal welfare and the future was concerned, and although I had been trained to work from a child and had acquired almost a perfect knowledge of it, together with a will and ability to perform hard manual labor, yet I had not learned the art of spending my earnings to the best advantage. I had a very limited knowledge of the value of any article, and often paid the price demanded without question, and ofttimes bought articles which were useless to me. My wife and I had good health and worked steadily every day, and by so doing managed to save up money enough in a short time to rent and fit up a small two-room house.”

Great-Grand Aunts & Great-Grand Uncle

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Five BrucesThis photo is of my great-grand aunts and my great-grand uncle. They are siblings to my mother’s grandfather. Left to right they are: Martha (Mattie) Bruce (born 1863), Elizabeth Bruce (born 1854), James Arthur Bruce (born 1865), Sallie Catherine Bruce (born 1870) and Emma Bruce (born 1867). Their father, Sandy Bruce, was the oldest child (born 1823) of Polly Bruce (born 1804).
Prior to the Civil War, a child inherited the status of his/her mother. If a woman was free, her children were born free. If she was enslaved, her children were born as slaves. Mattie and Elizabeth were born into slavery. James was conceived during slavery, but because he was born in August and the Civil War ended in April–he was born “free”. Sallie and Emma were born as free people.


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Grandpa Nit

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I never got to meet my paternal grandfather.  He was born 130 years ago today on january 8, 1884.  A quick Google search tells me Missouri was experiencing record low temperatures in January of 1884.  It was a subzero day when Odie Lee Swanegan came into the world.  His parents were Killis and Martha (Warden) Swanegan.  With my mind’s eyes I see his father tending a fire to keep mother and baby warm.   I see his mother swaddling him tightly, holding him closely and memorizing his sweet little face.  I see his two sisters and three brothers taking turns peeking into the room to see the new baby.  He would be their last child.

Grandpa died on July 16, 1955, a year and a half before I was born.  I’ve heard so many stories about him that I feel as if I knew him.

Daddy said, “Papa was a hard worker.  There weren’t too many things he couldn’t do.  He was good with his hands.  He could make anything out of lumber and nails.”

Aunt Carrie (my grandmother’s sister) said, “Mama didn’t want Sister (my grandmother, Ethel) to marry Nit (Grandpa’s nickname) because he was so good-looking.  She thought being married to a handsome man would bring nothing but trouble to Sister.  But they were determined to marry, so they eloped.  They got married in Kansas City, on the Kansas side.  Mama wasn’t happy about that, but she finally came around because Nit was good to Ethel.”

Aunt Lyda (Daddy’s oldest sister) said, “Papa wasn’t a very tall man when compared to Mama’s brothers.  The Millers were tall men, but Papa and his brothers weren’t very tall.  Papa was less than 6 feet tall.  Mama was as tall as he was.”

Grandpa was said to be a quiet man, a man of few words.  He was a man who whistled while he worked, and if he happened to have had a “little smile” (a drink or two) he might be heard singing. I’m told one of his favorite tunes to sing was “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes” by Gene Autry.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYoqwnDUH_g

I wish I could hear him singing.  One day I will.


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The “Shiloh People”

What began as a simple search for family members that I’d been told migrated to Canada turned into something amazing! I found my great aunt and great uncle, Emma (Bruce) and Caesar Lane on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census living near Dalton, Missouri.

I next find them on the 1911 Census of Canada. In the interim, they moved to Oklahoma Territory seeking relief from the racial inequality that was present in Missouri. That freedom was short-lived. When Oklahoma achieved statehood, it adopted a long list of Jim Crow laws that guaranteed separation of races. Canada began placing ads in Oklahoma newspapers offering “free land”, 160 acres of it, to those who were willing to settle it. Emma and Caesar packed up their family, as did about 11 other families, and headed north to Saskatchewan. They settled in the Eldon area, establishing what would eventually become a community of over 50 black families and the oldest settlement of African-Americans in Western Canada. In 1911-12 they built the Shiloh Baptist Church. In 1913, Caesar Lane became the first person to be buried there, thus establishing the Shiloh Baptist Church Cemetery. It is, to this day, the only African-American cemetery in Saskatchewan. This little church stands as a testament to the “Shiloh People”, to their faith, and to their desire to live freely. I’m both humbled and proud that my family members were an integral part of this historical place and these events.

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Photos courtesy of Leander K. Lane