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In Their Own Words

January 21, 1839

Slave Family Separated

From her plantation home on Butler Island near the mouth of the Altamaha River, Fanny Kemble Butler wrote about a potential family tragedy for a slave family. Fanny’s husband – Pierce Butler – had decided to give one of his male slaves (known only as Joe) to plantation overseer Roswell King, who was planning to move west to Alabama. Joe, however, was married to a young slave woman known as Psyche. Together, they had two young children under age six. Upon hearing that he had been given to King, Joe was desperate – as Fanny recorded in her journal:

“…Early in the morning, while I was still dressing, I was suddenly startled by hearing voices in loud tones in Mr.’s [a reference to her husband] dressing room, which adjoins my bedroom, and the noise increasing until there was an absolute cry of despair uttered by some man. I could restrain myself no longer, but opened the door of communication and saw Joe, the young man, poor Psyche’s husband, raving almost in a state of frenzy, and in a voice broken with sobs and almost inarticulate with passion, reiterating his determination never to leave this plantation, never to go to Alabama, never to leave his old father and mother, his poor wife and children, and dashing his hat, which he was wringing like a cloth in his hands, upon the ground, he declared he would kill myself if he was compelled to follow Mr. K[ing]. I glanced from the poor wretch to Mr. [Butler], who was standing, leaning against a table with his arms folded, occasionally uttering a few words of counsel to his slave to be quiet and not fret, and not make a fuss about what there was no help for. I retreated immediately from the horrid scene, breathless with surprise and dismay, and stood for some time in my own room, with my heart and temples throbbing to such a degree that I could hardly support myself… .”

Source: John A. Scott (ed.), Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984 reprint of 1961 reprint of 1863 original volume), p. 136.