Henry Louis Gates Jr. Helps Man Find Out if his Great-Grandfather Was Kidnapped From Freedom to Slavery

A book claims that a man’s great-grandfather was abducted as a boy and sold into bondage. Official records back up at least part of the heartbreaking story.

Dear Professor Gates:

I am trying to find the names of the parents of my great-grandfather Lucius Kidd. All I have to go on is a book written by my cousin Dr. Kitty Kidd Robinson titled I Ain’t Mad No More. It tells about Lucius Kidd’s abduction from a creek in Arrington, Va., at age 11 (circa 1853), along with his mother. They were sold on the wholesale slave market in Montgomery, Ala., then transported, separated and sold on the retail market in Columbus, Miss. After the Emancipation Proclamation, my great-grandfather ended up in Tibbee, Miss., where he raised his three sons and died. —Robert L. Kidd

You are very lucky to have, through your cousin’s book, a detailed account of your great-grandfather, since specific records describing the lives of African Americans during enslavement are rare. Reading the pages you sent us, we were left with the impression that at least some of the account is written from family oral history, so we focused on seeing which specific facts we could verify by examining contemporary records. First we located Lucius Kidd with your great-grandmother Priscilla living in Mississippi in 1900, using additional details that you sent us.

What the Book Tells Us

Then we turned to “The Family Tree Withstands All Weather,” the first chapter of I Ain’t Mad No More, which provides very detailed information about the painful childhood of Lucius Kidd, who was abducted, along with his mother, from the Arrington, Va., area when he was only 11 years old. According to the text, Lucius was taken from his father, an African-born man who had been enslaved, but “because of demand and supply of a particular skill level believed to be possessed by him, this father either worked, or bought himself out of slavery.” (Although, given that the African slave trade was banned in 1808, it’s not likely that the father was born on that continent.) The boy was sold to a man described as Master Kidd, who had a plantation in Caledonia, Lowndes County, Miss., for a total of $99 ($11 per pound). Shortly after the sale, Master Kidd gifted Lucius as a wedding present to his son, Alf/Alford Kidd, with whom he remained until he was emancipated in 1865.

While the text does not specify whether Lucius and his mother were freeborn, the scenario of free people of color being kidnapped into slavery and sold down South is one Professor Gates has addressed before in this column. It was also chronicled by Solomon Northup, the free black New Yorker whose kidnapping into slavery was publicized in his own narrative 12 Years a Slave, and later depicted in the 2013 film by the same name.

If you want to learn more about this phenomenon, we suggest picking up Northup’s narrative, for which Professor Gates and Kevin Burke have edited a 2016 Norton Critical Edition, as well as the books Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865, by Carol Wilson, and Solomon Northup’s Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War, by David Fiske.

We should also point out that their abduction from Virginia to Mississippi followed a route that was common during the internal slave trade that thrived after the importation of slaves to the U.S. was outlawed in 1808. Professor Gates previously noted in an article for The Root that according to the historian Walter Johnson, “approximately one million enslaved people were relocated from the upper South to the lower South … two thirds of these through … the domestic slave trade” between 1787 and 1861, driven by the cotton industry’s insatiable need for free labor. That forced migration is sometimes known as the Second Middle Passage.

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SOURCE: Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lindsay Fulton, NEHGS Director of Research Services 
The Root