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Sara Holt and the Slave Archetype

July 12, 2013 , , ,

In my tree I have several ancestors who owned slaves in America. When your family has owned slaves, you are forever affected by that history.  The slave archetype is a very interesting symbol.  I had not considered the aspects that can both teach and menace.  The ultimate slavery is full surrender to the divine.  One’s own will is sacrificed to the divine will in order to be fully enlightened.  Military discipline requires following orders without question. We don’t think of soldiers as slaves, but there is an aspect of it in the lack of choices.  Some are slaves to substance abuse or systems of belief.  This slavery may seem completely voluntary, but cultural pressure might be a strong factor. The positive slave archetype is the monk who devotes his life to divine providence.  The shadow aspect of the slave today is the person who gives up choices, such as cult activity.  Choice involves individuation. Following the script of the collective consciousness today without question is slavery.

My 6th great -grandmother, Sara Holt, was from a family that came to Virginia in 1620, so slavery probably was always part of their existence, like most colonials.  She and her husband from Northern Ireland owned slaves and lived in a fancy style:

Sarah Truly, A Mississippi Tory By Madel Jacobs Morgan

The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, February, 1975

One of the most loyal advocates of the rule of King George III of England was Sarah Truly, a resident of the Old Natchez District when it was a province of Spain.  She came to the Natchez District from Amelia County, Virginia, where she lived in comfortable circumstances with her husband Hector and their seven children: John, James, Bennet, Eleanor, Sarah, Judith and Martha (Patsey).   It can be deduced from Hector’s will, which was probated in 1761, that the Trulys pursued life in the cavalier tradition.  Daughter Eleanor rode sidesaddle on her own bay mare, Hector owned slaves, and he had a “complete distillery”.   He had, as well, three hundred acres of land, two prayer books, four testaments, two hymnals and “one other book”.

As Revolutionary sentiment took root and spread, the position of Sarah Truly and the other Tidewater Virginia loyalists became less and less tenable.  At the close of the decade following Hector’s death, Sarah and her brothers Dibdal and David Holt took positive action to improve their situation.   Having learned of the rich lands along the Mississippi River which the British were making available for colonization, they began investigating the possibilities of a move.  One of the Holts went to British West Florida in 1770 to consult with the governmental authorities about lands.   He returned to Virginia; then, along with his brother and a neighbor, Robert Montford, he came back to West Florida the following year on another scouting trip.

Along with her brothers, the Widow Truly made preparations for the long journey southward.  “Refusing to be a traitor to my king,” she said later, “and not wanting to live at enmity with my neighbors, I sought a home under the Spanish flag.”

Six of her children came south with Sarah Truly, John remained in Virginia.  Her three brothers, David, John and Dibdal, accompanied her, as did a son-in-law, Francis Spain (Eleanor’s husband), the Spain children, and the slaves.  If their caravan followed the route described by other migrants of that time, they traveled overland through the Cumberland Gap and across what is now Kentucky, where they paused to build a flatboat to embark on the Ohio River, floating on to the Mississippi and thence downstream to West Florida.

Seventeen hundred and seventy-three was the date of their arrival in West Florida.  The first grant of land to Sarah Truly was most likely in one of the Feliciana Parishes of Louisiana, and it has been said that Bayou Sarah was named for her.  She soon moved to a site north of Fort Panmure in the Natchez District.

The Widow was beset with difficulties from the start.  The first year, she and her family were all sick and could not make a crop.  She was obliged to sell a negro to buy provisions.  In 1774, the younger son, Bennett, was hired by a neighbor, Mr. Lum, to row his boat up the river—his pay to be in corn for the use of the family.  On arriving upriver, Bennett found the hunting good and instead of returning home, he remained four years.

In 1775, son James took his departure.  He returned to Virginia to fight with his native colony against the crown.  By this action James not only left the Widow Truly without the help of either of her sons, but placed her in the deplorable situation of acknowledging herself the mother of a Revolutionary soldier.

In 1778, both of the boys had reappeared on the scene.  Bennett returned to find Sarah engaged in getting her corn crop planted.  Instead of staying close by to lend assistance, he betook himself off to the bright lights of Natchez.  There he stayed wntil the fall of 1778 when he went off on another hunt.  But this hunt was of shorter duration.  Bennett and those with him were captured by James Willing, the American officer–and a resident of the Natchez District–who was then raiding, pillaging, and recruiting on behalf of the American Army.   Bennett was taken to New Orleans but soon came back home to his mother; and, Loyalist that he was, he enlisted in the local militia.

In the meantime, James Truly had returned from Virginia the the Natchez country in 1778, still a Revolutionary.  He immediately made himself useful to the American cause by acting as a guide for Willing when he arrived at the Natchez landing in mid-Feburary with a company of American soldiers.

In 1779, the Widow had son Bennett at home.  In her own words, Bennett “came to my house and worked with my lands and finished the crop with my three slaves.”  Out of the proceeds of that crop, she paid off $300.00 in debts that Bennett had contracted in the neighborhood.

The following year Bennett seems to have been somewhat more dependable.  She put him in charge of her crop, and with the help of four slaves he cleared 3,000 pounds of tobacco.  It seemed as though things  might be looking up for the Widow Truly.  Bennett was at home and working, and the crop was good.  Unfortunately for all concerned, Bennett came up with the idea of building a grist mill in partnership with one George Fourney.  Sarah, who could see through such schemes, was expected to provide the capital for this venture–an idea of which she heartily disapproved.  As later attested by Sarah’s daughter and granddaughter, Eleanor and Tabitha Spain, the Widow considered Fourney unreliable; and Bennett had not yet proved himself capable of carrying out such an ambitious project.  In other words, Sarah had no desire to have a mill stone around her neck.  Irrepressible Bennett went on with his plans, however, in spite of the objections and scoldings from his mother.

There was another complication!  The sight of the English flag over Fort Panmure no longer gladdened Sarah’s heart.  In its place waved the golden lions of Spain, for the Natchez district had been surrendered to Galvez when he captured Baton Rouge in1779.

No sooner had the English garrison evacuated Fort Panmure to the Spanish than Anthony Hutchins and John Blommart began plotting to recapture the Natchez District for the English.  They were aided and abetted by the Widow Truly.  She was a mere woman and has thus far received scant notice of historians, but the testimonials by her Natchez District neighbors vouch for the fact that she did all she could to assist the English cause and deal misery to the Spaniards.

When Galvez withdrew his heavy artillery to Pensacola, to bombard the British stronghold there, the Loyalist element in the Natchez District made plans for a revolt.  Their plans came to fruition in 1781. While one group of the Loyalists took up their position at the house of John Rowe (Row, Rault) in plain view of Fort Panmure, another group was ensconced in a blockhouse especially built for the occasion by Madame Truly.   The so-called rebels who took refuge in the blockhouse on the Truly holdings prepared themselves for a seige and even dug a well so that water would be plentiful.  This well was later the subject of much controversy, for it seems that Bennett had contracted with Thomas Rule to dig a well on Sarah’s plantation, giving him a horse in payment.  Before Rule could dig the well, the “rebels” encamped in the blockhouse dug it.  A year later Sarah sued Rule for the price of the horse, charging that he did not fulfil his contract.  The court ordered Rule to fulfil his contract by digging a well as originally specified.  Thus, we can be reasonably sure that in spite of other vicissitudes she may have encountered, the Widow Truly spent the last days of her life well watered.

With the capture of Pensacola by Galvez and the arrival of a Spanish force at Natchez, the revolt collapsed (in May, 1781).  The insurgents scattered in every direction.  Some, led by Anthony Hutchins, went overland to Savannah and thence to England.  Some struck into the wilderness where they joined a robber band.  Another group became Spanish prisoners and were taken to Spanish headquarters at New Orleans.  It is a matter of record that Sarah Truly made a quick trip to New Orleans in 1781.  Whether she went there in the interest of her land holdings or was called up before the Spanish authorities for her part in the counter revolution against them is a matter for conjecture.  She left at home two of her daughters, Eleanor Spain and Patsey Truly and a granddaughter, Tabitha Spain.  Also at home was Bennett whose gristmill project had been interrupted by the revolt.  But while Sarah journeyed down the river to New Orleans, Bennett rounded up George Fourney; and they slyly took advantage of the widow’s absence to complete the gristmill.

Upon leaving New Orleans, Sarah embarked for home by rowboat.  She “encouraged the hands to row briskly” saying that they should have plenty of meat when they reached home.  A trip to New Orleans by rowboat would be an ordeal at best, but in May with intense heat added to the humidity of the river swamps, not to mention the abundant insect life that thrives in such conditions, it must have been almost unbearable.  Worn and exhausted and accompanied by the hungry crew, the Widow reached home expecting a feast.  She found only two pieces of meat in the house.  She went into a rage.  Eleanor, Tabitha and Patsey wrung their hands.  When the Widow inquired of the three girls what had become of the meat,  one can imagine the violence of her reaction on being told that Bennett had given it to George Fourney, his partner in the gristmill.

Sarah Truly lived for ten years after this unfortunate episode, and it was her fortune to spend the entire time under Spanish rule.  From the court records we learn that she spent much of her remaining time before the bar of justice—suing, being sued and testifying as wittness.  The Spanish governors seemingly bore her no ill will for having taken arms against them, and she was always treated with the greatest consideration.  Her name is mentioned in more than forty different places in Spanish court records, indicating that she was a woman of diverse interests.  She loaned money, she bought and sold slaves, she dealt in lands.  Various witnesses testified that she “cursed” and “scolded”.  No one could deny that Sarah Truly was a woman of spirit.

Her children settled close around her, forming a sizeable clan of Trulys and their kin.  James married Elizabeth Burch, a widow, and they brought up an interesting family at Truly’s Flat in what is now Jefferson County.  Irrepressible Bennett married Mary Lum.  Always on the lookout for a good investment, Bennett became interested in a cotton gin and in 1796 we note that he was hauled into court for turning out inferior cotton.  Eleanor Spain and her family lived in Jefferson County.  Judith married a Holstein and she was in England in 1796.

Two of the Truly girls, first Sarah and after her death, Patsey, were married to Captain Richard Harrison who was noted for his services in the American Revolution when he served as a courier for George Rogers Clark.  The Harrison home, Auburn House, still stand in Jefferson County.

Age finally caught up with Sarah Truly, and she was “infirm and weak” on March 15, 1792, when she made her will.  She left her “beloved son Bennett” a slave “Annico”, who had two children, and one large looking glass.  To daughter Eleanor Spain went her prized feather bed and furniture.  To daughter Martha Harrison went her scissors and thimble.  The residue of her estate was to be divided among James, Bennett and Eleanor.  Then passed from the scene a forceful character and gallant pioneer–a woman of loyalty and courage.

That many of her traits passed down to her children there is little doubt.  As a fitting sequel to her tempestuous life, we note a paragrapg appended to her will which begins as follows:  “7 May 1793.  Whereas a controversy has arisen between the heirs of the late Sarah Truly, concerning the division of her estate…..”

Sarah Holt (1740 – 1792)

is my 6th great grandmother
son of Sarah Holt
daughter of James Truly
daughter of Elizabeth Betsy Truly Payne Darden
daughter of Minerva Truly Darden
daughter of Sarah E Hughes
son of Lucinda Jane Armer
daughter of George Harvey Taylor
I am the daughter of Ruby Lee Taylor

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totally got this down. I thought he was reasonable about this.. One has to wonder what happened to civil rights for EVERYONE.


Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

July 13, 2013

He is, and until I read the archetype definition I never thought about how it lasts forever in some form if you were involved..either side..the truth has been buried in family memory most of the time.



July 13, 2013

1 notes

  1. Ruby Taylor on Racism | mermaidcamp reblogged this and added:

    […] Taylor.  I study my ancestors to learn about ethical will and history.  This week I thought about slavery in terms of my slave owning ancestor who ran away to Florida with her slaves in order to be in Spain in the 1700′s.  She actually […]


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