Here is what I know about Lucy Nicholas. She lived here on the farm for most of her life, and she worked in the main house as a servant and nurse. She was born somewhere around 1782 and died about 1852. Her husband was named Jesse Skipwith, and their children were Peyton, George, Jesse Jr., Erasmus, Gerry, Betsey, Lavinia, Jasper, and John.
I know she is listed on slave inventories in 1791, 1801, and 1840. She gave birth to George in 1802 and Betsey in 1805. In 1820, 1823, and 1825, her family received a blanket around Christmas, and in 1822, they received a bushel, peck, and cup of meal.
Some of her children moved to Alabama and Liberia, and when they did, she probably never saw them again.
I am aware that sometime in the future someone, somewhere might read what I have written. I have some – perhaps misguided – confidence that my life is important and that what I say matters. It is a privilege that I feel this way, I realize now.
In college, as the work study student in the President’s office, I learned to file documents properly. Mary Stoner, the president’s administrative assistant, taught me that every document should have a date, an author’s name, and be put away properly. The recorded history of that place was important.
Now, I still date every letter and journal entry. I have files full of my writing. My research is segmented into discrete, labeled folders. My hard drive backed-up. I believe that what I have to say matters.
Lucy Nicholas did not have this privileged awareness. While there is some evidence that she could read and write – she and her son Peyton corresponded after he was freed and sent to Liberia – I have not seen any of what she wrote. It is likely that no one preserved it; we probably only have her children’s letters because the owner here saved every piece of paper that came onto his farm it seems. This was his privilege.
So Lucy Nicholas is mostly a timeline in my research. I don’t know how her days were spent or her mood on the day her children left to sail across the Atlantic. I have nothing that tells me if she was grateful for the blanket at Christmas or resentful because it was such a meager “gift.” I know almost nothing of her as a woman.
Except this, in a letter to her dated May 10, 1838, her son Peyton says, “you wish to see me but cant be more desires to see me than i am to see you all.” This one sentence about a mother missing her son and a son longing for his mother – that is all the interior world of Lucy Nicholas that I may ever know.
– This is not Lucy Nicholas; as far as I know, there are no images of her or any of the enslaved people here. This is Louisa, the nurse to H.E. Hayward, the child in the photo with her.
Other Posts on Slavery and My Research
No Excuses, Please â€“ A Rant on Slavery Apologists
The Beauty and The Burden â€“ The Double-Vision of Writing
Looking at American Slavery with Compassion