Just back from the Society of Tennessee Archivists conference, I’d like to highlight a particularly interesting session I attended. At the conference I was privileged to hear the story of John F. Baker, Jr., who has spent nearly his entire life researching his enslaved ancestors (enslaved on a plantation in Robertson County, Tennessee). The short description of his presentation from our conference program is as follows:
A descendant of Wessyngton slaves, John F. Baker Jr., has written the most accessible and exciting work of African American history since Roots. Using photographs and documents gathered through his extensive archival research, Baker tells the story of his ancestors Emanuel and Henny Washington, who were enslaved on Wessyngton Plantation owned by the Washington family as well as the story of the hundreds of other African Americans connected with the plantation for more than two hundered years.
I would like to add that in addition to traditional archival research (using photos, documents, oral histories, etc), he constructed his family’s story by information found through field research such as excavations at slave cabin sites, and facilitating extensive DNA testing in order to trace his enslaved ancestors’ African origins. I was blown away by Mr. Baker’s commitment to his research- he has a “day” job and conducted all of his research in his off time on evenings and weekends. His story is not just important to him and his family however, but also to our understanding of time and place and family.
Though I admit that I chuckled when Baker’s book was compared to Roots in our conference program, I’m not laughing now. It is a different type of story than Roots, but is all the more valuable for it. I urge you to read the story of the Washingtons. Visit the Wessyngton website for more information. The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation can be purchased at many bookstores including amazon.com in hardback, paperback, or ebook or check with your local library.