Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Durante vita”

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on October 11, 2011

A number of bloggers put up posts in anticipation of tonight’s History Detectives episode on the famous tintype image of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler. I was struck by two things watching the episode. First, this quote from Chandler Battaile, great-great-grandson of Andrew Chandler, on discovering that much of what he’d always understood to be true is contradicted by contemporary evidence:

I think it’s interesting to understand the place of stories in family histories. Obviously, the story that we’ve shared is one that is very comfortable, and comforting to believe. But without documentary evidence, it is a story. Our families’ histories have been, and will always be, deeply intertwined and evolving with the times.

That strikes me as a remarkably self-aware statement. I’ve found in my own family’s history cases where cherished family stories don’t stand up well to close examination in bright sunlight. But I think in the end, one is better for going through that process.

The second thing is the mention by Mary Francis Berry, that Mississippi law did not allow the manumission of slaves at the time of the Civil War. This is significant, because part of the Chandler oral tradition is that Silas had been freed at (or soon before) the beginning of the war, and went off with Andrew into the 44th Mississippi Infantry as a free man. While I wasn’t familiar with the Mississippi law, it’s not in the least surprising that this provision would be so. In my own state, it wasn’t just a law, it was actually written into the 1861 Texas Constitution, adopted immediately after the state’s secession. Under Article VIII, Slaves:

Sec. 1. The Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves.

Sec. 2. No citizen, or other person residing in this State shall have power by deed, or will, to take effect in this State, or out of it, in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, to emancipate his slave or slaves.

Or as Professor Berry put it, referring to Mississippi, the “law made slaves, slaves for life: durante vita.”

Antebellum Texas was not a welcoming or easy place for free African Americans; it’s not surprising that in the decade 1850-1860, while the slave population of Texas more than tripled (58,161 to 182,566), the number of free blacks in the state actually declined, from 397 to 355 — not even enough to fill a typical middle school auditorium.
Image: Andrew Chandler (l.) and Silas Chandler, c. 1861, via the Toledo Blade.