Monday, January 06, 2014

Gone with the wind -- burning the archives

Wow. Ran across a blog post about 160 year old legal documents destroyed... apparently this is becoming a genuine web phenomenon as more and more bloggers pick it up. The North Carolina Dept of Archives summarily destroyed a room's worth of legal documents dating from the early to middle 1800's, after it was discovered by a county clerk. Local folks and a local historical society had been enthusiastically working on sorting and preserving them until they made the mistake of contacting that department to ask for professional help in conserving the documents. Whoops! Apparently that's where politics may have reared it's ugly head. The author, Grace, supposes,
After the Civil War (after emancipation), a lot of large land-owners deeded out substantial tracts of land to their former slaves. These former slaves had demonstrated to their masters that they were loyal, hard-working, and would continue to farm and contribute to the plantation collective as they always had. The only difference is that they would own the land they worked, and earn a somewhat larger income as a result of their efforts.

During reconstruction, a lot of land holders, both black and white, had difficulty paying very high property taxes imposed by Federal Occupiers. In swept speculators and investors from up North (these people have come to be known as “Carpet Baggers”.) They often forced white land owners to sell out at a fraction of the actual value of their property. In the case of black land-owners, sometimes all the Carpet Baggers offered was threats. The effect was the same – a vast transfer of wealth from titled property owners to new people who became, in the decades of the late 19th and early 20th century, among the wealthiest people in the South.

How do I know this? Some of my own ancestors were Carpet Baggers from Maryland. They made a small fortune after the war, stealing land, setting up mills, and effectively re-enslaving two or three generations of both poor-white and black natives of Halifax County, North Carolina.

My suspicion is that in and amongst all those now destroyed records, was a paper trail associated with one or more now-prominent, politically connected NC families that found its wealth and success through theft, intimidation, and outrageous corruption.

Prove me wrong. You can’t. They destroyed the records.

See a series of posts following the original where the archives folks reply with lame excuses that the blogger blows away. If you come to this late, and using that link is not helpful, the dates are late December, 2013 - early January, 2014. The destruction of the documents happened on Dec. 6, 2013.

The image is from the original blog, and is captioned, "Boxes of documents from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned by the North Carolina State Archives." Found at written by Grace.

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