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A Sack Filled With an Enslaved Mother’s Love

Middleton Place Foundation

The story of slavery in the United States is one of brutality, splintered families, and erasure. For many descendants of enslaved people, genealogies and other family histories can break down, severed by the missing links that resulted when families were broken up and sold to separate masters. An artifact in the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture preserves a tiny attempt to fight back against that erasure. It’s known as “Ashley’s sack."

The unbleached cotton sack is the canvas for 56 words of embroidery—words with a tragic tale to tell. “My great grandmother Rose mother of Ashley gave her this sack when she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina,” it reads. “It held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her It be filled with my Love always she never saw her again Ashley is my grandmother Ruth Middleton 1921.”

The story of Rose, Ashley, and Ruth was common among millions of enslaved African Americans. It's been estimated that one-quarter of all enslaved people who crossed the Atlantic were children, and 48 percent were put to work before they turned 7 years old. Though slaves did manage to form family units, those families were generally disregarded by masters, who viewed them as chattel. Thus, slaves always ran the risk of being separated from their families—even children as young as 9-year-old Ashley.

When the sack—incredibly rare to have survived both slavery and the centuries—was purchased at a flea market in Tennessee in 2007, its origins were murky. As the Associated Press reports, the woman who discovered the sack realized it was valuable, but decided not to sell it on eBay. After some online research, she determined that the sack might have been connected to Middleton Place, a South Carolina plantation that is now a National Historic Landmark and museum and where African Americans were once enslaved. Museum officials purchased the sack and put it on display.

Reactions to the powerful story told on the bag were immediate and complex. Some volunteers felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable discussing the object. “Some volunteer guides complained that the sack, and the powerful reactions it engendered, distracted from the core mission of the tour: to highlight the wealth, political leadership, and cosmopolitanism of the white Middletons,” writes anthropologist historian Mark Auslander.

Intrigued by the bag, Auslander set out on a quest to discover the identity of Rose, Ashley, and Ruth. He used slavery records as well as bank, court, and census data to research the women. But he faced a number of obstacles: slave records often involve mass sales of unnamed women and children, many records have been destroyed, and Rose was a very common name for enslaved women.

The name Ashley, however, was not. His answers aren't definitive, but Auslander did find intriguing evidence of a child named Ashley owned by a South Carolina planter named Robert Martin in the 1850s, who also owned a woman named Rose. Using 1920 census records, Auslander was also able to find an African-African woman named Ruth Middleton who had family roots in South Carolina, and who died in Philadelphia in 1988. Her possessions likely ended up being given away, which is how the sack found its way to the flea market, Auslander theorizes.

No matter how the bag got to that flea market, it's near-priceless evidence of what slavery did to families and what they suffered both together and apart. Middleton House lent the bag to the NMAAHC, where it—and its story—is now displayed across from a block used in slave auctions.

[h/t: KUOW]

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The Richest Person of All Time From Each State


Looking for inspiration in your quest to become a billionaire? This map from cost information website HowMuch.net, spotted by Digg, highlights the richest person in history who hails from each of the 50 states.

More billionaires live in the U.S. than in any other country, but not every state has produced a member of the Three Comma Club (seven states can only lay claim to millionaires). The map spans U.S. history, with numbers adjusted for inflation. One key finding: The group is overwhelmingly male, with only three women represented.

The richest American by far was John D. Rockefeller, repping New York with $257.25 billion to his name. Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Microsoft's Bill Gates clock in at the third and fifth richest, respectively. While today they both make their homes in the exclusive waterfront city of Medina, Washington, this map is all about birthplace. Since Gates, who is worth $90.54 billion, was born in Seattle, he wins top billing in the Evergreen State, while Albuquerque-born Bezos's $116.57 billion fortune puts New Mexico on the map.

The richest woman is South Carolina's Anita Zucker ($3.83 billion), the CEO of InterTech Group, a private, family-owned chemicals manufacturer based in Charleston. Clocking in at number 50 is the late, great socialite Brooke Astor—who, though a legend of the New York City social scene, was a native of New Hampshire—with $150 million.

[h/t Digg]

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Gergely Dudás - Dudolf, Facebook
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There’s a Ghost Hiding in This Illustration—Can You Find It?
Gergely Dudás - Dudolf, Facebook
Gergely Dudás - Dudolf, Facebook

A hidden image illustration by Gergely Dudás, a.k.a. Dudolf
Gergely Dudás - Dudolf, Facebook

Gergely Dudás is at it again. The Hungarian illustrator, who is known to his fans as “Dudolf,” has spent the past several years delighting the internet with his hidden image illustrations, going back to the time he hid a single panda bear in a sea of snowmen in 2015. In the years since, he has played optical tricks with a variety of other figures, including sheep and Santa Claus and hearts and snails. For his latest brainteaser, which he posted to both his Facebook page and his blog, Dudolf is asking fans to find a pet ghost named Sheet in a field of white bunny rabbits.

As we’ve learned from his past creations, what makes this hidden image difficult to find is that it looks so similar to the objects surrounding it that our brains just sort of group it in as being “the same.” So you’d better concentrate.

If you’ve scanned the landscape again and again and can’t find Sheet to save your life, go ahead and click here to see where he’s hiding.

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