Daughter of My People
Written By: Leo Lawton
Born and raised by my parents, I knew them well during their lifetimes. I also knew my father’s father, and my mother’s mother. I knew nothing of their ancestors. In my adult years I was curious about my ancestry, but like so many others I was far too busy living to research dead kin.
Then came a time I was forced into retirement. It seemed like a good time to start family research. In genealogical studies you are always working backward, a generation at a time, so a step forward is a step backward in time. I researched my paternal line far more than any other. I found my grandfather’s father was at various times a farmer, a carpenter, a grocer, and at one time an undertaker. I continued to locate fathers of the previous father all the way back to Richard, born about the year 1500 A.D.
In the course of my research I found many Lawtons whom I did not know my connection to, so I kept what information I found on them for future use. Things snowballed until today I have well over 40,000 relatives in a computer database. Each one has a story to tell if only I am able to learn it and tell it for them.
On the surface in the antebellum deep south a liaison between a slave owner and one of his charges was a deep taboo not far removed from bestiality. Yet, what a plantation owner said in the daytime was often far removed from his actions in the dark of night. Jennie Grant was the offspring created from such a dalliance. The truth be known, Jennie’s surname should have been Lawton, and with little doubt she was a half sister to a large family of that name, but she was raised in the obscurity of the Grant name within the slave quarters of a plantation.
James Kilgo wrote a book titled Daughter of My People which was published in 1998. Although written as a novel it is in reality almost entirely factual albeit with fictitious names. When I discovered a copy of this book a few years ago I began reading with the full knowledge that wherever the name Creighton appeared in the book, actually the name Lawton should be inserted, and further wherever one found the name Bonner it should be read as Maner.
The story, in part, is about the intricate, unacceptable in the time and place, relationship of the mulatto Jennie with her half cousin Hart Maner, the white son of a nearby plantation owner. The tale takes many twists and turns before coming to a conclusion with a murder and a suicide. I found the book fascinating, while from a genealogical point of view I wanted to know more about the actual participants.
Searching for facts about Jennie’s roots, as most African Americans searching for roots can tell you, was somewhere between a difficult to nearly an impossible task. As slaves were considered property, rather than people, they were not listed on regular census reports prior to 1870, immediately following the Civil War. However few people leave this world without a trace, and Jennie’s genealogical story is out there if one searches long enough and hard enough for the facts.
In the meantime it’s a good enough novel, and worth reading.