What happened between or out of or in the holes of the story is the real story. What cannot be filled in with sod or whisked away with dust. Because history is neither the truth as it happened nor necessarily the truth we most want to believe. When I look at the family tree I see so many faceless names skewered on ascending boughs, making whole orchards of molding fruit, a hodgepodge of known or estimated dates, origins, migration patterns. I can imagine these known and unknown ancestors in graveyards reaching out across the oceans—to West African villages where someone was kidnapped venturing too far from the fold or was captured in a battle, a raid, enslaved, sold; to the farms and teeming cities of Western Europe, where a “heretic” fled for religious freedom, or a younger son got dizzy on the rumor of fortune, or men and women left in ones or twos or whole families trickling in on steerage, to escape the farm, the shop, the lord. Most of their stories I do not know—but I see these faceless, often nameless ancestors arriving at a harbor (Charleston? Baltimore? New York?)—free and ecstatic or subdued by the prospect of endless work, the unknown land; or staggering onto a deck with shackles boring bloody welts into their skin, stunned by the sudden light, their languages ricocheting off each other, and when forced to bend to the master tongue, still maintaining some of their posture. In the centuries that follow, occasionally someone leaves a diary full of holes, and you glimpse a personality, a record shaped, curated for “posterity.” History belongs to the victor? Perhaps to the one with the loudest pen. (So forced illiteracy has historical ends.) Mythology grows in the distance between record and memory over several generations so that a farm becomes a sawmill and a slave woman embarks on an unlikely thousand-mile journey (declining a chance at liberty) to visit her master, a Confederate prisoner of war, who promises a great reward.
What I know is this: Sometime before 1746, Benjamin Hubert, a French Huguenot, arrived in the “New World” with his desperation and his faith. But the path from persecuted to persecutor is as narrow as the slave trader’s whip. In his will, recorded in Georgia in 1793, Hubert left his youngest son 100 acres, including a plantation, and “one negro boy named Rob.” By 1798, Benjamin Hubert’s oldest son Matthew owned six slaves. Half a century later, Matthew’s son William was still in Georgia, the owner of a plantation and the fifty-six human beings whose labor supported it. William Hubert’s daughter, Martha, had married J.A.S. Turner, a wealthy Georgian whose family’s plantation, Turnwold, and its slave inhabitants, were the source of the Uncle Remus stories.