Barbara Cole Williams (1809-1892): An Enslaved and Free Resident of Georgetown

This short essay attempts to sketch out the life of Barbara Cole Williams (1809-1892), who spent at least the first four decades of her life in slavery at Tudor Place in Georgetown. I share what is known of her life and indicate some of the major mysteries and areas of inquiry that remain. Parentage andContinue reading “Barbara Cole Williams (1809-1892): An Enslaved and Free Resident of Georgetown”

Searching for Three Escapees on The Pearl: The Rosier Men in 1848

April 15, 2023 will mark the 175th anniversary of the escape on The Pearl the largest attempted non-violent escape of enslaved people in American history. On April 15, 1848, approximately seventy-seven enslaved people—according to one account “38 men and boys, 26 women and girls, and 13 small children or infants” — boarded the schooner TheContinue reading “Searching for Three Escapees on The Pearl: The Rosier Men in 1848”

The Iliad in Early America: A Wax and Shell Tableau, 1783

I have been fascinated by an object from the dawn of the American Independence period, a wax and shellwork tableau created by Samuel Fraunces as a gift for Martha Custis Washington. Fraunces (1722 or 1723–10 October 1795), a chef and restaurateur who was later household steward to President Washington, established in 1762 the Queen Charlotte’sContinue reading “The Iliad in Early America: A Wax and Shell Tableau, 1783”

City of Life, City of Death: Two Paintings by Berthold Klinghofer

I am fascinated by two paintings created about four decades apart, by the same artist, Berthold Klinghofer (1893-1975), who is a distant cousin of mine through marriage. “Czernowitz Ringplatz” ( 1911) depicts the fabled central square of Czernowitz, the capital of the Bukovinan region (now divided between Romania and Ukraine) on the eve of WorldContinue reading “City of Life, City of Death: Two Paintings by Berthold Klinghofer”

Families of Yetta (Anderson) Epstein and Bessie Labb

Notes (October 2020) by Mark Auslander I have been puzzling over the early life stories of my mother’s mother Yetta (Anderson?) Epstein (c.1894 or 1897-1959) and her sister “Bessie” (March 1885-17 December 1970), whose initial married name was “Masse Lebed,” and who was later known as “Bessie Labb.” Untilly recently, I had been uncertain ofContinue reading “Families of Yetta (Anderson) Epstein and Bessie Labb”

In Search of Venus, an Enslaved Woman at Harvard

by Mark Auslander (1 September 2020) On October 25, 1726, Harvard’s recently appointed President Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth wrote in his diary, “I bought a negro wench (thot to be under 20 years old) of Mr. Bulfinch of Boston, sail-maker. Was to give 85 pounds for her; she came to our house at Cambridge this day,Continue reading “In Search of Venus, an Enslaved Woman at Harvard”

Carved Rockfaces and Indigenous Powers: Pondering Stone Mountain and Mount Rushmore

I have been puzzling over why it is that the two most prominent carved rockfaces in the United States–Georgia’s Stone Mountain and the Black Hills’ Mount Rushmore–which are both subject to considerable renewed controversy at the present moment, are incised upon spaces that were, and are still, held sacred in Native American communities. More isContinue reading “Carved Rockfaces and Indigenous Powers: Pondering Stone Mountain and Mount Rushmore”

Invocation of the Muse: Visual Artists in Mark Titus’ film The Wild

Last night I watched a digital screening of Mark Titus’ stunning new film The Wild, a sequel to his 2014 film The Breach, on the struggle to save southeastern Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine project, which threatens vast environmental damage to the world’s last surviving major salmon fishery. There are many extraordinarily interestingContinue reading “Invocation of the Muse: Visual Artists in Mark Titus’ film The Wild”

Say Their Names: Kadir Nelson

The week of June 22, 2020, sees one of the most brilliant images in the storied history of New Yorker covers, Kadir Nelson’s “Say Their Names.” Within an elongated body of the murdered George Floyd, we behold a host of other people of color, many murdered or martyred, across four centuries of American history. TheContinue reading “Say Their Names: Kadir Nelson”