Steel Thyself

It’s one thing to learn about the evils of slavery through history books. Too many times these books gloss over and shamefully condense a monstrous epoch into two or three sentences, all of which end with the happy—-and Lincoln freed the slaves.

It is altogether different when you find your own ancestor listed as property for the benefit of someone who in the same odious document champions their own perceived moral superiority. Is this real life?

In December of 2016, I was in a local library, looking through the microfilm. I was looking through the records of Greensville County, Virginia and hoped to find a sliver of information to help me on my search for more details on my maternal line.

Again, I was just hoping for a sliver of information. From that, I would try to search high and low for additional facts. A windfall landed when I came across a deed of trust that listed my ancestor, Emeline, and ten other souls as security for the debts of Greensville County clerk of court, John W. Potts.

Steel thyself…

P.621 Greensville County Deed Book Sept. 23, 1861 Image Courtesy: Library of Virginia Microfilm
Transcription of above deed

What we have here is good old-fashioned evidence. This is evidence of atrocity, plain and simple. Emeline, my verified 4th great-grandmother was born about 1842. In this 1861 dated document, she is listed with 4 children. She’d borne at least 4 children by her 20th birthday and there would be more children to come, including my 3rd great-grandmother, Josephine.

It is known that Emeline’s two children, Sydney and Pattie, carried the Lundy surname. Additionally, they were consistently referred to in census records as “mulatto.” My belief is that Emeline was hired out to John W. Potts’ neighbor, William Turner Lundy, and returned with child on numerous occasions.


This document also crystallizes the desperation of Potts to salvage his “good name,” in terms of running in front of a debt that was steamrolling its way to him. Potts was willing to throw everything short of the kitchen sink to save his name. Never mind that his probable kin through unspeakable acts and her little ones were literally collateral damage. These souls were nothing more than pawns in a failed attempt to thwart the realities of a failed business venture.


This deed and others is evidence of the use of black lives to build wealth. It is quantifiable yet immeasurable in the ways that this debasement reverberates through the ages.

Yet, the original purpose of this deed was Potts anticipating his financial trouble ahead. How ironic and tragic that he could not see nor acknowledge his greatest debt.


The feelings that washed over me then and now when I read that deed of deeds was and is multifaceted. It’s jolting, sobering, angering, justifying, saddening, exciting, mystifying, and so many other things.

I am grateful that for such a time as this, I had the honor of seeing the proof of station of my ancestor, Emeline, and those other brave souls. I don’t type that lightly, they were absolutely brave to survive such a horrid existense. Because they did-we are


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