Southern African-American Women, The Sweat and Soul of our Nation

Thirty years before the Civil War, enslaved young Dena was fighting for survival in Florence Grant, South Carolina with her family. While still controlled by her owners, she would start a family with Joe Washington, who was under the supervision of H.R. Remson on the Wasea plantation. She would have at least five children, some born antebellum, some born after emancipation. Aaron, Betsy, Smart, Joe, and Robert were educated and cared for by Dena, allowing them to survive through Reconstruction and fight against so-to-arrive Jim Crow laws. Dena and Joe, a farm laborer, would live four decades postbellum, caring for their offspring in St Helena area. In nearby Pickney Island, the enslaved Higgins family saw the arrival of baby Hester, born about 1840. Hester and her family would struggle through white control but would find a way to keep hope alive. Hester would meet local Robert Robinson, employed, and presumably enslaved by H. van Holton on the Seaside Plantation. There was also a James Robinson of St. Luke’s, a slave-owner who ran a large farm, who may have controlled both Hester and Robert’s families. Hester began having children, just as Robert was pulled into service for the U.S. Colored Troops 34th Infantry in Beaufort. Fortunately, the Confederacy would lose the war and emancipation would prevail. Hester would set up her growing family—Joseph, Emma, Elizabeth, Dolly, Joseph, Mary, Anna, Wills and John—in Hilton Head, seeking better opportunity for her children and grandchildren. Daughter Mary was born in May of 1870 in Hilton Head, South Carolina, which may be an upscale vacation destination today, but then was a cruel put of agony, suppression, and discrimination. Mary’s father Robert was ironically a Confederate Civil War vet, having been enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops 34th Infantry out of Beaufort County. His undying work ethic would be passed along to his children, including Mary, as they would fight through Reconstruction. Hester and Robert would live to the end of the century and see daughter Mary marry and raise a family with Dena’s son Joe Washington in 1890. Joe Jr. had a basic education growing up in Beaufort and was employed as ‘day laborer’ and Mary was a homemaker, taking care of home, farm, and children. Mary had four children with Joe but may have also had children with a Mr. Dunham prior to marrying Joe. Mary and her family stayed in Beaufort until Joe died in November 1922, buried at Gray’s Hill. After his death, Mary moved her family to Savannah and live out her life there, succumbing in 1939. Born just after abolition and the onset of the ever-burdening Jim Crow lifestyle, Mary would raise her family, pushing onward through tremendously arduous times, coming out stronger than before, handing opportunity to her children and grandchildren!