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|Toney's passage from Africa to America on a slave ship|
The men and women who settled Natchez country in the late 1700s traveled here from distant places.
The last European governor of Spanish Natchez, Manuel Gayoso, was a passenger on a Spanish vessel that sailed the Atlantic before being blown off course in a hurricane for nine days in the Gulf of Mexico. After arriving in New Orleans, Gayoso was later transported to Natchez in 1789 on a galley propelled against the Mighty Mississippi current by oarsmen.
Many American-born British loyalists first settled Natchez in the 1770s, almost a half century after the Natchez massacred the French and fled westward never to return. These families arrived on flatboats, having followed downstream currents of the Ohio to its confluence with the Mississippi and then southward to Natchez. Some walked through the wilderness from Georgia and the Carolinas with their belongings packed on the backs of horses.
Others, like the New Jersey Settlers who set up roots in present-day Kingston in southern Adams County, sailed from New York down the Atlantic and into the Gulf to Pensacola. From there they followed the coastline and took a route that led them through the Rigolets, Lake Pontchartrain, Pass Manchac, Lake Maurepas, the Amite River, the Iberville River (Bayou Manchac) to its juncture with the Mississippi and up the mighty river and into the Homochitto.
But no journey was more perilous and more deadly than the voyage an African named Toney took to Natchez from his native Africa in the 1750s or 1760s. The fact that he survived the journey and lived a long life while in bondage was remarkable. In the early 1800s, then an old man, Toney was living in a cabin on the Anthony Hutchins family home place when interviewed by William H. Sparks, who later wrote a book called "The Memories of Fifty Years."
Toney often rested on a stool beneath a catalpa tree outside his cabin, located near two large Indian mounds along Second Creek. The mound site parallels Hwy. 61, about nine miles from the city limits south of Natchez, and is three miles east of Ellis Cliffs and the old mouth of St. Catherine's Creek. In the early 1700s Toney first landed there along with the Hutchins family and the other slaves.
Sparks said the white-haired Toney was "very fat," and bore the marks of his tribal home in Africa -- "seams in both cheeks, cut by the knife..." Both Anthony Hutchins and his wife, Anne, had long been dead when Toney was interviewed. As a slave Toney owned nothing, but his land-rich master Anthony Hutchins before his death made provisions with his children that Toney was to live in that cabin for the rest of this life, free of labor, and that the family was to make sure that he had food to eat and clothes to wear.
Toney's route to America began when he was a boy after he was captured by other Africans who sold their captives to English slave traders. Toney, family members and his fellow villagers were shackled and marched by their black captors to the coast where they were placed into the hands of white slave traders. The trans-Atlantic passage to follow was financed by slave-trading companies, which packed their human cargo like sardines in the belly of a slave ship for the journey to America and lifelong bondage.
Toney had lived a rich cultural and social life in Africa, a land of great diversity and artistic achievement. Its tribes had strong family ties where morality and the beauty of life were cherished. In the 15th Century, the African city of Timbuktu in the West African nation of Mali, a crossroads of trade routes, was one of the wealthiest in the world, known for its thriving economy, commerce and scholarship.
Slavery was fueled by the almighty dollar and a vicious cycle of human trafficking began to the New World due to many economic factors, the production of rum being among them. An acre of sugar cane grown in the sugar islands in the Caribbean could ultimately result in the production of 200 gallons of rum. On these islands, slaves tended the fields and produced a by-product of sugar -- molasses -- which was shipped to New England where rum was distilled. The rum was used as currency to buy more slaves in Africa to work more fields in North America to produce more goods. This vicious cycle, known as "triangular trade," was the reason Toney and others were herded like cattle aboard a slave ship and sent to America along a path known as the "middle passage" of the triangle.
In his book, "Atlantic Ocean: The Illustrated History of the Ocean That Changed the World," Martin Sandler wrote that the middle passage for slaves like Toney was "more brutal than can be adequately described. And it was not only physical abuse that they suffered. For most, still in shock from what had happened to them, the psychological damage was equally destructive. Many had never seen a white man, a ship, or the ocean. The emotional damage they suffered as they realized that they were being torn from home, family, native land, indeed everything they cherished, was, for many, as devastating as the suffocating conditions, the corporal punishment, and the lack of adequate food and sanitation, all of which resulted in a horrendous death rate on almost every voyage." By one estimate, one in five Africans put aboard a slave ship died before reaching the New World.
Toney told Sparks that he was purchased on the auction block in Charleston, South Carolina, by Anthony Hutchins' father. Toney said he was a "great big boy" then, about four feet in height, and "big enough to plow."
He may have been 100 years old by the time he died on the Hutchins' place near Natchez. He had survived Indian attacks on the Tennessee River when in route to Natchez from the Carolinas on a flatboat with the Hutchins'. While here, he participated in a Revolutionary War battle at Ellis Cliffs, survived Choctaw Indian raids, and was hung to a tree branch by Spanish soldiers following a local revolt when he refused to tell his captors where Anthony Hutchins was hiding. Anne freed him from the noose and nursed him back to life. Taken to Spanish Pensacola and sold again into slavery, he escaped and walked home through the wilderness after being told that Anne Hutchins and children were alone at their Natchez plantation.
It's no wonder there was a beaten path to Toney's cabin where visitors came often to hear the American stories of this remarkable man. For a long period of time, Alice, a granddaughter of Anthony and Anne Hutchins, went to visit Toney almost daily and brought him a basket of food. One day as she led a visitor on horseback to see Toney she talked:
"Turn there, if you please -- yonder by that lightning-scarred old oak and those top-heavy pecans is his cabin and has been for more than sixty years. Here was the locale of my grandfather's house; here was born my mother; but all the buildings have been gone save Uncle Toney's cabin. Think of the hopes, the aspirations, the blisses, the sorrows, the little world that once was here -- all gone except Uncle Toney. In my childhood I used to come here and go with him to the graves where we have been today, and have sat by them for hours listening to the stories he delights to tell of my grandfather and grandmother, until their appearance seems very familiar to me."
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)
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