Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress

Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress

Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress

Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress

Excerpt

I first became interested in the life of Cecelia Reynolds, later Cecelia Holmes, still later Cecelia Larrison, when I discovered a collection of letters that Mrs. Frances Thruston Ballard had written to her, an escaped slave living in Canada. Why, I wondered, would an ex–slave mistress write to a former slave?

The collection, found at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville among the papers of the Ballard family, consists of only a handful of letters, five in number. They are all from Fanny (Frances T. Ballard’s nickname) to Cecelia. The letters had been collected by Fanny’s son in the late 1890s. The son, Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston, was one of those obsessive, detail-oriented researchers who populated so many of the nation’s local historical societies in the waning years of the nineteenth century, without the likes of whom so much of the nation’s past would have been lost.

It seemed odd that Cecelia’s side of the correspondence was missing. That would have been the half originally in Fanny’s possession, and as I came to know and appreciate Rogers Clark’s attention to detail, it seemed to me that he would have preserved them if they had existed. I concluded that Fanny most likely had thrown them out, while Cecelia had held on to Fanny’s letters to her for fifty years. Obviously, Fanny’s side of the correspondence had been much more valuable to Cecelia than Cecelia’s had been to Fanny.

Rogers Clark, I think, had wanted to mine the story of his mother’s relationship with Cecelia for his own literary purposes. He wrote a preface to the letters that laid out the backstory of Fanny’s . . .

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