Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa

Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa

Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa

Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa

Synopsis

A decade before the American Civil War, James Churchwill Vaughan (1828-1893) set out to fulfill his formerly enslaved father's dying wish that he should leave America to start a new life in Africa. Over the next forty years, Vaughan was taken captive, fought in African wars, built and rebuilt a livelihood, and led a revolt against white racism, finally becoming a successful merchant and the founder of a wealthy, educated, and politically active family. Tracing Vaughan's journey from South Carolina to Liberia to several parts of Yorubaland (present-day southwestern Nigeria), Lisa Lindsay documents this "free" man's struggle to find economic and political autonomy in an era when freedom was not clear and unhindered anywhere for people of African descent.

In a tour de force of historical investigation on two continents, Lindsay tells a story of Vaughan's survival, prosperity, and activism against a seemingly endless series of obstacles. By following Vaughan's transatlantic journeys and comparing his experiences to those of his parents, contemporaries, and descendants in Nigeria and South Carolina, Lindsay reveals the expansive reach of slavery, the ambiguities of freedom, and the surprising ways that Africa, rather than America, offered new opportunities for people of African descent.

Excerpt

On a sticky June afternoon in 2002, I stood at the front door of an elegant home not far from the University of Ibadan, waiting to meet a woman whose grandparents, I had recently read, were “an Afro- Cherokee slave of Egba descent in North Carolina and a Benin princess.” I had come to Nigeria on different business, but I was intrigued by the American origins of this well- known local family. A friend helped me locate some of its members, and despite transportation difficulties, side trips, delays, and all of the usual impediments of bad infrastructure and few working telephones, we had actually arrived to find the person we sought, Lande Ejiwunmi, at home. She graciously welcomed us into her sitting room, where I hoped to learn about her family’s history.

Mrs. Ejiwunmi did not relate much herself, although she did put me in contact with two of her cousins, whom I soon visited as well. Curiously, I had the same experience with both of them as I did that day with Mrs. Ejiwunmi: after a nice chat and cup of tea, they asked me to wait while they rummaged through some dark cabinet stuffed with papers. Finally, each of them in turn emerged with a timeworn copy of Ebony magazine—the black American glossy—from 1975. In it was a feature story entitled “The Vaughan Family: A Tale of Two Continents.” This, they each announced, would tell me everything I wanted to know.

Sure enough, the article told a remarkable tale. It began with a man named Scipio Vaughan, a “member of the Egba family of the Yoruba tribe” taken captive and shipped to South (not North) Carolina around 1805. There he became the slave of a Camden planter who gave him his American name. One day a Cherokee woman whom Scipio encountered outside of . . .

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