June 21st in (Feminist) History

turnersplit-4049On this day in 1883 was the birth of Daisy Turner, an American poet and storyteller known for her oral histories of her family’s history from Africa and England to America. Her father Alec Turner was born into slavery and taught to read (despite it being illegal at the time) by the granddaughter of the plantation owner. Eventually he left the plantation and traveled to Vermont, where he could be a free man, and after serving in the Union Army, he eventually settled in Vermont and married his wife, Sally. Daisy was their ninth child, after their eighth died in infancy; her parents eventually had sixteen children.

Even as a child, Daisy was outspoken; one of the most popular stories about her (which became the subject of a children’s book), took place when she was about eight years old. Her teacher instructed her to carry a black doll and recite a poem about Africa in the school pageant, but instead she recited her own poem, made up on the spot. Her performance won her first prize. Another story involves her at age 16, confronting a man who had cheated her father until she returned with the money owed to him, and later at the age of 44 she brought suit for breach of promise against a white man when he broke off his engagement to her– and won the settlement. She was also known for being a “firecracker” in general, and used to walk around with her shotgun, supposedly enjoying her ability to make being a little uncomfortable.

But she truly became known only when she was in her 100s, and a Vermont historian reached out to her after seeing an article about her in the newspaper. Beck called Daisy on the phone, and after passing her test– “Are you a prejudiced woman?” “I don’t think so…” “Well, come anytime!”– she met Daisy and began to write down all the stories the elderly woman knew about her history. This included the story of her great-grandmother, who was shipwrecked on her honeymoon journey to Africa from England. She was saved by the son of an African chieftain and had a child with him, Alexander. Alexander was captured by a slave trader and brought to New Orleans, purchased by John Gouldin, and taken to a plantation in Virginia. It was here that his son Alec Turner, Daisy’s father, was born.

All of Daisy’s stories were recorded, and eventually formed a children’s book, a documentary film, and then finally a book, Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga. At the age of 104 (the same year she passed away), Daisy was also filmed in a Ken Burn’s historic Civil War series, telling her family stories.

Also on this day…

… in 1734 was the death of Marie-Joseph Angélique (her given slave name, her birth name is not known), a Portuguese-born slave in New France (Canada), who was convicted and hanged for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed much of Old Montreal. However there is no proof she actually set the fire at all, the numerous people who testified against her only said they “thought she did it”. There wasn’t a single witness, nor even a single reason why she might have done it– except that she was black, and a slave, and considered a “troublemaker” because she had tried to escape before.

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