Slave Girl's Story Revealed Through Rare Records

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Elias Ball II, a wealthy South Carolina rice plantation owner, purchased four boys and two girls for 600 pounds. He estimated their ages and gave each an English name.

The newly named ten-year-old Priscilla was taken to Ball's Comingtee Plantation, where she lived the rest of her life.

Plantation records unearthed by Edward Ball, a descendant of Elias and the author of the recent prize-winning book Slaves in the Family, show that Priscilla eventually married a man named Jeffrey. The two had 10 children, at least four of which reached adulthood. Priscilla died in 1811, leaving 30 grandchildren.

Rhode Island Connection

The remarkable documentation of Priscilla's journey provides a fresh opportunity to examine slavery in the United States. Priscilla's story has fostered a number of public-awareness projects.

In addition to the Sierra Leone celebration and Opala's documentary, Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has developed an extensive Web site about Priscilla's Homecoming.

Meanwhile the New-York Historical Society, which owns the records of the slave ship Hare, is planning a traveling exhibit on Priscilla and the ship's voyage.

Although the onus of slavery in the United States is frequently placed on the South, several Rhode Island groups are using Priscilla's story to educate the public about the role of northern states.

"Newport, Rhode Island, was one of the major ports in colonial times for the industry of African captivity," said Valerie Tutson, director and co-founder of Rhode Island Black Storytellers.

More than 900 ship voyages originating in Newport made the trip to Africa, ultimately delivering an estimated 100,000 people into slavery in the West Indies and North America.

Tutson is also co-director of Project Priscilla, a Rhode Island group seeking to draw attention to Newport's role in the slave trade. She traveled to Sierra Leone with Thomalind Martin Polite. Upon her return from Sierra Leone, Polite planned to travel to Rhode Island as part of the project's on-going educational effort.

After years of lobbying, historical plaques are being placed around Rhode Island as remembrances of the state's role in the North American slave trade. Presentations are being made to schoolchildren, and Brown University, in Providence, recently held a three-day seminar on the subject.

"Slavery is our great wound here in this country. It's ugly, and it hurts," Tutson said. "Priscilla's story allows people to acknowledge the past and also look at what we can do in the present day. This project is allowing a lot of things to come together."

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