Mary Ann was a slave on the island of Exuma. She was the property of Henderson Ferguson, who became a Member of the Assembly for Exuma, in 1819.
In March 1819, Henderson Ferguson and his son-in-law or soon to be son-in-law Robert Butler were jointly elected to the House of Assembly for Exuma. Butler married Ferguson’s only child, a daughter, named Frances.
In 1822, Mary Ann was 24 years old. By all indications, she was born into slavery, probably in the Bahama Islands; however Mary Ann’s place of birth could have equally been anywhere in the colonial Caribbean. We can infer this particular detail given Mary Ann’s Creole status on the slave registry of 1822. Slaves were designated either Creole or African. Creole meant you were born outside of Africa. Those designated African, meant that this was their place of birth.
Mary Ann was one of ninety-one slaves owned by Henderson Ferguson, Member of the Assembly, Exuma in 1822.
Henderson Ferguson (born: 1770 South Carolina – died: 1823 Exuma)
Henderson Ferguson was born in 1770 in South Carolina. He was the son of William Ferguson (born in 1734 in Fairfield, South Carolina), and Anna Henderson Ferguson. Henderson Ferguson married Francis McFee Ferguson, the daughter of James and Constance McFee. Frances was born about the year 1780. Henderson and Frances had one daughter, Frances Ferguson. Frances married Robert Butler, son of George Butler.
Henderson Ferguson died aged 53 years in late 1823. He would not get to finish his first seven year term as a Member of the Assembly.
Ferguson probably came to the Bahama Islands during the British Loyalist incursion, after England was defeated in the American Revolutionary War.
After the death of Henderson Ferguson in 1823, his estate and slaves passed to his only daughter Frances Ferguson. In 1836, Frances Ferguson received £1,615 11s 8d from the slavery compensation fund. Ferguson claimed for 137 slaves.
Failed attempt at humanising slaveowners and rationalising slavery in newspaper announcement of Mary Ann’s giving birth to triplets on Exuma plantation
Following the abolition of slavery, there were scattered attempts at humanising slaveowners, while offering various excuses for a bitterly divided past. Such early attempts, at post slavery propaganda, by print news editors of the day, were intended to mitigate any possible ideas of reprisals among former slaves.
We see one such attempt at play, in a rather interesting narrative, which curiously preceded the birth announcement of Mary Ann’s triplets in 1835
For the Bahama colony in particular, the article first rationalises past brutalities, by offering that most stories of cruel treatment towards slaves were ‘exaggerated and distorted’ undoubtedly by abolitionists or other slaves.
It was further claimed that the Bahama colony never wanted slavery. It rationalised the long profitable institution by proffering that slavery was forced upon the colony. They had no choice but to institute it.
We see also attempts to humanise slaveowners, when the article notes that old widow Mrs. Ferguson was travelling from England to possibly help see after the care of these negro triplets born to former slave, now indentured apprentice, Mary Ann. This, in an of itself, sounds utterly preposterous. Widow Ferguson’s husband, Henderson Ferguson, died in 1823. Why on earth would she be travelling to a post-emancipation Exuma, to see after anything, let alone three negro children.
As the short editorial went on, further attempts at rationalisation, took aim at the contentious fact that slaveowners were compensated for the loss of their property. Slaves received nothing. We forget that many slaveowners were vehemently opposed to the meagre settlement value they received. The article sought to repeat propaganda narratives that since slavery was forced upon the colony, former slaveowners should be satisfied with what they would receive.
Grossly ridiculous attempts were made at using slave Mary Ann’s multiple births, as their example, that field labourers received fair treatment. A thoroughly repugnant and misguided contention was made that this field slave had the luxury of three lying in periods, producing six children. It was completely overlooked that these children were chattel. Mary Ann could not own her own children unless she managed to buy them from her master. Her children could be sold off at anytime. Indeed, probably were.
Mary Ann was actually 36 years old, when she gave birth to triplets in February 1835. The date bears significance. Slavery was officially abolished on August 1, 1834. In 1835, Mary Ann would still be an indentured servant or apprentice, on the estate of her long deceased master, Henderson Ferguson. This was decreed for all slaves over a certain age, after emancipation. They were to become apprentices for seven years, to their slaves masters – there was no outright freedom.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser SATURDAY 7th March 1835