Antiques & the Marginalized & a Man Named Silas
Two days ago I posted about antiques and how they relate to memory and the marginalized. I believe that the discussion that followed is proof of the power of antiques, for better or worse, in preserving memory.
Specifically I wrote about two men, named Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler, who were pictured together on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow in a tintype dating back to the Civil War. The post led to an even deeper conversation with Silas Chandler’s great-granddaughter Myra Chandler Sampson. With her permission, I’d like to share some of that conversation here.
Ms. Sampson was quick to point out to me the difference between a Confederate soldier and Confederate slave. Of course, there are examples of black Confederate soldiers (freed men who fought for the South), but according to most of his family, Silas Chandler was a slave and not a soldier during the war.
About the medal of honor discussed on PBS: It was actually “an iron cross and confederate flag that was placed on Silas’ grave on September 17, 1994, by the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.” While some family members did attend and participate in this event, others signed a petition asking that the symbol be removed, as it was considered an insult and affront to Silas Chandler’s memory.
According to his son, George W. Chandler, Silas Chandler was not “given” his freedom but instead bought it through pennies saved up and hidden. Records from the Chancery Clerk’s office in West Point, Mississippi, indicate that Silas and his wife Lucy purchased some land and paid off their debt prior to the due date.
Ms. Sampson also noted that her grandfather, the same George W. Chandler mentioned above, was “listed on the Mississippi Sovereign Commission as one of the Negroes to keep an eye on to keep him in his place.” She added that one of the white Chandlers was on this commission.
Many descendants of both families lived, and continue to live, in West Point, Mississippi. So it would be a gross overstatement to say that the two families were recently reunited after “losing touch” for three generations.
Interestingly, according to the information I have so far on this story and as suggested by PBS, Andrew Chandler’s descendants own the tintype, and I can tell of no discussion about sharing it’s value with Silas Chandler’s family, even though it is Silas Chandler who gives the tintype any value whatsoever.
And while Silas Chandler’s true story as it has been told to me might not be as convenient or attractive to the Confederate cause, it is likely a more accurate and complete picture of what life was like for a Southern slave during the Civil War. Regardless, you may find more details of the other side of the story here.
I thank the Chandler family for letting me into their history for a moment, and for giving all of us a better sense of this man’s life.
How has history been changed for you, or for the culture around you?
Changing history, even in tiny ways, seems very dangerous to me, because it also changes collective memory. And when no one remembers correctly, we don’t have any truths left for which to fight.
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