Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Eneas Africanus

I recently picked up a book at the used bookstore near my job. I know…that’s nothing new for me, but this book was old and the title immediately caught my attention. The title of this book is, Eneas Africanus, by Harry Stillwell Edwards. I said to myself, ‘what kind of animal is this about with a name like Eneas Africanus?’ I flipped through the book and read the dust jacket. I found out that this book is about a man. I immediately became interested enough to purchased the book for $2.00.

Author information:
Favored Southern American author, Harry Stillwell Edwards, first wrote this as a series that ran in the Macon Evening News in Macon, Georgia (of which he was also part owner and co-editor). It was considered his most popular work. As a matter of fact, the series was so popular that it would eventually be published as a book in 1920; it sold over three million copies. Grosset & Dunlap, Inc. republished the edition that I have in 1940 and it became popular all over again in the North.

Now, Eneas Africanus is the story of a “devoted southern darky” named Eneas. Well, his full name was likely Eneas Tommey because Major George E Tommey owned him.

He was the Major’s favorite.He was a “vanishing type” who was true and faithful to his “white folks.” He was good “ol nigger Eneas.”

The year was 1864 and Federal Troops were closing in on Major Tommey’s stock farm and plantation. The major panicked because there was no one around to hide and relocate the family valuables and heirlooms. The troops had all retreated South to Jefferson County without any packages. So, the Major went to his trusted old Negro, Eneas. He gave Eneas specific instructions to take his valuables, Confederate money and a treasured heirlooms to the Tommey Home, located in Jefferson County. Eneas started his journey on a wagon equipped with an old flea bitten mare named, “Lady Chain,” a young pony called “Lightning” and a smile.

Eneas was a “vanishing type” who was true and faithful to his “white folks.”

Well, Eneas did vanish. This relatively short trip took Eneas on a journey that lasted for eight years. He traveled over 3350 miles and made connections with good “white folks” in at least seven states. How did that happen? You see, there were several counties in the south called Jefferson County. Eneas would ask for directions, but his inability to articulate where he was going took him everywhere else but ‘home.’ Eneas continued his journey throughout the South. He told everyone along the way about how wonderful ‘Marse’ Tommey was and how well he treated his slaves. He described a grand Plantation adorned with beautiful Oaks and luxurious fountains. They all felt that he was a lying “black rascal,” but likeable and humble. Somewhere along the journey Eneas was able to make some money from Major Tommey’s young pony. ‘Lightning’ was now a young racehorse and Eneas won races all across the South with him. He was also able to find a young mulatto wife in Alabama who joined him on his journey. They eventually had two children.

Well, It’s now October of 1872. The war is over and the slaves are “free.” Eneas was finally able to reconnect with his Master. They were both elated to see each other! Eneas told Major Tommey about his eight-year journey and all about the money that he made racing the horse. He also told the major all about his new young wife and two children. Naturally, Eneas offered Major Tommey all the money that he won racing and a lifetime of servitude by him and his new family. The Major told him to keep the money, because Eneas along with his wife and children were payment enough.

Eneas Africanus was a “vanishing type” who was true and faithful to his “white folks.” He was last of the good ol’ “southern darkies” or was he?


Stephen A. Bess said...

In response to Eneas Africanus:

It was surprising to me to find out that racist literature like this was still in circulation. I found the book in almost perfect condition at the bookstore. I knew that racist lit existed, but this book was a favorite for over 3 million people that purchased it. I didn't even touch on some of the more racist lines in this book. It was Edward's most popular story and he wrote many. Why did I buy it? It's a classic piece of Americana from our not so distant past.

Stunuh Jay said...

If you hide from history it has a nasty habit of coming back and paying in full when it repeats itself.
So, agreed, the book made me want to take a poker to the writer, but it reminds me that at one point treating someone like a peice of property, if not worse was acceptable. And in recognizing that as vile as the action was it actually occured, ensures that it will not happen again.
Out of all you posts this one really got stuck in my throat.
'I may not agree with what you're saying, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it'...but dammit man, that was harsh!!!!

Bougie Black Boy said...

wow... you never stop amazing me.... imma have to check out that book too

the prisoner's wife said...

hmmm, i always have a problem reading fin de siecle literature. i don't like it. i get stuck. i can't relate. i don't like reading books about slaves (unless they burning down whiteys house!). i know, i know...but i don't like to think of those times. with that said, i'll wait for your review. perhaps i can open my mind a bit.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes, those were acceptable and normal times, but like you I wanted to pop him one. I guess I was just disturb by the number of copies that were sold, but those were different times (well, just a little different). Overall, I just wanted to let readers know what types of popular literature was read in early America. Thanks!

Yes, it was an interesting read. The book was just under 40 pages. Thanks!

I explore the past a great deal in my reading. It really sheds light on so many things that takes place even today in society. For instance, right now I am reading Caribbean Race Relations: A Study of Two Variants. This book was written in 1967 by H Hoetink. It goes into depth about master and slave relations in the Caribbean and the United States. It talks about the treatment of, length of and the affects of the Slave system in these different societies. It also talks about the role of the church (Protestant and Catholic)and the influence that it had on the slave system. Anyway, it helps me to understand people in the black Diaspora and it helps explains the differences in terms of white/black relations. The past definitely helps me to connect to the present. Thank you so much for your honesty and comment.

Stephen A. Bess said...

a xhosa-
The books that you mentioned sound great. I am always searching for links to the past. I would love to see those books from South Africa. I'll bet that they are something. I'm still learning the language so if I come across any I would have my wife read them and translate.
I like the way that you described history as 'malleable.' So true! They'll change/omit anything and everything to discredit our achievements. Yes, the 'darkie' still exist everywhere. They cover every corner of the globe. Thanks for stopping in and welcome!

Friday Dialogue said...

A vanishing type...true on several different levels these days. Excellent info, Bess.

Professor Zero said...

This is fascinating. As are your other recent posts.

P.S. I've added to my Mexican post and I am considering adding more.

Dance_Soul said...

Wow. I need to brush up on my racist lit. I wanna know what "they" really think about us. That way I won't perpetuate any of those stereotypes. Good Post Stephen.

Uaridi said...

The vanishing type suffered from the Stockholm syndrom (can't spell today). That is the only way I can understand him. As for racist lit., sometimes it helps to have such books - so that we do not forget.

Xave said...

hmmmmmm... Well, where do I start? I’m a huge fan of both history and politics. This book is interesting for many reasons, the most important being that it sounds like an anatomy of racism. Racism is not always about hate. Ultimately it’s about the *convenience* of believing that a people group is inferior. But over time a strange thing happens. A new kind of racism emerges; one based on self-loathing. The ghost Major Tommey is still alive and well... in the phyche of many black folk. Isn’t it time for an exorcism?

Stephen A. Bess said...

a pleasure!

I'm glad that you were able to take something from this.

Thanks! I don't think that attitudes have changed a great deal. The media has managed to give us all the bad press that we could imagine. We are feared and despised in ways that I cannot fathom. Stevie Wonder said, "Heaven help us all."

Thank you! It is so important to not forget.

"self loathing" is definitely a result of those centuries of hate and abuse. I agree. An exorcism is definitely in order followed by prayer and education. Thanks for that! Peace~

NML/Natalie said...

Wow! I was caught off guard with this post and the comments have given me a giggle. I think he represented the sort of person who didn't know any better than what he'd had. Man, if that was me he'd never have seen me again, never mind have me offering myself and my family to him, but I guess not only do people have different levels of 'comfort' but he was happy for some very odd reason for his reality. Great post!

Stephen A. Bess said...

There's a great deal of truth in what you said. That was what some people knew as their reality. We forget that slavery was a culture here in America for over 400 years. There were some black people that were very faithful to their master. There were others who prayed for his demise. Thanks for that!

Ananda said...

now this was too deep. thanks for sharing... paz, ananda

Stephen A. Bess said...

No problemo. :)

Yes, I wrote this. Thank you! You're correct. The "good ol' darky" is with us. I have to check myself sometimes to make sure that I'm not one. :)

WCM said...

I'm still in shock and awe about this whole topic. This little book (mine is green with gilt writing on the cover and wearing a bit around the edges) has been in my family for years. I'm from the south, and we are "Tommeys." It's been sort of a family wonder all this time if this story is true or not. We have a couple of "Georges" back there too... but don't know anything about it. I borrowed the book recently from my mother, I wanted to copy something from it and she grilled me saying that it was her "only copy." On a whim I "alibris-ed" it because I wanted to know if there were more copies out there (she had mentioned our family had 3, she had one, her father had one, and her brother had one). I was shocked that there were thousands! And there was one that was published in April of 2007!!

Googling it led to you and your blog. And while I simply cannot escape the fact that it's extremely racist lit, I also can't help but appreciate that it was written in a time where deeds often had clauses in them that prevented the sale of property to an African American person. I'm of course not condoning the premise of slavery or the treatment in that manner of ANY human being (regardless of skin color)... but I agree with some about hiding from history. And I think that if Eneas was real, we have gone beyond the boundaries of oppression by telling his story. If he is real, then he can be remembered and we can all know of his plight. And I believe that's what's important. Not forgetting.

Sax Rohmer said...

Just found your blog...amazingly, when I was in 6th grade in Savannah (this was in about 1980) we read this in class. Don't know why it popped into my head this morning, but I googled it and found your blog. Going to have to find a copy and see how horrified I am reading it today!

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thanks Sax! I found a copy of this book in a used bookstore. After reading, I was both edelighted and digusted. Nevertheless, it's a treasured document

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. I first encountered this extraordinary book in 1971 on the shelves of the library at the private school I attended in Knoxville, Tenn. It took only a few minutes to read, and I was completely dumbfounded by it. Even then, it seemed like a message in a bottle from a completely alien civilization. Plus, it was so saturated with wish-fulfillment and the unrealistic self-image of white southerners. The whole experience was eerie, to put it mildly. The only African-American student at the school at that time was a good friend of mine and I immediately showed it to him. We both stood there slack-jawed as we pondered it. It comes back to me as though it were yesterday. Wow. As a side note, in the 1930s Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill contemplated turning Eneas Africanus into a musical. They approached Paul Robeson of all people about playing the lead, and he explained to Weill and Anderson exactly what it was and why he would never do it, etc., etc. Much of the material they worked up for that stillborn show, including the title song, wound up in "Lost in the Stars," the musical the pair made of "Cry the Beloved Country." Too surreal for me.

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