It happened around the same time that my mother died.
Why is it that we wait too late to be curious about our parents’ past? Is it because they never talk about the things that happened to them, their parents, or their great-grandparents? Many family secrets are taken to the grave this way.
It wasn’t until my mother began to get sick, that I began to wonder about her life, her family’s story of origin.
So I began my research into our family tree. My mother’s branch was easy to trace with her being Native American of Creek and Cherokee descent. The U.S. Government kept meticulous records on who they were allotting land to, which made it easy for them to know who to steal land from. There were many rolls for the Cherokee from Early Settler’s to the Dawes Indian Roll. Although, I have blood ancestors on both Cherokee and Creek rolls, I chose to enroll officially in the Muscogee Creek Nation.
My African-American father’s line was a bit more difficult to trace as genealogists usually hit a brick wall called slavery where records were kept on slaves, yes, but as property. Often, they were only listed by first name, and sometimes just by gender and age. There were no avenues to discover their ancestry beyond that.
Or so I thought.
A couple of weeks after my mother’s death, and after many months of research, I finally found my father’s great-grandmother enumerated on the Dawes Indian Roll. You see, my G-G-grandmother Nancy Shepherd was listed there because during enslavement, she had been owned by Cherokee Indians. That’s her in the picture above, last woman on the right.
That surprising fact gave me pause.
It was the first time I’d ever heard that Indians (and I use that term here because it was used back then) had owned slaves. Why would one oppressed people turn around and oppress another people? This was one tiny part of volumes of African-American history that to this day remains largely untold. It is not taught in schools and is almost never mentioned in books. I thought to myself someone should write a novel about this.
No one had.
So I followed Toni Morrison’s advice to “write the book you want to read.”
Although Seeds of Deception is fiction, the spine of the book is comprised of facts. Such as the way Cherokee Freedmen (the term for former slaves of Cherokee Indians) lived in Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma), the various and sundry rolls Washington D.C. used to count and keep up with Indians, the contentious relationship between the tribe and their former slaves that to this day still exists. Try Googling “Cherokee Freedmen.”
The flesh of the novel, however, is pure fiction, a dark tale from my twisted imagination. As a nod to my forebears, I’ve used some of my ancestor’s real names as characters’ names, i.e., Goliah, Sput Louie, McClendon, and Archie. This is not their story, though, but mine.