Historians have long discussed the interracial families of
prominent slave dealers in Richmond, Virginia, and elsewhere, yet,
until now, the story of slave trader Bacon Tait remained untold.
Among the most prominent and wealthy citizens of Richmond, Bacon
Tait embarked upon a striking and unexpected double life: that of a
white slave trader married to a free black woman. In The Secret
Life of Bacon Tait, Hank Trent tells Tait's complete story for the
first time, reconstructing the hidden aspects of his strange and
often paradoxical life through meticulous research in lawsuits,
newspapers, deeds, and other original records. Active and ambitious
in a career notorious even among slave owners for its viciousness,
Bacon Tait nevertheless claimed to be married to a free woman of
color, Courtney Fountain, whose extended family were involved in
the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. As Trent
reveals, Bacon Tait maintained his domestic sphere as a loving
husband and father in a mixed-race family in the North while
running a successful and ruthless slave-trading business in the
South. Though he possessed legal control over thousands of other
black women at different times, Trent argues that Tait remained
loyal to his wife, avoiding the predatory sexual practices of many
slave traders. No less remarkably, Courtney Tait and their four
children received the benefits of Tait's wealth while remaining
close to her family of origin, many of whom spoke out against the
practice of slavery and even fought in the Civil War on the side of
the Union. In a fascinating display of historical detective work,
Trent illuminates the worlds Bacon Tait and his family inhabited,
from the complex partnerships and rivalries among slave traders to
the anxieties surrounding free black populations in Courtney and
Bacon Tait's adopted city of Salem, Massachusetts. Tait's double
life illuminates the complex interplay of control, manipulation,
love, hate, denigration, and respect among interracial families,
all within the larger context of a society that revolved around the
enslavement of black Americans by white traders.
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