I’ve had my head buried in genealogical research today, not looking for anything specific, just randomly picking out any name that falls at the dead end of a branch of the family tree and trying to find a clue to help trace that line back a little farther. I chose this project for today because I’m trying to wean myself away from the political news that has kept me riveted to the television set for weeks on end.
Still, the recent election is very much on my mind, and the historical importance of it captured my attention again today when the cursor on my computer screen trailed across one particular name: John Jude.
John Jude was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side. He was born about 1708 in Powhatan, Virginia, and later lived in nearby Cumberland County. John Jude was a slaveowner.
When a slave named Tom Armstrong ran away, John posted an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette newspaper in which he described Tom as having “a bad scald head” and being “pitted with the smallpox,” telling me Tom Armstrong’s life hadn’t been any picnic prior to his escape.
I learned about this when a Google search directed me to a photo on a University of Virginia website entitled "The Geography of Slavery." It’s a photo of the actual newspaper ad. The site is copyrighted, so I’ve resisted the temptation to capture the photo and post it here. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, click here, then go to the second item on the list and click on the date, October 13, 1768.
It’s been 240 years since John Jude placed that ad, but only a couple of years since I found it. I’ve wondered more than once about what happened to Tom Armstrong. Coming across John Jude’s name today, while part of my mind was still thinking about our first black president-elect, made me hope more than ever that Tom got away.
I’d like to think he lived a long and happy life, with a loving wife and many children. I’d also like to think there are some great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of Tom Armstrong alive today, somewhere far away from Cumberland County, and that they’re as proud of our country as I am at this moment.