The horrible experiences that enslaved Africans endured while laboring on plantations in the Americas and other parts of the world are brought to memory by the disturbing history of the slave trade. For ages, Africans have been seized and chained, forced into ships, and transported to new regions against their will. Some people perished en route to their new homes. It was the beginning of numerous hours of work on enormous plantations with little food and the constant reminder of their status as property for those who survived.
Enslaved men and women were not legal persons who could enter into contracts, including marriage, because they were considered property. Children essentially became the slave owner’s property, hence they had little choice in terms of family or marriage. Slave-owners are well-known for fathering children with their slaves, and some even urged marriage to safeguard their slaves’ investment. Slave owners were no longer allowed to import enslaved Africans who would work as skilled laborers on plantations or on public projects after Congress abolished the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808. As a result, many slave owners began compelling enslaved men like Charles McGruder to reproduce.
McGruder was “basically farmed out to move from plantation to plantation breeding with other African women,” according to Marie McGruder, McGruder’s great-great-granddaughter. McGruder was “surviving himself,” Marie said, much as the enslaved African women her great-great-grandfather was connected with had no choice in marriage or family. Other descendants of McGruder shared his story with ABC News this month in the hopes of finding each other. Marie, who now runs the family farm, is one of them. They believe McGruder is the “patriarch” of most Black individuals with the surname McGruder in Alabama.
J.R. Rothstein claims that his great-great-great-grandfather had up to 100 offspring, however, records indicate that he had at least 40. He claimed that each of McGruder’s offspring had their own children, a total of roughly a dozen, who in turn produced a total of a dozen more. According to the family, many Black individuals in Alabama with the surname McGruder may trace their lineage back to McGruder.
Lucille Burden Osborne, 95, said she heard stories about her great-grandfather, McGruder while growing up in a house with family members who had survived slavery. “Obviously, old man Charles McGruder was a significant figure in the community because we would hear his name a lot,” Osborne said ABC News. “However, no one seemed to want to talk about how Charles fit into that slave scenario, and everyone tended to talk about Charles in whispers.”
“So this is what stands out in my mind — that he must have been the big daddy… because he was considered a [slave] breeder during his early years.”
McGruder was born a slave in North Carolina in 1822 and was freed after the Civil War. He bought land near Sawyerville, in Hale County, in 1877 after years of sharecropping, and some of his family still owns it. McGruder also changed the spelling of his surname and that of his family. Magruder, the original spelling of the McGruder surname, was his white owner. McGruder’s family thinks he changed his last name to demonstrate his “independence.” Jill Magruder, a white Magruder descendent, just discovered that the white Magruders and the Black McGruders are related through blood. She’s presently tracing her ancestors.