The Datcher’s Harpersville farm has a long history dating back to before the Civil War. Throughout American history, it portrays the story of family and Black ownership. The farm’s trees have been there for three centuries. The Datcher family farm museum is a tiny white farmhouse with portraits of family photos adorning the walls, giving honor to the Datcher lineage.
Dr. W.R. Singleton sold the farm to Albert Baker after the Civil War. Albert “Pete” Datcher, 70, is the great-grandson of Baker. Datcher recalls seeing two elderly white women show up at the door in the late 1950s, asking for the descendants of Albert Baker and inquiring if they had the land sold to them by W.R. Singleton. The women screamed when they realized what they’d done.
“That ain’t a nice thing back then,” Datcher explained. The women had only intended to obey their grandfather’s wishes, it turned out.
“On his deathbed, our grandfather had us pledge to come back here and see if Albert Baker’s children had retained the land, and we’ve done that, we’ve finished our job for our granddaddy,” Datcher said the women informed the family.
Pete Datcher currently oversees the 400-acre farm, showing reporters around and pointing out trees that are at least 80 to 100 years old. A well built in the 1880s near the white home was also built by Datcher’s grandpa, who laid the bricks inside while his father built the brick wall that surrounds it. When a corporation used explosives to provide a place to dump its waste, the well went dry in 1992. Around the same time, Datcher made the “most painful decision [he] ever had to make,” which he described as “the most terrible decision [he] ever had to make.”
Washhouses, smokehouses, poultry houses, and barns, as well as a syrup meal, were once located on the property. Datcher’s father was one of the only Black men in the area who owned enough acreage for Blacks to shoot rabbits, therefore it was also where locals gathered to hunt rabbits.
“We grew almost everything in my father’s time. In the county, Daddy was the first Black man to own a combine and a cotton picker “He went on to say.
The family’s origins can be traced back to Maryland. Ruth B. Garrett Datcher, his mother, emphasizes the importance of maintaining the family history and sharing it with visitors to the farm and library groups.
“Many of us have no idea who our ancestors were when they were freed from slavery. We have no idea where they came from, where they went after being enslaved, what they did, or what they achieved… She realized that little is known about Black history; she knew this deep down. She made certain that I knew things that many other children did not. As a result, I’m doing what I’m doing now “Datcher stated.
Initially, much of his family’s history was passed down orally at the family home, where his mother would gather everyone for enormous dinners.
“At this residence, almost everyone has had a meal. I’d guess 300 to 400 different people have eaten here since the 1930s. Field hands, cotton hands – the old ones – people chopping cotton, all ate here as part of the deal. Every day, she prepared lunches for 10 to 20 individuals here “Datcher stated.
In exchange for food, cigarettes, kerosene, wheat, whisky, and moonshine, the Datcher family allowed individuals to work on the farm. His mother prepared meals for the church, sponsored local baseball events, and sold food at a dance hall. The dance hall was converted to a church in the 1940s. The piano that used to play there is now on the Datcher’s porch, where it has remained for 40 years.
Datcher’s father kept meticulous records, including a list of who attended the dance hall and the selling of alcohol on the premises.
“Daddy kept track of who was at the dance hall, and they came up with a bill. He disguised the bill, though, by just writing corn…which meant corn whisky. He kept meticulous records down to the last dime. And I’m trying to figure out if they were picking corn or cutting corn from this record. Why would someone obtain ten cents, twenty-five cents, fifty cents, or a dollar and then mark them out? “Datcher stated.
His response came from a local who grew up picking cotton for his father. He explained to him that his father was known as Red and that he paid more than white farmers, which is how he came to work for him. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was also known as ’50 cent Red,’ due to the price of his whisky.
Datcher was visiting the Shelby County Museum in February 2020 when he came across wills from before slavery was abolished. One of the wills belonged to John Singleton, who was the owner of Albert Baker’s parents and siblings, who were born between 1820 and 1825.
“Their names were written down in the will. I was on the verge of tears because I’d hit the jackpot “Datcher elaborated.
He went on to find more about W.R. Singleton, his great-grandfather Albert Baker, and other members of his family, including his great-grandmother Lucy, who served as a midwife from 1890 to around 1915. Lucy taught Datcher’s grandmother, Rachel, who was born in 1870, the trade. She went to Talladega College and taught at Baker’s Grove, a children’s school that was once an all-Black church. Rachel would next teach Datcher’s aunt Ada how to be a midwife.
From stories about Rachel and Ada taking care of Albert as he grew older, he learnt more and more about his family, fitting things together. They discovered scars on his back while bathing him once, and Lucy explained that they were caused by him being whipped for sneaking off the plantation to meet Lucy while they were both enslaved and living on different estates. They couldn’t marry until after they were free, and census records show they had children a year later.
Datcher also looked into the Alabama Slave Codes, which regulated harsh treatment. He tells his family’s tale in the hopes that others may learn more about their own history, as well as Black history.
“Learn the truth about true enslavement. We weren’t taught Black history in school to the extent that we needed to be. Even until the 1960s, many of our parents in the South didn’t tell us because they couldn’t exhibit equality. Everyone was aware of the situation “Datcher stated.
Despite this, he is happy for his upbringing and for having a family that is committed to their heritage and culture.
“Being raised here has been a blessing. I didn’t have to deal with prejudice as much as some of my friends did “he stated