“Abigail”- Maya Rylke-Friedman
Abigail died in Paris trying to gain her freedom (Jones, 2021). Abigail was a slave to Sarah Livingston, who married John Jay in 1774 (Benton & Peters, 2018). John Jay was one of America’s Founding Fathers, a Governor of New York, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Benton & Peters, 2018). Abigail traveled to France with the Jay family in 1783. John Jay along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams signed the Treaty of Paris, which settled the American Revolutionary War, freeing the United States from Britain. Abby was said to be a very attentive servant, but there are few records of her. Historians and the public have no inclination of what Abby may have looked like, either tall or short, slim or round. Abby went with the Jay family to Paris while they were officially marking America’s independence. While there, Abby had befriended a washerwoman who promised to employ and pay her. One day, Abby left the Jay residence and never returned. Sarah Jay pleaded with Benjamin Franklin for the police to search for her, and Benjamin Franklin’s nephew, Temple Franklin, requested that the police find Abby, though at that time France did not recognize slavery and had no reason to recapture a slave (JEFF HAWKES Staff, 2008). When the police found her, they sent her to La Petite Force, where she stayed there, fell ill, and died (Jones, 2021).
When Abby was thrown into jail she was given the choice of staying in prison or returning to her mistress, Sarah Jay. Abby chose to stay in prison. Why would she choose to stay in jail where conditions were most certainly worse than living with the Jay family? Perhaps because in both senses, she was unfree. Perhaps she rathered dying in prison not as a slave, as opposed to living owned by someone else.
Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, is an African-American woman who journeyed to Paris to discover more of Abigail’s life and legacy. She looked for her grave, but the cemetery where she is possibly buried no longer exists. There is no monument to Abigail in Paris, nor are there many memorials to slavery in general. In the Jardin du Luxembourg, there is a sculpture named Le Cri, l’Écrit (The Cry, the Writing), which has the word “libre” (free) engraved in it and acknowledges France’s role in perpetuating slavery. Each year on May 10, France pays tribute to the enslaved and their struggle for freedom and rights. They honor those who were enslaved as among France’s founders. While this is a positive step for those who were enslaved and discriminated against, it is still long overdue for Abigail and the many people like her (Jones, 2021).
Slavery and Racism
Though John Jay was the owner of many slaves like Abigail, he was also said to be a fierce advocate for abolition and justice. Horace Greeley, a journalist, reported in 1854 that “to Chief Justice Jay may be attributed, more than to any other man, the abolition of Negro bondage in this state” (Benton & Peters, 2018). However, can a slaveholder such as John Jay be a genuine advocate for abolition? It seems to be highly paradoxical. Jay was one of the founders of the New York Manumission Society and wrote in their founding document, “it is our duty, therefore, both as free citizens and Christians, not only to regard with compassion the injustice done to those among us who are held as slaves, but to endeavor by lawful ways and means to enable them to share equally with us, in that civil and religious liberty with which an indulgent Providence has blessed these States, and to which those, our brethren are, by nature, as much entitled as ourselves” (Benton & Peters, 2018). How can a man who seemed to be against slavery and for freedom and abolition be such a hypocrite and not only own slaves, but imprison and punish them? Could that just have been the times?
The French slave trade was the third largest behind the Portuguese and the British (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2022). The French took about 1,318,000 Africans as slaves during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The French sent most of their slaves to Caribbean colonies (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2022).
France formally abolished slavery in 1794 (Collins, 2020). Saint-Domingue, a French colony in the Caribbean, received many slaves and had a large plantation economy. Toussaint Louverture was enslaved on a sugar plantation but was later emancipated. He led a slave revolt and defeated the French, Spanish and British. Louverture authored an abolitionist constitution for Saint-Domingue stating that “here, all men are born, live, and die free and French.” He emphasized French identity for Haitians. Some hold Loverture and Haitian revolutionaries as some of the ultimate Lumières who took ideals of “liberté, égalité, and fraternité further than their European contemporaries were willing or able to, and envisioning, with racial equality” (Collins, 2020). Additionally, Toussaint Louverture “embodied the ideals of the French Revolution and, then, the Haitian Revolution, which inspired the modern anti-colonial movement all over the world, France has not seen him and his fight as indispensable elements of its national narrative” (Collins, 2020).
Napoleon Bonaparte later overpowered Louverture and reinstated slavery in Haiti, however, Haitians rose up and established Haiti as the world’s first free Black republic (Collins, 2020). In 1825 France imposed a massive debt on Haiti to pay because of the war damages and to compensate former slaveholders. How does this act encapsulate the ideals of the French Revolution? Would not Frenchmen have these ideas fresh in their minds and not punish another country for gaining independence of their own?
France and the United States are uncomfortably bound together in the brutality of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many French officials are eager to glorify their struggle for human rights, yet they ignore the history of slavery. While the American and French Revolutions were idealistic movements regarding human rights expansion, they overlooked so many groups of people. Much of Europe and America’s history is whitewashed, failing to mention slavery and the struggles of people of color (Jones, 2021).
There are exhibits, monuments, and plaques dedicated to the memory of the Founding Fathers such as the site of Hôtel d’York, where John Jay, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin finalized the Treaty of Paris. There is a museum in Paris that had a detailed exhibit dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, with no mention of Abigail. Researcher, Amanda Kemp, flew to Paris, advocating for the exhibit to convey the whole picture: the great, historic accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, but also the struggles of countless slaves. Kemp wanted to pay homage to Abby and her fight for freedom. Since Abby was not included in the exhibit, Kemp recited Abby’s story to museumgoers on the sidewalk. This was the first time many people heard about Abby and her story. Kemp says that she does not do this simply for scholarly honesty, but also a “desire to heal. The wound of slavery has an ongoing legacy, but we’re stuck because we haven’t fully known our past” (JEFF HAWKES Staff, 2008).
In 2001, French lawmakers passed the Taubira Law, which labeled the slave trade and slavery as “crimes against humanity” and mandated that school curriculums include it (Collins, 2020). Years after the law was passed, France’s education system saw major progress in updating its historiography, training educators, and revising textbooks. However, these reforms faced opposition as seen in 2005 when the French legislature required schools to emphasize the “positive role” of colonialism. This measure was later rescinded. In 2006, Former President Jacques Chirac instituted an annual commemoration of slavery. He also had a nonbinding suggestion for lycée, French secondary school, to teach about Haitian independence, which while a positive suggestion, is not as effective as mandating it. However, Chirac gave a speech “invoking Louverture alongside such figures of resistance as Solitude, Cimendef, and Dimitile. ‘Too few French people know these names, … However, they are part of the history of France’” (Collins, 2020). Jean-Marc Ayrault, a former Prime Minister of France, said, “when we discuss the history of slavery, we get the impression that we should almost apologize for talking about it” (Collins, 2020). This climate of slavery being a taboo subject is destructive and detrimental to healing the wounds of it and the discrimination that continues. Marc Lienafa, a teacher of history and geography at a vocational high school near Caen believes that “to put a veil on this colonial history is to nourish resentments and to encourage people to withdraw into identity” (Collins, 2020).
Paris lacks sufficient memorials to slavery. Former French President, François Hollande, said that “France has a memory of abolition, but not of slavery” (McAuley, 2016). France still has many institutional links to slavery. This lack of acknowledgment has created a great amount of resentment among French-Africans because there is a larger presence of Holocaust remembrance than slavery (McAuley, 2016).
Former President Hollande stated, “When it comes to slavery, we don’t teach the same history to all the children of France,” (Collins, 2020). An average French pupil completes his/her high-school education without learning much about France’s history of slave-holding and the Haitian revolution for independence. This is similar to America’s struggle with coming to terms with its slaveholding past and teaching about it in schools.
The governor of Florida, Ronald DeSantis, has been pushing legislation that prohibits the discussion of “sensitive” topics such as racism and sexual orientation. Many people across America have been debating whether or not public schools should include lessons about Critical Race Theory (CRT). However, many individuals have no idea what CRT is. Many parents think that CRT is teaching white children to hate the fact they are white and to hate America. However, this is most definitely not true, and there are vast amounts of misinformation circulating. Critical Race Theory is a graduate-level concept that racism is embedded in legal systems and policies, and not necessarily in individuals (LastWeekTonight, 2022). Thus, grade-school children will not be learning CRT, but by banning this concept, students and teachers will not be able to confront and speak honestly about America’s racist history and how that has continued to affect individuals today. Advocates for CRT want America to be the equal and harmonious society it has been idealized to be. Some believe that CRT is going to dismantle the United States Constitution and patriotism.
Voucher schools trace back to Brown v. Board of Education when schools were becoming desegregated, and white families wanted to move their children to segregated schools. Florida has tax revenue that goes towards these voucher schools (LastWeekTonight, 2022). These schools typically offer a sanitized version of United States History. For instance, there was a history textbook entitled America: Land I Love which downplayed the horrors of slavery (LastWeekTonight, 2022). DeSantis has been advocating for the Stop Woke Act, which would prohibit discussion that may make students feel uncomfortable, guilty, or anguish because of their race or sex in public schools, which essentially means students cannot discuss slavery and racism because that can make white children uncomfortable. The Stop Woke Act would give parents the right to sue if their child is being taught CRT. However, we should not ban these conversations. We should learn how to have them better. Jean-Marc Ayrault warns, “when we evade these questions, when we hide them, when we forget them, there’s a risk that they resurge…If we try to cover up this history, it comes back and it often comes back in a more violent manner” (Collins, 2020).
My Connection to This Subject
Many individuals including myself think of the white people that made France what it is, but there are countless people of color whose stories have not been widely shared that have molded France. After learning about Abigail’s life, it is saddening that she does not have a last name, and if she did, it would be that of her slave owners. I do not want Abigail to just be defined as a slave because I am sure that she and many others like her would like to be remembered for their inner complexities as well as their collective struggle for freedom.
Because of Abigail’s life and strife for freedom, and many others like her, individuals cannot own others as their property. She demonstrated that people of color, females of color, and everyone, in general, deserve to have their autonomy, opportunities, and the right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Race and slavery have been sensitive topics for years, but the opposition to talking about such subjects is severely detrimental. Children and adults alike should have exposure to honest conversations about the reality of slavery, racism, and colonialism. Otherwise, stories like Abigail’s will be brushed over, ignored, and forgotten about.
America: Land I Love Digital Textbook. (2019). Abeka. https://www.abeka.com/ABekaOnline/BookDescription.aspx?sbn=302945&childSbn=314498
Benton, N., & Peters, J. (2018). Slavery and the Extended Family of John Jay – New York Slavery Records Index. Archive.org. https://web.archive.org/web/20211124230037/https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/slavery-and-the-extended-family-of-john-jay/
Collins, L. (2020, December 3). The Haitian Revolution and the Hole in French High-School History. The New Yorker; The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-haitian-revolution-and-the-hole-in-french-high-school-history
Episode 055: Robb Haberman, John Jay: Forgotten Founder. (2015, November 10). Ben Franklin’s World. https://benfranklinsworld.com/episode-055-robb-haberman-john-jay-forgotten-founder/
Flickr. (2022, April 25). Flickr; Fabrice HYBER – Le cri, l’écrit | Paris – Jardin du Luxembou… | Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thierry-clouet/8249461385/in/set-72157632181869141/
JEFF HAWKES Staff. (2008, April 15). A life hidden in shadows of slavery, revealed. LancasterOnline. https://lancasteronline.com/opinion/a-life-hidden-in-shadows-of-slavery-revealed/article_2de50804-aae9-55c0-9749-e7f6143c5b67.html
Jones, M. (2021, November 23). Enslaved to a Founding Father, She Sought Freedom in France. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/23/travel/john-jay-paris-abigail-slavery.html
LastWeekTonight. (2022). Critical Race Theory: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EICp1vGlh_U
McAuley, J. (2016, May 28). France confronts slavery, a demon of its past. Washington Post; The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/france-confronts-slavery-a-demon-of-its-past/2016/05/28/0bf61b3e-2128-11e6-b944-52f7b1793dae_story.html
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. (2022). French Slave Trade | Slavery and Remembrance. Slaveryandremembrance.org. http://slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0097
1000Museums. (2020, November 24). Portrait of Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803). 1000Museums. https://www.1000museums.com/shop/art/giradin-portrait-of-toussaint-louverture-1743-1803/
Maya Rylke-Friedman is a sophomore at Florida International University. She is studying Social Work and International Relations. With a passion for advocacy, she hopes to work for various non-profits and the government to achieve her vision of universal basic needs coverage. She seeks to implement policies that foster happy, productive, affordable, and sustainable communities. As a hobby, she loves film and making some of her own. Perhaps one day she will combine both passions to document the process of establishing and living in sustainable communities as climate change becomes an ever-increasing crisis.
Maya Rylke-Friedman: Deering as Text 2022
“Let Them Rest in Peace” by Maya Rylke-Friedman of FIU at the Deering Estate on January 28, 2022.
A Historical Conservatory
The Deering Estate is a beautiful place with rich history and respect for nature. Visiting this place was enlightening, as I had not known that much about it at all. It was interesting to see that the Deering family had such a large influence on Miami from the 1920s to now. This family was white and wealthy, made rich by the industrial revolution and machinery manufacturing business. Both James Deering and Charles Deering were highly educated. Charles Deering had estates in France and Spain, and he knew both French and Spanish. Deering wanted to recreate the villas he had in Europe in Miami due to his inability to safely travel to Europe because of World War I.
During my visit to the Deering Estate, Professor Bailly highlighted a theme that is deeply rooted in the history of the Deering Estate: erasing the people who lived and worked on that site. Archeologists found the oldest human remains in all of Southeast Florida there at the Deering Estate. These were prehistoric people from 10,000 years ago, who have no name from historians. Then, still, hundreds of years ago, an indigenous tribe called the Tequesta lived in what is now Miami-Dade county.
The Deering Estate was built during a period of intense racial segregation. Most of the workers who built the Deering Estate were black Bahamians, and the working conditions were abysmal. Five Bahamian workers died in a dynamite explosion while trying to blow out the water basin that leads to Biscayne Bay. The deaths of these men have no memorial at the estate. While slavery was illegal at that time, the policies of segregation kept much of the abuse and poor working conditions very much alive. It seems that most of Miami was built on exploitation for the white and wealthy to enjoy.
The Tequesta and other tribes would walk along old Cutler road, which is located on the Deering Estate, to trade and travel. They would drink from the freshwater mangrove forests and care for the land. This tribe along with others had vibrant communities in not just the Miami area, but all throughout America, and they should not be erased or forgotten. Due to American capitalism and development, Americans bulldoze over our geographic ancestors. Conversely, in France, they pride themselves on their geographic ancestors. They recognize and appreciate that the people there before them were the guardians of the same land.
The irony of the Deering Estate is that this highly educated and wealthy white man lived in luxury in Miami, where the town was primarily made up of people of color. Additionally, his home was built on the backs of Bahamians, that have received very little recognition for their labor. Not to mention, they could not enjoy that same type of luxury themselves. While the Deering Estate is a beautiful conservatory mixed with luxury, to me, it is tainted by the erasure of the people who lived on that property first and the people who built the estate.
I Love My Country
I found it compelling that Professor Bailly had to preface that he loved his country, America, before pointing out the injustices that have not been remedied here. It should be justifiable to hold everyone accountable without it being seen as unappreciative or hateful. Many conservatives like to perpetuate the myth that no one lived in America before the English and Spanish colonized it by excluding them from any kind of recognition. Though the Deering Estate is grand and luxurious, it is not representative of Miami.
Nature Remembers Them
In the wood of the Deering Estate lies a massive tree. 450 years ago, the Tequesta lay their dead in a circle and covered them with sand as they could not dig their graves. It is said that this burial led to the birth of this magnificent tree, as the soil had an abundance of nutrients. Their deaths brought beauty and life, and the tree commemorates their souls. Though people come and go, live and die, we should take it upon ourselves to remember them and honor their legacy. Let them rest in peace.
Maya Rylke-Friedman: Vizcaya as Text 2022
“Vizcaya and The Sun King” by Maya Rylke-Friedman of FIU at Vizcaya on February 18, 2022.
The Architecture of Vizcaya
The architecture of a building, estate, or city indicates much about the character of the people who designed them and the people who live there. Though James Deering is of Northern European descent, his estate is in the Mediterranean revival style, incorporating Italian, French, and Spanish influences. It seems perfect that such a villa would exist here, as the Mediterranean climate is similar to the tropical climate of Miami. Like his brother, Charles Deering, James Deering was a nature conservationist. The way the estate sits on the land alongside the brush is intentional as natural curtains, meant to frame the main house. The true front entrance of the estate faces Biscayne Bay, welcoming the ships that would dock there. The flooring in the front entrance and the side room leading to the gardens has intricate flooring with geometric circles that guide your feet and eyes inwards to the courtyard. As architecture has grown modern, there seems to have been a loss of character, of a symbiotic relationship with nature. Typically, the wealthy enjoy natural beauty even in the most artificial of environments, cities, while the poor are pushed out further from it. Not to mention, the poor and non-white would work tirelessly to create these grand structures, just to be unwelcome after completion.
The Sun King
During our tour, family and friends of the bride and groom exited the bus. They passed us by, chanting and celebrating. While taking in the splendor, I could not help but feel guilty, given the history of racial segregation behind Vizcaya. Seeing the bride and groom photographed in the gardens and the whimsical alter surrounded by massive oak trees astonished me. I thought, “I would like that too,” though I think it would feel wrong to celebrate in such a place. However, James Deering would most certainly disagree. Vizcaya was his palace of pleasure. He emphasized leisure, art, and wine. The back entrance of the home is still immensely grand, and a sculpture of Bacchus, the Roman God of ecstasy and wine, stands in the entry. He adopted a carefree lifestyle with a glass of wine in hand and a cigarette in the other, all the while people were suffering outside the palace walls. James Deering thought of himself as an explorer and discoverer of the new world. Not only this, but he almost thought himself a king, a deity as he had “J’ai dit,” engraved in a stained glass window, essentially stating “Let there be Vizcaya.” James Deering seemingly emulated Versailles and King Louis XIV, not just through behavior, but through the rococo features and maze-like gardens of the estate.
Grandeur and the People
I feel that James Deering’s overly-indulgent grandeur would have been better served and more enjoyable if all types of people could have part-taken in it. There has been a longstanding theme of the wealthy not wanting to share any of their wonders, but I believe that one of the parts of achieving an authentic and fulfilling life is through breaking bread with those with backgrounds different from yourself. Aime ton prochain.
Maya Rylke-Friedman: Miami as Text 2022
“Pioneers and the Forgotten” by Maya Rylke-Friedman of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11, 2022.
Miami’s history contains a diversity of people, cultures, and architecture. Julia Tuttle owned land in present-day Miami and forged a deal with Henry Flagler to build a railroad that would connect Miami to the rest of the country. She conceived the initiative to incorporate and develop the areas surrounding the Miami River, making her the first woman to found a city.
Henry Flagler helped incorporate the city of Miami with his railroads and hotels. The men that essentially built Miami were Black laborers, and they could not enjoy the fruits of their creation as Flagler segregated them to “Colored Town”, though the first registered citizen of Miami was a person of color, Silas Austin.
There is the beautiful story of William Wagner’s homestead. Wagner fell in love with Eveline Aimar, a Haitian-Creole immigrant during a time of deep racial bigotry. He settled along the Miami River with his family and established friendships with the Seminoles. Near the relocated homestead, there are former slave quarters turned army barracks called Fort Dallas. Despite the story of Wagner, racial injustice has been a reoccurring theme throughout the pioneer and modern age of Miami history.
Henry Flagler initiated the pollution of the Miami River with waste from the Royal Palm Hotel. The Miami River used to thrive with fresh and clean water, which has since become dark and dirty. Miami has been faced with serious water consequences from not only the river, but also rising sea levels as industries, governments, and people disregard the need to protect our environment.
As various peoples have gained and lost control of Miami, the architecture has morphed. Once a beautiful natural landscape, industrial development brought domineering, phallic buildings. The Government Center, the Miami-Dade Courthouse, and even the Freedom Tower (formerly The Miami News Office) are tall, rectangular structures that I feel reinforce a patriarchal and industrial atmosphere.
A former Tequesta village is now a dog park in Miami. While it is fascinating that their artifacts such as ceramics, home foundations, and tools have been recovered here, there is no plaque to remember them. There is a statue that is supposed to emulate a Tequesta, but it has no mark explaining what it is.
Flagler knowingly destroyed a Tequesta burial mound but is honored in various ways in Miami via statues and street names. Similarly, Miami-Dade County was named after the defeated military commander, Major Francis Langhorne Dade, who led his men into an ambush from the Seminoles. A plaque on the Miami-Dade Courthouse contains offensive language as it frames the ambush as a massacre by the “Indians” and “Negroes”. With that, Miami is still glorifying bigoted men, with no movement to denounce their beliefs, and forgetting those that were here first.
Modern Day People of Miami
Do we remember the women who established modern Miami? Do we remember the people of color who built Miami from the ground up? Do we remember the Tequesta and Seminoles who lived here before us? Do we honor each and every one of their legacies?
If it were not for this class, I am not sure I would know the true history of Miami. I do not think that the people of Miami know it either, and that is partly because the city does not do enough to commemorate the lives of those who made Miami their own. This was not our land, the least we can do is honor those that came before us, and not shut out Miami’s rich history.
Maya Rylke-Friedman: SoBe as Text 2022
“A Vibrant Miami Beach” by Maya Rylke-Friedman of FIU in South Beach on April 1, 2022.
I am fascinated with the architectural character and planning of cities. I find it a shame that the Art Deco style did not continue to be developed, though I know some find it impractical. People can simply make more money by building bigger and taller units, not the quaint 3 story buildings that are characteristic of Miami Beach. But I feel that the walkability, bike-ability, and the balance of nature and city are important characteristics of a good city to take away from Miami Beach. Its Art Deco architecture makes Miami Beach almost more quaint than downtown Miami. I like the simplicity and squareness of Art Deco. Though it is angular, it features fun, round accents. We must thank Barbara Baer, another remarkable woman of Miami history, as she conserved Miami Beach’s historic architecture and saved it from the unremarkable Condo Canyon.
History and Identity
To say that Miami Beach perfectly preserves nature alongside a city environment would be incorrect, however, because Miami Beach developers, one being Carl Fisher, destroyed vital mangrove forests that were naturally located there. Historians stated that Miami Beach was a wasteland, though it most definitely was not. To say this is irresponsible and ignorant because many different types of people lived here including Africans, Afro-Bahamians, The Tequesta, and Seminoles. Jewish people also came to inhabit Miami Beach, but like many of the Africans, Afro-Bahamians, and indigenous population, they too were discriminated against. Homosexuals later came to Miami Beach as well and created a prominent community there.
Respect and Remembrance
After reading, listening, and watching so many stories of hatred and loss for this class, we must acknowledge that so many different groups in Miami and globally have suffered and continue to suffer. We must remember their presence and their struggles, and act against the suffering that is being inflicted upon them.