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Priscilla, a Slave

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. investigates the life of a slave known only as Priscilla. As just a young girl, Priscilla was purchased at a slave auction in South Carolina by a rice planter, Elias Ball. She arrived on Ball’s South Carolina rice plantation in 1756, alone, without family. Ball valued children as a long-term investment. He bought six children, none of them older than ten. In a memoir, Ball advised, “Do two things with your money, buy land, and buy young slaves.”

In Priscilla’s time, South Carolina had more black slaves than it did white citizens, but a rice plantation’s setting alone could be deadly.  The swamp ground was covered with snakes. The tropical air was filled with malarial mosquitoes. A third of South Carolina’s slaves died within a year of their arrival. Nearly two-thirds of all children were dead before they turned 16. Priscilla beat the odds, and she and her children would survive.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. meets the fifth great grandson of Elias Ball, Edward Ball, who wrote about his family’s history of slave ownership in the book, “Slaves in the Family.”  Professor Gates and Ball tour the old plantation, discussing Priscilla and early slavery in the United States.

To learn more about Priscilla and her direct descendants living in the United States today, tune in to PBS on October 22, 2013, 8-9 pm ET, for episode one of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Check the local listings on the broadcast schedule.

 

 

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