Hardtimes, cont.

In a July post I began thinking about S.C. slave names with the help of John Inscoe’s 1983 article–“Carolina Slave Names: an Index to Acculturation.” In my work on contraband camp registers I noticed patterns in S.C. names somewhat different from names recorded in camps in other areas of the Occupied South namely the Mississippi Valley. I was especially intrigued by the name Hard Times, which I had come across first in registers on Charleston-area plantations. Now, as I look at registers from Beaufort, S.C. and Otter Island, S.C., I am coming across this interesting name again.

Insco identified as common names that reflect bitterness or pessimism toward the slave’s “lot in life” (547). Inscoe believed that names that appear pessimistic on the surface may, in the West African system, work to counter their apparent meaning. Along this line of reasoning, one named Hardtimes is undoubtedly strengthened by the constant reminder that life under slavery will not be easy.

Today, I have just finished transcribing registers for Otter Island, S.C. for persons entering the camp between December of ’61 through March of ’62. *

In this register, there are five individuals who possess the name Hardtimes. The name is spelled as one word, and rather than being a given name it is a surname in every case. What are we to make of this? We may stand by John Inscoe’s reasoning that this name remains a magical (my word) practice that counters hardship as it acknowledges it. But would it have had the same power as a surname? Were these freedmen and women carrying on the tradition and even elevating it by using it as a family name?

From “Descriptive List of Negro Contraband on Otter Island, S.C., March 31, 1862”

And who were these people? They were, each one of them, bondsmen, women, and children of Mrs. March (Marsh?) as were dozens of others. Indeed, Mrs. March had more former slaves represented among the population than any other.

Among the Hardtimes family are two children, two middle aged men and one woman, who is married to either Lee or Judge. Perhaps one of them is a brother to her or to her husband. If so, the brother too has taken or is given the same surname. One wonders how this family transitioned to freedom with the name, as well as, into the future if its use will survive. A quick search (on Familysearch.org) uncovers fourteen persons with the name in 1870. Sarah of St. Stephens County is the oldest, born in 1790, followed by Bryan Hardtimes, 70, estimated to have been born in 1800. Neither of these, nor the others listed in the 1870 census, appears to be related to those on Otter Island.

And so the plot thickens. How are we to account for widespread use (within S.C.) of the name, both as a given name and as a surname? Is Inscoe correct that it is an example of West African tradition, an intentional holdover even into freedom? I do not know. I’m sure someone does. It occurs to me that this may be a beautiful rare remnant of a pre-slavery cultural practice.

*The International African American Museum provides a full transcription.

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