The term “brick” is flaunted over radio airwaves as if it’s a coveted gold medal. The metaphoric expression is connected to drug culture, which sits happily in the front seat for radio listeners across the globe. Bricks, from a historical perspective, created the framework of educational establishments, antebellum style homes, and, of course, the White House.You must be wondering where this is going. Drug culture, the radio, and the White House all in one paragraph? Trust me; it will all make sense at the end.
In 1832, a man by the name of Amos was born to Obrina Talley and Isham Ellis. As a child, cotton and tobacco happily greeted his young hands, understanding the kinship fostered between the two due to the institution of slavery.The profitability of slavery, both historically and in the present, still advances the economy of the United States. During slavery, southern society changed rapidly to meet the needs of slave labor, which was responsible for the growth of its economy. The number of slaves entering the southern states increased due to the rise of King Cotton in the lower south, tobacco in the upper south, while Indigo and Rice dominated the lowcounty.
Amos and his two brothers, Peter and Green, were also enslaved by Guilford Talley on the plantation. When time came for the Talley family to seek a more fruitful outcome from slave labor, they decided to uproot from North Carolina and travel to Middle Tennessee.According to the memoir left by Amos’s daughter, Pearer Flower Talley, 10 families, enslaved and enslavers, traveled together. They confronted extreme weather and wild animals. Their sources of protection included rocks, shotguns, and slingshots. Cabins were built along the way, and fur from slaughtered animals was used for clothing and coverings.
Several died on the trip, the enslaved and enslavers, children and adults. Amos’s Grandfather was one of the fatalities.At night, the enslaved would turn the kettle over to pray and sing. Turning the kettle over helped muzzle the noise so “the old Master could not hear the singing and praying.”When they arrived in Middle Tennessee, circa 1850, Amos became a stalwart in the enslaved community. Amos had roughly 15 kids by two different women. Sarah, an enslaved woman, birthed two of his children by way of slave breeding. The remainder of his children were birthed by his wife, my Great, Great, Great Grandmother Isabella. Isabella was also enslaved, and her heritage included Native American and European decent.
The Civil War began during the mid-1860s, and Amos enlisted for the war, but he was never called up. His brother Green, however, enlisted and fought for the freedom of his enslaved brethren. Unfortunately, Green died in 1864 from battle in Clarksville, TN.My records indicate Amos purchased a tract of land in 1898 for $350.00. As an elder statesman in the community, I imagine he was afforded the ability to get work unavailable to others. What makes this purchase even more fascinating, was the donation of land by Amos to formerly enslaved families to bury their loved ones.
In the summer of 2015, I visited the grave of Amos and other enslaved ancestors for the first time—the completion of my search for “famous Amos.” As part of the journey, I visited the plantation where Amos was enslaved and met ancestors of his enslaver. I connected with multiple family members via ancestry and gedmatch.com as part of my DNA search for relatives linked to Amos. Growing up, my Great Aunt told me how her mother described Amos: a short man who her family made fun of, but they also knew the line they couldn’t cross. She recalled Amos being the “leader in the community.”
Before I left the Talley cemetery, my cousin said, “The house they built is over there in the woods. It’s down close to the hollow near the creek.” A “hollow,” in southern jargon, refers to a deep impression in the earth that usually has higher land on each side.The home was demolished around 2011. After passing through rubbish, multiple spider webs, and weeds, we found the remains of the home. The chimney was the most recognizable part of the home. Walking around the homestead and community of the formerly enslaved elicited an indescribable feeling. There was something special about canvasing the land and marveling at what was once a vibrant community filled with families who were able to survive oppression, marginalization, and inhumane treatment.
Before I walked away I grabbed a few bricks, memorabilia from the remains of the home. As we started the journey back to the truck, my cousin noted, “Those weren’t made by no machine. Naw, those were made by hand.” He was right, no sophisticated machinery existed other than the hands of our ancestors who helped create financial empires for multiple slave owners.
These bricks are the foundation of the home where my ancestors danced, prayed, ate, birthed children, sang, and reminisced about their experiences. These “Bricks by Amos” serve as a monument to kindred spirits. They withstood the test of time, unlike the bricks of popular culture, which will soon be forgotten.