Was Mary Ellen Pleasant born a slave in Georgia? The evidence.


Actually, there is no documentation of the sort. The earliest reference to this version of MEP’s birth was in a 1919 book by Delilah Beasley. She did not reference her source directly, but it appears it was from a San Francisco newspaper interview, as many of her other sources were, so maybe it can be found.

If a newspaper article saying MEP was born in Georgia is found, that still does not qualify as documentation. If it is a from an interview she may have participated in, and it directly contradicts the story she gave the Pandex in 1904, in which she said she was born free in Philadelphia; it becomes apparent there was a reason for her to lie about her birth.

Until someone finds the origin of the Born in Georgia story, the words of her own mouth in an easily accessed interview should take precedent. Of course, there is still no documentation, but at least we know she actually gave the born in Philadelphia story out of her own mouth and we do not even have that for the born in Ga. story.

So the logical conclusion is that until MEP is caught lying, she was not born a slave in Georgia, but was born free.

In the Pandex interview, she named a street that did not exist in Philadelphia when she was born, according to Hudson’s research. (Hudson could not find evidence of her father, either) The particular street really doesn’t mean much, as it may have been a faded memory. In this version she claimed to be half black and half Hawaiian. No proof one way or the other on that, but she was mistaken for Queen Emma of Hawaii and some ‘MEP scholars’ still use Queen Emma Pix to portray MEP. Hawaiian scholars are agreed that the younger photos of MEP are actually wearing Queen Emma’s jewelry, so can’t be portraits of MEP at all. I have another article on that. Read it and judge for yourself.

In any case, even in the authentic portrait of her at 86, she doesn’t look particularly black – it is easy to see she could pass for white and apparently did . Or pass for Hawaiian or even Cuban.

The main piece of evidence for Holdredge’s claim she was born in GA came from a recreation of a lost memoir that Charlotte Dennis Downs had possession of for the last 50 years, supposedly dictated to her by MEP in the Octavia St house. Anyway, it was supposedly lost, so Holdredge with the supposed help of Downs “recreated” the memoir, complete with the born in GA version of the story in far more detail than Beasley’s version.  In any case,  Charlotte Dennis Downs was the niece of the guy who wrote the “Queen of the Voodoos” article who, in turn, was in the employ of the woman who kicked MEP out of the Bell house. This is not documentation of the Born in GA story, it is hearsay.

There is no proof that MEP was born in GA and there is good reason to doubt the story, including direct, published quotes from MEP, herself.


Odd Footnote:

There were a lot of Hawaiian Kanakas coming and going from Nantucket on whaling ships MEP’s entire childhood. Moby Dick is a story based from Nantucket and its multi-cultural sailors from all over the world. Moby Dick is a good anthropological survey of a Nantucket whaling boat. MEP probably saw Kanakas whenever a whaling ship came in. Maybe her Kanaka father was part of that scene- or had left it for a career elsewhere -then brought MEP back to Nantucket when her mother died. That is actually a better guess than born in Georgia. It is more probable anyway. Her paper trail begins in Nantucket. Why not trace it backwards from there instead of looking in Georgia because some undocumented news article said so?.



4 thoughts on “Was Mary Ellen Pleasant born a slave in Georgia? The evidence.

  1. Teresa Clingan Bell was an embittered alcoholic, but hey she was white, so the crazy stuff she wrote in her diary lives on. The Bell “family” sued each other over and over again in court, so lots of their dirty laundry hangs out in the public record, mostly battling over the fortune that MEP helped Thomas Bell amass.

    • Edmund Gardner must be the father of the Captain Gardner in the MEP story, Or an uncle or something. Edward Gardner was the same generation as Phebe and MEP. Supposedly, he and Phebe were lost in a storm in the 1870’s. Apparently his vessel was involved in helping Mary Ellen in various ways. I believe Phebe and Edward (If HH isn’t lying) had a correspondence going and he was supposed to be the male in charge of her inheritance from her first husband. It has been speculated that he married JJ and MEP, at sea. Maybe he has a log book or diary, somewhere, or maybe Phebe did.

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