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Janice Roots: A Descendant of The Weeping Time Discusses her Genealogical Journey Connecting Her to Enslaved and Enslavers

Kiplyn Primus, Janice Roots, and Savannah Mayor Van Johson at the Augusta Avenue historical marker ceremony in 2023. Janice Roots has traced her genealogy to The Weeping Time.
Kiplyn Primus, Janice Roots, and Savannah Mayor Van Johson at the Augusta Avenue historical marker ceremony in 2023. Janice Roots has traced her genealogy to The Weeping Time.

The Weeping Time is a story of America’s history. It is one of the largest documented sales of enslaved humans ever recorded in North America. It starts with Maj Pierce Butler, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a senator from South Carolina who signed the Constitution. His family owned enslaved Africans on two plantations. One was located on St. Simons Island. The other was located on Butler Island. His grandson, Pierce Mease Butler, was a gambler who amassed massive debts. To settle his debts, he decided to sell his inherited property, including enslaved people. He owned half of the enslaved on the Butler Island rice plantation and half on the St. Simons Island cotton plantation. The sale catalog contained the names of 436 to be sold on March 2 - 3, 1859. Enslaved from both plantations were sent to Savannah by boat, carriage, and other modes of transportation. The sale was to take place at Johnson Square, but due to the number of people, it was moved to the Tenn Broeck Racetrack. 2024 marks the 165th anniversary of the sale, and the annual commemoration will take place on Thursday, February 29th, and Sunday, March 3rd, in Savannah and Darien, Georgia. Today, I’m speaking with Janice Roots, who traced her ancestry to enslaved people who were sold during The Weeping Time. Janice Roots, welcome to The Local Take.

I asked Roots how she came to learn about The Weeping Time. She speaks about uncovering the “The Great Slave Auction” after seeing a TikTok from a gentleman who had just started his genealogy journey. She had always been curious about her family history and had visited theNational Archives in metro Atlanta and her family home in Evergreen, Alabama, before things were online and services like Ancestry.com existed. The TicToc post listed other resources and included the link to the “The Great Slave Auction” catalog. Roots explained that while searching that resource, she came across listing #118 for a male named Pompey, his wife #119 Kitty, and his child #120 Pompey. Two other children were listed, including listing #122 Noble. She knew the names Pompey and Kitty from family oral histories. Her mother remembered Pompey as the grandfather who sometimes kept her as a child.

I asked how finding this history impacted her and her extended family. She uncovered family secrets that caused some trauma to family members, including her mother and grandmother. Beyond the names, Roots has a DNA connection to those sold during The Weeping Time. She mentions Elder Griffin Lotson. She has also discovered DNA connections with the Middleton-Rutledge families, political families with signatories to the US Constitution. Roots discovered she is a descendant of the enslaved and the enslavers.

Roots shares that she hopes DNA will continue to show connections between all of us. Her father’s DNA shows a robust connection to George Washington. She thinks that as more of these connections come to life, our society will become more accepting of each other, knowing that our familial bonds outweigh our differences.