Ancestors of James White of Alabama and California - family lore

By Travis Hardin, last revised January 2018

A Long Oral History

My mother Theoria White Hardin, who got me interested in genealogy, passed on to me what she remembered from her conversations with her uncle Melvin White. This is what I call family lore or oral history. Melvin's father was James White, born of a light-skinned slave woman Mary Adams.Jame's mother mentioned an ancestor called Fasue, which could be Mary herself or her ancestor. Much of the passed-down lore has proved to have a core of truth, such as the Turkish attack on the ship. The legend passed down, which Jim White's parents used to talk about around the living room fire at night, is that "they" were sailing the Atlantic from England to the United States when off the coast of Ireland their ship was attacked by "the Turks." Their masts were shot down by the Turks, and the ship drifted two weeks before rescue. It seems relevant that the ship that carried the English carriagemaker John Bale and family from Liverpool to Boston arrived on 15 October 1817, several weeks late, with two rigged masts: a foremast and a main mast.

Here's a version of the oral history emailed to me 25 March 1998 by first cousin Larry Dixon, who has talked directly with Uncle Melvin White (son of Jim White and grandson of Mary Adams White):
William (he means Jim) White was humpbacked and had a head of black hair. Melvin would tell about his parents talking about the Turks shooting the sail off the boat they came over here in and how they drifted for two weeks before they were rescued.William White's father (he means Jim White's adoptive father William) went to get a stick of firewood and didn't come back. Did he have a belly full of it or did he get knocked in the head.

In summary, there are three main oral stories: (1) The Turks attacked a ship crossing to America. (2) Remember a woman named Fasue. and (3) William White went out for firewood one night and was never seen again. Additional memories: Relative Barbara Dugan of Oregon in 2013 remembered hearing that (4) Jim's mother said she lived in a big house. Connor White told me on 20 May 2011 that (5) Jim White was adopted. (6) Several relatives say Jim White had a humped back due to being dropped as a baby. Each fragment can be shown to correspond to a historic reality clarified to some degree on this site.

The evidence is unambiguous that our ancestor was a slave. Chances are John Bale's family brought no servants. It is more likely John Bale purchased slaves about 1833 in Greenville, SC, inclue Fasue, the mother of Mary, then under 17. 

Mary White's accounts of the Atlantic crossing was vicarious -- a memory of John Bale's repeated telling of the story. John Bale was 22 when he crossed and probably retained a strong memory of nearly losing his life.

A second story was about a valuable memory Mary wanted not to be forgotten -- Her mother's African connection. It was made clear to me by my mother that Fasue was our ancestor and that the name was to be remembered.

The name could also be a place. "Faso" means "fatherland" in Jula (Dyula, Dioula), which is a Mande language spoken in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali. "Burkino Faso" is thus meant to be understood as "Land of upright people" or "Land of honest people" (en.Wikipedia, "Burkina Faso," "Dyula language" accessed 10 Jan 2013).

From the 1817 Liverpool-to-Boston Atlantic crossing to the time you are reading this has been 200 years of oral history. Only since 1999 have I written it down. From Mary Adams White's mother to my generation has been five generations. Add two more generations before Mary to find an ancestor who was close to fully African. That seems to me to be an extraordinarily long time to maintain an oral history -- one that turned out to be essentially true. Keep in mind that the oral stories passed down in our White family turned out to be a much-retold Bale story. The story of a woman named Fasue was a different memory entirely, one that very likely came from Mary's own mother. My best guess of the meaning of the word is Faso, West African Djule for "The people." The word exists in the West African country name "Burkino Faso."

Who or what Fasue is may never be determined with more certainty, but look at the odds against the tidbit of knowledge surviving: To pass down an African slave's name or ethnic origin five generation into the future, even as society discouraged such curiousity at every turn, is an extremely rare accomplishment deserving its own "Roots" mini-series. Whoever Mary's mother was, we can learn her human family, or genotype, by locating a woman or the son of a woman in the female line of descent from Josephine Adams (Jim White's sister) and getting a test of her mitochondrial DNA. Josephine Adams is discussed in the narrative DESCENDANTS OF JAMES WHITE.

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