Good things come to those who wait – even if the payoff comes over a century later.
Just ask Sharon Batiste Gillins, a genealogist and research associate for the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, which operates the Moody Mansion on Broadway.
Gillins was going through boxes of the Moody Family archives to find a photo of Enoch Withers, W.L. Moody Jr.’s longtime valet and driver for Mary Moody Northen, when she discovered another historical treasure.
The chance “find” was a tintype photograph of Uncle Bacchus, an African-American slave and servant to James H. Moody in Virginia. Gillins knew she had stumbled onto something special – and the Smithsonian Institution agreed.
The tintype, miraculously pristine in its original paper portfolio, now sits among the historical artifacts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Officials at the Endowment also donated a slave pass written in the early 1800s that granted Bacchus free passage in the community, as well as other historical documents.
“When I found him I was not looking for him,” Gillins said of Uncle Bacchus. “The tintype was out of place, inside in a box that contained more contemporary photographs of Moody acquaintances and employees. I never would have anticipated finding something from the 1800s in the box I was looking in.”
Gillins and Betty Massey, executive director of the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, contacted the Endowment’s Board of Directors about the find and the green light was given to contact the Smithsonian.
“The Board recognized the historical value of the artifacts and decided to offer the items to the Smithsonian as a way to enhance the understanding of slavery in the United States,” Gillins said.
Uncle Bacchus likely was born in circa 1794, and was in his early teens when he served Jameson Moody in the War of 1812, Gillins said.
She said Bacchus spent most of his life with the family because according to the note that accompanied the tintype, he served as a “body servant” in the War of 1812 with Jameson Moody, and even drove the carriage when Moody eloped with his wife. Bacchus was among a number of slaves that accompanied J. H. Moody and his family to Texas in the early 1850s.
“It is certainly an honor to have been involved in this process and to have access to such an amazing collection,” Gillins said. “A lot of blessings have come out of it and I’m grateful for all of them.”