Friday, October 21, 2016

Origins of Ashley's Sack

Over the past year, I've been trying to trace the origins of Ashley's Sack, one of the most moving and enigmatic objects on display in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

On loan from Middleton Place Foundation near Charleston, SC, embroidered text on the bag reads:

My great grandmother Rose

mother of Ashley gave her this sack when

she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina

it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of

pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her

It be filled with my Love always

she never saw her again

Ashley is my grandmother

Ruth Middleton


Who, many of us have wondered, were Rose, Ashley, and Ruth?  Where did they live and what can we recover of their lives? What circumstances might have led to the historical sale of nine year old Ashley, and to her grand-daughter Ruth's decision to embroider this long-term family narrative in 1921?

Now, the noted journal  Southern Spaces has published  my research, based on archival and oral historical work in South Carolina and elsewhere:

Please feel free to share your reflections on these findings, in the comment space below.  What are your thoughts on this object, and on the lives of the women chronicled upon it?  It would be fascinating to hear from those who have seen Ashley's Sack at Middleton Place or at the new Smithsonian museum, or to hear from collateral relatives of Rose, Ashley, and Ruth.

Selected comments will be re-posted at the conclusion of the Southern Spaces piece.


  1. Thank you for your work. I have written a picture book about Ashley's Sack now seeking a publisher.
    Tammi Truax
    Eliot, ME

  2. How fascinating, Tammi. I'd love to learn more about your picture book, and sure hope you find a publisher soon! Have you been down to see the object, in its new setting in the Smithsonian?

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  4. Do we know if Dorothy Middleton had any descendants? Do they know about the sack? Thank you for this work.

  5. So far as I can tell, Dorothy Helen Middleton Page did not leave any next of kin. (I am not actually sure if "Page" was her married name.) I am working on finding other descendants of Rose and Ashley; families descended in the Clifton line, out of Orangeburg, SC and environs would seem the most likely possibilities. Would be wonderful to connect with them, of course. Thanks for asking!