Harlestons in Our Lives


As noted yesterday, my family had a connection to Edward Ball’s black relatives. This is from p. 13 of At Home Inside: A Daughter’s Tribute to Ann Petry. Helen Chisholm’s was Mother’s first cousin. Her parents were Helen James and Frank Chisholm. Mother often thought that Cousin Helen didn’t take care of the incredible heritage that her parents left her.

In the drafts of her fiction and in her journal [Ann Petry] revisited events that had happened weeks or even years before. She might record an incident the day it occurred, but she almost always returned to it a few days later and embellished the narrative. Our cousin Helen Chisholm arrived at our house one day in 1981 with a relative of the artist Edwin Augustus Harleston. Mother wrote that Gussie, Mrs. Edwina Harleston Whitlock, wanted to write a book about him and his art work. “Among other things [she] said that the black Harlestons in and around Charleston were descended from a white Harleston – William Harleston – who never married – and who left his estate to ‘my colored woman Kate, formerly my slave.’ ” [Journal July 1, 1981] The next day Mother wrote, “ ‘My colored woman Kate.’ Incredible! Charleston, 18th century.” Ten days later Mother noted that Mrs. Whitlock was traveling across the country to locate Harleston’s paintings. She came to Saybrook “because Cousin C’s parents had known ‘Teddy’ Harleston. … I can’t remember whether he was best man at their wedding … any way Harleston gave them one of his paintings for a wedding present. Then left some paintings with them.” [Journal July 11, 1981] About a week later Mother addressed whether Mrs. Whitlock should write a book about her trip and in August made notes about the paintings. Mother reminded herself in September to ask Helen if she had heard from Mrs. Whitlock. Almost two years later the subject arose again. “Gussie … Whitlock who came here – not this past summer – but the summer before – to see Cousin C to arrange for the loan of paintings by Harleston – for a travelling exhibit – which was to begin in Detroit – sent a truck to pick up Cousin C’s paintings – belonged to her father and mother – and Cousin C sent 4 of them.” [Journal March 3, 1983]

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