Mat, the main patriarch of the Bransford family, always hoped to start a family of his own some day. He finally met his future wife Parthena and made that dream come true.
Slaves were allowed to have children with other slaves in the 1800s, with the approval of their masters. In the end, the masters had the final say on what would become of the children.
Three out of four of Mat’s children were taken from him and sold without his consent.
Mat and Parthena always hoped to get them back. James Rushling Fowler, Union soldier and abolitionist, sent Mat a letter regarding the loss of his children after visiting Mammoth Cave. The letter said to “… hold on a little bit longer and the war is gonna be over and you will be able to go back to Nashville,” where Mat was once from.
Mat responded back with, “Oh no, Captain. I’ve been here all my life. I was raised up in this cave. I sure couldn’t leave it now.”
The soldier then said, “Well Mat, it also seems that I heard about you losing those children last year. Some say that when you slaves lose your children, it doesn’t seem to bother you they say.”
Mat then said, “ Oh no, Captain. Don’t you believe that. Slaves got feelings just the same as white people and free folks. I’m a man and I’m suppose to bare such things, but my woman… Oh, she laid in pain and despair last year.
“ And when they came and took that last boy and girl, she went running down that road screaming and begging, “Oh captain! Please don’t sell my children!” Oh, she aint never been the same since.
“Now that we getting older and we leased to the Doyle family now. Master Doyle is a pretty good keeper you see. We old now. Not much is expected from us. We got a good house, and plenty of furniture, but if only we could get them children back.”
Jerry said that in recent years they found out that Mat was able to get one of the girls back after slaves were freed. She was 14 years of age with a young baby, but he was able to get her back. To this day, the Bransford family still does not know what became of the other children. Jerry will see individuals in public and wonder if he has ever passed someone that is kin to him and will never know.
The reality is that similar stories to the Bransfords happened to many slaves during the 1800s. Families were torn apart and never heard from again. The idea of knowing that your child or parents are out there somewhere is a feeling that is impossible to replace.