History has been described as a patchwork quilt, pieced together by hundreds of hands throughout centuries.
Sometimes, though, according to Anne G’Fellers-Mason, there are holes left in the fabric. And she is working to fill them.
This week, Mason will be attempting to fill one of those missing quilt pieces this Saturday at the Historic Embree House in Telford as she launches a new play “Nancy,” a slave owned by Jonesborough abolitionist Elihu Embree.
Tickets are $12 and proceeds from ticket sales will help fund the educational programs of the Heritage Alliance.
You can purchase tickets through Jonesborough’s online system at jonesborough.com/tickets or by calling the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010. Seating is limited.
“I was always interested to know the story,” Mason said of Nancy. “Embree wrote The Emancipator, but owned slaves until he died. I wanted to know the whole story. I knew about Nancy and her kids from his will.”
The more Mason delved into Embree and Nancy’s past, the more she became intrigued with their lives.
“It was interesting,” she said. “He didn’t practice what he preached. I wanted to know the relationship between Embree and Nancy. It was stuck in my head for a long time.”
The story of Embree had so many levels to unfold.
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Embree’s death, and Mason wanted to bring the play “Nancy” to the stage then. However, the pandemic took over and she was unable to make it happen.
Yet, Mason feels 2021 may actually be a better year for the production as 1821, rather than 1820, is when Nancy’s most complicated moments occurred, and where the mystery surrounding her relationship with Embree increases.
“I was on a quest to see if she was freed. In his will, Embree requested she be freed, but was she?” Mason said. “Nancy and her children were bought by Embree, sold by Embree, and bought back by Embree all over the course of a few years.”
The question is “Why?”
Mason chose Ubunibi- Afia Short to bring the role of Nancy to life, as she felt both ladies had a powerful presence. “Nancy” will be Short’s first history-based play.
“It made me a bit nervous at first, but I realized it’s a story that needs to be told, and I’m honored to have been chosen for it,” she said.
Both director Mason and actress Short felt it was important to share Nancy’s story.
“History is messy y’all!” Mason said. “Nancy was a big part of history. Did she influence Embree to write the paper The Emancipator? He later admits a self-awakening. Nancy had an impact on Embree whether guilt, conscience or something else.”
Short has her own reasoning for what she feels it is important to present Nancy to the world.
“I do a lot of my family’s genealogy and research a lot of the stories of formerly enslaved people or enslaved people are lost because they didn’t have names that are recorded. They were listed as chattel or property,” Short explained. “And we have a name for Nancy and we have a name for her children and we have a glimpse into her life, and it may very well parallel the lives of people who are related to me or chronicle what they went through on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to tell her story.”
When looking for someone to portray the role of Nancy, Mason was grateful to have found Short.
“I was so happy Afia said yes. This is a historical piece, and I am not a person of color. There is always the question of will this be a problem or will the actor be offended,” Mason said. “I tell them they live life more than I do. I would research and search primary sources. The story was written by a white person. Much of what I have is guessing.”
Both director and actress want the audience to take away something from the performance.
“I hope they take away the knowledge that those little ticks or lines they see in the census records under chattel or property, they stand for a person. It stands for a whole life that was lived and could have been lived under completely inhumane conditions,” Short said.
“I want them to search for stories they don’t know. Bring to light complete history and multiple layers,” added Mason. “Stories speak on a human level. It is humanity in all forms.”“Nancy” will be performed at the Historic Embree House in Telford. Three performances will be held on Saturday, June 19, with showings at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., with a discussion to follow each performance. The play is 30-45 minutes and is rated