Thursday, February 23, 2017

Raceland of Dinwiddie County


Keeping with the theme of yesterday's post on horse racing, I thought I'd share one of Dinwiddie County's connections to thoroughbred history.

Located along Old Stage Road in east central Dinwiddie County is a historic house called Raceland, which dates back to the mid-eighteenth century and was first known as Rice's Tavern. It operated as public ordinary in the early days of the county's history. Unfortunately, not much is know about its phase as an inn.

The property eventually came into the possession of noted horseman William Wynn. The turfman constructed a racetrack and stables on the property to make it a full service horse racing and breeding operation. 

Wynn had an interesting connection with yesterday's post, William Ransom Johnson. About 1816, Wynn purchased the three year old Timoleon (sired from the famous thoroughbred Sir Archy) from Greensville County breeder Benjamin Jones. For some reason, perhaps in effort to earn a quick profit, Wynn sold Timoleon as a four year old to William Ransom Johnson's brother, Robert R. Johnson. Remorseful, Wynn sought to buy back Timoleon from Johnson ten days later for a thousand dollars more than Johnson paid for the horse. I was not able to find if Wynn was was successful in his repurchase effort, but apparently the two men worked out some kind of a deal, as Timoleon stood stud at both Wynn's and Johnson's stables before finally being sold to Col. David Dancy. Timoleon went on to sire Boston, who in turn sired the famous Kentucky thoroughbred Lexington.

Wynn appears in the 1820 census as owning thirty slaves, a number of whom most assuredly took care of and trained Wynn's equine property. In 1830, Wynn more than doubled his enslaved community, to sixty-five. By 1840 Raceland was owned by William's son, John M. Wynn. That year's census shows the younger Wynn as owning thirty-five slaves. I was not able to determine if John carried on his father's passion for horse racing or not.


The 1850 census lists the forty-four year old John M. Wynn with an assessed value of $12,000 in real estate, and the slave schedules show him owning thirty-eight slaves. He apparently employed a twenty-eight year old man named William B. Stone as an overseer. By 1860, John's slave holdings slightly dropped, to thirty-four. They lived in eight slave houses. John M. Wynn's 1860 real estate value is not noted, but showed $58, 980 in personal property.

In 1883, Moncure Marshall purchased Raceland and it stayed in the Marshall family for many generations. Today, the handsome home sits adjacent to Old Stage Road with few if any reminders of its horse racing past.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

William Ransom Johnson: Napoleon of the Turf


The changing of seasons from winter to spring often brings about two things for me. The first is the quite unpleasant experience of allergies. I've seemed to avoid this nuisance so far this year (as knocks on wood), but normally, with the budding of trees and growth of grass comes the discomfort of a scratchy throat, coughs, congestion, and itchy eyes. The second, and much more pleasurable than the previous, is horse racing season. Having resided in Kentucky for six years (2009-2015), it only seems natural to start thinking of the pounding of hooves on dirt tracks when spring rolls around.

Kentucky inherited more than its political existence from the mother state of Virginia. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the Old Dominion was viewed as the center of the horse racing universe. Many wealthy Virginia planters spent considerable financial and material resources developing their blooded-stock stables and betting on their own and their friend's horses.

Probably the most famous of Virginia's horsemen was William Ransom Johnson. The man who would later become known as the "Napoleon of the Turf" was born in Warren County, North Carolina in 1782. While still a young man in North Carolina, Johnson became a noted horse breeder and politician. Johnson moved to Virginia before 1818 and continued his occupations in his new residence.


Johnson's noted ability to judging horse flesh brought him a prominence few others could attain. Horse racing was probably the favorite sporting event in the United States during his lifetime, and he was indeed the king of the track. Noted horse enthusiasts such as politicians Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay visited Johnson's Virginia stables and sought out his advice on breeding their stock.

Johnson's horse racing orders were carried out by his large enslaved labor force on his Oakland Plantation in southwestern Chesterfield County, about eighteen miles from Petersburg. The 1830 census notes Johnson as owning 71 slaves. In 1840, he owned 65 slaves. Skilled in working with equine, enslaved individuals served as trainers, grooms, jockeys, and farriers, and those less skilled, as stable laborers. Back last August I shared a document from the Virginia Historical Society, which showed the sales of many of Johnson's slaves and other property to cover the turf master's debts in 1845. The auction was handled by Petersburg commission merchant Thomas Branch, and a number of the slaves were purchased by Petersburg slave trader Henry Davis.

Apparently Johnson met his demise while traveling and staying in Mobile, Alabama. It seems he dies of natural causes. His body was brought back to his beloved Oakland Plantation for burial. Johnson's fondness for betting on races and luxurious lifestyle left many debts to be resolved by his relatives.

One of those family relation connections with Johnson was to future Confederates General John Pegram, and his brother Lt. Col William (Willy) Ransom Johnson Pegram. The Pegram brother's mother, Virginia Johnson Pegram, was William Ransom Johnson's daughter; making the turf man the the soldier brothers' maternal grandfather.

Image of William Ransom Johnson courtesy of the NCpedia.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fate's Irony: Sgt. Major George F. Polley, 10th Mass. Infantry


George F. Polley seemed to be living a charmed life as a Civil War soldier as the Petersburg Campaign began. A twenty-one year old young man when he enlisted for three years in June 1861 in Springfield, he landed in Company C of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry. The 1860 census indicates that Polley had worked as an "operative" of some sort before the war in Williamsburg, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. He was listed as owning no real estate or personal property wealth in the census. A regimental history states that Polley was a "silver plater" before the war.

During the war, Polley and the 10th Massachusetts certainly saw their fair share of hard fighting in the Army of the Potomac. The 10th fought in the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days' Battles, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor. He apparently proved to be an effective soldier as he received promotions to corporal (October 1862), sergeant (November 1862), and sergeant major (February 1863). Polley's service records indicate that he did not have to endure time in hospitals suffering from disease and illness as many of this comrades had, nor did he experience time in a prisoner of war camp. When Polley's three year enlistment neared, but the war was not yet over, he promptly reenlisted early as a Veteran Volunteer. In doing so he received a thirty-five day furlough.   

However, as Union forces targeted and then assaulted the Confederate defenses of Petersburg, apparently Polley had some premonition of his fate. After those first days of hard fighting east of the Cockade City (June 15-18), things started to settle into stalemate on that part of line. 

The Union army took advantage of the brief quietness on that front to hang a 23rd USCT soldier named William Johnson (see image below), who had been arrested and convicted for desertion and an "attempt to outrage the person of a young lady at New-Kent Courthouse [Virginia]." The sight selected for the execution was near the Jordan House, which would put it very close to where the Petersburg National Battlefield visitor center stands today.


On the morning of June 20, the gallows stood awaiting its victim when the Confederates opened an artillery barrage. Apparently they thought the Federals were hanging a Southern spy within eyesight of their lines, so they lobed a few projectiles in that direction. One of the shells struck Sgt. Major Polley in the stomach, who was attending the hanging as a witness. Polley died almost instantly.

Just before the tragic incident, the 10th had been notified that it was relived of duties and were awaiting orders to head to City Point. The 10th's 1909 regimental history mentions that Polley took the down time before the execution to amuse himself by self-inscribing a headboard, which included the incomplete death date of "June__, 1864," while chatting for a last time with his comrades whom had not reenlisted and were getting ready to head home to Massachusetts. As mentioned above, Polley had signed up as a veteran volunteer, and unknown to him, a lieutenant's commission was on its way. Polley was soon thereafter struck by the shell that killed him. A comrade searched for the carved headboard to use at Polley's hastily dug grave, but soon learned that Polley had split it up minutes before he was hit to use as fuel to boil his morning coffee. The history says that William Winter from Company F carved Polley a new headboard, which was placed on his grave at the City Point cemetery.  

Polley's undelivered commission was for an officer's promotion to become a first lieutenant in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, which along with the famous 54th Massachusetts, and 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, were the Bay State's African American regiments.

Those soldiers that had reenlisted from the 10th Massachusetts were transferred to the ranks of the 37th Massachusetts Infantry in Edwards's Brigade, Wheaton's Division of the VI Corps. They would fight in the Shenandoah Valley, breakthrough the Confederate defenses at Petersburg on April 2, 1865, battle at Sailor's Creek on April 6, and be present at Appomattox Courthouse for Lee's surrender to Grant on April 9.

George F. Polley image courtesy of American Civil War Research Database.
William Johnson execution image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Volck's "Slaves Concealing their Master" and the Faithful Slave Myth


Adelbert Volck's images continue to intrigue me. His pro-Confederate etchings serve to show us a perspective that was not merely his or Southerners' after thoughts, but one that was wholeheartedly believed by those who held that particular world view. Those who looked to take the slave states out of the Union made no bones about why in their political speeches and writings, and Volck did the same through his drawings.

Volck's image above, "Slaves Concealing their Masters," is a good example of this world view. In it a master hides behind a door to either one of his slaves' dwellings or perhaps more likely the plantation kitchen. The owner holds a pistol, the only portion of him that is visible is the toe of his right shoe under the door. He listens intently standing beside what seems to be a bedstead on the right edge of the image as the Union horsemen outside apparently interrogate a slave woman who points them off. She holds a spoon and wears a head-wrap, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows. The Union cavalrymen outside the building sport long mustaches, which make me think they are to be depicted as foreign, perhaps German immigrant soldiers; another popular and exploited portrayal from Confederate observers.

The dwelling is drawn by Volck as neat and accommodating. It has wood floors, glazed windows (with a roll shade!), a large fireplace with a crane, and simple but ample furniture. A small bag, perhaps for seasoning, hangs by the fireplace and a shelf mantle supports a book of some kind and a candle and candlestick. A picture of a rider on a horse, and perhaps a mirror, adorn the wall by the window. Some type of food, maybe rolls, rest on the table as an enslaved child, who looks unsure of the whole situation pulls close to a male figure cooking at the fireplace. A chair has turned over in the tumult and a dog sniffs at the door. Does the dog belong to the slaves, the owner, or the cavalrymen?

Volck seems to purposely portray the living conditions of the slaves in a positive manner. While it is true that kitchen quarters were normally of better construction and better supplied than field quarters, Volck likely chose that location deliberately. Similarly, by choosing what appears to be domestic slaves, he could accurately depict them well clad. This image of the traditional "faithful" slave served to reinforce the paternalistic image of provider that white slave owners wished to display to both friends and enemies, and it was an image that held on tenaciously in myth long after the Civil War ended.

Volck's image speaks to me. It says that slaves' faithfulness is a reciprocation of the owner's benevolence. In reality, it was often the domestic slaves, who worked long days, with little time off and always under the micromanagement of their owners, who left their situations when the opportunity presented itself. When house slaves fled to Union lines, it surprised owners. Masters and mistresses felt betrayed. They could not understand why slaves who often received better living conditions, clothes, and food, would desert them. Owners did not try to, or could not, see the situation from the slaves' perspective, and thus ended up extremely disappointed.

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Then and Now: Petersburg Artillery Building


I keep coming across amazing photographs in the Library of Congress online collections which show various buildings in Petersburg. I had not previously seen the above image, which shows the Petersburg Artillery building located on West Tabb Street. The brick building has five bays on the ground floor and five windows above on the south facade. If I am not mistaken, the building to the left served as a fire engine house for the city. The alarm bell on its roof serves as a possible clue. In the historic photograph, probably taken in 1865, a number of Union soldiers stand in front of the building surrounding a fire engine.

The Petersburg Artillery was an antebellum militia unit that was founded by city citizen Hugh Garland in 1843. Garland, an attorney, served in a number of political positions during his career including the Virginia legislature and clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. After receiving an education at Hampden-Sydney College, Garland married into the Burwell family of Dinwiddie County. The Burwells owned Lizzie Hobbs, later known as Elizabeth Keckly, who would eventually become a free free woman of color seamstress to both Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln. The enslaved Keckly lived with the Garlands in Petersburg, before moving with them to St. Louis, Missouri. While living in the the Mississippi River city Garland also brushed with history when he served as initial legal adviser for Dred Scott's owner. Garland died at the young age of 49 in 1854, before Dred Scott's case finally made its way to the Supreme Court three years later


The Petersburg Artillery was a well-respected pre-war militia unit that was known for its precision in drilling. The unit was one of several Virginia militias ordered to Charles Town in the wake of John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid to serve as protection while Brown was held in the jail there, and at his hanging on December 2, 1859.

During the Civil War the Petersburg Artillery came under the command of Captain Edward Graham and often served in Gen. James Dearing's brigade as horse artillery in eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. It was Graham's men, then stationed in Chesterfield County, who responded to the dire situation when Petersburg was threatened on June 9, 1864. Rushing to the scene of action near the town's reservoir and above Lieutenant Run, the Petersburg Artillery helped hold off the Union forces in what became known as the "Battle of Old Men and Young Boys." The Petersburg Artillery had much other work during the campaign for the "Cockade City." Garham's men were engaged in many different actions primarily along the city's southern and southwestern fronts. They surrendered with Lee at Appomatttox.

Today the building is somewhat altered from its antebellum and wartime appearance, but it is still quite recognizable. The original five bay openings are visible, although they are now closed up, and the five second story windows still look much as they did in 1865, minus their shutters. Two modern windows have been created in the eastern facade, and outside duct work now shows on that side of the building as well. The brick building is currently peeling in gray paint, however the grandeur of the old building somehow remains.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Deadwood, Dakota Territory's Barbers


I've been watching episodes of the HBO television series "Deadwood" on my cable's On Demand service. The drama follows the fictionalized incidences of the mining camp of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in the mid-1870s. While the series does work in historical characters, like "Wild Bill" Hickok and Jane "Calamity Jane" Canary into the story lines, for the most part it shows the town's growing pains on the frontier. If you are sensitive to foul language, examples of extreme violence, and other scenes one might imagine in a nineteenth century Old West mining camp, well, I would not recommend Deadwood.

In one of the episodes I noticed a barber's services offered in the saloon of lead character Al Swearengen. The barber was a white man. That got me to wondering, were there black barbers in the real Deadwood's Old West, like those populated many towns and cities both in the North and South before the Civil War? To help me find out I looked up the Deadwood census of 1880. It was pretty interesting. Deadwood's polyglot population was reflected in the men who shaved its citizens chins and cut their bangs.

The first barber I located was Ah Chin, a thirty-five year old Chinese man. He was born in China, as were both of his parents, as was noted in the 1880 census form. I'm curious if he cut the hair of whites or if he only cut other Chinese.

The next barber was A. C. Buckner, a sixty-one year old single black man. He was born in England. His father was a Virginian, and his mother was from the West Indies. Intriguing!

Next located was Jessy Walker, a thirty-eight year old married black man. He was born in Alabama. It was unknown where his father was born, but his mother was from Virginia.

Paul Baume, a thirty-seven year old single white man was also found. He was born in Connecticut, as was his mother, but his father was born in Germany.

M. J. Myers, a thirty year old single white man, who was an Ohio native, as was both his mother and father.

Andrew Bauman, a thirty-eight year old married white man, who was born in Prussia, as was his parents.

Another German, John C. Muehhessen, was a twenty-nine year old single white man.

Al Flaherty, a twenty-one year old single white man, who was from New York, as were his parents.

Charles Emeigh, a Hoosier from Indiana, was a married thirty-five white man. His father and mother were Pennsylvanians. 

Edward Flaherty, a twenty-four year old married man. He was born in New York and his parents were born in Ireland.

B. H. Smith, a twenty-six year old single white man. He and his parents were all native New Yorkers,

Theodore Lyons, a fifty year old single black man, who was born in Kentucky. His father was a Virginian and mother was born in Ohio.

A "hair dresser" W. J. Grodniniski, a thirty-two year old white man from Russia and his parents were Russian, too.

William Saintclair, a twenty-five year old single white man, was born in Indiana. His father was from Ohio and his mother from Virginia. He was also listed a suffering from typhoid fever.

E. R. Sims, a thirty-two year old married mulatto. Sims was born in South Carolina, as were his parents.

John A, Hurlburt, a twenty-three year old single white man. He was born in Michigan, but his parents were both from Pennsylvania.

In summary, I was able to find sixteen total barbers or hair dressers in Deadwood's 1880 census. There was one Chinese barber, four African American barbers, six native-born white barbers, and five white barbers that were foreign born or who had at least one parent that was a non-native of the United States. My past research indicated that few native whites were barbers in 1860 and earlier. Foreign born whites entered the barber trade during this time period, too, and after emancipation there was a gradual increase in native-born white barbers. Deadwood seems to follow the trend I have noticed in the Upper South states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland.

Image of Deadwood courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Danville, Virginia's 1860 Black Barbers


I am currently working my way through Frederick E. Siegel's The Roots of Southern Distinctiveness: Tobacco and Society in Danville, Virginina, 1780-1865. It is an interesting look at how the cultivation, and later, manufacture of tobacco shaped this south-central Virginia town, as well as its Pittsyvalania County.

In Chapter 9, "Tobacco Manufacturing," the author claims that in 1860 "only 8 percent of Danville's population consisted of white males aged twenty-one or older, compared to 13 or 14 percent for similar places like Lynchburg or Staunton."

Danville's total population in 1860 was 3,689. From my previous research, Upper-South town's of similar size usually provided enough patronage to support several barbers, the vast majority of whom were free African Americans. However, due to the author's claim of such a small white male population, I wondered if that perhaps affected the number of barbers in Danville.

The only real way to find out was to search through the 1860 census records for Pittsylvania County. I felt up to the job, and the findings were quite intriguing. Scanning through the pages I kept finding free people of color holding occupations such as washer woman, shoemaker, blacksmith, factory hand, farm hand, and laborer, but I was beginning to think I would find no barbers. Then, finally, I came upon Thomas Pierce. Pierce was a forty-two year old mulatto man who lived with his much younger wife Frances (twenty-four), and their children, Sally (five), and John (one). Also in the household was George Davis, a thirteen year old mulatto boy. I speculate that George may have been an apprentice for Pierce, but is not noted as such. All of this census information was quite common for free men of color barbers. However, Pierce apparently had quite good business skills as he is listed as owning $3,100 in real estate, and $2,000 in personal property; quite impressive sums for 1860. Pierce and his family were all born in Virginia and he was listed as being literate.

Continuing my search through Pittsylavnia's County's 1860 census, I came across Pritchese Scott, an eighteen year old mulatto man. Scott, like Pierce, was born in Virginia and was literate. However, being much younger, Scott had not established a household as yet and lived in the household (perhaps as a boarder) of seventy-six year old white man L. Shumaker, who's occupation was a farmer. Scott had no real estate or personal property wealth listed; also not uncommon for such a young man.

Curious to see if the more established Pierce had perhaps been in Danville for a while, I searched the 1850 census, but did not find him.

Of course, there may have been other African American barbers in Danville; those that were enslaved. They obviously would not have shown up in the census records.

Danville's small proportion of white men, as previously mentioned, probably had something to do with the limited number of barbers in town. After all, if there are only so many faces to shave and heads of hair to cut, that level of business can only support so much work. But then again, reviewing my previous findings for Staunton (which had a higher percentage of white males than Danville but a similar overall population) the Valley town only had one more barber than Danville. However, Lynchburg (which had a similar proportion of while males as Staunton, but with a population almost twice as large as Danville and Staunton) had eleven barbers who operated there. I think a larger sample size than just two or three towns will be required to make a sound claim.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

William Hayden, Kentucky Slave Barber


I find myself once again with an odd Thursday off from work and watching TCM, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to make another post.

This past week while reading Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South, by Damian Alan Pargas, I stumbled upon a slave narrative that had previously escaped my observation. When Pargas discusses the various ways that slaves were transported in the domestic slave trade he mentioned the Frankfort, Kentucky, slave William Hayden, who had traveled via steamboat to the Deep South.

I was naturally curious with this reference so I quickly checked the footnotes to find its source. It was from the Narrative of William Hayden: Containing a Faithful Account of his Travels for a Number of Years, whilst a Slave in the South, which was Hayden's autobiography and was self published in 1846.  I found a copy on Google Books.

Hayden was born in Stafford County, Virginia in 1785, and as a child was sent to Kentucky by his owner. There he was bought up as a house servant  boy and was afforded an education. Later, he was also trained in the art of rope making, working in several ropewalks in Franklin and Scott Counties. However, hemp rope work did not seem to appeal to Hayden, and almost by happenstance, he fell into the profession of barbering with the permission of his master. Due to my interest in African American barbers in the antebellum Upper South, I found this part particularly interesting.

In past research, I have found numerous references to free black barbers and how they were apprenticed by their elders in the hair cutting and shaving trade. However, there is relatively slim information on enslaved barbers. Hayden described his introduction to barbering:

"In the Spring of 1811, I packed up, and went back to Frankfort. I left my horse with a friend of mine with directions to sell him, and after paying himself out of the proceeds for his trouble, to remit me the balance wherewith to pay my hire. I then when to the Barber shop of Mr. John S. Gowans [Goins], who had formed a friendship for me during my boyhood, when acting in the capacity of a fish-monger, and who felt disposed to aid me in all his power. Hearing that I had come again to Frankfort, he held out the hand of fellowship to me, and the friendship has left its indelible mark upon my heart, which can never be erased, until I meet him again in the Land of Spirits, whither he has long since departed.

After telling my friend my circumstances, and my desires, I asked if he would undertake to learn me the trade.After a long parley, during which he gave me little encouragement, he requested me to call again after breakfast, and he would give me a final answer."

Hayden did as requested, and returned to watch the master shave some of his patrons and cut the hair of others. When Goins finished with his customers, the two men talked. Goins then gave Hayden a razor to sharpen. Hayden did so and Goins approved after inspecting it closely. Goins gave the slave Hayden another razor to hone, and likewise received high praise for his work. Hayden recalled:

"The [barber] apprentices were rather taken a-back, for at first, they had considered it a capital joke, that a factory boy should presume to learn the Tonsorial art; but who, now, no doubt concluded, with Sam Patch, that 'some things can be done as well as others.' He then advised me to get a cup and box, and having given me a pair of razors and a hone, he told me to take them, with a clean towel, and go the rounds of the town every morning, shaving as many as I could for half price, and that in the course of a few weeks, I would be able to set up shop for myself. Before parting with him, to enter upon the duties of my new occupation, I asked him what he charged for the kindness he had shown me, and the advice and instruction which he had given me? His reply was, 'the only recompense I ask, is, that if you see any of my children or grandchildren in need, you will aid them as well as you can.' To this I greatly assented."

Instead of remaining in Frankfort, Hayden walked to Georgetown, and followed Goins's instructions. Fortune smiled on the enslaved man. He entered an inn and came upon a stranger who requested the service of a shave. Hayden obliged and confidently performed his new job. When Hayden informed the stranger that he was the would-be barber's first-ever customer, the man "was astonished and predicted for me a high standing in my vocation."

Hayden continued to serve as Georgetown's "street barber," as he called himself and was happy to find that he had made a profit of $8.00 after his first month's work. Hayden got his master to lease him a piece of town property on which his master built a shop, with the agreement that the slave barber give a portion of his proceeds to his master. Catching the entrepreneurial spirit, Hayden combined forces with a female slave friend and they also entered into a confectionery business partnership. Along with his two businesses' earnings, Hayden won a couple of lotteries, which added to this growing wealth.

Still enslaved, Hayden unfortunately changed hands and served for a time as help for a slave trader making trips up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Hayden purchased his freedom in 1824 and received his deed of manumission from then owner Thomas Phillips of Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky. He eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked as a barber and wrote and published his slave narrative.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Acquisitions to My Library


Lucky me received a generous Amazon gift card as a Christmas gift from my family. I used it to add a number of books that were on my "Wish List" to my personal library, which are finally starting to arrive in the mail each day. Is there anything much better than finding a book in your mailbox?


Books like Stephen Berry's All that Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South, which I read over a decade ago, stirred my interest in antebellum manhood and Southern honor studies. I'm hoping this one gives me some new things to think about.


Fredericksburg is one of my top three eastern theater battles to study. And George C. Rable's Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! is one of my all-time favorite books, but I have read excellent reviews on this one as well. I'm looking forward to historian and National Park Service Ranger O'Reilly's take on this December 1862 battle.


Studies on the domestic slave trade and the forced migrations of slaves to the Old Southwest has intrigued me for the past few years. Books like The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist are drawing more and more scholars to this important subject, who are presenting new interpretations. 


There are so many myths, tales, and misinformation floating around about the origins of the Ku Klux Klan. Therefore, I am looking forward to examining this author's take and seeing what evidence is used to tell the beginnings of this terrorist organization during Reconstruction.


Similar to the above mentioned Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South, Walter Johnson explores the internal slave trade and the expansion of the Cotton Kingdom in River of Dark Dreams. I learned a lot from Johnson's previous work, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, so I am sure this one will not disappoint either. 


Being always on the lookout for books about local history, the title to this one caught my attention, and since I am not too far from the book's location of focus, I am sure there many things I can learn and draw upon for work and for my personal knowledge. 


Just as there is much information about the Ku Klux Klan, there also is about the noted 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments. In 1989, the motion picture Glory brought significant attention to the 54th, and thus USCTs, but it also promoted some myths. I'm interested to read Edgerton's history of the 54th and 55th Infantries, and 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.

Well, I have to go. I have some serious reading to do.

Monday, January 9, 2017

O. Jennings Wise: Editor, Duelist, Soldier, Southerner


Richmond, Virginia's Hollywood Cemetery is a veritable "Who's Who" for the final resting places of notables in Old Dominion and Confederate history. United States presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are there, along with Confederate president Jefferson Davis. A host of Confederate generals, including  J.E.B. Stuart, George E. Pickett, Edward Johnson, John Imboden, and Henry A. Wise, also all rest at Hollywood.

Beside Governor Wise is a lesser known Confederate soldier; his son Captain Obadiah Jennings Wise. Known by family and close acquaintances as Obie, Wise was the governor's oldest son, and seemingly his favorite. Obie grew up to be Southern society's epitome of antebellum manhood.

O.Jennings Wise was born on April 12, 1831. He received his college education at William and Mary, and interestingly, Indiana University. After a term of service as a European diplomat, Wise returned to his native Virginia and eventually obtained the editorship of the Richmond Enquirer, the Capitol city's Democratic newspaper. Wise the younger's stint with the sheet coincided with his father's governorship; a situation that would bring trouble for Obie. Seemingly honor-bound to defend his father's name Wise fought at least eight duels within about two years, many over perceived injustices to his governor father.

Many of Wise's dueling opponents were fellow editors. A veritable war of words played out among Virginia's antebellum newspaper editors who were anything but "fair and balanced" in their coverage of political news. In 1858, he fought Robert Ridgeway, the editor of the Richmond Whig. That same year he battled Virginia politician Sherrard Clemmens. The gun play resulted in Clemmens being wounded in the groin. Wise was unharmed. The following year, 1859, Wise had a dust up with William Old of the Richmond Examiner. That year Obie fought Patrick Henry Aylett, who also worked for Examiner. Apparently Wise lived a blessed life, as it seems he escaped all of his many duels virtually unscathed.

While friends appreciated the pubic service of the Wises, it was not only dueling opponents who held both men in low regard. Virginia arch-secessionist Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin noted in his diary in August 1859: "The former [Obie], as well as his father, is a professional duelist, & a bravo, & by both precept & example, to make him a professional bully for political gain, & a murderer in intention, if not yet in deed."

When the Civil War broke out, Obie was made captain of Company A of the 46th Virginia Infantry. Company A was composed of members of the antebellum Richmond Light Infantry Blues militia unit. While serving on the North Carolina coast and fighting under his father's command at the Battle of Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862, Obie was wounded in the wrist of his sword arm. Shortly after bandaging this minor injury, he received grievous wound to his thigh. The captain was captured by Union forces and then died shortly thereafter. His body was returned to Richmond. A splendid funeral was held at St. James Episcopal church and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery where he now rests, right beside his father.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

McGowan's Brigade Resolutions and Becoming Slaves to the Enemy


Recently, I started a book club for staff and volunteers at work. The first volume that was selected to discus was Damn Yankees!: Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South by George C. Rable. In this valuable contribution to the understanding of Southern determination, much is made about the power of words to inspire action and instill nationalism. Painting one's enemy with dehumanizing characteristics, and in some cases greatly exaggerating tales of atrocities or what could be expected should defeat be realized, buoyed hopes and strengthened many Southerners' resolve to continue the fight.

To prepare for our actual discussion meeting, I made copies of a set of resolutions that I remembered reading, which were drafted in February 1865, by Gen. Samuel McGowan's men while they were camped and headquartered at what was then the Bouisseau family's Tudor Hall plantation and is now Pamplin Historical Park. What stood out in my memory of the document was their defiant stance, but when I re-read it, what stood out was their fear of being "enslaved" by their enemies.

In three different places, which I have placed in bold type, the author(s) of the document used some from of the term slave. In the second resolution it states: "That the reasons which induced us to take up arms at the beginning have not been impaired, but, on the contrary, infinitely strengthened by the progress of the war. Outrage and cruelty have not made us love the perpetrators. If we then judged that the enemy intended to impoverish and oppress us, we now know [emphasis in original] that they propose to subjugate, enslave, disgrace and destroy us."

In the fourth and final resolution it mentions slavery twice. However, again, not in the sense you might think. "To submit to our enemies now, would be more infamous than it would have been in the beginning. It would be cowardly yielding to power that was denied upon principle. It would be to yield the cherished right of self-government, and to acknowledge ourselves wrong in the assertion of it; to brand the names of our slaughtered companions as traitors; to forfeit the glory already won; to lose the fruits of all the sacrifices made and privations endured; to give up independence now nearly gained, and bring certain ruin, disgrace and eternal slavery upon our country. Therefore, unsubdued by past reverses, and unawed by the future dangers, we declare determination to battle to the end, and not to lay down our arms until independence is secured. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Heaven!"

I find it intriguing that the author(s) of these resolutions decided to use that specific term over and over. Did they fully believe that the status of slave was only reserved for those they considered an inferior race? Did they fully understand what it meant to be a slave?; to have no real self-determination; to labor for others without receiving compensation; to be ordered about; to be separated from one's family on the whim of another, all gathered through their exposure to and practice of the institution for generations? Did they understand the seriousness of the military situation and the influence such words would have on keeping men in the ranks and to oppose the gradual yet steady advances of the enemy. I would say, yes to all. Did they sincerely believe that they would literally be made slaves, like the African Americans on the farms and plantations of South Carolina? I highly doubt it. But to lose the war, and thus be made to give up their way of life; one that was based on chattel slavery, was likely thought to be about as close to actual slavery as one could get, and for many death was preferable.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Richmond's Washington Monument - Then and Now


This past summer, and then again a couple of months later, I was fortunate to get to tour around the Virginia State Capitol and grounds. Mr. Jefferson's edifice is certainly an impressive structure, and its service and place in the state's, as well as the Confederacy's history only increased its importance.

On the Capitol grounds stands a monument as impressive, if not more, so than the building it was meant to complement. Richmond's George Washington equestrian monument is a tribute to the state's native son. Washington's roles as a citizen planter, soldier, and statesman made him the ideal example for America's youth, but particularly for Virginia's young men as a model of manhood.  

The stunning monument was dedicated in 1858. It also features fellow Virginia notables, who were added to the memorial later: Thomas Jefferson; Patrick Henry; George Mason; Supreme Court justice John Marshall, Andrew Lewis, a French and Indian War and Revolutionary War officer; and Thomas Nelson, Jr., a governor and representative in the Continental Congress.

Richmond's Washington monument became even more well known when it served as the backdrop for Jefferson Davis's inauguration in February 1862, and with its incorporation into the Great Seal of the Confederacy.


Historic photograph courtesy of the National Archives

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sharp Seeking Calvin


On my days off, when I'm not reading, I often pass the time watching old films on TCM. If they happen to be showing a movie that I've seen before, I sometimes browse digital editions of nineteenth century newspapers, while the movies serve as background noise. Not a real exciting way to pass the time, but it can be educational. Well, anyway, that was the scene yesterday evening as I waited for the Oklahoma-Auburn game to get going.

During my online time travel through the headlines of 1862, I happened upon the above advertisement, which appeared in the May 30, 1862, issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. In it Confederate soldier Private Albert T. Sharp, of the Third Alabama Infantry, sought to reclaim his slave Calvin, who likely served Sharp as a camp servant. This practice was not at all uncommon. Calvin likely saw his owner's lack of vigilance as an opportunity to attempt to gain his freedom.

Pvt. Sharp left Calvin in Petersburg to recover from an undisclosed illness while Sharp was stationed at Drury's Bluff, which is located on the James River, between Petersburg and Richmond. The two weeks between leaving Calvin in Petersburg, and then finding him absconded, gave the enslaved man a significant amount of time to make his getaway. One has to wonder if Calvin was pretending to be sick as part of plan of escape.

I am almost always curious to learn more about the actors in these historical dramas, so I searched the 1860 census for Albert T. Sharp. He was located living in the household of his father, William, in Montgomery County, Alabama. Sharp the younger was eighteen years old in 1860. His noted occupation was farmer. William Sharp was sixty years old. The elder Sharp was a native of North Carolina. He likely immigrated to Alabama with a serious case of "cotton fever" during the previous decades. William Sharp owned seventeen slaves. Not a huge holding, but they certainly added up to a significant part of his $40,000 in personal property.

Albert Sharp enlisted in Company H of the Third Alabama Infantry Regiment in Lowndesboro, Alabama, two months before this advertisement ran. Pvt. Sharp's father probably allowed Albert to take one of the family slaves with him to the front to do camp chores like cooking, laundry, and other fatigue duties. Since Calvin's age is not listed in the runaway advertisement, it is difficult to match him to one of the slaves listed in the census as being owned by William Sharp. However, the census lists several male slaves in the sixteen to twenty-five year old age range that was common for camp servants.

I do not know if Pvt. Albert Sharp ever reclaimed Calvin, or if the enslaved man made good on his flight. However, Sharp was likely preoccupied when the advertisement ran. His regiment was part of Huger's Division who were held in reserve on May 31 at the Battle of Seven Pines, which was fought just east of Richmond. The following day, June 1, the Third Alabama saw significant fighting. The regiment's colonel was killed as well as thirty-seven other members of the unit. The regiment also lost 122 men were wounded, including its lieutenant colonel, Cullen A. Battle. Sharp apparently made it through the fray unscathed. He was not as fortunate a little later though. His records are conflicting, but either on June 20 or on June 27, 1862, he was wounded. One record says "accidentally." After Sharp's wounding he received a furlough of undetermined length of time to go back home to Alabama to recover.

If Sharp did catch Calvin, he likely came in handy as a nurse, as Sharp's service records indicate that he spent considerable time in various hospitals around Richmond dealing with different illnesses in 1862, 63, and 64. Sharp was captured at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on August 4, 1864. His service records noted he "deserted." Sharp and the Third Alabama were part of Jubal Early's forces that raided into Maryland and briefly threatened Washington D.C. that summer. Perhaps he wandered away from the column and was captured, or perhaps he did actually call it quits and deserted. Regardless, he was confined at Fort Delaware until he was release on May 5, 1865, after taking the oath of allegiance.

If Calvin made good on his freedom quest, I wonder if he and his former owner ever met up again back in Alabama. If so, was Albert resentful? Or did his military service provide him with an opportunity to appreciate a different perspective. I wonder.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Lincoln, Don Quixote, and John Brown Pikes


Happy New Year! I hope 2017 brings you everything that 2016 failed to deliver.

In my seemingly never ending quest to knockout those books remaining on my "to be read" shelf (I guess it would help toward that end if I stopped acquiring more books), I recently finished reading Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War by J. G. Lewin and P. J. Huff. The authors offered a number of images for discussion and text interpreting them.

I was familiar with a number of the anti-Lincoln portrayals by Adelbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist, from previous exposure in which he offered demonized images of the 16th president and made vivid use of John Brown and the militant abolitionist's pikes.

However, Volck also made comparisons between Lincoln and Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes's wouldbe romantic latter-day knight as a way of showing Volck's impression of the president's incompetence. In the image at the top, Lincoln (as Quixote) and his sidekick squire Gen. Benjamin Butler (as the simple Sancho Panza) go forth to allegedly correct the ills of society. To assist in conquering the South, Lincoln uses a John Brown pike as his tilting lance.

Similarly, in the image below, Lincoln's pike is propped up behind his chair, while an ax and split rail help identify the subject of the image and a Spanish helmet strengthens the association with the ill-famed wouldbe knight . Lincoln sits in his best Don Quixote attire and ponders ideas of "improving society." He dips his pen in a artillery mortar shaped inkwell, while making a list of recent Union defeats. His foot rests on books labeled as the "Constitution," "Law," and "Habeas Corpus." This image was apparently produced early in the war, as on the wall, a portrait shows Gen. Winfield Scott, known popularly as "Old Fuss and Feathers." Scott was replaced as General in Chief in November 1861 by Gen. George B. McClellan.


Political cartoons are effective means and can be used for both good and ill propaganda. Identifying Lincoln as Don Quixote and connecting the president to John Brown through the use of pike images remind us that politics, especially combined with warfare, has always been contentious ground.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

"A Christmas Dinner"


One of my favorite things about visiting my grandparent's farm in south-central Kentucky when I was a youngster was the sumptuous fare grandma always provided. The dinner table was a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights. Turkey, cooked in a pressure cooker to retain its tenderness and flavor, creamed corn, yeast rolls, green beans, lima beans, and a host of other belly fillers. Deserts included a menagerie of cakes, pies, jellies, and jellos. The memory of the pleasant smells of those Southern comfort foods bring a smile to face to this very day. I was always grateful for the bounty that was provided.

I'm sure that many Civil War soldiers grew up eating similar meals. However, the transition from civilian to martial life included a steep learning curve for most. Acquiring skills (like cooking) that in peace time were clearly in the sphere of females or the enslaved made soldiering all that much more unpleasant.

Artist Edwin Forbes commented on Christmas as it was experienced by men on the forward picket line:
"After an hour or two of social chat over our pipes, we rode further down the line and stopped at various points to talk with friends who were on duty. None seemed to have fared as sumptuously as ourselves; most of the men were cooking salt pork, though one party had secured a turkey from a neighboring farmer and looked lovingly toward it as it roasted before the glowing camp-fire. Some of the men were fortunate enough to have received boxes from home, and their faces grew bright as the lifted out roast turkey, chickens, bread, cake and pies that kindly hands had prepared. An occasional bottle of "old rye," secreted in a turkey or loaf of bread, would give rise to much fun and expected enjoyment. The provost guard, however, seldom overlooked a bottle and confiscated any contraband liquor; and his long experience had bred in him a sort of special sense for any such little infractions of the rule, which was inflexible even for Christmas, and if got the better of at all had to be by a skillful and imperceptible breaking."

On this Christmas day, be sure to remember those of the past, and the present, who serve to protect our cherished freedoms often far removed from the comforts that family and friends bring. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Former Virginia Slaves Remember Christmastime


Former Slave Fannie Berry remembered:
"Slaves lived jus' fo' Christmas to come round. Start gittin' ready de fus' snow fall. Commence to savin' nuts and apples, fixin' up party clothes, snitchin' lace an' beads fum de big house. General celebratin' time, you see, 'cause husbands is comin' home [from being leased out] an' families is gettin' 'nunited agin. Husbands hurry on home to see dey new babies. Ev'ybody happy. Marse always send a keg of whiskey down to de quarters by ole Uncle Silas, de house man. Ole Joe would drink all he kin long de way, but dey's plenty fo' all. Ef dat don' las ole Marse Shelton gonna bring some mo' down hisse'f."

Baily Cunningham:
"We didn't know but one holiday, that was Christmas day, and it was not much different from any other day. The field hands did not have to work on Christmas day. We didn't have any Christmas presents."

Julia Frazier:
"They had parties on Holidays (Easter, Christmas and Whitsun). On dem days we would play ring plays, jump rope an' dance. Then nights we'd dance juba. The girls got new dresses twice a year, but ole misstress us to give us second hand clothes."

Horace Muse:
"Marser Riles was a mean man. He never knew when you had wuked a 'nough. I done jes' 'zackly ez he tol' me. Dat's why I never git any beatin'. Ole Marser git cross an' he 'put you in his pocket.' Dat's what dey say when dey mean he give you to a mean man to wuk fer. When I was hired out, dey let me come home at Christmas fer' three o; four days. Den I had to go back to wuk."

Levi Pollard:
Christmas time Mars Charles gived us lots er things. Sometimes dey wold be a little extra, but us always got a peck er flour, a whole ham, 5 lbs., real cane sugar, en every body winter clothes. Every man gits two workin' shirts, one coat, one pair pants, one jacket, en one pair shoes. De women git near 'bout de same I reckon, I ain't never been good at 'memberin' things I ain't knowed nothin' 'bout, en I ain't never been married."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, 1838


Visiting mineral springs was a popular pastime in antebellum America. Wealthy Southerners of this era often visited these hydrotherapy spas to socialize as much as for their supposed medicinal values. Being that noted mineral springs were often in mountainous area, they were a popular draw during the summer and early fall months as a retreat from the lowland heat and its associated illnesses.

One of the most frequented spas in the South was White Sulphur Springs, Virginia (now in present-day Greenbrier County, West Virginia). White Sulphur Springs boasted accommodations for over 500 people in its main hotel, as well as its family cottages. 

Naturally, when wealthy slave owning families visited White Sulphur Springs, they often brought their favorite domestic slaves to attend to their needs. It was on a visit in 1838 that German artist Christian Friedrich Mayr painted the above scene of "Kitchen Ball." It has been speculated that this image captured a slave wedding due to the focal point couple dancing in white attire. Whether it was wedding, or just an occasion for fellowship and recreation with fellow enslaved individuals, it captures a moment in time and away from their masters' gaze to enjoy some well deserved free time. The foreigner Mayr's painting shows the ball participants in a dignified manner without the unfortunate grotesque features common in images painted by Americans. Mayr also depicts African American musicians. He places a flute player, a cellist, and a fiddler. 

One wonders what sort of conversations these enslaved people held while free of their owners' control for a brief period. Did they compare notes on how to cope with slavery? Did they use the opportunity to just forget about their enslaved condition for a little while? Did they network in attempt to better their individual situations? Did they try to find out information about love they had been separated from?


White Sulphur Springs was visited for its springs as early as the late 1770s, but came into its own as noted resort in the period from 1830 to 1860. It hosted a number of presidents during this period as well as other noted politicians, celebrities, and their families. Although White Sulphur Springs has undergone a number of changes in the years since, it still operates, now as the Greenbrier: America's Resort. If you have traveled on I-64 between Lexington, Virginia, and Beckley, West Virginia, you have likely noticed it.

A Kitchen Ball image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art
White Sulphur Springs image courtesy of the University of Virginia

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Interpretive Tools



When giving tours, one can paint pictures for visitors with words. Transporting guests' imaginations back 150 years ago, or even earlier, is a true art. However, occasionally, the pictures one can paint are limited to what the individual visitor brings from their own past experiences. For example, it is easier to discuss the process of planting, cultivating, and harvesting tobacco, if that guest grew up experiencing some of those aspects of agricultural work. Those people that have experienced the day-to-day work of hot, back-breaking field labor can probably better appreciate the toils of a field hand better than someone who has never even cut their own lawn. Then, adding in the fact that enslaved people received no compensation for their labor beyond the most basic of basics in the form of food, clothing, and shelter, a true understanding can begin to form.

In present-day America, one in which fewer and fewer people have agricultural roots, it can sometimes be difficult to make connections to a past that was largely experienced in a rural environment. I feel fortunate that I was able to experience farm life on a limited basis, both through visits to my grandparents farm in south-central Kentucky, as well as helping on the family farms of friends in southern Indiana. In addition, with my father being an avid hunter and angler, I feel I probably have a better understanding than the average person of the process and methods necessary for our ancestors to obtain food for themselves on a daily basis.

To help historic sites paint clearer pictures for guests from diverse backgrounds, they often seek to obtain and display items that assist visitors in making connections with the past. Those items can come in the from of large recreated structures, such as a slave quarters, a corn crib, or a tobacco barn. But they can also come in smaller formats, like the tools that enslaved individuals used, or items that masters incorporated to regulate their slaves' lives.


Getting visitors to empathize with enslaved individuals' lives at plantation historic sites is one of the largest challenges for interpreters. Due to the rights and liberties that we enjoy in the 21st century, it is difficult for guests to step back in time (especially younger guests without the benefit of age experiences) to truly understand the limitations that were enforced upon enslaved African Americans. However, by using interpretive tools, that gulf can be party bridged.

A good example is that recently we installed a plantation bell at work. This interpretive tool will hopefully help us explain that sound devices were incorporated by owners to relate clock time to their enslaved workers. Slaves were not normally allowed to own such luxuries as clocks, therefore, owners who demanded an efficient plantation operation needed the ability to translate clock time to the slaves. This was most often done through the auditory devices of a bell or horn, which sounded to let them know when to wake, when to head to the fields, when to break for meals, and when to end the day's labor. I'm sure slaves grew to hate the sound of the bell or horn. Similarly, slaves also came to associate the sound of the bell with coerced labor. In a Works Progress Administration slave narrative account that I found while researching plantation bells, a slave mentioned that his plantation's bell rang every morning at four o'clock in the morning and that it said, "get up, I'm coming to get you."

Interpretive tools such as plantation bells are significant vehicles to help facilitate learning and encourage understanding. When used in conjunction with proper explanation and reference they can make all the difference between an average learning experience and one which inspires learning beyond the tour.


Black and white bell photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recruiting United States Colored Troops


A few years back I purchased the above image printed in poster form from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. On the poster is small paragraph of text which notes it being a Civil War recruiting poster from 1863. It is certainly a striking image which shows past (slavery), present (soldiers), and future (freedom) scenes, and would seemingly have been effective for recruiting those who might not be literate. But in all of my reading on USCTs, I had never come in contact with its use in the field.

Well, that changed with my latest read. Looking for books by eminent historian John Hope Franklin, I came across The Diary of James T. Ayers: Civil War Recruiter. Franklin edited the diary for publication by the Illinois State Historical Society in 1947. Fortunately, Louisiana State University Press reprinted it in 1999.

James T. Ayers's diary recounts his experiences in Alabama and Tennessee attempting to get slaves to enlist in the numerous USCT regiments, brigades, and divisions forming there in 1863 and 1864. Ayers was born in Kentucky, but had moved with his family to Ohio as a child and as a young man to Illinois. There he apparently developed a disdain for the institution of slavery. But, although he abhorred the "peculiar institution," he did not believe in the equality of the races or refrain from using racist terms. In fact, one is surprised by the number of times Ayers uses the n-word instead of the more refrained "negro" or "colored."

On the May 7, 1864, entry Ayers commented on encountering a situation in which he used the above image in his recruiting work. Near Huntsville, Alabama, Ayers came upon a group of slaves on a Mr. Eldridge's plantation. The recruiter conversed with the enslaved men for a few minutes asking about their master and their situation. After a few minutes of talking they told Ayers they had to get back to work or suffer the consequences. Ayers informed them that according to President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, they were free. As Ayers described it from here:

"'Bress God,' said two or three voices as the same time.

'Well children, see here' getting off my horse then and handing them one of my Recruiting Pictures. 'Here is what Father Abraham is doin for you' showing them the Darky in Center with flagstaff flag waving and on the write [right], men knocking off the chains from the slaves wrists and some Just has got Loose and hands stretched upward shouting and Praising God for there Deliverance and on the left side A free school in full Operation with miriads of Little Darkies Each with his book . . . . '"

Ayers explained that on the opposite side of the image was the message:

ALL SLAVES were made FREEMEN 
BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 
President of the United States,
 January 1st, 1863. 
Come, then, able- bodied COLORED MEN, to the nearest U. S. 
Camp and fight for the 
STARS AND STRIPES!

After speaking with the men, Ayers encountered Eldridge as well as his daughter, whose husband was off in the Confederate army. After verbally sparring with both, Ayers rode off with four of Eldridge's slaves and two others from a neighboring farm. He had them enlisted in a Tennessee USCT regiment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Englisman Witnesses a Virginia Slave Coffle


Like many Europeans who visited the United States in the antebellum era, British author and geographer George Featherstonehaugh saw a contradiction between the infant nation's claims of liberty and their practice of slavery.

While traveling through the Old Dominion in the 1830s, Featherstonehaugh happened upon a slave coffle operated by slave trader John Armfield, which was headed southwest up the Valley of Virginia and crossing the New River, likely near the present-day town of Radford. He wrote:

"Just as we reached New River, in the early grey of morning, we came up with a singular spectacle, the most striking one of a kind I have ever witnessed. It was a camp of negro slave-drivers, just packing up to start; they had about three hundred slaves with them, who had bivouacked the preceding night in chains in the woods; these they were conducting to Natchez [Mississippi], upon the Mississippi River, to work upon the sugar plantations in Louisiana. It resembled one of those coffles of slaves spoken of by Mungo Park, except they had a caravan of nine wagons and single-horse carriages, for the purpose of conducting the white people, and any of the black people who should fall lame, to which they were now putting the horses to pursue the march. The female slaves were, some of them, sitting on logs of wood, whilst some of them were standing, and a great many little black children were warming themselves at the fires of the bivouac. In front of them all, and prepared for the march, stood, in double files, about two hundred male slaves, manacled and chained to each other. I had never seen so revolting a sight before! Black men in fetters, torn from the lands where they were born, from the ties they had formed, and from the comparatively easy condition which agricultural labor affords, and driven, by white men, with liberty and equality in their mouths, to a distant and unhealthy country, to perish in the sugar-mills of Louisiana, where the duration of life for a sugar-mill slave does not exceed seen years! To make this spectacle still more disgusting and hideous, some of the principal white slave-drivers, who were tolerably well dressed, and had broad-brimmed white hats on, with black crepe around them, were standing near, laughing and smoking cigars."

Featherstonehaugh later commented on the coffle's New River crossing:
"It was an interesting, but melancholy spectacle, to see them effect the passage of the river; first a man on horseback selected a shallow place in the ford for the male slaves; then followed a wagon and four horses, attended by another man on horseback. The other wagons contained the children and some that were lame, whilst the scows, or flat-boats, crossed the women and some of the people belonging to the caravan. There was much method and vigilance observed, for this was one of the situations where the gangs--always watchful to obtain their liberty--often show a disposition to mutiny, knowing that if one or two of them could wrench their manacles off, the could soon free the rest, and either disperse themselves or overpower and slay their sordid keepers, and fly to the Free States. The slave-drivers, aware of this disposition in the unfortunate negroes, endeavor to mitigate their discontent by feeding them well on the march, and by encouraging them to sing "Old Virginia never tire," to the banjo."

The scene Featherstonehaugh's witnessed was not uncommon in the first half of the nineteenth century. Thousands of slaves went cross-country from the eastern and upper-South states to the Old Southwest to markets in Natchez and New Orleans, where their demand brought higher prices and where they were purchased for toil in the cotton fields and sugar plantations of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and East Texas.

A little later on in his travels, Featherstonhaugh ran into Armfield's coffle again, this time in East Tennessee. He stated about the scene: "Before we stopped for the night, but long after sunset, we came to a place where numerous fires were gleaming through the forest : it was the bivouac of the gang. Having prevailed upon the [stagecoach] driver to wait half an hour, I went with Pompey--who was to take leave of us here--into the woods, where they were all encamped. There were a great many blazing fires around, at which the female slave were warming themselves; the children were asleep in some tents; and the males, in chains, were lying on the ground, in groups of about a dozen each. The white men, who were the partners of Pompey's master, were standing about with whips in their hands; and the 'complete' was, I suppose, in her tent; for I judged, from the attendants being busy in packing the utensils away, that they had taken their evening's repast. It was a fearful and irritating spectacle, and I could not bear long to look at it."

Image courtesy the Library of Congress.