Wednesday, September 28, 2016

John Brown Rope at Historic Sandusky

I must yet again seek forgiveness for my recent silence through this forum. I feel that in many different ways it has been a demanding summer, which in turn has taken a toll on my energy level to write posts on a more regular basis. However, last week during the middle of a much appreciated vacation respite, Michele and I visited Lynchburg for a little sightseeing and learning.  

Our first stop was to Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest (pictured above). If you have not visited this historic site, I highly recommend it. The painstaking restoration process that this architectural treasure is receiving is truly impressive and the tour was very informative.

Our second stop was to Historic Sandusky (pictured above). We were not aware that it was closed during the week at this time of year, but fortunately our ring at the visitor center building door was answered and we were offered an educational tour of this early-nineteenth century home, which served as the headquarters to Union General David Hunter during the Battle of Lynchburg in June 1864. The house contains a treasure trove of family and period furnishings. However, it was an artifact in one of the visitor center/museum's cases that I found particularly fascinating.

I have commented some about John Brown's hanging rope on a couple of past posts and one of those mentions that some pieces of the rope survive at a few different historical organizations. When I saw the one at Historic Sandusky I was somewhat skeptical, but the provenance that they provided, to me, sounds air tight.  

As the label (shown above) associated with this fascinating artifact describes, the rope fragment was obtained by James Risque Hutter. Hutter was the son of George C. Hutter, the owner of Sandusky, and was a Virginia Military Institute cadet at the time of John Brown's hanging in Charlestown, Virginia. The young man was present at the December 2, 1859, affair and took a piece of the rope as a souvenir.

James Risque Hutter graduated from VMI in 1860, and as one might expect, enlisted in the Confederate army serving as a captain with Company H, 11th Virginia Infantry, when the state seceded. A quick internet search indicates that Hutter received promotions to major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. He was wounded and captured during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and held until the winter of 1865. Finally exchanged, Hutter was captured once more at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and incarcerated until that summer. Interestingly, Hutter married a cousin at his relatives' home at Poplar Forest, who had purchased it from Jefferson's heirs. Hutter apparently lived a long life, dying at Sandusky at age 81, in 1923.

One never knows what might turn up at visits to historic sites. I know I keep being amazed at all of the things I find, learn, and see. Maybe that is one reason why I enjoy it so much.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Frederick Law Olmsted on Virginia Slave Quarters

If you have not read Frederick Law Olmsted's (pictured above in later years) travel accounts through the slaveholding states in the 1850s, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Cotton Kingdom. In it, the future famous landscape architect makes a number of interesting observations. Being an northerner and thus outsider to the "peculiar institution" provided Olmsted the opportunity to offer a different perspective than that of slaveholder or the enslaved.

In his travels through Virginia, Olmsted paused to comment on slave dwellings:
"The houses of slaves are usually log-cabins, of various degrees of comfort and commodiousness. At one end there is a great fire-place, which is exterior to the wall of the house, being made of clay in an inclosure, about eight feet square and high, of logs. The chimney is sometimes of brick, but most commonly of lath or split sticks, laid up like log work and plastered with mud. They [slaves] enjoy a great roaring fire, and, as the common fuel is pine, the cabin, at night when the door is open, seen from a distance, appears like  a fierce furnace. The chimneys often catch fire, and the cabin is destroyed. Very little precaution can be taken against such danger. Several cabins are places close together, and they are called "the quarters." On a plantation of moderate size there will be but one "quarters." The situation [location] chosen for it has reference to convenience of obtaining water from springs and fuel from the woods."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brown Raider Newby's Brother Killed at Petersburg

A name the sticks out among John Brown's raiders is that of Dangerfield Newby (pictured above). Newby was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, around 1820, to his white master father, Henry, and enslaved mother, Elsey. In 1858, Henry freed his slaves and they all moved together to Bridgeport, Ohio. In the intervening years, and while still in Virginia, Dangerfield had started his own family with an enslaved woman named Harriet, who first lived in Warrenton, and then Prince William County. 

In Ohio, Dangerfield saved money in attempt to purchase Harriet, but his offer of $1000 was rejected. It was probably partly out of that frustration that Dangerfield joined up with John Brown and his men to affect a change in the social system that separated Newby from his wife and children. Dangerfield was cut down early in the fight at Harpers Ferry, shot through the neck. His body's wounds were probed by his killers and his remains rooted on by the town's hogs. 

One wonders if William Newby's motivation for joining the Union army was in part to continue the fight for freedom his brother started at Harpers Ferry with John Brown. 

William joined Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry at Athens, Ohio on September 10, 1863. His service records indicate that he was twenty-two years old and was six feet two and a half inches tall, and is noted with the occupation of farmer. William, a free man of color, was officially mustered in on September 22, 1863, at Camp Delaware, Ohio. Each of William's service record cards note him as always being faithfully present.  

The 5th USCI was moved to Norfolk, Virginia, early in their service. They then took part in expeditions in North Carolina, before being transferred to Yorktown, Virginia, and made part of the XVIII Corps. They then helped secure City Point in May, 1864, and participated in the early attempts (June 15-18) to capture the important railroad hub city of Petersburg.

William Newby was wounded in the left arm and left side while fighting "before Petersburg" on July 3, 1864. One of William's records shows that he arrived at a hospital on July 13. I was unable to determine if he had received significant medical attention before that date. William died of "pyemia" (blood poisoning) on July 26 as a result of his battle wounds. Unfortunately, William's place of burial was not noted in his service records.

Image of Dangerfield Newby courtesy of the Kansas Historical Socitey

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Henry Davis - Petersburg Slave Trader

Many of Petersburg's historic buildings on Bollingbrook Street no longer stand. There are a handful of historically significant structures, such as Farmer's Bank and the Nathaniel Friend House, but many open spaces (parking lots) now appear where buildings that housed businesses and families once stood. 

One inconspicuous three-story building on the west end of Bollingbrook Street,which now is an African American barber shop (pictured above), once had a much more disconcerting existence. I have been informed that this building was for a time the slave trading office and jail of Petersburg dealer Henry Davis. 

Finding information to learn more about Davis was not that easy. I was only able to locate a scrap or two here and there. However, Davis does appear in the 1850 census. He is listed as being forty-two years old, and native of England. His occupation is simply noted as "N. Trader." He owned $14,000 in real estate and lived with his thirty-five year old wife, who was also from England, and their four children, two of whom appear to have been twins. Also in the household was another thirty-five year old female from England, perhaps Mrs. Davis's sister, and her six year old boy.

Another source I located via the Virginia Historical Society was an 1845 inventory of property purchased from the Oakland Plantation estate of William Ransom Johnson, a wealthy racehorse man from Chesterfield County. The listing shows that Henry Davis purchased ten slaves in the sale. The first, George Flournoy cost the trader $551.00. For $931.00 Davis bought a family consisting of Henry, Martha, and their child Rhoda. A blacksmith named Abram, his wife Sally and their two daughters, Susan and Rebecca cost Davis $1435.00. Finally, on the second page, Davis also purchased Sam for $420. 

I also located the above advertisement in the January 4, 1855 issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. It was posted by owner John G. Turpin seeking to reclaim two women who had absconded from him. It mentions that one of the women, Milly, was purchased from "Henry Davis of Petersburg" the year before.

Davis apparently did not limit his slave dealing to the local area, but rather participated in the larger network of the domestic slave trade. To prove such claim, I also found the transcription of an advertisement in the November 1837 printing of the Anti-Slavery Record, vol. 3, no.11. The publication sought to indict slavery based on sources produced by those participating in the institution. The advertisement was noted as being located in a Petersburg newspaper and read: "The subscriber being desirous of making another shipment by the Brig Adelaide, to New Orleans, on the first of March, will give a good market price for fifty negroes, from ten to thirty years old. - Henry Davis."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Would It Be Like? Empathy and History

I apologize for the lack of posts over the last month, but I have been quite busy on a few different fronts, both professionally and personally. One initiative at work involved spending five days with wonderful group of teachers discussing slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Of the several places we visited on our field study day was the location of Richmond's slave trading district near Shockoe Bottom. While standing there at the former archaeological site of Robert Lumpkin's slave jail complex, a quote suddenly came to me that I remembered reading from Lincoln.

I was not certain where I had heard or read the quote, or even what the exact wording was, but it made me think about empathy. . . putting ones self in the shoes of others. When I had the opportunity I did some internet searching and found the quote. Lincoln, speaking to a group of Hoosier soldiers in March 1865, mentioned that "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally." That statement really brought it home to me. What would it feel like to be worked from dawn to dusk with no compensation other than being provided with meager food, clothing, and shelter. What would it feel like to be separated from one's family while being rented to someone else for no personal gain? What would it feel like to be subjected to inspection just before being bid up to the highest offer? What would it feel like to have no rights, to not be allowed to read, to have no legal recourse when persecuted?

Today I feel that our country is suffering from a serious lack of perspective. We seem to not be able to empathize with those whose thinking may be different from our own. I appreciate that studying history has increased my thinking ability and has added to the value of seeing other people's view; all things that were instilled in me from a young age by parental example.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

To Whom He Was Hired

From: Richmond Daily Dispatch, December 3, 1859.

A couple of posts back I shared an advertisement about three young men who ran away from various tobacco factories in Richmond and were captured in Staunton in 1861. Two years previously Thomas ran away from his hirer, tobacco factory owner George D. Harwood. From the information contained in the advertisement, it appears that P. B. Jones, who was the administrator for the estate of the deceased Samuel Pleasants, had placed Thomas in the charge of Harwood. Perhaps Thomas thought the urban setting of Richmond provided him a better opportunity for escape than his rural Culpeper County home and thus made his attempt there.

George D. Harwood is noted as being a forty-two year old tobacconist in the 1860 census. Harwood owned $18,000 in real estate and $15,000 in personal property. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and their six children. Harwood owned two female slaves (one twenty eight years old and one ten years old--probably a mother and daughter), who likely did domestic duties at this Henrico County residence. Harwood is also noted as owning eight male slaves in Richmond proper that worked at his factory. However, what is especially interesting about Harwood's listing in the 1860 slave schedules is that it shows the slaves he was hiring from other owners. There are forty-eight individuals, apparently all male, that worked in Harwood's employment. While their several masters are noted, none are marked as being owned by Samuel Pleasants or P.B. Jones. Two were owned by a W. W. Jones, but neither of who matches Thomas's age.

Did Thomas eventually make his way to freedom before the Civil War? Or was he recaptured and sold off to some distant location? Did Thomas take his freedom during the Civil War as a soldier in a United States Colored Troops regiment? Or did he bide his time on a farm, plantation or factory until the Yankees came?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

For Not Having a Copy of His Register

From December 15, 1860, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express.

Here's yet another situation that I have previously not encountered. A free man of color, named Ned Harris, was was arrested for not having his free papers in Nottoway County. Harris was jailed for the offense and was then he hired out to Richard Epes to pay his incarceration fees. Harris, probably disgusted with the punishment, ran away, thus prompting Epes to offer a $10 reward.

Two men named Richard Epes show for Nottoway County in 1860. One was a thirty-five year old county clerk who had no real estate or personal property values listed. The other was a wealthy forty-five farmer ($40,000 in real estate, $91,067 in personal property). I suppose a case could be made for either man being the hiring Richard Epes in the advertisement. Being a clerk in the county's government would seemingly allow him to have access to the knowledge that Harris was available for hire. The farming Epes would likely have need of additional labor. Regardless, Ned Harris, by virtue of being African American was subjected to a punishment that whites of the time would never have faced.

Interestingly the advertisement provides a description of Harris, but did not estimate an age for the man.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Runaways! Three Runaways in Jail.

The advertisement above, which ran in the October 8, 1861 edition of the Staunton Spectator has several interesting features.

It was not unusual for captured runaway advertisements to list more than one individual. Often when a group of slaves traveling together were arrested, they were listed together. However, it was not that these three were grouped in one advertisement that caught my attention. A more fascinating aspect were their ages. John Henry Williams was guessed by the jailer to be "about thirteen old;" Fielding Lewis, "about twelve;" as was Joseph Henry Smith. From my experience such young runaways were quite rare. The vast majority of those I normally find listed are in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties.

Looking to corroborate some of the information through census information, I was unable to locate much 1860 census information on the various individuals that the runaways provided as owners and employers. For example, I did not find William Warren (Fredericksburg), the alleged owner John Henry Williams. Or, his employer Gibron Miles. There were too many John Hollidays in Maryland to determine which one may have been the owner of Fielding Lewis, and I could not find a Fitzhugh Mayo in Richmond that was positively in tobacco work. However, I did find Joseph Henry Smith's employer, Thomas Beale, who was indeed a tobacconist.

Another intriguing feature of the advertisement is that each of the young men worked at a tobacco factory in Richmond. Even more interesting is that they were all apparently working in different factories. Being that these fellows were all about the same age and all were hired to do factory work in the Capital City, it might be that they met each other in their urban workaday world movements, identified with each other's situations, and decided to runaway from their labor situations together.

Urban hired slaves often were allowed to find their own living spaces and lived in what some historians have referred to as "quasi-freedom." If these young men existed in such an environment, it appears that it was not free enough from them and thus they attempted a move to find true freedom. One wonders if they were eventually claimed by their owners or employers and ended up back in their tobacco factory work world until emancipated.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Jackson Terry, 114th USCI

Although his name is incorrectly inscribed on the headstone, resting in plot #2054 in the City Point National Cemetery are the remains of Jackson Terry, Company H, 114th United States Colored Infantry.

How might I know this? The information that I found at the cemetery identified this plot to a soldier in Company H, 116th USCI, who died on Valentine's Day, 1865. I searched the service records for a soldier in the 116th with the last name of Telly. Not finding it, I went to the closest last name spelling that I could find with the same first name initial. Jackson Terry was the closest fit. I then reviewed his records and found that he died on February 14, 1865. Many of the soldiers that were buried in national cemeteries were moved from their original graves. They often had temporary wooden grave markers that deteriorated making them difficult to read. Or, sometimes, those that placed the wooden grave marker were not the best at spelling. Regardless, I feel confident that this soldier's grave belongs to Jackson Terry.

Interestingly, Jackson Terry's service records show that he was born in Virginia. Unfortunately, it does not give a more specific location. Terry was owned by Harrison County, Kentucky farmer, Thomas Terry. The forty-four year old Thomas Terry, too, was born in Virginia, as was his thirty-four year old wife Susan. However, all of their six children, the oldest being twelve years old, were born in Kentucky. Owner and slave being only about ten years different in age makes one wonder if they did not come west together as younger men.

Thomas Terry owned eight slaves in 1860, who lived in two slave dwellings. Two of those slaves match Jackson Terry's age (forty in 1860). Thomas Terry had real estate wealth worth $8000 and personal property worth $9000.

Jackson Terry was an early enlistee. He signed up on June 4, 1864, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, without his master's written consent. He was forty-four when he enlisted and was five feet four inches tall. He officially mustered into the Union army on June 16. A note on one of Terry's service record cards claims that "He was a very obedient, willing soldier, always ready, and kept his accouterments in the best of order."

The 114th spent time at Camp Nelson and then were sent to Louisa, Kentucky on the eastern mountain border with West Virginia. It appears that Terry was detailed as cook at this time. The 114th stayed in Louisa until ordered to Petersburg in January 1865. It is unknown, but Jackson Terry may have been sick before reaching the trenches at Petersburg. If so, landing there in the wintertime probably did not help his condition. He is next noted at dying at Point of Rocks general hospital on February 14, 1865, of pneumonia. His records note that he had received clothing from the government at the cost of $59.54, but he was not indebted to any sutlers or laundresses. Terry's last effects were itemized as one pair of trousers, one pair of drawers, two flannel shirts, one rubber blanket, one knapsack, and $33.75 in money.

It is not surprising that government army service records would be so cold. The only hint of Terry's soldering abilities limited to the previously mentioned obedience, willingness, and readiness. One wonders what Jackson Terry thought of his service to the Union army. Was he proud of serving? Was he pragmatic or philosophical about his service? Did he think his life was worth giving to reunite the country and help end slavery? On this Memorial Day, I remember Jackson Terry's service to a country that did not even consider him a citizen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Clark Witt, 116th USCI

If you have read many of my posts about soldiers dying far from home, you have likely realized that Civil War soldiers expired far more often in hospitals from disease than from wounds received on the battlefield.

Yet another of these tragic stories is that of Clark Witt, who is buried at the City Point National Cemetery in plot 2230. Witt was born in Estill County, around 1844. Clark was owned by David Witt. The 1860 census shows David Witt owned eleven slaves, one of which was an eighteen year old "black" male, who was likely Clark Witt.

David Witt was sixty-one years old in 1860. He lived with his wife, Nancy, and their three sons. David owned $6000 in real estate and $7425 in personal property. Among Clark Witt's service records is a claim for compensation by David Witt for Clark's service. In it he provided a hint of Clark's family history. David wrote, "said slave was born as my property I having previously owned his mother having purchased his mother of Mr. Russell of Garrard County, Ky that he remained uninterruptedly in my possession up to the date of his enlistment."

Clark Witt enlisted on June 12, 1864, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky. He formally mustered into service on June 28. He was placed in Company E of the 116th United States Colored Infantry. Clark was noted as being twenty years old and was described as five feet six inches tall and of black complexion.

Clark was present for duty, being charged $1.79 for losing two haversacks and a canteen, in November and December 1864. He was noted as being in a field hospital in November but apparently recovered as he was shown as again being in the hospital around February 3, 1865. Clark Witt died of chronic diarrhea on February 24, 1865, at the general hospital at Point of Rocks, Virginia.

It appears that David Witt found out about Clark's fate when he filed for compensation for Clark's service. One wonders what emotions David had upon finding out that Clark had died as soldier. Did David have kind feelings toward his former slave and express sadness.  Or, since he had not provided consent for Clark's enlistment, was David resentful? From what I have read about the wide variety of relationships between masters and slaves, either response could be possible.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Andrew Leavell, 116th USCI

As we approach Memorial Day, I thought I'd share some more stories of men who died very far from home. You might remember that last May I highlighted a number of Kentucky United States Colored Troops soldiers buried at Poplar Grove Cemetery in Dinwiddie County. Recently, I took a drive over to Hopewell (Prince George County) and took some photographs of Kentucky USCTs buried at the City Point National Cemetery. This cemetery contains the remains of over 1,300 African American soldiers. Many were from the Bluegrass State.

One of the many from Kentucky is Andrew Leavell. Leavell was in Company E of the 116th United States Colored Infantry. The 116th was recruited and trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky, before being transferred to the Eastern Theater in the fall of 1864.

Andrew Leavell was born in Garrard County, Kentucky, around 1836, and was owned by John Y. Leavell. John Y. Leavell is shown in the 1860 census as a forty-three year old Garrard County farmer, who lived with his wife Jane and their six children. Leavell was quite well off with worth listed as $21,800 in real estate and $18,550 in personal property. He owned five slaves, who lived in one slave dwelling. One of the slaves who was listed was a 24 year old black male in 1860, which meets Andrew's enlistment age and description.

Andrew Leavell enlisted at Camp Nelson on June 12, 1864, and officially mustered in two weeks later. He was aged twenty-eight years, was five feet seven inches tall, and had a black complexion. Leavell was noted in his service records as being absent, "sick in field hospital," since December 21, 1864. He died eight days later at the United States army hospital located at Point of Rocks (Chesterfield County, Virginia). Records indicate that Leavell's cause of death was typhoid fever. An inventory of his person effects included: one forage cap; one great coat; one blouse; two pair of trousers; two flannel shirts; and one knapsack.

One wonders if the other slaves that John Y. Leavell owned were related to Andrew. Those most close to Andrew's age was a twenty-eight year old woman and an eighteen year old woman. Were these his sisters? If so, did they ever know of Andrew's death and his final resting place . . . so far from home?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Barber Seeking First Rate Barber

I have located advertisements from free men of color barbers seeking apprentices, but the above ad is the first I have found for a barber searching for another experienced barber. It ran in the March 5, 1850, issue of the Richmond Whig.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find this William Williamson barber in the 1850 or 1860 census. I found an 1856 Richmond city business directory online, but Williamson was not listed. Perhaps he had moved or gone out of business by then. But, upon further review, it appears that no black barbers were listed in this directory; only five white barbers were noted.

However, I did find Pearl Street on a period map. The short thoroughfare was near Shockoe Creek and close to the many flour mills at the James River basin.

If anyone has information on William Williamson, I would be interested in hearing whatever could be shared.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thirty-nine Lashes

seeing Ruffin take it. The barbershop is on Cary street near Eighth street.
The above short article ran in the September 13, 1864, issue of the Richmond Whig. I happened across it while seeking information on black barbers. Many of the antebellum and Civil War Richmond newspapers ran similar brief reports on decisions handed down by the mayor's court.

A couple of things caught my attention in these few short sentences. The first is the reference to Ruffin's physical appearance. Does describing the free barber's head as being "like a gorilla" add anything of substance to the story? Of course not. Does having "a head like a gorilla" predispose one to stealing? Of course not. However, in 1864 it was believed so. This provides a clear example of period racist thinking. Second is the fact that a free man of color was sentenced to thirty-nine lashes. If a white man had committed the same crime I can guarantee that he would have been fined or given jail time. But, by being an African American-even if free- Ruffin was given harsher punishment.

Daniel Ruffin was only about twenty-two at the time the article was printed. He is listed with his family in the 1860 census. Ruffin was eighteen in 1860. His occupation was barber apprentice. His father, forty-five year old Bob Ruffin, was a boatman. His mother, fifty-six year old Martha, was a washer and ironer. Also in the household were Andrew (eleven) and Robert (nine).

Being curious if Ruffin continued his barber career in post-war Richmond, I did a little more searching. I located Ruffin in the 1870 census. Unfortunately, I was unable to answer my question as he was shown as being incarcerated in the Virginia State Penitentiary.

A Daniel Ruffin that fits the former barber's age appeared in the 1880 census as a farmer in nearby Dinwiddie County. He lived with wife Corrina and daughter Mollie. In the neighborhood were other African American Ruffins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Runaway Barber Apprentice

The above advertisement ran in the March 6, 1855, edition of the Richmond Whig. It was posted by Lomax B. Smith, a Richmond free man of color barber, who sought to retrieve his young apprentice.

Last summer I posted about Smith's offer to the mayor of Richmond to go to cut the ears off of John Brown and his captured raiders in 1859. Smith's offer was declined, but the barber received the mayor's praise for his patriotism.

Interestingly, the apprentice that Lomax B. Smith was looking to locate in 1855, was listed in his household in the 1850 census. Payton Bradley is noted as a fourteen year old mulatto. Smith is listed as a forty year old barber, who owned $2000 in real estate. Also in the home was Smith's wife, Nancy, an eighteen year old named Rachel Burton, Thomas S. Smith (8), and Mary Bradley (12), who was likely Payton's sister.

I was curious to see if Bradley ended up back in Smith's household five years later (1860 census). Smith was listed as still being a barber in Richmond, and he and Nancy reported their ages as forty, as they had a decade earlier. Smith's worth was given as $1500 in real estate and $500 in personal property. Bradley, however, was not included in the Smith household.

With my curiosity still not being satisfied, I searched to see if Bradley was still in Richmond in 1860. He was not. I believe I found him in James City County (Williamsburg) as there was a mulatto man with that name there who matched his Bradley's age. Bradley's 1860 occupation was not listed, but he lived in the Robert Greehow household. Greenhow was a brick maker.

I wonder why Payton Bradley ran away from Smith. Was he treated unfairly? Did he not like barbering? Was there something that drove him to James City County and the Greenhows or was it just chance that he ended up there?

In 1870, Bradley appears in New Kent County as a farmer. He had married a woman named Susan, who was one year his senior and they had a five year old daughter named Elizabeth. I suppose barbering just wasn't Bradley's cup of tea.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Edmund Ruffin's Marlbourne

Today, on my way back from Maryland, and wanting to do just about anything to get away from the steady traffic of I-95, I decided to see if I could find Virginian and pro-slavery arch-secessionist Edmund Ruffin's Marlbourne plantation in Hanover County.

It was much easier to locate than I initially thought. Situated just off of Highway 360 and northeast of Mechanicsville, the agricultural innovator's unpretentious white frame house is barely visible across a newly planted cornfield and through a grove of mature trees. And although I wished to respect the owner's privacy and thus did not drive up the gravel road to the house and Ruffin's grave, I stood at the brick entrance pillars for a few minutes and wondered what Ruffin thought about the last time he passed up the road to his home. I suspect he was sad.

Ruffin, born in Prince George County in 1794, moved to Marlborne in 1843. Under Ruffin's charge, the one-thousand acre plantation along the Pamunkey River underwent a number of changes, which led to a significant improvement in its agricultural output. Ruffin's wife Susan died at Marlbourne in 1846 and he turned to both public and private writing in the 1850s to help him deal with the additional losses of several of his adult children.

Despairing of the loss of more family during the Civil War, the Confederacy's defeat, the destruction of his beloved way of life, as well as Beechwood, his Prince George County plantation, Ruffin committed suicide at Marlbourne in June 1865. Ever the writer, Ruffin left details for his burial. The troubled man's remains were committed to the ground of the land he loved so much.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cox's Snow

While reading Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves, I kept running into references to Cox's Snow. Many of the former slave interview subjects used Cox's Snow as time reference point. I finally found a reference to this incident that was printed in Historical and Industrial Guide to Petersburg, Virginia by Edward Pollock, which was published in 1884. Interestingly Pollock, too, noted that African Americans used the blizzard as a chronological marker. Pollock explained the snowstorm:

"On the 18th of January, 1857, the heaviest fall of snow ever witnessed in this latitude blocked all the roads so that travel was almost impossible, and brought the ordinary occupations of out-door life to a stand-still. Fences and hedges disappeared. This condition of affairs, in which an inhabitant of the great Northwest would have felt thoroughly at home, caused much inconvenience and suffering to a community accustomed to mild winters and a light snow-fall. Dr. Joseph E. Cox, of Dinwiddie, while out driving with his friend, Mr. Traylor, was overtaken by the storm and fatally frozen before he could reach shelter. His companion was severely frost-bitten, but survived his injuries, and in time recovered. The doctor was a most estimable citizen and the impression produced by his death was so profound that the storm has ever since been referred to as 'Cox's Snow.' Indeed, among the classes who felt its severity most, it became an epoch from which succeeding time was measured, and it was almost as common, a quarter of a century ago to hear of certain events having occurred 'since Cox's Snow,' as it became in later years to be reminded of that Elysian period which existed, in the language of the colored brethren, 'fo 'de wah.'"

Monday, May 9, 2016

Petersburg Auctioneer William Tench

One does not have to peruse too many issues of antebellum Petersburg newspapers to become acquainted with the name of William Tench. For many years Tench operated an auction house in the Cockade City that redistributed property wealth, often for the estates of the deceased, and often in the form of human chattel property. Tench could be labeled as a slave trader in that that form of property made up a significant amount of his sales. Tench, however, was also a respected and influential businessman in the city and region. 

In the 1840 census, Tench is shown living in Petersburg's East Ward. It identified his household as having eight white people in it and three slaves, who were two females and a male child; all the slaves were likely domestic help. 

Tench is listed as the forty-three year old head of his household in the 1850 census. He owned $1000 in real estate. Living with Tench was his wife, Sarah (42), and three sons and a daughter. Tench owned  two slaves in 1850, a twenty-five year old female and a twelve year old male.

Ten years later, Tench was still in Petersburg, but living in the Center Ward. He is listed as a fifty-three year old "clerk." He owned $4750 in real estate and $2400 in personal property. Also in the Tench household was still wife Sara (50), twenty-three year old "auctioneer" son John, who apparently followed in his father's footsteps. Joseph (21) and Theophilus (18) were both listed as clerks. Also included were teenagers Laura and Charles. In that census Tench is listed as the owner of a fifty year old slave woman, who lived in a single slave dwelling.

This brief notice above mentioning one of Tench's sales ran in the December 15, 1860, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express. I am a little curious as to why the newspaper would have published this specific common occurrence event. The price received for the sale is about in line for a female of child-bearing age values in 1860. Perhaps, Tench had the notice ran as a slightly different form of advertising. Regardless, Tench continued advertising the slaves he was auctioning into 1865. And although the changes wrought by the Civil War ended Tench's sale of people, he continued to serve as an auctioneer as witnessed by the 1870 and 1880 censuses.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Petersburg Black Barber - Edward Lockett

While looking through some editions of the Petersburg Daily Express in effort to find reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation, I happened upon an advertisement placed by free black barber Edward Lockett in the June 11, 1863, issue.

The ad notifies customers of Lockett's move from his "old stand at Jarratt's Hotel to the framed tenement at the corner of Washington and Union" streets. Lockett claims to have been a Petersburg institution, in that his ad mentions his thanks for patrons' business for the last twenty-nine years. Interestingly, when I searched the 1860 census for Lockett, it listed him as thirty-four years old. If the ad and census information are both correct, Lockett would have started barbering at about age eight or nine. I suppose that is possible, but highly doubtful.

The census information also showed Lockett as married to Jane E. (twenty-six), and had two children; Virginia A. (four) and Edward (two). The barber owned $800 in real estate and $100 in personal property. The Lockett family lived in the South Petersburg Ward in a largely black neighborhood. Their listed neighbors were mostly other free people of color families, who held jobs such as carpenter, tobacco stemmer, tobacco twister, laborer, hotel waiter, "waggoner," washer woman, plasterer, and gardener.

Lockett billed himself as a "Professor" in the advertisement. I have found other barbers who used this or similar terms to show themselves as being thoroughly skilled in their occupational "art." Such terms also ensured their customers of the barber's long experience, and thus proven ability.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Edwin Forbes on "Slave Cabins"

Yesterday I posted about Civil War artist Edwin Forbes's impressions of slaves and the different ways they assisted Union soldiers. Later, in that same account, Forbes gave some descriptions of slave cabins that he encountered while following the army. Most of the artist's time was spent covering the Virginia campaigns.

"The cabins were invariably built of logs, general squared and jointed at the corners; the peaked roof was roughly singled, and the chimney was built outside the house, at the end. It was sometimes built of stone, but oftener of sticks, crossed at right angles and heavily plastered with clay. Still another variety was sometimes seen, which was made of but two walls of logs. The inner ends were fastened to the house, and the others met at a point, thus giving a triangular form and affording opportunity for a very wide fire-place.

Sometimes a cabin would be seen with two or three chimneys. This at first mystified me, but on inquiry I found that when one chimney "burned out" another one was built, the first serving no other purpose than to add variety to the cabin. In many instances I noticed a rough ladder which led from the ground to the peak of the roof near the chimney; and occasionally there were two, one on each side. No amount of conjecture satisfied me as to their use, and I one day questioned an old negro about it. 'Laws massa,' he answered, 'dem ladders is to put de chimley out.' 'Out?' I said, 'why is is out - outside.' 'Laws! I mean dey is to put de chimley out when it cotches fire - 'n' dat's berry off'n. Yer see we takes up a pail o' water and po's [pours] it down to stop de blaze. We couldn't git 'long 'out dem ladders, no how.'

Many of the cabins were overgrown with honeysuckle, the beautiful trumpet creeper and other vines indigenous to Southern climates, and often an arbor was built in front of the door, under which the pickaninnies could romp or take shelter on rude benches. Water buckets stood outside the wall, and hanging from a nail over them were gourd dippers with which to drink. A rude square table was usually seen in front, on which 'aunty' ironed and performed other household work. Near the outside corner of the cabin generally stood a wooden vessel, of bowl like structure, though with tapering top, used for making of lye for the manufacture of soap. Old iron pots lay carelessly about, and numberless ducks and chickens gave animation to the picture.

The interior of these cabins, however, seldom ever bore out the promise of the outside view. Many of them were divided into two rooms, while others had but one, which served the purpose of sleeping, cooking and eating. The furniture was rude and scanty, consisting only of one or two benches, an old arm chair and a bed. A spinning-wheel and loom often found places in the corner, and when 'homespun' was being woven, the scene was always an interesting one. The large-fire place was set at the end of the house, furnished with andirons and a crane with chain attachment, on which a cooking-pot usually emitted a thin curl of place blue smoke, which lazily made its way up the ample chimney. The though of ornamenting the walls evidently did not occur to the simple negroes; but, had they desired it, the smoked surface would not have admitted of embellishment. Overhead was an attic, where sweet corn, pumpkins and other supplies were stored for winter use."

Similar to yesterday's quote, this selection from Forbes contain racist elements. It is probably not so surprising due to its 1890s publication. However, Forbes's insights, even remembered thirty years after the fact, give us yet another account of the slaves' daily environment.

Forbes image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Artist Edwin Forbes on Slave Assistance to the Union Army

Artist Edwin Forbes drew just about everything during his time covering the Civil War. Included among his many sketches of the Union army and the Southern countryside were some images of slave quarters. In his book, Thirty Years After: An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War, Forbes wrote about his impressions about slave dwellings and their inhabitants.

He wrote: "Grouped in rear of the mansions of the wealthy, peeping out from the shadows of vines and trees, were the modest cabins of the house-servants and farm-hands. Their shabby exterior was scarcely in keeping with the warm welcome always offered to the 'Lincoln sogers' by their inmates, whose utmost sympathy could always be depended upon; and thousands of soldiers can recall with pleasure kindness received from these dusky people. Delicious pies and cooking made by the old 'aunties' were freely handed out to the hungry groups who stood about the door; the sick and wounded soldiers were never turned away, and escaped prisoners received food and guidance, and were assisted to places of safety by the slaves irrespective of their own danger. It was often a difficult task, but they would take great risks and pass the fugitives from one refuge to another until the Union lines were reached. It was wonderful, in their irrespective positions of simplicity and servitude, that they understood as well as they did the final meaning of the presence of soldiers, and waited with such hopeful, quiet patience the great accomplishment of their emancipation."

While Forbes's recollections are tinged with racist overtones from the late-nineteenth century in that he gives little to no credit to the slaves themselves in securing their emancipation, he does pay a small tribute to the assistance they often provided to the soldiers of the Union army.

Forbres image courtesy of the Library of Congress.