Sunday, August 30, 2009

Historic Cumberland Gap

In the late summer of 1988 I headed off to college and drove through the Cumberland Gap for the first time by myself. I didn't realize at that time the number of occasions I would make the trip back and forth between Southern Indiana and East Tennessee, but I do fondly remember the encouragement I used to prompt my worn out 1980 Mustang up the Kentucky side of the mountain, past Cudjo's Cave, into a blink-and-miss-it part of Virginia, and then down the Tennessee side of the mountain. Only later would they design and build a tunnel through the gap that would make scaling it unnecessary. If they would have done that earlier it would have saved me lots of frustration being stuck behind countless semi-trucks.

I can only imagine what Dr. Thomas Walker must have thought as he first saw the Cumberland Gap in 1750. Back then, of course, there would have been no roads, no souvenir shops, and no man-made lakes. Walker had named the Cumberland River after Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, and eventually other geographic features in the region, like the gap, took on the Cumberland name. Naturally, Indians were the first people to discover the gap. They had used the it for hundreds of years for hunting trips and warring adventures before Thomas Walker took credit for discovering it. Animals, many of which are no longer natural to the region, also used the gap as a natural migrating path. Eastern buffalo and elk moved in great herds and probably led the first Indians to and through the gap.

The Cumberland Gap was the path of least resistance to many settlers on their western quest for better opportunities. The Great Wagon Road that ran down the Shenandoah Valley to Southwest Virginia would eventually reach the Cumberland Gap, and then on into Kentucky when, in 1775, Daniel Boone and a crew trailblazers built the Wilderness Road which opened up the Bluegrass for settlement. During the years between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War the Cumberland Gap would see hundreds of thousands of people making their way to what would eventually become Kentucky (1792) and Tennessee (1796).

During the Civil War the strategic Cumberland Gap would be taken and retaken by the opposing sides a number of times. The gap proved to be a formidable position as far as a naturally defensive work, but its isolation was its downfall. If supplies lines were cut off to the gap, the defending forces had little choice other than surrender or starve. Soldiers in the armies of both the Union and Confederacy despised duty at the gap, particularly during winter and summer as trees were quickly cut for fuel and left the men little opportunity for additional firewood or shelter.

There are a number of songs about Cumberland Gap, some of which originated in the Civil War. One has these lyrics:
Lay down boys and take a little nap,
Lay down boys and take a little nap,
Lay down boys and take a little nap,
Fourteen miles to Cumberland Gap.

Cumberland Gap is a place of rocks,
home to the panther, the bear and fox.

Cumberland Gap is a noted place
Three kinds of water to wash your face.
The first white man in the Cumberland Gap
Was doctor Walker, an English Chap.

Cumberland Gap is fearsome place,
shells go off right in your face.
Daniel Boone on Pinnacle Rock,
Killed a bear with his old flintlock.

Lay down boys and take a little nap,
Lay down boys and take a little nap,
Lay down boys and take a little nap,
We're gonna raise hell in the Cumberland Gap.

After the Civil War the gap was used by industrial loggers and others fortune hunters to get at the region's rich natural resources. Improved roads and the rise of the automobile brought vacationing site seers to the gap in the early 20th century. Tourism has always been a popular attraction at the Cumberland Gap, and in the 1930s and 40s efforts were made to make the area into a national park. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park was finally dedicated on July 4, 1959.

At present over a million visitors a year visit this beautiful park and learn about its important place in American history.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

In the Compromise of 1850 California was admitted to the Union as a free state. In return, the South and slaveholding border states received a stronger fugitive slave law.

Congress had passed a fugitive slave law in 1793 to enforce Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which read, "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." But, with the rise of abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, and the significant number of successful slave escapes, especially from the border and upper-South states, it was believed by Southern slaveholders that a stronger law was needed.

The 1793 law had also been weakened by an 1842 Supreme Court case (Prigg v. Pennsylvania). Justice Joseph Story ruled that the federal law slave law was superior to state laws. But, with that being so, states were therefore not required to assist federal agents in returning slaves to their owners if state laws forbade it. This ruling thus allowed many states to introduce "personal liberty laws" that severely limited who could help federal marshalls capture runaways. It was believed by some Southern politicians that by giving in to California's wish to be admitted as a free state, a positive bargain could be made for a stricter fugitive slave law.

The 1850 fugitive slave law, authored and argued by Virginian James Murray Mason, stipulated that state and local authorities were indeed responsible for arresting and detaining slaves suspected of being runaways. If they did not, they were liable to be fined $1,000. Suspected slaves could not present testimony on their own behalf if arrested. This, of course, led to many abuses. Legitimate freedmen living in the North could potentially be arrested and sold into slavery since they could not provide testimony in court on their on behalf. In addition, if persons were caught aiding runaway slaves they too were liable to be fined $1000 and serve a six month sentence in prison. State and local authorities were paid for their successful arrests, and slave owners only needed to provide an affidavit to a federal marshall to have their slave pursued.

The law naturally delighted slaveholders and infuriated abolitionists and many previously otherwise unconcerned Northerners. Frederick Douglass claimed that, " Under this law the oaths of any two villains (the capturer and the claimant) are sufficient to confine a free man to slavery for life." Many in Congress felt that the law would not make a difference at all, and some supported it only to make the Compromise of 1850 work and keep the North and South somewhat pacified.

The law's impact was felt immediately. Many runaway slaves living as free men in the Northern states had to move on to Canada or risk being returned to slavery. Many northerners defied the law and increased their abolitionist activities and Underground Railroad support. The lack of enforcement of the law on the part of the Northern states would be one of the main points in South Carolina and other Southern states' reasons for secession. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was one more log on the bonfire of sectional discord.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Walmart Wins the Battle of the Wilderness

The expected has happened. Walmart got their way, and the OK from Orange County to build on historic ground that will certainly impair visitors' experience to the Battle of the Wilderness battlefield. Last month at the Civil War Preservation Trust's Teacher Institute we heard from CWPT CEO Ron Cogswell that they did not appear to have the favor of the Orange County board on this issue, and that they did not expect to win this particular struggle, but it was a battle they had to fight. I agree entirely. It is my hope that the publicity that the CWPT received from this struggle will increase awareness and membership, and help them win many future battles. There are still acres and acres to save.

Here is the AP story:

Officials OK Walmart near Va. battlefield
By STEVE SZKOTAK (AP) – 15 hours ago
ORANGE, Va. — Officials in central Virginia approved a Walmart Supercenter early Tuesday near one of the nation's most important Civil War battlefields, a proposal that had stirred opposition by preservationists and hundreds of historians.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to grant the special permit to the world's biggest retailer after a majority of more than 100 speakers said they favored bringing the Walmart to Locust Grove, within a cannonball's shot from the Wilderness Battlefield.
Historians and Civil War buffs are fearful the Walmart store will draw traffic and more commerce to an area within the historic boundaries of the Wilderness, where generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first met in battle 145 years ago and where 145,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought and more than 29,000 were killed or injured. One-fourth of the Wilderness is protected.

But they could not sway supervisors, who said they didn't see the threat.
"I cannot see how there will be any visual impact to the Wilderness Battlefield," Supervisor Chairman Lee Frame said, casting a vote for the special use permit the retailer needs to build. "I think the current proposal ... is the best way to protect the battlefield."
The retailer said construction could begin in a year.

Nearly 400 people crowded into Orange County High School to attend the board's hearing. Some came dressed in period costume, including a dead ringer for Lee.
Many residents cited three reasons for supporting the Walmart proposal: jobs, tax revenue and a cheap shopping option for the 32,000 residents of this farming community about 60 miles southwest of Washington.

"I know we've been referred to as ignorant shoppers," said Barbara Wigger. "I feel bad about that but I'll live with it. Let us have our Walmart and let us stop the battle."
Speakers who urged the board to reject the special permit said they were not anti-Walmart, but simply worried about the sanctity of the battlefield.

"This is a major battlefield," said Charles Seilheimer Jr. "It may not be Gettysburg but it's pretty close. The Civil War experts say this is part of the battlefield. I believe them."
In a state with more key Civil War battlefields than any other, the company's plan to build near the Wilderness had mobilized historians, preservationists and politicians.

Opponents included 253 historians such as David McCullough and James M. McPherson, filmmaker Ken Burns, actor Robert Duvall, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, and congressmen from Vermont and Texas, states that lost many men at the Wilderness.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has 8,000 stores worldwide and adds about 240 each year, countered that the site is zoned for commercial use and the store will not be within sight of the battlefield's 2,700 protected acres. The retailer has also said the store will create hundreds of jobs and generate $800,000 in tax revenue for Orange County.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What is a Cracker?

I have spent the greatest part of my life in the part of the Unites States that are considered "The South." During that time I have heard many different titles bestowed on individuals from any number of classes, ethnic groups, or religious affiliations. Some, as we all know, are none too kind and have deep roots in history and racism. Probably what is the most common term used to describe white Southerners is "redneck." But there are also "peckerwoods," "good old boys," "honky"-thus "honky-tonk," "hillbilly,"and of course, those that are economically disadvantaged and of bad character; the "poor white trash." I suppose those names could be applied to anyone in any geographic location of the United States, but in my mind they are used most often in some association with white Southerners.

One term that I have always found unusual is "cracker." I have always assumed that since most crackers (the saltine variety) are white, then that is the reason the term was used to describe white people in the South; this is not necessarily so though. Another explanation I have heard for the term is that mean whites, usually overseers, cracked the whip while motivating enslaved laborers to work harder. Yet another is that poor whites scavenged about in colonial and antebellum times often living on pecans and other nuts and to get the nuts they of course had to "crack" them. Along the same lines is the thought that poor white Southerners lived on cracked corn so much that they thus derived the term. Webster's 10th Edition Collegiate Dictionary has a number of definitions for the word cracker. One of these is: "a poor Southern white, usually used disparagingly." Good enough, but a little research finds that the term goes way back, although not necessarily in many of the ways we think of it today.

In Elizabethan England a "cracker" was someone who was boastful or a joker, thus the phrase, "cracking a joke;" often a theater performer. In 1766, in an official correspondence, a colonist wrote to the earl of Dartmouth, "I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their place of abode." Thus, the term cracker came to represent, in that time, usually a Southern Scots-Irish herder. Herding is how many immigrants who were too poor to purchase land made a living. The free ranging of hogs and cattle, and then herding them miles and miles to markets while squatting on another man's land was not so uncommon of a life in the early American South, especially in the frontier borderlands.

The king of cracker scholarship was Dr. Grady McWhiney, who passed away in 2006. His book, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (1988) is a great read, and I highly recommend it. His thesis in this study is that the South's distinctiveness derives mainly from the early settlement of the region by people of Celtic origins and ancestry; mainly the Scots-Irish, but also the Welsh. In the book he explains that,
"Cracker soon became part of the American vocabulary, but it has almost always been used disparagingly to describe the mudsills of the South. Contemporaries and scholars alike usually equated Crackers to poor whites. Few writers chose, as did the historian Lewis C. Gray, to distinguish between the two: 'The distinctive characteristics of the poor white were recognized in the various special appellations by which they were contemptuously known in different parts of the South, such as 'piney-woods people,' 'dirt-eaters,' 'clay-eaters,' tallow-faced gentry,' 'sand-hillers,' and 'crackers.' The term crackers, however, was sometimes applied also to mountaineers and other small farmers.' Gray also acknowledged that many of the Old South's herdsmen were called Crackers. To most travelers in the antebellum South, especially those from England and the North, a Cracker was any Southerner whose ways differed significantly from their own, and many accounts of trips though the Old South devoted space to laughing and sneering at the rustic and lazy habits of the Crackers."

So, there is one interpretation of the origins of the term cracker, and it seems to make more sense than the ones I had previously always assumed or associated with the term. Once again the point is proven that my mother always used to say, "if you don't know something that you want to know...look it up!"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Personality Spotlight: Osborne Perry Anderson

Over the past several months I have become extremely interested in John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid, particularly as it relates to the wide array of repercussions across the North and South. I suppose part of that interest is because this coming October will mark the 150th anniversary of this very significant event in American history. But, I think it is also partly because of the participant individuals and their varied background stories.

One of those individuals involved in the raid was Osborne P. Anderson. Anderson was born free in West Fallowfield, (Chester County) Pennsylvania in 1830. Anderson attended integrated Oberlin College in Ohio and afterward moved to Chatham, Canada to work on abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.

In 1858, while still in Canada, Anderson met John Brown at the so-called Chatham Convention. Anderson was moved by Brown's commitment to freedom and equality for all black people and committed himself immediately to Brown's cause.

Anderson was one of five African American men that Brown brought to Harper's Ferry, and he would be the only black raider to escape alive. At the start of the raid, the marauders captured local resident slaveholder and great-grandson of George Washington, Colonel Lewis Washington while trying to round up slaves to participate in the raid. Brown symbolically ordered that Washington surrender a sword that George Washington had owned to Anderson. One can only imagine what must have been going through Lewis Washington's mind at that moment. During the raid Anderson was stationed with white raider Albert Hazlett at the armory while Brown and the other raiders took the hostages to a nearby fire engine house to use as their fort. While attention was on Brown and the large party at the fire engine house, Anderson and Hazlett laid low and did not attempt to draw the town's fury toward themselves.

As darkness fell Anderson and Hazlett escaped across the Potomac River into Maryland, but soon split up in southern Pennsylvania when Hazlett became incapacitated due to blistered feet. Hazlett was soon caught, taken back to Virginia, and eventually executed on March 16, 1860. Anderson used his quick wit to avoid escape while in Pennsylvania and moved on to Canada.

In 1861, Anderson's eyewitness account of the raid, A Voice From Harper's Ferry, was published with the help of his former boss Mary Ann Shadd. In it he explained that the slaves that ran away on their own or were persuaded to run away by Brown and his raiders did not get the proper recognition they deserved for their role in the raid's aftermath. He wrote, "Of the slaves who followed us to the Ferry, some were sent to help remove stores, and the others were drawn up in a circle around the engine-house, at one time, where they were, by Captain Brown's order, furnished by me with pikes, mostly, and acted as a guard to the prisoners to prevent their escape, which they did. As in the war of the American Revolution, the first blood shed was a black man's, Crispus Attuck's, so at Harpers Ferry, the first blood shed by our party, after the arrival of the United States troops, was that of a slave. In the beginning of the encounter, and before the troops had fairly emerged from the bridge, a slave was shot. I saw him fall. Phil, the slave who died in prison, with fear, as it was reported, was wounded at the Ferry, and died from the effects of it."

In 1864 Anderson enlisted in the United Stated Colored Troops (USCT). He was made a recruiting officer and assisted Governor Oliver P. Morton in enlisting black troops in Indiana, and later he also recruited in Arkansas. After the war Anderson remained active in the fight for black citizenship and equality where he attended "Colored Conventions" during the Reconstruction years.

In 1872, at age 42, Anderson passed away from consumption while in Washington D.C.

Over the next couple of months I hope to bring more of John Brown's raiders into the "Personality Spotlight."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just finished reading - The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House by John F. Marszalek, 1997

Scandals in Washington D.C. seem quite common these days, and it probably won't surprise anyone that they have been a part of life in that city since the reclaimed swampland was turned into the nation's capitol.

In the early 1830's a scandal rocked Washington that had far reaching historical repercussions and involved the highest heads of state. When it was said and done Andrew Jackson's cabinet had resigned in mass, political ambitions were dashed, and lives and ways of life, were threatened.

Margaret O'Neale was born to innkeeper William O'Neale and his wife Rhoda on December 3, 1799, in the then just-emerging city of Washington D.C. Margaret grew up as a precocious child in the inn keeping and boardinghouse business. She helped serve the boarders at their Franklin House Inn - most often men - their meals and drinks, provided musical entertainment by singing and on the piano, joked with the guests, and played the role of surrogate daughter to many.

Margaret was by all accounts a beautiful girl, and later a lovely woman. By age fourteen she had already become the matrimonial target for several men. At fifteen she attempted to elope, but was caught by her father sneaking out her window after breaking a flower pot. Apparently she was not too upset by her father's intervention because it was only a short time later that two different men were found fighting outside the family house over the opportunity to court her.

In 1814 William O'Neale sent his daughter to New York to receive an education and hopefully keep her out of trouble (although New York seems like and odd place to send a teenager to keep them out of trouble). One of her beaus had followed her to New York and Margaret and he planed an elopement but the relationship came apart after the man fell from her favor. She returned to Washington promising her father she would behave.

In 1816, at 16 years old, she met John Timberlake, a purser in the United States Navy. He asked for her hand in marriage the day they met and were married within a month. Two years later John Henry Eaton, a senator from Tennessee came to board at Franklin House. Eaton and the Timberlakes quickly became fast friends. In the early 1820s, Timberlake went back to the navy after failing in a business attempt. Timberlake's navy duties took him away from home for long stays, and with Timberlake's consent, Eaton served as Margaret's escort to many social events. Timberlake trusted Eaton with his wife even to the point of signing over a power of attorney to the senator. Sharing time with a man outside of her marriage made Margaret become the subject of unrelenting Washington gossip. After all, the gossips said, she had grown up working in a boardinghouse hotel where she had served men alcohol and discussed issues that were not meant for women's ears, surely she must be scandalous. Margaret was never one to hold her tongue, and her beautiful appearance led people to insist that she must be a loose woman. As historian Barbara Welter has explained in her "Cult of True Womanhood," in the 19th century women were expected to be pious, submissive, pure, and domestic. Margaret refused to fit the traditional mold of womanhood and she and those closest to her suffered for that decision.

Timberlake went down hill fast upon returning to the navy. There were reports that he drank too much and did not take care of himself. He died while at sea in 1828. Instead of waiting the normal mourning period of a year or more, Margaret married Eaton. They couldn't know the issues this would cause incoming President Andrew Jackson or themselves.

Jackson had lost the election in 1824 due to what he considered a "corrupt bargain" conspiracy, and when he won in 1828, his enemies attacked him and his family mercilessly. His wife Rachel had married him while technically still married to another man long ago, but the issue resurfaced to detract from Jackson's victory by his political foes. Rachel died before he was inaugurated and Jackson emphatically blamed her death on his political attackers.

Jackson and Eaton had been friends and mutual admirers for years in Tennessee, and Jackson was happy to see the newlyweds enjoying their marriage in Washington. Jackson liked the friendly company of Margaret and she became like a daughter to him. When she started becoming the target of gossip in society Jackson immediately identified with her plight and compared it to his dead wife Rachel's. Jackson named Eaton Secretary of War early in his administration and he would stick by John and Margaret Eaton throughout the ordeal. He felt that as a woman wrongly labeled, Margaret had to be defended by honorable men

Much like the present, Washington in the 19th century was a social city. All of the movers and shakers went to parties and receptions as was expected of their class. Due to the gossip and the insinuations of being a "bad woman" though, Margaret was shunned by society. None of the other cabinet members' wives would associate with her and this caused a serious rift in the administration. On a couple of occasions Eaton suggested duel to those that slandered his wife and all would eventually come apart with the resignations of Jackson's cabinet. Jackson saw the scandal as a conspiracy to unseat himself as president by his chief enemies; Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

The scandal would eventually become old news, but not before it had altered the lives of many of the politically important individuals involved. It has been suggested, that if not for the scandal, Martin Van Buren would probably not have followed Jackson into the White House. Marszalek sums up Margaret's situation by writing that "Margaret Eaton dared to live her life in a way that contemporaries found improper for a woman. She was no saint and she was not crusader; but she was not the sinner rumor made her out to be, either. Using modern lexicon, she was 'brazen,' 'uncouth,' 'pushy,' and 'upitty,' the opposite of what a woman was supposed to be. Such unwomanly behavior, not impurity, was her major sin. She just did not know her proper place or her proper role, and she thus represented a threat to those who thought they did."

Professor Marszalek's writing style makes this much more than just a common political history. He has explored the Petticoat Affair from every angle and keeps it interesting reading throughout. This episode is just one of many that troubled the Jackson administration, but it is one that certainly makes for a good story.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't Want to Read a Book? Take a Listen!

Have you ever wanted to learn something, but just didn't want to read a book? OK, that almost never happens to me, but I am sure that there are many people out there who aren't page turners, and who would rather hear someone discuss a topic than read about it. Well, if you are one of these people, I have just the thing for you.

The great people at the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History ( ) have a large selection of audio podcasts available for your listening pleasure....and the best part...they're free.

Right now, the featured podcast is University of Virginia's noted Civil War historian Gary Gallagher speaking on the popular topic of "The Civil War in American Memory." Other choices though include such notables historians as James McPherson, Ira Berlin, Eric Foner, Gordon Wood, Catherine Clinton, Sean Wilentz, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., among a host of others.

All of these talks appear to be downloadable, so load up the iPod, take a long walk or bike ride and learn something.

These podcasts can be found at:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Where Have All the Hats Gone?

My father was a hat man. No matter the weather or the occasion, he had a hat for it. Most often he sported a short brimmed fedora; it was just part of who he was, and he had tons of them. But, he also had hats for hunting, fishing, softball...or just about anything else. I am not sure when wearing hats went from being something everyone did, to something only a small portion of the population thought important, but one friend of mine in graduate school suggested that the downfall of hats began with John F. Kennedy. According to this individual, Kennedy was the first president to attend his inauguration NOT wearing a hat. Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but it would make sense. He and Jackie were trendsetters and after all JFK did have a nice head of hair. Hat makers! Now you have someone to blame.

It doesn't take too long when looking at historic pictures see how important hats were in society up into the 20th century. A view of any street scene from the 1850s to the 1940s will show just about every man...and most women, wearing a hat of some fashion.

Sometimes the season determined the hat. For example, broad-brimmed straw hats were popular in the summer because they provided shade, were light weight, and allowed the head to "breathe." Sometimes fashion determined the hat. The top hat was a popular choice in the 1850s and 1860s among those that could afford it. In the 1880s and 1890s the derby ruled, and in the 1920s the flat-topped short-brimmed straw hat was all the rage. Sometimes an occupation determined the hat. Railroad engineers had their own hats, police had their own styles, and army regulations usually determined what was and wasn't acceptable in headgear.

Of course, hats are still popular for the sporting crowd...more accurately "caps" are still popular. Instead of traditional hats, baseball-style caps have taken over the hat market. Caps come in just about every color, style, and team imaginable. Trends still happen in caps as well. A few years ago the mesh "trucker" hats were the cool thing. At one time the more curved you could make the bill the better, but lately the urban trendsetters have made the "straight-brim" the look.

Who knows if hat styles will come back around. The Indiana Jones movies brought the fedora out hiding for some men a number of years back, but the only place you really see women wearing hats now are at church on Easter or at the Kentucky Derby. Maybe we will get back to that 1940s look, but don't hold your breath. One thing you can count on though is that, like history, hats and caps will continue to change with the times.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just finished reading - Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan by James A. Ramage, 1986.

As a boy growing up in southern Indiana there weren't too many local places associated with the Civil War. But, thanks to John Hunt Morgan and his raiders, a youngster of 10 or 11 could go to Dupont or Vernon and imagine the pound of hoofbeats of hundreds of horses, or to help even more with one's imagination -even possibly attend a very small reenactment (minus all the horses).

Yes, the one thing that our area could claim, and did claim -on state highway markers, heritage trails, and in local legends, was that "Morgan and his men went through here in July of 1863." Pretty much for that reason alone I knew a thing or two about John Hunt Morgan, but I had never really spent much time reading about him. I think one reason for that is that sometimes....I'll admit, I do judge a book by its cover. The only real serious study about Morgan for years has been Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan by James A. Ramage, and as you can see the cover does leave a lot to be desired. I would have probably read the book eventually now that I am in Kentucky, but recently it was kindly given to me by a co-worker, so I took the opportunity to finally read it, and as usual, I am glad I did.

Dr. James A. Ramage earned his PhD from the University of Kentucky, and is now a professor of history at Northern Kentucky University. He has also written about the Hunt family, and another well known "Rebel Raider;" John S. Mosby.

John Hunt Morgan was born in 1825, the oldest child of Calvin and Henrietta Morgan in Huntsville, Alabama. The Morgans left Huntsville in the early 1830s after Calvin Morgan lost his home and business and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he managed one of the farms of his wealthy father-in-law, John Wesley Hunt. Ramage explains that John Hunt Morgan entered Transylvania University when he was 17, but did he not do very well academically, and in 1844 he suspended for fighting a duel with another student; he never returned to his studies.

John, like many young men of elite family heritage in the South, craved adventure and honed a fragile sense of honor (as evidenced by the duel). When the Mexican War broke out Morgan enlisted as a private in the cavalry and eventually saw combat in the Battle of Buena Vista where Morgan's unit, the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, lost its colonel and also its second in command, Henry Clay's son, Henry Clay, Jr.

Morgan returned to Lexington, started a hemp business, dabbled in some other business interests, and to keep his military fires burning, helped start a local militia company that soon failed, but would start another, the Lexington Rifles, that would become part of his war-time force. Morgan married Rebecca Bruce in 1852, but the marriage would end with Rebecca's death in 1861; they produced no surviving children.

Morgan, like many Kentuckians, was slow to answer the Southern call to combat. He finally enlisted in September 1861. He was elected colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry and participated and organized a number of irregular operations behind enemy lines against supply and communication bases. His success in these operations quickly won him favor in the Southern press and he was named the "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy." Morgan's rise to fame was meteoric. Women wrote poems in his honor and songs were sung to praise his accomplishments (however insignificant they later proved to be in the grand scheme of the war).

Ramage makes a strong emphasis in pointing out that Morgan's military career took a strong turn after meeting and marrying his second wife Martha "Mattie" Ready (pictured below). The 36-year-old Morgan met the 21-year-old Mattie in February of 1862 when he moved his headquarters to Mattie's hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Mattie was hailed by some as the "prettiest woman in Tennessee." After a short courtship they were engaged and eventually married on December 14, 1862. Ramage contends that Morgan's love and dedication for Mattie kept him from being the successful leader that he had been earlier in the war. Ramage suggests that when John and Mattie were together he was confident and reassured, but when away on his missions, he was insecure and indecisive. John's letters and telegraphs to Mattie provide vivid evidence of this dependency. His military failures immediately after his marriage would have a significant impact on his largest operation to date.

Morgan's biggest gamble and failure of the war was his raid into Indiana and Ohio in the summer of 1863. He left his Tennessee base and made his way through Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky and made is way toward Cincinnati; being careful to avoid that heavily defended city. He entered Ohio and fought a skirmish near Buffington Island where a crossing was attempt but thwarted, and was eventually captured near New Lisbon, Ohio and placed in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. Morgan made a dramatic escape after about a four month stay. Mattie was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a girl, who died shortly thereafter.

Morgan made his way to Danville, Virginia where Mattie was staying and then they went Richmond where he was greeted as a hero. Speeches were made and bands played for the "Gallant Morgan." Morgan attempted to recruit and reorganize his old units, but was eventually sent to the military backwater of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. Morgan made one last raid into Kentucky in June of 1864, but the men that he had in his command now used the opportunity to rob citizens and banks instead of focusing on military targets. Morgan, never the strong disciplinarian, let much of the activity go, but it did not go unnoticed by those in higher command.

From his headquarters in Abingdon, Virginia, in August of 1864, Morgan led a group of men in an attempt to drive Union forces back toward Knoxville, Tennessee. While staying at the home of a Southern-friendly family in heavily Unionist Greeneville, Tennessee, Morgan's men were attacked by a force led by General Alvin C. Gillem. Morgan attempted an escape, (as he had vowed to never be taken prisoner again and be away from Mattie for an indefinite period) and was shot trying to leave the yard of the home where he had stayed that night. The man that shot him was Andrew J. Campbell, a former Confederate infantry soldier that had deserted and joined the Union.

Mattie was again pregnant at the time and later gave birth to a girl, who this time did survive. The child was named Johnnie, in honor of her father. Unfortunately, Johnnie would die at the age of 23 of typhoid fever never having had children to carry on the Morgan lineage. Mattie eventually remarried, but died in 1887 at the age of 46.

Morgan's story is a tragic, but interesting one that Ramage deftly covers in Rebel Raider. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about this interesting man, his life, and the peculiar place of Kentucky, during and after the Civil War.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Civil War Horses and Mules

It is almost impossible to think of the logistics required during the Civil War without thinking of horses and mules. These beasts of burden did the dirty work for both North and South. Horses and mules pulled supply wagons that kept the armies fed, clothed, and armed. They lugged artillery for miles on end, and many died a soldier's death on the battlefield. One estimate places the number of horse and mule deaths during the Civil War at well over a million.

Often when one considers horses and mules in the Civil War, it is in the glorious role of the cavalry. Indeed, numerous chargers sped famous horsemen in combat during the four years of conflict. Phil Sheridan, JEB Stuart, Wade Hampton, John Hunt Morgan, George Armstrong Custer, and many others won their laurels mainly on steady and proven steeds. Nathan Bedford Forrest claimed to have had 29 horses shot from under him during the war-and claimed to have personally killed 30 enemy soldiers in close combat....and as he said, that left him one ahead.

But, it was the common horses and mules that never got the glory. Those that pulled their hardest in belly-deep mud; those that stood steady and ready to pull a cannon to safety while all around men, and other horses and mules fell and had to be cut from harnesses. It was those that were especially targeted by enemy troops to make it easier to capture artillery and wagons. It is these horses and mules that deserve more recognition. Justly so and in recent years they have started to received their own monuments. I personally know of one in Richmond, Virginia at the Virginia Historical Society, one in Kansas, and another in Middleburg, Virginia at the National Sporting Library. Their service is finally getting the appreciation it deserves.

One of the many soldiers that paid homage to the army mule was artilleryman John Billings in his famous book Hardtack and Coffee. He wrote, "It has often been said that the South could not have been worsted in the Rebellion had it not been for the steady re-enforcement brought to the Union side by the mule. To just what extent his services hastened the desired end, it would be impossible to compute; but it is admitted by both parties of the war that they were invaluable."

Of course mules were not always cooperative with their drivers and mule teamsters were known army-wide for their great swearing ability, which was viewed by them as necessary to get any assistance from their long-eared charges. On this fact Billings wrote, "The theory has been advanced that if all of these professional m.d.'s [mule drivers] in the trains of the Army of the Potomac could have been put into the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond, in the fall of 1864, and have been safely advanced to within ear-shot of the enemy, then, at a signal, set to swearing simultaneously at their level-worst, the Rebels would have either have thrown down their arms and surrendered then and there, or have fled incontinently to the fastness of the Blue Ridge."

Just as surely as an army marched on its stomach, it relied on its horses and mules and the men that drove them to get the job done. Here's to the horses and mules of the North and South; well done.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Another Unusual Family Reunion: Continued

While in Philadelphia Peter Still quickly raised some money and returned to northern Alabama to try to purchase his wife and three children. For whatever reason Peter's efforts proved unsuccessful and he returned to Philadelphia alone.

Meanwhile, Peter's story was published in the Pennsylvania Freeman where it was read by a sympathetic white abolitionist by the name of Seth Conklin who decided he wanted to help reunite Peter with his enslaved family. Conklin contacted the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and offered to make a rescue attempt on Peter's wife and children, but he was told that the society did not arrange slave rescues; they only helped those that made it to Philadelphia.

Peter learned about Conklin's offer, and at first was hesitant to trust the white man, but with no one else willing to help, he eventually accepted Conklin's assistance. Conklin's plan was to make away with Peter's family under the assumed name of John H. Miller and pose as a master traveling north with his slaves. Peter provided as much information as possible about his family and the plantation's layout to Conklin, and Peter also gave him his wife's cape as proof that his wife could trust Conklin's story.

Conklin planned to take the Tennessee River which ran through northern Alabama to the Ohio River and then go up the Wabash River into Indiana, and then eventually to Canada. The trip would take many days and cover many miles, but he was determined to see Peter's family freed.

In January of 1851 Conklin made it to Alabama and found Peter's wife, Vina and his three children, 21 year old Levin, 19 year old Peter Jr., and 13 year old Catherine. He informed them that he would be back in a month to make the escape. Conklin had been unsuccessful in finding a suitable boat in the area, so he went to Cincinnati and found one there. He returned as he said and one night the Stills slipped away from the plantation and made their way to the Tennessee River. They all loaded up and set off. Along the waterways they had several narrow escapes, but they eventually made it to Indiana.

One evening Conklin left the Stills to search ahead for their next stopping place. While waiting for his return seven men arrested the Stills, and although they claimed to be free people, they could not prove it and they were sent toward Vincennes, Indiana. Concklin overtook them and tried to rescue them again, but being alone was unable. In Vincennes the Stills were put in jail and while there the jailer sent out telegraphs with their information to see if anyone was offering rewards for their capture. Their Alabama owner, McKiernan, had also sent out telegraphs offering rewards for the Stills and the man who helped them escape. Conklin, who had daily visited the Stills while in jail, was quickly arrested too.

McKiernan made his way to Indiana and claimed his property. The Stills and Conklin were taken to Evansville and prepared for their way back south. The following morning it was found that Conklin had disappeared, but he was shortly found dead in the Ohio River with his handcuffs still on and his head bludgeoned.

Back in Philadelphia a distraught Peter heard of Conklin's rescue attempt and eventual death, probably at the hands of McKiernan. Peter wrote an appeal to McKiernan for the purchase of Vina and the children. McKiernan replied and placed the price at $5000; $1000 for each family member, and $1000 for all of the trouble he had been put through reclaiming his property. Peter immediately made appeals to everyone he met and hit the abolitionist speaking circuit to raise the necessary funds.

In 1854 he finally raised the required amount. Vina and the children made their way to New Jersey after their freedom was purchased and were successfully reunited with Peter. Peter Still lived with his reunited family until his death in 1868. Two years later the Stills started a family tradition that lasts to the present; they held a family reunion.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Unusual Family Reunion

On August 1, 1850, a man named Peter Friedman entered the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. Upon entering he was directed to William Still, who served as secretary of the organization. Still's duties at the time included everything from interviewing fugitives and free slaves to see how they could be assisted, to keeping tabs on the society's expenses. No one could know that Still would one day be known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad."

Friedman had traveled long and far to make it to Philadelphia. He had left northern Alabama after buying his freedom, and now he wanted help in getting his wife and children to freedom. Still noticed immediately that Friedman was a number of years older than himself, but Still also took note of Friedman's sincerity and straightforward manner.

During the conversation Friedman related his life story to Still. He explained that he was separated from his family at about ten years of age and that he had spent most of his life serving under Kentucky and Alabama masters. Friedman told Still that he was next to oldest of four brothers and sisters. His father had bought his own freedom, but he and his mother and siblings had had to remain in slavery. Friedman explained to Still that he didn't know his real last name, or even exactly where he had been born in Maryland.

Still was intrigued and wanted to know more about this man, so he prodded Friedman to think of some additional information that might help him. Peter recalled that his father's name was Levin, and that he had gone north when Peter was about six years old. His mother Sidney had tried to escape with the children about a year later, but all had been captured before making it to the free states. Their owner, Saunders Griffin, infuriated that they had tried to run away, sold Peter and his brother, Levin Jr. to a man in Kentucky, but before leaving for his new homeland Peter's grandmother told him to never forget the name of his father and mother; Levin and Sidney. Friedman also explained that Levin Jr. had been killed by a cruel master when he was 33 years old.

William Still suddenly felt odd because his own father and mother's names had been Levin and Sidney too. Mother Sidney had since changed her name to Charity, but William Still had grown up hearing stories about his much older brothers Peter and Levin Jr., and finally when Friedman gave the names of his two sisters, William knew this was his brother that he had never met or knew. William said, "I could see in the face of new found brother the likeness of my mother. My feelings were unutterable." Friedman had no clue what Still had just realized until William asked him, "Suppose I should tell you that I am your brother?" Peter and William Still's father, Levin, Sr. had changed the family name from Steel to Still when he bought his freedom, and he and Sidney/Charity had gone on to have thirteen other children in the years since Peter and Levin were sold. William explained that Levin Sr. had died several years earlier, but that their mother was still alive and well.

The next day William Still took his formerly long lost brother Peter Friedman to meet a number of siblings Peter never knew he had in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area, and then finally to see his mother. When they met Charity reached up and felt Peter's face, a face she hadn't seen in almost 40 years. They shared a warm embrace and both shed tears of happiness.

Peter was surprised and delighted by his good fortune at finding family he either never knew he had or thought he would never see again, but he wanted to do something to retrieve his own wife and children still held in slavery in Alabama. Would he see them again? Could they be brought to freedom too?

To be continued...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Web Review: After Slavery

African American historian and sociologist W.E.B. DuBois once said that after the Civil War "The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery." Why? What caused this? How true his interpretation?

Reconstruction is without a doubt in my mind one of the most misunderstood and most under-taught periods of American history. It is refreshing therefore to find a new website that is dedicated to presenting information to the public to help them learn more about this contentious era. After Slavery: Race, Labor and Politics in the Post-Emancipation Carolinas ( )has been developed by four professors as a collaborative and international "work-in-progress" effort to help correct these past errors.

Professor Brian Kelly and PhD candidate Daniel Brown from Queens University Belfast, Professor Bruce Baker from the University of London-Royal Holloway, and Professor Susan O'Donovan from the University of Memphis, have put in significant work in creating a user-friendly and educationally beneficial website. They claim on they homepage - and I heartily contend - that "An honest and rigorous confrontation with the past is an essential element in grappling with the dilemmas we face in our own time."

The homepage is text-heavy, but the information they present is important and lays a good foundation to the other page options. The other pages include, "About the Project," which gives a good overview of their goal and short bios on the individuals involved in this effort. "Online Classroom" offers classroom units that educators can utilize in the classroom, or that individuals can complete for personal edification. These unites contain transcribed primary source documents, and they also offer publications "for further reading," which many teachers will appreciate. The "Online Library" is an extensive bibliography that provides a listing of secondary sources on Reconstruction in a broad sense and also different aspects of that topic, as well as more focused sources specifically on Reconstruction in North Carolina and South Carolina. The "News and Events" page lists conferences and projects that are being conducted that involve Reconstruction. "Podcasts" appears to currently only have one video of presentation, but as with much of the site, the contributors maintain it is a work-in-progress. "Links" give the reader a number of different online resources to learn more about Reconstruction. And, wisely the authors of the site have included tabs to provide "Feedback" and to "Contact Us" to give your thoughts and suggestions as the project goes forward.

With much of students' learning turning more and more toward e-formats, sites such as After Slavery are significant to give those learners options and to provide documented and clear interpretations of Reconstruction and other misunderstood periods in America's history.

I will close with another quote from the homepage that I found particularly well stated and that is a reason I find Reconstruction so fascinating. "Still, most fundamentally the process of emancipation was about bringing about an end to a system of forced labor, and at the root of the bitter conflict that developed after 1865 was a confrontation between freed slaves and their former masters over what freedom would mean, over the question of 'How free is free.'" Nicely put. Let the learning begin.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Just finished reading - The Abolitionists & the South, 1831-1861 by Stanley Harrold

I have a research topic in mind that I want to investigate further, so I have been reading anything I can find on antislavery, especially as it pertains to the border states and upper-South, and The Abolitionists & The South was just what I was hoping for. Author Stanley Harrold, a history professor at South Carolina State University, asks the important question of, how did antislavery work in the South influence abolitionist efforts leading up to the Civil War?

Before diving into that question though, Harrold spends some time examining the historiography of Southern abolitionists. Some historians have contended that abolitionist sentiment emerged in the South before William Lloyd Garrison came on the scene with his newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. Harrold explains that most of those that are normally associated with antislavery in the South before 1831 should not considered true abolitionists, or what Harrold calls "immediatists." In other words, these men may have wanted the slaves freed eventually, but not immediately, and usually not without some compensation to the owner, and or the possibility of the slaves being sent to African colonies. These men included northern-born Quaker and East Tennessee transplant Benjamin Lundy, who published his weekly newspaper The Genius of Universal Emancipation from Jonesborough, Tennessee, and a couple of East Tennessee Presbyterians, Elihu Embree and John Rankin.

True Southern abolitionists were usually found in those states closest to the Northern border and came on the scene post-1831. It certainly would have been foolhardy to attempt abolitionist activities in the Deep South states where antislavery actions were considered serious threats to public peace. That is not to say that abolitionists in Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Northern Virginia, and parts of North Carolina did not receive their fair share of discouragement and threats, but they seem to have had more leeway in these states. This is probably mainly because border states like Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri saw a significant decline - percentage-wise - in slaves in the later part of the antebellum era. Slaves from the border states were increasingly sold to Deep South plantations, manumissions were given, and runaways were more common in the border states where slaves had a better chance of making good their escape with help close by in free states. All of these factors had a drain on slave populations in the border states. Men such as John G. Fee, later founder of interracial Berea College in Madison County, Kentucky, William S. Bailey (see July 1 post) in Newport, Kentucky, George Candee in Jackson County, Kentucky, and Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, Delaware, are among the numbers who all worked in Southern states for the immediate end of slavery.

A significant point that Harrold makes and that I will quote due to its conciseness, is that, "it was a pattern of abolitionist initiative in the upper South since the 1830s that accounts for the southern commitment to drastic action. While an abolitionist presence in the upper South was a product of more fundamental forces driving the North and South apart, that presence-in conjunction with the rise of the Republican party to national power-was beyond question a precipitative cause of secession and the Civil War." In other words Southerners were worried that a Republican president would not take measures to stop abolitionist activity on their own turf, and thoughts that as the Charleston Mercury put it, "The under-ground railroad, will become and over-ground railroad," were definitely unacceptable. This threat of course would have shortened the slaveholding territory and thus their political influence and power in Washington. That couldn't be stood for, and thus to save their property and keep perceived public peace and safety, they seceded.

Harrold concludes his book with a look at some to the Southern abolitionists' lives after the Civil War and into Reconstruction. What this look shows, is their deep commitment to equality and civil rights. Men such as John G. Fee, as mentioned above, continued their work with African Americans by founding educational facilities, politicking for equal rights, the Freedmen's Bureau, and universal manhood suffrage.

Too often Southerners are left out of the abolitionist picture, but Professor Harrold with this book has put them right back in their well deserved place in history.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Unusual Family Reunion

When slaves were sold away from family members they did not know if they would ever see their loved ones again. After the Civil War many freed people went to great lengths to try to find long lost relatives displaced by slavery.

One former slave family was fortunate enough to reunite even before the Civil War ended. As Union soldiers marched into a burning Richmond on April 3, 1865, leading the mass of troops was the all black 25th Corps. In the 25th Corps was the 28th United States Colored Infantry, and in the 28th USCI was a chaplain by the name of Garland H. White.

Garland White had been born a slave in Hanover County, Virginia in 1829. He was a slave in Richmond, Virginia when he was bought by congressman Robert Toombs of Georgia, who happened to be visiting Richmond while on a leave from Washington. Toombs took White back to Washington DC to serve as his personal servant, and while in Washington, White took the opportunity to run away to Canada.

When the Civil War broke out Toombs resigned his United State congressional seat, and after being briefly considered as a Confederate presidential candidate, was eventually selected as the Confederate Secretary of State. Shortly after his appointment Toombs resigned his position to take a military role as brigadier general in the Confederate army. While serving in Richmond, Toombs had come across Nancy White, Garland's mother and had informed her that her son had run away from him. In his freedom Garland had become a minister while in Canada, and when he learned that black soldiers were being accepted into the Union service he became chaplain of the 28th United States Colored Infantry, which was raised in Ohio and Indiana.

After Richmond fell Nancy White visited the camp of the 28th USCI and happened to question the chaplain. Garland wrote that the conversation went something like this:

"What is your name, sir?"
"My name is Garland H. White."
"What is your mother's name?"
"Where were you born?"
"In Hanover County, this state."
"Where were you sold from?"
"From this city."
"What was the name of the man that bought you?"
"Robert Toombs."
"Where did he live?"
"In the State of Georgia."
"Where did you leave him?"
"At Washington."
"Where did you then go?"
"To Canada."
"Where do you now live?"
"In Ohio."
"This is you mother Garland whom you are talking to, who has past twenty years of grief about her son." White was naturally overwhelmed and he later said that, "I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends."
Of course the White family was one of the few fortunate ones. Many families never knew the fate of their kin separated sometimes by hundreds of miles during slavery. But that didn't mean that freed people did not try to reconnect. Many freed people walked miles of roads, placed newspaper advertisements, and spend any money they had trying to reconnect with family.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Just finished reading - The Barber of Natchez by Edwin Adams Davis and William Ransom Hogan

Since becoming serious student of Southern history, I have always been fascinated by the story of free blacks in the antebellum South. Part of that fascination comes from their inherit unique situation of living in an environment where others of their race were held in slavery, but yet they were nominally free to pursue their own livelihoods in that restrictive setting.

The story of free black barber William Johnson emerged in 1938 when his personal and business journals were discovered in the attic of the businessman's house that had fortunately remained in the family. In 1951 the story was released to the pubic in the form of William Johnson's Natchez: The Antebellum Diary of a Free Negro, edited by Davis and Hogan. Although I have not read that version, it appears that it was merely the edited journals. The Barber of Natchez is written in free-flowing form. It obviously takes the meat of its story from the journals, but it is in a more reader-friendly style of writing. In addition, a rich context has been added to make Johnson's interesting life more understandable.

Johnson's story is nothing if not remarkable. He was born circa 1809. His mother Amy was freed by her owner William Johnson in 1814, when young slave William was about five years old. His sister Delia was taken to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and freed in 1818 by the white Johnson, and in 1820 Johnson petitioned the Mississippi General Assembly to free William. It is not known for sure if white William Johnson was black William Johnson's father, but the authors lean toward that conclusion.

After gaining his freedom William Johnson learned the barber business from his brother-in-law, Philadelphian and free-black James Miller who had married William's sister in Philadelphia and then moved to Natchez to open a thriving haircutting and shaving business. When William went out on his own at age nineteen, he decided to move to Port Gibson, Mississippi to start his own shop. In 1830, James Miller, whose success in Natchez is witnessed by his owning of four slaves, sold his Natchez barber business to William Johnson and relocated to New Orleans.

Johnson's journals give a private look into his world; his interests, his business sense, his standing in the community, and his relations with black, white, free, and slave. He comments on such a diverse array of topics that is it almost dizzying. Luckily the authors divided the topics focusing around themes rather than looking at them within a chronological framework.

The book is simply divided into three parts. Part one is about "The Man." Part two looks at, "A Free Negro's Diary of a Town." And, part three is called, "The Diarist Appraised." Some of the items explored in the extremely interesting part two are "Barbershop Gossip," in which Johnson relates much of the word of mouth news that to this day gets discussed in barbershops. "Pistols, Fists, and Bowie Knives" relates the many fights that were almost a daily occurrence in the Natchez streets. "Thespians and Clowns" discusses Johnson's interest in attending the theatre, especially when courting, and his fondness of visiting the traveling circuses that came to Natchez. In "Sports of the Turf" Johnson's love of horses and horse racing, which was such a large part of antebellum Southern sporting life, is examined.

As you might imagine, Johnson's racial characteristics kept him from participating in certain aspects of society. For example, he never participated in an election, but that did not keep him from discussing politics in his barbershop or expressing support for politicians that he believed would be of benefit to him and his businesses. As a black man he was not allowed to be in the militia, but that did not keep him from owning firearms or using them for hunting, which was one of his favorite pastimes. Johnson found unique ways to be an active member of the Natchez community. He watched his step closely. He tried to be accommodating, but was not unknown to sue a white man that defaulted on a loan or tried to take his property unlawfully.

Johnson's good business sense and likable nature allowed him to accumulate a large clientele. His wealth rose in proportion and he bought land and slaves as much as his financial means allowed him. He owned over twenty slaves at one time. He used his slaves for working his farming operation and he used some as well as in his three Natchez barbershops.

Johnson's life came to a sudden end in 1851 when he was murdered. The killer, Baylor Winn, claimed to be of white and Indian blood, but some in the community suspected that he was a free mulatto man like Johnson. The dispute arose over a property boundary line where Winn was allegedly cutting timber on Johnson's side. The case went to court and was decided in Johnson's favor, but to keep a sense of peace Johnson settled the matter in a less punitive manner than the court had allowed. But, apparently Winn was still not satisfied and shot Johnson in an ambush in which one of Johnson's sons was also wounded. After three trials over a two year period, Baylor Winn was released.

Johnson's standing in the Natchez community can be gleaned from a story about the murder that was run in the Natchez Courier; it read in part: "His funeral services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Watkins, who paid a just tribute to his memory, holding up his example as one well worthy of imitation by all of his class. We observed very many of our most respected citizens at his funeral. Johnson left a wife, nine children, and quite a handsome property; probably twenty to thirty thousand dollars."

Without a doubt Johnson's story is a rare one for a free black man in the antebellum South, but without knowing his story we would have a less complete picture of what was possible for African Americans to attain in what we normally consider an impossible environment for their advancement. Johnson's story and other free black stories of success such as William Ellison's in South Carolina (see Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South by Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark) give us another perspective by which to view life in the pre-Civil War South; one that should not be ignored.