Friday, January 17, 2014

The Spradlings Keep it in the Family

I have noticed a trend with a number of the antebellum African American barbers that I have located so far. It appears that many of these men kept this skilled trade in their families. It certainly makes sense that barbers would pass on a trade that was one of the few occupations where free men of color could advance socially and economically. Men then, as now, wanted their posterity to advance.

In Louisville, Washington Spradling was a leading figure in that free black community. He was able to parlay his barber's trade into quite a pile of diversified wealth. Washington's sons, too, held to barbering. The 1860 Louisville Directory and Business Advertiser shows that both Washington Jr. and William Spradling worked in barber shops, like their father.

It is difficult to tell if both sons owned their own shops, but it would not be surprising given their father's wealth. While the advertisement above that ran in two Louisville papers in 1855 shows William Spradling's business at 88 Third Streeet, the directory lists him as a free man of color and barber at 209 Third. Possibly he moved his business in the intervening five years. His home was noted as at 417 Green Street.

Brother Washington Spradling, Jr., too, is listed as a free man of color barber, working at Fifth between Market and Jefferson Streets. His home was at 421 West Green Street.

The barber patriarch, Washington Spradling, Sr. is listed in the directory like his sons as a free man of color barber, but with his business at 303 West Green, and living nearby at 421 West Green.

Also included in the directory were 24 other free men of color barbers. And, while no others appear to be father-son combinations, their inclusion in the directory show their importance as a provider of a needed service, and their large number shows the popularity of the barber trade among free men of color.    

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