Friends are great, aren't they? The other day a colleague at work and I were talking about my research on antebellum black barbers and a day later he shared an image that provided me with more information about one of the men we had talked about.
A few weeks ago I posted a short article that I had found describing an incident involving Louisville black barber Wallace Cowan in 1859. But before moving to Kentucky's largest city, Cowan started his barber occupation in Danville.
The document (above) that was shared with me was Cowan's deed of emancipation, which was filed by his owner Elizabeth Cowan of Boyle County in 1848. Cowan purchased his freedom for $300. It is unknown how he raised the money to buy his freedom, but it possible that he was an enslaved barber and used funds from that occupation to gain his liberty, as only two years later he was listed in the 1850 census as a free man of color barber.
Interestingly, Cowan was listed as 28 years old in the 1848 manumission papers, and 28 years old again in 1850. In that mid-century census, Cowan and another free man of color, Thomas Hall, a 42 year old stone mason, both resided in the household of Frances and Lucy Sarcene. The deed of emancipation also provided a description of Cowan; albeit a brief one. He was described as "of black complexion, with wide space between the front teeth of the upper jaw."
Between 1850 and 1860 Cowan moved to Louisville. This does not appear to be all that unusual for free black barbers. It appears that there was an attraction for barbers to make the move to larger markets during their careers. Perhaps in their thinking larger markets meant more customers and thus potentially more income. Surely they understood larger markets meant more competition too, but maybe they perceived that the future benefits outweighed the risks.
In 1860, Cowan was living in Louisville's Fourth Ward with his wife Margaret, who was 27 years old, and daughter Elizah, who was 10 years old. He claimed $400 in personal property. Cowan's age was given as 33.
In 1870, Wallace was listed as 40. Margaret was noted as being a 30 year old house keeper. A three year old son, Eugene, and 60 year old Sallie Campbell, a house servant, were also in Cowan's household. Elizah may have married between 1860 and 1870 and left the household.
In 1880, Wallace Cowan was still a barber, now noted as 56 years old. Only 43 year old Martha (perhaps still the same wife Margaret, noted on the other census reports, or possibly an entirely different woman) and Wallace were in the Cowan home.
Cowan apparently died on May 9, 1894, of "paralysis," which probably meant he has suffered a stroke. He was noted as being 75 years old. Despite the differences in the reports of Cowan's age over the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, it appears that he was born about 1819 or 1820, as the first surviving document (his deed of manumission) and the last surviving document (his death report) corroborate those dates.