Saturday, March 29, 2014

Frankfort Barbers: Jones, Samuel, and Sims

This set of three barber advertisements struck me as intriguing when I ran across it in an 1846 issue of the Frankfort Commonwealth. I found myself wondering, did these three men request for their notices to be run together? Did they pool resources to potentially make their businesses more noticeable? Or, did the newspaper publisher just throw them together due to the similar services they provided? Evidence would seem to point to the former speculation as all the ads were listed as posting on January 1, 1846.

The top advertisement touted the shop of Q. B. Jones on Main Street. In 1850, Jones appeared in the census as a 40 year old black man worth $2000 in real estate; probably meaning he owned his shop. In his household was his wife Nancy, 22 years old, and their children, Orlando, Eugenia, and George.  Also listed in the home were Celeste Richards, Nancy Jones, Sarah Taylor, and a 30 year old mixed race barber named Jack Buckner, who likely worked in Jones' store.

By 1860, Jones had moved to Louisville's 6th Ward, but was still employed as a barber. In the census he was listed as owning $200 in personal property. He and Nancy were still married and son George still lived with the couple. In addition, other children listed were Ann, Dove, and Ellen. Also, a group of adult women lived in the Jones' home: S. Taylor, C. Allen, Bell Allen, and Fanny Allen.

Twenty years later, Jones was still in Louisville, but was listed as a "store keeper."  Nancy was noted in this census as "Nellie." Dudly Jones may have been a derivation of Dove in the 1860 census, as he was exactly 20 years older. Nellie Jones, 18, and Stella Jones 21, were marked as having attended school within the past year. The tradition of additional boarders in the Jones home continued as 35 year old Laura Bowman and 18 year old Henry Clayborn are also listed, both of whom had the occupation of "servant."   

The middle barber, Henry Samuel, advertised in the Commonwealth often during the 1840s, 50s, and 60s. His shop was on St. Clair near the Mansion House hotel.  A fire to the shop caused him to move in the 1850s a few doors down St. Clair. He was a well established Frankfort feature, who likely benefited from legislator business in the state capital. 

Barbers Nat (Nathaniel) Sims and Simuel "Sim" Ellis, noted in the bottom advertisement, worked in a shop on the southeast corner of Main and Ann Street, probably in the corner building shown below.

This building and those adjacent have since been demolished and the Farmer's Bank building (below) presently stands at that location. 

Sims is listed in the 1850 census as 35 years old and described as "mulatto." No real estate value is provided for Sims, so he likely rented the shop location in which he worked with Ellis. Sim Ellis is noted as 31 years old in 1850 with a black complexion, and in Nathaniel Sims' household.

In 1860, Nathaniel Sims was still cutting hair in Frankfort, where he was listed as 46 years old. Sims and Ellis seem to have parted ways in intervening years.

Along with these men, Frankfort supported at least seven other barbers in 1850. In 1860, that number reduced to a total of five barbers. Only Henry Samuel and Nathaniel Sims from the 1846 group of advertisements were listed as still cutting hair in the capital city on the eve of the Civil War.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just Finished Reading - The Soldier's Pen

I truly believe that it is essential to read primary sources in order to comprehend (as much as possible) the experiences that Civil War soldiers endured. When I say primary sources, I mean the letters, diaries, and journals generated at the time these events were happening by the men out fighting in the field. Sometimes authors of secondary sources rely on post-war memoirs, which are often clouded by time, faulty memories, and postbellum politics.

Many books containing collections of soldiers' letters are available to readers. Some are published journals or diaries of a single soldier, others are compilations that discuss a specific topic. The Soldier's Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War, edited by Robert E. Bonner, does neither. Instead, this fantastic book gives a soldier's eye-view through the duration of the war by providing excerpts from 16 combatants, 11 of which were Union and five who were Confederate. One of the Union soldiers was African American. All of the documents used come from the Gilder Lehrman collection.

The diversity of the soldiers chosen for study is certainly a strength of the book. According to Bonner "six of the men lived in the slave states in 1860, three were slaveholders, two came from relatively modest means, and one, a Kentucky Unionist, joined the Federal Army and became an enthusiastic recruiter of black soldiers. Among the ten soldiers from the free states were a free African-American from Syracuse, New York, a German-speaking artist from Manhattan, a Republican editor from rural Illinois, an anonymous satirist from Massachusetts, and an assortment of farmers and workers of differing ages, incomes, and levels of education."

Bonner provides an excellent and insightful introduction for the book. He then covers a diversity of soldier experiences: combat, homesickness, fatigue duties, physical illness, boredom, allegiances, rumors, politics, and much more, over six chapters by drawing on those experiences through the soldiers' own words. The final chapter, "Relics of War," provides a nice conclusion.

I was happy to find that Kentucky receives a fair amount of mention in The Soldier's Pen. As stated above, one of the soldiers' group of letters used by Bonner was a Kentucky Unionist. William Brunt was actually born in England, but had moved to the Ohio River town of Hawesville, Kentucky before the war. Brunt initially joined an Illinois regiment in 1862, and then was appointed to captain in the 16th USCT. Part of Brunt's duty landed him in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he oversaw a contraband camp. While there in the summer of 1864 Brunt wrote home to his wife. His sentiments were certainly not that of the majority of white Kentuckians, but Brunt's non-native status probably explains why.  He wrote:

"Well Martha Ky feel the smart a little, I think, for two thirds of those Contrabands in my charge are from Ky - I had a ritch joke on a Loyal son of Ky a week before last. Peter Threet of Todd Co Ky came here to get a family of his mothers slaves to return home with him - he plead in vain - they would no go. He then offered me 250 Dollars in Green Backs & said he would give me more if I would persuade them to go home & pledged himself to keep it a profound secret. I let him plead, not taking any offence at the proposition so that I could draw him out fully. I then flattly refused to accept the bribe - telling him it was principle - not money that I came into the service for. He hoped he had not hurt my feelings I told him no he had not - for I expected all Ky loyalists to violate all Federal Orders that did not suit their interest. I judge other mens loyalties by their own hearts. He then begged me not to report him - I told him I cam to do my duty - & so far I have done it regardless of the Commander of the Post, he had him arrested & Threet says he did not offer me the money as a bribe. . . .

Our camp is thorn in the side of Ky for their slaves come here by the score and the able bodied men go into the army. . . . I send the children to school . . . using the fine College building for the Contraband school - that galls the secesh here, they think it an outrage, to take the building erected to educate their children in & use it to educate their slaves in. But I tell them it is just - for many of the scholars are their illegitmate children & have as good a right morally as the legitimate ones. . . .

I am in glory now, I used to be called an abolitionist. I am one now practically. Please send me your Photograph Marttha. Give my love to Each & all your folks. Write soon & Direct to Capt. Brunt Box 442 Clarksville Tenn.

Yours Truly in Universal Freedom,

Although this just one of the many letters included in the book, it shows the many issues that concerned soldiers.

If you are looking for book that lets you see the war in the many different ways that the soldiers saw it then The Soldier's Pen is for you. I highly recommend it.  On a five point scale, I give it a full five.        

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lincoln, Barbers, and Race

In my ongoing search for references to Kentucky's African American antebellum barbers, I came across the short article above. It was printed in the April 14, 1864, edition of the Maysville Dollar Weekly Bulletin. Apparently, it was a reprint from the Richmond [Virginia] Inquirer, and thus must be taken with a grain of salt. 

However, with that being said, it certainly speaks of Lincoln's style. He typically used a humorous story to attempt to get a point across, especially in one-on-one or small group situations.   

Lincoln's use of a barber for his story (if this tale is true) probably came from personal close experience. In 1860, the future president met free man of color William Johnson in Springfield. Not a whole lot is known of Johnson history, but he was apparently skilled with shears and razors, as he came along with the Lincoln's to Washington D.C. as a barber and personal valet. 

It seems that the White House staff did not take kindly Johnson's valet service.  There appears to be evidence that the lighter complexioned staff did not care to associate with the darker Johnson. The situation called for a change, so Lincoln wrote to the Secretary of Treasurer, Salmon P. Chase, to help find Johnson a different position (letter above). On occasion Lincoln continued to employ Johnson for various personal services. The relationship between Lincoln and Johnson is covered quite well in one of stories in the New York Times "Disunion" series printed a couple of years ago. It is certainly worth the read.

Unfortunately, Johnson died an early death. He passed away in 1864 from smallpox, possibly contracted from the president. A headstone in Arlington Cemetery simply reads "William H. Johnson, A Citizen." Whether that is the barber's final resting place is unknown, but it certainly an appropriate epithet for such a man. 

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cool Civil War Photograph

In this photograph an unidentified African American boy wearing a military cap and trousers stands in front of Union army camp scene backdrop. This young man was more than likely a so-called "contraband" who served as a Union officer's servant.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Park Day is Coming Up!

Are you looking for something productive to do? Do you want to make a contribution that really counts? If so, Saturday, April 5, 2014, will provide lots of opportunities to help out at Civil War site in your area.

The Civil War Trust has been sponsoring the volunteer-driven "Park Day" for over 15 years. Each participating location selects various duties that need completed in order to improve their individual site. 

You may get some blisters on your hands, a sore back, or dirt under your fingernails, but I guarantee you will be glad you took the time to help make a difference.

For more information and the locations needing your help, go to the Civil War Trust's Park Day page.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Social Relations in Our Southern States

I have recently enjoyed reading a couple of books that were published during the antebellum era. A previous post briefly discussed slave housing as it was described in A South-Side View of Slavery, which was originally printed in 1854. Earlier this week, I finished reading Social Relations in Our Southern States, written by D. R. Hundley, and published in 1860.

While often presenting deeply biased perspectives, these books' advantages are precisely that. These works allow the reader to see the time periods being described through the authors' eyes. This is especially true in Hundley's book.

I will not belabor you with Hundley's biography, but I will recommend its reading in the online version of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. In Social Relations, Hundley provides his impressions on the various class divisions of Southern society. His categories are: the Southern Gentleman (in which he would likely place himself), the Middle Classes, the Southern Yankee, Cotton Snobs, the Southern Yeoman, the Southern Bully, Poor White Trash, and the Negro Slaves. I found it interesting that he did not include free men and women of color in his categories.
Some of Hundley's class descriptions are quite similar. For example, there is seemingly not much difference between the Southern Yankee and the Cotton Snobs.  Likewise, little distinction is made between the Middle Classes and the Southern Yeoman, other than possibly the point that many of the Middle Classes were merchant men, while yeomen were largely farmers.

I found Hundley's examination of the Southern Yeoman as perhaps the most intriguing. Hundley describes these people as "nearly always poor," He claimed that "As a general thing they own no slaves." But, Hundley also contends that the Southern Yeoman "are almost unanimously pro-slavery in sentiment." His discussion of why these men were the way they were makes for a good  explanation as to why so many non-slaveholding whites eventually fought for the Confederacy.

Hundley boldly asked, "were you so situated [as the Southern Yeoman] would you dare advocate emancipation?" He continued, "would you be pleased to see four millions of inferior blacks suddenly raised  from a position of vassalage, and placed upon an equality with yourselves? made the sharers of your toil, the equals and associates of your wives and children? You know you would not." Hundley admits that the Southern Yeoman was not as educated as some of the other classes, but "they yet possess the hearts of men, of fathers and husbands, and they know as well as any political economist of you all, that their own class, in the event of emancipation, would suffer the most of all classes in the South, unless we except the negroes themselves."

Personally, Hundley's examination of the Negro Slaves as a class was the most disappointing. I was hoping for an intimate view of the minutia of African American life in the slave states through the eyes of a white man. But instead he provided a discussion on how the institution was providentially ordained and how slavery had served as a civilizing influence to blacks. In this chapter Hundley argued that "a man has to be educated to appreciate Freedom," but did not seem to want to comprehend that in most slave states an education - whether formal or informal - was not only not available to the vast majority of the enslaved, it was usually illegal.

I highly recommend reading Social Relations in Our Southern States. Its publication on the eve of secession and the Civil War, and its frank discussion of sectional divisions due to the institution of slavery should not be ignored. It provides an intriguing insight into Southern society, by a native Southerner, and it comes with all the baggage of that fact.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Early Kentucky Barber Advertisements

In contemplating the reach of my research on African American barbers, I did not know how far back I would be able to find information. And, let me state up front that I have not been able to confirm that the barbers mentioned here in this post were men of color. Unfortunately, at this point, the early census information has not been able to corroborate my suspicion that they were African American. 

The above advertisement ran the earliest of all those shown here. It was among the many diverse notices in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette on September 9, 1812. In it barber Thomas Young announced his movement to a new location, offered a wealth of health and beauty aids, and asked for the public's patronage. 

Young continued to advertise in the Kentucky Gazette. The ad immediately above ran on November 3, 1812. In this ad Young, like other later black barber ads, calls his customers his "friends." Young's notice wisely offered to this patrons "spanish and domestic segars, and prime chewing tobacco," all of which I am sure were popular with the men that brought him business.

Like Thomas Young, I have been unable to confirm that another Lexington barber, Charles Cummens, was African American. Cummens is listed in the 1818 Lexington City Business Directory, but racial distinctions were apparently not made in that early publication, and I have not been able to locate him in the 1810 or 1820 census. 

Cummens, like Young, was an active advertiser.  He placed notices about his business as early as 1813. The above as was in the December 19, 1814, issue of the Kentucky Gazette. In this ad he announced his skill in cutting hair and shaving. He also noted that he carried a line of wigs and hair "FAC SIMILIES." Along with these services, he listed a number of beauty and grooming products that were "just received from Philadelphia."

Cummins added a bit of poetry to his advertising when the above notice ran in the Kentucky Gazette on August 14, 1815.  The language he used is intriguing to me. What does he mean by the opening line "The Eagle suffers Little Birds to Sing?" And, is he making a point of being a black barber with the line "Pale barbers saw him spurn their bounded reign?" Hmmmm.

Yet another early ad was run by barber Solomon Bundley. This one in the Kentucky Gazette on September 28, 1813. Bundley made sure to give clear directions  to his business location. There he wished to be visited and show that he deserved "a share of the public patronage." 

If anyone has any information on these gentleman or can point me toward where I can find out more about them, I would greatly appreciate any tips. If I can determine that these men were African Americans that were advertising at this early point, it will make a strong case for my proposed argument and answer one of my big questions.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Free Black Barber's Adverstisements

Back last spring, while I was researching slavery advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War newspapers, I occasionally came across advertisements from barbers. Knowing that most barbers in slave states were African American, I made note of the advertisements, promising myself to return and do more research later. Back then I posted about Henry Samuel, a free black barber in Frankfort that advertised often the the Commonwealth.

One of the other initial advertisements I came across is pictured above. Of course, I wanted to try to find out more about John P. Glark to determine if indeed he was an African American, and any other information I could locate. At that time, little did I know that the barber's name had been printed incorrectly. The man's name was actually John P. Clark.

The above advertisement ran in the Lexington Observer and Reporter on October 19, 1861. In it Clark makes notice that his shop had moved to Short Street in Lexington. I intentionally left the advertisement below Clark's partially visible to show that these black barbers' ads were not segregated in any way from other businesses that advertised seeking patrons. The ad that lists "Ambrotypes" was a photographer in Lexington named Anderson.  

John P. Clarke [sic] is listed in the 1860 census as a 39 year old barber with $600 in personal property. Also listed in the household were Catherine Clark, a 29 year old seamstress, who I assume was John's wife, and six year old Ellen, who I'm guessing was John's daughter. In addition, Clark's home included Luther Dandridge, 17, an "apprentice barber."

Clark ran the advertisement above in the Lexington Kentucky Statesman, on January 1, 1861. Clark likely reasoned he could increase his business by posting in two of the city's newspapers. Apparently this ad noted his address before moving to the Short Street location. 

The language Clark used in the notice is particularly interesting, but perhaps not surprising given the time, location, and circumstances for his business. Like many other ads from black barbers that I have located, Clark thanks his customers for using his services and asks for their continued patronage.  

Clark's ad (above) changed looks when he again advertised in the Kentucky Statesman, on August 9, 1861. This ad, ran a couple of months before the very top notice, also informs the public of the moving of his shop to the Short Street location in the Old Post Office building. In this ad Clark uses the same service-style language. This ad asks not only for old customers to come by for their grooming needs, but also "as many new ones as possible."

I also found John P. Clark in the 1867 Lexington city directory. Apparently at that time he was no longer in business for himself but was working at the Southern Hotel. The directory listed Clark's home residence as being on Church Street between Upper Street and Mulberry. I would sincerely like to know what happened to Clark to cause him to lose his shop.

It seems that Clark's hard luck continued, for in the 1870 census, there is no mention of Catherine or Ellen Clark, who were listed with him in 1860. In 1870, Clark was listed as living in Alexander Clark's home (perhaps his father), and apparently out of barbering altogether as at the time he was working at a brickyard.

Did Clark's new location in 1861 prove to be more expensive than what he was earning in revenue? Did perhaps some personal demon prevent Clark from keeping his business and family? Maybe the competition drove Clark out of the barbering trade. After all, in that 1867 directory there were 18 black barbers listed in city in addition to Clark. In a town the size of Lexington the competition of haircuts and shaves must have been fierce. Perhaps it was a combination of circumstances. Or, maybe he just got tired of cow-towing to his so-called superiors.   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Cutting Along the Color Line

Locating secondary sources on the history of black barbers has not been easy. It appears that until recently not much scholarship has been published on this topic.

About a year ago I shared that I had read Douglas W. Bristol Jr.'s Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom. This insightful book provides much needed background on how African Americans came into the barbering trade. Bristol also shows how in the last years of the 19th century and first part of the 20th century a distinct change developed where white barbers (often German, Irish, and Italian immigrants) began to take over the trade for white customers and African American barbers began cutting other blacks' hair more often than white hair.

Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, by Quincy T. Mills, was just published last year and explores much of the same material that Bristol examines, especially on barbers in the antebellum era. However, Mills takes the story much further than Bristol. Cutting Along the Color Line provides an intriguing analysis of black barbers and their roles in society and in their communities up to the 1970s.

In the 19th century, whites customers visited black barbers to have their hair cut and beards shaved. Black barbers in both the North and South most often served whites exclusively in their shops. If they cut African Americans' hair it was outside of their shops and outside of their normal business hours. However, with the rise of segregation and an emerging black middle class in the early 20th century, black barbers started opening shops in black neighborhoods to serve black customers.

Through the 20th century black barbershops became an important centerpiece of black communities. One might even say that barbershops provided a secular equivalent to black churches. In barbershops black men had the opportunity to freely express their opinions on everything from politics to sports, all without concerns about white repercussions. In black barbershops the important issues of the day were discussed and movements were organized. Black barbershops were truly places of "confidentiality and camaraderie."

Mills also examines how the barbering trade provided the opportunity and financial means for some African American men to enter into other professions such as real estate, insurance, and similar businesses. Also coming in for comment was the role barbering played in the civil rights movement. African Americans that resided in areas remote from black barbers sought equal accommodations from white barbers. White barbers countered that they did not know how to cut black hair. In these instances blacks wanted not so much to "close the social distance between blacks and whites," instead they sought to "dismantle white supremacy and ensure that black people had choices and control over their daily lives."

Mills writes, "In 1961, Ella Baker wrote an article titled "Bigger Than a Hamburger," where she argued that the movement to desegregate lunch counters had nothing to do with consumers' desires to eat hamburgers at the Woolworth's next to white customers, because the hamburgers were not that good anyway. Instead, these college students struggled for the right to equal treatment and justice in public places of accommodation. Baker's reflections on the sit-in movement resonated with the goals of the larger black freedom movement. The movement to desegregate white barber shops, to appropriate Baker's words, was bigger than a haircut, offering a complex episode in the struggle for equal rights and access."

In addition, Mills offers an intriguing discussion on how changing hairstyles challenged black barbers. In the 1940s and 50s the processed hairdo was the rage. Almost all black men wanted to look like Nat King Cole. Barbers professionally set processed dos, while some blacks settled for homemade versions called "conks." If you have seen the movie Malcolm X, you probably saw how his home conk was rendered. Later, in the 1960s and 70s, the natural caught on. The natural in the extreme became the Afro with the rise of the "black is beautiful" movement. Although Afros meant less trips to the barbershop, and thus less money in the barbers' pockets, black barber learned to offer trims and touch ups to keep Afros tight and sharp looking. These hair styles also offered the opportunity for their shops to sell black hair care products and thus potentially increase shop revenue.

This book provided me with what I was looking for - historical context that continued into the 20th century. But it did more than that it. It also provided me with some interesting things which I did not know and had not previously considered. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in African American history. Black barbers are a vital part of black history that had remained obscured for too long. Cutting Along the Color Line does much to remedy this overlooked topic. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.          

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Free Black Barber Households

After looking through pages and pages of listings of the 1860 Kentucky census, I think I have located most all of the free black barbers. One thing that that struck me as I compiled my list was that there were a number of households headed by barbers and that included other barbers. From like last names and age differences I gather that sometimes these were sons of the heads of household.  And other times, they were probably nephews, younger cousins, apprentices, or other boarders. The following named individuals' homes also naturally included wives, daughters, and other females, but only the household barbers are listed here.

In Owensboro, 40 year old Elijah Gordon's household included the 26 year old James I. Brown. In Lexington long-time barber and barber-family patriarch Samuel Oldham, who was listed as 66, lived with 19 year old Henry Scroggins, 16 year old John Mason, and 19 year old Hezekiah Morison. Also in Lexington, J. P. Clarke, 39 years old, and "apprentice barber" 17 year old Luther Dandridge resided in the same location.

In the river town of Henderson, 25 year old Henry Smiley, and 24 year old Zach Mitchum, boarded together. Louisville barbers N. B. Rogers, a 42 year old mixed-race man, and 18 year old Lavelle Thomason, another "barber apprentice" made a common home. Wealth barber Washington Spradling's home included 14 year old Robert Lane. The first ward in Covington is where Jonathan Singer, a 50 year old barber lived with 20 year old Charles Singer, probably Jonathan's son.

Maysville was home to other Oldhams, who I believe were part of Samuel Oldham's (Lexington) family. Nathan Oldham, listed as 32 years old in 1860, but listed as about the same age in the 1850 census, lived with Nathaniel Oldham (Jr.?), 20 years old, and 15 year old "apprentice" Thomas Madin. A Nathaniel Oldham had advertised in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette, and in that ad he mentioned he had learned barbing from his father Samuel Oldham. It appears that Nathan/Nathaniel, Sr. moved to Maysville sometime after and that his 1850 listed age was likely more correct.

Finally, in Bowling Green, Daniel Higdon, 23, and Richard Higdon, 21, were probably either brothers or cousins and found living in the same household.

These heads of household barbers likely wanted to keep family ties tight and pass the barbering skills that had financially benefited them on to their sons or other younger relatives. Others probably felt they could keep better tabs on their youthful apprentices and maintain stricter discipline if they boarded in the same home. Still others, perhaps, were able to save on food and rent expenses by boarding in the same household.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paducah Free Black Barber Helped Runaway Slave

I had hoped that I might find some mention of Kentucky free black barbers in some of the numerous slave narratives that were published before the Civil War. Fortunately, the search for such a source did not take long. While keyword searching in Google Books I found a mention in Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, which was published in England in 1855. Brown, pictured above, and also known by his slave name "Fed," absconded from his Georgia home, and in attempt to reach freedom in England, made his way North and eventually ended up on one of his adventures in Paducah, Kentucky. Here is is experience there:

"Had it been in broad day instead of quite dark, when I left my raft to be carried away by the current, my appearance in Paducah would certainly have led to my re-capture. I was dirty and miserable-looking from fatigue, traveling, and want of sufficient food, and my clothes were all worn and ragged. I got into town, however, at a hour when few people were about, and it was easier for me to avoid them. After resting to take a breath, I determined to look for a barber's shop. In the United States, the barbers are generally coloured men, and I concluded to I should be in safer hands with one of my own race. So I strolled about, up and down the streets, peeping in at doors and windows, until at length I found what I was seeking. After a moment's hesitation, I knocked gently at the door. It was presently opened by a black man, who no sooner saw me, than he understood by my looks that I wanted assistance. He at once invited me in, and immediately closed and fastened the door.

Having made me take a seat he asked me which way I was going.

'My master's gone down to New Orleans,' I said, 'and I want to join him again.'

I knew he did not believe me, and that he saw I was telling him a lie; but I felt afraid to tell him the truth right out.

'You're a runaway,' he answered, almost directly. 'Where have you come from?'

I did not hesitate now to confess the fact; and as I thought he looked friendly, I told him my story from beginning to end, in as few words as I could, he listening attentively all the while.When I had finished, he said:

'You mustn't stop here: it would be dangerous for both of us. You can sleep here to-night, however, and I will to get you away in the morning. But if you were seen, and it were found out I was helping you off, it would break me up.'

Concluding I was hungry, he gave me some fried fish and some hoe-cake for supper. I need not say I ate heartily. We chatted for an hour or so, and I learnt his name, and that the was a free man from Illinois. I must not repeat his name, but if ever this book reaches him, he will remember me,and I wish him to know that I have always thought of him with gratitude for his kindness to me that night, and for his fidelity to me in my sore trouble. 

He put me to sleep on his sofa, but I could not close my eyes for fear, as well as for a kind of shivering, brought on by my long exposure to cold and wet. If I slept at all, it was only by snatches, so that I felt quite relived when morning came. My benefactor the informed me he had been making inquires, and there was a steamer ready to start to New Orleans, on board of which I must go. She was called the Neptune. I did not desire anything better than to be off, fancying still that if I got safely to New Orleans I should find no difficulty in reaching England. Accordingly I jumped up, and after a hurried breakfast, made the best of my way to the quay, where I soon saw the steamer."

I found it interesting that Brown commented on this barber's awareness of keeping the fugitive from being known due to the repercussions that could be wrought on his business.  As he put it "if you were seen, and it were found out I was helping you off, it would break me up." Free men of color barbers had much to lose by helping fugitives and Brown fully understood this and appreciated his host's risk.

Searching the city directory of Paducah from 1859-60, I located two black barbers listed in the city: W. P. Miller and Jefferson Sanders. Unfortunately, I have been unable to corroborate if either of these men were from Illinois, and thus possibly the barber mentioned by Brown.       

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kentucky Black Barbers Were Leaders in Reconstruction

Free black barbers in Kentucky used their tangible skills and business acumen to become African American community leaders during the antebellum and Civil War years. It is therefore not surprising that they continued that role in the immediate post-war era. 

A quick review of the participants of the First Convention of Colored Men of Kentucky, which was held in Lexington in March, 1866, shows a number of free black barbers in significant positions. 

The gentleman chosen to be treasurer was Benjamin Tibbs, a Danville free man of color barber. In 1860, Tibbs was 30 years old and possessed relatively considerable wealth with $1500 in personal property and $1000 in real estate. In 1858, Tibbs advertised in the Danville Weekly Kentucky Tribune. In that notice he commented that he had been in business at that point for over a decade. The convention's secretary was Henry Scroggins. Scroggins was a 19 year old Lexington barber in 1860. Alexander Botts of Catlettsburg in Boyd County was elected as a delegate. Botts was listed in the 1860 census as a 32 year old mixed-race barber worth $2000 in real estate and $100 in personal property.

Other barbers were chosen as honorary members of the convention and participated, too. S. C. Oldham, son of long time Lexington barber Samuel Oldham and the elder Oldham's grandson Nathaniel Oldham, Jr. from Maysville were chosen. S. C. was 33 years old and owned $100 in personal property, and Nathaniel was 20 years old in 1860. Another honorary member was Henry Johnson from Cynthiana in Harrison County. Johnson was 40 years old and owned $800 in real estate and $1000 in personal property in 1860. 

These men's pre-war status as free men of color, their relative wealth, and thus social status in their communities likely led to their being chosen for these important positions. Their business sense was respected by fellow African Americans and they were looked to to shape the future for the race in the state. While these men could have declined the honor, they accepted  out of a sense of obligation and a wish to continue advancements started with emancipation.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jo Scott Runaway Barber

I have been finding it somewhat difficult to locate primary sources for enslaved barbers. While free black barbers left a fairly clear historical record, slave barbers (like any other enslaved segment) seemingly left little documentation of their day-to-day existence.

White owners sometimes set up shops for their slaves that were skilled in barbering. Other owners hired out and apprenticed their slaves to work for free black barbers. Whatever the situation, the desire of slaves to be free to make their own decisions and to earn profits from their labor prompted some to abscond.

The above advertisement, posted by the jailer of Trimble County, Kentucky, notes the capture of a African American man named Jo Scott, who was from New Orleans. It ran in the Louisville Weekly Journal on August 20, 1856. Included with a physical description of the mixed-race Scott was the notation that he "professed to be a barber," and the fact that he "plays well on the violin." These two potentially valuable skills may have prompted Scott to runaway and seek a better life.

It is certainly speculation, but perhaps Scott traveled by steamboat from New Orleans to his point of capture at Trimble County, which is on the Ohio River across from Madison, Indiana. In my reading I have discovered that a number of both free and enslaved barbers worked aboard steamboats, tending to the shaving and hair cutting of the white passengers. It is quite likely that some of these barbers took the opportunity their travels afforded them (near the free states) to attempt their escape.

In constructing my database of captured runaway slaves in Kentucky during the Civil War, I came across a number of captives claiming to be free and from other river towns such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Perhaps some of them, too, served as barbers on steamboats and when they disembarked in river towns such as Louisville, were captured and jailed as runaway slaves. If these free men of color resided in free states they would likely not possess, and thus carry, free papers.

Urban locations such as river towns like Louisville, Paducah, Maysville, and Henderson, Kentucky usually offered networks of free blacks willing to assist the enslaved in makin their way to freedom. But these cities and towns, in a slave state, also brought potential danger to the free men of color traveling there from other locations and without local white alibis.      

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Negro Shoots at a Barber

I have turned up some interesting incidents while conducting research on black barbers in antebellum and Civil War Kentucky. The above short article ran in the Louisville Daily Courier on May 26, 1859. While it does not mention outright that the barber was an African American it hints at that fact by stating that the shooting incident "scared the barber till he was pale as a white man."

The article mentions that the barber was named Cowan. Wallace Cowan or Cowing was a 33 year old free man of color that was described as mulatto in the 1860 census. At the time of the census Cowan owned $400 worth of personal property and lived in the Fourth Ward.

The barber Cowan's census information is corroborated by the 1860 edition of the Louisville Directory and Business Advertiser. In this publication Cowan is spelled Cowing and is listed as living and working on Jefferson Street between First and Second Streets.

As in this case, it seems that it was not uncommon for free black barbers to rent young male slaves and use them for manual labor at their shops or to teach them the trade as apprentice barbers. Another source that was located charged a fine to a Maysville, Kentucky white barkeeper for selling liquor to an enslaved young man that was being hired by a free black barber and that had a shop next door to the bar. The barber allegedly allowed the youth to be served, and since the slave was under the command of the barber he was given a drink, thus breaking a city ordinance.

Another short notice (shown above) ran in the July 23, 1858, issue of the Daily Louisville Democrat. Unfortunately, the barber here is not named. The only identifier is that the barber's shop was on East Street. The 1860 Louisville Directory and Business Advertiser only provided home addresses for most of the black barbers listed, so we will likely never learn this individual's identity.

Unless employed there, enslaved and free African Americans were not normally allowed in barber shops run by free men of color while white patrons were present. However, these locations were of scenes of gathering after hours and when they were closed. It was incidents like this, and the first, that too often seemed to make their way into the newspapers and that strengthened the prejudices of whites against free blacks. These sensational and controversial incidents always won out over the understanding that the majority of free black barbers provided an important community service and lived productive quite lives.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Yankee Town, Southern City

Over the last several years I have grown to really enjoy reading local historical studies. Luckily, many communities have retained excellent primary source records that allow a vivid reconstruction of their pasts.

A great example of the excellent local studies that are being produced is Steven Elliott Tripp's Yankee Town, Southern City: Race and Class Relations in Civil War Lynchburg. In this fascinating look at race and caste in "Tobacco City" Tripp marshals a wide variety of sources to reconstruct Lynchburg's antebellum and secession, Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction history.

Here are the stories of the wealthy and numerous tobacco families, the black factory-working slaves, the white artisans and laborers, and native and immigrant men and women who lived their lives and labored in this James River town. Tripp's focus on how these diverse populations interacted or avoided interaction with one another make this book especially insightful.

The book gets its main title from a visitor that commented on Lynchburg's focus on industrial trades and which reminded that traveler of a Yankee town. Lynchburg's industry focused mainly on tobacco, plug chewing tobacco to be more specific. In the town's many factories slaves cut and stemmed tobacco leaves, flavored the weed, and pressed the plant into blocks that were shipped worldwide. In addition to tobacco, Lynchburg was a significant railroad hub. Rail lines ran to East Tennessee, Richmond, and Petersburg. These rails carried the rich resources of salt, iron, copper, coal, and gypsum from southwest Virginia to distant markets.

Lynchburg had wealthy sections of town where the tobacco factory owners lived with their families, as well as poorer sections, like "Buzzard's Roost," where poor white unskilled laborers and hired slave factory workers sought recreations and pleasures of a baser sort. Many of Lynchburg's factory working slaves lived a quasi-free existence. They were hired out by their owners, often negotiated their own wages, which they sometimes got to keep a portion of, and were allowed a more "loose" life than traditional plantation agricultural slaves. Many tobacco factory slaves were allowed to do overwork and retain those wages with which they bought property and rented places to live.

The Civil War drastically altered life in Lynchburg. The resulting confusion of mobilization and the loss of white manpower created chaos and disorder. Economic disruptions created stressed the town had only experienced rarely in the antebellum years. Emancipation and Reconstruction also brought racial and class strains to surface. Freed blacks attempted to exert a determination over their life and labor that had ultimately been in others' hands before the disruption of war. Violence was all too often a product of these troublesome times.

One source that Tripp readily tapped to get a historic pulse on Lynchburg was newsman Charles Button's comments. Button wrote for the Lynchburg Virginian and commented often on the sights he observed in and around the town. Button's written thoughts provides an excellent white point of view.

Books like Yankee Town, Southern City, which examine large issues in small places have become a favorite of mine. I think that anyone who enjoys reading Southern history will find this particular book both entertaining and educational. It is written in a easy and flowing style yet does not compromise on rigorous historical research. I give Yankee Town, Southern City a 4.75 on a 5 point scale.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Northerner's View of Emancipation

It is not surprising to read that a Northerner expressed racist sentiments in the antebellum era. Just because those states decided to do away with slavery does not mean that their citizens had liberated themselves from racial prejudices; quite the contrary

Reading Massachusetts clergyman Nehemiah Adams's A South-Side View of Slavery, which was printed in 1854, quickly brought this point out. Throughout the book Adams takes a very conservative and paternalistic view of slavery; a perspective the majority of Americans at this time likely maintained. On page 119, Adams began a discussion of what was likely to be expected from the sudden emancipation of the Southern slaves. In his view slaves benefited from the institution, particularly in relation to religion and acculturation.

Adams wrote:
"The conviction forced itself upon my mind at the south, that the most disastrous event to the colored people would be their emancipation to live on the same soil with the whites.

The two distinct races could not live together except by the entire subordination of one to the other. Protection is now extended to the blacks; their interests are the interests of the owners. But ceasing to be a protected class, they would fall prey to avarice, suffer oppression and grievous wrongs, encounter the rivalry of white immigrants, which is an element in the question of emancipation here, and nowhere else. Antipathy to their color would not diminish, and being the feebler race, they would be subjected to great miseries.

All history shows that two races of men approaching in any considerable degree to equality in numbers can not live together unless intermarriages take place. The Sabine women prepared the way for the admission of the Sabines to Rome, and gave them a place among the conscript fathers. Alexander, having conquered Persia, married the Persian Roxana, and thus lessened the social distance between the new provinces and the original empire. Alaric, Clovis, Henry I of England, in Italy, Gaul, and among the Saxons, respectively, resorted to the same policy of intermarriage for the same purpose. The long dissensions between the Normans and Saxons under William Duke of Normandy and William Rufus disappeared when the two races followed the example of Henry. We know the happy results."

Adams went on to provide a contemporary example of the difficulties between the races and the labor strife among blacks and the Irish in an article from a Buffalo, New York, newspaper.

"It would not be strange if, as the least evil, and to prevent their being exterminated, or driven out, as John Randolph's emancipated slaves and other companies of emancipated negroes have been, by one free State after another, or leading a wretched life like that of our New England Indians, it should be considered best for all concerned that they should enter again, after being emancipated, into some form of subordination to the whites. Their present bondage, with all its evils, real or supposed, it would then be seen, is by no means the worst condition into which they could fall. . . .

As an ardent friend of the colored race, I am compelled to believe that while they remain with us, subordination in some form to a stronger race is absolutely necessary for their protection and best welfare - a subordination, however, which shall be for the interests of the black man, as well as for his superiors, and from which every degree of oppression shall be purged away, the idea of their being doomed as a race or caste being abolished, and individual tendencies and aptitudes being regarded. If our southern brethren will protect and provide for them or this world and the next, we, as friends of man, should feel that we owe them a debt of gratitude and should be willing to assist, if necessary, in promoting their welfare."

Adams then suggests, as he does in other points in the book, that if the North would only let the South alone slaveholders would eventually rid themselves of the institution and the accompanying sectional discord would subside.

"Suppose, then, that we begin to take some new view of our duty with regard to slavery, having long enough, and uselessly, and injurously enough beleaguered and battered it, only to find, in 1854, that, in spite of all our efforts and prayers, it is taking a stride more vast and astonishing than ever. A physician who had failed in his course of treatment, as we have with slavery, would ordinarily change it. Perhaps we are wrong. If our aim is good, perhaps we can effect it in a better way - a way in which the south itself will cooperate with us. Perhaps this whole continent can be pacified on this subject consistently with truth and righteousness, and to the increased happiness of all concerned."

Naturally, we have the benefit of hindsight that Adams did not have. However, it would seem that events leading up to the time at which he was writing would have provided more discouragement than encouragement. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850 and its resulting congressional discord, along with events leading up to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of Adams's year of publication all pointed to a strengthening of slavery not a lessening.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Five Years of Random Thoughts

I apologize for the lack of posts over the last few days. I took an extended-weekend vacation that got extended even more than planned due to polar vortex number 435 (at least it seems we've had that many this winter). I promise I will get caught up and have the usual 15 or 16 posts for the month.

With that all said, I'd like to congratulate myself. Today is the fifth anniversary of "Random Thoughts on History." When I started my blog back on March 4, 2009, I lived in Petersburg, Virginia, and had just lost my public history position in the wake of the recession of 2008. In the time since I have made a move to Kentucky, which has offered me a wealth of opportunities to learn more that I ever could imagine. I never expected to keep Random Thoughts going for as long as I have, but it has become something I really enjoy doing, and hopefully people still find it enjoyable and educational to read.

If you do enjoy reading my posts I would like to take a moment to encourage you to share Random Thoughts with your fiends, family, and colleagues. One of the things I would like to see more on here are readers comments. I know some of the topics I post about are obscure, but if you find the information intriguing, or if you have a different point of view than the one I present, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Lastly, I'd also like to make you aware of the search box on the top left of the home page. Over the past five years I have posted on plethora of issues, topics, and books, so if there is something you are looking for, do a quick search and see if I have commented on a topic.

Thanks again for your continued reading!