Saturday, September 5, 2015

Virginia Antebellum Black Barbers

I'm not sure where I'm going to find the time and energy to do the research and writing, but some preliminary searching in the 1860 Virginia census is turning up a significant amount of promising information on the state's antebellum black barbers. I had made some limited searches as evidenced from previous posts about some mentions of barbers in Richmond newspaper stories and advertisements,but had not started a thorough search of any county until this past week. We'll see if I can keep up the hunt and what comes out of it.

I thought I'd take a start with the Washington County census. Washington County is located in the southwest part of the state and has historic towns in Bristol and Abingdon. I figured that if the Old Dominion is anything like Kentucky, those towns would have a black barber or two. They did. I fact, I located three.


A few other reasons I chose Washington County as a starting place is that I have ancestral connections to the area, and having lived and worked nearby, I thought it would be a interesting point of entry. But, the main reason is that while looking up some information on famed Confederate guerrilla leader John S. Mosby after having visited Warrenton, I came across the listing of barber Christopher Martin (above) on the same census page as Mosby.  

Before the war, Mosby worked as an attorney in Goodson (present day Bristol) and covered cases in both Washington County, Virginia, and Sullivan County, Tennessee. In fact, Mosby joined a local regiment called the Washington (County) Rifles before ending up in the cavalry, and then forming his own famous guerrilla battalion.

Martin, like many of the barbers in Kentucky, had accumulated a significant amount of wealth for a free man of color. He is listed with $1000 in real estate and $200 in personal property. Martin's large family included six children. Although teenage sons Albert and Frank do not have occupations listed, I would not be surprised if they served as barber apprentices in their father's shop.


Also in Goodson (Bristol) was William Rucker, who is noted as owning the same amount of wealth as competitor Christopher Martin. Rucker, too, has a teenage son, William Jr., who may have assisted in his father's barber shop. The census indicated that Rucker had been born in North Carolina.


The final barber located in Washington County was in Abingdon. Thadeus A. Harris, although a few years younger than Martin and Rucker, was significantly more wealthy. Harris is shown with $3000 in real estate and $1000 in personal property. Harris apparently was married to housekeeper Mary, who was about twelve years his junior. The couple had a one year old daughter named Sarah. Also in the household was a twenty-one year old barber Samuel Sheffy.

This limited sample group fits many of the same patterns that I had found in my Kentucky research. All of these Washington County barbers were in their thirties, and were all listed as mulatto. I will be interested to see if the number of black and mulatto barbers even out as I increase my findings. Also, all of these men held solid amounts of wealth for the time period.

I'll keep you all posted on what I find as more counties get perused.

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