Sunday, December 25, 2016

"A Christmas Dinner"


One of my favorite things about visiting my grandparent's farm in south-central Kentucky when I was a youngster was the sumptuous fare grandma always provided. The dinner table was a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights. Turkey, cooked in a pressure cooker to retain its tenderness and flavor, creamed corn, yeast rolls, green beans, lima beans, and a host of other belly fillers. Deserts included a menagerie of cakes, pies, jellies, and jellos. The memory of the pleasant smells of those Southern comfort foods bring a smile to face to this very day. I was always grateful for the bounty that was provided.

I'm sure that many Civil War soldiers grew up eating similar meals. However, the transition from civilian to martial life included a steep learning curve for most. Acquiring skills (like cooking) that in peace time were clearly in the sphere of females or the enslaved made soldiering all that much more unpleasant.

Artist Edwin Forbes commented on Christmas as it was experienced by men on the forward picket line:
"After an hour or two of social chat over our pipes, we rode further down the line and stopped at various points to talk with friends who were on duty. None seemed to have fared as sumptuously as ourselves; most of the men were cooking salt pork, though one party had secured a turkey from a neighboring farmer and looked lovingly toward it as it roasted before the glowing camp-fire. Some of the men were fortunate enough to have received boxes from home, and their faces grew bright as the lifted out roast turkey, chickens, bread, cake and pies that kindly hands had prepared. An occasional bottle of "old rye," secreted in a turkey or loaf of bread, would give rise to much fun and expected enjoyment. The provost guard, however, seldom overlooked a bottle and confiscated any contraband liquor; and his long experience had bred in him a sort of special sense for any such little infractions of the rule, which was inflexible even for Christmas, and if got the better of at all had to be by a skillful and imperceptible breaking."

On this Christmas day, be sure to remember those of the past, and the present, who serve to protect our cherished freedoms often far removed from the comforts that family and friends bring. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Former Virginia Slaves Remember Christmastime


Former Slave Fannie Berry remembered:
"Slaves lived jus' fo' Christmas to come round. Start gittin' ready de fus' snow fall. Commence to savin' nuts and apples, fixin' up party clothes, snitchin' lace an' beads fum de big house. General celebratin' time, you see, 'cause husbands is comin' home [from being leased out] an' families is gettin' 'nunited agin. Husbands hurry on home to see dey new babies. Ev'ybody happy. Marse always send a keg of whiskey down to de quarters by ole Uncle Silas, de house man. Ole Joe would drink all he kin long de way, but dey's plenty fo' all. Ef dat don' las ole Marse Shelton gonna bring some mo' down hisse'f."

Baily Cunningham:
"We didn't know but one holiday, that was Christmas day, and it was not much different from any other day. The field hands did not have to work on Christmas day. We didn't have any Christmas presents."

Julia Frazier:
"They had parties on Holidays (Easter, Christmas and Whitsun). On dem days we would play ring plays, jump rope an' dance. Then nights we'd dance juba. The girls got new dresses twice a year, but ole misstress us to give us second hand clothes."

Horace Muse:
"Marser Riles was a mean man. He never knew when you had wuked a 'nough. I done jes' 'zackly ez he tol' me. Dat's why I never git any beatin'. Ole Marser git cross an' he 'put you in his pocket.' Dat's what dey say when dey mean he give you to a mean man to wuk fer. When I was hired out, dey let me come home at Christmas fer' three o; four days. Den I had to go back to wuk."

Levi Pollard:
Christmas time Mars Charles gived us lots er things. Sometimes dey wold be a little extra, but us always got a peck er flour, a whole ham, 5 lbs., real cane sugar, en every body winter clothes. Every man gits two workin' shirts, one coat, one pair pants, one jacket, en one pair shoes. De women git near 'bout de same I reckon, I ain't never been good at 'memberin' things I ain't knowed nothin' 'bout, en I ain't never been married."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, 1838


Visiting mineral springs was a popular pastime in antebellum America. Wealthy Southerners of this era often visited these hydrotherapy spas to socialize as much as for their supposed medicinal values. Being that noted mineral springs were often in mountainous area, they were a popular draw during the summer and early fall months as a retreat from the lowland heat and its associated illnesses.

One of the most frequented spas in the South was White Sulphur Springs, Virginia (now in present-day Greenbrier County, West Virginia). White Sulphur Springs boasted accommodations for over 500 people in its main hotel, as well as its family cottages. 

Naturally, when wealthy slave owning families visited White Sulphur Springs, they often brought their favorite domestic slaves to attend to their needs. It was on a visit in 1838 that German artist Christian Friedrich Mayr painted the above scene of "Kitchen Ball." It has been speculated that this image captured a slave wedding due to the focal point couple dancing in white attire. Whether it was wedding, or just an occasion for fellowship and recreation with fellow enslaved individuals, it captures a moment in time and away from their masters' gaze to enjoy some well deserved free time. The foreigner Mayr's painting shows the ball participants in a dignified manner without the unfortunate grotesque features common in images painted by Americans. Mayr also depicts African American musicians. He places a flute player, a cellist, and a fiddler. 

One wonders what sort of conversations these enslaved people held while free of their owners' control for a brief period. Did they compare notes on how to cope with slavery? Did they use the opportunity to just forget about their enslaved condition for a little while? Did they network in attempt to better their individual situations? Did they try to find out information about love they had been separated from?


White Sulphur Springs was visited for its springs as early as the late 1770s, but came into its own as noted resort in the period from 1830 to 1860. It hosted a number of presidents during this period as well as other noted politicians, celebrities, and their families. Although White Sulphur Springs has undergone a number of changes in the years since, it still operates, now as the Greenbrier: America's Resort. If you have traveled on I-64 between Lexington, Virginia, and Beckley, West Virginia, you have likely noticed it.

A Kitchen Ball image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art
White Sulphur Springs image courtesy of the University of Virginia

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Interpretive Tools



When giving tours, one can paint pictures for visitors with words. Transporting guests' imaginations back 150 years ago, or even earlier, is a true art. However, occasionally, the pictures one can paint are limited to what the individual visitor brings from their own past experiences. For example, it is easier to discuss the process of planting, cultivating, and harvesting tobacco, if that guest grew up experiencing some of those aspects of agricultural work. Those people that have experienced the day-to-day work of hot, back-breaking field labor can probably better appreciate the toils of a field hand better than someone who has never even cut their own lawn. Then, adding in the fact that enslaved people received no compensation for their labor beyond the most basic of basics in the form of food, clothing, and shelter, a true understanding can begin to form.

In present-day America, one in which fewer and fewer people have agricultural roots, it can sometimes be difficult to make connections to a past that was largely experienced in a rural environment. I feel fortunate that I was able to experience farm life on a limited basis, both through visits to my grandparents farm in south-central Kentucky, as well as helping on the family farms of friends in southern Indiana. In addition, with my father being an avid hunter and angler, I feel I probably have a better understanding than the average person of the process and methods necessary for our ancestors to obtain food for themselves on a daily basis.

To help historic sites paint clearer pictures for guests from diverse backgrounds, they often seek to obtain and display items that assist visitors in making connections with the past. Those items can come in the from of large recreated structures, such as a slave quarters, a corn crib, or a tobacco barn. But they can also come in smaller formats, like the tools that enslaved individuals used, or items that masters incorporated to regulate their slaves' lives.


Getting visitors to empathize with enslaved individuals' lives at plantation historic sites is one of the largest challenges for interpreters. Due to the rights and liberties that we enjoy in the 21st century, it is difficult for guests to step back in time (especially younger guests without the benefit of age experiences) to truly understand the limitations that were enforced upon enslaved African Americans. However, by using interpretive tools, that gulf can be party bridged.

A good example is that recently we installed a plantation bell at work. This interpretive tool will hopefully help us explain that sound devices were incorporated by owners to relate clock time to their enslaved workers. Slaves were not normally allowed to own such luxuries as clocks, therefore, owners who demanded an efficient plantation operation needed the ability to translate clock time to the slaves. This was most often done through the auditory devices of a bell or horn, which sounded to let them know when to wake, when to head to the fields, when to break for meals, and when to end the day's labor. I'm sure slaves grew to hate the sound of the bell or horn. Similarly, slaves also came to associate the sound of the bell with coerced labor. In a Works Progress Administration slave narrative account that I found while researching plantation bells, a slave mentioned that his plantation's bell rang every morning at four o'clock in the morning and that it said, "get up, I'm coming to get you."

Interpretive tools such as plantation bells are significant vehicles to help facilitate learning and encourage understanding. When used in conjunction with proper explanation and reference they can make all the difference between an average learning experience and one which inspires learning beyond the tour.


Black and white bell photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recruiting United States Colored Troops


A few years back I purchased the above image printed in poster form from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. On the poster is small paragraph of text which notes it being a Civil War recruiting poster from 1863. It is certainly a striking image which shows past (slavery), present (soldiers), and future (freedom) scenes, and would seemingly have been effective for recruiting those who might not be literate. But in all of my reading on USCTs, I had never come in contact with its use in the field.

Well, that changed with my latest read. Looking for books by eminent historian John Hope Franklin, I came across The Diary of James T. Ayers: Civil War Recruiter. Franklin edited the diary for publication by the Illinois State Historical Society in 1947. Fortunately, Louisiana State University Press reprinted it in 1999.

James T. Ayers's diary recounts his experiences in Alabama and Tennessee attempting to get slaves to enlist in the numerous USCT regiments, brigades, and divisions forming there in 1863 and 1864. Ayers was born in Kentucky, but had moved with his family to Ohio as a child and as a young man to Illinois. There he apparently developed a disdain for the institution of slavery. But, although he abhorred the "peculiar institution," he did not believe in the equality of the races or refrain from using racist terms. In fact, one is surprised by the number of times Ayers uses the n-word instead of the more refrained "negro" or "colored."

On the May 7, 1864, entry Ayers commented on encountering a situation in which he used the above image in his recruiting work. Near Huntsville, Alabama, Ayers came upon a group of slaves on a Mr. Eldridge's plantation. The recruiter conversed with the enslaved men for a few minutes asking about their master and their situation. After a few minutes of talking they told Ayers they had to get back to work or suffer the consequences. Ayers informed them that according to President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, they were free. As Ayers described it from here:

"'Bress God,' said two or three voices as the same time.

'Well children, see here' getting off my horse then and handing them one of my Recruiting Pictures. 'Here is what Father Abraham is doin for you' showing them the Darky in Center with flagstaff flag waving and on the write [right], men knocking off the chains from the slaves wrists and some Just has got Loose and hands stretched upward shouting and Praising God for there Deliverance and on the left side A free school in full Operation with miriads of Little Darkies Each with his book . . . . '"

Ayers explained that on the opposite side of the image was the message:

ALL SLAVES were made FREEMEN 
BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 
President of the United States,
 January 1st, 1863. 
Come, then, able- bodied COLORED MEN, to the nearest U. S. 
Camp and fight for the 
STARS AND STRIPES!

After speaking with the men, Ayers encountered Eldridge as well as his daughter, whose husband was off in the Confederate army. After verbally sparring with both, Ayers rode off with four of Eldridge's slaves and two others from a neighboring farm. He had them enlisted in a Tennessee USCT regiment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Englisman Witnesses a Virginia Slave Coffle


Like many Europeans who visited the United States in the antebellum era, British author and geographer George Featherstonehaugh saw a contradiction between the infant nation's claims of liberty and their practice of slavery.

While traveling through the Old Dominion in the 1830s, Featherstonehaugh happened upon a slave coffle operated by slave trader John Armfield, which was headed southwest up the Valley of Virginia and crossing the New River, likely near the present-day town of Radford. He wrote:

"Just as we reached New River, in the early grey of morning, we came up with a singular spectacle, the most striking one of a kind I have ever witnessed. It was a camp of negro slave-drivers, just packing up to start; they had about three hundred slaves with them, who had bivouacked the preceding night in chains in the woods; these they were conducting to Natchez [Mississippi], upon the Mississippi River, to work upon the sugar plantations in Louisiana. It resembled one of those coffles of slaves spoken of by Mungo Park, except they had a caravan of nine wagons and single-horse carriages, for the purpose of conducting the white people, and any of the black people who should fall lame, to which they were now putting the horses to pursue the march. The female slaves were, some of them, sitting on logs of wood, whilst some of them were standing, and a great many little black children were warming themselves at the fires of the bivouac. In front of them all, and prepared for the march, stood, in double files, about two hundred male slaves, manacled and chained to each other. I had never seen so revolting a sight before! Black men in fetters, torn from the lands where they were born, from the ties they had formed, and from the comparatively easy condition which agricultural labor affords, and driven, by white men, with liberty and equality in their mouths, to a distant and unhealthy country, to perish in the sugar-mills of Louisiana, where the duration of life for a sugar-mill slave does not exceed seen years! To make this spectacle still more disgusting and hideous, some of the principal white slave-drivers, who were tolerably well dressed, and had broad-brimmed white hats on, with black crepe around them, were standing near, laughing and smoking cigars."

Featherstonehaugh later commented on the coffle's New River crossing:
"It was an interesting, but melancholy spectacle, to see them effect the passage of the river; first a man on horseback selected a shallow place in the ford for the male slaves; then followed a wagon and four horses, attended by another man on horseback. The other wagons contained the children and some that were lame, whilst the scows, or flat-boats, crossed the women and some of the people belonging to the caravan. There was much method and vigilance observed, for this was one of the situations where the gangs--always watchful to obtain their liberty--often show a disposition to mutiny, knowing that if one or two of them could wrench their manacles off, the could soon free the rest, and either disperse themselves or overpower and slay their sordid keepers, and fly to the Free States. The slave-drivers, aware of this disposition in the unfortunate negroes, endeavor to mitigate their discontent by feeding them well on the march, and by encouraging them to sing "Old Virginia never tire," to the banjo."

The scene Featherstonehaugh's witnessed was not uncommon in the first half of the nineteenth century. Thousands of slaves went cross-country from the eastern and upper-South states to the Old Southwest to markets in Natchez and New Orleans, where their demand brought higher prices and where they were purchased for toil in the cotton fields and sugar plantations of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and East Texas.

A little later on in his travels, Featherstonhaugh ran into Armfield's coffle again, this time in East Tennessee. He stated about the scene: "Before we stopped for the night, but long after sunset, we came to a place where numerous fires were gleaming through the forest : it was the bivouac of the gang. Having prevailed upon the [stagecoach] driver to wait half an hour, I went with Pompey--who was to take leave of us here--into the woods, where they were all encamped. There were a great many blazing fires around, at which the female slave were warming themselves; the children were asleep in some tents; and the males, in chains, were lying on the ground, in groups of about a dozen each. The white men, who were the partners of Pompey's master, were standing about with whips in their hands; and the 'complete' was, I suppose, in her tent; for I judged, from the attendants being busy in packing the utensils away, that they had taken their evening's repast. It was a fearful and irritating spectacle, and I could not bear long to look at it."

Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Petersburg and the Business of Slavery


Back in August I shared a post on Petersburg slave trader Henry Davis. In that post I included an image of a document showing the sale of slaves once belonging to Richard Ransom Johnson of neighboring Chesterfield County. A number of those slave were purchased by trader Davis, but the sale was facilitated by businessman Thomas Branch and his family affiliates.

Thomas Branch and his sons, James Read Branch and John Patteson Branch, were involved in several interrelated businesses in Petersburg and operated out their building and offices at 1 Old Street (pictured above), just a block south of the Southside Railroad station. Branch's location along the Appomattox River and with ready access to the railroad likely helped him with his various banking and commission-merchant businesses.



As one might imagine, much of the Branch family's business involved different facets of slavery's interwoven nature in the local economy. Branch's banking interests most likely made numerous loans to individuals who sought credit for slave and land purchases. The Branches certainly arranged slave sales and slave leasing, as the previously mentioned enumerated list documents from William Ransom Johnson sale, as well as the newspaper advertisement shown above, which ran in the December 28, 1855, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express. This ad sought slaves to rent to the Petersburg Railroad and offered "liberal wages" to their owners for the slaves' labor. 

In that same issue, Branch and Sons ran another notice, offering: "Two Negroes for Sale at Auction - On Wednesday, 2nd January, at 12 o'clock, we shall sell, in front of our office, TWO NEGRO MEN. One has been running a lighter, and the other is a first rate farm hand-both have good characters. THOS. BRANCH & SONS, Auct'rs."


Branch and Sons were not the only Petersburg commission merchants and auctioneers to get in on the slave game. William Pannill, whose May 30, 1862, advertisement in the Petersburg Daily Express is shown above, also brokered rentals and sales of slaves from his offices at 61 Sycamore Street.


Attorneys Alexander and James M. Donnan also served as middle-men, or in today's terms "head-hunters," who worked on commission to match owners' needs with slaves' skills. In the advertisement above, which appeared in the December 15, 1860, issue of the Petersburg Daily Express, they offered "a number of Servants, of all ages, sexes and capacities--Factory and Field Hands, Draymen, Ostlers, Dining Room Servants, Smiths, Cooks, Washers, Nurses, and others." A veritable slaveholders one-stop shop.  The Donnans outlined that payment could be made twice during the year on an annual lease and that they required hiring individuals to provide the slaves with clothing and two pair of shoes during the year. Renters were asked to please return slaves to their owners by Christmas day "well clothed." 

When we think of slavery we often think of the family separations cauded by the selling apart of family members. Perhaps we should better remember that some enslaved family members were separated for the greatest part of the year when hired out, too. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Slavery's Expansion vs. Slavery's Extinction


One of the primary planks of the emerging Republican Party of the 1850s was preventing the extension of slavery to the emerging western territories. Most of those in the Democratic Party in the free states believed that slavery should be determined by popular sovereignty. In other words, when territories acquired a large enough population and petitioned Congress to become as state, those citizens could then vote by popular referendum whether to come into the Union as a free or slave state and encode such laws in that state's constitution. Most Democrats, whether North or South believed that geography and climate would ultimately determine if slavery would be feasible for a new state, but they wanted the option. 

Republicans, regardless of their political bent (conservative or radical on the slavery issue) believed that if slavery was not allowed to expand it would die. Southern Democrats viewed the issue likewise. Like a tree that has its roots narrowly confined, it will eventually wither and die over time. Or, another even more popular analogy of the period was that shown in the political cartoon above: A scorpion, when surrounded by a ring of fire, would chose to sting itself to death rather than be consumed by the flames.

Southerners, particular the planter politicians--but many yeoman, too, who benefited from planter gratuities and hoped to elevate themselves socioeconomically one day to become slave owners--believed that slavery must expand in order to survive. They fully understood how slavery benefited their section.  If slavery died, so would the Southern way of life. Politically, economically, socially, the South would change forever. Planter politician extraordinaire, John C. Calhoun, had argued during the debates over the Compromise of 1850--half a decade before the emergence of the Republican Party--that, "the Southern section regards the relation [between slaver and master] as one which can not be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the [Southern] section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness; and accordingly they feel bound by every consideration of interest and safety to defend it." And attempt to defend it they did.

Why did Southerners threaten, beat, and banish abolitionists and anti-slavery proponents that they found within their borders and in their communities during the antebellum years? Because, those that espoused such ideas were viewed as a deadly threat to that cherished way of life that they believed the Constitution entitled them to. Why did Southerners seemingly in haste begin the domino process of secession when Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860? For very much the same reason. Although Lincoln was no abolitionist--at least not in 1860--he was a Republican and his party had determined to limit slavery to those states where it currently existed and let it expand no more. That was a direct threat and challenge that Southern honor would not tolerate. After all, their forefathers had fought in the Revolutionary War, just as vitally as Northerners' ancestors had to establish an independent nation and create a form of government which they believed guaranteed their domestic institutions if they so chose them. 

Compromise was at an end. And then war came, and those that sowed the wind, reaped the whirlwind. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Forced Migration to the Cotton Kingdom


Being that I have a random Wednesday off from work this week, and owing to the fact that I am just sitting in front of the television watching TCM show World War II era films in honor of the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I thought I'd go ahead and take a few minutes to write up a post.

My reading pace this past year is a little slower than usual. I blame it on weariness, but there may be some laziness in there, too. It seems that I start to read, and before I know it, the book is hitting my chest and my eyes are dropping like lead. However, there are a few books that stand out among the thirty-five or so on my completed list from the last twelve months; none of which were more memorable than The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward Baptist (Basic Books, 2014). I had read several positive reviews about this book and had even placed it on my Amazon wish list, but it was a little more expensive than I wished to pay, even in used condition. During Thanksgiving, while browsing their online catalog, I found it at the Petersburg Public Library. I picked it up the following day and dived in immediately. From the first page it was an enthralling read.


The Half Has Never Been Told is an extremely powerful and and persuasive look at how the expansion of slavery in the seven decades following the American Revolution transformed the Old Southwest into a Cotton Kingdom, which in turn fueled the economy of the United States as a whole, making it a into a world power by 1860. In the process, hundreds of thousands of slaves were both sold and moved from the eastern states to the emerging Cotton Kingdom states, especially, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, and whose labor was extracted at higher and higher levels to increase efficiency and thus sustain economic growth. Baptist writes in an engaging style and uses a wealth of primary sources and slave narratives while telling this important story in our nation's history.

While reading it, I was curious to see if I could find some ready evidence of what Baptist was writing about. So, I took a break from reading and made a stab into the "Chronicling America" newspaper database on the Library of Congress website. I chose to search a random issue of a Mississippi newspaper from this expansion era and only had to review a few pages before finding the advertisement at the top of this post. It was located in the January 4, 1840 issue of the Piney Woods Planter, which was published in Liberty, Mississippi. Liberty is in Amite County, which is located in southwest Mississippi.

The advertisement offered "Virginia Negroes for Sale," by the H. & J. W. Taylor firm. As the notice implies, these slaves were purchased in Virginia and brought to the southwest to labor for those owners who had settled and began clearing the land in the preceding decades. Offered in the advertisement are "house Servants, Mechanics, and Field Hands." The ad claims the interested individuals may call on the traders and that they "may select from about forty as likely Negroes as have ever been offered in the Southern Market." In order to increase their potential customer base, the traders requested that the ad be ran on both sides of the Mississippi River; in Liberty, as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

One wonders how many of these forty "Virginia Negroes" left behind fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters in the Old Dominion. One can also suppose that those that did leave "Old Folks at Home" never ever saw them again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"The Cook" as experienced by Porte Crayon


I mentioned in my recent post "Enslaved Cooking," about attending a lecture earlier this month at Stratford Hall titled "Cookin' for the Big House: Virginia's Enslaved Cooks and their Kitchens." In the lecture, the speaker used the above image in her PowerPoint presentation. The drawing, which was later converted into an engraving for printing, appeared in the article Virginia Illustrated: Containing a Visit to the Virginia Canaan, and the Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins, by David Hunter Strother (aka Porte Crayon).

During his early 1850s adventures through Virginia, Strother and his traveling party stopped in Amherst Court House, Virginia, just north of Lynchburg. He wrote:
"In Virginia, the village or collection of houses in which the seat of justice is located is called the Court House. Sometimes you find nothing more than a tavern, a store, and a smity. Besides the county buildings, Amherst Court House contains about a dozen houses, and has probably not attained the dignity of a corporate town. The soil of this, in common with many other piedmont counties, is of a bright red in many places, generally fertile, but poorly cultivated. The world down here seems to have been asleep for many years, and an air of loneliness pervades the whole region. As the roads were heavy, and the chances of finding entertainment but few, the driver stopped at an early hour in front of a house of rather unpromising exterior. Porte Crayon, who has the facility of making himself at home every where, when to the kitchen with a bunch of squirrels, the spoils of his German rifle. He returned in high spirits.

'Girls, we will be well fed here; we are fortunate. I have just seen the cook: not a mere black woman that does the cooking, but one bearing the patent stamped by the broad seal of nature; the type of a class whose skill is not of books or training, but a gift both rich and rare; who flourishes her spit like Amphitrite does her trident (or her husband's, which is all the same); whose ladle is as a royal scepter in her hands; who has grown sleek and fat on the steam of her own genius; whose children have the first dip in all the gravies, the exclusive right to all the livers and gizzards, not to mention breasts of fried chickens; who brazens her mistress, boxes her scullions, and scalds the dogs' (I'll warrant there is not a dog on the place with a full suit of hair on him). I was awed to that degree by the severity of her deportment, when I presented the squirrels, that my orders dwindled into a humble request, and, throwing a half dollar on the table as I retreated, I felt my coat-tails to ascertain whether she had not pinned a dishrag to them. In short she is a perfect she-Czar, and may I never butter another corn-cake if I don't have her portrait to-morrow."  

Strother's description implies that this enslaved cook (as was certainly the case with many others) exuded a certain disposition and exercised a certain level of power due to her skills and the importance of her role. Comparing the cook to the sea goddess Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon, shows her strength, and his claim that she "brazens her mistress," and orders around those under her charge only seemed to impress him and cow him to an individual who he would have normally required deference.    


Strother (pictured above) was a native Virginian, born in Martinsburg (later West Virginia) in 1816. As a young man showed a talent at art and thus studied drawing and panting in Philadelphia and New York City. A job as author and illustrator with Harper's Monthly Magazine  soon developed with Strother using the pen name Porte Crayon. One of Strother's most remembered sets of works were those he captured shortly after John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. During the Civil War he followed many of this fellow western Virginia Unionists by joining the Federal army in 1862. He served as a mapmaker, and later on the staff of his distant cousin, Gen. David "Black Dave" Hunter, before assuming command of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry.

Image of "The Cook," Image reference HARP01, as shown on www.slaveimages.com, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.
Image of Strother courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, November 28, 2016

In Print in Ohio Valley History


Back during my latest dry spell of posts here on "Random Thoughts" (October) I was honored to receive several complimentary copies of the Ohio Valley History journal's (Vol. 16, No. 3 - Fall 2016) issue that my article, "Telling Testimony: Slavery Advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War Newspapers" appeared in.

This project began as a twelve-page paper for the Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which I presented back in November 2013. I had presented at this conference in 2012 on Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid and had received some nice feedback. The John Brown paper was later selected for publishing in A Press Divided: Newspaper Coverage in the Civil War (Transaction Publishers, 2014), so I though I'd try again on a different topic and see if a similar positive outcome resulted.

While researching the John Brown paper I often became distracted by the diverse advertisements in newspaper sources. Doing so developed my curiosity and caused me to question how slavery advertisements changed over the course of the Civil War in Kentucky.

The time spent researching the various slavery advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War newspapers amounted to countless hours spent in front of microfilm machines at various repositories across the Commonwealth. Then the many hours developing and populating the databases for cataloging the owner posted runaway ads and the jailer posted captured runaway ads, as well as the writing and revising of the paper made me wonder more than once if it all would be worth it. Well, the paper ended up being awarded at the conference, so obviously I was pleased.

In 2014, I submitted the paper for inclusion at a conference being held a the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. I admittedly was a little disappointed that it was not accepted. However, it was not much longer after that that I was contacted by the editor of Ohio Valley History, who is affiliated with the Filson. She explained in her email that she found my research topic intriguing and wondered if I might perhaps be able to expand the study and develop a strengthened argument for potential consideration in an special issue on emancipation the journal was anticipating publishing.

Fortunately, I had kept my thorough notes and the databases that I had developed. These helped me add significantly to the orthogonal conference paper. Then with constructive criticism from a couple of anonymous peer review readers, as well as grammatical help from the editors, the paper was accepted and included in the fall 2016 issue, the cover image of which is shown below. I must say that I am very pleased with the final product and the experience was one that I feel with benefit me in the future.

If anyone has access the article, I would be interested in your thoughts about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Recent Acquisitions to My Library


As one can infer from the majority of my posts, my main regional interest is Southern history. However, my interest in the Northern home front was piqued recently by reading a collection of essays titled, Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War, so I am looking to add to my growing knowledge of how the war was experienced outside the South.


I purchased this book before attending a lecture at Statford Hall two weekends ago, titled "Cookin' for the Big House: Virginia's Enslaved Cooks and their Kitchens," but did not get around to reading it until after. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about how African foods and African American cooking has influenced America's palate at large.


This book is one that I had on my reading wish list for quite a while and finally purchased it after a visit to the National Park Service's Chimborazo visitor center and museum in Richmond back in late September. Although first published in the early 1980s, this study stands the test of time and provides a wealth of information about how slaves treated themselves and how masters sought to keep their enslaved workers healthy.


The experiences of those who flocked to contraband camps is an area of my Civil War knowledge that could use some improvement. Therefore, I'm looking forward to diving into this recently published volume very soon.


Slave breeding is a controversial topic that historians seemingly avoided or just lightly touched upon until quite recently. Scholars have debated whether organized slave breeding for profit existed, and if so to what extent. Hopefully this work will shed new light on this dark subject.


Other than the 1800-1880 time period, my next favorite era would probably be the 1930s and 1940s. Like my favorite historical period, the 30s and 40s were a time of extreme change. The story of the Dust Bowl is one that I look forward to learning about more. Being an Oklahoma Sooners football fan this particular subject has a significant tie in. It was largely through the experience of the double-whammy that was the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that deprecating titles such as Okies and humiliating images of extreme poverty emerged and that University of Oklahoma sought to banish by developing a championship caliber football team in the late 1940s.


Gen. Robert E. Lee once mentioned something to the effect that he could not imagine the army without music. The impact of music on the soldiers in the field, as well as the citizens at home, was indeed enormous. That impact resonated long past the silence of the guns. Many of the tunes that developed during the Civil War years remain with us as part of American culture. This looks to be an intriguing read. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Enslaved Cooking


Although Thanksgiving did not become an official national holiday until a presidential proclamation in 1863 (and then only initially in the Union states), the weeks and months after harvest in the antebellum South often came to be viewed as a time of plenty. In the autumn, food larders were replenished from the gathering and processing of that year's subsistence crops and the annual fall animal slaughters. As the leaves from the trees fell, food seemed to be in more abundance than at any other time of the year.

In the time before food was prepared on wood stoves, most culinary skills were honed by open hearth cooking. Like the field slaves' work, domestic slaves' duties of cooking and cleaning were labor intensive, and dangerous. Preparing three daily meals for the slave owning family (and probably more during the holiday season) meant long hours and aching muscles for the enslaved cook.

The process of cooking at the time did not just involve policing the goodness frying in the pans, boiling in the pots, and baking in the dutch ovens; the work to prepare for the cooking process alone was more physical work than some people did all day. Wood for fuel had to be chopped, spit, and carried to the hearth. Water had to be drawn from the well and toted to the kitchen for both cooking and cleaning. Poultry had to be killed, plucked, and dressed. Ingredients had to be gathered and measured.

Open hearth cooking was dangerous work. Clothing fires were not uncommon. Some female cooks had to wet their skirts or aprons to avoid their catching fire. The closeness to heating sources was also a problem due to breathing in wood smoke and the potential contact of hot metal handles with bare skin hands. Bending over heavy pots and pans to reach them on the hearth floor, where the cooking was completed to help control the piles of embers, and thus the various required temperatures, meant sore backs, necks, shoulders, knees, and legs.

Enslaved cooks probably received little recognition for their labors. A congratulations may be forthcoming if the mistress was in such a mood. A little taste while cooking or potential leftovers were sometimes the only compensation they received. All of which was little consolation knowing that the whole process would need to be started again almost immediately for the next meal. The cooks knew it would be the same the following day, and the next, and the next. And unlike the enslaved field hands, the domestic slaves more often than not did not get to enjoy a day of rest during the week. Is there any surprise then that if given an opportunity to escape their condition, it was the domestic slaves who often made first efforts?


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

John Brown Rope at Historic Sandusky



I must yet again seek forgiveness for my recent silence through this forum. I feel that in many different ways it has been a demanding summer, which in turn has taken a toll on my energy level to write posts on a more regular basis. However, last week during the middle of a much appreciated vacation respite, Michele and I visited Lynchburg for a little sightseeing and learning.  

Our first stop was to Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest (pictured above). If you have not visited this historic site, I highly recommend it. The painstaking restoration process that this architectural treasure is receiving is truly impressive and the tour was very informative.


Our second stop was to Historic Sandusky (pictured above). We were not aware that it was closed during the week at this time of year, but fortunately our ring at the visitor center building door was answered and we were offered an educational tour of this early-nineteenth century home, which served as the headquarters to Union General David Hunter during the Battle of Lynchburg in June 1864. The house contains a treasure trove of family and period furnishings. However, it was an artifact in one of the visitor center/museum's cases that I found particularly fascinating.

I have commented some about John Brown's hanging rope on a couple of past posts and one of those mentions that some pieces of the rope survive at a few different historical organizations. When I saw the one at Historic Sandusky I was somewhat skeptical, but the provenance that they provided, to me, sounds air tight.  


As the label (shown above) associated with this fascinating artifact describes, the rope fragment was obtained by James Risque Hutter. Hutter was the son of George C. Hutter, the owner of Sandusky, and was a Virginia Military Institute cadet at the time of John Brown's hanging in Charlestown, Virginia. The young man was present at the December 2, 1859, affair and took a piece of the rope as a souvenir.

James Risque Hutter graduated from VMI in 1860, and as one might expect, enlisted in the Confederate army serving as a captain with Company H, 11th Virginia Infantry, when the state seceded. A quick internet search indicates that Hutter received promotions to major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. He was wounded and captured during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and held until the winter of 1865. Finally exchanged, Hutter was captured once more at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and incarcerated until that summer. Interestingly, Hutter married a cousin at his relatives' home at Poplar Forest, who had purchased it from Jefferson's heirs. Hutter apparently lived a long life, dying at Sandusky at age 81, in 1923.

One never knows what might turn up at visits to historic sites. I know I keep being amazed at all of the things I find, learn, and see. Maybe that is one reason why I enjoy it so much.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Frederick Law Olmsted on Virginia Slave Quarters


If you have not read Frederick Law Olmsted's (pictured above in later years) travel accounts through the slaveholding states in the 1850s, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Cotton Kingdom. In it, the future famous landscape architect makes a number of interesting observations. Being an northerner and thus outsider to the "peculiar institution" provided Olmsted the opportunity to offer a different perspective than that of slaveholder or the enslaved.

In his travels through Virginia, Olmsted paused to comment on slave dwellings:
"The houses of slaves are usually log-cabins, of various degrees of comfort and commodiousness. At one end there is a great fire-place, which is exterior to the wall of the house, being made of clay in an inclosure, about eight feet square and high, of logs. The chimney is sometimes of brick, but most commonly of lath or split sticks, laid up like log work and plastered with mud. They [slaves] enjoy a great roaring fire, and, as the common fuel is pine, the cabin, at night when the door is open, seen from a distance, appears like  a fierce furnace. The chimneys often catch fire, and the cabin is destroyed. Very little precaution can be taken against such danger. Several cabins are places close together, and they are called "the quarters." On a plantation of moderate size there will be but one "quarters." The situation [location] chosen for it has reference to convenience of obtaining water from springs and fuel from the woods."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brown Raider Newby's Brother Killed at Petersburg


A name the sticks out among John Brown's raiders is that of Dangerfield Newby (pictured above). Newby was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, around 1820, to his white master father, Henry, and enslaved mother, Elsey. In 1858, Henry freed his slaves and they all moved together to Bridgeport, Ohio. In the intervening years, and while still in Virginia, Dangerfield had started his own family with an enslaved woman named Harriet, who first lived in Warrenton, and then Prince William County. 

In Ohio, Dangerfield saved money in attempt to purchase Harriet, but his offer of $1000 was rejected. It was probably partly out of that frustration that Dangerfield joined up with John Brown and his men to affect a change in the social system that separated Newby from his wife and children. Dangerfield was cut down early in the fight at Harpers Ferry, shot through the neck. His body's wounds were probed by his killers and his remains rooted on by the town's hogs. 


One wonders if William Newby's motivation for joining the Union army was in part to continue the fight for freedom his brother started at Harpers Ferry with John Brown. 

William joined Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry at Athens, Ohio on September 10, 1863. His service records indicate that he was twenty-two years old and was six feet two and a half inches tall, and is noted with the occupation of farmer. William, a free man of color, was officially mustered in on September 22, 1863, at Camp Delaware, Ohio. Each of William's service record cards note him as always being faithfully present.  


The 5th USCI was moved to Norfolk, Virginia, early in their service. They then took part in expeditions in North Carolina, before being transferred to Yorktown, Virginia, and made part of the XVIII Corps. They then helped secure City Point in May, 1864, and participated in the early attempts (June 15-18) to capture the important railroad hub city of Petersburg.

William Newby was wounded in the left arm and left side while fighting "before Petersburg" on July 3, 1864. One of William's records shows that he arrived at a hospital on July 13. I was unable to determine if he had received significant medical attention before that date. William died of "pyemia" (blood poisoning) on July 26 as a result of his battle wounds. Unfortunately, William's place of burial was not noted in his service records.

Image of Dangerfield Newby courtesy of the Kansas Historical Socitey

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Henry Davis - Petersburg Slave Trader


Many of Petersburg's historic buildings on Bollingbrook Street no longer stand. There are a handful of historically significant structures, such as Farmer's Bank and the Nathaniel Friend House, but many open spaces (parking lots) now appear where buildings that housed businesses and families once stood. 

One inconspicuous three-story building on the west end of Bollingbrook Street,which now is an African American barber shop (pictured above), once had a much more disconcerting existence. I have been informed that this building was for a time the slave trading office and jail of Petersburg dealer Henry Davis. 


Finding information to learn more about Davis was not that easy. I was only able to locate a scrap or two here and there. However, Davis does appear in the 1850 census. He is listed as being forty-two years old, and native of England. His occupation is simply noted as "N. Trader." He owned $14,000 in real estate and lived with his thirty-five year old wife, who was also from England, and their four children, two of whom appear to have been twins. Also in the household was another thirty-five year old female from England, perhaps Mrs. Davis's sister, and her six year old boy.

Another source I located via the Virginia Historical Society was an 1845 inventory of property purchased from the Oakland Plantation estate of William Ransom Johnson, a wealthy racehorse man from Chesterfield County. The listing shows that Henry Davis purchased ten slaves in the sale. The first, George Flournoy cost the trader $551.00. For $931.00 Davis bought a family consisting of Henry, Martha, and their child Rhoda. A blacksmith named Abram, his wife Sally and their two daughters, Susan and Rebecca cost Davis $1435.00. Finally, on the second page, Davis also purchased Sam for $420. 


I also located the above advertisement in the January 4, 1855 issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. It was posted by owner John G. Turpin seeking to reclaim two women who had absconded from him. It mentions that one of the women, Milly, was purchased from "Henry Davis of Petersburg" the year before.

Davis apparently did not limit his slave dealing to the local area, but rather participated in the larger network of the domestic slave trade. To prove such claim, I also found the transcription of an advertisement in the November 1837 printing of the Anti-Slavery Record, vol. 3, no.11. The publication sought to indict slavery based on sources produced by those participating in the institution. The advertisement was noted as being located in a Petersburg newspaper and read: "The subscriber being desirous of making another shipment by the Brig Adelaide, to New Orleans, on the first of March, will give a good market price for fifty negroes, from ten to thirty years old. - Henry Davis."


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Would It Be Like? Empathy and History


I apologize for the lack of posts over the last month, but I have been quite busy on a few different fronts, both professionally and personally. One initiative at work involved spending five days with wonderful group of teachers discussing slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Of the several places we visited on our field study day was the location of Richmond's slave trading district near Shockoe Bottom. While standing there at the former archaeological site of Robert Lumpkin's slave jail complex, a quote suddenly came to me that I remembered reading from Lincoln.

I was not certain where I had heard or read the quote, or even what the exact wording was, but it made me think about empathy. . . putting ones self in the shoes of others. When I had the opportunity I did some internet searching and found the quote. Lincoln, speaking to a group of Hoosier soldiers in March 1865, mentioned that "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally." That statement really brought it home to me. What would it feel like to be worked from dawn to dusk with no compensation other than being provided with meager food, clothing, and shelter. What would it feel like to be separated from one's family while being rented to someone else for no personal gain? What would it feel like to be subjected to inspection just before being bid up to the highest offer? What would it feel like to have no rights, to not be allowed to read, to have no legal recourse when persecuted?

Today I feel that our country is suffering from a serious lack of perspective. We seem to not be able to empathize with those whose thinking may be different from our own. I appreciate that studying history has increased my thinking ability and has added to the value of seeing other people's view; all things that were instilled in me from a young age by parental example.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

To Whom He Was Hired


From: Richmond Daily Dispatch, December 3, 1859.

A couple of posts back I shared an advertisement about three young men who ran away from various tobacco factories in Richmond and were captured in Staunton in 1861. Two years previously Thomas ran away from his hirer, tobacco factory owner George D. Harwood. From the information contained in the advertisement, it appears that P. B. Jones, who was the administrator for the estate of the deceased Samuel Pleasants, had placed Thomas in the charge of Harwood. Perhaps Thomas thought the urban setting of Richmond provided him a better opportunity for escape than his rural Culpeper County home and thus made his attempt there.

George D. Harwood is noted as being a forty-two year old tobacconist in the 1860 census. Harwood owned $18,000 in real estate and $15,000 in personal property. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and their six children. Harwood owned two female slaves (one twenty eight years old and one ten years old--probably a mother and daughter), who likely did domestic duties at this Henrico County residence. Harwood is also noted as owning eight male slaves in Richmond proper that worked at his factory. However, what is especially interesting about Harwood's listing in the 1860 slave schedules is that it shows the slaves he was hiring from other owners. There are forty-eight individuals, apparently all male, that worked in Harwood's employment. While their several masters are noted, none are marked as being owned by Samuel Pleasants or P.B. Jones. Two were owned by a W. W. Jones, but neither of who matches Thomas's age.

Did Thomas eventually make his way to freedom before the Civil War? Or was he recaptured and sold off to some distant location? Did Thomas take his freedom during the Civil War as a soldier in a United States Colored Troops regiment? Or did he bide his time on a farm, plantation or factory until the Yankees came?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

For Not Having a Copy of His Register


From December 15, 1860, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express.

Here's yet another situation that I have previously not encountered. A free man of color, named Ned Harris, was was arrested for not having his free papers in Nottoway County. Harris was jailed for the offense and was then he hired out to Richard Epes to pay his incarceration fees. Harris, probably disgusted with the punishment, ran away, thus prompting Epes to offer a $10 reward.

Two men named Richard Epes show for Nottoway County in 1860. One was a thirty-five year old county clerk who had no real estate or personal property values listed. The other was a wealthy forty-five farmer ($40,000 in real estate, $91,067 in personal property). I suppose a case could be made for either man being the hiring Richard Epes in the advertisement. Being a clerk in the county's government would seemingly allow him to have access to the knowledge that Harris was available for hire. The farming Epes would likely have need of additional labor. Regardless, Ned Harris, by virtue of being African American was subjected to a punishment that whites of the time would never have faced.

Interestingly the advertisement provides a description of Harris, but did not estimate an age for the man.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Runaways! Three Runaways in Jail.


The advertisement above, which ran in the October 8, 1861 edition of the Staunton Spectator has several interesting features.

It was not unusual for captured runaway advertisements to list more than one individual. Often when a group of slaves traveling together were arrested, they were listed together. However, it was not that these three were grouped in one advertisement that caught my attention. A more fascinating aspect were their ages. John Henry Williams was guessed by the jailer to be "about thirteen old;" Fielding Lewis, "about twelve;" as was Joseph Henry Smith. From my experience such young runaways were quite rare. The vast majority of those I normally find listed are in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties.

Looking to corroborate some of the information through census information, I was unable to locate much 1860 census information on the various individuals that the runaways provided as owners and employers. For example, I did not find William Warren (Fredericksburg), the alleged owner John Henry Williams. Or, his employer Gibron Miles. There were too many John Hollidays in Maryland to determine which one may have been the owner of Fielding Lewis, and I could not find a Fitzhugh Mayo in Richmond that was positively in tobacco work. However, I did find Joseph Henry Smith's employer, Thomas Beale, who was indeed a tobacconist.

Another intriguing feature of the advertisement is that each of the young men worked at a tobacco factory in Richmond. Even more interesting is that they were all apparently working in different factories. Being that these fellows were all about the same age and all were hired to do factory work in the Capital City, it might be that they met each other in their urban workaday world movements, identified with each other's situations, and decided to runaway from their labor situations together.

Urban hired slaves often were allowed to find their own living spaces and lived in what some historians have referred to as "quasi-freedom." If these young men existed in such an environment, it appears that it was not free enough from them and thus they attempted a move to find true freedom. One wonders if they were eventually claimed by their owners or employers and ended up back in their tobacco factory work world until emancipated.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Jackson Terry, 114th USCI


Although his name is incorrectly inscribed on the headstone, resting in plot #2054 in the City Point National Cemetery are the remains of Jackson Terry, Company H, 114th United States Colored Infantry.

How might I know this? The information that I found at the cemetery identified this plot to a soldier in Company H, 116th USCI, who died on Valentine's Day, 1865. I searched the service records for a soldier in the 116th with the last name of Telly. Not finding it, I went to the closest last name spelling that I could find with the same first name initial. Jackson Terry was the closest fit. I then reviewed his records and found that he died on February 14, 1865. Many of the soldiers that were buried in national cemeteries were moved from their original graves. They often had temporary wooden grave markers that deteriorated making them difficult to read. Or, sometimes, those that placed the wooden grave marker were not the best at spelling. Regardless, I feel confident that this soldier's grave belongs to Jackson Terry.

Interestingly, Jackson Terry's service records show that he was born in Virginia. Unfortunately, it does not give a more specific location. Terry was owned by Harrison County, Kentucky farmer, Thomas Terry. The forty-four year old Thomas Terry, too, was born in Virginia, as was his thirty-four year old wife Susan. However, all of their six children, the oldest being twelve years old, were born in Kentucky. Owner and slave being only about ten years different in age makes one wonder if they did not come west together as younger men.

Thomas Terry owned eight slaves in 1860, who lived in two slave dwellings. Two of those slaves match Jackson Terry's age (forty in 1860). Thomas Terry had real estate wealth worth $8000 and personal property worth $9000.

Jackson Terry was an early enlistee. He signed up on June 4, 1864, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, without his master's written consent. He was forty-four when he enlisted and was five feet four inches tall. He officially mustered into the Union army on June 16. A note on one of Terry's service record cards claims that "He was a very obedient, willing soldier, always ready, and kept his accouterments in the best of order."

The 114th spent time at Camp Nelson and then were sent to Louisa, Kentucky on the eastern mountain border with West Virginia. It appears that Terry was detailed as cook at this time. The 114th stayed in Louisa until ordered to Petersburg in January 1865. It is unknown, but Jackson Terry may have been sick before reaching the trenches at Petersburg. If so, landing there in the wintertime probably did not help his condition. He is next noted at dying at Point of Rocks general hospital on February 14, 1865, of pneumonia. His records note that he had received clothing from the government at the cost of $59.54, but he was not indebted to any sutlers or laundresses. Terry's last effects were itemized as one pair of trousers, one pair of drawers, two flannel shirts, one rubber blanket, one knapsack, and $33.75 in money.

It is not surprising that government army service records would be so cold. The only hint of Terry's soldering abilities limited to the previously mentioned obedience, willingness, and readiness. One wonders what Jackson Terry thought of his service to the Union army. Was he proud of serving? Was he pragmatic or philosophical about his service? Did he think his life was worth giving to reunite the country and help end slavery? On this Memorial Day, I remember Jackson Terry's service to a country that did not even consider him a citizen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Clark Witt, 116th USCI


If you have read many of my posts about soldiers dying far from home, you have likely realized that Civil War soldiers expired far more often in hospitals from disease than from wounds received on the battlefield.

Yet another of these tragic stories is that of Clark Witt, who is buried at the City Point National Cemetery in plot 2230. Witt was born in Estill County, around 1844. Clark was owned by David Witt. The 1860 census shows David Witt owned eleven slaves, one of which was an eighteen year old "black" male, who was likely Clark Witt.

David Witt was sixty-one years old in 1860. He lived with his wife, Nancy, and their three sons. David owned $6000 in real estate and $7425 in personal property. Among Clark Witt's service records is a claim for compensation by David Witt for Clark's service. In it he provided a hint of Clark's family history. David wrote, "said slave was born as my property I having previously owned his mother having purchased his mother of Mr. Russell of Garrard County, Ky that he remained uninterruptedly in my possession up to the date of his enlistment."

Clark Witt enlisted on June 12, 1864, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky. He formally mustered into service on June 28. He was placed in Company E of the 116th United States Colored Infantry. Clark was noted as being twenty years old and was described as five feet six inches tall and of black complexion.

Clark was present for duty, being charged $1.79 for losing two haversacks and a canteen, in November and December 1864. He was noted as being in a field hospital in November but apparently recovered as he was shown as again being in the hospital around February 3, 1865. Clark Witt died of chronic diarrhea on February 24, 1865, at the general hospital at Point of Rocks, Virginia.

It appears that David Witt found out about Clark's fate when he filed for compensation for Clark's service. One wonders what emotions David had upon finding out that Clark had died as soldier. Did David have kind feelings toward his former slave and express sadness.  Or, since he had not provided consent for Clark's enlistment, was David resentful? From what I have read about the wide variety of relationships between masters and slaves, either response could be possible.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dying Far From Home: Andrew Leavell, 116th USCI


As we approach Memorial Day, I thought I'd share some more stories of men who died very far from home. You might remember that last May I highlighted a number of Kentucky United States Colored Troops soldiers buried at Poplar Grove Cemetery in Dinwiddie County. Recently, I took a drive over to Hopewell (Prince George County) and took some photographs of Kentucky USCTs buried at the City Point National Cemetery. This cemetery contains the remains of over 1,300 African American soldiers. Many were from the Bluegrass State.

One of the many from Kentucky is Andrew Leavell. Leavell was in Company E of the 116th United States Colored Infantry. The 116th was recruited and trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky, before being transferred to the Eastern Theater in the fall of 1864.

Andrew Leavell was born in Garrard County, Kentucky, around 1836, and was owned by John Y. Leavell. John Y. Leavell is shown in the 1860 census as a forty-three year old Garrard County farmer, who lived with his wife Jane and their six children. Leavell was quite well off with worth listed as $21,800 in real estate and $18,550 in personal property. He owned five slaves, who lived in one slave dwelling. One of the slaves who was listed was a 24 year old black male in 1860, which meets Andrew's enlistment age and description.

Andrew Leavell enlisted at Camp Nelson on June 12, 1864, and officially mustered in two weeks later. He was aged twenty-eight years, was five feet seven inches tall, and had a black complexion. Leavell was noted in his service records as being absent, "sick in field hospital," since December 21, 1864. He died eight days later at the United States army hospital located at Point of Rocks (Chesterfield County, Virginia). Records indicate that Leavell's cause of death was typhoid fever. An inventory of his person effects included: one forage cap; one great coat; one blouse; two pair of trousers; two flannel shirts; and one knapsack.

One wonders if the other slaves that John Y. Leavell owned were related to Andrew. Those most close to Andrew's age was a twenty-eight year old woman and an eighteen year old woman. Were these his sisters? If so, did they ever know of Andrew's death and his final resting place . . . so far from home?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Barber Seeking First Rate Barber


I have located advertisements from free men of color barbers seeking apprentices, but the above ad is the first I have found for a barber searching for another experienced barber. It ran in the March 5, 1850, issue of the Richmond Whig.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find this William Williamson barber in the 1850 or 1860 census. I found an 1856 Richmond city business directory online, but Williamson was not listed. Perhaps he had moved or gone out of business by then. But, upon further review, it appears that no black barbers were listed in this directory; only five white barbers were noted.

However, I did find Pearl Street on a period map. The short thoroughfare was near Shockoe Creek and close to the many flour mills at the James River basin.

If anyone has information on William Williamson, I would be interested in hearing whatever could be shared.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thirty-nine Lashes

seeing Ruffin take it. The barbershop is on Cary street near Eighth street.
______________________________________________________
The above short article ran in the September 13, 1864, issue of the Richmond Whig. I happened across it while seeking information on black barbers. Many of the antebellum and Civil War Richmond newspapers ran similar brief reports on decisions handed down by the mayor's court.

A couple of things caught my attention in these few short sentences. The first is the reference to Ruffin's physical appearance. Does describing the free barber's head as being "like a gorilla" add anything of substance to the story? Of course not. Does having "a head like a gorilla" predispose one to stealing? Of course not. However, in 1864 it was believed so. This provides a clear example of period racist thinking. Second is the fact that a free man of color was sentenced to thirty-nine lashes. If a white man had committed the same crime I can guarantee that he would have been fined or given jail time. But, by being an African American-even if free- Ruffin was given harsher punishment.

Daniel Ruffin was only about twenty-two at the time the article was printed. He is listed with his family in the 1860 census. Ruffin was eighteen in 1860. His occupation was barber apprentice. His father, forty-five year old Bob Ruffin, was a boatman. His mother, fifty-six year old Martha, was a washer and ironer. Also in the household were Andrew (eleven) and Robert (nine).

Addendum:
Being curious if Ruffin continued his barber career in post-war Richmond, I did a little more searching. I located Ruffin in the 1870 census. Unfortunately, I was unable to answer my question as he was shown as being incarcerated in the Virginia State Penitentiary.

A Daniel Ruffin that fits the former barber's age appeared in the 1880 census as a farmer in nearby Dinwiddie County. He lived with wife Corrina and daughter Mollie. In the neighborhood were other African American Ruffins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Runaway Barber Apprentice


The above advertisement ran in the March 6, 1855, edition of the Richmond Whig. It was posted by Lomax B. Smith, a Richmond free man of color barber, who sought to retrieve his young apprentice.

Last summer I posted about Smith's offer to the mayor of Richmond to go to cut the ears off of John Brown and his captured raiders in 1859. Smith's offer was declined, but the barber received the mayor's praise for his patriotism.

Interestingly, the apprentice that Lomax B. Smith was looking to locate in 1855, was listed in his household in the 1850 census. Payton Bradley is noted as a fourteen year old mulatto. Smith is listed as a forty year old barber, who owned $2000 in real estate. Also in the home was Smith's wife, Nancy, an eighteen year old named Rachel Burton, Thomas S. Smith (8), and Mary Bradley (12), who was likely Payton's sister.

I was curious to see if Bradley ended up back in Smith's household five years later (1860 census). Smith was listed as still being a barber in Richmond, and he and Nancy reported their ages as forty, as they had a decade earlier. Smith's worth was given as $1500 in real estate and $500 in personal property. Bradley, however, was not included in the Smith household.

With my curiosity still not being satisfied, I searched to see if Bradley was still in Richmond in 1860. He was not. I believe I found him in James City County (Williamsburg) as there was a mulatto man with that name there who matched his Bradley's age. Bradley's 1860 occupation was not listed, but he lived in the Robert Greehow household. Greenhow was a brick maker.

I wonder why Payton Bradley ran away from Smith. Was he treated unfairly? Did he not like barbering? Was there something that drove him to James City County and the Greenhows or was it just chance that he ended up there?

In 1870, Bradley appears in New Kent County as a farmer. He had married a woman named Susan, who was one year his senior and they had a five year old daughter named Elizabeth. I suppose barbering just wasn't Bradley's cup of tea.