Thursday, March 24, 2016
Bollingbrook Hotel Slaves
I've mentioned in several of my posts that antebellum free black barbers often set up their shops in or near hotels. Doing so provided them with a virtual constant supply of customers. It just made good business sense.
Using similar good business sense, mid-nineteenth century hotels in the South often ran advertisements in period newspapers to attract customers. Petersburg's Bollingbrook Hotel was one of, if not the, finest place to stay in the city. Located near three of the Cockade City's non-connected railroads (Petersburg and Norfolk Railroad, the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, and the Southside Railroad) brought guests for a night's stay, while waiting to switch rail lines.
In the Bollingbrook Hotel's ad above, not only does the lodging's new proprietor offer high-quality meals, the best of furnishings, attention for lady guests by his wife, and peacefulness of the neighborhood, he specifically mentions that "the servants are all attentive."
Joseph L. Carrington is listed as forty-seven years old and the hotel keeper of the Bollingbrook Hotel in the 1860 census. He apparently lived in the hotel with his wife and their seven children. Also residents in the hotel were ten non-relatives, including a physician, merchant tailor, mail agent, conductor, and a free woman of color "house maid." Interestingly, he is not listed as owning any real estate value, but owned $25,000 in personal property. Not surprisingly Carrington is also shown in the 1860 slave schedules as owning twenty-two slaves and two slave houses. The slave dwellings were likely urban apartment-style structures for his hotel work force.
One can see the need for hotel slave help. Think of all the domestic help a plantation big house needed and multiply that several times. Someone had to clean the rooms, empty the chamber pots, cook the guest's meals, wait on guest's tables, carry the guest's luggage, wash the linens, wash and iron guest's clothes, carry fuel to guest's rooms, and hundreds of other tasks.
Living in a city setting may have afforded hotel slaves a greater measure of opportunity for learning about what was going on in the world than their fellow bondsmen and women on rural plantations. Hearing guests' conversations on topics of all kinds, and interacting with other urban slaves likely allowed them to be aware of period politics and social issues that affected their existence. It may have been through occurrences such as these that slave learned of runaway opportunities such as that which William Baylis attempted in 1858.