Sunday, April 10, 2016

Slaves Wanted for Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad Line

Slave labor was not only instrumental to rural plantation agricultural and urban environments, it also fueled Southern industrial initiatives. Enslaved individuals toiled long hours in iron foundries and various types of factories that required large numbers of manual laborers all across the South. They also put down countless miles of railroad track.

The advertisement above ran in the Petersburg Daily Express on September 3, 1855, and sought to locate "a large number of NEGROES to labor on the Western end of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad." The Norfolk and Petersburg connected the important Appomattox River tobacco town with the Atlantic Ocean port city. The railroad provided market competition to the shipping industry that plied the Appomattox River.

The advertiser, Nathan S. Carpenter, appears in the both the 1850 and 1860 censuses as living in Richmond. In 1850, his occupation is listed appropriately as as "carpenter." By 1860, Carpenter had apparently advanced to the position of "contractor." Interestingly, Carpenter is not shown with any real estate wealth in 1850, and no real estate or personal property wealth in 1860. In 1860, Carpenter was forty years old and was the head of large family that included his wife Maria and six children, who ranged in age from eighteen to four years old.

The Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad began construction in 1853, when William Mahone (pictured below) was hired to serve as the line's head engineer. Mahone, a southside Virginia native, had been educated at the Virginia Military Institute.

The approximately eighty-five mile line was completed in 1858 after a delay in 1855 due to a yellow fever outbreak in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Mahone became the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad's president in 1860. The 1860 census shows the thirty-three year old Mahone as living in Norfolk as a "civil engineer" and the owner of seven slaves. His worth is listed as $3,500 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property. Also in the household is his wife Otelia, eleven years Mahone's junior, and their three toddler and infant children. Also in the home was sixty-three year old Susan Voinard.

In 1861, Mahone became lieutenant colonel and then colonel of the Sixth Virginia Infantry. In 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general. Mahone must have thought it strange to fight so close to his former railroad line when he earned what was probably his greatest military laurels as his command led a counterattack against the Union attack at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. The railroad ran just a stone's throw away from where the miners tunneled under the Confederate lines.

Mahone returned to railroad work after the war as president of the combined lines of the Norfolk and Petersburg, Southside, and Virginia and Tennessee railroads. He went on to a political career by becoming mayor of Petersburg, serving as a senator in the 1880s, and running two failed attempts for the governor's seat.

Mahone died in 1895, and was buried in Blanford Cemetery in Petersburg. His nondescript mausoleum only hints at his place of rest with a "M" above its entrance door.

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