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).

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.

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