Friday, February 9, 2018

Black Barbers in 1859 Cumberland, Maryland

Last night, while looking through October 1859 newspapers on the Library of Congress, "Chronicling America" website, I came across the October 20 edition of the Cumberland, Maryland, Civilian and Telegraph. This Opposition (former Whig) paper had a couple of interesting articles pertaining to John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid, which is not surprising due to its proximity to the event both chronologically and geographically.

However, I was struck most by the amazing advertisement shown above. Now, if you've been reading "My Random Thoughts" for a while, you know that black barbers advertising during the antebellum years was not uncommon by the number of ads I've shared on this forum. But, I don't believe that I've ever come across one that included a rhyming poem. Fascinating!

The rhyme covers just about every facet of barbering and clientele pleasing one could imagine. Focusing on the barbers' skills, availability, and affordability, the ad is an original and refreshing take on mid-nineteenth century marketing. 

Wanting to confirm these men were African Americans, as were the vast majority of the barbers at this time in the Upper South, I ran a search on for the 1860 census. I was disappointed that I did not get any clear hits for either last name. Not to be thwarted, I searched the complete 151 page listing for Cumberland.

The first one I found was actually the last listed in the advertisement. It appears to be Nick, or perhaps, Mich, for Michael, Francis, a thirty-six year old black barber. Also in the Francis household was wife Maranda, 29; sons John and Nicholas, twelve and one respectively; and daughters Mary and Helen, six and four respectively. Mr. Francis is not shown as owning any real estate or personal property of value, and all members were the family were natives of Maryland.

Francis's near neighbor was apparently his barber business partner, William Cornsh, which appears to be misspelled in the census. It looks like the census taker attempted a phonetic spelling and came up with Cornilt, or something close to that. Cornsh was listed as a thirty-two year old black barber, who lived with his wife Catherine, a twenty-six year old black woman. Like Mr. Francis, Mr. Cornsh is not shown with any real estate or personal property wealth.

In my search through Cumberland's manuscript census, I came across several other black barbers. I also found one white native barber, which is quite unusual. If barbers are listed as white they were usually immigrants from Italy, France, or Ireland. Barbering was occupation that was viewed as being beneath most native whites.

I wonder what happened to these men during the Civil War. Did they continue cutting hair and shaving beards or did they feel a need to join up and fights when they got the opportunity? I wish I had the time to find out. I'm sure they both have interesting life stories. 

No comments:

Post a Comment