Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Unusual Family Reunion

When slaves were sold away from family members they did not know if they would ever see their loved ones again. After the Civil War many freed people went to great lengths to try to find long lost relatives displaced by slavery.

One former slave family was fortunate enough to reunite even before the Civil War ended. As Union soldiers marched into a burning Richmond on April 3, 1865, leading the mass of troops was the all black 25th Corps. In the 25th Corps was the 28th United States Colored Infantry, and in the 28th USCI was a chaplain by the name of Garland H. White.

Garland White had been born a slave in Hanover County, Virginia in 1829. He was a slave in Richmond, Virginia when he was bought by congressman Robert Toombs of Georgia, who happened to be visiting Richmond while on a leave from Washington. Toombs took White back to Washington DC to serve as his personal servant, and while in Washington, White took the opportunity to run away to Canada.

When the Civil War broke out Toombs resigned his United State congressional seat, and after being briefly considered as a Confederate presidential candidate, was eventually selected as the Confederate Secretary of State. Shortly after his appointment Toombs resigned his position to take a military role as brigadier general in the Confederate army. While serving in Richmond, Toombs had come across Nancy White, Garland's mother and had informed her that her son had run away from him. In his freedom Garland had become a minister while in Canada, and when he learned that black soldiers were being accepted into the Union service he became chaplain of the 28th United States Colored Infantry, which was raised in Ohio and Indiana.

After Richmond fell Nancy White visited the camp of the 28th USCI and happened to question the chaplain. Garland wrote that the conversation went something like this:

"What is your name, sir?"
"My name is Garland H. White."
"What is your mother's name?"
"Where were you born?"
"In Hanover County, this state."
"Where were you sold from?"
"From this city."
"What was the name of the man that bought you?"
"Robert Toombs."
"Where did he live?"
"In the State of Georgia."
"Where did you leave him?"
"At Washington."
"Where did you then go?"
"To Canada."
"Where do you now live?"
"In Ohio."
"This is you mother Garland whom you are talking to, who has past twenty years of grief about her son." White was naturally overwhelmed and he later said that, "I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends."
Of course the White family was one of the few fortunate ones. Many families never knew the fate of their kin separated sometimes by hundreds of miles during slavery. But that didn't mean that freed people did not try to reconnect. Many freed people walked miles of roads, placed newspaper advertisements, and spend any money they had trying to reconnect with family.

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