Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ran Away...A Negro Man Named Ben

I ran across this runaway slave advertisement the other day while browsing through the Library of Congress' online primary sources. It is not unlike many of those that I have recently found. Like many others it offers a generous reward and provides a vivid description of not only the runaway, but also the circumstances that the owner suspects led to his running away, or "absconding" as the owner puts it here. Abscond...is that a great word or what?

Apparently this man, Ben Thomas, stole from his owner, Joseph Desha, about $300.00 and made off with the cash on the night of October 27, 1827. Ben was described as "about 30 years old," was about 5 feet 7 or 8 inches tall, weighted about 180 pounds, and was "unusually broad across the shoulders". Additional descriptions included his complexion, which Desha referred to as "uncommonly black," and instead of the common term, "likely," that masters used in many ads, Desha referred to Ben as having "tolerably good features," and it said that Ben was bearded when he ran away, but may have shave since then.

The ad states that Ben was from Washington D.C., where he was previously owned by a Colonel Hebb. Interestingly, a little extra searching found that Hebb had also sold some slaves to President Andrew Jackson when he was in Washington, and some of them later served "Old Hickory" at his retirement home Hermitage near Nashville, Tennessee.

Desha may have purchased Ben when he served as a congressman from 1807 to 1819. His service in the House of Representatives was briefly interrupted by his participation in the War of 1812, but Desha ran for governor of Kentucky in 1820. He lost the election to John Adair, but he ran and won the 1824 election, which he served for one term. Therefore, Desha was governor when he ran this advertisement in 1827.

Outside of Ben's physical description it was explained that he was "an excellent house and body servant," which makes his access to steal the money from Desha's desk easier to understand. Desha also claimed that Ben was "shrewd and artful" and "capable of telling a very plausible story," so he may have had a good chance of making his getaway permanent. It was not against the law in Kentucky to teach slaves to read and write as it was in most slave states, and Desha further explained in the ad that Ben "had made some progress in learning to spell." It would be interesting to know if Desha had a hand in Ben's education or if he had only found out about his learning. One more similarity of this ad with other ads is that a greater reward was offered if Ben was captured outside of the state than if caught in Kentucky.

Would it be possible to find out if Ben was caught or not? Possibly. Maybe Desha's census or tax records in following years would reveal his slaves' names and provide a clue. Maybe the Papers of Joseph and John Desha at the Library of Congress hold the answer. So many questions, so little time to research and satisfy curiousity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Sample of Kentucky Runaway Slave Advertisements

I mentioned in a recent post on slave quarters that understanding slavery is not an easy thing to do. Reading the slaves' own narratives, scholars' historical interpretations, and various primary sources leads me to conclude that it seems as if almost no two slave's situations were the same. No matter how one looks at it, and even trying to avoid the tendency of presentism, slavery was little more than stealing another person's labor. It is little wonder then that so many slaves, especially those in the border-slaveholding states, tried to runaway from their masters.

Along with viewing where slaves lived, another way to try to help understand slavery, and how pervasive and diverse it was in American society in the first half of the nineteenth century, is to look at runaway slave advertisements.

The following advertisements are from Kentucky owners who attempted to locate their absconded bondsmen and bondswomen. The advertisements range from 1807 to 1860 and were by no means difficult to locate. Runaway slave ads were placed in Kentucky newspapers from before it became a state in 1792, to right up until the 13th Amendment outlawed the practice in 1865. Several of these listed were found with just a quick and random perusal of some Kentucky newspapers. Even more readily found, but not included here, are advertisements for slave sales in the Bluegrass state, but I try to cover those in a future post.

The above advertisement is from a Woodford County owner in 1807. Woodford County was a leading hemp producer, and by 1860 its population was just over 50% African American. Like many runaway advertisements, this one makes the reader wonder what happened for the slave to attempt to murder his master?
A number of advertisements provide physical descriptions of the escaped slave, especially height and complexion. Many of those descriptions like the one above give evidence of abuse; "Upon his body are several old marks of the whip, one of them straight down the back."

This advertisement from Farmington Plantation owner John Speed explained that the runaway, Charles, was a skilled slave. Not only was he a shoemaker, but he was also a butcher and brickmason. Speed assumed that Charles would make way for the free states of Indiana or Ohio and possibly by steamboat. Steamboats of all sizes plied the Ohio River waters and employed many free and enslaved African Americans, so becoming a stowaway would probably be easy and raise little suspicion for a runaway.

The following is a transcription of the above advertisement that was found in a May 1834 edition of the Tri-Weekly Maysville, Kentucky Eagle, provided since the copy is difficult to read:
"$ 50 Reward. Ran away from the subscriber, living in Bourbon County, Ky. on Thrusday the 24th of April, a negro man named MARTIN, 22 years old, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, tolerably made. He had with him a mixed janes [jeans] and and black cloth coat, a janes, a linsey (both blue) and a cloth or casinet (of a dark color) pair of panatloons, and had on a black fur hat. He is supposed to have rode off a bay horse with some white on his hind feet. The above reward will be given for said negro, if taken out of the State, or $25 if taken out of the county, or $5 if taken in the county, provided he be delivered to me, or secured in some jail, so that I get him, WILL HAZELRIGG"

It seems that few slaves actually had the classical names, such as Pompey and Caesar, that grace so many fiction works of the antebellum era. The runaway in this ad, Dread, had the most unusual name that I came across in my short search. This ad was from the December 16, 1826 edition of the Paris, Kentucky Western Citizen, and unlike the other ads included his wife Betty.
This ad explains that the couple were brought from South Carolina last spring, so they had been in Kentucky less than a year when they made their escape.

It seems that most runaways that absconded independently were men; most between 20 and 40 years old. This slave woman, Celia, fits the age range of the men runaways and was described as "heavy, stout made, of copper complexion, and" was "quick-spoken." One is left to wonder if "quick-spoken" means that she was quick and witty, or if she had a quick temper that got expressed verbally. The owner requests the slave to be "delivered at L.C. ROBARDS' jail in Lexington." Louis Robards was a notorious slave trader in Lexington.

The above advertisement from the May 9, 1850 issue of the Lexington Observer and Reporter sought out Ben, who was "raised in the Green River country." Like many of the advertisements the reward amount changed depending on where the slave would be apprehended. Usually, the farther away from where the slave escaped, the more the reward.

This slave ad, unlike the others, was a handbill or broadside instead of a newspaper advertisement. The owner was from Mason County which is in northeast Kentucky on the Ohio River. Across the river from Mason County was Ripley, Ohio a well-known Underground Railroad and abolitionist town that helped hundreds of slaves make their way to Canada. One can only wonder if Emily too made the long journey north or if she was returned to Thomas H. Williams.

This last advertisement is a handbill as well, but unlike the others was from western Kentucky. But, like the previous ad, it too was from an owner that lived on the Ohio River. Being so close to the free states must have been a strong temptation to slaves that lived in Kentucky towns and counties along the Ohio River. Of course the fugitive slave act of 1850 meant that they could be "returned to servitude" if caught in Northern states. The would only truly be free if they made their way to Canada.

Again, this just a very minuscule sample of the runaway advertisements that graced Kentucky newspapers and that were pasted on buildings and on fences across the Commonwealth. They serve as a reminder of how valuable slave property was to their owners, and they provide us with insight into what measures slaves would take to be free of their masters.

Monday, December 20, 2010

150 Years Ago: South Carolina's Secession

South Carolina's secession from the Union on December 20, 1860 was followed a few days later with a "Declaration of Immediate Causes" explaining what led them to that drastic measure. I have posted a transcription of that document for viewers to read and thus determine why the Palmetto state decided to dissolve the Union.

Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, "that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do."

They further solemnly declared that whenever any "form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government." Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies "are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments-- Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article "that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."

Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: "ARTICLE 1-- His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof."

Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.

In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.

The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.

If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were-- separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.

By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

Adopted December 24, 1860

[Committee signatures]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Sample of Kentucky Slave Quarters

Trying to understand slavery is not an easy thing to do. I ran across a reference the other day about the "flexibility" of slavery. By flexibility I think the author meant that slavery was not a one-size-fits-all type of labor system. Depending on a slave's geographic location; upper-South, Deep South, east coast or Texas frontier; or their even urban or rural environment, all of these factors spelled different experiences for different slaves. Another element that determined much of the slave's life was the type of labor he or she was forced to do. Domestic slaves had different experiences than field slaves, and sugar plantation slaves had different lives than hemp plantation slaves. Likewise skilled craftsmen slaves knew a different world than unskilled laborers. The slaves that worked in mining operations could little image the details of life of those that worked in tobacco factories. But, I don't think "flexibility" is the right word for me though. I think a better word is diversity.

One way to help get a better grip on the diversity of slave life is to look at where they lived. Below are a few photos that I found on the Library of Congress "American Memory" website of slave quarters in Kentucky. These images were taken largely in the 1930s and early 1940s as part of the HABS (Historic American Building Survey) project. The slave quarters range from the urban to rural, and from quality brick structures that many antebellum whites would have envied, to log and frame structures, that must have been impossible to keep warm in winter. Some are two story, while others are one story and probably only one room.

Today, few of these slave quarters still exist. Many have fallen into disrepair and ruin or have been torn down to help forget the days of slavery. Others, especially those in urban areas, have been converted into apartments or garages. Thankfully the HABS program documented many of them before they were lost forever, because without images such as these we would know much less than we do about the diversity of slave life.

For more images and information about slave quarters check out a great book - Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery, by John Michael Vlach

Above - Urban setting slave quarters at Rose Hill: Lexington, Kentucky

Above - Slave quarters for Wickland: Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky

Above - Slave quarters at Mount Lebanon: Bourbon County, Kentucky

Above - Slave quarters at The Grange: Bourbon County, Kentucky

Above - Former slave quarters: Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky

Monday, December 13, 2010

148th Anniversary of Fredericksburg & a Good, Quick Read

There are lots of great Civil War towns. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Franklin, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi are just a few that come quickly to mind, but my favorite Civil War battle town, bar none, is Fredericksburg, Virginia. The history of this Rappahannock River town has always been fascinating to me. Not only is it rich in antebellum and Civil War history, but its recorded past goes back to colonial and Revolutionary War times. Without doubt you could spend a whole week, or even more, visiting all of the historic sites around this wonderful town. But, if you have a chance to go sometime make sure you don't miss the great shops on Caroline Street, Hugh Mercer's Apothecary, the Rising Sun Tavern, the Sunken Road (pictured above), the National Cemetery...and Carl's Ice Cream (no matter what time of year it is). Believe me, great memories will be made.

Today marks the 148th anniversary of this bloody battle, where Gen. Robert E. Lee was reportedly heard to say, "It is good that war is so terrible, lest we would grow too fond of it." And, while most attention to the battle focuses on the part of the battle fought on the Confederate left at the Sunken Road, actions on the Union left south of Fredericksburg at the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad were just as significant to Confederate victory and Union defeat as those at Mayre's Heights.

To learn more about this part of the battle take a few minutes to read historian Frank O'Reilly's excellent article on the Civil War Preservation Trust's web site. Here's the link: http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fredericksburg/fredericksburg-history-articles/fredericksburgoreilly.html

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Edmund Ruffin's 1860 Visit to Kentucky: Part II

Edmund Ruffin began his Sunday, September 9, 1860, by attending the Episcopal church in Frankfort. Most assuredly this was Ascension Episcopal on Washington Street (built in 1850), only about a half block away from Senator Crittenden's house where he had attended a get-together the evening before.

After church Ruffin had dinner with a Major Carneal, who Ruffin described as "a very wealthy & kind-hearted man," but "somewhat peculiar, & often rough in his manners..." And although Carneal apparently opposed Ruffin's politics, he seemed "to have taken a fancy" to the Virginia secessionist. They were soon joined by a number of other prominent men in the community of diverse political and religious backgrounds, but as Ruffin explained, "we conversed pleasantly, & with apparent freedom, & even grazed sundry subjects on which we differed, but without going at all too far."

On Monday, September 10, Ruffin received a couple of advanced copies of his book Anticipations of the Future (see November 8, 2010 post) and complained of the typographical errors and the binding. Ruffin explained that, "I cannot help sanguinely hoping that the book, as an argument & incentive to defense & resistance by the South, & for disunion, will have noted & good effect.

September 11 found Ruffin working on a draft of an article of some sort and reading "a volume of [William Gilmore] Simms' tales." In the afternoon he and daughter Mildred walked "over some of the beautiful grass covered hills which surround Frankfort..." and enjoyed pleasant conversation. Ruffin had read an article about Texas and the rising sympathy for secession in that state caused by perceived atrocities by abolitionists. Ruffin wrote that if any other deplorable acts should happen, he hoped they would occur in Georgia. "If the dull spirit & lethargic body of that great central southern state could be thus thoroughly aroused to self-defense against the north, & would take the step of secession, every adjoining state (except N.C.) would immediately follow, & the movement would be secure & effective-& necessarily soon to be followed by all the more northern slaveholding states." Ruffin seemed pleased with the interrogations that Northern visitors were receiving in their Southern travels. "I trust that it may come to this that no northerner will dare come upon southern ground, without being known as of good character, & conduct or brining unquestionable evidence of his deserving such recommendation."

On Sept. 12 Ruffin had planned on attending the "Show and Fair of the Agricultural Society" in Lexington, but held off a day after receiving an invitation to attend with ex-Governor Letcher the next day. The following day Ruffin, along with son-in-law Burwell Sayre and Letcher, took the train to Lexington. Ruffin and Letcher (who served as minister to Mexico under Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore) discussed the current situation south of the border. At the agricultural show Ruffin met Vice President and Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge. On the train ride back to Frankfort Ruffin was introduced to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin. Their conversation quickly turned political, but Ruffin explained, "I took care, in respect to his official position, to ask no questions, & not even by suggestion to endeavor to lead the conversation to these points." Ruffin learned from Magoffin that Ohio governor Dennison had refused to extradite to Kentucky an "abductor of slaves," as he had refused "to deliver the murderer Owen Brown" to Governor Wise of Virginia after the Harpers Ferry raid. Magoffin told Ruffin that if any Southern states seceded, and that if the North attempts to send troops to conquer them, "if that army attempted to march through Kentucky while he was still governor, every night's encampment should be made a grave-yard." In summing up his views of Magoffin, Ruffin "found Gov. Magoffin to be decidedly the most southern man in his avowed opinions, of all the Kentuckians or residents" with whom he had conversed.

On September 15 Ruffin worked on article to the Charleston Mercury about Kentucky politics and ate with one of Sayre's former pupils who was "an avowed disunionist." After a long conversation it was not surprising to learn that Ruffin thought that, "he & I were well pleased with each other..." On Monday, September 18, Ruffin "walked to town (across the [Kentucky] river) & read the newspapers at the office of the 'Yeoman,' whose editor was also a former pupil of son-in-law Sayre. The following day he read John C. Calhoun's Disquisition on Government and again went to the Yeoman offices to read the newspapers.

Dr. Theobald drove Ruffin out into Woodford County on the Versailles Road on September 21 "to see samples of the most fertile & beautiful lands of the 'blue grass country.'" On the next day Ruffin commented on the recent actions in Greece and Garibaldi's march on Naples. It amazes me how closely Ruffin followed world affairs and how well read he was on a diverse set of subjects. He mentioned that the Prince of Wales was to be in Cincinnati on September 28th and 29th, and explained how glad he was to miss him and the crowds, as they planned to pass through the Queen City on the 24th on their return to Virginia.

On Sunday, September 23, Ruffin again attended church in Frankfort, and later, back at the Sayre's house, the "family choir of four parts" sang as daughter Mildred played the melodeon to all the "favorite anthems." Ruffin and Nanny left on the morning train to Lexington on September 24. There they switched trains to Covington and then Cincinnati. On they went to Columbus, then Zanesville, and finally to Bellaire on the Ohio River.

In Ohio Ruffin compared the lands and farming to what he had observed in Kentucky and found them inferior. "I saw no neat, or apparently good farming in Ohio." He wrote, "Yet the denouncers of slavery have boldly claimed greatly superior industry & good farming for Ohio over Kentucky, & ascribed these falsely claimed results to the system of free labor in Ohio, & of slavery in Kentucky." They traveled on the rails of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Cumberland, Maryland and then stopped in Harpers Ferry on Sept. 26 for "some 2o minutes." Ruffin "gave Nannie some opportunity to see the sublime and natural scenery, & the beautiful structures of the Armory &c., & also see the remaining momentoes of the battle with John Brown's marauding & murdering party." They took the Washington Railroad to a steamboat and then went down the Potomac River to Aquia Landing. There they took the Fredericksburg Railroad to Richmond and then rode the rail cars on to Petersburg. On September 27 they hired a carriage and took it home, to Beechwood plantation.

Of course Ruffin's interesting career would not end in 1860. He would continue to be a force in the secession movement and would largely be remembered as being one of the first, if not the first, to fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Edmund Ruffin's 1860 Visit to Kentucky: Part I

Diaries are incredible primary sources for historians. What is shared in a diary by its author is usually not intended for others to read, and thus often provides the most personal and intimate thoughts of an individual. Fortunately, Southern arch-secessionist, fire-eater, and hot spur (along with whatever other applicable adjective you want to give him) Edmund Ruffin left a diary to give us a look into his world. The diary has been carefully transcribed and edited by scholar William Kaufman Scarborough and was printed by Louisiana State University Press in 1972 in three volumes.

Volume I, Toward Independence, which covers Ruffin's diary from October 1856 to the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, includes a visit Ruffin made to Kentucky in the summer of 1860 in part to visit his daughter, who had married a Kentucky schoolteacher.

Ruffin's western trip included a number of side visits as well and started on August 7, 1860. That day he wrote, "Completed my arrangements, & the packing my clothes, & usual travelling supply of pamphlets (for gratuitous distribution abroad), & before 11 set out for the wharf to take the steamer for Richmond. From Richmond Ruffin took a train toward the resort community of White Sulphur Springs, in then western Virginia. At the springs Ruffin was in company with many leading Southerners who vacationed there in the summer. James Chesnut of South Carolina, Henry King Burgwyn, Sr. and Thomas Ruffin of North Carolina, Governor William McWillie of Mississippi, Col. Francis H. Smith of the Virginia Military Institute, and Joseph Reid Anderson, the owner of Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond were all mentioned by Ruffin as being there with him.

I can't help but wonder about the slave attendants that must have accompanied these famous vacationers to the springs. What did they do when their duties were done for the day? What did they discuss with each other? Did they complain about their masters, or brag about their masters' wealth? Did they cut up and joke with one another, or did they stay to themselves?

On August 31, 1860 Ruffin and his granddaughter Nanny left on the stage coach and traveled through Greenbriar, Monroe, Giles and Pulaski counties to catch the train. They caught the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad at Newbern, Virginia, near present day Dublin, and took it to Bristol on the Tennessee/Virginia border, and then finally to Knoxville. From Knoxville they traveled on to Chattanooga and then on Nashville. Ruffin was not too fond of the pests in Chattanooga. He wrote, "The mosquitoes there invaded our cars, & were troublesome during the night." Likewise he was not impressed with Nashville other than "the new State House," which he called "a noble structure." On September 3 Ruffin and Nanny traveled to Louisville, Kentucky. During the train ride to the river city "the engine and forward car were much damaged" when "some villain had placed logs across the track." Although no one was injured seriously the incident delayed their trip and necessitated a stay in Louisville at the Galt House hotel. Ruffin found Louisville, "very superior to Nashville," and commented that it had "very fine private buildings."

On the morning of September 5 they finally headed toward Frankfort, where Ruffin's daughter Mildred lived with her new husband Burwell Sayre. The Sayre's met Edmund and Nanny at the railroad depot on Broadway in Frankfort and from there they traveled to "Mr. Sayre's house, which is in a thinly settled outskirt, across the river from the city proper, & from which it is distinguished by the common name of South Frankfort."

The following day, Ruffin the agriculturist commented extensively on the geography he had observed in Tennessee and Kentucky. That evening Ruffin engaged in a conversation with Sayre and a Dr. Samuel Theobald on "the present condition of the slave-holding states, & the institution of negro slavery, under the unceasing assaults of the northern people, & the probable consequences." Both Sayre and Theobald thought that "slavery shall be driven from the now border slave-holding states by the pressure of northern abolitionist action, causing the discontent & aiding the escape of slaves from their owners, & thereby compelling the gradual removal or sale of all the others to more southern localities..." They hoped that "in this gradual process, free white labor may be substituted for the present slave labor, & without great loss to individuals or utter ruin (as I maintain) to the southern states..." Ruffin claimed he restrained himself and his "extreme views," but that they (his views) were "already understood here.."

On Sept. 7 Ruffin commented directly on the capital city. "Frankfort, though containing only some 3500 inhabitants, yet being the seat of the state government, has many residents, of high position, & very select society..." Ruffin also received a message from Frankfort resident and U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden that he would visit that day and also invited Ruffin to his house that evening. During the day Ruffin met with a group of men including Crittenden, and Dr. Theobald. Ruffin wrote, "all of us had served in the war of 1812, all as officers except myself, who had only served my six months tour of volunteer duty as a private militia soldier." That evening at 8:30 the Ruffin and they Sayres walked to Crittenden's home on the corners of Washington and Main Streets. Also in attendance at the gathering was ex-Kentucky governor Letcher, who Ruffin described as "now aged & very infirm, & almost crippled by rheumatism." Ruffin explained that he "had a difficult part to play," and attempted to "avoid...all political discussion, or the voluntary & uncalled for expression of my unpopular opinions-but without attempting to disguise and disavow them. When it was necessary in my remarks to give any indication of my own opinions, in the present [political] party contest, or otherwise, which I knew to be different from, & unpalatable to all my other auditors, I did so in jocular manner, & sometimes with exaggerated expressions, which prevented any invasion of the good temper & kind feeling of the party. Thus, without any approach to saying what was offensive or unpleasant, I permitted, by tacit admission, my most odious doctrines [of secession] to be inferred & understood, & expressed my strong objections, & even contempt, for past political occurrences, & their chief agents or most prominent puppets, of which these persons held opinions exactly the reverse of mine." Ruffin felt that by doing so, "I do not think that I lost ground in any one's favor- & seemed to gain the heart of [former] Gov. Letcher, the most violent, open, & strongly prejudiced whig & unionist, & submissionist..."

During the evening Ruffin and Crittenden discussed the common ancestry of Kentucky and Virginia. Ruffin agreed with Crittenden that Kentuckians' ancestors, "these pioneers, the fathers of the present generation, & especially of the better classes, were men who had devoted years of their lives, & most or all of their properties, to the patriotic defense of their country's cause in the field-& who further, had the courage & resolution & energy to seek to rebuild their fortunes by the then dangerous & arduous enterprise of settling in & subduing the almost untrodden savage western wilderness." This proud fact seemed lost on the current Kentuckians by Ruffin's observation who saw their "descendants degenerated in political worth, in being now entirely ready to submit to wrongs & oppressions a hundred-fold greater than those formerly inflicted by the mother country, & against which their brave ancestors rebelled, & resisted at every hazard to property, & to life itself!"

In the next post I will cover more of Ruffin's visit to Kentucky, and his return trip to Virginia.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Henry Watterson's Interesting Life

Most people have probably never heard of Henry Watterson, but if you have ever driven on I-264 through Louisville, Kentucky, you might be familiar with the name. The Watterson Expressway connects I-64 to I-65 just south of downtown.

Other than knowing that Watterson was the longtime editor of the Louisville Courier Journal, I too knew little about the man. But, doing a some quick research, I turned up some interesting information on this individual who experienced many momentous events.

Watterson was born in Washington D.C. to Tennessee congressman Harvey M. Watterson and Talitha Black Watterson on February 16, 1840. Watterson was drawn to writing and the newspaper business at a young age. With the help of his father he started and edited the McMinnville, Tennessee New Era from 1856 to 1858. He left the Volunteer state for New York City and wrote for several publications there before landing in Washington D.C. and writing about politics for the Daily States, a Democratic sheet. While in Washington, Watterson later explained that he was sent to Harpers Ferry to report on John Brown's raid.

While doing research recently at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, I ran across an article called "An Abortive Hero" that Watterson wrote in about 1910 or 1911 that briefly described his impressions of Harpers Ferry. Watterson wrote, "I reached Harpers Ferry about noon on Wednesday [actually Tuesday], the 18th of October, 1859, following the descent of the preceding Sunday night and Monday morning. I found there a good deal of suppressed feeling; not any tumult, or noise, or confusion. There had assembled quite a little army of us, newspaper reporters for the adjacent cities, but chiefly from Washington, whence the regular correspondents of the leading newspapers proceeded to the scene of what seemed a catastrophe, news of which fell upon the capital and the country like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky."

Watterson continued that, "I saw and talked with John Brown. I was as much opposed to human slavery, as earnest a devotee of human freedom, as he was, and therefore, I had no personal aversion to overcome. The horror I might have felt was deadened by the dramatic intensity of the moment. Col. [Robert E.] Lee was still there. Lieut. [J.E.B.] Stuart was my near friend and from his lips I learned all the details of what had happened. He [Stuart] uttered not a word of bitterness or reproach. 'The old man is crazy,' said he."

"An Abortive Hero" is a long article in which Watterson vents his disgust of contemporary (early 20th century) praise for John Brown. Watterson points particularly to two examples of what he saw as unwarranted deification: Oswald Garrison Villard's recent (1909) biography of Brown, and President Theodore Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech at Osawatomie, Kansas on July 31, 1910, that dedicated the John Brown Memorial Park. I will share more of "An Abortive Hero" in a later post.

After Harper's Ferry Watterson returned to writing and Washington D.C. where he had a front row seat to cover the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. He then took a position with the Department of the Interior. Watterson claims that he was offered a secretary position with the Lincoln administration, but turned it down. Apparently not realizing the importance of the impending events Watterson returned to Tennessee. Although he didn't enlist in the Confederate service immediately, Watterson moved toward the Southern cause. He explained how he became a Confederate. "The boys were all gone to the front. The girls were - well, they were all crazy. My native country was about to be invaded, Propinquity. Sympathy. So, casting opinions to the winds in I went on feeling." In his autobiography Watterson also explained that he jumped from position to position in Confederate service. He rode for a while with Forrest immediately after the Fort Donelson disaster and then served as an aid and scout for general such as Joseph Johnston, Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood.

During and in between his sporadic terms of service Watterson continued to write. Among others, he wrote for the Atlanta Southern Confederacy, the Nashville Banner and the Chattanooga Rebel. Watterson abruptly left the South before the war was over and landed in Cincinnati, Ohio where be began editing the Cincinnati Evening Post; a Republican sheet of all things. In September 1865 Watterson returned to Tennessee to become editor and part owner of the Nashville Banner. Watterson began to advocate for reconciliation between the North and South, and increase rights for African Americans during Reconstruction, and brought his ideas for a "New South" to Louisville where he merged the Louisville Courier with the Louisville Journal in 1868. Watterson retired in 1919 after an unresolved dispute with the Courier Journal's new owner Robert W. Bingham. Watterson died in Jacksonville, Florida in 1921 and is buried in Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to Frank Armstrong...and Me

Today is a special day for me, its my birthday. I share this day with some noteworthy people. Some of them, such as the beautiful actress Scarlett Johanson, the funny Rodney Dangerfield, and tennis stars Boris Becker and Billie Jean King also call today birthday. Others, such as Mae West, Scatman Crothers, and one of the Three Stooges, Shemp Howard, departed on this day. An American tragedy too calls today its own; it's the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and died in Dallas, Texas in 1963.

Today was also the birthday of a Confederate general; one that few people know, but who claims a unique place in Civil War history.

Frank Crawford Armstrong was born in 1835 at the Choctaw Agency, Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Crawford was only a boy when his army officer father, Frank Wells Armstrong, died in 1839. His mother, Anne M. Willard Armstrong, married another army officer Persifor Smith. Armstrong received a good education at Holy Cross Academy and College in Massachusetts, but chose the army life like his father and step-father. In 1854 he accompanied his step-father Smith on a journey to New Mexico territory where he fought Indians and received a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. Armstrong also participated in the Utah Mormon campaign with future Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston in 1858-59.

When the Civil War broke out Armstrong was a captain in the United States 2nd Dragoons. He led the dragoons at the Battle of Manassas for the Union, but resigned his position shortly thereafter, which the War Department accepted on August 13, 1861. I don't know if the Union defeat played a significant part in Armstrong's decision to switch sides, but he made a quick departure back to the West. He was back across the Mississippi River in Missouri and serving as a staff officer for General Benjamin McCullough on August 10, 1861 at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. So, technically, since Armstrong's resignation from the U.S. army did not take effect until August 13, he was on both sides at once; something not many, if any, officers can claim.

Armstrong also saw action in Indian Territory and at Pea Ridge in 1861 and 1862. He was named Colonel for the 3rd Louisiana Infantry on May 8, 1862 while stationed near Corinth, Mississippi, but was soon transferred to cavalry service under General Sterling Price. In April 1863 Armstrong was formally promoted to brigadier general and placed in General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. He and his men participated in the Tullahoma Campaign and fought at Chickamauga. He also participated in the ill-fated Knoxville campaign, the Atlanta campaign and John Bell Hood's Tennessee campaign in the fall and winter of 1864-65. Armstrong's command guarded Selma, Alabama in the spring of 1865, and there fought the Union cavalry of general James H. Wilson. His command was surrendered on May 4, 1865.

After the war Armstrong worked in Texas with the Overland Mail Service. In the late 1880s he served as a United States Indian Inspector, and in the 1890s he was the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Frank Crawford Armstrong died on September 8, 1909 in Bar Harbor, Maine and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Looking for Historical Nuggets-Benjamin Mills Part II

This particular roll of microfilm was in pretty bad condition. I was unable to make digital copies as I normally do for my records, and also to save time, so I transcribed it. By taking a significant amount of time I was able to make out almost all of the article, with the exception of only about three words where the original edition appeared to have been torn when the microfilm image was made.

After I found the issue I was looking for, I grew a bit anxious as I scanned through page after page unable to locate the article. Finally, I came across the title; JOHN BROWN'S RAID: Related By a Kentucky Gunsmith Who Was Master Armor-HOW THE OLD MAN SURRENDERED. I found Courier-Journal's choice of the last part of the title interesting since Brown was certainly forced to capitulate rather than just surrender as it seems to imply.

By the time the interview was conducted in 1881 by the Courier-Journal correspondent Mills had moved from Harrodsburg to Lexington, Kentucky where he operated a gun shop with his son, Charles, who interestingly had served in John Hunt Morgan's Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. Mills had apparently continued to operate his gun shop in Harrodsburg during the war, as records indicate that he made gun repairs during the war years. A historical highway marker in Harrodsburg explains that Mills served at the Palmetto Arsenal during the war, but that appears to be erroneous, and was possibly a different Benjamin Mills.

The correspondent began the article by providing a short biography of Mills; much of which I have related in Part I. At the time of the interview Mills was "seventy one years of age," and as was reported, "is still hale and hearty and works daily at his trade of gunmaking."

Mills began his story to the reporter by explaining that although Mills had not observed him, Brown had, "on several occasions...visited the armory." Mills had learned this through the foreman at the barrel department. But, apparently no suspicions were aroused by Brown as, many people came to the armory "through curiosity to see the work and process of gun-making by machinery."

Mills then gave an account of what he understood as the entrance of Brown and his men into Harpers Ferry on the night of October 16, 1859. Although Mills admitted he knew "nothing of the affair until the next morning," he explained how Brown and his men crossed the bridges and shot free black Hayward Shepherd (Mills called him Haywood). Mills also related the capture of George Washington's great-grand nephew Colonel Lewis Washington, as well as neighbor John Alstadt, and that slaves of Washington and Alstad were "impressed" and "compelled to join the party."

Mills's direct observations of the raid came the following morning at about sunrise, when the son of the armory chief clerk Kitzmiller came to Mills's house and reported, "Major, pa' wants you to come down immediately, a mob has taken the armory." Mills followed the boy and on the way met master machinist Armistead Ball. When Mills asked, "Gentlemen, what is the matter?" Kitzmiller responded, "A mob has taken the armory, and I think they are abolitionists."

Mills explained that he thought it must be "a lot of Irish who had been at work on the dam, and getting on a spree had committed to capture the works." Kitzmiller thought Mills was wrong in his suggestion. As they continued toward the armory the party saw a white man and a "mulatto" both armed. When the black man explained that Kitzmiller was his prisoner, the chief clerk advised, "to keep his hands off." The armed raider raised his rifle at Kitzmiller and said, "make another motion and I will blow you through." When asked who the raiders' commander was, the party was brought to Brown and explained, "that is the man."

Brown asked the armory staff, "You have heard of John Brown of Kansas?" to which Ball responded, "I have." "I am that man," said Brown. "I have come to free the negroes-peacefully if I can forcibly if I must."

Mills and his party had been followed to the armory by Ms. Mills and daughter Lizzie. Ms. Mills coolly asked Brown's permission to send Mills his breakfast. Brown responded "Certainly...if you want to, but I am going to furnish breakfast for all the prisoners."

At this point in the article Mills gave a physical description of Brown. "He was an old looking man, fifty nine years of age and stood about, five feet nine or ten inches. He had no teeth, and his hair was rather long. He had a piercing hazel eye, and the whole countenance was expressive of great determination. He was rather thin and slender of build, with quite long legs. He stooped forward from the hips while walking. He wore a heavy beard; dressing in a light colored frock coat. An otter skin cap adorned his head..."

The three men of the armory entered an office and was soon followed by Brown who proposed that if was able to keep the armory he would free all the prisoners. Kitzmiller agreed and started writing out the demands, while Ball said nothing and Mills objected. One of Brown's sons took the document outside to get some signatures when he was shot in the chest with buckshot by a Harpers Ferry citizen. When Brown found out his son was wounded he advised him, "stand it as long as you can. I hope you may get well; if you die, you die honorably."

Firing from the citizens started to pick up and Brown and his hostages went to the small brick fire engine house nearby for protection. Mills explained that Brown's men "seemed but little excited, and appeared to be under fine discipline. They seemed to have a wonderful confidence in Brown." Once inside the engine house the Harpers Ferry citizens "kept up a regular fusillade" on the doors." Mills explained that, "the door, which was one and a quarter inch plank, was soon riddled, hundreds of balls having passed through it." Brown advised his prisoners to find, "the safest place you can I don't wish to hurt you, as you are the only breast-works I have. Without you I would not last two minutes. I know my fate, my life would not be worth a straw." While in the engine house another of Brown's sons was shot. Mills mentioned that Brown again took his son's wounding stoically and that Brown "did not exhibit the least fear during the whole engagement."
Harpers Ferry citizen Colonel Baylor at this point began a parlay with Brown in attempt to free the hostages. Brown said, "Let me take my men and the prisoners as far as the second lock on the Baltimore and Ohio canal. There I will release the prisoners..." Baylor refused and Brown said, "very well.' As evening came on Mills said he "hugged the corner of the engine house very affectionately," and explained, "I amused myself-if it could be called amusement-watching the balls strike the wall after punching through the door."

During the night a cease-fire was agreed to by Colonel Baylor and a militia captain from Frederick, Maryland named Simms. Mills observed during the night that Brown "conversed in low tones with his men, as if trying to inspire them with renewed courage," and that "he also talked with us prisoners..." Mills said, during these conversations, "when the subject of slavery was mentioned he [Brown] lost all patience, declaring that the Southern people were making slaves of their brothers and kinsmen." Mills and the prisoners concluded among themselves that Brown "was crazy on that subject [of slavery]..."

The following morning, "Capt. J.E.B. Stewart [sic-Stuart], of the United States army...arrived from Washington with a letter form Col. Robert E. Lee, demanding the surrender of Brown and his men." Mills predicted that there were about 500 militia and regular troops in Harpers Ferry by this point. Stuart brought the demand letter to Brown at the door of the engine house, but Brown explained that, "I have no glasses, and can not read it; will you read it?" This Stuart did and advised Brown to surrender, which Brown refused. After Stuart left the door Mills explained Brown said, "If they get hold of me my life would not be worth a straw. I know just what they would do with me. They would kill me like a dog." Brown and his men then barricaded the door with the two fire engines.

After informing Brown that Col. Lee would not modify his demands, Stuart again left the door and prepared to storm the engine house. After trying to sledge hammer open the doors the marines retreated, one of which was killed and one was shot in the mouth. One of Brown's men yelled out that he surrendered, but Brown then exclaimed that "Only one man surrenders." After battering down the door with a ladder, the marines entered the engine house. A Lieutenant Green knocked Brown to the floor and "chopped Brown twice on the head. The thick otter-skin cap saved Brown's life, but he was left senseless." Mills said that "Green thought he had killed him, and I also thought the first lunge had gone through Brown's body. But he only struck him on the hip bone, knocking him down." Mills explained that "the fight terminated about 9 o'clock. Brown soon recovered and was taken into my office, where he was questioned by Gov. Wise publicly."

During Wise's interrogation, Brown said, "The freedom of the slaves will all be brought about inside of ten years," to which Wise predictably responded, "I don't want to hear such talk." Brown was asked if he had taken an inventory (census) of African Americans in Jefferson County. Brown replied that, "I did not, but it was taken." Others tried to ask questions of Brown, but Wise said, "Let me do the talking." Concluding the interview, Mills said that Wise told Brown, "I have a much better opinion of you than I expected I would have. I only regret that a man so brave, open and free should be engaged in such a thing as this." Brown retorted, "There's where we differ."

Mills said that a search of the area "found 200 Sharp's rifles, 200 revolvers and 1,000 long pikes. I have now in my possession a rifle and a pike. I also had one of the pistols, but during the late war the Michigan soldiers broke into my gunshop at Harrodsburg and stole it."

Mills concluded his story that, "what I have related came from my own experience and observation." And, his final sentence got to the heart of the matter, and to a certain degree held what I have been searching for; Kentuckians' thoughts on Brown. Mills closed, "I felt sorry for Brown's fate, regarding him as a crazy man on the subject of slavery."

It must be noted again that Mills was reporting what had happened over twenty years after the fact. He probably related some of what he not only observed during his hours of captivity by Brown, but also what he had read of the event in the intervening years and what he had heard during Brown's court case. Years gone by can often cloud one's memory, but Mills's story matches up well with what I have read from other eyewitnesses that were there and I have little reason to doubt this retelling of his experience.

Mills sold his Lexington gunsmith business in 1883 and returned to Harrodsburg. He died five year later and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery.

It goes without saying that I was happy to find this little historical nugget. To locate an account from a direct eyewitness that was also a Kentuckian is, simply put, extraordinary and fortunate. I think Mills's account will only enhance my project and add to its strength and significance.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Looking for Historical Nuggets-Benjamin Mills Part I

Just finding the time to do research is one thing, but finding a certain elusive source can often be an exercise in futility...and frustration. I guess that's why it is so rewarding when I come across a nugget of a source I had been desperately seeking. Sometimes I just want to jump up in the archives/library and shout, "I FOUND IT!"...just for a cathartic release, and to let every one know.

I took a personal day off from work last week and made a trip to Louisville to do some searching for sources on my current project on Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid. I spent Wednesday morning at the Filson Historical Society where I found some neat things that I will try to share in a later post. The staff at the Filson was very friendly and helpful. It's always pleasant to do research where you feel like your wanted. Unfortunately, I have been to some places where that is not the case. With my search at the Filson exhausted, and after gobbling down a couple of bananas for lunch, I made my way to the Louisville Public Library. I had been searching high and low for a newspaper article from the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1881, but hadn't been able to pin down that specific issue. I had previously checked the microfilm at the Kentucky Historical Society...no luck; the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives...they didn't have that year; the University of Kentucky..struck out again; and the Filson earlier that day...they had some 1881 issues, but not the one I was seeking. I figured my only two other options would be the public library or perhaps the Courier-Journal offices. But since the library was only a few blocks from the Filson, I gave it a shot first. BOOM! Sure enough they had it.

I had found this particular source in the footnotes of a biography of John Brown that I had read several months ago. According to the footnotes this specific article was in the Oswald Garrison Villard (an early Brown biographer) papers at Harvard. Obviously, I had little opportunity to get to Boston, so I was happy to find the article here in Kentucky. The article was a recollection of the Harper's Ferry raid as viewed by an eyewitness and a Brown hostage during the raid, who also happened to be a Kentuckian, Benjamin Mills. I had learned a little about Mills while doing research at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park back in June, but I really wanted to locate this eyewitness account...even though it was 22 years after the event.

I had also previously found a short article from the November 4, 1859 issue of the Kentucky Statesman that announced the return of Mills to Kentucky from Harpers Ferry. Here is that short article in full:
"We had the pleasure of taking by the hand, on yesterday, our friend Mr. B Mills, late Master of the Armory, at Harper's Ferry, and formerly a Gunsmith of high reputation, at Harrodsburg, Ky. Mr. M had resigned his office at Harper's Ferry, on the 10th of last month [actually October 8, 1859], his resignation to take effect on the first inst. [November], and remained there just long enough to fall into the hands of the insurgents, by whom he was taken prisoner, as our readers have seen by the published accounts. He brings with him specimens of the arms prepared and used by the insurgent; and his account of the details of the affair at the ferry is very interesting. He returns to Kentucky for the purpose of resuming his business at Harrodsburg."

Benjamin Mills was born in Rensselaer County, New York in 1810 and apparently learned to gunsmith from other gun makers when he moved to Canada, and where he married Jane O'Conner in 1835. In 1838 the couple moved to Mays Lick, Kentucky (Mason County). After a couple of years there they moved to Stanford (Lincoln County) where they lived for about four years before landing in Harrodsburg (Mercer County). Mills operated a gunsmith shop in Harrodsburg for about 14 years before being appointed Master Armorer at Harper's Ferry on October 19, 1858, by then Secretary of War John B. Floyd. A few month's later Alfred M. Barbour was named the arsenal superintendent, Mills's boss. Mills must have either been thin-skinned or honor-bound, or both, because when Barbour took a leave of absence in the fall of 1859 he left Chief Clerk Archibald M. Kitzmiller, not Mills in charge of the armory. Offended, Mills submitted his resignation on October 8, 1859 to take effect on November 1, 1859.

Mills was merely biding his time to return to Kentucky when John Brown and his raiders struck on the night of October 16. Little did he know when he resigned a week before that such tumult would hit the small Virginia town and that he would be caught up in it.

In the next post I will share some of the highlights of Mills's story as he told it to the Courier-Journal correspondent in 1881.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ruffin Predicted an Abolitionist Invasion of Kentucky...to happen in 1868!

When reading about the leading proponents of Southern secession during the antebellum era, one is struck by the uniqueness that is Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin was of course known as a leading agricultural reformer in the South and that fact was largely due to his writing. Along with his path-breaking Essay on Calcerous Manuers, Ruffin also edited the Farmer's Register, an agricultural journal, and Essays and Notes on Agriculture, which was a description of farming methods on his own Marlbourne plantation. Ruffin's writing before the Civil War was not limited to advice on planting though. Ruffin also examined race and slavery issues. He wrote a number of articles for DeBow's Review, including "The Effects of High Prices of Slaves," and "Equality of the Races-Haytien and British Experiments." In addition, he also composed works that sought to bring to fruition his greatest dream; Southern independence. In 1860 Ruffin turned futuristic novelist in effort to advance his primary goal.

In late February of that year Ruffin started writing Anticipations of the Future to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time. Ruffin got the idea for writing the book after reading a recently published novel that forecast the results of secession. Ruffin privately admitted in his diary that it was a "very foolish book" but thought that "the subject promised something, & the idea might be carried out to good purpose."

Ruffin's novel began four years in the future (1864), and took the form of news reports sent back to England from a British correspondent. The book boldly, but incorrectly predicted that William H. Seward would replace Abraham Lincoln in 1864 as president after Lincoln had served one term. After a significant number of outrages by the Black Republican government during Seward's first term, including the blockade of Southern harbors, civil war broke out in the spring of 1868. While Ruffin's timing for the war was off a few years, he did focus on Charleston as would actually be the case in 1861. He also presciently pointed out the importance of the upper-South states to the Southern cause, as well as the importance of the western rivers.

But, the event I found most interesting and relevant to my current research was Ruffin's prediction that a white and African American abolitionist army would invade Kentucky in the summer of 1868. Leading this invasion was none other than Owen Brown, son on John Brown. Owen was the only surviving son of Brown that participated in the Harpers Ferry raid. Ruffin wrote, "The associated northern abolitionists, having abiding and strong faith in the name and blood of the martyr John Brown, had sought out his son to command the strong force designed to excite the work of insurrection in Kentucky." Ruffin forecast that General Brown would bring 3500 abolitionists, of which 2700 were black, to invade the Bluegrass state. In Ruffin's novel, Kentucky had seceded prior to this invasion, but had initially only 1000 men to guard the border of the Ohio River. Ruffin identified Kentucky abolitionist John G. Fee in the story as aiding and abetting the invading abolitionists with important information. Also brought into the story was that Owen Brown and his men carried 10,000 muskets and pikes to give to any slaves who would join their effort.

Ruffin had the invaders laying waste to the land and slaughtering men, women and children as they moved into the Commonwealth. Quickly though, things started to turn against the marauders. Ruffin's story explains that Brown's invading force started to melt away as the blacks that joined him began to desert. The reason they had joined in the first place according to Ruffin was to "escape their miserable condition [in the North]-and in the hope of thus being enabled to get to the southern state whence they had formerly absconded, to flee to the North-and when there, to return to their former respective homes and servitude. Or, if not, then to slavery to any southern master, rather than continue free and starving with cold and hunger at the North." Ruffin explained that some slaves ran off to join the invading army as it moved into Kentucky but the vast majority, "seemed to be as much alarmed as their masters, and fully as anxious to get out of the way of the invaders."

Ruffin declared that General Brown was disappointed in the few number of black recruits in Kentucky, and explained that was because, "they [slaves] will rarely incur risk of personal danger to join new and doubtful allies-and never sustain a weak and losing cause." Obviously, Ruffin used his observation skills from the Harpers Ferry raid to make this statement. According to Ruffin, Brown's misjudgment could be blamed on his (and all other Northerners) ignorance of blacks and their character.

Slowly the Kentucky militia forces formed and were provided with ammunition and arms. It is another point of interest that Ruffin notes Kentucky's lack of military preparedness, and shows how well read he was on the issues of the day. In the wake of Harpers Ferry, Kentuckians of all stations declared emphatically the impotence of the state militia and the need for its reorganization.

On the fifth day of the invasion the raiders finally met Kentucky resistance. The white leaders of the invaders were placed in advanced positions to act as examples for their remaining black troops and necessarily took high casualties. When night fell the Kentuckians made an attack on Brown's troops causing more casualties to the invaders. The following morning Brown noticed that more of his troops had deserted, but he decided to keep advancing and as he did he lost more men. Ruffin described that the Kentuckians particularly despised the whites in the raiding force. "To these [whites] so violent was the hatred of the Kentuckians, and their thirst for vengeance, that it was obvious that they reserved their shots for the whites, and deemed them throw away on the negro soldiers, whom they had learned to hold in contempt."

A general was named for the established Kentucky forces and reinforcements poured in, swelling their numbers to 1500 to give battle the abolitionists. The Kentucky general (called General A) had retreated before the advancing invaders, but finally selected ground of his choosing to stop and battle. "General Brown's white followers, and a few of the negroes, fought bravely and desperately. But the negroes generally showed no ardor or disposition for fighting." The Kentuckians advanced and broke the invaders ranks and "the negroes threw away their arms, which nearly all had ceased to use, and which impeded their flight." All the blacks that surrendered begged for mercy and were spared. "But the whites, whether surrendering or continuing to resist, were put to death, either instantly, or later, when it was known that they were whites, and the leaders and deceivers of the misguided negroes." The Kentuckians lost only 100 men while the invaders lost ten times that amount, mostly in captured African Americans.

After the battle yet more reinforcements arrived for the Kentucky army which brought their numbers to 2500. The Kentuckians set out to capture all of the invaders that they could catch. Among those caught was General Owen Brown, whose leg had been shattered by a bullet. Brown demanded to be treated as a military prisoner who had been commissioned by the president. General A informed him his rank would certainly be respected by hanging him higher than his subordinates. In lieu of unavailable hemp ropes, the Kentuckians used grapevines to hang their enemies. Brown and twenty-seven of his officers were hanged and later devoured by vultures.

Efforts were continued to round up the invaders. "It was thought that not one escaped death in the field, or capture, of the 3500 men who entered Kentucky, or of the 400 slaves who soon afterward joined them. Of the 800 whites, every one was killed, or, if captured, was afterward hung. Of the negroes, nearly 300 had voluntarily deserted, and had surrendered themselves, separately, or in small parties, before the battle-and 1200 of them had been made prisoners." And, "nearly 1900 negroes were either restored to their former masters or sold."

Anticipations of the Future covered events up to 1870 (ten year in the future from when it was written) when the South won its independence. The last sentence of the 416 page book clearly explains Ruffin's and many other Southern secessionists' stance in 1860. "If these [Southern] states are to be successfully defended in the possession of their property, their political rights, and everything dear to freemen, or if they are to be preserved as a future antegral portion, and the border bulwark of a southern confederacy, it must be secured by the more southern [Gulf coast] states, seceding first, and speedily."

If you are interested in reading Anticipations of the Future, you can easily find it on Google Books in full.