Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Combative Cassius Marcellus Clay

I just finished reading a couple of books on Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, and instead of providing a standard summary and overview of the books as I usually do, I thought I'd share a few of the stories I found especially interesting on this unique man.

Clay was a distant cousin to famous Kentucky statesman Henry Clay and was born in 1810 and grew up in Madison County. He was educated at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Transylvania in Lexington, and finally at Yale in Connecticut, where he heard famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and first developed his antislavery stance. When Clay returned from his studies in the North and entered law school (again at Transylvania) he proposed to Mary Jane Warfield. Although her family was opposed to their union he prevailed, but not before having and "affair of honor" with another suitor.

Dr. John P. Declarey had also desired the marriage of Mary Jane Warfield and had not made it a secret to Clay. Finally things came to a boil and Clay went to Louisville to settle the matter man to man. The two combatants brawled briefly on the steps of the doctor's hotel then Clay offered Declarey a chance to duel. The two met, but for some reason were unable to complete the duel. Clay returned to Lexington and married Mary Jane. The doctor did not drop the business though even with losing his desired bride. During the Clay couple's honeymoon Declarey circulated stories of Clay being a coward. At first Clay let it go, but finally he had had enough and went again to Louisville to settle the issue once and for all. Clay went to the doctor's hotel and waited to see him. When Declarey arrived and saw Clay waiting he did not address Clay and quickly went to his room. Clay waited in Louisville a couple of days, but Declarey made no appearance, so Clay returned to Lexington. Clay soon learned that the doctor had committed suicide by severing his wrist arteries.

Clay was a firm believer in the freedom of speech and he defended that right to the fullest. In 1843 while he was attending the Robert Wickliffe and Garret Davis debate at Russell's Cave Spring he was attacked by a hired killer, Samuel Brown of New Orleans. Brown fired at Clay at close range and hit him in the chest, but Clay, who never went anywhere without one of his trusty bowie knives, fiercely defended himself and seriously injured Brown. Clay was carried from the scene by friends to check his wounds. When his coat was removed it was discovered that Clay's bowie knife scabbard had stopped Brown's bullet; Clay was left with only a sore red spot on his chest.

In 1849 Kentucky was moving toward another constitutional convention. One of the hot topic, as it was throughout the nation, was slavery. Clay attended a meeting at Foxtown in Madison County to stump for antislavery delegates to the convention. After speaking Clay was dismounted the stage when he was called a liar and was stabbed deeply in the chest by Cyrus Turner, the son of a pro-slavery delegate candidate. Clay attempted to draw his own knife, but the closeness and hostility of the crowd limited his movements and his knife fell to the ground. Clay was finally able to wrest the knife away from one of the throng, cutting his fingers to the bone. Clay gathered up the strength to finally get at Turner and stabbed him. Clay's 14 year-old son Warfield tried to had his father a pistol, but Clay's loss of blood caused him to lose consciousness. Another member of the Turner party tried to shoot Clay in the head but the pistol misfired on several attempts. As he passed out due to loss of blood, Clay reportedly said, "I died in the defense of the liberties of the people." Clay wouldn't die that day, although his attacker Turner did die a few days later.

C.M. Clay appears to have been somewhat of a ladies man for practically his whole life. His successful campaign to have Mary Jane Warfield as his own despite her parents and her other suitor's objections shows his determination and a romantic side that otherwise was seldom on display by this seemingly rough and independent individual. But, it appears that Mary Jane was not the only woman that caught Clay's eye over his lifetime. Clay's participation in the Mexican War did not bring him the martial honors that he had hoped for. Rather he and a number of his men were captured and spent the majority of their time in the country incarcerated. While being held captive Clay was allowed a liberal stay. He was often allowed to venture out at his leisure. He met a Mexican woman on one of these ventures that he later explained was one of the most captivating and beautiful women he had ever met. Later while serving as Minister to Russia during the Civil War he allegedly had an affair with a Russian ballerina. The relationship produced a son that he called his "adopted" boy and that came to live with Clay in Kentucky in the 1870s. Clay's relationship with Mary Jane obviously suffered from his extramarital liaisons and they were finally formally divorced in 1878. Clay's last romantic adventure was in 1894, when he was 84 years old. The old man married 15 year-old Dora Richardson, daughter of one of the tenant farmers on his property. The relation was short lived though as Dora left after a couple of years and Clay granted her a divorce. He later bought her some property in Woodford County where resettled and married a man much closer to her age. Cassius M. Clay lived a lonely existence his last years in his White Hall mansion until he passed away in 1903.

In an age of intriguing individuals, Clay is one of the most interesting personalities I have come across. If you want to learn more about this unique Kentuckian, read Lion of White Hall: The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay by David L. Smiley, or Cassius Marcellus Clay: Firebrand of Liberty by H. Eward Richardson.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A John Brown Attack on Kentucky, or Not?

The Old State Capital - Frankfort, Kentucky
In my last post I discussed Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin's December 1859 call to the state legislature to reorganize the Commonwealth's militia in the wake of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. He obviously saw a potential for a Brown-styled attack on the Bluegrass state and he took measures to prevent or mitigate that possibility.

Interestingly, only eleven days after the Harpers Ferry raid, the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth newspaper provided his explanation why John Brown chose to attack Virginia rather than Kentucky. State pride was on display as he viewed Virginia's anxiety for Kentucky as misplaced. He stated "Kentuckians will not feel complimented at the great solicitude for our State [Kentucky]. Apparently, the newspaper editor was of much different mind than the governor was two months later. The editor was confident that the state could defend itself. He wrote, "We hardly suppose there is a town of any size in the Commonwealth that could be held possession of by twenty-five Abolitionists, and the whole State thrown into convulsions of terror, as was the case at Harper's Ferry."

The editor seems to almost deprecate Virginia's need to call on the Federal troops (Marines) that showed up and finally captured Brown and his men at Harpers Ferry. He continued, "Let such an attack be made in Kentucky, and our Governor will hardly be compelled to call in the assistance of the Federal Government to quell the insurrection." The newspaper man's confidence in the state's militia is apparent by his statement that, "The gallant gentlemen whom he [the governor] has appointed as Aids, with the rank of Colonel would form a phalanx of sufficient numerous and brave to strike terror into the souls of any array of Abolitionists that could be marched into the State." In addition to the Kentucky militia's supposed bravery, the editor believed that military training and acumen would prove too much for any band of raiders. "Besides, their [militia officers] skill in military tactics and the strategies of war would give them an immense advantage over the insurgents. No wonder that Brown chose Virginia instead of Kentucky as the scene of his exploits." To the editor, Brown's choice of Virginia instead of Kentucky was quite obvious, but as we saw, the governor was not of the same mind.

Either the Commonwealth's editor was not as privy to the militia's current condition as the governor, or he was attempting to put on a brave front to discourage any potential abolitionist raiders. His cocksure confidence would be not displayed by fellow Kentuckians. In October, November, and December 1859, Kentuckians suspected of abolitionist sympathies would be mobbed, tarred and feathered, and exiled from the state. Fear for public safety was their justification for their harsh actions against fellow men.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gov. Magoffin Called for Reoganization of the Kentucky Militia in the Wake of John Brown's Raid

In the aftermath of John Brown's raid, Kentucky governor Beriah Magoffin sought measures that would ensure that such an affair would not happen in the Commonwealth.

Governor Magoffin addressed the Kentucky General Assembly in December 1859 and outlined his recommendations to make the Bluegrass a safer state. Reading his words, I could not help mentally making modern comparisons to the measures that our government made after the 9/11 attacks. We formed a Homeland Security; he called for a stronger militia presence. We increased airport security; he called for greater restrictions on traveling peddlers and free African Americans.

Probably the strongest recommendation that Magoffin made was for the reorganization of the Kentucky militia system, which he viewed as ineffective in its 1859 existence. He clearly expressed what he saw as the possible consequences of this oversight. "In case of insurrection, the enforcement of the laws by the executive, the suppression of mobs, or protection from internal or external dangers, there is scarcely a single volunteer company which could be called into service."

The Harpers Ferry raid was foremost in mind in this planning. He continued, "Threatening dangers and a sense of security require it [militia reorganization]. The Harpers Ferry affair warns us that we know not at what moment we may have need for an active, ardent, reliable, patriotic, well-disciplined, and thoroughly organized militia in Kentucky." He placed blamed, or at least compliance, on the Republican Party for the attempted insurrection at Harpers Ferry. "If this affair was not planned by some of the most distinguished leaders and ministers of the Abolition and Republican party, they had knowledge of it. It received their countenance and support. It was a wide-spread and hellish conspiracy against the slave States and the longer continuance of the Union."

The furiously conservative Magoffin ran off a long indictment list, "They [Harpers Ferry conspirators] were not willing to wait until they could effect their purpose by constitutional and peaceful measures; it was too slow and uncertain. They were willing to do it by violence; to effect it in disregard for the constitution and laws; to change this government into mob outrage and desecration; to plot rebellion and insurrection; to shed blood of the innocent; to commit arson and to murder and rob an unoffending and unsuspecting portion of the loyal citizens of this country; to commit treason and break up this glorious republic; to let the end justify the means, and to do anything to make money and get place and power."

Magoffin's militia call was quickly heeded by Kentuckians. Militia reform would eventually come with creation of the State Guard in March 1860, but even before then militia companies were formed in response. In the December 17, 1859 edition of the Covington [Kentucky] Journal, a small noticed was placed that had been reprinted from the Georgetown Gazette. "A military company has been organized at the Stamping Ground [Scott County]. A movement is on foot to organize a company at Turkey Foot. These, with the 'Georgetown Guards,' will make three companies in the county. Let the ghost of old John Brown come along; who's afraid now?"

Kentucky clearly feared that they were in a vulnerable position and possibly susceptible to a Harpers Ferry-like action. Governor Magoffin, as state executive, attempted to ensure that would not happen, or if it happened, an appropriate response would meet the threat.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Personality Spotlight: Mattie Griffith

In my ongoing research about how Kentuckians reacted to John Brown and his raid, I had hoped to find a number of different perspectives, and fortunately I have. I am still searching for African American points of view, but one woman I have found has turned out to be a particularly interesting personality.

I had never heard of Mattie Griffith (later Browne) until I recently read a biography of John Brown. In the book the author gives at least partial credit to Griffith for changing the way Northerners came to view Brown after his hanging. Author David S. Reynolds credits much of the change in the North's perception to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but he explains that it was probably Griffith that inspired Emerson's claim that Brown was a Christ-like martyr. Apparently, as Emerson was penning his speech on Brown he had also written that, "Mattie Griffith says if Brown is hung, the gallows will be sacred as the cross." The claim is supported by another reference where Griffith wrote friend Lydia Maria Child, "But what a splendid martyrdom it is. That scaffold will be as glorious as the Cross of Calvary."

The exact date of Mattie Griffith's birth is not known, but was probably sometime between 1825 and 1829. She was born in Owensboro, Kentucky where her father Thomas was a tavern keeper and farmer. Griffith and her sister Catherine were orphaned at a young age when their mother and father both died in 1830. She was taken in by relatives and apparently received her education in Louisville. Griffith's writing first appeared in the Louisville Courier, to which she made a number of contributions. Griffith had been left six slaves when her parents died, but she had apparently never held an appreciation for the institution according to her friend Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. In 1852 she published a book of poetry, and may have been the author of book of antislavery poetry published in 1853 in Cincinnati under the pseudonym "A Daughter of Kentucky."

In the mid-1850s Griffith moved to Philadelphia to live with her sister Catherine and her children. In October of 1856 Griffith published a novel, Autobiography of a Female Slave, in attempt to raise money to free her slaves and settle them in the North. This pseudo-story was revealed by Griffith several weeks after its publication, but she claimed that the incidents of the book were ones she had witnessed herself. While the book received praise from fellow antislavery advocates, her former employer, the Louisville Courier claimed it was "filled with the foulest abolitionism that was ever uttered..." The book did not provide the financial boon that she had hoped for, but in 1858 the American Antislavery Society (AAS) provided her with funds and helped her free and move her former slaves to Ohio.

Griffith produced another antislavery novel, Madge Vertner, which was set in Kentucky, and was published in serial form in 1859 and 1860 by the AAS. She spent much of her time from 1857 to 1860 in Boston and New York working for the AAS and rubbing elbows with noted abolitionists Lydia Maria Child, Charlotte Forten, Maria Weston Chapman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among a number of others. After traveling to England to visit transatlantic abolitionist friends she returned to New York City and became involved in the Women's National Loyal League, which supported the Union war effort and antislavery work.

In the aftermath of the Civil War Griffith worked to afford women the right to vote and married Albert Gallatin Browne in 1866. Browne had been an officer in the Union army and had been arrested back in 1854 for attempting to help rescue the famous slave Anthony Burns from being returned to Virginia and slavery. In 1869 Mattie Griffith Browne was elected the vice-president of the National Woman's Suffrage Association. The Brownes moved between New York and Boston several times before finally settling down in Boston where Mattie worked in reform societies until she passed away in 1906.

At the time of John Brown's capture, Griffith had written of her sympathy of the old man to her friend Maria Weston Chapman: "Poor John Brown - the thought of him never leaves me. For the first week after his capture I did not close my eyes - and though the weather was quite cool - I had to put out my fire and keep my window open, - felt as if I should stifle with great effort to keep quiet. I can't think they will dare hang him. But what an argument he furnishes the Anti Slavery cause - and his death (if indeed it must come) will surely advance the movement half a century."

Hang him they did. But, Griffith proved to be quite prophetic in that his hanging did bring a quicker end to slavery.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dream vs. The Dream Deferrred

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I feel fortunate to have the day off to honor this great southern American, but not so long ago debate swirled over whether this should be declared a national holiday or not.

Everyone is familiar with Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The images of his integrated and equal America have been difficult to realize. Hundreds of years of racism and violence have marked the relationship between blacks and whites in the "New World," but to paraphrase the old Virginia Slims cigarette advertisements, "We've come a long way baby."

Back in the 1950s and 60s (especially in the mid 1960s with the rise of Black Power), it wasn't so clear whether we would get to where we are now in terms of race relations. Race riots in many of the largest American cities were seen on the nightly news and carried on newspaper headlines. Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, and then Dr. King's in 1968 made the muddy waters even less clear.

Years before Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington D.C., a poem was written. Its author was Langston Hughes (pictured above). Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902 and knew all too well the prevalent racism of his day. He lived to see a good deal of the Civil Rights movement before passing away in 1967. His short poem titled "A Dream Deferred" seems to hearken back to the Declaration of Independence and its promises that everyone has the right to enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" the American Dream. But, what if that dream is denied? What will happen then? Well, I'll let him say it...he does it best....

A Dream Deferred
What happen to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust over--
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I think that Dr. King deserves to be honored for all the sacrifices he made and all the good will that he created, but his example of non-violent civil resistance went a long way toward making sure that the American Dream didn't explode into another type of war; one that might have looked much like the one that had been fought 100 years before. Indeed, we have come a long way from where we were only 50 short years ago, and granted we have much left to accomplish in race relations, but today, let's remember Dr. King and the good work he did to help make America better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Spinning" the News is Nothing New

It seems now on television, with so many cable news shows, that everyone has a "spin" on what is happening. That is nothing new of course. Politics have been playing out in media since there was media. And, today things are not much different. Now there are Democrat and Republican "interpretations" of the news, but before television, and especially in the nineteenth-century, the two old parties slugged it out in the newspapers, sometimes deceptively.

Doing some background reading this week for my on-going research into how Kentuckians reacted to John Brown's raid, I came across a perfect example of how newspapers sensationalized an event and twisted words to fit their agenda.

In the fall of 1859 John G. Fee (see last post) had the misfortune to be in the Northeast on a fundraising trip when John Brown and his raiders decided to make their attempt on Harpers Ferry. Fee's trip proved to be successful in drawing donors' attention to his abolitionist work in Kentucky, but perceptions back in the Bluegrass state were far from friendly.

On the evening of November 13, 1859 Fee was asked to speak at the congregation served by Henry Ward Beecher (pictured above); Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York. Beecher was the son of Lyman Beecher, former president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, and was the Billy Graham of his day. He was also the brother of Harriet Beecher Stow who had penned Uncle Tom's Cabin some seven years before. He is also the source of the term "Beecher's Bibles." During the Bleeding Kansas years Beecher had encouraged antislavery supporters to send boxes of Sharpe's rifles to the free state proponents that were fighting the proslavery Missouri forces, marked as Bibles. Beecher thought that in the Kansas situation rifles would be more respected than Bibles by their enemies.

Fee's speaking at Beecher's church would have been enough to draw severe criticism from his home slave state, but his mention of John Brown, whose Harpers Ferry raid had aborted less than a month before, brought a tide of disapproval down upon his mission, and partners back in Kentucky.

The New York Tribune printed Fee's spoken words that evening, and it is to be believed, as their reporter was present. It wrote that Fee said, "We need more John Brown's-not in the manner of his action, but in his spirit of consecration-men who would go not to entice away a few slaves, for that would not remove the difficulty-men who would go out, not with carnal weapons, but with the 'Sword of the Spirit,' the Bible: and who in love, would appeal to slaveholders and non-slaveholders, if needs be, to give up property and life."

Fee mentioning John Brown at this time was about as safe as holding a lightening rod in an electrical storm. As you might imagine, when this news made its way back to slaveholding Kentucky it was not well received. The Lexington Kentucky Statesman reran the story from the Louisville Courier, a very common practice in that day. That story read, "The Louisville Courier of yesterday says, 'Rev. John G. Fee, a fanatical abolitionist, who is a native of this State, and a resident of some one of the mountain counties, is now in the east collecting funds for his nefarious work. Last Sunday night he preached in Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn and said that more John Brown's were wanted, especially for Kentucky. He also gave a detailed account of his operations here, which partakes somewhat of the Munchausen style [fairy tales] of story-telling.'" The long story ends with the sentence, "Well, let brother Beecher and brother Fee come along to Kentucky with their John Browns. The mountaineers know how to welcome such traitors with bloody hands to hospitable graves."

It seems the Kentucky papers conveniently left out that Fee called for John Brown's "not in the manner of his action, but in his spirit of consecration," and "not with carnal weapons, but withe the 'Sword of the Spirit,' the Bible." Fee made it more than clear that he did not approve of John Brown's hostile militant act at Harpers Ferry, but he did respect and acknowledge that Brown's "spirit" of antislavery was a worthy example.

Fee's family and friends would be forced to leave their settlement at Berea in December 1859. They were forced to leave the state because their neighbors believed that they had a potential John Brown in their midst; and that could not be permitted for safety's sake.

This interesting example shows that even in the nineteenth-century words were twisted (or in this case omitted) to promote an opposition agenda and bring about a desired action. The cable news shows or our day couldn't have done it any better.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just finished reading - The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste: The Life and Times of John G. Fee by Victor B. Howard

Moral suasion is not an idea that came along with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been championed by many in the past that looked to change people's behavior and society's established laws by appealing to one's conscious, by seeking Divine assistance, and by turning the other cheek to enemies. Native Kentuckian John G. Fee personified moral suasion in his efforts to eradicate slavery in his home state and to make an education available to anyone who sought knowledge.

Fee was a child of the religious awakenings that had a great influence on the reform movements of the first half of the nineteenth-century. John G. Fee was born in 1816 in Bracken County, Kentucky. His father was a small slaveholder in this Ohio River border county and Fee grew up understanding the institution all too well.

Fee's views on slavery changed as he increased his education. He first studied at local Augusta Academy, then he went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Fee returned to Augusta to finish his studies and then in 1842 informed his family he was going to attend Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati to become a minister. Lane had been fractured in 1834 over the slavery question after a series of student debates. The more radical students left the school and went to newly founded Oberlin College in northern Ohio. Oberlin became the first interracial, coeducational college in America. It was during his time at Lane that Fee became and unconditional and immediate abolitionist.

One of Fee's first missions was attempt to convert his father. His father would have nothing of it, and even offered to send the younger Fee to Princeton, which was refused. Fee turned his attention to other slaveholders in Kentucky and started preaching in churches against slavery and delivering antislavery tracts. He ministered in Lewis County, Kentucky as a base, but ranged all over northeastern Kentucky spreading the word of God's forgiveness to those that turned from the sin of slavery. On several occasions he was threatened, mobbed, and beaten for his efforts.

In the late 1840's Fee became acquainted with Cassius Clay (a distant cousin of famous statesman Henry Clay) of Madison County, Kentucky. Clay had tried his hand at publishing an antislavery newspaper in Lexington, but was forced to move the operation to Cincinnati and then it went out of business. Clay was a politically ambitious man that wanted the end of slavery in Kentucky for a much different reason than Fee. Clay wanted slavery abolished so poorer whites would not have to compete against slave labor for jobs. He felt that his best chance to attain high office was to appeal to the non-slaveholding majority of whites in Kentucky. Fee wanted slavery abolished because he thought that owning a man or placing oneself above another in any form was a sin against God's law. This higher authority was what ruled Fee's thinking and would cause a rift between Free and Clay in the late 1850s.

In 1854 Clay convinced Fee to move to Madison County to start a school to educate the youth of the area by giving him a tract of land. Fee finally relented and brought missionary friends that he had met through the American Missionary Association (AMA) with him. Many of these missionaries were Oberlin graduates and were just as radical in their thinking on race as Fee. Fee's efforts in Madison and Rockcastle counties were met with great resistance by local slaveholders. He and his men were often harassed and mobbed, and asked to leave, but they continued to persevere in their mission to end slavery in the Bluegrass state.

In 1855 Fee started Berea school. With John A.R. Rogers, who came to Berea in 1858, the school started to flourish, probably in large part to it being one of the only schools in the area. The school would be short lived though as in the aftermath of John Brown's militant raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the Bereans were forced to leave the state. Many proslavery men in the area believed that Fee and his fellow missionaries were possibly just radical enough to attempt a Brown-like action. While Fee had been asked to leave the state before, the stakes after Brown's raid were too high to remain in Kentucky. He established residence in Cincinnati and waited for the opportunity to return. Fee's chance came in 1863 when Union Camp Nelson was opened in Jessamine County, Kentucky. The army base quickly was transformed into a recruiting and training center for African American soldiers and Fee was there to help their families and provide an education to many of these former slaves.

Fee continued his work at Camp Nelson until the war ended, when he returned to Berea and restarted the school, and eventually the college that is there to this day. Fee was finally able to fully offer his services of an anti-prejudice, anti-caste, integrated education to youth from across the area.

Fee would live until 1901. Fortunately he would not have to witness the "Day Law" in 1904 that legally segregated Berea's campus until 1950. But, unfortunately, Fee has largely been forgotten outside of Berea and the commonwealth of Kentucky. His story is one of love for his fellowman regardless of color or social position. He worked diligently so that the principles of the Declaration of Independence could be realized and expressed by everyone. Unlike other abolitionists that sought an end of slavery from the usually friendly confines of the Northern states, Fee worked to end slavery in a slave state. His belief in the equality of man was just as strong as John Brown's (a very rare thing for a white man to express in the mid nineteenth-century), but his tactics for ending slavery could not have differed more.

I think that everyone would benefit from learning about this courageous man that predated the much more famous Gandhi and King. The principles that he espoused are what we aspire to today, but were considered radical in his times. By standing to his convictions and trusting in God he made a difference in the lives of many people...which is another attribute that many of us aspire to today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Best Reason to Preserve Battlefields

With Civil War battlefield acres being lost to development everyday preservationists search for ways to explain why their efforts are important. I think that there is no better reason than that summed up in the following quote by a former soldier of that conflict:

"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; ....and the power of the vision pass into their souls..."
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, October 3, 1886

It is very simple really. People visit battlefield because they are still here. If they disappear or are developed or paved over, there will not be reasons for people to come honor the dead and learn of their brave deeds.

I encourage everyone in 2010 to make a resolution to visit a battlefield or give a small gift for their preservation.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Just finished reading - A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky by James F. Hopkins

A few posts ago I briefly discussed whether Kentucky was/is Southern. I was pleased and surprised to find that the author's introduction to this book discussed the same subject with much of the same observations. But, he claims that Kentucky is a kind of limbo state. He writes, "Neither typically southern, nor northern, nor midwestern, Kentucky fails to fit the pattern which distinguishes any particular region. She is, rather, a border state with certain characteristics common to each of the great sectional divisions but with differences which establish her individuality. In addition to such basic factors as geography, climate, and the nature of her terrain, her position as a border state has been determined by the economic interests of her people, by agriculture, manufacturing, and the search for markets for her products. Tobacco, livestock, coal, and whisky have long been important to the welfare of the state and to the lives of its people." Few people realize though that a crop that today is not legally grown had a huge impact on the state as well.

For almost the whole nineteenth-century hemp was grown in Kentucky and significantly influenced that state's economy and politics during that era. Hemp has a long history in Kentucky. It had been brought to Kentucky by the earliest settlers who came from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in order to have a ready potential source for textile production. Along with flax and wool, hemp was probably one of the best textile options for settling a region where cotton did not grow well.

The climate and soil of central and northern Kentucky's counties proved to be ideal for growing and producing hemp. The counties that produced the most hemp were located in the "bluegrass region" and especially near and along the Kentucky River. Fayette, Woodford, Shelby, Clark, Scott, Bourbon, Jessamine were the main hemp growing counties in the nineteenth-century, but others such as Mason, Jefferson, Harrison, Franklin, Montgomery, Anderson, Mercer, Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln, and Madison were also significant producers.

It is not coincidence that these hemp growing counties also held the largest slave populations. Hemp, like tobacco and cotton, is a labor intensive crop. And, although hemp did not require the year-round attention that cotton and tobacco demanded, its planting, harvesting, and processing needed significant amounts of manual labor, especially in this era as mechanized agriculture implements were only emerging. Hopkins writes, "Without hemp, slavery might have not flourished in Kentucky, since other agricultural products of the state were not conducive to the extensive use of bondsmen. On the hemp farm and in the hemp factories the need for laborers was filled to a large extent by the use of Negro slaves, and it is a significant fact that the heaviest concentration of slavery was in the hemp producing area."

Hopkins notes that most of the hemp grown in Kentucky was produced on diversified farms, therefore, with its seasonal needs, hemp farms and plantations did not usually have large numbers of slaves. The average number of slaves per owner was much less in Kentucky than in the Deep South states. Crops such as oats, potatoes, wheat, corn, hay along with livestock farming were combined with hemp farming to make a self-sustaining and also marketable farm or plantation operation.

One thing I especially enjoyed from reading this book was getting a better grasp on how the crop was first planted, then harvested, and finally how the fiber was produced. In addition, it was interesting to learn how marketable materials were manufactured from hemp. Seeds were available to farmers by harvesting them from past crops and also by purchasing them from retailers of agricultural seeds. The ground was prepared by plowing and harrowing in the spring and the seeds were then broadcast and allowed to sprout. The plant had a quick growth rate and could produce plants as tall as ten feet. In the fall the plants were cut, and the leaves and stems removed, and then either spread on the ground to rot off the stalks in the dew, or placed in streams, ponds or vats for the same rotting procedure. Then, in the early winter the plants were gathered up in shocked bundles to dry in the field. Finally the hemp had to be "broken" to removed the woody stalks from the usable fibers. (For this operation as well as a look at the "hemp brake" seen the April 14, 2009 post.) Breaking was hard work that was dirty and dusty. Many slave owners reported that their slaves developed respiratory ailments from breaking hemp.

In addition to growing hemp, Kentucky also sought opportunities to make the crop into marketable products. The largest use of hemp was for making rope and the bagging that bundled cotton bales. Ropewalks that turned out thousands of yards or cordage, and looms that wove the bagging were made in Kentucky factories that blossomed in towns such as Lexington, Danville and Frankfort. Another consumer for cordage was the United States Navy. Hopkins treats this topic extensively and explains that the navy preferred water-rotted hemp as it proved more durable and received tar treatments better than dew-rotted hemp. Russian hemp was more expensive due to tariffs placed on hemp, but seemed to be preferred by the navy to Kentucky hemp. Hopkins explains the extents that Kentuckians went to in effort to displace Russian hemp for (excuse the pun) home-grown.

Hemp production fell with the arrival of the Civil War. With the cotton market cut off for those years, some hemp was grown in Kentucky, but farmers started looking to other crops that were more marketable. The hemp market fluctuated right along with the cotton market in the years following the Civil War. It made strong comebacks in the Spanish American War years and again in World War I and World War II, but died of shortly thereafter.

The drug culture that emerged after World War II placed hemp on the road toward extinction. Federal and state laws seeking to reduce the growth of marijuana for recreational use put the clamps on its industrial production. Whereas the buds and leaves were used for its drug effect, the fiber used for industrial products does not have a significant THC level. In addition to the laws curtailing its growth, cheaper products such as jute and other fibers have made hemp production for textile mostly a thing of history.

Who knows that maybe someday in the future we will return to hemp production to make our clothes or possibly paper, and although it has been removed as a significant legal agricultural crop, it is important to know hemp's place in history and how its growth and manufacture influenced the history of Kentucky and America.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

CWPT has a Great 2009!

For immediate release: Jan. 7, 2010

Civil War Preservation Trust Rescues 2,777 Acres of Hallowed Ground in 2009

Despite difficult economic climate, national nonprofit group protects historic landscapes at 20 battlefields

Washington D.C. - The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), the nation's largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group, has announced its land preservation accomplishments for 2009. Despite the difficult economy and challenges facing all charitable organizations, CWPT helped to permanently protect 2,777 acres of hallowed ground at 20 different Civil War battlefields in five states during the calender year. Overall, CWPT has protected more than 29,000 acres of battlefield land at 109 sites in 20 states.

"Despite the worst economy in recent memory, we pressed onward with our mission and achieved a level of success that surpassed all expectations," noted CWPT President Jim Lighthizer. "We posted one of the most successful years in this organization's history - including our second-highest-ever tally for acres preserved in a calendar year."

With 30 acres of Civil War battlefield land lost to development each day, there has long been a pressing need to see these hallowed grounds protected, but many preservation projects in 2009 took on an added sense of urgency. In 2008, the Commonwealth of Virginia approved $5.2 million in matching grants for battlefield preservation, specifying a limited time frame for use of the landmark allocation.

"At a critical time in the fight to preserve some of this nation's most hallowed ground, Virginia's landowners, citizens, organizations and the government leaders at all levels have led the way to secure these battlefield lands for future generations of Americans," remarked Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of Virginia Department of Historic Resources. "There is so much to celebrate in these remarkable accomplishments, even as we prepare for the hard work ahead."

However, in order to secure these funds, CWPT and other preservation groups had to secure $2 from other sources for every dollar they requested from the state. Understanding the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the opportunity, CWPT members responded, contributing to a "Virginia Legacy Fund" to meet the match requirements.

"CWPT's members are the lynch pin of our success," said Lighthizer. "They are smart, savy people who want to know exactly what they are contributing toward - they want to examine a map, see pictures, read a personal account of the fighting on that property before they write a check. We respect our members and work hard to be responsible stewards of their generosity."

In addition to land purchases, the year was also notable for the organization's donation of 176 acres of the 1862 battlefield at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The land was purchased by CWPT several years ago with the express intention of being transferred to the National Park Service once it was able to incorporate the gift. Incorporating newly protected land into existing parks is a perpetual goal for CWPT. In 2009, the organization participated in the preservation of land at two sites - Davis Bridge, Tennessee and Cedar Creek, Virginia - where the acreage was transferred to a state or national park. In the case of Davis Bridge, the state of Tennessee contributed $864,000 toward acquisition of this key battlefield site.

Recognizing the work of protecting historic landscapes is often beyond the scope of any single organization. CWPT strives to work in partnership with a wide variety of regional and local preservation groups to purchase significant pieces of land otherwise outside the reach of either independently. For example, CWPT this year partnered with the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, based in Fredericksburg, to protect 93 acres at the Wilderness Battlefield, lending technical expertise to the transaction process, as well as contributing financially....

....With 55,ooo members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation's endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds.

For more information visit

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just finished reading - Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad by Randolph Paul Runyon

One of the reasons that the Underground Railroad retains such a strong hold on America's historical memory is the fact that many of the stories associated with it are simply fascinating. This is one of those stories. It has just about everything that makes for a great narrative...close escapes, scorned love, sacrifices, and vengeance.

Delia Webster was born in Vergennes, Vermont in 1817. She had a brief education at Oberlin College before engaging in some unknown impropriety and was asked to leave in 1842. That same year Webster came to Kentucky where she taught painting classes with a couple by the last name of Spencer. They traveled about the bluegrass region teaching their art and also most certainly helped runaway slaves find their way to the Ohio River. Webster and the Spencers moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 1843 and opened up a girl's school. The Spencers eventually moved on, but Webster's academy became one of the most popular in Lexington.

Newly arrived Calvin Fairbank, a Methodist Episcopal minister and a graduate of Oberlin, asked fellow boarding house resident Webster to help a slave, Gilson Berry, escape to Ohio. Their plans for escape did not work out due to difficulty in getting Berry's wife to go, so a different slave that had expressed interest in escaping, Lewis Grant (later named Lewis Hayden), and his wife and child were selected to make the trip.

After attempting to establish the alibi that they were helping a couple of friends elope to Ohio, Fairbank, Webster, and the Haydens (who had been powdered with flour to make them appear white) made their way to Maysville, Kentucky in a rented horse and carriage. Unfortunately one of the horses was sick and had to be changed out on their way north. It was unfortunate because the had to stop and were therefore witnessed. After Fairbank ferried the Haydens to the Ohio side of the river he returned to the Kentucky side, picked up Webster who he had left there, and they headed back to Lexington. Hayden's wife and son had been quickly noticed as missing and their owner at once started asking about town who had rented any carriages. It was found that Fairbank had rented one and also where he had planned on going. The carriage owner and slaves' owner set out to find Fairbank and Webster.

The two were located near Paris, Kentucky and were followed back to Lexington by their pursuers. In Lexington they were apprehended and put in jail. Incriminating letters were found by Webster's landlady and both were eventually put on trial. Webster and Fairbank were both found guilty of aiding runaway slaves. She was sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary in Frankfort. Fairbank was sentenced to fifteen years in the same facility; five years for each slave he helped runaway.

State prison warden Newton Craig both pitied and fawned over Webster while she in prison even though he was married and had children. He would soon help her be released after serving less than two months of her sentence. She returned to Vermont, but quickly found her way back to Madison, Indiana where she was set up with living quarters by none other than her former prison warden Craig. He not only provided her a place to live, but he also entrusted his children to her care to be educated in Madison. In 1852 she purchased a large farm in Trimble County, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Madison.

Shortly after moving to the farm a number of area slaves started missing. Webster was the glaring suspect and she was warned again to leave Kentucky. She remained defiant, stayed her ground, and encountered Kentucky mobs more than once. She was arrested for her alleged crimes and placed in the jail in Bedford, Kentucky. After a short stay in jail, she was released and she returned to her farm.

Calvin Fairbank was released from prison in 1849 because a grateful Lewis Hayden had paid off his former master, and thus Fairbank acquired a pardon. Fairbank's freedom was short lived though because in 1851 he helped a female Louisville slave, Tamar, escape to Indiana and was again arrested and put in the state penitentiary. Fairbank would have much longer stay this time. He would not be released until 1864. Fairbank married in the late 1860s and moved to Massachusetts where he ran a bakery and eventfully died in 1898.

Webster continued her free farm dream after being released from the Bedford jail, but was again indicted 1854 for her role in helping Hayden's wife and son escape. Her original conviction in 1844 was for her role in Lewis Hayden's escape only. She eluded her would be captors and made a quick escape to Indiana. This latest indictment had been produced by her scorned benefactor; Newton Craig. Webster hid out in the Jefferson County, Indiana countryside for a number of days by sympathetic Hoosiers. She was eventually tried in Madison on whether she would be turned over to Kentucky officials or not. During the trial the town turned against Craig and the other Kentuckians there, and at the Madison wharf Newton Craig was shot, but survived. Webster left for Vermont for an undetermined amount of time, but returned to Madison as the Civil War started. She still owned her Kentucky farm, but did not live there. In 1861 she was apparently living in a Cincinnati boarding house. After the Civil War Webster moved to Iowa, and lived a rather quite life until she died in 1902.

Runyon is a french professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, which hardly seems like a qualification for writing a work on American history, but his research is well documented and his ability to tell this story well is evident after the first page. I highly recommend this to anyone, whether a history enthusiast or not. I sincerely believe that anyone who likes an engaging story will find this book to their liking.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just finished reading - Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River by William L. Shea & Terrence J. Winschel

In the fall of 2007 I had the pleasure of visiting Vicksburg, Mississippi for the first time. On the trip I served as tour manager for a group of members from the museum I worked for at the time. We had a great visit in part because our tour guide was one of the co-authors of this book. Terrence "Terry" Winschel probably knows more about the Vicksburg campaign than anyone on the face of the earth (except for possibly Ed Bearss). He is currently a historian at Vicksburg National Military Park. During this trip we went to numerous areas associated with the campaign that I had certainly heard of, but knew little about. Terry's presentations and explanations made what was previously a confusing story for me come together clearly.

In my reading on the Civil War I have spent most of my time looking at the battles of the western theater in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia and have almost totally ignored Vicksburg. While on the trip there I found out just how much interesting history I had been missing.

The campaign to capture Vicksburg is considered by most historians as being the longest and most complex of the war. It involved just about every facet of warfare available at the time. There were river naval battles, cavalry raids, pitched land battles, and a long true siege. In what would become recognized by many as General Ulysses S. Grant's most impressive campaign of the war, it also proved to be a significant blow to the Confederacy's chance of winning the conflict.

This relatively brief (211 pages of main text) examination of the campaign serves as a great overview. The book naturally focuses on the military actions of the campaign, so if you are looking for a thorough discussion of how civilians experienced the siege, it might be best to look somewhere else. But, if you want to know more about the campaign without too much minutia to bog it down, but enough detail to keep it interesting, this is the book for you.

An especially interesting incident happened during the campaign's siege. Almost everyone has heard of the Battle of the Crater during the Petersburg campaign, but during Vicksburg the Union forces also incorporated a tunnel and its explosion in their strategy. At one of the Confederate redans that had proved especially difficult to assault, a mine was dug and exploded. The Confederates knew of the project and were attempting to find the tunnel by counter mining with slave labor, but were unsuccessful. When the mine blew it killed seven of the slaves working on it, but one slave was blown into the air and landed behind the Union lines. When asked how high he thought he went during the explosion he guessed about "three mile." The former slave became somewhat of a celebrity when Union soldiers set him up in a tent and charged comrades to see the miraculous survivor.

The Vicksburg campaign was marked with successes and failures on both sides. Sherman's blunder at Chickasaw Bayou and the unsuccessful attempt to construct a canal that would bypass Vicksburg serve as two examples of the Union's greatest missteps. Lack of Confederate coordination and cooperation, the defeat at Champion Hill, and the official surrender on July 4th were probably the biggest Confederate mistakes. Confederate General Pemberton (a former Pennsylvanian that had married a Virginia woman) surrendered on July 4th because he thought if that day was chosen he was more likely to get the terms he wanted; which was parole for his men, instead of being transferred to prison camps. He received his wish and his men were paroled, but I am not sure that surrendering on the 4th was the reason why. It probably had more to do with not wanting to transport and feed the surrendered troops.

The defeat of Lee's army at Gettysburg on July 3rd was bad enough for Southern morale, but with the loss of Vicksburg and the surrender of Port Hudson (further south on the Mississippi River) on July 9th, things looked bleak of the Confederacy in the summer of 1863. Now that the South has been split in two and the "Father of Waters" was open for Northern commerce and travel, the Confederacy's days seemed limited; and indeed they were.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Kentucky Governor Magoffin on Slavery

In graduate school we gave good natured grief to a fellow student from northern Kentucky about whether Kentucky should really be considered a Southern state or not. Most all of us that hung out together were from states that had formally seceded in 1860-61. We all agreed that "our states," Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina were all truly Southern, but Kentucky seemed to fall into some kind of limbo. Of course the ribbing was all in good fun, but it does beg the question, what does in fact make a state Southern?

Is it that they formally removed themselves from the Union that makes them Southern, or should that designation be based on whether they legally allowed slavery? If the latter is the case then Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware should also be considered Southern states. For me, its difficult to think of Delaware as a Southern state, but that's just me. Or, do habits and custom make a state Southern? If that is the case, then yes, now that I have lived in Kentucky, I would consider it a Southern state. People here have accents that are more Southern than anything else, they cook meals that are traditionally Southern, and they also have manners and preferences for things I think of as being Southern. Kentucky after all was once a county of Virginia and was overwhelmingly settled by from people that came from that state, as well as from North and South Carolina. It's difficult to think that influences from those areas didn't have a long lasting impact on Kentucky.

In doing some research recently I came across Governor Beriah Magoffin's address to the Kentucky General Assembly in December of 1859. I was interested in finding out whether he made any reference to slavery or John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid that had occurred just 2 months before. I was not surprised to find that he mentioned both; those two topics after all were the reigning hot topics of the day. But, what I was surprised to find was his strong defense of the institution. He clearly stated that he thought that slavery was "a good" that benefited both races. The following is an excerpt from that speech.

"They [Kentuckians] have heard this cry about he poor oppressed African, and in looking back, even in our own day, at the history of the institution and his race, we have seen him not a century ago brought here from Africa a crooked, miserable, naked, starved, ill-shaped, chattering, half-reasoning sort of link between the baboon and the white man, as wild nearly as the beasts of the forest, and never was there such a change for the better produced within the same length of time upon any people on earth. We now behold him in the third generation finely formed, straight, intelligent, moral and well centered, if left to the management of his master...but the moment you set him free, he descends in the scale of civilization far more rapidly than he ascended and as such becomes a worthless, idle, lazy, besotted vagabond in a very few years, so much so, that some of the free states, where there seems to be so much sympathy for him has passed strong laws to prevent his becoming a resident."

This idea of slavery as being a positive good was promoted all though the states that eventually seceded from the Union, but was expressed less often in the Border States. Slavery was seen in those states as more of a "necessary evil" than a positive good. But, it appears that as the nation moved closer toward war those in the Border States that did believe in slavery became more defensive of its so called benefits. And, while most Northerners were just as racist as their Southern neighbors, few saw the good that slavery brought. Most Northerners certainly didn't see African Americans as their equals or deserving of political and social rights, but they did see slavery as limiting the opportunities for their fellow whites, particularly poorer whites.

Was/is Kentucky a Southern state? In many ways, I would say yes; in the 19th century as well as today.