Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kentucky Courted by Secessionist

Alabamian Stephen Fowler Hale was not home for Christmas in 1860, but he was having a homecoming of sorts. Born in Crittenden County, Kentucky in 1816, Hale was on a mission to bring his native state into a confederacy of southern states that would shortly form and had already been started by South Carolina's secession five days before.

Both of Hale's parents were native South Carolinians and they apparently raised their son with strong southern sentiments. Hale received his education in Kentucky at Cumberland University and later at Transylvania University's law school. He emigrated to Greene County, Alabama in 1837 to teach school and began a law practice a couple of years later. In 1843 he was elected to the Alabama state legislature and served in the Mexican War. In 1860 Hale was again serving in Alabama politics, lawyering, and was a small scale planter who owned a dozen slaves. As Alabama contemplated a formal severing of ties with the Union, Hale was named commissioner to Kentucky by governor Albert B. Moore; most likely due to his Bluegrass roots.

Hale took a train from Alabama and arrived in Nashville, Tennessee on Christmas Day, 1860. He planned to arrive in Frankfort, Kentucky the following day. While in Kentucky's capital city he expected to rub elbows with state legislators and convince them that the Bluegrass state belonged in the southern fold that at time did not even include Alabama, as it would not secede until January 11, 1861.

Apparently Hale did not properly prepare for his visit because when he arrived the Kentucky legislature was not in session. And, although it seems that Hale did have some contact with political movers and shakers while the Commonwealth, the secessionist focused his attention on the next best target, the state's governor, Beriah Magoffin.

I have not been able to determine if Hale succeeded in making a face-to-face meeting with Magoffin, but he did leave an amazing letter to the state's executive that outlined his reason for visiting and the reasons slave holding states should remove themselves from the Union forthwith. This letter can be found in the War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 4, I.

After a quick outline of the responsibilities of the people, the states, and the federal government Hale reminded Governor Magoffin the importance of slavery to the states that practiced the institution. He wrote, "And in the meantime African slavery has not only become one of the fixed domestic institutions of the Southern States, but forms an important element of their political power, and constitutes the most valuable species of property, worth, according to recent estimates, not less than $4,000,000,000; forming, in fact, the basis upon which rests the prosperity and wealth of most of these States, and supplying the commerce of the world with its richest freights, and furnishing the manufactories of two continents with the raw material, and their operatives with bread." He went on to explain that the North had been waging a type of cold war against slavery. "They attack us through their literature, in their schools, from the hustings, in their legislative halls, through the public press, and even their courts of justice forget the purity of their judicial ermine to strike down the rights of the Southern slave-holder and override every barrier which the Constitution has erected for his protection...."

Hale also railed against the refusal of northern states to enforce the fugitive slave law. "A majority of the Northern States, through legislative enactments, have openly nullified it, and impose heavy fines and penalties upon all persons who aid in enforcing this law, and some of those States declare the Southern slave-holder who goes within their jurisdiction to assert his legal rights under the Constitution guilty of a high crime, and affix imprisonment in the penitentiary as the penalty."

John Brown and Harper's Ferry are also alluded to by Hale as reason enough for secession. "The more daring and restless fanatics have banded themselves together, have put in practice the terrible lessons taught by the timid by making an armed incursion upon the sovereign State of Virginia, slaughtering her citizens, for the purpose of exciting a servile insurrection among her slave population, and arming them for the destruction of their own masters." He continued, "Nor is this the mere ebullition of a few half-crazy fanatics, as is abundantly apparent from the sympathy manifested all over the North, where, in many places, the tragic death of John Brown, condemned felon, is celebrated with pubic honors, and his name canonized as a martyr to liberty; and many, even of the more conservative papers of the Black Republican school, were accustomed to speak of his murderous attack upon the lives of the unsuspecting citizens of Virginia in a half-sneering and half-apologetic tone."

Hale claimed that the South's safety rested on secession. He explained that the election of any man to the presidency shouldn't be reason to secede, but in the case of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party it is justified. "Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property, and her institutions; nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassins and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans. Especially this is true in the cotton-growing States, where, in many localities, the slaves outnumbers the white population ten to one."

Rhetorically Hale asked Magoffin, "Will the South give up the institution of slavery and consent that her citizens be stripped of their property, her civilization destroyed, the whole land laid to waste by fire and sword? It is impossible. She cannot; she will not. Then why attempt longer to hold together hostile States under the stipulations of a violated Constitution? It is impossible. Dissolution is inevitable. Why, then, wait longer for the consummation of a result that must come? Why waste further time only to be met, as we have been for years past, by renewed insults and repeated injuries?"

Hale concluded his letter politely, "Permit me, in conclusion, on behalf of the State of Alabama, to express my high gratification a the cordial manner in which I have been received as her commissioner by the authorities of the State of Kentucky, as well as the profound personal gratification which, as a son of Kentucky, born and reared within her borders, I feel at the manner in which I, as the commissioner from the State of my adoption, have been received and treated by the authorities of the State of my birth. Please accept the assurances of the high consideration and esteem of, your obedient servant..."

During the Civil War Hale represented Alabama in the Confederate congress and later served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 11th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in the savage fighting at Gaines Mill, Virginia on June 27, 1862 and died in Richmond on July 18, 1862.

Those that claim that slavery had nothing to do with the South's secession, and thus the Civil War, would do well to read this significant primary source in its entirety.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sometimes Luck Helps Solve History's Mysteries

Back on June 5 I posted about a pamphlet that I had found in the University of Kentucky's Special Collections that Henry Clay Pate had published in late 1859, and that gave Pate's history of John Brown. Pate's version claimed that peddler John Brown was a Kentuckian and had served time in the Kentucky state penitentiary for helping slaves run away.

I must admit that this incorrect version was a conundrum to me. Although not sure, I assumed that Pate was not trying to make things up, but had apparently received some incorrect information or interpreted something incorrectly somewhere along the way. He said he got his information from the editor of the Evansville (Indiana) Enquirer. Now, I think I have found out where he got his lines crossed.

It is often said that "doing history is like solving a mystery." While this is true, sometimes as happens in solving a mystery on CSI, a little dumb luck can provide a clue or two. While randomly searching on the Library of Congress' American Memory database the other evening for Kentucky primary sources, I came across a document (actually a pamphlet) near the end of the list titled "Brown's Three Years in the Kentucky Prisons." Of course I was curious, so I pulled it up and read it.

The story, published in 1857, was almost exactly the version that Pate had described in his 1859 pamphlet. Only this Brown wasn't John, it was Thomas Brown. But, the similarity between this story and Pate's is too close to not be where the editor of the Evansville Enquirer, and thus Pate, got things confused.

The pamphlet is only 21 pages, so I won't ruin a good story that you can read for yourself. But, Thomas Brown and his family moved from Cincinnati, Ohio to Henderson, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana) and while Brown's wife made a living as a seamstress and milliner, Thomas peddled from town to town. On one of his trips to Evansville and back across the river, Thomas Brown was accused of helping slaves escape and was arrested and convicted (the author claims on a bribed conviction from Kentucky United States senator Archibald Dixon). Brown was first placed in the jail at Morganfield in Union County. About a year later he was transferred to the Kentucky state penitentiary in Frankfort where he served for two years (just as the Pate pamphlet said).

According to this account Thomas Brown's stay at the state penitentiary was harsh. It mentioned that Brown worked the hemp rope walk while incarcerated, and how being labeled an abolitionist was hazardous to his health with both the authorities and other prisoners. It said, "The term 'Abolitionist,' in Kentucky, is considered more opprobrious than thief or murderer. While Mr. B. was in Union County Prison, the horrors of which have been but faintly depicted, a man was arrested for murder. He was not put in the Prison at all, but kept in the jailor's house, and then bailed out for two thousand dollars. Mr. Brown's bail, it will be remembered, was put at five thousand dollars. The man [the murderer] was never brought to trial."

Penitentiary keeper Zeb Ward, who sent the hemp rope to Virginia Governor Wise to hang John Brown, (see my post on April 11, 2010) is also mentioned in this pamphlet. "On his [Thomas Brown's] arrival at the State Prison, the head keeper [Ward] was extremely glad to get another 'Abolitionist,' as he called him, in his power, expressing with an oath, a wish to be permitted to hang all such." Brown even had a short conversation with Ms. Ward that is included in the work. Also mentioned was Calvin Fairbank who was kept in the same prison for helping slaves runaway on a 20 year sentence.

Interestingly no author is given for this short work with the full title of Brown's Three Years in the Kentucky Prisons, From May 30, 1854 to May 18, 1857. I suspect that Ms. Brown may have been the author of this work just by the way she is presented in the account. Also on the last page it is explained that to get a copy of the pamphlet to send her $.25 per copy or $2.00 per dozen to her address in Indianapolis.

If you wish to read this short work you can go to: and search for Thomas Brown.

Conundrum solved in my humble opinion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Web Review:

Getting students to appreciate and enjoy history is sometimes an uphill battle. Half of that fight is making sure that educators who teach history know how to "do" history, because if teachers can help their students "do" history, there is a better chance of engaging them as active learners.
It is often not the teachers' fault that they don't know historical methods. Many social studies teachers have education degrees and at best possibly only minored in history, and teachers who have a master's degrees seems to be rather rare. Therefore, one can not expect a teacher to know how to do something they have not been trained to do. Professional development workshops such as the U.S. Department of Education's Teaching American History (TAH) grants, and other opportunities provided by state and local historic sites and organizations afford teachers more opportunities to learn these skills, but TAH grants unfortunately are not afforded to every school district, and it is difficult for teachers to always find time to attend even local workshops.
The Internet offers some help to this end. I recently came upon a wonderful website that is hosted by George Mason University called This site offers great instruction in how to do history and tips on how to get students to do history. The site is divided into three main sections: 1. Teaching Materials, 2. History Content, and 3. Best Practices. I especially enjoyed browsing through the Best Practices section. In many of these offerings they have video clips of historians explaining how to get the most out of primary source documents. A number of these videos cover different aspects of slavery, which I found very insightful. One of my favorites, about slave receipts, is located at:
A description of another video, this one on slave narratives, is as follows:
"Historian Richard Follett analyzes two narratives of slavery: an investigative report written by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1853 for the New York Times and Solomon Northrup's book Twelve Years A Slave. He discusses each document separately and then compares their very different perspectives on slavery in Louisiana's sugar growing parishes. Follett models several historical thinking skills including:
  • close reading, specifically the process of analyzing the language, meaning, and in some cases, the silences in both accounts;
  • attention to key source information, including who wrote each account, when, and for what purpose; and
  • exploring how to make sense of multiple perspectives and conflicting accounts to try to understand a complex system that affected individuals in radically different ways."

I would encourage anyone interested in history, particularly those interested in "doing" history to browse through this wonderful website. What can be learned here is simply amazing.

In addition to all the great instruction and information, this fine website is also offering a wonderful teaching resource for free. They are providing a "Historical Thinking" poster (pictured above) to teachers. This fine poster is double-sided, with one side geared toward elementary age students while the other side is more middle school/high school friendly. The elementary side is headed by "Doing History is Like Solving a Mystery," and then has the historical question, "What did kids do in the 1850s?" It then explains, "Use these clues to ask and answer good questions." From there is gives helpful hints on what and where to look for primary and secondary sources to find an answer to the historical question. It continually suggests to ask questions about the sources you use, which of course, is very important in doing history. The side of the poster for older students is titled, "History is an argument about the past." It asks the question, "How do we know what we know about the past?" To answer this question it suggests, "Examine source information," "analyze primary sources," "read multiple accounts and perspectives," "use evidence to support claims," and "understand historical context." All of these are essential things for students (and teachers) to keep in mind while reading, writing, doing or presenting history. To get a free "Historical Thinking" poster, go to:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who's Heard of Dan Rice?

I remember going to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Knoxville, Tennessee when I was a boy. The sights, sounds, and yes, the smells, struck me as so unusual. Along with the action of the acts and the exotic animals of all sizes, it was enough to enthrall the most sedate of spectators. Back then I was too young to have an interest in the history of the circus. Little did I know, the circus had as colorful of a past as I witnessed it in the present.

One of the most recognized celebrities in the mid-nineteenth century was a man that most people have not heard of today. If I hadn't just read Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of by David Carlyon, I would certainly be in that camp too.

Rice was born in New York City in 1823 and ran away from home as a boy. He relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a young man and became fast friends with songwriter Stephen Foster's brother Morrison, or Mit, as he was known by his friends. Rice married at 17 and then got his start in show business by touring with a trained pig named Sybil that could count and tell time.

By 20 Rice had joined a formal circus and was learning the ropes of performing and pleasing the crowd. In 1848 Rice became the owner of his own circus. In his shows Rice did just about everything. He sang, danced, told jokes, delivered lectures, and trained his animal acts. Due to his magnetic personality he quickly became the most famous a clown entertainer of his time.

One of the humorous stories that Carlyon tells in the book is when Rice, who by now was a famous celebrity, informed the good people of Cincinnati that he would take his tight-rope walking elephant Lalla Rookh for a swim across the Ohio River. Thousands of people showed up to see the pachyderm stroke the waves. Rice accompanied the elephant in a boat and started from the Kentucky shore. At times the only part of Lalla Rookh that showed above the waterline was her trunk. As she neared the Ohio shoreline she became annoyed by the boats of people around he and turned back for Kentucky. Rice though would go through with his promise and the elephant's swim began again. About 45 minutes later she set foot on solid ground in the city at the Race Street landing. Unfortunately a month later Lalla Rookh died in Indiana from what was called "lung fever," probably pneumonia that was likely brought on by the swim. Rice's loss hurt both as a draw for the show and as an investment; he had previously refused an offer of $20,000 for the beast.

During his career Rice frequented the river towns the most, often traveling with his show by steamboat from Pittsburgh down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and down to New Orleans. Wisely, Rice would usually tour the South in the winter and the North and Midwest during the summer.

Like most all Americans Rice was affected by the Civil War. As a dedicated Democrat, he often opposed Lincoln's war measures and took particular aim at abolitionists in his shows who he believed had antagonized the South into war. Rice toured the South in the months leading up to Fort Sumter, and like any good showman who knew his audience, made Southern sympathetic comments. But, back in the North when the war finally came he was a firm Union man.

During the Reconstruction years Rice put in a half-hearted effort to gain a seat as a congressman, but lost handily to his Republican opponent. Rice often found himself fighting off creditors as well as critics, and after the Civil War he never attained the fame he held during the antebellum years. By the time Rice had passed away in 1900 he had been married and divorced three times and had fought many battles against the bottle and rival circus owners.

If nineteenth century cultural history fascinates you as much as it does me, you will likely enjoy this book. It vividly chronicles an era much different from our post-modern high-tech world, but it reminds us that entertainment never loses it popularity, it only changes forms.