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.