Monday, September 19, 2011

Klan Keeps it Klean...Kinda'

As I mentioned in my last post I have been searching out sources about the KKK for a teacher workshop on terrorism. I have found a number of things, but one of the most interesting was a pamphlet printed in Frankfort in 1877. This document, titled The Confession of Richard A. Shuck: A Member of the Owen and Henry County Marauders of the State of Kentucky was written as told to author Jesse Fears.

The short work was intended to keep young people from going down the same road Shuck had traveled. Shuck was born in 1851 and came of age in Kentucky during the violent era of Reconstruction (or Readjustment as they called it here in the Bluegrass). When Shuck was about 20 years old he witnessed a murder. He was found out and threatened if he told on the perpetrators and did not join in the group on future depredations.

Throughout the work Shuck relates the numerous murders, beatings and robberies in which the gang was involved. In one of the tales a young man was killed and found to only have $14 on him. Many of the robberies happened along the route of the Kentucky River and the roads that ran near it in Henry and Owen counties. Along with their outlaw ways the group participated as an affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the section called "Ku-Klux Deviltry," Shuck relates that the KKK of the Reconstruction era did not only harass Republicans and African Americans, but also those whites that they didn't feel were holding up proper community standards. It's kind of ironic that a band of robbers and murderers would be passing judgement on others, but it obviously did.

The short section reads:

"As the reader will no doubt expect to hear of some remarkable thing done by the Ku-Klux, I will quiet their expectations by telling them that but little was done while I was with them, save the whipping of a negro occasionally, and one or two white men who were indolent and would not provide for their families.

While speaking of the Ku-Klux, I will relate one little thing that occurred during one of our raids. We were returning from visiting some negroes on Flat Creek and having notice of a certain lady immediately on our way who kept a very unclean and illy-regulated house, we determined to stop and clean up for her. We were not disappointed in our information relative to the house. We allotted the work in proportion to the number we had in our company. Some were to scour the floor, some the cooking vessels, others the milk vessels, while others were to attend to the washing and cleaning the woman’s face, neck and ears. They procured some corn-cobs and commenced the execution of their allotted work. The lady heartily protested, and begged leave to attend to her person herself; but the boys determined that she should at least once have a clean face and neck. They went to work with their cobs and soon completed their task. In the meantime the other work was progressing, and was soon completed. We then parted with her, leaving her with many good wishes and hope of her future prosperity."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"This Negro Hole"

I am finding that it is not too difficult to locate sources that describe white Kentucky Union soldiers' disgust at serving with black troops. I have found a few when I was not even looking for them. One source I located recently was in such a place. While looking for some direct comments on the Ku Klux Klan in the Kentucky slave narratives for an upcoming teacher professional development presentation on terrorism, I was surprised to see a short notation from one of the interviewers that said, "Extract from the Civil War diary kept by Elphas P. Hylton, a Lawrence Co. [Kentucky] volunteer in the Union Army." Lawrence Co. is far eastern Kentucky, on the West Virginia border.

The diary entry is from July 17, 1864. Kentucky had largely avoided African American recruitment until the spring of 1864, but when it started, it was full force. By the end of the war only Louisiana had sent more black soldiers into Union service than Kentucky. It wasn't unusual to find opposition to black soldiers in the Union army in 1863 and 1864, racism was prevalent across the North as well as the South, but Kentucky's opposition was particularly vitriolic due largely to it being a state where slavery was legal and where the opportunities were few and far between for African Americans to show what they were capable of in society.

The diary entry reads, "On the 17th of July (1864) I was detailed for picket duty and saw three thousand negro soldiers on grand review, a black cloud to see. On the 18th I was relieved of duty. Here I became dissatisfied as a soldier on account of the negro, negro, negro. On the 23rd we began to get ready to leave this negro hole and on the 24th, to our great joy and gladness, we were sent into camp near Danville."

His choice of words is very interesting. Using the phrase, "black cloud" obviously connotes that he didn't see black troops as a positive for the future. His repetition, "on account of the negro, negro, negro" indicates that he emphasizing this negative point. And, labeling the camp he was in a "black hole" and leaving "to our great joy and gladness" certainly does not show any empathy or liking for his black comrades. I would love to find this diary and see if his opinion of USCT soldiers changed over the rest of his military service, or if he held to his prejudiced statements.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Incendiary Documents

That slavery was a "hot" topic in America in the mid-nineteenth century is beyond debate. Why, even terms of the day were heated. Those radicals that called for the secession of the southern states in order to protect their rights in slave property were called "fire-eaters." And, abolitionist radicals that agitated for the freedom of the slaves were labeled as "incendiary."

While doing some research recently I ran into a law passed in Kentucky on March 30, 1860 that banned the writing, printing, or circulating of "incendiary documents" in the state. This law was passed at the same time that Kentucky enacted laws to reorganize the state militia and limit the rights of free men and women of color; only a few short months after John Brown was hanged. It is easy to understand that fear of a John Brown type act in the Commonwealth motivated these laws. After Harper's Ferry it was felt that the safety of the public was in jeopardy and anything or anyone that threatened that sacred safety should be removed, banned or restricted in the state.

The law stated, "that if any free person write or print, or cause to be written or printed, any book or other thing, with intent to advise or incite negroes in this State to rebel or make insurrection, or inculcating resistance to the rights and property of masters in their slaves, or if he shall, with intent to aid the purposes of any such book or writing, knowingly circulate the same, he shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than one, nor more than five years."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kentucky Petitioned Canada?...Well, Sorta'

Yes...using the Canadian maple leaf is a tad anachronistic for talking about Canada in the mid-nineteenth century, since they were still under the rule of Great Britain, but that's O.K.

So, what in the world would have Kentucky fired up enough in 1859 to make a request of Canada via the federal government? Yep, you guessed it. It was slavery.

On December 19, 1859, in the wake of John Brown's raid, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a resolution that "strongly" urged "the treaty-making power of the government of the United States the necessity of so amending the tenth section of our treaty with Great Britain in regard to fugitives from justice, which was ratified in London, on the 13th day of October, as to include in its provisions fugitives from service or labor, so held under the constitution and laws of the United States, or of either of the States."

But, why ask for an amendment of the treaty? Well, the resolution clearly explains why in its opening. "Whereas, The citizens of Kentucky have been for a series of years, and are still subjected to an annual loss involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, by the escape from this State of persons held to service or labor in the State...into the British possessions of North America." In other words, Kentucky was losing major money in slave property by their escape to Canada. The petitioners also explained that the treaty was also needed because "no treaty exists between the government of Great Britain and the United States for the reclamation and extradition of persons so escaping from labor or service."

And, to power it home how necessary this measure was, the petitioners suggested "that the Governor [Beriah Magoffin] of this Commonwealth be requested to forward, under his official seal, a copy of the foregoing preamble and resolution to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress, and a like copy to the President of the United States [James Buchannan]."

If the Kentucky legislature was concerned enough about the loss of slave property, worth "involving hundreds of thousands of dollars" to pass a resolution for their return, then one can safely assume that the number successfully fleeing was significant.