Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Runaways from Notable Owners

My research on Kentucky slavery ads has led me to discover some notable owners. No, I have not come across a national figure like a John C. Breckinridge, or a John J. Crittenden, but I have found a handful of slave owning men that were important regional figures.

For example, I found a notice for a runaway named Harrison that was owned by Absalom Thompson, of Spring Hill, Tennessee. Thompson held a large number of slaves on his plantation in Maury County, but he is noted in history more as providing his home to Gen. John Bell Hood the night before the Confederate attacks at Franklin, Tennessee. During the night of November 29 the Federal forces of Gen. John Schofield slipped by Hood's Army of Tennessee at Spring Hill, entrenched at Franklin, and the following day shot the attacking Southerners to pieces. Some historians claim that had Hood been more vigilant instead of sleepy-headed at Thompson's home, things may have turned out much different at Franklin.

Another notable I located was Bailey Peyton. His slave Jesse was housed in the Nelson County, Kentucky, jail in December of 1862. Bailey Peyton was a Sumner County, Tennessee, unionist, former U.S. Representative, lawyer, planter, and Mexican War veteran. His son Bailey Peyton, Jr., was killed in the Battle of Mills Springs, Kentucky, on January 19, 1862, fighting for the 20th Tennessee Infantry.

Yet another personality was General John Williams from Clark County, Kentucky. Williams' slave Jerry was housed in the Franklin County jail in the winter of 1863. I have not been able to determine as yet if Jerry ran away from Williams while as his camp servant or from his Clark County farm.

John "Cerro Gordo" Williams (pictured below) was a Mexican War hero who had earned his nickname in that conflict. Williams served in the Kentucky legislature in the 1850s. Initially against secession, Williams changed his mind due to what he saw as the federal government's coercion of the Southern states rights. Williams became the colonel of the 5th Kentucky Infantry (C.S.) and then, in the spring of 1862, was promoted to brigadier general. He served as commander of the Department of East Tennessee in the fall of 1863, but lost the region to Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Williams finished the war in southwest Virginia. After the war, he served again the Kentucky legislature and later one term as a U.S. senator.  He died on July 17, 1898, and was buried in Winchester, Kentucky.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Apparently no one came and claimed Jerry from the Franklin County jail on behalf of Williams while he off was fighting for the Confederacy. Jerry was put up for sale with two other slaves on county court day, May 18, 1863.

The advertisement that ran in the Tri-Weekly Commonwealth stated that the slaves would be sold "at the Court House door in the city of Frankfort." I have long wondered why the state law was written that particular way, and determined that specific location for the sale. Was the courthouse location chosen to continue the idea that slavery was institutionalized in the political structure of the local community? Was it chosen because that was the place the most number of people congregated on those days and thus potentially offered a bigger bidding pool which could drive the price up?  Or was it some combination of reasons? I cannot believe that the state legislature selected the location of county courthouses for slave sales just by coincidence.

The Franklin County Courthouse is shown above in a late 19th or early 20th century photograph.    

A current photograph shows the Franklin County Courthouse today.  The building and city block is presently undergoing a major renovation project. 

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