Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest

In observance of Halloween tomorrow, I thought I 'd post this interesting image from Harper's Weekly, titled "Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest."  It ran October 26, 1861.

This political image shows a ghoulish Davis in a field of death scything skeletal souls. In the background stands a decaying hangman's tree draped with Spanish moss and complete with noose and knot. A vulture overlooks the scene waiting to scavenge the gleanings. It clearly shows who the magazine thought was responsible for the death and destruction caused by the war, even at this relatively early stage.

Monday, October 28, 2013

William "Billy" Walker, African American Jockey

Continuing with our Kentucky horse history discussion, I thought I'd share the great tintype photograph above of African American jockey William "Billy" Walker and a little of his story.

Walker was born enslaved in 1860, deep in the heart of Kentucky horse country, Woodford County. Some evidence indicates that he was reared on the horse farm and plantation, Bosque Bonita, of Abraham Buford, future Confederate cavalry general in Nathan Bedford Forest's command. Other sources say he was brought up at Nantura Farm, owned by John Harper, the owner of Longfellow, the subject of yesterday's post. Regardless of which farm birthed Walker, undoubtedly he grew up around horses and was familiar with their ways from an early age.

As a boy of eleven Walker made his jockey debut at Jerome Park in New York. At twelve he had his first win, won at a race in Lexington. Gaining riding experience Walker added to his win total and knowledge of jockeying. In the inaugural Kentucky Derby, in 1875, he placed fourth. The following year he finished eighth in the Derby. In 1877, Walker captured the Kentucky Derby riding Baden Baden, who had been trained by noted ex-jockey Edward Dudley "Brown Dick" Brown. In 1876 Walker rode Ten Broeck to a stunning win in a match race against the California horse Mollie McCarty at the Louisville Jockey Club (later known as Churchill Downs) before a crowd of 30,000 spectators. The race became immortalized in the folk song "Molly and Tenbrooks."

Walker's career as a jockey spanned nearly 25 years. After retiring from riding, Walker remained on the horse racing scene as a trainer and respected adviser, providing owners advice on which horses to purchase and breed. Walker's knowledge of horse pedigree was second to none. Walker wound up his career in the horse industry as a clocker at Churchill Downs for the spring and fall meets.

The 1930 census lists Walker as being 70 years old and living in Louisville with his wife Hannah, 57, and son William Jr., 36. He owned his home, valued at $5000, and his occupation was listed as "Racing." Walker died on September 20, 1933, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Louisville Cemetery, a traditionally African American graveyard in that city. Fortunately, during Derby week in 1986, a headstone was placed on Walker's grave noting his many accomplishments.

Image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I have not posted much here on Random Thoughts about Kentucky's equine history. Until recently it is not a topic that has interested me much, but the more I find out, the more I have been intrigued. The fascinating aspect of enslaved and later free African Americans as early jockeys, grooms, handlers, and trainers, ever so important to the horse industry in the state has prompted me to do so learning.

Shown in the image above is the thoroughbred Longfellow, who was owned by John Harper of Nantura Farm in Woodford County.  Nantura Farm neighbored the better known Woodburn Farm of R. A. Alexander and Gen. Abe Buford's Bosque Bonita Farm.

Longfellow was named by Harper for the animal's long legs, not the well known poet. Foaled in 1867, Longfellow became America's most popular horse of the 1870s, eventually earning the nickname the "King of the Turf." Ungainly as a two-year-old, Longfellow did not race until a three-year-old, but came into his own the following season.  He won 13 of 16 starts in 1871. The next year Longfellow ran his last race when competing in a match event against Harry Bassett. During the run Longfellow's shoe bent and went into the soft portion of the hoof and temporarily lamed the horse.

Longfellow lived out his days at Nantura Farm as a standing stud. There he sired two future Kentucky Derby winners, Leonatus (1883) and Riley (1890). Longfellow died in 1893 at 26 years old, a legendary thoroughbred.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Darktown Comics

Currier and Ives produced a plethora of beautiful and inspirational lithographs covering a variety of topics during the 19th century. But they also issued a number of racist images featuring stereotypical and unnatural African American depictions.

Many of these are included in the "Darktown Comics" series. This series shows blacks in sporting events-like the above horse race-baseball games, football games; ceremonies, such as weddings, fraternal initiations, and literary debates to make fun of African Americans. The depicted individuals are seemingly exaggerated in unique ways. They are either too short, too tall, too fat or too skinny. They often have gaudy clothing, big eyes, enormous lips, big feet, long necks and exaggerated facial expressions.

My question is, who actually bought these back in the 1880s and 1890s? I can't imagine that any respectable housewife would allow such a thing on the family's home walls. But, maybe that is my modern sensibilities talking. Did these only show up in saloons, bars, and (white) men's clubs?  Whatever the posted venue, the sheer number of images in this series makes me believe that they were extremely popular with buyers. 

Thankfully we can not imagine these being offered to consumers today, but they do give us some indication of what race relations were at the time they were sold.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Family Record

While watching the latest PBS documentary by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, The African Americans - Many Rivers to Cross: The Black Atlantic (1500-1800) last evening online, my attention was captured when one of the guests mentioned that slaves were often kept from having last names for a reason. By not giving the enslaved people a surname it kept them from having a grounded understanding of who they were or who they came from.

That idea resonated when I came across the above illustrated family history chart which was printed by Krebs Lithographing Company of Cincinnati and was designed by H. W. Cowell of Martin, Tennessee "for the colored people of America."

Likely printed in the 1880s the lithograph shows an African American family in the center enjoying a happy home life. Below the center picture are two contrasting images, "Before the War" and "Since the War." Before the war shows a plantation owner or overseer with a whip and dog instructing a group of enslaved men and women working what looks to be a tobacco field while signs of wealth such as a carriage and big house occupy in the background.  The since the war image shows the fruits of free labor, which includes leisure time and a modest home, both of which come through hard work and frugality.

Framing the colorful images are 12 places for individuals' names to be written and the dates of marriages and deaths to be recorded for posterity to know their ancestors and thus feel a stronger sense of respectable citizenship and equality.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Freedman's Bureau

This image, drawn by Thomas Worth and printed and produced by Currier and Ives in 1868 creates a conundrum for me. I have mentioned in previous posts that I believe those of the nineteenth century had a much different sense of humor that we do today. I think that this is some play on the word "bureau," being that a chest of drawers is prominent in the image and the word bureau is in the title. It does not strike me as humorous, but maybe it was in 1868.

The freedman in the picture stands before his open and battered "bureau" while tying his cravat and peering into a broken mirror as his reflected image in the looking glass gazes back. The mirror is propped on a foot stool and held up by a bottle of some type. On the wall a fiddle and bow hang beside a window with cracked panes. Nearby a picture of what looks to be Abraham Lincoln stared on in the same direction as the main subject of the work. The freedman's modest existence is indicated by patches on the seat and knees of his trousers. A chair with a broken back serves as his coat and hat rack. His simple bed sits beneath a stairway exterior with cracked plaster above.

Was Thomas Worth trying to show that the Freedmen's Bureau was assisting a formerly enslaved man make his way up the civic and socioeconomic ladder? Or, was Worth expressing what he saw as a hopeless situation in attempting to make citizens from former slaves? Viewing some of Worth's other racist caricatures one has to consider that the latter may be more correct than the former. What do you think?

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Slave Dwelling Project

Today a colleague at work shared a copy of Smithsonian Magazine with me that a volunteer had brought in. In this particular issue was a story by Confederates in the Attic author Tony Horwitz about Joseph McGill and his Slave Dwelling Project.

For the last few years, McGill, who works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has been spending nights in former slave dwellings all across the United States (i.e. North and South) in an effort to draw attention to the need to preserve these structures.

In the magazine story McGill, who also reenacts as a 54th Massachusetts soldier, mentioned that he has been in both dilapidated and luxurious slave quarters. Some have had holes in the walls and roof and have dirt or pine board floors, while others have air conditioning, plush carpet, and flat screen televisions. And, while a number of slave quarters (especially urban dwellings) have been converted into apartments and guest houses nicely furnished as described above. However, the majority are endangered structures that are falling down and being removed from the landscape as development projects encroach in many rural areas.

McGill believes that if these buildings disappear, so does a part of the slave story. I totally agree. It is great to know that someone is putting so much effort into trying to save these once essential structures. I have often pondered making an attempt to photograph and thus document the surviving slave quarters here in Kentucky, but, it seems like an almost overwhelming endeavor. McGill's attempt to wake people up by sleeping in these historic buildings and thus bring attention to the importance of preserving the dwellings has made me again see the worth and necessity of such a project.

McGill has a Facebook page that you can "like" to keep up with his preservation initiative. And, here is a You Tube video about one of McGill's overnight stays. Please find a way to share his story with someone you know and help get the word out.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Miss Civil War Era 2013

Miss Civil War Era 2013 Miss Sallie Holman

1st runner-up Myra Clark Gaines

2nd runner-up Miss Chapman

Miss Congeniality Laura Bateman

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hometown Hero: Frank Johnson, Co. K, 12th USCHA

Frank Johnson left his enslaved life on the farm of his mistress Sarah F. Gaines in Woodford County, Kentucky, comparatively late. He made the short trip over to Camp Nelson in neighboring Jessamine County where he signed up for three years of service in the United States Colored Troops. He was 25 years old.

Thousands of Kentucky slaves like Johnson made their way to Camp Nelson in the late spring and summer of 1864, but for an unknown reason Johnson delayed his enlistment to October, signing up on the 11th. Apparently, Johnson enlisted without his owner's consent. Was he reluctant to enter into an uncertain future as a soldier, or was he possibly waiting for the opportunity to make his get away? We will likely never know, but he did go.

In 1860, Virginia-born Sarah F. Gaines was a 78 year old head of household living with a Susan M. Cook, 70 (possibly a sister?), Susan C. Johnson age 17, and Ella Johnson, 13 (possibly granddaughters?).  Gaines was accounted as owning $17,000 in real estate and $14,000 in personal property. I was unable to find Gaines in the 1860 slave schedules, but in the 1850 census she was listed as owning 11 slaves. Seven were males, who ranged from 46 to a one year old, and four females, who ranged from 58 to 13 years old. Two of the males were approximately Frank Johnson's age.

The 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery did not see much combat during the Civil War. They served a good portion of their service as garrison troops in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They were mustered out earlier than many USCT units. The 12th were released from their service obligation when they were mustered out at Louisville on April 24, 1866 - less than two years after enlisting.

Included in Frank Johnson's service records are some interesting documents. Above is a certificate dated October 4, 1866, that certifies Johnson served in the 12th and "owed service to Sarah F. Gaines." It was signed by the Adjutant General of Kentucky.

Apparently the document certifying the service of Johnson was prompted by Sarah Gaines's claim for compensation. Above is a document that has two people verifying that Gaines was the "lawful owner" of Johnson, and, in addition, two other people corroborated Gaines's claim that she had been loyal during the war.

Lastly is a formal document making a claim for compensation for Johnson. It includes a signed oath of allegiance. The claim includes a statement from Gaines: "I acquired my title and ownership in the above named slave, Frank Johnson, by being born mine and have held him ever since."

I was pleased to find some post war information on Johnson, which I thought might be difficult due to the commonness of his name. He is listed in the 1870 census as a 29 year old mulatto laborer. He lived with Eliza A., who was 28, James, age 4, and Willie, age 2. In addition, Nancy Johnson, possibly Frank's mother at age 46, lived with the family and was listed as a laundress.

In 1880, Frank Johnson was living Frankfort with a new wife, China, aged 22, who kept house.  Frank worked at a saw mill. Also in the home was James, 13, who was a servant; Willie, 11, who was attending school; Charles, age 9 was also attending school; Laura 5; Bettie 2; and Nancy 6 months.

I was not able to find out when Frank Johnson died, but he still living in 1910.  In that census he was 71 and worked as a foreman in a coal yard. China was listed as 52. Will still lived in the household at age 41. New children included Costella, a 16 year old daughter; son Stephen 18, a hotel waiter; and daughter Johnetta, a 10 year old.

Many questions remain for me about Frank Johnson, but with some research I now know a little more about this man than just what is engraved on his headstone in Greenhill Cemetery.  He was a former slave, a former soldier, a husband, a father - and because of his military service and the service of others, a citizen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Slaves and the Local Courts

One of the main arguments of abolitionists was that slavery was not a static or isolated institution. They saw it as a cancer that infected every walk of life anywhere it was allowed to exist. Simply by being considered more as property than persons, enslaved individuals were often subject to abuse and given less consideration than non-enslaved persons. A couple of examples are provided here for interpretation on this point. 

The above advertisement from Fayette County, Kentucky, shows that two slaves, "Tom, aged about 40 years," and "a woman named Mary, aged about 24 years, and infant child" were to be offered for sale to the highest bidder by the county commissioner to settle the court decision in the case of "John Moore and others, vs. N. D. Moore." 

Court cases brought slaves as valuable property, and thus financial assets, into figuring the settlement of cases such as this one. Was Mary related to Tom? Was Tom Mary's father and the infant's grandfather? We do not know in this instance, but undoubtedly thousands of family members were separated in situations similar to this one. Abolitionists, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin, often used the separation of slave families and spouses to arouse indignation toward the institution.

Another example from Fayette County was an advertisement posted by auctioneer C. T. Worley. This ad announced that in order to settle the debts of Richard B. Young "A Tract of Land in Lexington" containing six acres was offered for sale to the "highest bidder." In addition " FOUR OR FIVE NEGRO MEN AND WOMEN" were also offered to "benefit" the creditors of Young. 

Like the top advertisement it is not known if these individuals were related or married or what their fate entailed, but the ads show that slaves as property figured into civic functions such as the county courts and that the enslaved were at the mercy of the their owners finances.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Buying and Renting Kentucky Slaves in Bulk

Louisville Daily Courier, April 2, 1861

Louisville Daily Journal, June 8, 1861

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Slave Clothes and Commerce

Those that discount the level of influence slavery had on the slave states' economy might be interested to see some evidence to the contrary.

H. Strauss in Frankfort, Kentucky, advertised his new clothing store in that town's Daily Commonwealth in 1861. In that ad he mentioned having among a number of other items "NEGRO CLOTHING" that was apparently ready made for slaves. Advertising such items obviously made sense to this seller looking to make money.

Similarly, J. R. Emmit & Company in Louisville advertised in the Louisville Daily Democrat in March 1861, for his products including "NEGRO GOODS" . . . "at a Great Sacrifice!"

Louisville Woolen Mills offered FINE KENTUCKY JEANS in an October 1861 ad that ran in the Louisville Daily Journal. They noted at the bottom of the advertisement that they had "A good supply of NEGRO JEANS" . . . "on hand."  Negro jeans was a type of cloth that was woven at a rougher grade than normal jeans and which was used to make slaves' clothing.

Slave owners were marketed to for a reason. Merchants knew that most owners has a level of wealth. In addition, they also knew that owners had a valuable commodity who needed the basics of life for which the sellers would be only too willing to supply.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

James Montgomery - Kansas Jayhawker and USCT Colonel

Image and text from Kansaspedia from the Kansas Historical Society

James Montgomery was one of Kansas' most famous (or infamous) "jayhawkers." Born in Ohio in 1814, Montgomery moved to Kentucky, taught school, and became a minister in the "Campbellite" church. Then he went to Missouri where he lived with his second wife until soon after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Montgomery purchased a claim in Linn County, near Mound City, and quickly became a recognized leader of the free-state movement. In 1857 he organized a company of men to protect the free-state minority of southeast Kansas and to harass pro-slave settlements in Kansas and Missouri. While this type of activity abated for some months in 1859 and 1860, shortly before the Civil War officially began in April 1861, Montgomery and Charles "Doc" Jennison renewed their earlier activities and reportedly began "operating a ring of 'desperate jayhawkers' engaged in regular robbing. Stolen mounts were recognized up in Iowa, and jocular people said that the pedigree of every good horse was 'out of Missouri by Jennison.'"

Montgomery soon joined the regular service, being elected colonel of the Third Kansas Volunteer Infantry, a part of "Lane's Brigade." When the Third, which gained quite a reputation along with the rest of the brigade for its jayhawking, was consolidated with some other units to form the Tenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry in April 1862, Montgomery remained the regiment's colonel. In early 1863, however, he transferred to the Second Regiment, South Carolina Colored Volunteers, and helped fill its ranks with black recruits. Throughout 1863 and part of 1864, Montgomery practiced his brand of Kansas warfare in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In 1864 he resigned his commission, returned to Kansas, and ended his military career as colonel of the Sixth Kansas State Militia, which was active in October of that year during the threatened invasion by General Sterling Price.

After the war, Montgomery returned to his Linn County farm, where he died, December 6, 1871.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hometown Hero: Levi Berry, Co. I, 107th USCI

It has been some time since I last posted a "Hometown Heroes" selection, so I thought I put one in before a relaxing day of reading and college football. Here goes:

Levi Berry's headstone at Greenhill Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky, leans noticeably to the right. It is covered with a light layer of moss and shows the signs of age. It tells us very little about this man's life.

Although few details are provided, Berry's Civil War service records give us a brief physical picture of the man.  He was 23 years old, a pretty common age for a Civil War soldier.  He was five feet five inches, also quite typical. He is noted as having a black complexion. His records indicate he was born in Taylor County, Kentucky, and enlisted and mustered in at Lebanon, Kentucky, on September 5, 1864, for three years of service.

Berry's service records also note what while enslaved he was owned by William Collins of Taylor County. It is noted that Berry enlisted without Collins's consent. Likely Berry absconded and made the short trip to Lebanon in Marion County from its southern neighbor Taylor County.

William Collins is listed in the 1860 census as a 42 year old farmer living with his wife Eliza, who was 43. Collins owned $2004 in real estate, and $7736 in personal property. Collins owned 11 slaves, four are listed a mulatto and seven as black. They ranged in ages from a 40 year old woman to a two year old infant boy. Two men, aged 21 and 19, are also noted, either of which could have been Levi Berry. 

Berry's service records indicate that he was an upstanding soldier that fulfilled his duty. There are no discouraging remarks and no special commendations, which is, of course, normal for Civil War soldiers - black or white, Union or Confederate. Also common to Civil War soldiers, Berry's records note that he was sick during his term of service. He was apparently assigned or asked to do other tasks such as serving as company cook, and after the war, but while still in the 107th, he served as a teamster.

Similar to many USCT soldiers Berry's post war life was difficult to track without access to pension records. However, some information can be found through public records.  

I was unable to located Berry in the 1870 census, but he was listed in the 1880 census. At that time he was living in Lexington, Kentucky, in the Second Ward. He is shown as a 40 year old laborer. It appears that Berry was a widower and the census indicated he was illiterate. Apparently Berry had not learned to write since his service days as his Civil War records show that he made his mark rather than signing his name upon enlisting. In 1881, Berry was also listed in the Lexington city directory with a residence near the C.S.R.R. (Cincinnati Southern Railroad, I think), south of Prall Street.

In the 1900 census Berry is shown living in Frankfort with daughters Mary Francis, who was eight years old and in school, and Martha J., who was five. Berry is noted as being 61 years old with the occupation of truck farmer. It is speculation, but Berry likely remarried sometime after the 1880 census and had the two girls. Berry's second wife probably either died or left before the 1900 census, as she is not listed.

It is not known when Levi Berry died. It appears that Berry applied for a pension in 1888, but after that little can be found in public records. However, Mary and Martha Berry, age 25 and 21 respectively, are listed in the 1920 census with a Belle Buckner, who was 65, in Frankfort.   

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Eh, It's a Living

I have been running through pages and pages and pages and pages of 1860 census records for Kentucky citizens searching for barbers. More specifically, barbers that were free men of color. I have located about 60 so far, but in doing so I, of course, have found hundreds of other occupations.

There are jobs that we still have today and some that have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Some positions were white collar, some were blue collar, and some likely paid well and others probably just got their holders by. Some were gender based and some have changed in that regard over the years since.

A number of jobs were agriculture-based. For example, there was farmer, farm hand, and overseer. There were those that were skilled; stone cutter, plasterer, tinner, saddler, brick mason, carpenter, cooper, machinist, shoe maker, wagon maker, blacksmith, goldsmith, silversmith, gunsmith, rope maker, glass blower, cabinet maker, engineer, and ambrotypist. Then there were those that didn't even seem like jobs; loafer, gentleman, and man of leisure. Some were manual labor jobs; hod carrier, sawyer, ditcher, general laborer, painter, well digger, and river man. Some were food and drink related occupations; pastry cook, confectioner, butcher, baker, brewer, distiller, and grocer. Some were related to clothing and apparel; hatter, tailor, and tanner. Some were business and sales related; clerk, book keeper, merchant, trader, and peddler. Some were medical related; doctor, physician, druggist, dentist. Some were service related; waiter, jailer, watchman, policeman, fireman, school teacher, and railroad agent.

Women's occupations included; washer woman, factory girl, domestic, housekeeper, boarding house owner, hair dresser, music teacher, nurse, chambermaid, prostitute, bawdy house owner, seamstress, dress maker, pattern maker.

Work is a fact of life, and, like many other things in history, the names of some jobs have changed, others have disappeared, but the need to earn a living remains.