Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sites, Slavery, and Soldiers - Orlando Brown House

If you have ever been to downtown Frankfort, Kentucky, you have likely seen Liberty Hall, the home of Kentucky's first senator, constructed starting in 1796. Adjacent to Liberty Hall is the Orlando Brown house (pictured above), which was built in 1835 for Brown's son.

Orlando Brown was born in 1801 and was educated to be an attorney. He also edited the Frankfort Commonwealth for a time, served as the secretary of state in Governor John J. Crittenden's administration, and briefly held the position as Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Zachary Taylor. During the Civil War Orlando Brown served as a recruiting agent for the Union army. He died in 1867 and was buried in the Frankfort Cemetery. 

In the 1860 census Orlando Brown is listed as a lawyer. His personal worth was impressive. He owned $60,000 in real estate and $40,000 in personal property. Some of Brown's personal property value included 17 slaves, 8 males and 9 females who lived in three slave dwellings. One male enslaved individual was noted as 30 years old in that 1860 census.

That enslaved individual was likely Alexander Sanders. Sanders, along with many other African American men, both slave and free, are noted as enlisting in the Union army from Franklin County in a muster and descriptive roll book at the Kentucky Historical Society. 

Sanders service records show he enlisted on June 20, 1864, in Lexington. The 33 year old, six foot tall Sanders was described as having a copper complexion. He trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County with thousands of other black men. He was placed in the Company A, 116th United States Colored Infantry regiment. 

Interestingly Orlando Brown certified that he was "the owner of Alexander Sanders, a slave," and gave his consent to Sanders's enlistment as the above document shows. It is signed by Brown and the illiterate Sanders made his mark with and "X."

Brown likely provided his consent with the belief that he would be compensated in the future for Sanders's enlistment. In fact, Brown made a claim in December 1866 for compensation. The claim form, shown above, certifies that Brown owned Sanders "by virtue of marital right acquired by and through my wife M. C. [Mary Cordelia Brodhead] Brown." Brown signed an oath of allegiance as well that he had remained loyal throughout the war.

Brown's brand of proslavery Unionism was common in Kentucky, however, most owners were less permissive of their slaves joining the Union army. But many, like Brown, believed they would be compensated for their lost laborers whether they allowed them to enlist or not. They were sadly mistaken.

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