Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Failed "Box Brown"

Most students of America's slavery history are familiar or have at least heard of Henry "Box" Brown. In 1849, after witnessing his wife and children sold away, Brown had himself boxed up in a wooden crate and mailed to Philadelphia. The trip took 27 uncomfortable hours, but Brown gained his freedom and became acknowledged abolitionist speaker.

Browsing through some old newspapers online I came across a story in the April 16, 1860 edition of the Louisville Daily Courier about a Nashville slave that attempted Brown's method of escape, but failed.

It appears that Alex, a slave belonging to Newton McClure of Nashville, gained help from a sympathetic white man in Nashville who helped box him up and marked the parcel for delivery to a Mr. Johnson in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the news story, titled "A Negro in a Bad Box," the crate was sent by rail to Louisville, the trip taking nine hours. Then the box was ferried across the Ohio River to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and was placed on another railroad to Seymour, Indiana. Before the box was loaded for the train trip east to Cincinnati, it fell from its end and the crate broke open revealing Alex inside.

Alex was "hauled out from his place of concealment amidst the laughter and jeers of the crowd." He was taken into custody and returned to Louisville where he was placed in jail to await his owner to come get him.

The article states that Alex said that the travel was rough. "Sometimes he was on his heels, and part of transit he was standing on his head." It was figured that he was in box for 14 hours and all that time without food and water. Alex claimed to his interrogators that the white man who had helped box him up had accompanied him on the train trips, but had fled when Alex was discovered. The Louisville paper doubted that claim, considered Alex a liar and "a great rascal." The Courier suspected "that the Nashvillians have now an Abolitionist 'among them.'"

Friday, January 30, 2015

George Washington - The 1st Rebel?

White Kentucky's post-war evolution to promoters of the Lost Cause is evidenced in many ways; from late 19th century literature to postbellum architecture to the state's identity in the Old South "colonel," to the numerous monuments to Confederate soldiers. Other evidence is much less subtle and had been hidden away in letters, journals, and long forgotten legislative resolutions.

Another piece of evidence is pictured above. This CDV image of George Washington, normally known as the "Father of our County," was remembered by some unknown individual as "The 1st Rebel." It is intriguing that a Lost Cause advocate would choose to remember Washington more for his role as the military leader of the Continental army who was seeking independence from mother England, than as the first president of the Federal Union, who was chosen as leader under the Constitution of the United States. 

I suppose this image is further proof that considering perspective is all important. For example, I doubt that someone from, say, Buffalo, New York, at this same time would have referred to Washington as a "rebel." The term probably would not have even been considered. Washington (in a military role) likely would have been referred to as a patriot or the savior of our country. 

Thinking about this in yet another way, during the Revolution, Great Britain and those Americans that espoused King George III's cause would probably have considered Washington a rebel, but not in the same way that the post-Civil War keeper of the CDV did. The mid-nineteenth century holder of this image took pride in the term "rebel," whereas those with a different perspective saw rebel as a label of denigration. 

History can teach us many things, but one that I truly appreciate is is that it reminds us of the wisdom in looking at issues from others' perspectives. Due to our past experiences, present beliefs, and future hopes, we all see things from different viewpoints. You may reject another person's perspective because it does not match with yours, but I believe it is shortsighted to totally dismiss it with out trying to understand where they are coming from. More harm than good can come through being close-minded.  

Image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.        

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kentucky Praises the Fugitive Slave Law

I guess I could wait a couple of days to make my first real return post, but as the old saying goes, "there's no time like the present."

I'll admit that I have been holding this one for quite a while. When I found it, it struck me as particularly intriguing, and still does after reading it over a number of times. 

This short article ran in the October 15, 1861 issue of the Louisville Daily Journal. To provide some context, the Kentucky legislature had decided to remain a part of the Union only a month before. Much of that decision, in my humble opinion, had to do with the commonwealth's geographical location. Had Kentucky been in Tennessee's location, it may well have done as Tennessee did and belatedly seceded. However, at this time Kentucky had the third most number of slaveholders (as evidenced by the 1860 census) and although those owners possessed only about four or five slaves each on average, most Kentucky owners were as much wedded to the institution as any in any slave state. Kentucky, though, was in a geographical location that made secession less practical for the security of their human property.

The Ohio River boundary was viewed by Kentuckians as an insufficient barrier to keep their valuable chattels in place. The state thought it more practical to remain in the Union where there were guarantees (1850 Fugitive Slave Law) to reclaim any absconded human property. If Kentucky had seceded, they would not have been able to request the return of their slaves that ran away to free states. They would have been in much the same situation as they were when they attempted to get their slaves back that had made it to Canada. 

I have come across numerous advertisements that mentioned slaves had been captured in Indiana and Ohio and returned to Kentucky jails to await their owners to claim them. It is true that Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois were all "free" states, but that did not mean that the majority of their citizens did not also feel obligated to uphold the rights of their fellow (Kentucky) citizens despite their differences in labor practices. There were healthy abolitionist and Underground Railroad networks in all three states, but those individuals that supported them were a small minority.

In this particular and successful instance the Kentucky newspaper praised Indiana's and the Federal government's efforts to return a runaway. The law and order nature of the whole operation is especially emphasized. It reassured the reader that friends in the free states would "defend the rights of Kentucky."

I was curious about the Louisville owner mentioned in the article so I looked him up in the 1860 census. E.L. Huffman was listed as living in Louisville's Fourth Ward. He was noted as a 50 years old "Pork Packer" and lived with his wife Kate (32 years old) and son Abram (10 years old) and 4 other borders. Like most Kentucky slave owners Huffman only held a handful of slaves. Huffman owned three. One was a 55 year old male, who was described as black, the others were a 60 year old black female and a 13 year old mulatto boy. Included was what appears to be a hired slave; a 30 year old mulatto man. I say "appears to be" a hired slave as there is a notation that looks to be "Empld" (employed) next to his listing. So, which of these men was the runaway that is mentioned in the article? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would contend that the best choices would be the 30 year old employed man or the 13 year old boy, as they would fit the profile of the typical runaway more than the 50 year old man.

Even after President Lincoln changed the goals of the Civil War with his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (released almost a year later) many in the free states continued to believe that runaways should be returned to owners living in loyal yet also slave states. It would not be until the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in December of 1865, that Kentucky slave owners could no longer legally demand or reclaim their enslaved individuals.   

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Time To Get Back At It

Well, after a six month respite, moratorium, hiatus, break, or whatever name you want to put on it, I feel a certain call to revive My Random Thoughts. I cannot honestly say that I have used my time as wisely as I would have liked. On a positive note, I did get back to a serious walking regime that has me feeling healthy and balanced, but I have expended much more time and emotional energy on this past college football season than I would like to admit. Seeking a certain contentment in the gridiron accomplishments of 18-22 year old young men is probably a fool's folly in the first place. However, recognizing that fact and keeping it properly contained are entirely two different things.

I'm not sure what it is about college football - my beloved Oklahoma Sooners in particular - that creates so much interest and concern in me. I guess it is much like history; just a different passion category. I was fortunate to make it to two OU games this fall, and happily the Sooners won both. However, five losses in the middle and end of their slate brought a disappointing (by Oklahoma standards) 2014 season. Being the eternal optimist though, I have good hopes for 2015.

The future is a funny thing. Unlike the past, and even elements of the present, we often do not know what is coming our way or what we will find in life's next adventure. However, I do know that we are better prepared to meet these unforeseen challenges if we use the lessons of past experiences to help us make responsible and informed decisions.

I'm looking forward to sharing more of what I read and learn with you in 2015 and hope you will share your thoughts and ideas in post comments.

Here's to a happy, healthy,and hearty 2015!