Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lexington, Virginia's Antebellum Black Barbers

Since I am searching census records online, it seems best to focus on those of towns and cities, where black barbers are most likely to work. I don't want to totally ignore rural county records, as barbers may live out of town limits and come to those more populated areas to do their work, but at present it makes sense to seek those in urban areas first.

I reported on 1860 census finds in Goodson (Bristol) and Abingdon in Washington County, Virginia in my last post. My next location to search was Lexington in Rockbridge County. I have a soft spot in my heart for Lexington as I completed a graduate fellowship there at the Stonewall Jackson House in the summer of 2004, the wonderful memories of those three months remain with me to the present. Interestingly, while there, I went several times to have hair cut by an elderly African American man. Unfortunately, I cannot remember his name, but I do remember him telling me stories of his service in World War II driving a deuce and a half.

The 1850 Lexington census only consisted of twenty-seven pages, so I worked my way through them rather quickly and found two barbers. They both resided in the household of Edward J. McCampbell, a twenty-five year old lawyer. I assume the men were boarders. One, Thomas Campbell, was listed as a twenty-one year old black man, who was a native of Virginia. The other, Joseph Cooper, was a twenty-five year old mulatto, who was also a native of the Old Dominion. Neither are shown as owning real estate. The 1850 census did not record personal property worth. It is speculation on my part, but perhaps these men rented a shop together and roomed together.

The 1860 census included what appeared to be a set of brothers; or perhaps cousins. Robert Bibey was a twenty-five year old mulatto, who owned $30 in personal property and is listed as not able to read or write. Sauney Bibey was twenty-two years old and was described as mulatto and illiterate as well. Also in the household was Julia Bibey, who was twenty-three years old. Was Julia Bibey Robert and Sauney's sister, or one of the men's wife? She is listed as mulatto like the men, but that is certainly not conclusive either way.

The other 1860 Lexington black barber was Charles Evans. This young man was only fourteen, and is listed as a mulatto. He is not shown with any wealth. However, his is in the household of Hariet Mays or Mayo, a forty-five year old washer woman, who had $30 in personal property. Perhaps Hariet was Charles's mother. Regardless, they lived next door to the Bibeys and Charles likely worked shaving and cutting hair with Roberty and Sauney Bibey.

Image courtesy of the Virginia Military Institute Archives.

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