Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Neighborhood History - 151 Years Ago Today

About four miles down Boydton Plank Road from where I live is that road's intersection with White Oak Road. This area, and just to the west, saw significant fighting on March 31, 1865. The White Oak Road battle followed on the heels of an engagement just a couple of miles further south on March 29, at Lewis's Farm.

This round of fighting secured the Boydton Plank Road for the Union troops, and left only the Southside Railroad as a supply line available to Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. It also set up the next day's fighting at Five Forks, and thus the eventual Union breakthrough of Lee's defensive fortifications southwest and south of Petersburg in the early morning hours of April 2.  

I feel humbled to live among such an important historical setting. In just about any direction I turn, I am only a few miles from some significant part of the Petersburg Campaign. I only wish more people in my area took the time to learn about the history that surrounds them. Then, maybe, they could better understand how these events are still relevant to their present lives.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Henry Elebeck's Bathing Saloon

Similar to a number of the free black barbers that I located in Kentucky, Petersburg's Henry Elebeck offered bathing opportunities to his customers in addition to his hair cutting and shaving services.

From 6:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. "citizens of Petersburg and the public in general" could bathe at Elebeck's establishment at the Merchants' Exchange building on Bank Street. Baths were offered in cold, hot, or tepid water for $.25, or one could get what appeared to be a combination of temperatures for $.37 1/2.

Barbers typically offered these types of services in effort to generate additional streams of revenue. Baths and showers were not yet common in many antebellum homes, and since Elebeck offered them as such an early hour, and late into the evening, patrons could partake in the hygienic practice outside of business hours and at their convenience. I wonder if Elebeck offered bathing services seven days a week, or just on weekdays.

Ever the entrepreneur, and in addition to baths, Elebeck concluded his advertisement with a note that he had "on hand, a large supply of Eau de Costral, an excellent tonic for the hair."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bollingbrook Hotel Slaves

I've mentioned in several of my posts that antebellum free black barbers often set up their shops in or near hotels. Doing so provided them with a virtual constant supply of customers. It just made good business sense.

Using similar good business sense, mid-nineteenth century hotels in the South often ran advertisements in period newspapers to attract customers. Petersburg's Bollingbrook Hotel was one of, if not the, finest place to stay in the city. Located near three of the Cockade City's non-connected railroads (Petersburg and Norfolk Railroad, the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, and the Southside Railroad) brought guests for a night's stay, while waiting to switch rail lines.

In the Bollingbrook Hotel's ad above, not only does the lodging's new proprietor offer high-quality meals, the best of furnishings, attention for lady guests by his wife, and peacefulness of the neighborhood, he specifically mentions that "the servants are all attentive."

Joseph L. Carrington is listed as forty-seven years old and the hotel keeper of the Bollingbrook Hotel in the 1860 census. He apparently lived in the hotel with his wife and their seven children. Also residents in the hotel were ten non-relatives, including a physician, merchant tailor, mail agent, conductor, and a free woman of color "house maid." Interestingly, he is not listed as owning any real estate value, but owned $25,000 in personal property. Not surprisingly Carrington is also shown in the 1860 slave schedules as owning twenty-two slaves and two slave houses. The slave dwellings were likely urban apartment-style structures for his hotel work force.

One can see the need for hotel slave help. Think of all the domestic help a plantation big house needed and multiply that several times. Someone had to clean the rooms, empty the chamber pots, cook the guest's meals, wait on guest's tables, carry the guest's luggage, wash the linens, wash and iron guest's clothes, carry fuel to guest's rooms, and hundreds of other tasks.

Living in a city setting may have afforded hotel slaves a greater measure of opportunity for learning about what was going on in the world than their fellow bondsmen and women on rural plantations. Hearing guests' conversations on topics of all kinds, and interacting with other urban slaves likely allowed them to be aware of period politics and social issues that affected their existence. It may have been through occurrences such as these that slave learned of runaway opportunities such as that which William Baylis attempted in 1858.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Petersburg Barber Sought Lost Free Papers

After working eleven straight days, I planned on having a sleep-in Sunday. However, my internal alarm clock would not go into "snooze" mode, so I spent a good deal of the day reading and searching through old newspapers online.

In the December 27, 1855, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express, I came across the brief classified ad shown above. I had found similar ads in other papers, but this is the first I have located from a barber.

In it, free man of color and barber Richard Newsom offered a five dollar reward for the recovery of his "FREE PAPERS," which were lost, apparently on the Southside Railroad between Petersburg and Lynchburg.  A Richard Newsom, a nineteen year old mulatto man, appears in Richmond's 1850 census, but no occupation is given for him. I was not able to locate a Richard Newsom in the 1860 census. Perhaps Newsom had moved on from Petersburg by the time of the 1860 census.

Jarratt's Hotel was one of antebellum Petersburg's best lodgings. Like many other period hotels, it offered amenities for guests such as Newsome's barbershop, laundering services, and carting baggage service; most of these positions were held by free people of color or enslaved individuals rented out to hotel owners. Jarratt's was located at the southwest corner of Washington and Union Streets, where the city's transit station currently sits. The hotel was close to the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad, which made it convenient for guest arriving in town from the south by that means of transportation.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Petersburg Black Barber Advertisement - Henry Elebeck

Finding some Petersburg Daily Express editions online helped me search for additional antebellum barber advertisements. The above advertisement ran in the same 1855 edition as the "Murder In Dinwiddie" story that I highlighted in my last post.

Petersburg free man of color barber Henry Elebeck sought to encourage customers to visit his establishment for their "shaving and hair cutting" needs. Elebeck's advertisement is very similar to others I have found, both in Virginia and Kentucky. In his notice, he claims his ability to serve his customers in "the most superior style." Further Elebeck stated that "His razors are ever keen, his establishment always clean and neat, and his assistants attentive, courteous and obliging." Elebeck goes on to offer his patrons shaving soaps and colognes of the highest quality as an inducement.

Apparently, Elebeck was a veteran barber, as his ad thanks long-time customers during his twenty years of service.  He appears in the 1850 census as a thirty-six year old mulatto barber with $1000 in real estate. He lived with wife, Ann (born in New York), their six children, and John Edwards, a forty-five year old bricklayer, who was noted as deaf. Elebeck's neighbor, John K. Shure is also listed as a barber. If Elebeck's claim of twenty years in service is correct, he started cutting hair when he was about twenty years old.

In 1860, Elebeck was listed as a forty-five year old barber with $500 in real estate, and $100 personal property. He was still married to New York native Agnes Ann, and the couple had added two children from the previous decade.

As the advertisement also indicates, Elebeck's shop was in the Merchants Exchange building on Bank Street (pictured above). This was a superb location for an antebellum barber, as the building was the hub of Petersburg's business community. Here men met daily to haggle deals between wholesalers and retailers and place bids on auctioned market crops such as tobacco, wheat, and cotton. The men that conducted their business at the Merchants Exchange building would likely have been some of the most wealthy and influential in the area. They would probably have been concerned with their personal appearance and would have had the financial resources to afford daily shavings and frequent hair trimmings.

The Merchant's Exchange building is of Greek Revival architecture and was completed in 1841. It now serves as a museum for the city of Petersburg.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A (Slave-on-Slave) Murder in Dinwiddie

I've been looking for digitized versions of Petersburg's antebellum and Civil War newspapers, and as luck would have it, I found one. The Library of Virginia's online "Virginia Chronicle" has some limited issues of Petersburg's The Daily Express for 1855, 1860-63.

Browsing through some of the 1855 editions, I came across the September 3 issue; which by the way, has some other interesting tid-bits that I will share in future posts.

However, the headline for the above short article was one that really caught my eye. Being that I live in Dinwidde County, I immediately wanted to know more about this antebellum homicide. Then, when I found out it involved an enslaved man who killed another enslaved man, a hundred questions rushed into my mind. What provoked this most drastic of measures? Unfortunately, the article doesn't give us a clue. The only thing it lets us know is that these men had words, "got to blows" and then "William, a miller," stabbed Tom in the heart.

In point of fact, the article seems to give so little care to the characters that it starts confusing William by calling him Miller, his occupation, not necessarily his given name, then switches back to calling him William.

And, other than apparently a hanged slave who committed a previous murder, who the heck is Ned? What is his story? Did he kill a fellow slave man or woman or a white man or woman?

Both William and Tom's masters seem to appear in the 1860 census. William's owner, Major Roney, was likely Patrick Roney, a seventy-three year old Dinwiddie County farmer, who apparently lived with his three adult sons William, Henry, and James. Roney owned $3,000 in real estate and $13,240 in personal property. Roney owned eighteen slaves, who lived in five dwellings. Tom's master, sixty-three year old George Washington Crump, owned thirteen slaves that resided in four slave quarters. Crump lived with his wife and a fifteen year old female, who was probably his daughter or granddaughter. He owned $5,300 in real estate and $17,000 in personal property.

What ultimately happened to William? Was he hanged like Ned? Did Tom have family that mourned his death? Was Crump compensated for Tom's death? Hopefully some more digging in this series of newspapers will help me answer some of my questions.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Wealth and Slave Ownership

The recent Geico Insurance commercials are quite effective because they try to simplifying things. Do you know, the ones I'm talking about? They say, "if you're a ____, then you ____. It's just what you do." And while there are certainly exceptions to their statements, they get their point across. I suppose one could use the statement for many wealthy people in the antebellum South. "If you're wealthy, you own slaves. It just what you do." Again, there were exceptions to that rule. And, on another thought, one might argue that those people we were well off due to their owning of slaves.

A colleague at work shared the above advertisement with me from the Richmond Sentinel, and ran in January 1865. If you have been to Pamplin Historical Park, you might recognize the name Boisseau. The Boisseau's plantation, Tudor Hall, is a main feature of the Park.

The plantation patriarch, William E. Boisseau died in 1838. Listed on his estate inventory were fifty-one enslaved men and women, boys and girls. William's wife, Athaliah Keziah Wright (Goodwyn) Boisseau is listed in the 1840 census as the head of household and shows as owning thirty-five slaves. One wonders what happened to the additional sixteen slaves listed on the estate inventory two years earlier. Were they sold or given to her seven children? Apparently, around this time, Athaliah inherited an additional 520 acres on non-contiguous tract. It may be this piece of land that is mentioned above as "Derby."

By 1850, Athaliah was living with a daughter, Ann E., and her husband, Robert H. Jones, on an adjoining plantation. Jones, a tobacco inspector, had apparently been married to Ann's older sister, Martha Eliza, who died in 1840. The 1860 census shows Athaliah still living with the Jones family. That census shows Jones as owning $57,000 in real estate and $100,000 in personal property, of which were seventy-four slaves, who lived in seventeen slave dwellings. Also in the Jones household in 1860 was twelve year old nephew Adrian Boisseau. Adrian's father and mother, physician William Boisseau, Jr. and Julia (Grigg) Boisseau had moved to Alabama where they passed away in 1854. Tudor Hall eventually devolved from Athaliah's to her third oldest son Joseph, who lived there with his wife Ann until Union army threats displaced them in 1864, and their home was used as the headquarters for General Samuel McGowan from South Carolina.

One of the most interesting things in this short newspaper article to me is the inflationary prices that the named enslaved people sold for. Athaliah died in Petersburg in December 1864, when goods and commodities in the region were becoming extremely stretched due to the Union army's occupation of the area, which naturally drove up prices for everything.

As always, so many questions come to mind. Were any of the slaves that were sold related? Were any purchased in groups? Or, were they all separated? If separated, were they able to reunite since the war was over within the next three months? In addition, I would be extremely interested in learning who purchased these individuals and what type of wealth they possessed to pay such inflated prices. Whoever they were, they surely soon found that wealth built on slave ownership was like building a structure on quicksand.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

December Meant Slave Hiring Season

There were antebellum Richmond firms that specifically sold slaves, and others that served as brokers for people looking to rent or lease help for a period of time, typically a year term.

The above advertisement ran in the December 17, 1839, issue of the Richmond Enquirer. As previously mentioned, slave hiring was usually established on annual terms, and that most often started as close to the first of the year as possible. In this notice, Richmond broker Robert Hill made it clear that he was ready to serve those in need of hiring slaves or those looking to lease their slaves out. Hill apparently ran his ad a little early in order to give some time for individuals who wanted their slaves leased out the opportunity to "find suitable situations for them." Likewise, he requested those seeking to hire to see him as soon as possible as he already had a number of workers on hand and ready to rent out.

Being a thorough business man, Hill stated his terms straight away as five percent for hiring out slaves. However, to sweeten the deal, he included that his company also attended to medical costs and offered house calls through the year for their enslaved hires at no charge to the renting party.

Lastly, Hill provided the address for his office to make it as easy as possible for potential clients to visit him and set up their situations.

We do not put a second thought into our present day renting of tools. equipment, or a car when the need arises, but in the nineteenth century, businesses such as Robert Hill and Company offered unpaid human help when needed, and seemingly with as little moral concern.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

"A Virginian Beaten by His Own Slave"

A colleague at work this week shared an interesting local history story that made national news in March 1861. And although it originally ran in the nearby Petersburg Express on March 19, this particular version appeared in the New York Times on March 22, 1861. Doing a quick internet search showed me that the article also made it as far west as Sacramento, California. The internet search also quickly made it apparent that this story is not unknown today. A couple of other blogs in recent years have discussed it. But, since it happened in the county where I currently live, and involves what was a rather unusual occurrence, I thought I'd share it here, too, in its entirety as it ran in the New York Times.

--The Petersburgh [sic] Express of teh 19th gives the following particulars of a savage assault made upon Mr. F[endal] MALLORY SUTHERLAND, of Mulberry Inn, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, on Friday last, by one of his own servants:

'Mr. SUTHERLAND was out on his plantation superinending the clearing of a patch of new gound, and directed NED, a robust fellow, to lift a log to a pile of burning brush. The negro replied that he would not do it, which Mr. SUTHERLAND interpreted to mean that the negro did not feel able to lift the log, and stooped to do so himself. While stooping, NED seized a big stick, and striking his master a powerful blow over the back, felled him to the earth. He then repeated his blows until the stick was broken in many pieces, and Mr. SUTHERLAND lay apparently lifeless. Thinking he had accomplished his purpose, he started off, and had proceeded about fifty yards when he saw his master attempt to rise. Seizing another stick, he returned and striking Mr. SUTHERLAND another severe blow across the face, mashed his nose flat to the face, and then continued to beat him across the arms, breast and legs, until the flesh was pummeled to the consistency of jelly. Some small negroes were present when the beating commenced, but they were mere children, and dreaded the ferocity of NED as though he had been a tiger, and were therefore prevented from offering assistance. As soon as they could get to the house the intelligence was communicated to some of the neighbors, and all turned out en masse to hunt us the fiend, some three or four going to the assistance of Mr. SUTHERLAND, and conveying him to his residence. Upon reaching the house he manifested indications of returning of consciousness, and at last accounts, Sunday, was alive, though in a very precarious condition.

The search of the neighbors for NED proved unavailing, but the account of the outrage reached this city [Peterburg], and on Sunday night Mr. GEORGE ALSOP, who knew the scoundrel, succeeded in arresting him at the depot of the South-Side Railroad in this city, and lodged him in jail. He will be transferred to the County of Dinwiddie for trial."

Fendal M. Sutherland appears in the 1860 census as a thirty-eight year old farmer. He owned $6,000 in real estate and $13,700 in personal property. Living with Sutherland was his wife, Emerlina P., age thirty-seven, and their three sons and one daughter. Sutherland, as one might imagine, also appears in the "Slave Schedules." Sutherland owned thirteen slaves who ranged in ages from fifty to three years old. These enslaved individuals were all described as black, except one mulatto. Interestingly, Sutherland was listed having one of his slaves as a fugitive. Sutherland's slaves lived in two dwellings.

Unfortunately the news article provides no context for this act of violence. One is left to ponder why Ned beat Sutherland so severely. Was there a specific precipitating factor? Or, was Ned just generally fed up with having little to no say in his life. Had Sutherland previously treated Ned poorly? Was there an ill history between the two men?

I also wonder what fate Ned met. I must admit I was surprised to hear that he was jailed and not lynched for the beating. Was he truly tried? Was he hanged? Was he sentenced to be sold out of state? Perhaps the answer is out there waiting to be uncovered. History mystery #4,080.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Seven Years of Random Thoughts

Yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of "Random Thoughts on History." In some ways it doesn't feel that long ago that I first posted. In other ways, especially when I look back on how much I have learned since then, it seems like forever. 

I'm proud that I have kept this thing going. Sure, many of my posts have not been earth-shattering historical revelations, and to be honest, there have been a few times that I just phoned it in to put something up. And, then there were the dry spells, when I just couldn't seem to find the energy or will to string a few paragraphs together into a coherent post. But, then there were also the times that I received emails from readers saying how much they appreciated a particular story or that they had not thought about a certain subject from a new perspective before. Others have mentioned that I revealed something they did not previously know, or that I touched on something that spurred them to learn more. Honestly, I couldn't ask for anything more. 

Hopefully, I can keep this thing rolling along. I'm fairly sure there will still be periods when there is way too much time in between posts, and when posts are far from the most interesting thing you've ever read. However, I would also like to think that I will still drop a nugget or two of sound history that prompts some critical thinking and stirs a sense of curiosity.

Thank you for your continued reading.        

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Slavery & Freedom in Antebellum Richmond, Virginia

I just completed reading Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitonist Art and the American Slave Trade by Maurie D. McInnis (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2011). This fantastic book views the Richmond, Virginia slave trade by relating it to British artist Eyre Crowe's 1853 visit and his sketch of a group of slaves waiting to be auctioned. When Crowe was discovered drawing the scene, he was promptly "encouraged" to move on. In 1861, Crowe completed a painting of his earlier sketch.

Crowe and his boss, British author William Makepeace Thackeray stayed at the American Hotel on their Richmond stop. The American Hotel was one of the state capital's finest lodgings at the time and was located at the corner of Main and Eleventh streets.  

One of the several businesses in the American Hotel building was the barbershop of free man of color R. C. Hobson.  As the 1857 advertisement above shows, Hobson offered a variety of grooming and hygiene services at his establishment. Hobson likely chose the location for his shop wisely due to the amount of traffic he could expect from hotel guests as well as neighbor Richmonders.

It is not known if Crowe was specifically in Hobson's shop when he drew the above image. However it is quite possible since Crowe's "A Barber's Shop at Richmond, Virginia," which was later published in the Illustrated London News, was located in the same building where he lodged. Regardless, the sketch gives us one of the few (if not the only) views of an antebellum Southern barbershop. A big thanks is owed to Crowe for his visual contribution.