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.

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