Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Robert Lumpkin Advertisement

If one reads much about Richmond's role the domestic slave trade, a specific name comes up over and over again, that of Robert Lumpkin.

The fifty-four year old Lumpkin's occupation in 1860 was listed as "Private Goal [jail]." He owned real estate worth $20,000, and personal property worth $6845. Lumpkin owned nine slaves. Lumpkin's real estate value is probably listed so high because he owned a slave complex that was known by some as "the Devil's Half-Acre." The property included Lumpkin's house, a jail in which to hold slaves waiting to be sold, a hotel where out of town slave buyers and dealers could find accommodations, and a kitchen that prepared meals for both slave inmates as well as guests at the hotel.

The property was located in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom, quite the undesirable piece of real estate due to it's placement along Shockoe Creek's steep valley banks.

Lumpkin ran the advertisement above in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on October 31, 1864. It reads: "SERVANTS WANTED - I wish to purchase, for a Southern gentleman, for his own use, one first-rate COOK, WASHER and IRONER, and one Female HOUSE SERVANT, well qualified, for which I will pay the highest market prices. Apply to Robert Lumpkin."

The trader's personal life and professional life seemed to be in conflict, but he apparently made it work. Lumpkin lived with Mary F. Lumpkin, an enslaved woman and the mother of the dealer's at least five children, all of whom were educated in the free states. Lumpkin's 1866 will left his property to Mary.

As the advertisement shows, Lumpkin traded in slaves even as Richmond was under attack by Grant's forces both north and south of the James River. In fact, Lumpkin attempted to flee Richmond as the Union army bore down on the Capital City on April 2-3, 1865. However, as he tried to board his slave coffle on the Richmond-Danville Railroad, he was refused. Apparently, he had little more choice than to let his slaves go free.

After the Civil War Lumpkin's property was transformed from slave complex to an educational facility. In 1867, Mary Lumpkin rented the buildings to a a former abolitionist who used the buildings to educate Richmond's freedmen. Later the facility relocated and changed names several times before attaining it's present designation of Virginia Union University, a historically African American institution of higher learning.

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