Thursday, August 25, 2016

Frederick Law Olmsted on Virginia Slave Quarters

If you have not read Frederick Law Olmsted's (pictured above in later years) travel accounts through the slaveholding states in the 1850s, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Cotton Kingdom. In it, the future famous landscape architect makes a number of interesting observations. Being an northerner and thus outsider to the "peculiar institution" provided Olmsted the opportunity to offer a different perspective than that of slaveholder or the enslaved.

In his travels through Virginia, Olmsted paused to comment on slave dwellings:
"The houses of slaves are usually log-cabins, of various degrees of comfort and commodiousness. At one end there is a great fire-place, which is exterior to the wall of the house, being made of clay in an inclosure, about eight feet square and high, of logs. The chimney is sometimes of brick, but most commonly of lath or split sticks, laid up like log work and plastered with mud. They [slaves] enjoy a great roaring fire, and, as the common fuel is pine, the cabin, at night when the door is open, seen from a distance, appears like  a fierce furnace. The chimneys often catch fire, and the cabin is destroyed. Very little precaution can be taken against such danger. Several cabins are places close together, and they are called "the quarters." On a plantation of moderate size there will be but one "quarters." The situation [location] chosen for it has reference to convenience of obtaining water from springs and fuel from the woods."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brown Raider Newby's Brother Killed at Petersburg

A name the sticks out among John Brown's raiders is that of Dangerfield Newby (pictured above). Newby was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, around 1820, to his white master father, Henry, and enslaved mother, Elsey. In 1858, Henry freed his slaves and they all moved together to Bridgeport, Ohio. In the intervening years, and while still in Virginia, Dangerfield had started his own family with an enslaved woman named Harriet, who first lived in Warrenton, and then Prince William County. 

In Ohio, Dangerfield saved money in attempt to purchase Harriet, but his offer of $1000 was rejected. It was probably partly out of that frustration that Dangerfield joined up with John Brown and his men to affect a change in the social system that separated Newby from his wife and children. Dangerfield was cut down early in the fight at Harpers Ferry, shot through the neck. His body's wounds were probed by his killers and his remains rooted on by the town's hogs. 

One wonders if William Newby's motivation for joining the Union army was in part to continue the fight for freedom his brother started at Harpers Ferry with John Brown. 

William joined Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry at Athens, Ohio on September 10, 1863. His service records indicate that he was twenty-two years old and was six feet two and a half inches tall, and is noted with the occupation of farmer. William, a free man of color, was officially mustered in on September 22, 1863, at Camp Delaware, Ohio. Each of William's service record cards note him as always being faithfully present.  

The 5th USCI was moved to Norfolk, Virginia, early in their service. They then took part in expeditions in North Carolina, before being transferred to Yorktown, Virginia, and made part of the XVIII Corps. They then helped secure City Point in May, 1864, and participated in the early attempts (June 15-18) to capture the important railroad hub city of Petersburg.

William Newby was wounded in the left arm and left side while fighting "before Petersburg" on July 3, 1864. One of William's records shows that he arrived at a hospital on July 13. I was unable to determine if he had received significant medical attention before that date. William died of "pyemia" (blood poisoning) on July 26 as a result of his battle wounds. Unfortunately, William's place of burial was not noted in his service records.

Image of Dangerfield Newby courtesy of the Kansas Historical Socitey

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Henry Davis - Petersburg Slave Trader

Many of Petersburg's historic buildings on Bollingbrook Street no longer stand. There are a handful of historically significant structures, such as Farmer's Bank and the Nathaniel Friend House, but many open spaces (parking lots) now appear where buildings that housed businesses and families once stood. 

One inconspicuous three-story building on the west end of Bollingbrook Street,which now is an African American barber shop (pictured above), once had a much more disconcerting existence. I have been informed that this building was for a time the slave trading office and jail of Petersburg dealer Henry Davis. 

Finding information to learn more about Davis was not that easy. I was only able to locate a scrap or two here and there. However, Davis does appear in the 1850 census. He is listed as being forty-two years old, and native of England. His occupation is simply noted as "N. Trader." He owned $14,000 in real estate and lived with his thirty-five year old wife, who was also from England, and their four children, two of whom appear to have been twins. Also in the household was another thirty-five year old female from England, perhaps Mrs. Davis's sister, and her six year old boy.

Another source I located via the Virginia Historical Society was an 1845 inventory of property purchased from the Oakland Plantation estate of William Ransom Johnson, a wealthy racehorse man from Chesterfield County. The listing shows that Henry Davis purchased ten slaves in the sale. The first, George Flournoy cost the trader $551.00. For $931.00 Davis bought a family consisting of Henry, Martha, and their child Rhoda. A blacksmith named Abram, his wife Sally and their two daughters, Susan and Rebecca cost Davis $1435.00. Finally, on the second page, Davis also purchased Sam for $420. 

I also located the above advertisement in the January 4, 1855 issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. It was posted by owner John G. Turpin seeking to reclaim two women who had absconded from him. It mentions that one of the women, Milly, was purchased from "Henry Davis of Petersburg" the year before.

Davis apparently did not limit his slave dealing to the local area, but rather participated in the larger network of the domestic slave trade. To prove such claim, I also found the transcription of an advertisement in the November 1837 printing of the Anti-Slavery Record, vol. 3, no.11. The publication sought to indict slavery based on sources produced by those participating in the institution. The advertisement was noted as being located in a Petersburg newspaper and read: "The subscriber being desirous of making another shipment by the Brig Adelaide, to New Orleans, on the first of March, will give a good market price for fifty negroes, from ten to thirty years old. - Henry Davis."