Monday, January 23, 2017

Danville, Virginia's 1860 Black Barbers

I am currently working my way through Frederick E. Siegel's The Roots of Southern Distinctiveness: Tobacco and Society in Danville, Virginina, 1780-1865. It is an interesting look at how the cultivation, and later, manufacture of tobacco shaped this south-central Virginia town, as well as its Pittsyvalania County.

In Chapter 9, "Tobacco Manufacturing," the author claims that in 1860 "only 8 percent of Danville's population consisted of white males aged twenty-one or older, compared to 13 or 14 percent for similar places like Lynchburg or Staunton."

Danville's total population in 1860 was 3,689. From my previous research, Upper-South town's of similar size usually provided enough patronage to support several barbers, the vast majority of whom were free African Americans. However, due to the author's claim of such a small white male population, I wondered if that perhaps affected the number of barbers in Danville.

The only real way to find out was to search through the 1860 census records for Pittsylvania County. I felt up to the job, and the findings were quite intriguing. Scanning through the pages I kept finding free people of color holding occupations such as washer woman, shoemaker, blacksmith, factory hand, farm hand, and laborer, but I was beginning to think I would find no barbers. Then, finally, I came upon Thomas Pierce. Pierce was a forty-two year old mulatto man who lived with his much younger wife Frances (twenty-four), and their children, Sally (five), and John (one). Also in the household was George Davis, a thirteen year old mulatto boy. I speculate that George may have been an apprentice for Pierce, but is not noted as such. All of this census information was quite common for free men of color barbers. However, Pierce apparently had quite good business skills as he is listed as owning $3,100 in real estate, and $2,000 in personal property; quite impressive sums for 1860. Pierce and his family were all born in Virginia and he was listed as being literate.

Continuing my search through Pittsylavnia's County's 1860 census, I came across Pritchese Scott, an eighteen year old mulatto man. Scott, like Pierce, was born in Virginia and was literate. However, being much younger, Scott had not established a household as yet and lived in the household (perhaps as a boarder) of seventy-six year old white man L. Shumaker, who's occupation was a farmer. Scott had no real estate or personal property wealth listed; also not uncommon for such a young man.

Curious to see if the more established Pierce had perhaps been in Danville for a while, I searched the 1850 census, but did not find him.

Of course, there may have been other African American barbers in Danville; those that were enslaved. They obviously would not have shown up in the census records.

Danville's small proportion of white men, as previously mentioned, probably had something to do with the limited number of barbers in town. After all, if there are only so many faces to shave and heads of hair to cut, that level of business can only support so much work. But then again, reviewing my previous findings for Staunton (which had a higher percentage of white males than Danville but a similar overall population) the Valley town only had one more barber than Danville. However, Lynchburg (which had a similar proportion of while males as Staunton, but with a population almost twice as large as Danville and Staunton) had eleven barbers who operated there. I think a larger sample size than just two or three towns will be required to make a sound claim.

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