Monday, February 27, 2017

Try to Make His Way into the Enemy's Lines

Back about twenty years ago I worked in Bristol, Tennessee, as a branch manger for a car rental company. At that time we covered a rather large geographical market which included a good part of southwest Virginia. I probably spent almost as much time building business referral networks in that part of the Old Dominion as I did in our own backyard. Doing so afforded me the opportunity to often visit the historic towns and villages of the area. Places like Abingdon, Saltville, and Glade Springs retained much of their nineteenth century feel and I always enjoyed looking at the historic homes and buildings when I visited these environs.

When I found editions of the Abingdon Virginian from 1862 through 1864 digitized on the "Chronicling America" database from the Library of Congress, I wondered what I might find with a little browsing. In the December 19, 1862, issue the above runaway slave advertisement caught my eye.

In the notice, Stuart, Buchanan, and Company posted a $25 reward for the capture of Abram, who absconded on November 14, 1862. As the ad mentions, Abram was owned by a Colonel I. N. Clarkson. The enslaved man was likely leased to the Stuart and Buchanan firm as a laborer. Stuart and Buchanan owned the salt production facilities at Saltville in neighboring Smyth County. These entrepreneurs purchased this vital industrial location in the fall of 1861, and soon thereafter signed a contract with the Confederate government to produce a determined quota of salt per month. The firm churned out millions of bushels of salt during the war years. The Stuart part of the company was William A. Stuart, the older brother of famous Confederate cavalryman, J.E.B. Stuart. The horse soldier had other relations in the area as well and had briefly attended nearby Emory and Henry College as a youth before moving on to West Point for his formal education

A great deal of the labor intensive work, which consisted of chopping wood for fuel and transporting the saline rich water to enormous vats for the boiling process to get the salt, was produced by enslaved individuals like Abram.

As the advertisement mentions, Abram had been purchased the previous summer in Charleston, South Carolina, apparently by Col. Clarkson. I am not sure if Clarkson's was an actual military title or a social title. It was common for wealthy Southerners to be called Colonel, Captain, or Major, whether they had served in the military or not. Stuart and Buchanan's notice offered a traditional physical description of the runaway, as well as what Abram was remembered wearing in effort to help potential captors identify the man. They also gave a brief personality identification of Abram as "intelligent." Finally, they offered their view on where Abram may be headed. They thought that he "will, most likely, try to make his way into the enemy's line," as so many other Virginia slave had done in 1862.

This small newspaper advertisement reminds us how vital slave labor was to the new Confederate nation. Without laborers such as Abram, there is little doubt that those type of services would have suffered or required white men to do them, which would have deprived the army of soldier manpower. When slave like Abram started making their way to the Union lines it served as double negative to the Confederates: It not only deprived Southerners of needed labor, it also added workers to the Union's manpower pool. It was (at least in part) the Confederacy's use of slave labor to continue the war that swayed the Union Congress to evolve toward the idea of military emancipation, Lincoln's issuing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, and final Proclamation a couple of weeks after this notice ran.

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