Saturday, December 29, 2018

Gettysburg's Black Barber in 1860

I've been reading Margaret S. Creighton's excellent book, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg's Forgotten History - Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War's Defining Battle, and happened across an interesting comment. In her research, she found a comment from someone that mentioned something to the effect that after the battle they could not find a waiter to serve a meal or a barber for a haircut or shave.

Why were there so few black people in Gettysburg, well, Creighton does a fantastic job of explaining that story. During the Army of Northern Virginia's invasion of Pennsylvania the Confederates purposely sought out and captured African Americans with the intention of taking them back to the Confederate states for laborers or to sell.

Gettysburg's geographical location, being in southern Pennsylvania, only a few miles from slaveholding Maryland, ensured frequent visits by slave catchers during the decades before the Civil War. The black people who came to call Gettysburg home, whether free or fugitive, felt constant threats of becoming slaves by hook or crook. When these black people heard about Gen. Lee's invasion and that they were taking blacks prisoners, most African Americans fled to more safe points to the north. Harrisburg, the state capital, was a particularly popular landing spot.

In the book Creighton explains that Gettysburg's black population in 1860 included some 200 souls. I was curious to see if there were black barbers among their inhabitants. So, last evening I spent a few minutes scrolling through the 60 pages of the town's manuscript census.

African Americans claimed several occupations in Gettysburg in 1860. There were blacksmiths, shoemakers, day laborers, servants, a brick maker, a confectioner, a janitor, a hostler, a teamster, among several other jobs, and a few with no listed occupations. However, I only found one barber: Solomon Steevens.

Steevens appears in the 1860 census as a 35 year old black man who had personal property worth $50.00 and was born in Pennsylvania. In Stevens's household were his wife, Elizabeth (31) born in Maryland, sons David (14) and George (5), daughters Aletha (7), Sarah (3), and Ellenora (8 mo.). All of the children were born in Pennsylvania, and eldest son David attended school during the 1860 year.

I was unable to find Solomon Steevens in the 1870 census to see if carried on his pre-war occupation into the Reconstruction years. If anyone has additional information on Solomon or his family, I would be most interested to learn more about his story.

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