Thursday, December 13, 2018

LOST - My Free Papers

When I come across these types of advertisements while browsing historic newspapers I always try to share them, because they tell important stories. Individuals such as George Valentine, Mary Brown, Richard Newsome, and here Margaret James, all misplaced their certificates of freedom and likely fretted over their return. Most of them offered rewards for the safe return of the precious documents.

This particular advertisement ran in the Richmond Enquirer on October 4, 1864. I'm always curious to find out more about these individuals from available census records. In this case, however, it is a bit more difficult.

Much like Mary Brown, above, Margaret James, being such a common name, produces at least two possibilities in the 1860 census. Interestingly, they both lived in Richmond's Second Ward and were born within about five years of each other.

One Margaret James, a 24 years old domestic, lived in the household of Robert and Ellen James, likely her parents. Robert was listed as a "driver," probably meaning a wagon driver. All of the James family (2 sisters and a brother) are listed as mulatto and were all born in Virginia.

The other Margaret James, 19 years old with the occupation of "servant," lived in the household of Benjamin Davis, a white man, who was born in England and is listed as a "trader." Yes, Benjamin Davis was a slave trader. Margaret was noted as black. Interestingly, another African American woman, a mulatto, Alice Maning, 13 years old, and also listed as a "servant," lived in the Davis household, too. Both James and Maning were born in Virginia.

Being that he was a slave trader with seeming access to any type of laborer he could want, it seems somewhat curious that Davis would employ two free black women as servants rather than use enslaved individuals. Davis also appears in the 1860 slave schedules as the owner of five slaves. They consisted of one 40 year old mulatto male and four black females ages 30, 35, 19, and 60. Perhaps Davis believed he was able to be more profitable selling slaves and employing free women. Yet another conundrum of the "peculiar institution."

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