Virginia newspapers are filled with notices of sales, chanceries, runaways, and captured runaways related to African Americans. Some notices do not give a specified Virginia location, but encourage interested persons to "Enquire of the Printer" or list a specific person's name in relation to inquiries regarding the listed sales. A brief and by all means inconclusive list includes the following types of entries; and please note, I tried to keep the spelling and capitalization the same as it was in the ad:
- "A Likely negro fellow, about 22 years of age: Also a boy about 14, and a wench who has been used to the field." (Virginia Herald, Volume 2, Number 53, 5 June 1788 p.4)
- "TO BE SOLD... About FORTY likely Virginia-born NEGROES, consisting of men, women, and children!" (Virginia Herald, Volume 4, Number 181, 18 November 1790, p.4)
- "To be SOLD for Ready Money... A likely Young Negro Wench, that has been brought up to house work: Also her Son, a smart boy, about two years old. Likewise a Negro Man, about 40 years of age, that has been accustomed to work both in the field and in the house." (Virginia Herald, Volume 8, Number 388, 6 November 1794, p.498)
- "A Likely young Negro Woman and Child" (Virginia Herald, Volume 21, Number 1649, 16 June 1807, p1)
- "A Negro Woman and Boy, (Her Child) / The Woman - about 19 years and Boy 3 years old - She is healthy, and accustomed to all kinds of housework" (Virginia Herald, Volume 21, Number 1683, 13 October 1807 p.1)
- "Negroes for Sale: Three MEN - one a waggoner, another a wheelright, and the other a gardener... also, a WOMAN acquainted with house-work, and her child" (Virginia Herald, Volume 21, Number 1693, 17 November 1807, p.3)
- "A Likely Negro Wench, 19 or 20 years old - with her two first Children" and "A Negro Man, about 45 years..." (Virginia Herald, Volume 22, Number 1765, 29 July 1808 p.3)
- "For Sale, a Negro Shoemaker, about 29 years of age, and an excellent workman" (Virginia Herald, Volume 22, Number 1798, 23 November 1808, p.3)
- "Wanted to hire for the ensuring year, a Negro Woman capable of Cooking and Washing for a Small family - For one of the above description who can come well recommended, a generous price will be given" (Virginia Herald, Volume 22, Number 1806, 21 December 1808, p.3)
- "A valuable NEGRO WOMAN, about 17 years of age, and far advanced in pregnancy" and "A Negro Woman and Boy" and "Two young Negro Women" and "A Negro Woman and her two Children" (Virginia Herald, Volume 22, Number 1816, 28 January 1809, p.1)
- "NEGROES for Sale. A VERY likely BOY and GIRL - The Boy is about 14 and the Girl 10 years of age" and "FOR SALE, 2 stout, healthy Negro MEN, Both brought up to the Farming Business and excellent Cradlers. They are also good Sawyers, and one of them a tolerable Shoemaker. They will not be sold out of the state, but are particularly recommended to Farmers in this or the adjoining counties, who may wish to own two such valuable Slaves. They have no Wives, and are not sold for any fault - they are now in their prime, the one thirty-three, and the other thirty-five, years old the present year." (Virginia Herald, Volume 1, Number 20, 6 September 1817, p.1)
- "NOTICE. A Likely NEGRO BOY, aged about 10 or 11 years, for sale." (Virginia Herald, Volume 6, Number 41, 21 May 1823, p.4)
The more pertinent entries you should know about are from Shenandoah County, since this is the basecamp of our study. These include the names of African Americans that ran away from their enslaving plantations:
- in July 1790: "RUN AWAY from Redwell furnace in Shenandoah County, two servant men, about 21 years of age, five feet seven or eight inches high...one a fair complexion, the other marked with the smallpox, of a swarthy complexion; had on trowsers and blue sailor's jackets, felt hats worn..." (Virginia Herald and Frederick Advertiser, Volume 4, Number 161, 1 July 1790 p.4)
- in September 1795: "a mulatto man named BEN, about five feet ten inches high, and about 35 years of age; he is remarkably near sighted. It is probable he will attempt to pass for a freeman. As he took more than one suit of cloths with him, his dress cannot be ascertained." (Virginia Herald and Frederick Advertiser, Volume 9, Number 449, 8 September 1795)
- in September 1805: "TOM, Who absconded.. This fellow is about 21 or 22 years of age, very black, about 6 feet high, weighs about 190 pounds, has a scar on his right arm near his elbow, about the size of a dollar, occasioned by a bore, one other on his left arm near the same place, about the size of a quarter or a dollar, and another on his forehead just above his right eye; is of a downcast look when spoken to, and speaks very slow, with a small degree of assurance. He has a kind of pass, which is a piece of forgery, in which I expect his name is altered; and depends on the same to pass as a free man. This fellow was formerly the property of... Stafford County, and was sold by him to R.S. of the same county, and was sold by S. to J.W. of Shenandoah County, of whom I purchased him." (Virginia Herald, Volume 19, Number 1469, 17 September 1805, p.3)
- in April 1807: "NED, Who is about five feet six or seven inches high, twenty one years of age, of a very dark complexion, has a scar on his left cheek and one across his left hand, and what is very remarkable, he has a white spot on his left ancle. Said Negro, when spoken to has a down cast look." (Virginia Herald, Volume 20, Number 1634, 24 April 1807 p.3)
- in August 1812: "a Negro woman named CLARY of full black colour, and large eyes: about 35 or 40 years of age, clubfooted from her birth, walks like a cripple, but moves as fast as most women. She was bought in March 1788 from... Essex County in this state, and is probably returned thither to see her daughter and to abscond in that neighborhood, or in the neighborhood of Battletown." (Virginia Herald, Volume 26, Number 2185, 26 August 1812, p.4)
Each of these individuals experienced hardships throughout their lives that we couldn't fathom today and that were greater even than those of our own ancestors whose race matched that of the ruling class. Taking into account the corporal punishment evident through scarring, the separation from their own children, the downcast looks that resulted from treatment as an inferior human being, and any mistreatment that is not evident through the physical descriptions provided, these particular individuals also faced some of the life maladies more familiar to us today: myopia, congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), and scarring from lesions caused by the smallpox virus. What happened to Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, and the two men from the furnace? And what happened to the unnamed African Americans that were mentioned in papers from the earliest part of our county's history, 1772-1865?
We can't fully know the hardships they experienced, but their life experiences are no less important than the experiences of Confederate leaders. African Americans like Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, and the two men from the furnace were part of our community once; and they were treated as members of a lower caste system. To choose our community identity based on 4 years of a Civil War and refuse to allow the stories of enslaved African Americans and other minority groups to continue unremembered is a blatant disregard for almost 100 years of our county's history. Those of us that live today did not enslave African Americans like Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, and the two men from the furnace. But, by ignoring their life experiences in this county and by branding our community identity with the celebration of leaders that made the conscientious choice to fight for the continued enslavement and subjugation of African Americans like them, we would prove to be irresponsible in our decisions and indifferent to real truth, justice, and respect for human life.
Week 28: The Loss of Fortune
Minute Book 1791-1796, reveals that on July 1st, a Shenandoah County enslaver brought his enslaved African American, Fortune, before the court for the murder of Sukey, another enslaved individual he owned. During the trial, Fortune claimed he was "in no wise guilty of the crime" (p. 444) and threw himself upon the mercy of the court.
After Fortune's defense statement and various witnesses came forth, the court found him "guilty of murder" and recorded that he be "hanged by the neck until he be dead... on Friday, the 12 day of August much between the hours of ten and four o'clock" (Minute Book 1791-1796:444).
In the same record, Fortune was valued at 80 lbs, which was payable to the owner for the loss of his slave. That's a buying power of nearly $14,400 today. If the enslaver had not brought Fortune to court, he would not have been compensated. On the one hand, this gentleman in the community deemed one man's death more profitable than his living. On the other hand, our county government, with taxpayers' dollars, bought an African American man, just to kill him.
Public hangings and lashings were common practices of colonial and early American law. That said, disparities in criminal justice have not been uncommon in American history. Thousands of people have been wrongfully convicted and killed by capital punishment or endured overly harsh sentencing in our country, in our state, and in our county. In some of these cases, individuals have been exonerated - such as the Virginian Marvin Anderson who was wrongfully convicted in 1982 and exonerated through DNA evidence twenty years later; or had charges dropped - such as with the pastor in Edinburg, Va, that was wrongfully arrested in 2020 (referenced in Week 21: Jacob's Case).
Thankfully, in 2021, capital punishment was abolished in Virginia; but, that doesn't alleviate the sentences issued in the cases of James Scott or Fortune. While the details to these over 200 year old cases are almost entirely lost to history, it appears that on August 12, 1796, an African American man named Fortune was legally lynched in Shenandoah County, just like James Scott would be on November 11, 1803, through the District Court that served our county. When a community has a history of injustice against minority groups, it's imperative for future generations to make decisions that promote equality for all, not just the majority. What would it mean to James Scott or to Fortune to be an American citizen today? What would they claim for community identity? It wouldn't be related to the Confederacy, not only because the CSA was not a reality for Shenandoah County before April 1861, but also because messages of white supremacy and black inferiority were known all too well to these men, especially in their dying breaths.
What do their deaths mean to us today? Are we as indifferent as our court system was in 1796 and 1803 to their suffering or can we choose to promote a community identity that is truly embraceable by all citizens of this county today? Do we honor African Americans that have lived and died in our communities over the county's many generations when we hold the examples of three Confederate leaders as paradigms for good character and just living? Now, answer that from the perspective of James Scott and Fortune.
Week 27: James Scott, A Free Man
At 9 o'clock in the morning on one of the first days of September in 1803, William C. Simmerton was traveling to Sweet Springs along the main road just north of Stoverstown (a.ka. Strasburg), when someone attempted to rob him. According to the Virginia Herald, he had been found in a pool of his own blood, having been clubbed on the head by a hickory stick, and shared his dying words, I've "been robbed by a negro or mulatto man," to two Germans passing by not long after the incident. Thereupon, W. C. Simmerton fainted and was pronounced dead. The only item missing: a large trunk, most likely containing clothes. A pocketbook, including "145 dollars, in bank notes, and 4 dollars and six cents," was still on his person. Upon investigation, Simmerton had declared bankruptcy roughly a year before and was in failing health, hence traveling to the springs for physical benefit.
The magistrate suspected two persons, based on his investigations: a "tall dark mulatto" enslaved on the Hoker plantation and described as someone ill-used in life: one who "stoops much in his walk, is blind of an eye, and was dressed in coarse linen cloaths - carried a budget, and a large club." This unnamed man was on his way to Rockingham County on an undisclosed purpose. A posse was in his pursuit, but he apparently had left the main road.
The second suspect? A free mulatto man known as James Scott, who had lived in Middletown for some time. The magistrate apprehended him on charges of suspicion and put him in jail; however, there was doubt to his guilt, according to S. Kercheval, who reported the incident.
A jury gathered on September 4, 1803 and "pronounced it a most atrocious willful and malicious murder, perpetrated by the hand of a mulatto man, by the information of the deceased, but by what particular person was not known to the jurors." The only person that had seen this man was dead.
All of the above quotes are from page 3 of Vol 16, No 1260 of the Virginia Herald. The Shenandoah County Minute Book, 1800-1803, shares the following information: "At a court called and held at the court house of Shenandoah County, on Monday the 12th day of September 1803 for the examination of James Scott a free mullatto charged with the murder of William C. Simmerton" (p354). Scott, referred to as a prisoner, was brought to the bar and pleaded not guilty.
There were approximately 16 men present at this examination, eight of which were sworn in on behalf of the commonwealth. Their examination was enough to convince the rest of James Scott's guilt, even though the only person that saw what happened was Simmerton, himself, and he was dead. Scott was ordered to remain in Jail until he could be transferred to the District Jail in Winchester. In addition the eight testifying men were recognized and paid $200 each, "conditioned for their personal appearance before the judges of the next District Court" (p. 354).
When the District Court convened, a few weeks later, their records state: "James Scott a free mullatto man and was a slave late of the County of Shenandoah Parish of Beckford labourer who was convicted of murder in the first degree" (Superior Court Order Book, District Court, 1807-1809, Reel 97, p. 198). When pressed for a response from Scott, he shared the same things he had already said. The court pronounced "that he be hanged by the neck until he be dead... on Friday the eleventh of November such between the hours of ten o'clock in the forenoon and in the afternoon of the same day at the usual place of execution and thereupon he is again remained to Jail" (p. 198).
James Scott, based on these records, was guilty of only being a now freed slave, formerly of Shenandoah County. First degree murder is defined as "premeditation and deliberation;" however, the newspaper article would suppose it was an attempted robbery, with the accident of death resulting. That's not first degree murder. In addition, would James Scott have really shared his plans for murder to eight people that could then convict him of it? What was the real reason behind this unfair trial? Why were eight "white" men paid by Shenandoah County's government to convict an African American man of first degree murder? What happened to the other unnamed African American, enslaved on the Hoker plantation? These are questions we have to ponder. The records are piecemeal and share no conclusive reason why James Scott was convicted of first degree murder and hanged.
This situation, as we will see in other trials from Shenandoah County, is not justice. This was a wrongful conviction that demonstrates not only the abuse of the justice system, but also why knowing this history is so important when we define community identity and what we claim as our legacy.
By this time in our research of primary source documents from Shenandoah County, Va, it is quite obvious that the county government was not unaware of the practice of chattel slavery. And even moreso, our county government guaranteed the continuation of slavery prior to the American Civil War due to its practices and decisions. Here, I'm highlighting several examples of sales conducted directly through the county government as indicated especially by ledger entires in various documents.
It's helpful to understand the economic impact slavery had on our government and on the lives of Shenandoah County residents. In 1854, the enslaved individuals of a recently deceased property owner were divided into three lots for sale ranging from $1600 in valuation to $1750 (Will Book 2, pp. 103-104). Those individuals in these three lots with the greatest value were women around the age of 30 at $500. An inflation calculator would assess the purchasing power of $500 in 1854 to a sum of $17,966.43 in 2023. Even a young girl, 3 years old, in Lot No. 1 was deemed a value of $275 in 1854, or $9,881.54 today. It's vital to recognize the kind of numbers we are talking about here, as well as the wealth this insinuates. Slavery was a lucrative business for wealthy property owners in Shenandoah County. And as we have already seen in the sale of enslaved children from a property owner in the Mount Jackson area, women of child-bearing age were especially valued due to their ability to increase the wealth of the enslaving family. An example of this is a March 1840 appraisement, which included Hannah, a female slave, 43 years of age and valued at $175 (Will Book V, p. 328) or $6,071.41 today; as well as her children:
- Jack, 20 and $600 or $20,816.28 today;
- Minta, 25 and $367 or $12,732.62 today;
- Monique, 17, and worth $575 or $19,948.93 today, and her child George born on October 14, 1839 (also, Hannah's grandchild), no worth;
- Harriet, 14 and $300 or $10,408.14 today;
- William, 10 and $350 or $12,142.83;
- Sally, 3 and $158 or $5,481.62.
In addition to the six children listed here, Hannah also had grandchildren through her daughter Minta:
- Nancy, 6 and $206 or $7,146.92;
- Ben, 5 and $225 or $7,806.10;
- John, 2 and $116 or $4,024.48.
From Hannah, this property owner amassed what would be a purchasing power in 2023 of $100,507.92 through her children and grandchildren.
These primary source documents have recorded inventories and sales; and sometimes, the recordation of credit: "Ordered that it be Certified to the Auditors... credit for Seven Young Slaves under the age of 16 years..." Another entry shows the amounts given to two different persons, after the sale of three enslaved individuals: "1/2 of the Negroes, Ann, Caroline, & Fortune... $325.50" (Will Book 1, p. 306) and the other 1/2 in the same amount given to someone of the same last name as the first entry. The purchasing power of these sales: almost $12,000, each.
Often similar accountings are listed according to year for purchases made by or through the Shenandoah County government. These include entries such as:
- "By Sale of Negro... $355" on 30 September 1850 (Will Book 1, p. 20)
- cash received for a "Negro man" on 19 June 1851 (Will Book 1, p. 405)
- sale of a "Negro woman and child" (Will Book Y, p. 498)
- "for hire of Wesley" (Will Book V, p. 142), who was appraised in the inventory of J.C. as "1 Negro boy ... $300" (Will Book V, p. 132)
- "By Rent of land & hire of Negro this year... $45" (Will Book 1, p. 36, et alia) on May 1st in 1846, 1847, 1848, 1849, 1850. In 1844, the listing on 1 May is for "Hire of Negro Woman... $20" (Will Book 1, p. 36) through the county's accounting records.
In previous letters, I've mentioned some of the names I've come across in Will Books, Minute Books, and Deed Books, but in actuality there are hundreds of African American individuals that have been appraised, sold, and traded through the County of Shenandoah - their first names, ages, gender, race, and values scrawled in handwriting on worn pages. Their voices were not heard when they were alive, but their memories are preserved in these pages and provide the reminder that although unmentioned in the widely accepted historical narrative of Shenandoah County today, (as mentioned in Week 19: Racial Classifications) they are a part of the county's history, too. And they need to be remembered when creating public spaces that capture community identity, today.
Week 25: The American Cause
In the 1781-1785 Minute Book for Shenandoah County, there is an odd entry regarding a community member of European descent "being bound over to this County for speaking words inimicable to the American Cause" (p. 11). When he refused to pay the proposed fine, he was thrown in jail.
This situation opens a lot of questions. What was the American Cause? With American independence, colonies were left without a unifying governing body. How would they tackle some of the most pressing issues of the day, such as already deteriorating relationships with the Indigenous Peoples, enslavement of Africans and management of a large class of indentured servants, and defining ways of being for those deemed citizens of this new entity? What of protection and provision, not only for families, but also communities? Governing, like leading a business or a non-profit or any type of agency that draws people together, is a balancing act. Different generations have highlighted different causes and different ways to address challenges often in deeply traumatic moments in time - these haven't always been the same, nor played out smoothly, but at the core of such decisions are human relationships and survival.
In The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Joseph Ellis shares the definition of The Cause as "a conveniently ambiguous label that provided a verbal canopy under which a diverse variety of political and regional persuasions could coexist, then change shape or coloration when history threw choices at them for which they were unprepared" (2021:xii). Even during the time period of this revolution or opposition to change, depending on the perspective, issues of "the end of the property qualification to vote, the expansion of women's rights, a gradual emancipation program to end slavery" (2021:xii) existed and were deferred. The focus was on unity over this single Cause of independence. And the unity was centered on what New Englanders, Virginians, colonists defined as what they were opposed to, not what they stood for. Ellis shares: "prepared to block any hostile takeover from above by any aspiring dictator or domestic version of British tyranny, [America was] incapable of decisive action at the national level to face or resolve the two embedded tragedies of slavery and Native American genocide in slow motion" (2021:325). In many ways the growth of America has been bumbling toward this acknowledgement of what America stands for.
I think it's important to be as informed as one can be about the challenges in the world today. That said, I also recognize that it's just as important to recognize the trajectory of history, because without that understanding, especially as it relates to specific countries, communities, and peoples, it's difficult to know where our various systems need alteration to be more inclusive and more equitable for all citizens. In the case of America, if we define the American Cause based on The Declaration of Independence and the trajectory of our country over the generations as human rights for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," we immediately have to ask: for whom? If it is for all American citizens, the answer would change like a sliding scale according to the historical time period, because of the laws defining citizenship in our country, as well as the social expectations and implicit stereotypes that have developed in even well meaning individuals and communities.
For the enslaved African, did America consider his or her "life, liberty," or "pursuit of happiness" prior to the 13th & 14th Amendments? For Indigenous Peoples, who had known this land long before the first European settlers arrived, did America consider them prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965? For women, prior to the 19th Amendment?
As we have been seeing over the last few weeks in examining the history of the place I know best in America, which is Shenandoah County, Va, without a clear understanding of what has happened here, leaders make poor decisions that distort a community formed for all American citizens, into a sliding scale community still caught up at one point in history with unequal representation and messages that connote biased views on human rights. The vote in July 2020 to retire public schools names that continued to resound the message of the Lost Cause narrative and the stalemate vote in 2022 which kept the new names, were examples in moving toward a community that supports and empowers all American citizens in Shenandoah County, Va - regardless of our differences in ancestry, affiliations, and affinities. The names Mountain View and Honey Run were chosen to create the canopy Ellis mentioned in The Cause - one that brings together "a diverse variety of political and regional persuasions" for our communities.
Tithable is a word common in the earliest documents of Shenandoah County, then Dunmore County. It refers to taxable individuals residing in the colony, county, or parish in which the levy is collected. Or, more precisely, according to historian John Robb, "the term 'tithable' is... a person who appears on a county tax list either by name or enumeration as a nonexempt county tithable" (2022). While the details of tithables changed over time, Shenandoah County's Minute Book from 1781-1785 reveals a discussion about distinguishing tithables vs. slaves, which roughly corresponds with changes to the tax system of personal property that occurred in 1782 by The General Assembly of Virginia. More specifically, the said minute book states: "ordered that the same Gent who took the lists of Tithables last year, also take the lists this year... of all Slaves whatsoever distinguishing Tithable Slaves from others, also of all White Tithables above twenty one. Horses, Cattle, Wheels, Ordinary Licences. Also the lists for the County vs. Parish Levy. The said lists to be taken before the 10th next month" (p. 99).
This opens a lot of questions. I'm focusing on the fact that both the County and the Parish in Shenandoah County prior to the American Civil War, benefited financially from the legal practice of slavery and incorporated constructs of race in our laws with the usage of "Tithable Slaves" vs. "White Tithables," which reveals the social assumption that there is a race difference between "Slaves" and "Whites." The leaders, landowners, and often ministers in our community were not ignorant of "distinguishing Tithable Slaves from others" and they openly discussed, publicly posted about, and benefited from what we deem as an unconstitutional act today.
The County complied with the law. Tithables that were not recorded could result in a hefty fine not only for the person that failed to list all their taxable property, but also for the justice of the county government in which the oversight took place. According to William Hening's The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, the act of 1780 in Virginia made taxable "every free male person, above the age of twenty-one years, who shall be a citizen of this commonwealth, and also upon all slaves, to be paid by the owners thereof, except such free persons and slaves as shall be exempted on application to the respective county courts through age or infirmity" (Vol. X, p. 501). The act of 1783 further clarified the county's rights to tax: "nothing... shall be construed to prevent the several county courts from causing lists to be taken of all free male tithables, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one years, and of imposing taxes upon all such for the purpose of county or parish levies" (Vol. XI, p. 196). These are legislature compounded on Virginia's act of 1748, which in addition to listing those persons exempt from taxes (including sheriffs), had previously guided our county's justices to claim as taxable: "all male persons of the age of sixteen years and upwards, and all negroe, mulatto, and Indian women of the same age, except Indians tributary to this government and all wives of free negroes, mulattoes, and Indians..."
Slavery was also well known in churches all across the United States of America, both in the North and in the South, not only by records but even by arrangement of the buildings themselves. In the article "Slavery and the Church," Michael Wills shares findings by Jennifer Oast, who studied slave-owning Presbyterian churches in Prince Edward County, Virginia: "some churches were key parts of the slave system. They provided moral and theological legitimacy for slavery and could be deeply invested in it themselves." Oast reports on slave-jobbing, or profiting from the hiring out of enslaved individuals even in Virginia churches, as well as ultimately benefiting financially from the sale of enslaved individuals. The Episcopal Church also discusses its involvement in the profit off of slavery in "Black and White Race in American Denominations" by A.G. Miller. "As slavery lessened its grip in the northern states and entrenched itself in the southern ones, the sentiment towards slavery shifted in the southern states to a 'necessary evil'. Many black and white abolitionists emerged in the early 1820-30s to put pressure on the slave system - challenging it on biblical grounds." Miller continues, "many southerners pushed back with justifications for slavery from their interpretation of the Bible" and reminds us that the Methodist church divided over the issue of slavery in 1844; the Baptist, in 1845; and the Presbyterian, in 1861. All time periods that remind us that Jackson, Lee, and Ashby, as well as similar CSA generals, leaders, and soldiers, would have known about the division on Biblical interpretation of slavery and seen just as many supporters for abolition as supporters for the Southern Cause. Instead, they took up a mantle similar to the slave-owners, who are quoted in "Kind but Blind: Southern Churches and Slavery, 1850s" by Bible Mesh: "in the management of negroes...the time for brute force is past, and men must admit that there is another way to make negroes contented and profitable - a way which, while it improves the moral status of the negro, will strengthen the hold of the master upon him." Bible Mesh continues: "Another owner used Luke 12:47 to prove slaves should obey their master - 'That's Scripter!' Why waste a whip, when one could just as easily crack the Word of God?" And so, as we know, Jackson used scripture to keep enslaved African Americans in their place. Some say it was compassion; many more say it was about control.
One more quick note, specific to the physicality of race in the church, because it's important to know and will resonate with those that have attended or currently attend churches in Shenandoah County, Va, especially those built before the American Civil War or soon after it. Many southern churches built in the time periods I mentioned have balconies, which were used as slave galleries. Reported examples of these churches are also in North Carolina, Maryland, and even New York - so it happened all over the USA. African Americans would be required to sit in the back, in the balcony, or give up their seats to white congregants should that need arise. As Pastor Graebner in the North Carolina church linked above reminds us, segregation was spatial and spiritual. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, even by the 1950s, famously noted, "the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." A sentiment that still rings true in America today.
During a special service marking the emancipation of enslaved individuals the pastor of St. Mark's (the Maryland church link listed above), Rev. Weatherholt said in 2014, while standing in its church's slave gallery, "What was intended to degrade and separate, uplift as a holy place in memory of those persons segregated by color, class or status. Restore us, Good Lord, and place in our hearts the spirit of true reconciliation so that all might live together as brothers and sisters, no longer divided, no longer separated."
And this is what I'm getting at for Shenandoah County's public school names. Regardless of the intention, with the horrific historical realities of slavery, of genocide, of segregation in America, in Virginia, in Shenandoah County, holding onto names that negate reconciliation and peace and that whisper to even one community member the message of segregation, of inferiority, of disingenuous Christian love, is not right. Reverting the public school names to those of Confederate leaders is a step away from the reconciliation, away from the peace, and away from the equality that the Constitution of the United States of America even now continues to amble toward.
In the 1800-1803 Minute Book of Shenandoah County, Va, a free African American was inspected by the court to verify he actually was free. "Register No. 10 of free Negro George Banster being, inspected by the court is ordered to be certified to be truly made" (p. 364). On the same page, follows register 11 for "free Negro Benjamin Banster" and register 12 for "free Negro William Banster" with similar wording.
Another historical example of official registration for free African Americans is in the same county's 1806-1810 Minutes Book: "Register 37 of Free Negro George Bird, being brought into court and the said George being inspected it is decided that the same be certified truly made, the said George having made satisfactory proof of his being free" (1806:43). Page 203 holds another registration: "Sally Smith, a free mulatto woman being inspected by the court, & satisfactory proof being made to the court that she is free, it is ordered that the same be certified as truly made."
As of 1803, Virginia General Assembly required registration of free "Negro" or "mulatto" persons with local court clerks. Along with a registration number and the person's name, such records often included distinguishing marks or scars, age, stature or current health, and gender, as well. The free person was required by law to carry a registration document verifying his or her status as free; not unlike the documents authorizing an enslaved person to travel away from the plantation on which s/he was enslaved. In a March 2013 article on The Uncommon Wealth: Voices from the Library of Virginia, entitled "History Restored: Free Negro Registers Conserved," Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney writes, "It was a criminal offense to not be registered... Times of great societal fear about a locality's black population would often result in an increase in both registrations and prosecutions for being unregistered... The free Negro registers were thus both instruments of control over the free black population of the state but also a safeguard of an individual's free status should it ever be challenged."
In Shenandoah County, Va, as of 1830, approximately 2% of the population consisted of free African Americans, with a total population for African Americans at 14.5%. The history of Virginia legislation clearly demarcates why the population of free African Americans was so low.
- In 1793, the Virginia legislature made it illegal for free African Americans to enter the state (Rodriguez 1999:243).
- By 1806, anyone manumitted was required to leave the state within one year according to Virginia law (Rodriguez 1999:253), which was further amended in 1851 to include re-enslavement if they did not comply (Rodriguez 1999:322).
- The Virginia assembly consistently enacted legislation that supported colonization plans to return former enslaved individuals to Africa in 1800, 1802, 1805, and 1816 (Rodriguez 1999:248); and approved a resolution in 1805 that called on the U.S. Congress to create a new territory in the upper Louisiana Purchase in which free African Americans could settle (Rodriguez 1999:252).
- In 1848, Virginia law required postmasters to inform local police when pro-abolition literature arrived at the post office and then surrender said material, which was burned by authorities (Rodriguez 1999:322).
- By 1860, Virginia legislation made it legal for free African Americans to be sold into slavery as punishment for committing acts that would normally lead only to imprisonment (Rodriguez 1999:346).
I shared some of these in The Cost of Freedom in 1840 letter, so they should look familiar and bring to mind laws in our local government and in our state shaped by the social constructs of racial bias. To give a clearer example for comparison: in 1806, the formerly enslaved "Negro" Aaron was issued a Deed of Emancipation from W. F, which was verified by no less than two other witnesses. Aaron, "being inspected by the court," was "ordered to be certified as under the age of twenty five and healthy" (1806:11). Notice the lack of a registration number, because in 1806, Aaron would have had to leave Virginia within one year, thus he would not be registered in Virginia. It's important to note that landowning citizens, with European ancestry, were not issued Deeds of Emancipation nor Registered as Free. Their freedom was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And when landowning citizens of European ancestry established themselves in America, they were not forced by law to leave certain states because of their melanin count, unlike Aaron.
Understanding this part of our county's history is important for the decisions we make today. Without this awareness, our votes and our choices become tactless.
The requirements for a primary or secondary teacher's recertification in Virginia include several specialized training modules. One is the Cultural Competency Training, which was added in 2021. This training stresses strengths based pedagogy to "provide all students with opportunities to learn in environments that stimulate intellectual curiosity and engagement." The Virginia Department of Education includes the following statement in Cultural Competency Training: "Across the Commonwealth, students enter classrooms with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and cultures. These differences provide us with opportunities to celebrate learning from and about each other with the central goal of making sure every student realizes his or her true potential." Throughout this module it stresses building trust through community engagement.
Another required training module was developed through Old Dominion University regarding Regulations Governing the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Elementary and Secondary Schools in Virginia. Throughout the training, the following is stressed: "School should be a safe and healthy environment in which America's children can learn, develop, and participate in instructional programs that promote high levels of academic achievement." One of the key components of creating safe and supportive school environments is maintaining social-emotional well-being so that everyone feels "free from perceived or actual risk" at school and school-related events. In addition to physical safety, the module stresses the importance of respect for diversity. The goal for this module was in recognizing the need to create trauma-sensitive schools, or places where "all students feel safe, welcomed, and supported, and where addressing trauma's impact on learning on a school-wide basis is at the center of its educational mission," because these are safe and supportive environments. The training module includes strategies for resolving conflict, acknowledgement of common triggers, and the importance of communicating dignity, respect, and consistency.
Now, why am I sharing this? I attended my son's very first Track and Field meet this week at North Fork Middle School (NFMS). It was hosted by Mountain View High School (MVHS). I'm extremely grateful for the time, preparation, and support of the children that the coaches, the MVHS track students, and other community volunteers put into the event. So much diverse parental and community involvement was required for this meet to happen. But, as I sat down on the bleachers and as I watched my son compete in five events, none of this was on my mind. Instead, I was all too cognizant of something else: a large sign that read "Stonewall Jackson High School" with the old Generals logo that was originally designed as a Confederate soldier flying a Confederate flag. Someone had placed it strategically against the chain-link fence near the MVHS track students and in such a way that it greeted the entrance to the track area from NFMS. After my son finished competing, I returned to my car and I cried, heartbroken by the continued harassment against community members like me that raised their voices three years ago for public school names that better aimed for what the teacher recertification training aims at: diversity, equality, safety, sociol-emotional well-being, positive experiences, welcome and safe school environments.
When I saw that sign, one word rose in my gut: oppression. Thomas Jackson, Robert Lee, and Turner Ashby fought for legalized oppression. And it continues to linger even today.
For Christians, today is Good Friday. Other observances for today: the Second Day of Passover, the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and Tutsi Genocide Memorial Day, Student Government Day, Mozambican Woman's Day, and Health Day. As a Christian, I have been reflecting this Lenten season on Jesus' example in the world. Would Jesus have been a pro-Confederacy advocate? Would he have fought to enslave African Americans? Would he have walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights time period? Would he have donned a hood and rode with the KKK to intimidate African Americans in the community? Would he have kept schools segregated? Would he have taunted his community members by keeping signs at the ready for anyone to access and reuse at their whim to make an unnecessary point? I can't speak for Jesus. But many of these people who did enslave African Americans, who did ride with the KKK, who did segregate schools, and who are harassing their fellow community members are Christians.
I hold the School Board responsible for this situation and I ask them to do what they promised to do three years ago: really retire the names Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School and continue to commit to retiring these names.
Week 21: Jacob's Case
During the early part of our county's formation, court cases were recorded in our county's minute books. Sometimes, such cases required further investigation, continuing to Winchester; other times, the county officials determined the case and punishment, if there was one. July 12th, 1779, was just such an example for an enslaved African American named Jacob.
"At a Call Court held for Shanando County... for the Examination of Jacob a Negro Fellow the property of J...P... who stands committed to the common Goal of this County. Charged on suspicion of attempting to commit a Rape on the Body of S...B... widow... at night" (Minute Book 1774-1780, p.105).
Jacob, an enslaved African American, was brought to court because of suspicion, not because of an actual crime. The four men of European descent that were present to try the case (one of whom is the person taking the minutes) examined Jacob, the widowed woman, and three other men. Jacob "declares he is not Guilty of the charge" and then "charge" is crossed out with "crime he" replacing it before continuing: "stands charged with." So, Jacob is brought to court due to suspicion, which is elevated to a crime in this county. But it doesn't stop there. If Jacob were actually guilty, they most likely would have killed him by hanging. The fact that he was not means there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
"Tis the Opinion of the Court that the Fact is not fully proved but that he receive 39 lashes on his bear back well laid on and Discharged and that he receive 39 lashes on his bare Back every time he shall be seen off his masters Plantation from Twelve month and one day from this date without a pass from his said Master" (Minute Book 1774-1780, p.105).
This case teaches us: if you are suspected of a crime in Shenandoah County and African American, even if you claim you are not guilty, you are still guilty. A surmise that also occurred for a different matter in 2020, when an African American minister, who defended himself from a white mob that had tried to illegally dump an appliance on his property by pulling his registered gun in order to keep them from committing the injuries to himself that they were verbalizing, was arrested by the police that he called. Why? They didn't see an angry white mob. They saw a black man with a gun. It took time in prison and a court case for this African American man to prove his innocence in the situation. But the harm was already done.
When we allow our biased preferences to lead our decisions, it doesn't end well - especially when a community has a history of mistreating people based on skin color. We might not mean to, we will say, but that is when we must remember Jacob, who was punished even though he wasn't guilty of a crime, and remember this African American minister. It is easier to make laws, school names, and infrastructure decisions based on the rights of all people, rather than put ourselves in a situation of apology.
As we will continue to see, in terms of the school names, when our southern campus secondary school - a school, along with the county's two other high schools, made for only white children - was named Stonewall Jackson High School on January 12, 1959, the harm was done. Let's not repeat that mistake.
Week 20: Whose Control?
Minute books provide a historical record of key decisions and actions taken by a business, corporation, or governing body. Shenandoah County's minute books are housed in the Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Woodstock, VA. A plethora of names, numbers, and notes results. As we saw in last week's reflection on racial classifications, the minute books prior to 1865 highlight the racial distinction of Africans and African Americans. Here are some examples:
From Minute Book, 1774-1780, "Order that the Church Warden bind out a Mulatto Girl named Jane in the possession of... untill she attain the age of Eighteen Years" (p. 4). Another binding out occurred for "a mulatto boy, Peter Brown" (p. 21).
Prior to 1864, Overseers of the Poor were responsible for binding out poor, orphaned, or homeless "white" children. The Virginia Constitution of 1864 included African Americans to the responsibilities of that role; however, before that time, the local government designated the act of binding out African American children. In colonial Virginia, which is the time period of these minute book entries, binding out was often done by the Anglican vestryman. This entry doesn't share what the indenture was for; however, boys were usually taught a trade (blacksmithing, shoemaking, masonry, etc) or animal husbandry (a.k.a. farming) and girls were typically domestic servants. The length of a child's indenture was most predominantly ten years. If that is true for Jane, she was at least 8 years old at the time of this recordation, but younger than 18, since that is the end of her servitude.
Our county government knowingly indentured children at this time of our county's history. Since this is before Social Services, accountability was at the discretion of the host family; and, literacy (particularly for girls) was not a required part of any "training."
Another entry in Minute Book 1774-1780 shares: "the Court being informed that Jackson Allen of this County have and made of his Negroes free; And that he be sum[moned] to app[ear] at the next court so the Cause why they should not be sold according to an Act of Assembly in that case made and provided" (p. 19). Later in Minute Book 1781-1785, the court recorder wrote these lines: "Upon motion of Jackson Allen Ordered that Sidney and Dinah two Female Slaves now his property be emancipated and entirely set free agreeable to an Act of Assembly for that purpose made and provided" (p.167).
While we can celebrate that Allen had the wherewithal to emancipate Sidney and Dinah, it's also important to note that not only did the county government question Allen's right to do so, but made him appear in court to explain why they should be made free. In addition, we have to remember that state law would require both women to leave Virginia upon their emancipation. How old were these women? Did they have other family members they would be forced to leave? What happened to them? This is also true for a negro man named Dick, who was emancipated in the 1781-1785 Minute Book (p. 126).
These names and experiences remind us of the introductory letter by Bishop Mallalieu in Bethany Veney's narrative, in which he states: "If we could know perfectly the inner life of almost any person; if we could only know the hopes and fears and loves and heartaches; if we could only know the conflicts, the defeats, the victories of the soul, - we should see that the humblest and most uneventful life is more thrillingly wonderful than any romance that was ever written. All this is emphatically true of thousands upon thousands born and reared in slavery" (1889:2).
The will books and minute books we have been examining were all written by land-owning men, who would mark "White" on any ethnic survey today. They controlled what was preserved and from whose perspective it was preserved. Anyone that deviated from the normal acts of the assembly were questioned, which is one way in which societal standards and expectations came into existence.
And it's equally important to remember for all the names of African Americans mentioned in our county's primary source documents, many more will never be known. Their unmarked graves and once spoken names quietly linger around us as we experience even the most quotidian tasks of the day. They were human beings, worthy of remembrance as much as Thomas Jackson or Robert Lee or Turner Ashby, if not moreso, because they were born in and lived in our county. Many of our community's African American ancestors even died in our beloved Shenandoah, even though our local government saw them first only as chattel property, whose very being could be controlled at will.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over seven years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.