In 1866, the following handwritten notice is included in Shenandoah County's Freedmen's Bureau folder: "At a meeting of the colored citizens of Woodstock, held the 5th day of February 1866, the following preamble and resolution was unanimously adopted. - Whereas the Shenandoah Herald, a paper published in this place... has up to the date of the last issue published matter prejudicial to our race and to our progress in education and respectability, therefore Be it resolved that... they are hereby appointed a committee to wait upon the Editors of said paper and to politely and respectfully request them to desist from any further publication of such matter and to report in writing, their reply to this request as early as possible."
An earlier letter (Week 32: Fear of 'Negro Equality') addressed the perspective of African Americans in our community via local newspapers in 1865. Today, we look at excerpts specifically from Shenandoah Herald to see the perspective to which our African American neighbors are referring. I'm only sharing those issues that are available online, thus all of the excerpts are dated in the same year, but following the above notice.
- "The great iron gates of the Union are about to be thrown open for the admission of the 'outside barbarians,' niggers and all... Mr. Stevens is in favor of admitting our unbleached 'American citizens of African 'scent' first, as they have never been 'outlawed' by his committee. Having rested his weary head upon the bosom of a sooty daughters of Ham for many years, Mr. Stevens believes the negro to be more 'civilized' than the white people of the South" (Vol 1, No 38, 28 June 1866, p.2)
- "In regard to the blacks, the President says they will find work enough, and for many years to come probably better remuneration than any other class of agricultural laborers in the country. The competition of capitalists and land-holders will insure good treatment and good pay from the planters. That there will be much disorder is to be expected; but there will be no more than there would be at the North were the number of black laborers sufficiently numerous to enter into serious rivalry with the white laborers" (Vol 1, No 43, 2 August 1866, p.1).
- "Our radical brethren in this country have recently made a grand discovery relative to the negro race, that throws the researches of the Ethnological Society of Great Britain in the shade - a discovery that refutes all the stern facts given to the world by Livingstone, Anderson, and other explorers of the wilds of Africa. - They have discovered that the negro race is as susceptible of high intellectual and moral development as any other; and they intend to coax him out of the 'pig sty' by investing him with one of the most sacred privileges that man can enjoy in his highest condition of civilization and enlightenment, - the elective franchise. - Give the negroes, - many thousands of whom are scarcely half civilized, and are utterly incompetent to understand the simplest rudiments of civil government, much less its more intricate workings, - and he will come out of the 'pig-sty' a renewed, regenerated and elevated begin. If the 'Ehiopian' cannot 'change his skin,' the right to vote in obedience to the directions of radical teaching will change his whole moral being! Blessed is the man that first invented negro suffrage!" (Vol 2, No 2, 18 October 1866, p. 2)
- "...it is well known that negroes commit three-fourths of the crimes perpetrated in the district. In fact, they keep the machinery of the courts in perpetual motion. Yet the Freedmen's Bureau is of so benevolent a composition that it takes Government money, or rather the people's money to keep these colored citizens out of the... penitentiary" (Vol 2, No 2, 18 October 1866, p. 2)
- In giving a report on Wendell Phillips, a Northern representative speaking to his party: "Speaking of the constitutional amendment, he denounced the insertion of the word 'males' as 'a libel on the nineteenth century.' He would of course include women, black and white, mulatto and ginger-bread brown, under the head of 'citizens,' and give them the glorious privilege of voting" (Vol 2, No 3, 25 October 1866, p.2)
- a reprinted article, "The Submission of the South," from the Baltimore Transcript states: "Mr. Lincoln once declared that he feared, after the war was over, that Congress would have to take action to compel the Southern people to send representatives to that body. How little did he foresee what has been the actual truth... Instead of a countumacious spirit on the part of the South there has been the most entire and universal submission to the authority of the Government,... the ratification of the abolition of their slave property, involving the sacrifice of four thousand millions of dollars; the repudiation of the Confederate war debt; the acknowledgment of the supremacy of the United States, and of he indissoluble character of the American Union; the enactment of laws to protect the rights of every citizen, whether white or black" (Vol 2, No 3, 25 October 1866, p.2).
- "Our radical neighbor evidently means that the Southern people should adopt the constitutional amendment recommended by the joint committee and adopted by Congress at its last session, by which they would choose between negro suffrage and virtual disfranchisement for themselves.... We deny that the proposed amendment is 'the expressed will of the nation' until it shall have been ratified by three-fourths of all the States constituting the 'nation' ...and the South shall resist it after it shall have been incorporated in the constitution..." (Vol 2, No 5, 8 November 1866, p.2).
- editorial comment on an excerpt from The Christian Advocate: "Indeed, they are in strict accordance with the whole theory of the radical party, that the negro race is the political and social equal of the white. Teh Advocate is for putting this radical idea into practice.... Let a few more of the northern States, now under bondage to this relentless party, choose negroes to make their laws, and we shall soon be told that it is the 'expressed will of the nation' and that it is the duty of the South to 'submit' to it!" (Vol 2, No 6, 15 November 1866, p.2)
- "As we before stated, in voting on the amendment, the southern States will virtually choose between negro suffrage and non-representation. If they shall adopt the amendment and 'establish negro suffrage,' they will count the negro population in the apportionment of representation; but if they reject the amendment, the negro population is not so counted... If we refuse to conform to the requirements of our radical task-masters, they will deprive the rebels, so-called, of all participation in the government, and give their birth-right to the negroes..." (Vol 2, No 7, 22 November 1866, p.2)
- "A fair by the Colored People, Of this place, will be held during the coming holidays, the proceeds to be applied in repairing the house used by the colored people as a church and for erecting a pulpit in the same. Aunt Mary, the head-centre, requests us to respectfully invite the white citizens to contribute to their enterprise, that they may have a comfortable place to worship in this winter. We believe this to be a laudable purpose, and as they appeal to us, and not to our enemies, let us render whatever assistance we can" (Vol 2, No 7, 22 November, 1866, p.3).
- "Where's the Nigger? - A Mongrel sheet, the Tamaqua Journal, says: - 'We have had the Republican victory, now where's the nigger? ... You can eat nothing, wear nothing, see nothing, taste nothing, or have nothing that is not more or less affected by the miserable niggerism that has controlled the country ever since the Black Republican party got it by the throat.' No you see it" (Vol 2, No 11, 20 December 1866, p.2)
A perusal of only six months in 1866 yields examples of the prejudiced perspectives disseminated in newspapers regarding the view of African Americans in Shenandoah County, Virginia. While the Freedmen's Bureau was working to increase equality in opportunities, by providing for basic needs, monitoring work contracts, and helping to establish educational opportunities for African Americans that were recently freed, leaders in our community circulated stereotyped stains of character for African Americans, as well as promoted a general sense that they should not be deemed as equal to white citizens. Meanwhile, laudations of the immovable faith, honor, and right character of Confederate soldiers amassed in these same papers - setting the stage for decades of oppression against African Americans and establishment of the Lost Cause Narrative. A narrative which until 2020 was still intertwined with our county's southern campus public schools via the names they bore.
Among the Freedmen's Bureau records for Shenandoah County, Va, there is a letter from Winchester written in November 1865 stating that the War Department furnished a circular from the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in October of 1865 that required local authorities to provide for pauper freedmen. It quotes this circular: " 'Vagrant laws made for free people and now in force in the Statute Books of the State now embraced in the operations of this Bureau, will be recognized and extended to the freedmen.' " The letter continues: "Furnish them with lists of the dependent residents before the war within their respective jurisdictions, and any other information requisite to enable all such persons to receive the care and support which they are entitled."
The purpose of the Bureau was to offer care and support so that African Americans could gain an equal footing in a unified United States of America. A circular from the Winchester office written July 12, 1866 mentions the importance the U.S. government placed on helping African Americans reach a state of independence, noting a "necessity of exercising the greatest care in the issue of Rations to Refugees and Freedmen in their respective sub divisions with the view of reducing the number of persons dependent upon the Government for subsistence as rapidly as is consistent with the prevention of actual suffering." The sub division officers were noted to focus on those "actually in a destitute condition and unable to support themselves" despite the 1866 woodcut political cartoon that was in circulation regarding what was perceived as the real purpose of the Freedmen's Bureau. This racist depiction of African Americans highlights the already negative opinion of many people, especially in southern states like Virginia.
A letter from a refugee in Orkney Springs, Va, addressed subdivision officer Hall with his concerns: "I will inform you that I had sent a man for my Ration and was disappointed in getting them, you must excuse me for not sending at the right time but when a Refugee must depend on Rebels he is disappointed sometimes. I also understood that no one draws rations, only the needy. Now if I am not needy I don't know who those are that are needy for I am sick and can't work anything and lost what I had left in the hands of the Rebels: now I must depend on other people for my support. Now I can make oath to this or lend you a number of witnesses that will state the same. I would be very glad if you would come and see me, if you think I can't draw my rations, I will try the General freemans Bureau. If you please write so soon as possible and let me know when I can send for my rations." This refugee served as a private in Company E of the 136th Virginia Militia Regiment and was listed as crippled in 1870. He was not a freedman, but was requesting rations and, at least up until this letter, was receiving aid. It's important to note this because it proves the racist cartoon shared above as being unfounded in truth, at least according to records from Shenandoah County, Virginia. African Americans were not the only ones receiving help; and according to the Vagrancy Act of 1866, could be forced into unpaid employment if they proved as vagrants.
As we have been reading and will continue to notice, unified community wasn't happening here or in many of the formerly Confederate States' communities. A circular from Richmond, Va, written on May 1, 1867 was sent to all the officers and agents of the Freemen's Bureau, reminding them to "take care that the Freedmen, within their respective jurisdictions, are made acquainted with their rights under the Act of Congress 'to provide for the more efficient government of the Rebel States.' " and continues "all Freedmen... will also be instructed that, as they will not be allowed to suffer from the honest exercise of the right of suffrage, they should disregard all threats or undue influence tending to prevent or restrain the same. Prompt report will be made to the President of the local Board of Registration of any case in which the rights of a Freedman... are withheld or interfered with" (Mallery, 1867).
This is exactly the sort of thing happening in Shenandoah County, Virginia, with the intimidation of African American, Celina Jackson, when she witnessed a flag pole burning in Woodstock, VA on 28 May, 1868 and was assaulted by white men threatening her if she gave evidence to authorities on 9 July, 1968 (case number 28 and 36). And the assault and robbery of African American Hiram Turner in Shenandoah County on 24 April, 1868 by two white men (case number 16).
A Freedmen's Bureau letter from October 31, 1867 gives the testimony of a man who was beaten for being part of the Union League, which his assailant titled "that dammed nigger league." He states: "being in fear of my life and of the opinion that justice will not be rendered me on account of the circumstances" he sought the protection of the Military Authorities when he went to vote for the Union ticket, as he describes it. (Hall, October 31, 1867)
Peter Armstrong, a freedman, made a sworn statement on February 20, 1866 in Woodstock, Va, to Hall, that "while at New Market two white men used threatening language, saying they would 'shoot him, the old villain if it takes 5 years' and soon after a colored man came to him and warned him of his danger, saying that some men were inquiring after said Peter... and it would be dangerous for him to be seen there after light" (Hall, February 20, 1866).
In addition, a letter from March 12, 1866 from agent Hall in Woodstock, VA, shares a sworn statement of a man that lived on little Stony Creek that witnessed an incident - not long after the surrender of Lee in spring of 1865 - in which "soldiers in the Rebel Army... attacked and robbed three U.S. soldiers... and afterwards took them on towards an old ore bank," where they were subsequently found dead some time later.
It is evident that the Freedmen's Bureau officers were working extremely hard to benefit and make better the plight of African Americans in our communities. They sought to bring justice to people that were not accustomed to receiving justice in the courts or via civil authorities in Shenandoah County, Va. And, based on a letter written by Kendrick in Mt Jackson, Va, on February 6, 1866, who was trying to secure the debt of an African American man, without his knowledge, to give him more time to pay off $40 that the African American owed another person, officers and agents of the bureau made personal efforts to aid those neglected and struggling in our community. In this letter, he states, "the people in our village are law-abiding." But were they - our ancestors - compassionate? And are we compassionate enough today to make sure our public spaces hold inclusion for everyone in our community, not just those with Confederate ancestors?
Reports are not the only information preserved in the Freedmen's Bureau records, which we began examining in detail during Week 33: Bitter Prejudice. The Freedmen's Bureau, according to The Library of Virginia, focused on "establishing hospitals and schools, providing rations, supervising the creation of labor contracts between freedmen and planters, and ensuring justice." There are a mass of letters - some brief, others verbose; some in neat cursive as if deliberated and others scrawled a little too quickly for full intelligence from the script. All of them reveal the kinds of cases the commanding officers had to investigate in lands as yet still hostile to the US government. The letters cover everything from reimbursement of funds to firsthand accounts by residents of injustice.
The commissioner reports we just read (Week 33: Bitter Prejudice and Week 34: Need for Radical Change) noted the confirmation of marriages as another activity of the Freedmen's Bureau, but what they didn't mention were requests for reuniting parents with children that had been sold before the eradication of slavery, as noted by the following letters.
"Information is desired of Jeff Donnavay, colored, aged 14, bought in December 1863 by... of Richmond, Va... His mother... is very desirous of learning his whereabouts, and this application for information is made at her request" (Letter from McDonnell, Winchester, VA, April 22, 1868).
"Information is desired of Robert Donnavay, colored, aged 16, bought in December 1863 by... of Farmville, Prince Edward County, Va... He is the son of ..., at whose request this application for information is made" (Letter from McDonnell, Winchester, VA, April 22, 1868).
Another letter captures the enigmatic nature of communication in Shenandoah County, not only between Freedmen's Bureau commissioners, but also between civilians and the commissions.
"A colored woman named Emily (a very large woman) left this place last week, and in defiance of my order, took with her... a minor (a girl) named Alice. Please have the said girl sent to me. The woman must be made of course to pay expenses" (Letter from Hall, Woodstock, VA, October 30, 1866).
From Donnell to Hall, stationed in Woodstock, VA: "In reply to your communication... in which you ask if you are authorized to issue an order to the employer of a colored person, (who hired him from his other owner) to pay said colored man for his services since January 1, 1863, instead of to the heirs of his former owner - you are respectfully informed that you have no authority to issue such an order" (Letter from Donnell, Winchester, VA, January 10, 1868).
Helping African Americans living in Shenandoah County, VA, as well as throughout the state, was a balancing act. The Freedmen's Bureau aimed to do what they could to help people become more than mere property, whose purpose was to serve the needs of wealthier white families. When families are dispersed, when the memory of enslavement still tarnishes the hope of paid work, when people own no land from which they can grow food or a cash crop, and when educational opportunities are limited, a handful of people can only do so much. If a community is not willing to work together to create opportunities of equality and commitment to one another's welfare, even through charitable organizations, then it's not a community. Community is more than just people living in the same location. Community also includes commonality of culture, ethos, or other shared goals. Community means common unity. People don't have to look the same, but they should promote fairness in matters of justice. As we have seen and will continue to see, this was not happening in Shenandoah County, Virginia, after the Civil War. And that understanding is imperative to know when a community is naming public spaces together.
Today we continue with the quarterly commissioner reports from Winchester, VA. Since they are rather lengthy, I chose to focus just on 1868 in this letter. You'll also notice, I am only including the sections that pertain to Shenandoah County, even though the letters are really fascinating to see what's happening in the counties surrounding Shenandoah County, too.
April 1, 1868 reveals the following update from McDonnell in Winchester, VA:
"Third Division, comprising the Counties of Shenandoah and Rockingham
"1st The General Condition of the freedpeople in this division is perhaps better than in either of the other divisions in this Sub-District, owing it is supposed to the comparatively few therein and the demand for labour. All are employed and although the wages are small, still, with constant employment, there is no suffering as the people have a choice of employers, causes of complaint are few, and if temperate and economical, they cannot fail in steady progression.
"2d The prospect of full and complete justice being given Freedmen in cases where they are interested against Whites is not good. An offence committed by a colored person is looked upon as more heinous, and therefore should be punished more severely than the same offence committed by a white person. Political and other prejudices operate unfavorably to the ends of justice in this division.
"3d The Register of Marriages for Shenandoah County is completed and in convenient form, ...
"4t The county authorities provide for the indigent freedpeople as for the same class of whites, the means are ample, and the houses tolerably fair for the purpose.
"5t The demand for labor will generally exceed the supply. Freedmen with families would do well to settle in this division avoiding Harrisonburg as a location, which is already too full.
"6t The School at Harrisonburg. numbering one hundred and seven (107) ... is in excellent condition, and which reflects credit on its teacher. Twenty six dollars ($26) was paid in February by the pupils for the support of this school. The Schoolhouse is the property of the freedmen.
"The school organized on the 21st of January at New Market, now numbers fifty six (56) and is in charge of Jesse Robinson (colored) As yet the colored people have manifested but little disposition to sustain this school. Only six dollars ($6 00 )) was paid by the pupils in February.
"At Woodstock the school in charge of Miss Mary J. Knowles numbers sixty (60) and exhibits a fair degree of proficiency. Schools could be organized at Strasbourg, and Mount Jackson if teachers and rooms were supplied, with an attendance of about fifty (50) at each place" (April 1, 1868:5-7).
The Third Division report from McDonnell in Winchester, VA for Shenandoah & Rockingham Counties in July 1, 1868 is as follows:
"1st All the Freedpeople are employed and as in the 2d Division they are well distributed, except at Harrisonburg, and their general condition is prosperous. At the latter place there is a good schoolhouse, the property of the colored people well attended, and showing a degree of efficiency commendable to ... the teacher. This school also closes on the 1st July, much to the regret of parents, and pupils. Reports of unprovoked assaults on Freedpeople and known Union people are well founded, and the recent outrage perpetrated at Woodstock before reported is perhaps the best indication of popular opinion which can be cited. While the freedpeople are industrious, peaceable and temperate, showing every disposition to become good law abiding citizens, they are not always permitted to enjoy the fruits of their industry quietly, but are cruelly maltreated by vagabonds, publicly known in their locality as White gentlemen. The frequent absence of Mr. Hall from his division and his reticence in affairs taking place during such absences no doubt stimulates offenders to repetition of such unlawful practices. A second outrage was perpetrated on the colored girl Celina Jackson during my recent visit on inspection to Woodstock.
"While the girl was walking quietly into Church on the Sabbath she was assaulted and struck across the face with an umbrella by R. L. one of the party who on a former occasion was fined "one cent" by a Jury for whipping Mr G. R., present State Treasurer.
"If practicable I would respectfully recommend that the officer of the Bureau at Woodstock may also be appointed Military Commissioner, with full power to correct abuses which are totally neglected by the Civil Authorities, and which if permitted to increase will eventually lead to serious results.
"2d The likelihood of full and complete justice being given to freedmen in cases where they are interested against whites is hopeful in Rockingham County but the indications in Shenandoah County are such as to leave no room for hope, unless a radical change takes place in the community, and a more determined effort is made by the officers of the law to execute their duties with fidelity.
"3d The Register of Marriages is completed, ...
"4th The County authorities have ample provision for caring for their own indigent poor, and freedpeople are received and treated as are the White inmates. Outdoor relief, where the necessities of the case require is also given.
"5th The demand for labor is greater than the supply except at Harrisonburg. Many families could find employment in both Counties at about $10 per month.
"6th The schools at Harrisonburg and Woodstock which are now closed, were in excellent condition, well attended and well conducted, with the advancement as progression and rapid as could be expected.
"Edinburg, Mt. Jackson, Strasburg & New Market in Shenandoah County require schools, but nothing can be expected from the people towards their establishment or support" (July 1, 1868:9-12).
The 3rd division report, that includes Shenandoah County, from McDonnell in Winchester VA on October 10, 1868 shares:
"1st General Condition- All the freedpeople who are able to work, are employed at prices varying from $8 to $12 per month. At Harrisonburg they appear to be in a very prosperous condition, they have erected a good schoolhouse at an expense of about $600, and during the last term of the school paid by contribution about $40 per month toward the supply of teachers. Extraordinary efforts will be made in this Division during the coming winter to increase the number of schools and it is hoped with success. The very bitter political prejudice of a large number of the Whites in is ... made manifest whenever the slightest opportunity presents is very much to be regretted. Woodstock, Edinburgh, and New Market are noted for the hostility on the part of their citizens towards men from the North, Officers of the Government...
"Such outrages have the effect to [unclear: infuriate] the colored persons. Selina Jackson, a freedgirl having been repeatedly assaulted for giving evidence against a party of men accused of cutting down and burning a flagpole in front of the Bureau office at Woodstock and being unable to obtain redress or protection, was compelled to leave the County to escape further violence. Since the arrival of Mr. James Agent of the Bureau at Woodstock, no reports of abuse have been made, and it is sincerely hoped such [unclear: censurable] practices will soon cease altogether.
"2d It is believed the Magistrates intend to administer fair and impartial justice altho' complaints have been made that they have not done since the case of Selina Jackson. Perhaps it is fair to presume that they are not prepared to fully oppose strong local prejudices which could not fail to be disastrous to Magistrates engaged in business. It is very doubtful if fair and impartial juries can be found to try cases in which colored men are parties.
"3d The Register of Marriages is completed in each County, and each of the four paragraphs are believed to be carried out as far as practicable.
"4t The County Authorities provide for the indigent freedpeople as they do for the whites, and their means are ample.
"5t The supply of labor is less than the demand but no encouragement can be given for the introduction of more at this season In the Spring from three to four hundred (300 to 400) agricultural hands could find ready employment at prices before stated.
"6t There were no schools in Session during the quarter - Strasburg, Mount Jackson and New Market, in addition to the places at which schools have already been established seem to require schools, and at least fifty (50) pupils at each place would attend, but the people, from indifference and poverty will offer no reliable inducement towards an effort to organize schools at those places.
"The interest taken by Mr James in the affairs of this division will it is believed be production of excellent results.
"As the freedman's friend, he will labor for their advancement socially, encourage education, and it is hoped bring about a better state of feelings between the race than has heretofore existed" (October 10, 1868:7-10).
A report from McDonnell, Winchester VA, on December 31, 1868 of the 3rd division, including Shenandoah County:
"Except at Harrisonburg and Woodstock, the colored people are well distributed in this division, and constant employment is obtained without difficulty the greater part of the year. The people however are very poor, and appear less ambitious than elsewhere. Seldom obtaining cash for labor, they depend on employers to furnish the necessities of life for their families, forgetting that when a settlement comes, they will have to pay the highest store prices for what they had. Except also at the first mentioned place, they appear to have but little interest in education. They would attend schools if furnished them without the expense of Rooms, Teachers, or fare, but no great importance seems to be attached to gaining knowledge through the slow progress of books. The advancement of those who live remote from large towns or settlements, and in the mountains is extremely slow. Few contracts for the coming year have been made.
"2d Reports from the officer in charge indicate that full and complete justice is given to Freedmen in cases where they are interested against white men. This is probably so as far as the courts are concerned, but in trials by Jury it is certain that mens prejudices operate against the Freedmen especially in cases of assault, or in the settlement of accounts. Mr James has reported one or two cases where it was evident the juries did not regard the evidence.
"3d The Register of Marriages is complete. No additions have been made to it for some months...
"4th Indigent freedpeople are provided for by the authorities of the County, and the means adequate. Few colored people will consent to become inmates of the Poorhouse.
"5th The supply of labor is greater than the demand, except at the dullest season. Even at present all are employed who are able to work.
"6th But one school is yet in operation, it is located at Harrisonburg, ... Schools will also be commenced as rapidly as teachers can be secured, at Woodstock, Strasburg and New Market.
"Since Mr. James has been assigned to this Division, an improved state of feeling has existed between the white and colored people" (December 31, 1868:10-12).
Let's reflect on these reports over the last two weeks. Thanks to the 13th Amendment, slavery has been eradicated. The Confederacy has been dissolved and left in history, where it belongs. However, this series of reports written by McDonnell gives an overview of sentiments toward African Americans in Shenandoah County in 1866-1868 that should chill us even today:
- "strong feeling of hostility"
- "bitter prejudice"
- "the condition of freedpeople in these Counties does not improve in any perceptible degree, owing to the intensely bitter feelings of the whites, especially in Shenandoah County"
- "full and complete justice is not given"
- "the Whites are an intensely disloyal people, in real sentiment, and were the protection ... withdrawn, the freedmen would be treated pretty much as they used to be"
- "unprovoked assaults on Freedpeople and known Union people"
- "freedpeople are industrious, peaceable and temperate, showing every disposition to become good law abiding citizens, they are not always permitted to enjoy the fruits of their industry quietly, but are cruelly maltreated by vagabonds, publicly known in their locality as White gentlemen"
- "indications in Shenandoah County are such as to leave no room for hope, unless a radical change takes place in the community"
- "very bitter political prejudice of a large number of the Whites"
- "Woodstock, Edinburgh, and New Market are noted for the hostility on the part of their citizens"
- "a... girl having been repeatedly assaulted ... and being unable to obtain redress or protection"
Is this the way we want Shenandoah County to be remembered and labeled? These are phrases taken verbatim from reports. It's real history that we aren't talking about.
These perspectives on our ancestral community members should be difficult for us to hear. Dr. Shelly Murphy reminds us "Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards." This sentiment is similarly shared in James Baldwin's writings, captured in the 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, "History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history." Recognizing how parts of our history are infused in this place we call home and being intentional about how we represent and honor this place are very important conversations. Knowing our past, our leaders should be compelled to make difficult decisions that impact everyone in our community, not just the majority. Community identity must be unbiased and promote justice, truth, and most especially peace.
Following the Civil War, America's primary goal was rebuilding on the principles of a unified America. The University of Virginia provides a great overview, especially from the perspective of Richmond and Virginia, of this time period, known as Reconstruction: https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/overview. The U.S. government intervened in Southern states through Reconstruction, attempting to alleviate asperities associated with integrating emancipated African Americans into a more equal way of life.
To help, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was formed on March 3, 1865, with work in Virginia beginning early June of that year. It was also known as the Freedmen's Bureau (which I first mentioned in Week 9: Freedom from Fear). As we dive into the Freedmen's Bureau records, I'm starting with the subdivision reports for Shenandoah County. These are broken up into two letters, due to their length.
According to General Order #1 in June 1866, the Shenandoah Division included four sub-divisions: a) Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, West Virginia, b) Frederick and Clarke Counties, Virginia, c) Warren and Page Counties, Virginia, d) Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties, Virginia. Reports were sent to the assistant commissioner in Baltimore, Maryland. Woodstock, Virginia, housed one of the field offices for the Freedmen's Bureau. The Freedmen's Bureau issued rations and medical relief to both recently emancipated African American and white refugees, supervised labor contracts, administered justice, and worked with benevolent societies to establish schools. Currently, these records are accessible via microfilm at The Library of Virginia, reel Misc 5526. I'm going to share those that give a picture of life in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and nearby areas. Today, we focus on reports from 1866 and 1867. Next week, we will look at those from 1868, which are a little lengthier than these.
The assistant commissioner's report from 1867 reveals the "total number of the colored population of the counties of Shenandoah and Page (included):
- Woodstock: 196
- Mount Jackson: 67
- Strasburg & Murraytown: 74
- Edinburg: 17
- New Market: 55"
In June 1866, Remington in Winchester, VA, wrote a report that includes the following Shenandoah County updates:
"Sub-district C, comprises the Counties of Shenandoah and Page. Lt. J.T.H. Hall V.R.C. Asst. Supt. with office at Woodstock, Shenandoah Co. The feeling towards the freedmen, and towards the Bureau in this sub-district is quite better. The records of the office of the Asst. Supt. are in a fair condition.
"1st The condition of the freedmen is fair.
"2d No cases in which the freedmen are concerned have been tried before the Civil Courts, the freedmen showing a great disinclination to bring their cases before tribunals from which the state of feeling in the community renders it hardly probable that full and impartial justice would be meted out to them.
"3d The record of marriages has been commenced in proper form, and certificates of marriages are given...
"4t The authorities intend to provide for the indigent freedmen, but their means are at present very inadequate. The poor house buildings were burned during the war, and have not yet been rebuilt.
"5t The supply of labor is equal to the demand, and the able bodied freedmen are generally at work.
"6t There is one school in the sub district at Massanutten which is thriving. There is a demand for schools at Woodstock, New Market, Mount Jackson and other points in the sub district.
"Lieut. Hall considering the many annoyances to which he is subjected arising from the strong feeling of hostility to the Bureau in this Sub district has conducted affairs with a good degree of energy and success, and seems to show a determination to do for the benefit of the freedmen whatever is in his power" (June 18, 1966:4-5).
A report from McDonnell in Winchester, VA, dated April 30, 1867 shares:
Shenandoah & Rockingham Cos.
"1st General condition improving, but not as rapidly as could be desired. The disposition to fulfill contracts is much better on the part of Freedpeople than on that of the whites, and a bitter prejudice towards the former & Bureau, as well as the government generally manifests itself very frequently.
"2d The prejudice against Freedpeople is so great that in my opinion justice is not given them in cases where there are jury trials. The Magistrates show a bitter disposition except in a few cases.
"3d A Register of Marriages has been made in both Counties, but not on the Bureau blanks, which have not been furnished...
"4t The intention of the County authorities to provide for their own indigent poor is good, but the means at both Counties is altogether inadequate, and had it not been for the assistance rendered by the Bureau, much suffering would exist.
"5t The supply of labor is equal to the demand, and the wages vary from $6 to $12 per month, according to the quality of the help.
"6t The School at Harrisonburg is in a very flourishing condition, and reports 221 pupils. The School at Woodstock temporarily closed for a few days, is also in excellent condition, and the improvement in both places is such as to meet the approval of the most sanguine. Schools should also be established at Mount Jackson and New Market in Shenandoah County. In the former place, a room could be provided by the Freedpeople.
"Lieut J. H. Hall, the officer in charge experiences some difficulty in performing his duty in this sub district, and a very bitter feeling towards him and the Bureau exists there. His books and papers are properly kept, and the affairs at his office are satisfactory" (April 1867:4-6).
Six months later, a report from McDonnell in Winchester, VA, dated October 1, 1867, reveals that conditions are especially negative toward the Freedmen's Bureau in Shenandoah County:
"3rd Division: Shenandoah and Rockingham Cos.
"1st The condition of freedpeople in these Counties does not improve in any perceptible degree, owing to the intensely bitter feelings of the whites, especially in Shenandoah County, where a decided aversion is exhibited towards Lieut. Hall, the officer in charge.
"2d Full and complete justice is not given in cases between white and colored people. In newer cases fines are never imposed, and in many cases where white men can obtain bail, colored men are committed for want of it.
"3d The Register of Marriages is complete for Shenandoah County, and nearly so for Rockingham. As elsewhere, the Civil Authorities render no assistance in enforcing the law in relation to marriage, even where violations are known to exist.
"4t As in Frederick & Clark Counties, out door relief is afforded to such as cannot be accommodated in the poor house, but here only to the amount of ten dollars per year for each person, which is wholly insufficient, and suffering must be endured by all who have no other dependence.
"5t The supply of labor is equal to the demand, and will be during the coming months. The average rate of wages is about $8 per month. No public works in this division, and consequently the mass of the people are unemployed during the winter months.
"6t One self sustaining school has been in operation at Woodstock, during the vacation of the free school but as the means of the people is very limited, it is doubtful whether it can continue for any length of time. A necessity for a school at New Market is apparent, and the people are very desirous to have one" (October 1867:5-6).
By November 4, 1867, a new officer was in place. A report from McDonnell shares the following in regard to Shenandoah County: "I learn that the freedmen are doing very well. All at work for good wages, and that there is generally, no disposition among the citizens to treat them unfairly, as they view fairness. The Whites are an intensely disloyal people, in real sentiment, and were the protection of this Bureau to be withdrawn, the freedmen would be treated pretty much as they used to be."
No one denies Shenandoah County residents the right to celebrate and remember their ancestors - even the ones that fought for the CSA. They should be remembered. But, the ideals of the Confederacy (discussed in Week 2: Confederate Congress and Week 5: The 13th Amendment) should not be celebrated or claimed for community identity in the United States today. The ancestors of African Americans and other Americans who did not have relatives fighting for the CSA should also be remembered and celebrated. When our leaders choose to place the names of some of these ancestors over the names of others, they are assigning weighted worth for one and claiming community identity. It's imperative to make sure that identity is inclusive and not divisive. The previous school board recognized this, weighed the evidence and facts and requests at hand, and made a difficult decision to change Confederate-leader-named public schools out of compassion and conviction that doing so was just and a positive step toward a more inclusive and peaceful community - a goal that mirrors the intent of the Freedmen's Bureau after the Civil War. The previous school board leaders did not become school board members with an agenda to change names. They rose to a challenge and did the best they could in guiding a positive vision for everyone.
James Baldwin (1924-1987), an African American author whose voice was especially poignant during the Civil Rights time period, was the focus of a 2016 documentary, I am Not Your Negro. In it, he shares: "America is white. It's a shock that your country, to which you owe your life and identity, is against you." He continues, "there's a day when you wonder what your role is in this country." When we consider "we, the American people," how do military leaders who broke allegiance with The United States of America and fought against America as a foreign entity earn the right to usurp the identity of a public school today? Especially when children attend that school, whose ancestors were some of the very African Americans that were belittled, deemed inferior, and thwarted in their pursuit of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" during Reconstruction. In the words of Langston Hughes, an African American poet during the Harlem Renaissance, excerpted from his poem Let America Be America Again:
"O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
No freedom in this 'homeland of the free.')...
O, let America be America again -
The land that never has been yet -
And yet must be - the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine - the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME -
Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again...
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath -
America will be!"
The time period following the Civil War was one of finding balance, as families from all across the United States and its territories returned to a new normalcy. In many places homes and barns were burned, crops ruined, but for every American family one thing was true: all were impacted by loss of some kind. Over the next few weeks, we're going to dive into community perceptions and decisions that impacted the African American population in Shenandoah County using primary source documents and newspapers. My focus is on their story. This isn't about shame or blame - and to demonstrate this, I'm not sharing names, unless they are helpful in recognizing how African Americans contributed in positive ways to our community - a community that has not always been hospitable to minority groups, especially after the Civil War and through the Civil Rights period.
Our first image falls to what community members thought about the impact of the Civil War and what is termed in historical primary source documents as "negro equality" from the perspective of Virginia, and especially Shenandoah County. To gain this, we look at examples of their voices through newspaper and letter testimonies from 1865.
In December 1865, the Shepherdstown Registrar, which included information for Shenandoah County as much as the counties immediately west of North Mountain in West Virginia, ran an article entitled, "What Will They Do?" This article was a rumination on the Freedmen in the local communities and demonstrates a sentiment shared by many in the counties of northwestern Virginia. We will be talking about the term freedmen next week. Here is an excerpt: "'Tis certainly a question of great importance to the Agricultural portion of our community to know what reliance can be placed upon the 'Freedmen,' and whether he will make any contract upon any terms whatever, for the coming year; and it is a question of far more vital importance to the 'Freedman' himself to determine what he will do to support himself and those who may be depending upon him for the ensuing year. Hitherto the Freedmen have shown themselves totally void of any honesty in fulfilling their contracts, and have been waiting for Christmas to come for something to turn up, whereby they will be furnished with houses to live in and have rations supplied them, without any thought or labor on their part. This foolish, not to say nefarious idea, has been put into their heads by evil disposed persons, ignorant of the consequences, and doubtless wishing that the property of their more fortunate neighbors might be taken and distributed among the worthless population that now hangs like an incubus upon society.
"The sooner these extravagant and foolish notions are eradicated from the minds of the negro, the better it will be for them. Their very existence and the subsistence of themselves and families depend upon it. Freedom carries with it only the liberty to work for themselves - man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. They have now new cares and responsibilities, such as they knew not of in a state of slavery. They have their families to cloth and support, taxes to pay and doctor's bills to foot, and they will have to labor harder than they ever did to meet these increased demands.
"The whole community is interested in the welfare of the negro, and his being employed in some capacity by which he can earn a livelihood. It becomes every one's duty to dispel from the mind of the Freedman all false notions about the Government supporting him, giving him land, &c., and instill into his mind that he must work and that he must make contracts for labor for the future and keep them when made. He must show himself worthy of reliance or he can never make a living in this community. He must not suppose that working by the day will keep him constantly employed and secure him a fixed support. Men who need their services cannot depend upon the uncertainty of changing their hands every day.
"We state these things to call attention of the negro to his true condition, in order that he may not be lead away by false teachers, and that the community may look to its own safety, in removing and guarding against the depredations of an idle and vagrant population" (30 December 1865, p. 2).
Similarly, the Staunton Spectator states: "The hardest lesson for the negro to learn seems to be the fact that he incurred new responsibilities, as well as new rights, by the result of the war. One of these responsibilities is the obligation to perform his contracts. The white man has to perform his, and there are laws imposing penalties if he fails or refuses to perform them. - The negro freedman must also be made amenable to laws and penalties, that will make him perform his obligations, else he never will be a useful or reliable member of society" (Vol 42, No 27, 26 Dec 1865, p.2).
In discussion of a congressional action in December 1865, the editors of the Spirit of Jefferson write: "It is evidently the firm determination of the majority of the lower House, to keep back the reconstruction of the Union, for which we were formerly told the war was waged, till such time as the Southern States shall certainly signify their willingness to extend the right of suffrage to the negro, and otherwise put them up on terms of full and perfect political, and may be social, equality with the white race. We can put no trust in men... (that) ...have had, all their lives long, negro on the brain, and the disease is so absorbing in its character, that everything else must be subjected to it - constitutions, laws, justice and the commonest rights, must all be trampled under foot for the purpose of elevating the negro to the standard of the white man. And, in the meantime, while this ridiculous tilt is being made, the Southern States are to remain out of the Union, and the Southern people to be refused any participation in the government of the country - except the right to pay taxes. We, of the South, have met the issues involved in the war in a spirit of fairness, and have renewed our allegiance to the Union in all honesty, and we think we have the right to be treated as citizens of the Union and we look to the President to furnish to us the protecting power of the Constitution, in the sure hope that he will do his duty by us; if he fails in this duty, may God help us!" (19 December 1865, p.2).
The Colonization Society placed this announcement in the November 1865 Sentinel: "The origin of our society... was founded by moderate men, who neither anathematized slaveholders as worse than murderers, nor eulogized slavery as not only morally innocent, and in some respects, beneficent and conservative, but as the source of all true civilization. They neither maintained the entire equality of the negro with the white man, nor his utter and permanent inferiority, as belong to a lower race... Now the condition of the emancipated negro, worse, in many respects, than before emancipation, will be far more calculated to drive him into exile, than that of the Irishman. Should the whites do their best to improve the condition of the blacks, the prejudice of color, the necessary political and social distinctions, will gall more and more the spirit of the negro, who will have learned too well to estimate his rights. His impatience at what he conceives to be injustice will, in many cases, overcome his powerful local attachments. Finding the mortality in his class to be very great in America, he will think he can risk little by going to Africa." The authors of the article continue by proclaiming an exodus of negroes to Africa will not be swiftly accomplished, so as to cause a collapse of labor in the Southern States, but would "make way for another population attracted into the vacuum" (Vol 3, No 91, 28 November 1865, p.2).
The October 1865 Alexandria Gazette shares: "A paper published in the Shenandoah (Va.) Valley, says: On Wednesday morning last, we saw passing our office four small negro children - the largest about 8 years old, carrying an infant in his arms. All were bare-footed, thinly clad, and shivering with cold. We learned that their mother had left their former master in Rockingham, under the delusion which seems to be entertained by many of the negroes, that freedom exempts them from labor - and was strolling about the country. - She came to this neighborhood a day or two previous, and failing to secure shelter for herself and children, left them on the roadside on Tuesday night. The poor creatures were consequently endeavoring to make their way back to that comfortable home from which they had been forced by misguided philanthropy" (Vol 66, No 213, 19 October 1865, p.4).
"A meeting of the conservative citizens of Shenandoah county, was held last week at Woodstock," reads an article in the Alexandria Gazette, "at which resolutions were passed recognizing the Constitutional authority of the U.S.," and "acquiescing in the abolition of slavery" (Vol 71, No 196, 18 September 1865, p.2).
The Virginia Free Press from 1865 shares: "It appears that the rebel soldiers are outspoken. They say: 'We voted for the issues of slavery and State sovereignty; then we fought for them. We have been defeated overwhelmingly at all points. Now we give the contest up like men and like soldiers, and we go in honestly for a common country, for one sovereign nationality, and for universal freedom.' Their only dread and horror is of what they call 'negro equality'" (31 August 1865, p.2).
A Richmond correspondent shared the following about a Virginia riot in 1865: "This case is entirely on a level with the recent outrages in Connecticut and with hundreds of facts that are of almost daily occurrence, not only in the States of the South, but even in those of the North. They all spring from one source - hatred of the negro on the part of the Rebels in the South and their sympathisers in the North. Being unable to keep them longer in bondage they are trying to exterminate the race" (Commercial Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 91, 21 August 1865, p.2).
The Winchester News shares in the August 18, 1865 issue: "As the smoke and dust of the conflict have partially subsided, let us see what has been the result of the late struggle: 1st. Slavery has been exterminated. 2i. The country has been desolated. It now remains to be seen whether or not the country will be benefitted by the changes... Some of the Northern philosophers think that it will, but are giving every particle of sympathy they possess to the negro. There is little reliance to be placed in such men. They are gentlemen affected with negrophobia so badly that they take into small account the real interest of the white man. Their's is surely a funny school of philanthropy; but any doctrine, however fantastical, can always find supporters. Some men in Virginia are gradually giving way to these sentiments; and because the Governor of the State wishes to have a white man's government, take exceptions to his course. It is to be hoped that they may soon see the error of their ways" (Vol. 1, No. 7, p. 2).
In a letter to her brother in 1865, a community member that lived in Mount Jackson, VA, shared news of their ravaged farms in Shenandoah County, Va, after the American Civil War: "you have not the least idea what we have suffered here in the Valley the last eighteen months of the war" (Moore, 4 August 1865, p.1). She continues in sentiment similar to what we have already read in the newspapers above, not without some situational hypocrisy: "help is very scarce although there is a crowd of negros coming back every day, they are idle and good for nothing, no one seems to want them, we still have Margaret, Ferrel & Coraline they have never left us, we are going to moove to the country this fall, and they seem to dislike the idea very much. I would not be surprised if they refused to go, if I lose Margaret I do not know what will become of me, for I feel less able to work now than I ever did in my life, Uncle Ben is still on the farm in Page, doing just as he did before the war, but don't know how long it will be so as all the darkies are demanding wages now that stay with there masters..." (Moore, 4 August 1865, p.1-2).
Not only do these primary source documents share the upheaval of life caused by the Civil War, but most profoundly a resonance of bitterness and hatred toward African Americans. This theme of inequality and lack of acceptance rises again and again in the history of Shenandoah County, VA. It is a theme that serves as a root cause for a backlash by white Americans attempting to assert their dominance and disapproval in often passive aggressive ways that we will come to witness as recurring again and again. These voices are preserved for us to read firsthand and share the truth of the generations following the Civil War. A truth that is captured by African American writer James Baldwin so aptly: "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."
Do we want our children today to imitate Confederate leaders in what they died fighting against - unity and equality? Do we want our children to imitate the cornerstone of inequality founded by the Confederacy? Do we want our children to condescendingly perceive others as unequal and less than, so much so that they should pick up arms against anyone they label, rather than alter their perceptions born of bias and ignorance? Or do we want them to look toward the American ideals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for a future that inspires our community and cultivates a thriving peace and equality for every single American - not just those with a lower melanin count or with the same political party?
My sons deserve a better example than Jackson, Lee, and Ashby. The daughters in our community deserve to see themselves in our community identity too. And we all deserve a better narrative than what the Confederacy can ever provide.
As we learned a few weeks ago (Week 27: James Scott, A Free Man), James Scott, a free mulatto man who was part of the Beckford Parish - the Anglican parish that served Shenandoah County, claimed his innocence at both the Circuit and District Courts in an attempted robbery case that resulted in the death of a gentleman of European descent traveling through Shenandoah County. Not only was the charge elevated to first degree murder, but James Scott was hanged on November 11, 1803.
In the summer of 1807, an African American woman named Rachel was whipped to death. Two white men were tried for murder in Circuit Court - one was her enslaver, the other an overseer on the Shenandoah County plantation. Both claimed they were "in no wise Guilty" (Minute Book 1806-1810, pp. 116-117; Order Book 1806-1808, pp. 112-115). The Circuit Court did not find guilt, but rather sent the case to the District Court for further examination.
One of the two men, the owner, did not show up for District Court. Proclamations were still being placed in the July, August, and September 1808 Virginia Argus papers stating that he was at large and issuing a $100 reward for his return to the justices of the peace in Frederick County for due processing. However, he appears to have left the county and faded into history, creating a new life for himself and able to do so.
The second man appeared before the District Court on September 29, 1807. He respectfully requested a jury trial for his indictment and pleaded "not guilty." Twelve men of European descent were elected to serve on the jury, heard the witness, and concluded he was not guilty. As such, the court declared that he "be acquitted and discharged of the murder aforesaid and go thereof without delay and... be discharged from his imprisonment" (Superior Court Order Book, 1803-1807, 30 September 1807, p.34), even though just the day before his indictment was declared "a true bill," with sufficient evidence to justify prosecution.
Comparing these two cases, racial bias and injustice are clearly evident. Shenandoah County's Circuit Court and District Court were used to condemn an African American to death; even though his culpability was questioned in the papers, and the death was an outcome of an attempted robbery. Scott claimed he was innocent of the charges. The court saw a black man charged with killing a white man. The black man was hanged to death. His death was deemed as justice to compensate for a white death.
Rachel was whipped to death. Two men were charged with murder; one was acquitted and discharged, while the other fled and escaped punishment in the court of law. The court saw a white man charged with killing a black woman, who was deemed as chattel property. The white man was spared, without punishment. His freedom was deemed as justice to compensate for a black death.
When I think about the renaming of public schools in America, a Maya Angelou quote is particularly apt: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." In attending the Shenandoah County Public Schools during the 1980s and 1990s, I was not taught the history of slavery in Shenandoah County, Va. I was told that slavery was only part of the Piedmont region because of the less mountainous and more fertile terrain. I was told that most of the slavery in America was in the deep South on cotton plantations. And, I was taught that leaders like Lee and Jackson were godlike heroes, protecting the freedom, land, and people of the South from Northern invasion. Even in the 1990s, I was learning Lost Cause Narrative; and even today, museums tout the sacredness of battlefields and record every campaign's movement as if it were scripture, completely ignoring the experiences of thousands of people that had been praying for true freedom since the founding of our country.
If I didn't learn the truth about Shenandoah County history, then I'm sure you didn't either. But, now that you know about:
and the two men from the furnace;
Monique (or Morriky),
and her baby George that had no marketable worth,
and Andrew Young;
and their future increase;
And now that you know of the many more that are unnamed for hire, sold, and lived a life as chattel property or as a class below American citizenship in Shenandoah County, Va, even as free men and women born in this country, what are you going to do about it?
Can you still argue that the names of Confederate generals, who fought for the continued enslavement and mistreatment of these human beings are the best examples for our innocent children in Shenandoah County, VA, today?
I would argue that you cannot.
But the story of Shenandoah County, Va, doesn't end here. With the abolition of slavery in 1865, a new chapter emerges. And that is what we will be discussing in the weeks ahead.
In Shenandoah County chancery cases, there are three cases of barn burning, in which enslaved individuals - Jacob, Stacy, and Lett - were charged during different years from 1796 to 1806.
Jacob, a "mulatto man slave" (Shenandoah County's Order Book 1795-1798, p.157) was charged in March 1796 with burning a barn. Those at court found him not guilty and diverted a charge to someone else. This other person was a man of European descent and although he had to pay a fine, he was not harmed in any other way.
Stacy, "a negro slave" (Order Book 1799-1802, p.96), was charged with burning a barn on March 31, 1800. She was released as not guilty, which was also her plea.
Lett, "a slave the property of L.B. charged with feloniously Burning a barn belonging to W.L. at the Courthouse this 9th day of June 1806" (Minute Book 1806-1810, p.29), pleaded "not guilty." Sufficient evidence allowed her to go free, as it did for Jacob and Stacy above - some of the few instances of justice in Shenandoah County's circuit court system when enslaved individuals were involved.
But, the point is that the rulings in regard to enslaved African Americans and free mulattos are not consistent. Throughout the chancery cases, a majority of the public lashings and hangings noted in the records are in relation to people of color. The same crimes would only warrant a monetary fine for people of European descent and very often (as we will see next week), they weren't even held in custody of the sheriff between trials.
Other cases show a very different story.
March and Peter, who were both described as a "negro man slave" (Shenandoah County Minute Book 1781-1785, p.158) but of two different men in Orange County and as "prisoners" (p.158), were tried in Shenandoah County on "Stealing of a Peticoat and other articles..." (p.158) of three men of European descent and who were not their owners. March pleaded "not guilty" and Peter pleaded "guilty." The Court found both men guilty and weighed their decision thus: "the said March receive on his [bare] back Thirty lashes well laid on and that the said Peter receive on his [bare] back twenty lashes well laid on at the Publick Whiping Post (spelling as is) and that the Sheriff execute the same" (p.158). Why were their punishments different? Did our court give an extra ten lashes to March because we thought he was lying?
Jeffrey, "a Negroe man slave the property of W.Y. of the County of Culpeper... stands charged with the killing of Peter a negroe man slave the property of I.S. of this county" (Shenandoah County Order Book 1795-1798, p. 415). More specifically, the charge states: "Jeffrey... on the 8th day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety seven, and within the Jurisdiction of the County of Shenandoah with force and arms, then and there being feloniously wilfully and of his malice afore-thought, did make an assault upon one Peter... then and there being in the peace of God and of the Commonwealth, and the said Jeffrey with a Billet of Wood ... of the value of one cent which he the said Jeffrey then and there held in his right hand beat, bruised and wounded the said Negroe Peter on the head of which said beating, bruising and wounding the said Peter died in two days, afterwards..." (p. 415) and thus, according to the court, Jeffrey "did kill and murder the said Negroe Peter, against the Peace and dignity of the Commonwealth" (p. 415).
Jeffrey claimed he was "in no wise guilty of the crime aforesaid" (p. 415). The trial of general assembly was the usual method of such cases, as has been seen in previous posts (see Week 28: The Loss of Fortune for the most similar case), and as such, Jeffrey "putteth himself upon the Court" (p. 415). After listening to Jeffrey's testimony, the Court found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, which is commonly defined as the unlawful killing of another human being without intent, malice, or forethought. He was punished by being burned on the hand, and given twenty-five lashes on his bare back well laid on at the Publick Whipping Post.
The point of perusing these cases is to recognize the inconsistency and harshness of punishments used against African Americans; the visibility of these punishments to people in the community at a public whipping post, most likely located in front of the courthouse in downtown Woodstock, VA; as well as to remind us that the testimony of African Americans was always secondary to that of European Americans. There is no way a court would charge a "White" man unless a "White" man brought him forward. In Shenandoah County, the word of a "Black" man was only good for his own person, and usually not even good enough for himself in the eyes of the Court, which would have required verified testimony from "White" men. For example, the September 16, 1806 Virginia Herald notes in a Virginia case that "some of the strongest testimony exhibited before the called court and before the grand jury, was kept back" because "it was gleaned from the evidence of negroes, which is not permitted by our laws to go against a white man" (Vol 20, No 1572, p. 2).
These aspects of our county's history are pertinent to decisions related to the public that we make today. It's imperative to remember all of the past so that we can do better in the future: sowing spaces with equality and justice for all community members, especially in those spaces where once these qualities were missing.
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.
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.
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 eight 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.
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day