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.
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.
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.
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.
As we have seen, last wills and testaments that relayed personal property and slaves to descendants, inventories of property and slaves, and bills of sales even of African American children have all been a large part of the Shenandoah County Will Books before 1865. Today, I'm pausing to point out certain terminology that is really important to notice in these primary source documents.
First, "mulatto", which is a racial classification that refers to mixed African and European races. In Virginia during the pre-Civil War time period, the status of the child was determined by the status of the mother. That means, if the mother was enslaved, so too was the child. In terms of any mulatto children listed in the Will Books of Shenandoah County, if they were enslaved it was because their mothers were enslaved. For example, Will Book V lists "1 mulatto man named Anthony aged 32" (p. 226) among the inventory appraisement of slaves and personal estate of a recently deceased Mount Jackson area resident. The Minute Book 1774-1780, lists the sale of a mulatto girl, Martha (p. 148). In another will from 1784, "1 Mulatto Boy Toby" (Will Book B, p. 80) was to be "freed at 21" years of age. This implies that his mother was enslaved and his father was most likely either the property owner, himself, or someone in his family - a situation that was not uncommon in enslaving families. Martha, Anthony, and Toby, by the way, lived in areas of the county that today pool into Honey Run Elementary School and Mountain View High School.
Second, the Will Books vary between "Negro", "Black", and "Colored" for racial classifications for Africans and African Americans. Even for free African Americans mentioned prior to 1865, they always have a racial designation in primary source documents. This doesn't happen for people of European descent, whom we would classify as "White" on records today. It's really important to recognize this because our county and our society intentionally distinguished between the two races. Even further, by the use of racial classifications for African Americans in Will Books, Minutes, and similar primary documents, it reveals subliminal messages about whom was considered a normal, everyday citizen with certain inalienable rights and whom was not. These primary source documents were all written by people of European descent, a.k.a. "White" people. Our county was set up on an assumption that was part of our colonies' and our country's foundation. Benjamin Franklin says it best:
"The number of purely white people in the world is proportionally very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the newcomers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, scouring our planet, by clearing America of woods, and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light to the eyes of inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the sight of superior beings, darken its people? Why increase the sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawneys, of increasing the lovely white and red? But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such kind of partiality is natural to Mankind" (Four Hundred Souls, ed. by Kendi & Blain, 2021:122).
For me, what stands out are my own ethnic backgrounds: French and German people were considered swarthy by one of our country's founding fathers. Swarthy means "dark-skinned." According to Franklin, the only "lovely white" and "brighter light" ethnicities were Anglo-Saxons.
A quick perusal of our county's claim for origins includes the following description: "Permanent settlement began in the 1730s as German and Scotch-Irish immigrants from Pennsylvania began to arrive, attracted by the Valley’s fertile land" (SVTA, accessed 18 March 2023) and "Shenandoah County, Virginia, in the center of one of the most scenic valleys in America, was settled by Germans during the middle of the eighteenth century" (SCHS, accessed 18 March 2023). According to Franklin, Orange County (a.k.a. Shenandoah County today) was founded by dark-skinned people. And in some ways this is accurate since colonial Virginia, especially under the leadership of governors Spotswood and Gooch and out of fear of French alliances with Indigenous Peoples, was encouraging German and Scotch-Irish settlers loyal to the colonial government to inhabit the backcountry of Virginia. In the early 1700s the backcountry was the eastern part of the Appalachian mountains, namely the Shenandoah Valley. By creating a buffer, the colony was protecting itself from raids by French-supplied tribes of Indigenous Peoples (Monacan, Manahoac, Tutelo, Shawnee, Delaware, Iroquois, Cherokee, etc) who were being pushed away from the Shenandoah Valley region.
However, it's not a completely accurate picture of our county's origins. Yes, large land grants, especially from 1726 to 1736, were given to one or two loyalists that could afford expenses associated with 5,000 to 100,000 acre land tracts, which would then be patented off to settling families in smaller parcels. In 1730, John & Isaac Van Meter, for example, acquired 10,000 acres from Gov. Gooch, surveyed the land, then parceled it out in 1,000 acre allotments to settlers. Once that had been done, the brothers could acquire more land to parcel out and did so until 1734. It was a similar situation for Jacob Stover, who acquired land along the Massanutten Mountain and Rockingham County in 1730. Jost Hite and Robert McKay arrived in the Cedar Creek area in 1731 and also took over the Van Meters' claims in 1734; and so forth. They recruited settlers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New York, with a preference for Protestants. One such settler, who received smaller tracts of land from these larger landowners and specifically Hite, was Daniel Holman, who arrived in the Forestville area in 1736. With him were twelve enslaved Africans. Drawn to the fertile lands near the Shenandoah, Opequon, and Potomac Rivers and its tributaries, these large landowners were typically German, Swiss, and English. But what is always left out is the fact that further cultivation required a lot of work and with these large landowners came enslaved Africans to provide that labor. Nancy Stewart, in her studies of African Americans in Shenandoah County, reflects on the fact that even among many of our settling German families, there were often one or two enslaved Africans living with them. Larger landowners also hired out their enslaved Africans. And as we have seen in the will books and will see in the minute books in coming weeks, our own county government engaged in and managed such renting of enslaved Africans.
While not in the same numbers as found in the Piedmont region, enslaved Africans were a part of our county's foundational history. The presence of enslaved Africans and their contributions (as well as those of free African Americans) to settling the Shenandoah Valley are missing from Shenandoah County's historical narrative. Our county should feel convicted to finally embrace this truth, recognize the contributions of Africans and African Americans, as well as include this information in our histories. When we fail to do so, poor name choices for our public spaces, whether they be the names of public schools or our county's district names, result.
From a descendant of someone Benjamin Franklin would describe as "swarthy," I encourage you to really consider the biases and inequalities that have resulted in our country's laws and in our county's preserved histories and social practices as a result of racial designations that led to citizenship privileges for those that wrote and maintained those laws and histories. We inherited this legacy. We didn't choose it. But, we have a responsibility not to allow it to define us or our communities, today.
And keep this in mind as we continue to look through primary source documents. I certainly would not be classified by most as dark-skinned, but knowing that historically others would have classified me as "swarthy" gives me a greater sense of compassion and responsibility for what and whom I celebrate and honor, today.
In 1840, a citizen of Shenandoah County "calling to mind the certainty of death and the uncertainty what hour" made a last will and testament beginning with the emancipation of his slave:
"First, I direct and will that my black boy Alfred Lee my slave, he shall be free after harvest so soon as the work may be over provided he goes out of the County & the State" (Will Book V, p. 172).
The reference of removal from the county and state is directly linked to Virginia laws at that time. A brief aside: a lot of the information I am referencing in this letter comes from an extremely valuable resource: Chronology of World Slavery by Junius Rodriquez (1999). More specific to the Virginia law that defines the principles of the above emancipation: in 1806, Virginia Assembly enacted legislation that required anyone manumitted after May 1st of that year to leave the state within one year (Rodriguez 1999:253). Although it's uncomfortable to hear, state and federal laws prior to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments are full of legally-binding decisions designed to control or establish standards for free and enslaved African Americans. Much of the social traditions followed even in Shenandoah County, which had been formally established in 1772 as Dunmore County, had been first established with the 1705 Virginia Slave Code. Such laws included recognizing slaves as chattel property; forbidding blacks to serve as witnesses in court; and defining slavery as a legal condition limited to blacks (Rodriguez 1999:211). In 1723, further discrimination resulted in higher colonial taxes imposed on blacks and Native Americans, as well as free blacks being denied the right to carry weapons (aka, their Second Amendment rights, which our county loves so much) (Rodriguez 1999:216).
While we can look as far back as colonial Virginia for state laws that deny civil rights to people based on race, for the sake of this letter, I'm focusing on the time period following our country's formation. According to the American Bar Association, racism is "the unintended (but often foreseeable) consequence of choices." The Science Museum of Virginia defines racism, or identifying differences in ethnicities and skin colors "and promoting negative attitudes toward people with those differences" as a learned behavior. Although it's a negative catchword in at least 36 states around the USA, critical race theory (CRT), which was officially introduced as a term in 1989, simply states that race is not a biological truth, but a social construct. And, that race has been embedded into systems and institutions in such a way as to create inequality. A quick perusal of the laws and wills we have been analyzing and discussing quickly reveal the truth of CRT: the United States of America was founded on principles of inequality and racism toward people of color. And even today our country continues to draw lines and enact laws that generate inequality based on socially-constructed labels. That means that decisions across the country and at every level must be made with a real sensitivity to how people of all labels have been treated and should be treated, now and in the future.
It's also important to note that CRT is a higher education academic topic - not taught in the primary or secondary public schools within our country. I can vouch for that, since I was never taught about Virginia's slave code in the SCPS system; and although I do remember hearing about Jim Crow, it was always in association with the deep south, never Virginia. That said, we do a major disservice to our community when we don't talk about these issues honestly and openly - recognizing all of our history, not just what we were taught to believe about our country, our state, and our community from the perspective of an unbalanced majority that controls these narratives. So, let's take an honest look at just a handful of the laws in place between 1772 and 1861:
In 1793, Virginia legislature passed a law that made it illegal for any free black person to enter our state (Rodriquez 1999:243).
In 1820, a presidential order allowed the U.S. Army to deny blacks and mulattoes the right to serve in the U.S. military (Rodriguez 1999:265).
In 1839, the U.S. State Department denied a black applicant's passport request on the grounds that blacks were not considered citizens (Rodriguez 1999:297).
In 1851, Virginia legislature strengthened the 1806 law requiring recently freed blacks to leave the state, by adding the risk of re-enslavement (Rodriguez 1999: 322).
In 1860, Virginia legislature made it possible for free blacks, found guilty of an act that would normally lead to imprisonment, to be sold into slavery instead (Rodriguez 1999:346).
And that takes us to 1861, when Virginia seceded from The United States of America. As I have mentioned before, CSA vice president Alexander Stephens, clearly stated the foundational principle of the Confederate States of America, which Virginia was part of: "the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is a natural and normal condition . . . our new Government, is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth" (Rodriguez 1999:349). This statement is precisely what CRT is getting at: race is a social construct and yet, racism has been embedded in systems and institutions. CSA documents and speeches by leaders clearly reveal that it was based on racism. And this is why CSA leaders, including generals and soldiers, should not have their names on any public buildings that are funded by the USA today. These leaders fought to uphold the laws described above. They supported pro-slavery, pro-inequality measures.
The United States of America, since its foundation, has stumbled toward true equality for all. Reverting to names with Confederate leaders for the southern campus Shenandoah County Public Schools would be an impediment to promoting a message of true equality.
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