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.
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