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.
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SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over seven years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.