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.
Leave a Reply.
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.