Monthly Archives: June 2018

Portsmouth, Virginia: Brothers in the fight for freedom, rediscovered

Calvin White 1st USCC MCCC Portsmouth VA

Enlistment record of Pvt. Calvin White, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry


Another long lost veteran has been rediscovered in Mount Olive Cemetery, part of the historic Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, in Portsmouth, Virginia. His name was Calvin White, and he was a member of Company H, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry.

Calvin was born enslaved about 1833, in Gates County, North Carolina. His owner was Sarah F. Hinton (1832-1854), but Calvin’s surname came from his second owner, Watson Timothy White (1824-1919), whom Sarah F. Hinton married on May 28, 1850, Perquimans County, North Carolina. Both of Calvin’s parents were also born into slavery, his mother, Aggy, owned by the Hinton Family, and his father, Isaac Parker, “owned by a man named Parker,” according to Calvin’s later recollection. Both Calvin and his mother Aggy were moved to an area near Edenton, North Carolina, after Sarah F. Hinton’s marriage to Watson Timothy White in 1850.

At the age of thirty, Calvin “left his master,” and traveled up to Norfolk, Virginia, where he enlisted on December 12, 1863, with the 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. Calvin didn’t make the journey alone. His younger brother, Jerry, left with him, and also enlisted with the 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Calvin and Jerry were both assigned to Company H.

Enlistment record of Pvt. Jerry White, Co. H, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry


Early freedom seekers in the Edenton area, like abolitionist Harriet Ann Jacobs, had to make use of North Carolina’s coastal “maritime underground railroad,” to escape slavery.

“Runaways depended on maritime blacks. During the antebellum period coastal ports like Edenton were crowded with black seaman. They worked as stewards and cooks on most ships and held skilled crew positions on many vessels. Ferrymen, nearly always slaves, departed from local docks to convey passengers and goods. At the wharves, slave women peddled fish, oysters, stew and cornbread to hungry sailors and found a ready market for laundry services. Slave artisans caulked, refitted, rigged and rebuilt as necessary to keep wooden vessels at sea. Their maritime culture provided runaways with a complex web of informants, messengers, go-betweens and other potential collaborators.” (Historical wayside marker, Edenton, NC)

Calvin and Jerry’s sojourn to Norfolk was likely made a little easier by the Union’s capture of Roanoke Island in early 1862.

“It was the key to all the rear defences of Norfolk. It unlocked two sounds (Albemarle and Currituck); eight rivers (North, West, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Little, Chowan, Roanoke and Alligator); four canals (the Albemarle and Chesapeake, Dismal Swamp, Northwest and Suffolk), and two railroads (the Petersburg and Norfolk and Seaboard and Roanoke)…(Time Full of Trial, Patricia C. Click)

In his enlistment record, Calvin was described as thirty years old, five feet, nine inches tall, with black eyes, complexion, and hair.  Little brother Jerry was documented as twenty years old, five feet, six inches tall, with black eyes, complexion and hair. Both men mustered in on December 22, 1863, at Camp Hamilton, where the 1st United States Colored Cavalry was originally organized.


Camp Hamilton, Hampton, Virginia. Library of Congress


In his pension record, Calvin described his military service as best as he could remember it. He noted that the regiment was involved in a small skirmish “on the turnpike near Petersburg,” though no one in his company was injured. He remembered traveling to Bermuda Hundred, arriving after the battle was over, and being before Petersburg, Virginia, though he didn’t join the fight. Later, he remembered moving on to Williamsburg, Virginia, and being in Richmond after April 3, 1865, when the state capitol fell to Union forces. In the city for only a few days, his company was ordered from Richmond to Geddes (Gettys) Station (Portsmouth, Virginia), and then on to Brazos Santiago, Texas.

It was during the trip to Brazos Santiago, Texas, that Calvin remembered the beginning of what would become permanent issues with his eyesight. Whether from smoke, dust, or exposure, he explained it as “just a loss of sight.” In his enlistment record, he was recorded as being absent from duty on August 3, 1865 as a result, with an eventual transfer to the Corps D’Afrique General Hospital at New Orleans, Louisiana soon after. On December 22, 1865, he was discharged from duty on a surgeon’s certificate of disability. He soon returned to Tidewater, Virginia.

Having no major medical issues, Calvin’s brother Jerry remained in Texas with the regiment when Calvin was discharged. Calvin lived with Jerry’s family in Hampton, Virginia until early 1867.

After Jerry’s return to Hampton Roads, Calvin relocated from Hampton to Portsmouth, and met Hannah Barnes, who became his common law wife.  Hannah was also from North Carolina, and by 1870, the couple were documented in the Western Branch district of (former) Norfolk County, Virginia. Two daughters were born to them, Martha in 1872, and Rachel Ann in 1874. During this period, Calvin worked as a general laborer, eventually becoming an oysterman, like many of my paternal ancestors.


Pvt. Calvin White and Hannah Barnes, 1880 Census, West Branch, Norfolk County, Virginia


Over in Hampton, Jerry officially married Rebecca (surname unknown). The couple had seven children, daughters Louisa and Rachel, and sons Robert (or Richard), Edward, Jerry, Jr., William, and….Calvin. Jerry White, Sr., worked mostly as a general laborer, in lumberyards in and around Hampton, and later as a gardener.

Pvt. Calvin White passed away on December 31, 1921. His wife, Hannah, and little brother, Pvt. Jerry White, preceded him in death. Hannah died sometime after 1900, and Jerry, on April 13, 1910. Calvin was laid to rest in Portsmouth’s Mount Olive Cemetery by Richard Rodgers, a son of a Civil War veteran, and noted African American undertaker for Portsmouth’s black community.

To date, a headstone for Pvt. Calvin White has not been found. It’s possible that he never had one. It is also possible that he did, and his gravestone, like so many others in the cemetery complex, is simply buried out of sight by a foot or more of soil, a victim of repeated bouts of flooding and soil disturbance over the years. Calvin’s wife Hannah may also be buried in Mount Olive, but like her husband, without an identifiable gravestone.

Of equal interest is the question of Pvt. Jerry White’s last resting place. He is not documented buried in Hampton National Cemetery, nor any other Hampton cemetery to date. Could he be buried with his older brother Calvin in Portsmouth? Or does he rest, undocumented, in one of Hampton’s historic African American cemeteries? In stark contrast, a quick Google search identified the burials of Sarah F. Hinton White and Watson Timothy White, Calvin and Jerry’s former slave owners. They rest in Edenton’s well-kept Beaver Hill Cemetery. As for the graves of Pvt. Calvin White, Hannah Barnes White, and Pvt. Jerry White, the search continues. ♥

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, Chowan County, Civil War, Edenton, Gates County, Grand Army of the Republic, Hampton, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Perquimans County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Slavery, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

In Remembrance of Juneteenth…

Emancipation Day Celebration Band, June 19, 1900. “East Woods,” East 24th St., Austin, Texas. Source: Austin Public Library


“Advices from Galveston to the 20th, state that Weitzel’s corps arrived there several days before. Galveston is occupied

Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 8, 1865

by colored troops, constituting a provost guard for the enforcement of law and order.

Gen. Gordon Granger left Galveston on the 20th June for Houston, with a sufficient force to occupy the city and protect the citizens in the vicinity.

The following general order was issued at Galveston by General Granger on the 19th:

‘The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free.’ This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.’

‘The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness wither there or elsewhere.’

‘All acts of the governor and legislature of Texas, since the ordinance of succession, are hereby declared illegitimate.’

‘All civil and military officers and agents of the so-called Confederate States government, or of the state of Texas, and all persons formerly connected with the Confederate States army, in Texas, will at once report for parole.

‘All lawless persons committing acts of violence, such as banditti, guerrillas, jay-hawkers, horse thieves, etc., etc., are hereby declared out-laws and enemies of the human race, and will be dealt with accordingly.”

(Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 8, 1865)


Galveston Daily News, June 23, 1865

“General Orders, No. 3 – The freedmen in and around the City of Houston are hereby directed to remain for the time being with their former owners. They are assured that by so doing they forfeit none of their rights of freedom. An Agent of the Government, whose business it is to superintend the making of contracts between the Freedmen and those who desire to employ them, is expected to be here soon. In the meantime, the Freedmen are advised to be patient and industrious.

No encouragement or protection will be given those who abandon their present homes for the purposes of idleness. If found in this city, without employment, or visible means of support, they will be put at labor, cleaning the streets, without compensation.

The Provost Marshal is charged with the enforcement of this Order.

By order of

Colonel G. W. Clark

Chas. F. Loshe, Post Adj’t”

(Galveston Daily News, June 23, 1865)



Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900. “East Woods,” East 24th St., Austin, Texas. Source: Austin Public Library



Circular – Office of Provost Marshal General, District of Texas, Galveston, June 28, 1865


All persons formerly slaves are earnestly enjoined to remain with their former masters, under such contracts as may be

Galveston Daily News, July 7, 1865

made for the present time. Their own interest as well as that of their former masters, or other parties requiring their services, renders such a course necessary and of vital importance, until permanent arrangements are made under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau. It must be borne in mind, in this connection, that cruel treatment or improper use of the authority given to employers will not be permitted, whilst both parties to the contract are made, will be equally bound to its fulfillment on their part.

No persons formerly slaves will be permitted to travel on the public thoroughfares without passes or permits from their employers, or to congregate in buildings or camps at or adjacent to any military post or town. They will not be subsisted in idleness, or in any way except as employees of the Government, on in cases of extreme destitution or sickness, and in such cases the officers authorized to order the issues, shall be the judge as to the justice of the claim for such subsistence. Idleness is sure to be productive of vice, and humanity dictates that employment be furnished these people, while the interest of the commonwealth imperatively demands it, in order that the present crop may be secured. No person, white or black, and who are able to labor, will be subsisted by the Government in idleness, and this hand as a dead weight upon those who are disposed to bear their full share of the public burdens. Provost Marshals and their assistants throughout the District are charged with using every means in their power to carry out the instructions in letter and spirit.

By order of Major-General Granger

(Signed) R. G. Laughlin,

Lt. Col. and Provost Marshal, Dist. of Texas.

All Texas papers will copy the above circular one month and send bills to the office of the Provost Marshal General, Galveston.”

(Galveston Daily News, July 7, 1865)


Texas natives interred in the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex (est. 1879) Portsmouth, Virginia


Mark (Mack) McFarland

Born about 1896, Texas. Son of Kid and Mary McFarland, both of Texas.

Died, February 7, 1920. Interment, Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Gravestone not found


William Thorn

Born about 1870, Texas. Son of Billie and Jennie Thorn, both of Texas.

Died, April 18, 1919. Interment, Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Gravestone not found


Mary White

Born about 1884, Houston, Texas. Daughter of Mary Alston.

Died March 15, 1927. Interment, Mt. Olive Cemetery.

Gravestone not found

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Filed under Austin, Civil War, Emancipation, Galveston, Houston, Slavery, Texas

Decoration Day Memories: Honoring Civil War Navy Veteran Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896)

Thomas Craig 2018 Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

Grave of Landsman Thomas Craig (1831-1896), Civil War Navy Veteran. Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2018


Honoring the subject of my first blog years ago, Landsman Thomas Craig, a free-born African American Civil War Navy veteran from Delaware. After the war, Thomas served aboard the receiving ship Franklin with two of my paternal ancestors, great-great-great-grandfather Max, and great-great-grandfather Arthur, during the 1880s in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. Thomas Craig and my great-great-great-grandfather Max Orton are buried about twenty feet apart in the rear of Mt. Olive Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries of the historic Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Great-great-grandfather Arthur Orton is buried near the front of the cemetery complex, in the section known as Fishers Cemetery.

Over Decoration Day (Memorial Day) weekend, I visited the cemetery complex with my father to plant flags at the graves of the some of the several hundred veterans we’ve documented there. After planting a flag at Max’s gravesite, we walked over and stood before Thomas’ grave, and reflected on the historical connections between him and our family. Another detail popped into view, the fire ants at the base of his gravestone. They will have to be removed before his headstone can be cleaned and reset. His sacrifice for freedom and equality is not forgotten. The struggle continues…

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Filed under Civil War, Delaware, Grand Army of the Republic, In Memoriam, Lincolnsville, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Slavery, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia