The steamer George Peabody arrived last night from Hatteras Inlet, bringing later intelligence and a number of fugitive slaves from near the mouth of the Tar River, who had managed to escape to the inlet.1
In October, 2014, our family visited Hatteras Island, Dare County, North Carolina, to see the recently erected monument for the “Hotel D’Afrique,” a settlement, or freedom colony, of formerly enslaved African American men, women, and children who’d escaped from various points along North Carolina’s mid-Eastern coast between 1861-1862. The colony is described as the “First safe haven for African Americans in North Carolina during the Civil War.” The monument is part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and is located on the grounds of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
An article in the New York Times described the settlement and some of its noteworthy residents. A portion of the article is also featured on the monument.
Capt. Clark has erected a very commodious wooden house on the beach, for the use of the fugitives who have recently arrived from Roanoke Island. It is christened “Hotel d’Afrique.” These contrabands are very happy in their new quarters, and have a very high opinion of Capt. Morris and Capt. Clark. They evidently left Roanoke Island not only for their health, But also with a view of improving their condition in life. Their master and the succession troops at the Island tried to snuff them with the old story tha the Yankees sold all the young and able negroes to Cuba, to pay the expenses of the war, while they cut the hamstrings of the old men, and cut off their right arms, and then turned them loose. Of course, they professed to believe these stories, but they knew they were falsehoods. They had seen and conversed with Northern men who have been accustomed to visit the island to buy shad, and they “knew they were friendly.” Franklin Tillett, the old man who last arrived, came down from Roanoke Island in a boat, bringing with him fifteen of his household, old and young, among whom were six women and several children. Frank is the rejoicing father of fifteen children, his wife having had four by a former husband. One of the sons of this patriarchal household gave me their names – as far as he could remember them. They are: Wilson, Levi, John, Joe, Miles, Ernest, Frank, Ceny, Esther, George Lafayette, Colinda, Ellen, William Leon, Thomas, John C. Calhoun, and Nancy – the last three years old when she died, and four others who died young, whose names he does not recollect. They were very happy when informed, in answer to questions, whether they would be sent back, that Massa Wilson, from good old Massachusetts, had introduced a bill into Congress forbidding, under severe penalties, any officer from returning them to bondage. “Den God bless Massa Wilson for dat!”, they exclaimed. They have an original way of keeping accounts with Uncle Sam. Their account-book is a number of sticks on which they cut a notch for every day they work, and they will, by and by, expect such wages such as are paid the colored folks at other places. They were very expert boatman, and are useful in pulling about the inlet and working along the shore.The New York Times, January 29, 18623
The National Anti-Slavery Standard also featured an article about some of the formerly enslaved living on Hatteras Island, in particular, “Old Ben,” one of Franklin Tillett’s children.
Old Ben, of whom I have spoken largely, has come to be a leading man here in Hatteras; indeed, he would be listened to with attention in any convocation of plain men. He is, as I said before, a skillful inland sailor, knows all about the inlets and outlets, the winds the currents, the moon and the tides, and would be a very useful man on the coast survey. Commend him to Professor Bache. Old Ben is the fifth son of Franklin and Nancy Tillett, and perhaps the ablest of them all. He speaks the English language well, his vocabulary is quite copious. Many have guessed him to be a preacher, but he is simply a modest fisherman, who asks nothing but the privilege of laboring for a livelihood in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’…
….I think that, should the war end with an order directing their return to their owners, a large per centage of them will commit suicide. I have heard them, when speculating in their cabins on the this point, declare that they would never, never, never return to Roanoke and slavery.The National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 25, 18624
The monument states that the “Hotel” was located about one to one and one-half miles west from the current location of the monument, meaning that the site is now under water. On the day of our visit, aside from the monument, there was no sign of anything related to the Civil War-era freedom colony, making the monument an invaluable addition to a more complete and authentic narrative of history. The only visible inhabitants on the island were the fisherman that dotted the shoreline, along with a few children and families flying kites. My fear is that one day, due to rising sea levels and global warming, the current site of the monument will also be under water,
I was curious about other “Hotels de Afrique” that existed during this period. A few hours research revealed that the term was rather ubiquitous in nature, often applied by white media sources to any hotel or boarding house owned, managed, or frequented by African Americans. One such “Hotel” was located in Nashville, Tennessee, managed by Marcus Harding, a former slave of William Giles Harding (1808-1886), owner of Belle Meade Plantation near Nashville.
Speaking of local matters in Nashville, the Republican Banner says: Among other evidences of the wit and jollity so characteristic of river men and frequenters of the levee, we notice the following placard at the door of the “Hotel d’Afrique,” an eating house kept by an ancient darkie, and very popular among hungry freedmen: “Notification par Tbale (Table) d’Hote – Tilting hoops must not be worn at the dejeuner, as they distract the attention of the waiters, and allow the flies to get at the mea.
Among recent arrivals at the Hotel d’Afrique we find the following: “W. H. Seward, Washington; Horace Greeley, New York; A. J. Fletcher, Capitol; W. G. Brownlow, Knoxville; Harriet B. Stowe, Africa; Wendell Phillips, Boston. N. B. – White folks admitted to the table. No dead heads except the freedmen’s bureau.The New Orleans Crescent, June 23, 2866; The Louisiana Democrat, June 27, 1866
A Marcus Harding was documented in Tennessee marriage records as the husband of Fanny Connell. They married in Davidson County, on April 4, 1866.5 Marcus Harding passed away on February 10, 1868, in Nashville. “Gone,” reported The Tennessean, “Marcus Harding, colored, well known as the landlord of ‘Hotel D-Afrique,’ a restaurant much frequented by sable mariners, died early Monday morning. He formerly belonged to General Harding, and claimed to be over ninety years old.”6
Despite relative local notoriety, Marcus Harding was interred in the pauper’s cemetery, Nashville. His reported age was seventy-nine years old.7
Topeka temperance people and Topeka’s temperance newspapers have been roasting the police commissioners of that city for permitting one Nicholas Chiles to treat his friends to a little good cheer at the opening of his new Hotel d’Afrique. These same people and newspapers would have been wild with indignation if the hosts at any of their numerous banquets had been arrested for passing the cheering cup. It may be the line is drawn at color as Mr. Chiles is of the African raceThe Leavenworth Standard, January 6, 1897
Nicholas “Nick” Chiles (1867-1929)
In the Topeka Plaindealer, and other African American newspapers, Chiles’ “Hotel d’Afrique” was simply referred to as Chiles’ Hotel. Several ads for the establishment were featured in the Plaindealer between 1899 and 1910.
Nicholas Chiles passed away on October 29, 1929, in Topeka, and was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, est. 1909. Chiles was one of the cemetery’s original stockholders. Chiles’ wife, Minnie, and daughters Amicholas and Thelma, are also interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery..8
Nicholas Chiles, veteran editor of the Topeka Plaindealer, died Saturday morning at the St. Francis Hospital, after an illness which extended over a period of seven months. He was 60 years old.
An active Republican for years, “Nick” Chiles, as he was known thruout the entire country, played an important part in the politics of his state, Thru columns of the Plaindealer, which he edited for more than 30 years, he campaigned fearlessly for the rights of his people.
His home in “Governor’s row,” a few doors from the Governor’s mansion, was one of the show places of the city.The Press-Forum Weekly, November 9, 19299
- “Letter from Fortress Monroe and Hatteras,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pa.), 9 September 1861, p. 2, col. 5; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 10 October 2019.)
- From Harper’s Weekly: “…the Hotel d’Afrique, a building erected near Fort Hatteras for the reception of contrabands. There are upward of forty there now. The darkey with the pipe is ‘boss’ of the establishment, and obligingly sat to be sketched by our correspondent.”
- “Hotel D’Afrique and The Contrabands,” The New York Times (New York, NY), 29 January 1862, p. 1, col. 4; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 2 March 2016).
- “The Emancipated North Carolineans,” The National Anti-Slavery Standard, 25 January 1862, p. 1, col. 6; image copy, Accessible Archives (https://www.accessible-archives.com : accessed 16 October 2019).
- Davidson County, Tennessee, Marriages, Marcus Harding-Fanny Conwell, 4 April 1866; image, “Tennessee, County Marriages, 1790-1950,” Familysearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 10 October 2019).
- “Gone,” The Tennessean (Nashville, TN), 12 February 1868, p. 3. col. 4; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 12 October 2019).
- Marcus Harding was likely laid to rest in Nashville’s potter’s field/paupers burial ground, renamed “Davidson County Cemetery” in the 1950s. See: “The Dead of February,” The Nashville Union and American, (Nashville, TN), March 3, 1868.
- “New Colored Cemetery,” The Topeka Plaindealer, (Topeka, KS), 3 September, 1909, p. 1, col. 2; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 14 October 2019). Mount Auburn’s files can be found online. See: https://tscpl.org/history/mount-auburn-cemetery-files-now-available-online.
- “Nick Chiles, Veteran Editor, Succumbs,” The Press-Forum Weekly (Mobile, AL), 9 November 1929, p. 1, col. 2; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 16 October 2019.)