Category Archives: Civil War

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

Virginia: A new headstone for 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry

Martin Smith USCT Portsmouth Copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Headstone of 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, Memorial Day Weekend (May 25), 2013

 

Today we received word that a new headstone for 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, has been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Born enslaved, ca. 1840 in Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia, Martin escaped and enlisted on January 5, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered in on January 25th. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as five feet, four inches tall, with a “light complexion, black eyes and hair.” His occupation was noted as “laborer.” During the war, he was present with his regiment at Point Lookout, Maryland, Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg and Richmond through December, 1864, and assigned to an ammunition train of the artillery brigade, January to April, 1865. Martin was appointed Corporal on August 1, 1865, Sergeant on March 23, 1866, and 1st Sergeant on July 28, 1866. He mustered out with the surviving members of his regiment on October 28, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

While enslaved, Martin was often “hired out” to various plantation owners. As a teenager, he was sent down to South Carolina to work as a turpentine dipper, hard and dangerous labor that was part of the naval stores industry, which began in North Carolina in the early 1700s.  The industry was active well into the early decades of the twentieth century, supported largely through the use of convict labor and peonage. In Slavery by Another Name, author Douglas A. Blackmon describes the industry and the day to day experience of the men laboring on turpentine farms, providing a picture of what young Martin had to cope with while in the Pee Dee/Lowcountry region.

…men toiled in the turpentine farms under excruciating conditions to supply a booming market for pine tar, pitch, and turpentine used to caulk the seams of wooden sailing ships and waterproof their ropes and riggings.

Workers carved deep V-shaped notches into the trunks of millions of massive slash and longleaf pines towering in the still virgin forests. Small galvanized iron boxes or gutters were attached to the trees to collect the thick, milky pine gum that oozed from the wounds in winter. During spring and summer, as sap began to run, millions of gallons of pine resin oozed into the containers. Working feverishly from before dawn to the end of light, turpentine workers cut fresh notches into every tree once a week, gathered the gum and resin by hand, boiled it into vast quantities of distilled turpentine, and hauled it in hundreds of thousands of barrels out of the deep woods. When trees stopped producing gum and resin, the camp owners harvested them for lumber. As the demand for turpentine products soared, the timber companies relentlessly acquired fresh tracts of forest to drain and armies of men to perform the grueling work. – Slavery by Another Name, 174)

Pulling operation of a four-year face in a turpentine grove near Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

Rosin flowing on a four-year face. The tool is a “puller.” Near Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

Emptying the turpentine dups full of rosin into a bucket near a turpentine still in Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turpentine dipper near Waycross, Georgia. Library of Congress

 

Martin Smith was forced to work in this industry for four long years.

Soon after his return to Virginia, Martin met and married Nansemond County native Jeannette “Jennie” Gordon, daughter of Isaac and Huldah Gordon, according to “slave custom’ in late 1862. The couple never had an official ceremony, according to Jeannette. “He asked my master and mistress for me, and they gave their consent,” she would later state in her pension application.

Martin and Jeannette were the proud parents of nine children, including daughters Emeline and Margaret, and sons John Martin, Charles, Pompey, and George. The family resided in the Western Branch District of Norfolk County, Virginia, in an area annexed by the City of Portsmouth in 1919. Martin generally worked as a laborer on truck farms, and managed to acquire an 1/8-acre of land on which he built a small home. His sons gained employment at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

1st Sgt. Martin Smith passed away on January 4, 1897, from complications of chronic rheumatism.  He was interred in Mount Olive Cemetery, part of the historic Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. His wife, Jeannette “Jennie” Gordon Smith, died on August 2, 1930, from complications of chronic nephritis. She was also buried in Mount Olive Cemetery by undertaker Richard Rodgers. To date, her gravesite has not been located.

1st Sgt. Martin Smith will be the twentieth African American Civil War veteran to receive a new headstone.  See this post for more information on the other nineteen freedom fighters. ♥

Martin Smith Portsmouth USCT Copyright 2016 Nadia Orton

Headstone of 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, May 29, 2016. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, Civil War, Georgia, Grand Army of the Republic, Hampton, Maryland, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Norfolk, Norfolk County, Pembroke, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, South Carolina, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Waycross

Portsmouth, Virginia: Disappointments and Discoveries

Sgt. Williams Lincoln Cemetery Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

The recently discovered grave of Sgt. George Williams, Company F, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

 

On March 22, 2018, we visited Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912), in Portsmouth, Virginia. Our family has long ties to the sacred ground, with ancestors from North Carolina and various areas of Tidewater, Virginia, being buried there for decades.

So, it was no surprise that, after a week of snow and rainstorms, we encountered major flooding in the cemetery. It happens often, as the grounds are low-lying with exceedingly poor drainage. But this flooding was horrible, perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. It was present in the front of the cemetery…

 

Lincoln Memorial Flooding 2018 Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

Waterlogged graves of Dr. William E. Reid and wife Cornelia, and Dr. Frank G. Elliott and wife Laura Carr Elliott. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

 

the center of the cemetery…

 

Flood Graves Lincoln Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

Submerged graves of Korean War veteran Leonard Walker, and Vietnam War veteran William McKentry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

 

and the rear…

 

Flooding in a rear section of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, March 22, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

No section of the historic burial ground was spared, and hundreds of grave markers were barely visible beneath the rippling pools of water, mud, and random trash blown in from the roadway. I tried to muster my game face, and family members made a comment that was both practical and dispiriting. “I hope your boots don’t start leaking!” Sigh. This visit was supposed to be a positive one. We were there to mark the gravesite of Pvt. Albert Jones, a member of the 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. He died in a terrible house fire in 1940 at the age of one hundred and two, and for over seventy-eight years, had rested in an unmarked grave. In February, we submitted a request for a new headstone for Pvt. Jones, which was recently approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs and delivered to a local monument company for installation. It seemed a simple task: go to the cemetery, and flag his gravesite for the monument company. But the flood waters made the simple act of marking Albert’s grave practically impossible.

 

“…you better never let mastah catch yer wif a book or paper, and yer couldn’t praise God so he could hear yer. If yer done dem things, he sho’ would beat yer.”

 

Not long ago, I discovered Albert’s slave narrative, recorded in 1938 as part of the Works Progress Administration. Through it, I had the opportunity to learn details of his life not found in any other source. It’s simply stunning, reading first person testimony, feeling the inherent power of the words. Albert described being born enslaved in Southampton County, Virginia, site of the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831. Though he never shared his name, Albert stated that his owner was relatively decent. However, if the owner found any books, paper, or other reading or writing materials in the hands of the enslaved, they would be beaten or otherwise severely punished.

Albert had remained on the plantation until the age of twenty-one, when he’d escaped with his brother, and enlisted in the Union Army on December 3, 1864, at Newport News, Virginia. In the narrative, he described the living conditions in the Federal camps, and the roles of African American women there who’d joined their husbands in their flight to freedom.

In one battle, Albert had been shot through his right hand. At the time, Albert stated that he’d simply wrapped it with a bandage and continued to fight, but the wound would continue to plague him for the rest of his life. After showing her his injury, the WPA interviewer noted “it was half closed…this was as far as he could open his hand.”

Learning these fascinating tidbits about his life, coupled with the tragic way that he died, made me determined to mark Albert’s grave. He’d begun to feel like a long-lost member of our family. So as we would with any other family member, we tried to find his grave despite the flooding. But good intentions aside, there was no way it was going to happen that day…the whole area was underwater, a foot deep in some sections. Albert would have to wait, again.

 

Flooding in Albert’s section. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, March 22, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

Disappointed, I began to make my way back to the car, but was soon distracted by another grave. It was a headstone of government-issue, and judging by its weathered appearance, a very old one. Mindful of the sodden ground and flood waters, I leaned down as close as I dared, and made out a very faint inscription. “____ Williams, Co. __, __ U. S. C. I.” It certainly wasn’t Albert, so who was this? Had I found another United States Colored Troop?

I trudged back to the car a little faster, and retrieved a pair of gloves, an old towel, and our trusty brush/ice-scraper for an impromptu cleaning (brush for the stone, ice-scraper for the mud at the base). After a few minutes, the inscription was clear enough to read: “Sergt. Geo. Williams/Co. F/36 U. S. C. I.” Indeed, I had discovered another freedom fighter.

 

Sgt. George Williams 36th USCI Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

Clearing the gravestone of Sgt. George Williams, 36th Regiment, U. S.Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, March 22, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

Sgt. Williams Lincoln Cemetery Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

The recently discovered grave of Sgt. George Williams, Company F, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

 

Returning home, I looked up Sgt. Williams’ service record. He was born about 1843 in Suffolk, Virginia, and described as five feet, five inches tall, with “black eyes, complexion, and hair,” occupation farmer.  He’d enlisted on August 13, 1863, in Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered in at Portsmouth on October 28th. While his service record doesn’t indicate his participation in any battles, it does note his intermittent assignments with the Quartermaster Department. He was appointed Corporal on September 9, 1863, and Sergeant on July 24, 1866. He mustered out on August 13, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas, after a term of three years.

Excited, I continued to dig. After the war, George married Jennie Knight, daughter of Paul and Jennie Knight. According to later

Enlistment record of Sgt. George Williams, 36th U. S.Colored Infantry.

testimony of their children, both George and Jennie had ancestral ties to Richmond, Virginia. In the 1870 and 1880 census, George, Jennie and family were documented in Portsmouth, with George working as a general laborer. Not having much luck finding the family in the 1900 census, I did learn that Jennie Knight Williams passed away in 1909, and was interred in Mount Olive Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the historic Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth. To date, Jennie’s grave has not been located.

In Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Sgt. George Williams is interred with several other family members, Present are the graves of some of his children, including sons George, Jr. (1878-1941), and Edward (Edinborough) (1866-1934). Edward (Edinborough) Williams is interred next to his wife, Hattie A. Churchwell Williams (1867-1934), daughter of Isaac and Ellen Churchwell, free persons of color.

 

Central portion of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. The Williams Family plot is on the lower left. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

 

Over the years, flooding hasn’t spared Sgt. George William’s family plot either. Edward’s (Edinborough’s) gravestone is currently upside down, and his wife Hattie’s has shifted slowly to the right of its original location. And I’ve come to wonder how Sgt. George Williams is even buried in Lincoln Memorial. After all, according to military records, he’d died about 1901, and yet the earliest recorded burials in Lincoln Memorial began in 1913.

One possibility is that Sgt. Williams’ children had his grave moved to Lincoln after the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex became increasingly overgrown in the 1940s. It wouldn’t be the first instance of grave relocations to Lincoln from other historically African American burial grounds in the area. The family of realtor and businessman Thomas William Newbie (1879-1936), had done the same in the 1970s, and the grave of Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1844-1884), of the 28th U. S. Colored Infantry, was moved to Lincoln during the construction of Portsmouth’s historic Truxtun community in 1919. Although George rests among family in Lincoln Memorial, it’s still somewhat disheartening to think of him resting apart from his wife, Jennie, buried somewhere in the rear of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. There’s a logical conclusion; George’s children had moved the only ancestral grave they could find amidst the overgrowth.

Perhaps fate is the reason why I stumbled across Sgt. Williams’ gravesite, to help tell his family story. Or maybe I just got lucky, spotting the grave of a local freedom fighter I didn’t expect to find while carefully tracing a path amidst flood waters and sunken graves. Or maybe I’m just overthinking again, and the buzzing sounds in my ear are my annoyed ancestors telling me to just be happy with the discovery. Either way, finding Sgt. George Williams is a great reminder that in cemetery preservation, despite all disappointments, the delays, lack of funding, cooperation, and in my case, chronic health issues, there are still wonderful discoveries to be made that keep the awful tug of hopelessness at bay. The job’s never a small task, but every little bit helps the larger goal. You have to keep trying, no matter what.

As for the flooding, I hope someday that funds can be secured to fix the problem. Thousands of families have connections to Lincoln Memorial, and no matter the conditions, descendants and the surrounding community remain committed to maintaining family connections to this sacred ground. This is especially evident every Memorial Day (Decoration Day) weekend, where hundreds come out, clean the gravesites they can reach, and decorate them with flowers, telling stories of ancestors and sharing memories while they work. The constant flooding only makes these family moments, precious as they are, that much harder to accomplish. Floods erase inscriptions and valuable history. It has to be remedied. There are simply too many priceless stories and family legacies at peril. ♦

 

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Brunswick County, Civil War, Edgecombe County, Franklin County, Gates County, Grand Army of the Republic, Hampton, Hertford County, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, New Hanover County, Newport News, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Vance County, Virginia, Warren County

Voices of Liberation and Freedom: The Fall of Richmond, April 3rd, 1865

Richmond, the Confederate capital, entered by the Union army. nypl.org https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ff22-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

 

Today is the 153rd anniversary of the liberation of Richmond, Virginia, by Union forces during America’s Civil War, 1861-1865. The first soldiers to enter Richmond were the “colored” regiments of the Union Army, ranks formed of free and formerly enslaved African-Americans.

Our own ancestors were a part of this collective sacrifice and struggle for freedom, escaping slavery where they were held in bondage, and serving with the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 36th, and 37th Regiments of the United States Colored Infantry, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of the United States Colored Cavalry, and as domestics, laundresses, and messengers in and around Union camps and hospitals. This post reflects just a few of the sites I’ve visited over the years that chronicle the long road to freedom.

 

Richmond, Virginia

The Lumpkin’s Jail Site and the African Burial Ground (ca. 1750-1816)

 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton

Lumpkin’s Jail Site, Civil War and Emancipation Day Weekend. Richmond, Virginia, April 6, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

“Lumpkin’s Jail was owned by Robert Lumpkin, who maximized profits in his compound by including lodging for slave traders, a slave holding facility, an auction house, and a residence for his family. A port city with water, ground and rail connections, Richmond was linked to slave buying markets such as Charleston and New Orleans. Enslaved Africans referred to Lumpkin’s Jail as ‘the Devil’s Half Acre,’ reflecting the despair and anger of people separated forever from their families. However, Mary Lumpkin, a black woman who was Robert’s widow, boosted post-Civil War black education when, in 1867, she rented the complex to a Christian school, which evolved into Virginia Union University.” — Richmond Slave Trail historical wayside marker

 

Touring the African Burial Ground, April 6, 2013, Civil War and Emancipation Day Weekend, Richmond, Virginia. There were about 30 people in the group on that particular day, despite the cold. Tour led by Ana Edwards, Chair, Sacred Ground Reclamation Project.

 

“This Burial Ground for Negroes (ca. 1750-1816), reclaimed as Richmond’s African Burial Ground, is the oldest municipal cemetery for enslaved and free Blacks known to have existed in the Richmond area, and may be among the oldest in the entire country.

This is the final resting place for many of the Africans who arrived on Virginia’s shores in chains from West and Central Africa, as well as for people of African descent born in Virginia. While disrespected, exploited and terribly abused in their lifetimes, their forced, unpaid labor established an economic basis for the development not only of Richmond, Virginia, and the South, but also contributed to the United States as a whole. Because of Richmond’s central role in this country’s internal slave trade, descendants of those buried here can likely be found throughout North America…

This Burial Ground also was the site of the Town Gallows, where Virginia’s young freedom-fighting hero Gabriel of the nearby Prosser plantation was executed on Oct. 10, 1800, for his role in attempting to lead a mass rebellion against slavery. Courageously, Gabriel planned a coup against Virginia’s government. He established methodology from observing the American Revolution and the triumphs of enslaved Africans in Haiti. Gabriel and 25 other enslaved Africans were executed here or in three other locations after courts convicted them for their roles in the conspiracy. In 2007, Governor Timothy M. Kaine pardoned Gabriel, saying, ‘Gabriel’s cause – the end of slavery and furtherance of equality of all people – has prevailed in the light of history.’” – African Burial Ground historical wayside marker


 

Charleston, South Carolina

Denmark Vesey, Slave Rebellion Organizer 

Born ca. 1767-July 2, 1822

 

 

Denmark Vesey Statue Charleston SC Copyright 2015 Nadia Orton

Statue in honor of Denmark Vesey (ca. 1767-1822). Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina. “Days of Grace” weekend, September 6, 2015. Photo: Nadia K. Orton.

 

“Denmark Vesey, previously named Telemaque was born either in Africa or on the Caribbean Island of St. Thomas. At the age of 14, he was purchased by the slave trader Captain Joseph Vesey and transported to the French Colony of St. Domingue, where the young African was sold along with 389 other slaves. Claimed to be suffering from epilepsy by his new owner, Denmark was returned to Captain Vesey.

The young man accompanied Captain Vesey on many trading voyages as part of the crew. In 1783, immediately after the American Revolution, Captain Vesey relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where Denmark continued to serve him for approximately another 17 years. In 1799, however, Denmark won $1,500 in the East Bay Street Lottery of Charleston and purchased his freedom for $600.

Denmark Vesey was a highly skilled carpenter and well known within free black and slave society. According to his contemporaries, he harbored frustration at his inability to legally free his wife and children. His antislavery sentiments may have received a wider audience when in 1818 enslaved and free black Charlestonians established a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church where he served as a class leader.

Vesey envisioned a community where all would be free, but recently passed state legislation of 1820 made legal emancipation of slaves nearly impossible. Furthermore, municipal authorities repeated attacks on the AME Church convinced Vesey slavery was such a violation of God’s law that rebellion was necessary to obtain liberty. He placed his own life at risk as he dared to plan to recruit others to achieve the goal of freedom.”

(Second panel)

Denmark Vesey

Vesey and his lieutenants “Gullah” Jack Pritchard, Peter Poyas, and Monday Gell developed a plan for a revolt which may have involved thousands of followers. Their war of liberation was originally planned for July 14, 1822, and called for conspirators to seize weapons and set fires around the city. Once reinforced by rural slaves, as many as possible were to escape by ship to Haiti where African people had already abolished slavery and formed an independent nation. According to Congregational minister and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the plan was the “most elaborate insurrectionary project ever formed by American slaves.”

When two slaves informed the authorities of the plot, the conspirators tried to move the date to June 16, but their plan failed. Arrests and trials followed and beginning on July 2, 1822, two days before Independence Day, Vesey and 34 of his compatriots were hanged. This figure represents the greatest number of slave conspiracy related executions in American history. 37 were banished, most outside the United States, and four whites were briefly fined and incarcerated for sympathizing with the conspirators. To strengthen security the authorities demolished the AME Church, and the state legislature imposed rigorous new laws, including the Negro Seaman Acts subjecting free black sailors from outside the state to arrest when their ships docked in Carolina ports. Free black men were required to have white guardians, and those that left the state were barred from returning. By the mid-1820s, the city fortified itself with an arsenal and barracks. In 1842, the Military College of South Carolina, now known as The Citadel, was established on that same site.

Despite daunting opposition, Vesey’s Sprit and liberating vision did not die. He became an inspiring symbol of freedom for later abolitionists including David Walker, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. His resolve demonstrates the timeless universality of men and women’s desire for freedom and justice, irrespective of race, creed, condition, or color.”


 

Beaufort County, South Carolina

Grave of Robert Smalls, Tabernacle Baptist Church Cemetery

 

Robert Smalls memorial Beaufort SC Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton

Memorial to Robert Smalls, Beaufort, South Carolina. Photo: Nadia K Orton, December 13, 2014.

 

“Born a slave in Beaufort in 1839, Robert Smalls lived to serve as a Congressman of the United States. In 1862, he commandeered and delivered to Union forces the Confederate gunboat ‘Planter,’ on which he was a crewman. His career as a freeman included service as a delegate to the 1868 and 1895 State Constitutional Conventions, election to the S. C. House and Senate, and 9 years in Congress.” – Historical marker, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Beaufort, South Carolina.

 


 

Harriet Ann Jacobs and the Maritime Underground Railroad

Edenton, Chowan County, North Carolina

 

Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)

Maritime Underground Railroad wayside marker, Edenton, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 19, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Runaways depended on maritime blacks (African-Americans). 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. Ferryman, 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.

It was this maritime culture that assisted Harriet Jacobs in her escape from Edenton by sea in 1842. In her narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861), Jacobs describes how the Edenton African American community, including black seaman, arranged for her escape on a schooner bound for Philadelphia.”  — Martime Underground Railroad historical wayside marker


 

Ohio

The Tiffin Tribune (Ohio), April 6, 1865

Petersburg National Battlefield, Petersburg, Virginia

 

“Remarkable and Gratifying – The announcement that General Weitzel had captured Richmond has a peculiar interest for Cincinnatians, be-cause this gallant officer is a native of that city; but another feature of the event has a more general interest. His corps is composed of colored troops, and a large proportion of these were slaves, men who had es-caped from the lash and exchanged their shackles for muskets. The Confederacy proposed to found itself upon slavery. This institution was its chief cornerstone. Richmond was the center of the slave aristocracy, the heart of the rebellion. Now imagine the slave-drivers, with their garments gathered up about them, moving double-quick out at one side of the city, as their former slaves, with heads erect, guns in hand, and powder dry, marched in at the other, under the national emblem, to the music of the Union, and a picture is presented of humiliation and retribution on one hand, and triumph on the other, that is worthy of being transferred to canvas. The feelings of the chivalric men and high strung women on that occasion may be imagined; no pen could de-scribe them. It was a remarkable event, and one that will gratify the loyal people, and receive a special page in history.”

 

USCT Monument Petersburg National Battlefield VA Copyright Nadia Orton 2012

“In Memory of the Valorous Service of Regiments and Companies of the U. S. Colored Troops, Army of the James and Army of the Potomac, Siege of Petersburg, 1864-1865.” Petersburg National Battlefield, Petersburg, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 2, 2012.

 


 

Richmond, Virginia

Garland H. White, Chaplain. 28th U. S. Colored Infantry

Letter, April 12, 1865

 

“I have just returned from the city of Richmond, my regiment was among the first that entered that city. I marched at the head of the column, and soon I found myself called upon by the officers and men of my regiment to make a speech, with which, of course, I readily complied. A vast multitude assembled on Broad Street, and I was aroused amid the shouts of ten thousand voices, and proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind. After which the doors of all the slave pens were thrown open, and thousands came out shouting and praising God, and Father, or Master Abe, as they termed him. In this mighty consternation I became so overcome with tears that I could not stand up under the pressure of such fullness of joy in my own heart. I retired to gain strength, so I lost many important topics worthy of note.

Among the densely crowded concourse there were parents looking for children who had been sold south of this state in tribes, and husbands came for the same purpose; here and there one was singled out of the ranks, and an effort was made to approach the gallant and marching soldiers, who were too obedient to orders to break ranks.

We continued our march as far as Camp Lee, at the extreme end of Broad Street, running westwards. IN camp the multitude followed, and everybody could participate in shaking the friendly but hard hands of the poor slaves. Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for [one] by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was brought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs, who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you.” I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questions as follows:

“What is your name, sir?”

“My name is Garland H. White.”

“What was your mother’s name?”

“Nancy.”

“Where was you born?”

“In Hanover County, in this State.”

“Where was you sold from?”

“From this city.”

“What was the name of the man who bought you?”

“Robert Toombs.”

“Where did he live?”

“In the State of Georgia.”

“Where did you leave him?”

“At Washington.”

“Where did you go then?”

“To Canada.”

“Where do you live now?”

“In Ohio.”

“This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends. But suffice it to say that God is on the side of the righteous, and will in due time reward them. I have witnesses several such scenes among the other colored regiments.

Late in the afternoon, we were honored with his Excellency, the President of the United States, Lieutenant-General Grant, and other gentleman of distinction. We made a grand parade through most of the principal streets of the city, beginning at Jeff Davis’s mansion, and it appeared to me that all the colored people in the world had collected in that city for that purpose. I never saw so many colored people in all my life, women and children of all sizes running after Father, or Master Abraham, as they called him. To see the colored people, one would think that they had all gone crazy. The excitement at this period was unabated, the tumbling of walls, the bursting of shells, could be heard in all directions, dead bodies being found, rebel prisoners being brought in, starving women and children begging for greenbacks and hard tack, constituted the order of the day. The Fifth [Massachusetts] Calvary, colored, were still dashing through the streets to protect and preserve the peace, and see that no one suffered violence, they having fought so often over the walls of Richmond, driving the enemy at every point.”

 

Pvt Collins 5 Mass Cav Calvary Cemetery Norfolk Copyright 2015 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Severn S. Collins, of Northampton County, Virginia, Company L, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton,  May 23, 2015.

 

(Garland H. White) “Among the first to enter Richmond was the 28 U. S. C. T. – better known as the First Indiana Colored Volunteers…

 

Sgt. Lewis Rogers USCT Portsmouth Orton

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1845-1884) of Gates County, North Carolina, 28th U. S. Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 23, 2015.

 

(Garland H. White) “Some people do not seem to know that the colored troops were the first that entered Richmond. Why, you need not feel at all timid in giving the truthfulness of my assertion to the four winds of the heavens, and let the angels re-echo it back to the earth, that the colored soldiers of the Army of the James were the first to enter the city of Richmond. I was with them, and I am still with them, and am willing to stay with them until freedom is proclaimed throughout the world.”

 


 

Thomas Morris Chester

African-American Civil War Correspondent

 

“The white soldiers, when orders for advancing were passed along the line, were posted nearer Richmond than the negroes. But, with that prompt obe-dience to orders that has never made the discipline of the blacks the pride of their officers, they soon passed over their own and the rebel works, and took the Osborne road directly for the city. When within a few miles of the city I heard Gen. Kautz give the order to Gen. Draper to take the left-hand side of the road, that Devin’s division might pass by. Gen. Draper obeyed the order implicitly, and, in order that he might not be in the way with his brigade, put it upon a double-quick, and never stopped until it entered the limits of the city. The colored troops had orders not to pass through the city, but to go around it and man the inner fortifications. When Devin’s division came within the outskirts of the city, and marched by General Draper’s bri-gade, who had stacked their arms, and whose drum corps was playing na-tional airs, they were loudly cheered by the colored troops, and they failed to respond, either from exhaustion or a want of courtesy. To Gen. Draper belongs the credit of having the first organization enter the city, and none are better acquainted with this fact than the officers of the divi-sion who are claiming the undeserved honor. Gen. Draper’s brigade is composed of the 22nd, 36th, and 118th U. S. colored troops, the 36th being the first to enter Richmond.”

 

1st Sgt Firbee 36 USCI Elizabeth City Copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

1st Sgt Peter Firbee, of Currituck County, North Carolina, Co. A, 36th USCI. Oak Grove Cemetery, Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 2, 2013.

Pvt. Jerome Morris, of Norfolk County, Virginia, Co. K. 36 USCI. Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, February 10, 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Wilmington, North Carolina

1st Sgt. John S. W. Eagles, Company D, 37th U. S. Colored Infantry

Address before the J. C. Abbott Post, Grand Army of the Republic

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1884

 

“Why are over 50,000 colored soldiers laying beneath the sod to-day? Why are their bones bleaching in the dust to night? For the privileges we are enjoying to-day. Civil rights, political rights, soldiers’ and sailors’ rights, and religious rights; and we propose to protect those rights, let come what will or may. Let weal or woe, let us survive or perish, we will maintain those rights.” ♥

 

1st Sgt. J. S. W. Eagles Wilmington NC Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton

1st Sgt. John S. W. Eagles, Co. D, 37th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Wilmington National Cemetery, Wilmington, NC. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 18, 2014


Washington, District of Columbia

The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

Celebrating its 20th year anniversary, July 18-21, 2018

African American Civil War Monument DC Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

African American Civil War Memorial. Washington, D. C. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017

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Filed under Beaufort County, Brazos Santiago, Brunswick County, Canada, Charleston County, Chowan County, Cincinnati, Civil War, Craney Island, Currituck County, Denmark Vesey, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Fort Monroe, Gates County, Grand Army of the Republic, Haiti, Hampton, Hanover County, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, New Hanover County, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Northampton County, Ohio, Pasquotank County, Petersburg, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, South Carolina, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Underground Railroad, Virginia, Virginia Beach, Washington D.C., Wilmington

Virginia: Update on a Tidewater Freedom Fighter

Pvt. Jones Portsmouth Enlistment Card

Pvt. Albert Jones, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry, enlistment card

 

Great news for Spring. Pvt. Albert Jones is getting a new headstone! Our request from February has been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was delivered to Ogg Stone Works on March 21st. Pvt. Jones’ grave has been unmarked for over 78 years, ever since the terrible tragedy that claimed his life on February 27, 1940. The recent rains have caused a terrible bout of flooding in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. We hope to be able to mark his gravesite for the monument company as soon as the flood waters recede.

Pvt. Albert Jones will be the 19th Civil War veteran to receive a new headstone. The others are: Cpl. John Cross, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Sgt. Ashley Lewis, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Arthur Beasley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. David Bailey, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Cpl George Baysmore, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Austin Smallwood, 14th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery; Pvt. Richard Reddick, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Thomas Reddick, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris; Sgt. Lewis Rodgers, 28th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Zachariah Taylor, 5th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Samuel Dyes, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Washington Milbey, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Edmond Riddick, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Henry Brinkley, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Alfred Savage, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; and Landsman John Hodges. ♥

 

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Filed under Bertie County, Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, City Point, Civil War, Craney Island, Currituck County, Edgecombe County, Fort Monroe, Galveston, Gates County, Halifax County, Hampton, Hinds County, Lincolnsville, Mississippi, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Ohio, Perquimans County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Tarboro, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Virginia Beach

Portsmouth, Virginia: An enduring mystery

USCT Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton

An unknown member of the 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

 

I first noticed this Civil War veteran’s grave in 2010. Eight years later, I still cannot confirm his identity beyond his affiliation with the 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. The gravestone is one of the older styles of government-issue, so I suspect that he died prior to 1905. It appears that, at some point in the past, the gravestone was damaged by mowers or other lawn equipment, obliterating most of the soldier’s name and company information. I’ll return soon for a careful cleaning to remove another layer of dirt. Fingers crossed! Even a few letters will help determine his identity. ♣

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Filed under Civil War, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Tarboro, North Carolina: 2018 Phoenix Historical Society Black History Month Program: Researching Shiloh Landing, Transportation of the Enslaved from Richmond to Edgecombe, February 24, 2018

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Filed under Alabama, Civil War, Edgecombe County, Livingston, Louisiana, New Orleans, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Richmond, Slavery, Suffolk, Tarboro, Virginia

Tales from the East End: A sketch of the life of Valentine Griffin (ca. 1820-1894), Richmond, Virginia

The scourge of writer’s block was an unwelcome visitor this week, and thumbing through newspaper archives seemed the only remedy for sheer frustration. However, an interesting obituary in the Richmond Planet caught my attention. It featured a brief summary of the life of Mr. Valentine Griffin, an aged and much respected figure in Richmond’s African American community, who passed away on March 16, 1894.

Richmond Planet, April 7, 1894

“Died at his residence, 1222 Buchanan St., Friday morning, March 16, 1894, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, Mr. Valentine Griffin. Deceased was born of free parentage in Charles City County, Va., worked as hireling until he became twenty one years of age. He removed to the County of Henrico, and there remained until the beginning of the Civil War. He was pressed into the service of the Confederates in the year of 1862, and placed upon the breast works. Near the close of the year 1863, he left the Confederates and went to the Union Army, and was placed in charge of the Commissary, where he remained until the close of the war.

He was with the Sherman Division in the far South, and it was some time after the surrender before he returned.

In 1866 he removed to his late residence in this city.

He was a member of the church for forty nine years; was a member of the Fidelity Division, Sons of Temperance for twenty years; was a member of the Rising Sons of Zion for thirty eight years, and the Daughters of Messiah for twenty nine years. In all these he was a faithful member.

All who knew him loved him, and he continually added to his host of friends. The principles of honesty, integrity, and sobriety, which were inculcated in childhood, and which are peculiar to and characteristic of himself, grew stronger as he grew to manhood; but in his declining years when nature began to fail him, they remained undaunted and the same; even imperishable shall they live. When he shall have mouldered away in forgotten dust, the philanthropist of ancient or modern times could not have left a richer legacy than he, ever had they their million extended from generation to generation. In tears of regret we leave Valentine Griffin to sleep the sleep of a peaceful citizen and a devout Christian and gentlemen.”

 

Immediately following the obituary was a testimonial to Mr. Griffin from Spencer T. Hancock.

Richmond Planet, April 7, 1894

“Dear Sir: Excuse me if you please. I want to say a word about my friend, Mr. Valentine Griffin. For twenty years I have known well. He was a pure, honest, upright Christian man. His word was as good as his bond. In all of his dealings with me for 20 years he never one time failed to fulfill a promise. If too unwell to attend to it himself, would invariable send a son or daughter.

In speaking of his afflictions to me he would cheerfully remark: ‘I am in the hands of the Lord. He knows best, and all that He does is right.’ I cannot express my feelings as I would wish, but a pure, good Christian man has left us to reap his reward, which I feel must be great. I am past three score and ten, have had dealings with a great many all over the country and never with a more honest, upright, Christian man than Valentine Griffin. What an example the has left for his children. May they follow it. May God bless us all, and may we all pattern after the life of this good man. He was my good friend, and I am proud to say, Valentine Griffin was my friend.”

 

A man of African descent, born free in 19th-century Virginia, pressed into Confederate service, escaped to Union lines, Sherman’s march to the sea? As a genealogist and confirmed history buff, this was simply too tempting. I had to dig a little deeper.

Half of my paternal ancestors from Virginia were born free from slavery, though that status didn’t necessarily make their lives any easier. One of the many restrictions placed on their freedom was the passage of a law in 1793 that required free African Americans to register every year.

 

“Free Negroes or mulattoes shall be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the town clerk, which shall specify age, name, color, status and by whom, and in what court emancipated. Annually the Negro shall be delivered a copy for twenty-five cents. A penalty is fixed for employing a Negro without a certificate; the Negro may be committed to jail. Every free Negro shall once in every three years obtain a new certificate.” (Black Laws of Virginia)

 

Forced to abide by the punitive measure, at age 21, Valentine Griffin registered with the Charles City County Court in July, 1841, along with siblings John, William Bolling, David, James, Cassandra, and Eliza Ann. His registration read:

 

“Ordered that it be certified that it appears to the satisfaction of the Court by the testimony of _______that Valentine Griffin (son of Reuben Griffin), a man of dark brown complexion, 21 years old the 15th of April last, five feet six inches high, scar on the fore finger of the left hand, and one or two on the back of the right hand, was born free in this County.”

Valentine’s obituary noted that he moved to Henrico County soon after his twenty-first birthday. Shifting to Henrico County documentation, I located a marriage record for Valentine and Nancy “Lewis or Adams” (per the document), on January 5, 1847. There’s evidence that several family members made the move to Henrico along with Valentine. Between 1851 and 1864, his name regularly appears on lists of free African American registrants with James and William Griffin, who may have been his brothers.

 

1854 Free Negro Tax List, Library of Virginia

 

In addition, I located what may be a “free negro” certificate for Valentine’s father, Reuben, who registered at the age of eighty-two in Henrico County Court on April 3, 1848. If correct, Reuben’s date of birth would have been sometime around 1766, which would appear to match the date of birth estimates for Reuben Griffin in the 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840 Federal Census records of Charles City County, Virginia.

 

Free negro certificate for Reuben Griffin, 1848, Henrico County Court, Virginia

 

By 1850, Valentine, Nancy, and son Malachi (Malachia), are documented in the Western District of Henrico County, and by 1860, are documented in Henrico’s Eastern Division, with children Joshua, Maria, and Jeremiah.

Valentine’s obituary notes that he was pressed into Confederate service in 1862.  I located his Confederate service record. In it, Valentine is described as a “helper, native of Virginia, citizen of Richmond,” and “free negro.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The use of the term “helper” is interesting; neither Valentine nor most free African American males between the ages of 18 and 50 had much choice in the matter. As the Richmond Dispatch reported on July 17, 1861, “any free negro duly detailed and notified as aforesaid, who shall fail or refuse to obey the requisition as aforesaid, shall be subject to the penalties provided by law for persons drafted from the militia and failing or refusing to obey such draft,” as per the regulations passed by the Virginia Assembly regarding “negro conscription.”

After the war, in the 1870 Census, Valentine is documented in Richmond’s Jefferson Ward, working as a tobacconist. Sons Malachi and Joshua worked in a tobacco factory, and daughters Maria and Sarah, and son Joseph were “attending school.” In 1880, the Griffins were living on N. 20th Street, with Valentine documented as a general laborer, wife Nancy keeping house, son Jeremiah working in a tobacco factory, and daughter Maria listed as a servant.

 

1877 Beers map, Jefferson Ward, Richmond, Va. Library of Congress

 

Spencer T. Hancock, who provided a written testimonial to the Richmond Planet in honor of Valentine Griffin, relayed a wish for Valentine and Nancy’s children to someday “follow his example, “ and if Mr. Hancock meant an industrious life spent serving their community, then by all accounts they did. Son Jeremiah B. Griffin eventually relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he married, and became a pastor. He passed away on March 31, 1910, as a result of a terrible trolley accident, as reported by the Philadelphia Enquirer. He’s buried in Merion Memorial Park, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Son Rev. Joshua R. Griffin, ordained in 1887, was a shoemaker by trade. He was also a mason, member of the Common Council of Jackson Ward, and later, a trustee and president of the East End Memorial Burial Association.  A small biography of Rev. Griffin was carried in an 1895 edition of the Richmond Planet:

 

The Richmond Planet. Date unknown

“J. R. Griffin was born in Henrico County, October 9, 1853. He sold daily papers during the war. Later he attended night school and also the public schools for several sessions after they were established.

On account of straightened circumstances, he went to work in a tobacco factory. He conceived the idea that he could learn a trade of some kind during his leisure moments, and accordingly served an apprenticeship under Mr. Smith, a shoe-maker who did business on 25th street, and Mr. Patterson (now deceased), who lived also in Church Hill.

In 1880, he went in business for himself____. He has done business within ____blocks of the present location ____May, ’81.

He served on the Republican City ____Committee one term.

He was judge of election of the 4th Precinct, Jackson Ward in1884 in the Blaine and Cleveland campaign when more than 800 suffragans cast their ballots for their choice.

In 1886 he was elected to the City Council when the reform movement swept the city. He was true to the nominees of the caucus, through all the exciting scenes.

In 1892, he was re-elected and served faithfully. He was again elected in 1894, which term he is now serving.

His motto is “Find the right, and stick to it.”

He is a member of Friendship Lodge, No. 19, A. F.M. He is secretary and has served six years. Has served as W. Master for five years.

He is Royal Arch Mason and is now holding the position of High Priest of Mt. Olivet Commandery, Knights Templars. He is now serving a third term as Eminent Commander, being elected consecutively. He served as District Deputy Grand Master three consecutive terms, and as Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of the State of Virginia. He has been superintendent of the Fifth Street Bapt. Church Sunday School since its organization. Although last summer he tendered his resignation it was not received.

He is a man of independent action, carefully weighing facts as presented to him and fearlessly acting in accordance with his convictions. Rarely losing his temper in a controversy, he is influential with those with whom he comes in contact. He is a pleasing speaker and possesses oratorical powers of which he may well be proud.”

 

Joshua married twice, to first wife Minerva Payne (ca. 1854-1904), and in 1909, to Virginia A. Stewart Miles, widow of Reuben Miles, and daughter of Thomas and Mary Stewart. Rev. J. R. Griffin passed on January 30, 1914, and is buried in East End Cemetery with several family members.

Son Malachia H. Griffin was also active in social welfare and masonic organizations in Richmond, including the Independent Order of Saint Luke. Malachi passed away on February 26, 1905. At the time of his death, he’d just been promoted to the position of watchman at the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. A description of his death and funeral was featured in the March 4, 1905 edition of the Richmond Planet.

 

“Seldom has there been a greater funeral display than was witnessed last Tuesday afternoon at the First Baptist Church, when Mr. Washington Early and Mr. Malachi Griffin, both faithful and devoted members of the I. O. St. Luke were laid away forever. There were about seventy-five carriages in the procession. One hearse was behind the other, both being preceded be a floral car, containing the costly designs sent by friends of the deceased.

Rev. W. T. Johnson, D. D., and Rev. Z. D. Lewis, D. D., were the principal speakers at the services, while letter after letter of condolences were read from friends and organizations. It was after 6 o’clock before the cortege moved to go to Evergreen Cemetery.

A peculiar feature of the affair was that Mr. Early had been watchman at the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. His death created a vacancy and Mr. Griffin, who was apparently well was elected to succeed him. He went on duty Saturday night and on Sunday morning, he was a corpse, dying suddenly after reaching his residence on North 8th St.

Previous to this Mr. Griffin had made arrangements for draping the hall in memory of Mr. Early and it later transpired that he was draping it for himself as well. The remains of both of them ‘laid in state’ at the St. Luke’s Hall and the funeral just described was the result. Funeral Director William Isaac Johnson had charge of the remains of both of them. Mrs. Maggie L. Walker, the accomplished official of the order was present.”

 

According to his death record, (George) Washington Early (ca. 1858-Feb. 25, 1905), Malachia’s predecessor, was from Cumberland County, Virginia, and noted as a “night watchman.” He was unmarried at the time of his death. Mary E. Griffin, wife of Malachia H. Griffin, who passed in 1918, is also buried in Evergreen Cemetery with her husband.

 

Gravestone of Malachia H. Griffin, Evergreen Cemetery. April 6, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

Independent Order of Saint Luke building, Richmond, Virginia. January 22, 2015. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

One question lingers: just where are Valentine Griffin and his wife Nancy buried? There are three candidate cemeteries, Barton Heights, Evergreen, or East End Cemetery. A trip to the Library of Virginia should sort that out. Until then, I continue to marvel at how one genealogy clue (in this case, an obituary) may illuminate a glorious path of discovery. It introduced me to the Valentine Griffin Family of Richmond, a free family of color from Charles City County, Virginia, and their legacy of social and political service to Richmond’s late 18th-early 19th century African American community.

 

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