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Monday, October 24, 2011

George W.E. Row and the Freedmen

1856 inventory of slaves of Absalom Row

     When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861 George W.E. Row, my great grandfather, was a seventeen year old schoolboy. At that time he was attending the Locust Grove Academy for Boys in Albemarle County. George rushed home to be among the first to enlist in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. The following year he transferred to the Sixth Virginia Cavalry and fought the entire war. By the time he returned to Spotsylvania in May 1865 and signed his oath of allegiance at Waller's Tavern, he had long since grown to manhood.
     With that came a new set of responsibilities that he now had to assume when he and his mother and sister returned to the family plantation. Greenfield had fortunately avoided the wholesale ransacking and pillaging wreaked upon so many of their neighbors. Still, much of the fencing had disappeared into the flames of soldiers' campfires. The farm had essentially been abandoned since the the battle of the Wilderness and there was much work to be done.
     Greenfield's woes began in the summer of 1862 when most of Nancy Row's slaves escaped to freedom, never to return. Still, some of those enslaved blacks remained with the Rows during the war years and possibly for some time after that. Some of the names of the slaves which appeared in the 1856 inventory and appraisement of Absalom Row's estate can also be found in letters and papers after the mass escape of 1862. Limus still worked at Greenfield for a time and near the end of the war was hired out to a Mr. Childs in Spotsylvania. William was provided with passes so that he could transport supplies between family members at Greenfield and Hadensville (where the Rows lived as refugees during much of the last year of the war) and Richmond, where the family of George's sister Martha Williams lived. In April 1864 William had been hired out by Martha for $30-$40 per month until October. After that he spent some time making shoes at the Williams' house before being utilized to move goods as needed. Henry, Horace and Albert--former slaves of Absalom Row--also remained loyal to the Rows. Their names are mentioned in some surviving papers, including George Row's memo book.

Memo book of George Row

     When the Rows returned to Greenfield in late spring of 1865 one of the first orders of business was to reconstitute a work force. The former masters found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having to pay wages to their hired help. In the early years after the war the Federal occupation forces and the Freedman's Bureau took a keen interest in matters regarding the employment of former slaves. Written labor contracts between freedmen and white farm owners became quite common as a consequence. These often took the form of sharecropping arrangements. Three such contracts signed by my great grandfather survive among his papers.

Contract with Henry Slaughter

     In February 1867 George Row wrote a labor agreement with Henry Slaughter. I cannot be certain, but it is quite possible that this was the same Henry who had been a slave of George's father Absalom. This was a simple sharecropping arrangement, as no money would exchange hands. George pledged to "furnish the land and team and also to feed the same to Henry Slaughter, who on his part agrees to work as much land as he can possibly do in corn and oats...He [Slaughter] to work himself, grown son and two small boys...He Slaughter to do one half of the fence and GWE Row the other half..."

Contract with Charles Gibson

Duplicate bond for Louisa Gordon

     In December of that same year George inked a labor contract with Charles Gibson. "GWE Row agrees to furnish to the said Chas. Gibson a house for his family and for his personal services he the said Row agrees to pay him one hundred ($100.00) dollars in current money for the year beginning Jan 1st 1868...And they also further agree and covenant  that for the services of Martha and Thomas children of the said Chas. Gibson. That they will be fed and clothed by the said Geo. W.E. Row. And for Louisa Gordon he (GWE Row) agrees to pay the sum of twenty [five] ($25.00) Dollars in current money. She the said Louisa Gordon to cook, wash, milk etc. as she had done this year 1867..."

Account with Charles Gibson 1869

Account with Louisa Gordon 1869

     By the 1870s George Row was responsible for managing operations at Greenfield for his mother and sister, his own farm which he called Sunshine and his burgeoning saw mill business. These enterprises required the labor of many hands and an ever increasing number of employees appear in the Row ledger books. My great grandfather kept detailed records regarding the compensation provided to these people. These "pay stubs" show that payment took the form of cash, foodstuffs,  tobacco, whiskey, clothing and so on. Below are shown a few examples of these records.

Jenny Carter, cook, 1882

Henry Collins 1878

William Lewis 1881

     In addition to these routine forms of compensation, George Row also paid sums such as the $11.28 for the warrant costs of Row friend Lucius Estes in the case of Mansfield Washington in 1880. I do not know what difficulty Mansfield had with the law but he was important enough to George to keep him out of jail.

Mansfield Washington 1880

     Among the dozens of freed men and women who worked at the Row farms and saw mill, I want to mention two who stand out from the rest. Washington (also called  "Wash") Comfort was an employee of my great grandfather for years. A few of the records from the Row ledgers are as follows:

Receipt to GWE Row 1872

Account with Washington Comfort 1876

Account with Washington Comfort 1877

     What makes Washington Comfort unique is the fact that he may have had a will written. The records relating to his estate, which I found this year at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center, show that John Alrich was named as the executor his estate. Alrich who served in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry with George Row, was treasurer of Spotsylvania County in 1882. At the top of the first of these pages, shown below, Wash's estate is credited with $11.50 for corn sold to Geo. W.E. Row after the estate sale. Further down the page we see a charge against the estate for $7.91 "due by decedent on Judgment due in favor of Geo. W.E. Row." Robert S. Knighton, who is due $4.00 for building Wash's coffin, had also built the coffin for George's mother Nancy Row in 1873.

From the estate of Washington Comfort

     Atwell Young also merits our attention because of what we know of him from the record. First, he was not really a freedman in our usual understanding of the term. The 1850 census shown below indicates that he and his family were free people before the Civil War.

1850 census for Atwell Young

     Atwell was a trusted employee of the Rows for many years. An example of one of his "pay stubs" is shown here.

Atwell Young 1870

     In 1884, the year after the death of George Row, my great grandmother Mary E. ("Lizzie") Row signed a sharecropping agreement with Atwell Young to work on Sunshine Farm. William A. Stephens, a neighbor of the Rows, signed as a witness. Lizzie leased to Atwell the field to be cultivated in corn, from which she was to receive one fourth of the crop. Lizzie and Atwell agreed to evenly divide "the crop of clover and grasses grown on the farm upon which I now reside."

Lizzie Row-Atwell Young contract 1884

Lizzie Row-Atwell Young contract 1884

     Last year I combed through the Row records and tried to identify the names of the freed men and women (and children) who worked for my ancestors. The list below was the best I could do at the time. Their names and their stories are important to my family's history and I regret not knowing more about each of them.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I am in awe of how you pieced this all together from those piles of receipts and scraps of notes etc. What a story to tell. Wonderful post