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Monday, December 30, 2013

Atwell Young, the Black Confederate

Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     On the eve of the Civil War there were almost 600 free black persons living in Spotsylvania County, the majority of whom lived in the incorporated town of Fredericksburg. Among some of the larger families enumerated in the 1860 census were the Cooks and the Youngs. In the detail of J.F. Gilmer's 1863 map of Spotsylvania shown above, the Cooks are seen at the lower left of the image, the Youngs are at center right. The "FN" designated them as free negroes. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Humphrey and Nancy Young's farm lay on the east side of Catharpin Road just north of the Ni River. Together they had a least seven children, including three boys. Their second youngest son, Atwell, was born about 1841.
     About Atwell's early life nothing is known. Like many of the free mulattoes of Spotsylvania, Atwell's sympathies appear to have been with the Southern cause. Whether this was due to a true identification with the fate of the rebellion or to a prudent act of self-preservation is difficult to say. In 1862 Atwell Young, as well as his older brother Humphrey, worked as a teamster for the Confederate army. The receipt given to Atwell, shown below, reads: "For service of self as teamster for 1 month & 20 days, from Jany 1st to Feb 20 @ 20 $ per month." Atwell was paid by Captain John B. Benton at Brooke Station in Stafford on March 30, 1862. Atwell's mark was witnessed by his neighbor James Pettigrew Chartters, husband of Susan Phillips Chancellor, whose father built Chancellorsville.

Receipt given to Atwell Young, March 1862

     In 1864 Atwell was conscripted into the Confederate army and  with about 1,500 other free blacks and mulattoes was processed at Camp Lee. Their physical appearances were cataloged by Confederate authorities, who took a keen interest in such matters. The table below appears on page 125 of Ervin L. Jordan's excellent book, Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, University of Virginia Press, 1995. Atwell Young's name is listed here. Jordan points out that these conscripts generally did not serve in combat units, but were assigned as guards at "ordnance and naval depots, railroads, canals and armories."

From Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia

     After the war Atwell married his first wife Betsy Schooler, also born of a free family, on November 25, 1865. Betsy died shortly after they were married and whether they had any children is not known.
     Atwell married his second wife, Ellen F. Cook, on July 11, 1868. Ellen's parents were William Cook and Catherine Acors, who were also free people before the war. William Cook owned an 80 acre farm (shown on the map at the top of today's post) near the intersection of Brock and Orange Plank Roads.
     William Cook, born about 1800, was the son of a black man, presumably a slave, and an English woman who came to America in the 1700s. William claimed to have had 26 children by his two wives. His first wife was a slave, and about her and their children I know almost nothing. In addition to William Cook and his second family the 1850 census show three other Cooks about his age - Susan, James and Lucy - who may possibly have been his siblings. William Cook and his freeborn second wife, Catherine Acors, had at least ten children together, the oldest of whom was Atwell's wife Ellen. The section of Spotsylvania where William and his many descendants established themselves is still known as Cooktown.
     Cook's farm was at the epicenter of two of the largest land battles to have occurred in the western hemisphere, Chancellorsville and Wilderness, and his experiences mirrored those of his equally unlucky neighbors. He also lost one of his enslaved sons during the war, who had been "carried off" as a servant to a Confederate soldier. During the battle of Chancellorsville, Union troops burned much of his fencing for fuel. A year later, during the Wilderness fight, his newly replaced fencing again went up in flames, but whether this happened because of the actions of Federal forces or was due to one of the many uncontrolled wildfires that blazed in the area is not clear. During the Wilderness battle William's house was used as a hospital. Northern soldiers appropriated his livestock and food stores, carrying those provisions off to the James Carpenter property, where a much larger hospital had been set up. The year after the war the First Veteran Volunteers set up camp for a time at Cook's farm during their monumental effort to locate and rebury the remains of Union soldiers. While there the "burial corps" may have pulled down an old log house and used the lumber to build beds for themselves. And, for the third time in as many years, Cook's fencing was burned.
     William Cook's sympathies during the war are somewhat of a mystery, as his statements to the Southern Claims Commission were often self-contradictory. While answering the Commission's long list of questions posed to him by M.F. Pleasants in 1873, he stated that he had always been a Union man. To be considered eligible for compensation for losses sustained during the war, Southern petitioners had to prove that they had been loyal during the conflict. William added: "I had a good many wounded soldiers in my house. I helped them every way I could. I acted as a guide for them to Spotsylvania Court House." Absalom Herndon Chewning, who owned nearby Mount View plantation, affirmed Cook's Union loyalties during the war. William and Henry Acors, Cook's father- and brother-in-law, also testified as to his loyalty.
     But when William Cook was interviewed again in 1878, this time by special commissioner John Smith, his story changed enough that he doomed his own chances for any compensation. Whether he changed his story because of the infirmities of old age - he was by then about 80 years old - or because he no longer felt comfortable being identified as a "union man" is hard to say. He now stated that he pulled down the old log house himself and used most of the lumber to build a barn. He denied that he had ever been a guide for the Union army. And this statement may have been most telling: "My sympathies during the war were with the Southern people and the Southern cause. I did not want to see the South whipped in the struggle."

     Atwell and Ellen Young had at least five children together. The 1870 census shows Atwell listed adjacent to William A. Stephens, a neighbor and friend of my Row ancestors. In addition to farming his own land, Atwell also worked at the saw mill of George Washington Estes Row. The two images below are pages from George Row's ledger books. The first shows the number of ties made by Atwell and his brothers in August and September 1870 for the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad. The second page is the provision account for the Young brothers for that same period. This was either part of their pay or were the rations provided them at the saw mill's commissary.

Railroad ties made by the Young brothers, 1870

Provision account for Young brothers, 1870

     When George Row died in the spring of 1883, my great grandmother was left with the responsibility of raising three small children, winding down her late husband's business and managing the family farm. In 1884 she contracted for some much needed help, which came in the person of Atwell Young. On February 18 that year Mary Elizabeth Houston Row and Atwell Young signed a sharecropping agreement. Atwell's mark was witnessed by William A. Stephens.

Row-Young sharecropping contract, 1884

     I hope Atwell was able to fulfill his part of the bargain. He died on September 27, 1884.

     During the Civil War Atwell's brother Humphrey also was noted for his service, although it does not  appear that he was conscripted into the army. During the war Humphrey served as body servant to Captain William Augustine Smith, who was aide-de-camp for brigadier general John G. Walker. General Walker witnessed Humphrey's mark on his receipt of payment for his work as a teamster in 1862.

Receipt to Humphrey Young, 1862

     After the war Humphrey Young was also known for his ability as a horse groom and worked for Captain Smith's son in law, Fredericksburg banker A. Randolph Howard. Humphreys' obituary appeared in the October 26, 1906 edition of The Daily Star:

Obituary of Humphrey Young

     Humphrey and his wife continued to farm the Young property on Catharpin Road for the rest of their lives. The 1900 census shows them living there with their grandson, ten year old Sam Ford. Old time Spotsylvania folks (like myself) who used to travel down Catharpin Road 50 years ago will remember Sam sitting on the porch of the small house he built for himself after his wife died. He was quite an interesting character in his own right and I may write more about him later.
     Thirty years ago my father bought some acreage off Catharpin Road and built a house on the site of the old Young place. Today it is the home of my sister. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"This day ran away from my premises, servants..."

Nancy Estes Row's list of runaway slaves, 1862

This is the story of Bettie and Robert Upshur.

     Greenfield, a large plantation in western Spotsylvania, was home to Absalom Row and his family and dozens of other inhabitants. At any given time there would be at least thirty permanent residents at Greenfield, not including kinfolk and other guests who would come to stay for extended visits. [Please note that the images in my blog can be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

Absalom Row

     When he died in 1855, Absalom left behind an estate valued at $25,443. His property included 889 acres of land, cash and bank stock, furniture and other household effects, and the tools, livestock and other impedimenta necessary for running a large farm.

Inventory and appraisement of Abalom Rows estate

     However, more than half of Absalom Row's wealth was tied to the value of the twenty five slaves he owned at the time of his death. The inventory and appraisement of his estate, completed in May 1856, show these slaves to be valued at $14,375. Listed in the right column of the page shown above are the names of three of those individuals: Molly (the nickname for Mary), and her two children, Betsy and Isabelle, valued together at $1,000.

Nancy Estes Row (Courtesy of Ellen Apperson Brown)

     In his will, Absalom named his wife, Nancy Estes Row, as the executrix of his estate. In the eighteen years she was to manage Greenfield, Nancy handled her affairs ably and with a business-like competence traditionally associated with men in the South of the mid-nineteenth century. She exercised sole discretion in all monetary matters including, of course, that discretion pertaining to the lives and well being of those black servants held in bondage at Greenfield.
     In 1857 Nancy gave to Martha and James T. Williams, her daughter and son in law then living in Richmond, three expensive presents. These included 11 year old Ellen Upshur, 12 year old John and 9 year old Patsy. John and Patsy were very likely Ellen's brother and sister. Some time ago I discovered the fate of Ellen Upshur and you can read her story here. To another daughter, Bettie, and her husband Zachary Rawlings, Nancy Row gave two children for Christmas in 1860: Adaline, 16, and 14 year old David.
     Whether or not we choose to give Nancy the benefit of the doubt regarding the possibility of her being a willfully cruel mistress to her slaves, there is no denying that - no matter how gently it could be administered - slavery was an inherently harsh business. On very short notice, persons could be sold off and carted away like so much livestock or furniture. This practice inevitably broke up families, and even in otherwise benevolent households,  most slaves opted for freedom when the opportunity presented itself.
     In the spring of 1862 Federal troops set up camp in Stafford and for a few months occupied the town of Fredericksburg. Their presence became widely known throughout the region, to masters and slaves alike. It would not be long before the enslaved, as many as 10,000 of them, disappeared from local plantations and made a bid for freedom within Union lines.
     Among those who fled were most of the slaves of Nancy Row. Written in her own hand, the list of runaways appearing at the beginning of today's post includes the name of three who left on June 26, 1862 and never came back: Mary Agnace Upsher, 28 (listed as "Molly" on Absalom Row's estate inventory), Betsy and Robert. Betsy's sister Isabella died at Greenfield in 1857.
     Bettie Upshur was born at Greenfield in January 1855. Her brother Robert arrived in May 1860. At the time of their escape from Greenfield, their mother was the head cook of the plantation. That meant that she and her children lived in the room over the kitchen, which stood just south east of the house.
     In January 1863, Nancy Row - with the assistance of her son in law Zachary Rawlings - filed an affidavit with the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg, documenting the loss of her slave property. Slave owners throughout the south routinely filed such paperwork in the hope of some day being compensated for their loss. In her affidavit, Nancy listed the names, ages and values of those who ran away and did not come back. Included are the names of Molly, "No. 1 cook," Betty and Robert.
     By 1864 these Upshurs were living in Washington, D.C. Mary became the wife of a man named Mundy and had two daughters with him, Anna and Frances.
     The name of Robert Upshur next appears in the written record in 1886. He is listed in the city directory of Washington, D.C. as a "laborer." When his name next appears in the directory in 1894, he is living with Bettie at 1345 27th Street NW.

Detail of 1900 census, Washington, D.C.

     By the turn of the century, Betty Upshur is shown to be the head of the household that includes her brother Robert and their two half sisters. The 1910 census shows the same family together, less Anna.

Detail of 1910 census, Washington, D.C.

     In 1915 Bettie and Robert Upsher are still living together, now at 2728 P Street NW.

Detail of 1915 Washington, D.C. city directory

     But the city directory and the census do not tell the entire story.
     Since 1864 Bettie Upshur had been working in the household of one of Georgetown's most socially prominent families. Robert next became employed there in 1871 and their sister Frances Mundy in 1881.
     John D. Patten (1843-1927), an 1861 graduate of Georgetown College, was a partner in the firm of Patchin & Patten, listed variously as "attorneys for national banks," "agents for national banks," or "bank examiners." Patten and his wife dwelt among the city's elite. They were members of a number of civic and philanthropic organizations, including the Columbia Historical Society of Washington. John D. Patten was a member of Washington's exclusive Cosmos Club, where he served on the membership committee.

From the 1899 Cosmos Club members and officers

     In 1916 the society matrons of Washington held a well publicized contest, which would feature the names of those household employees who had been in service the longest. The results were published in the November 3, 1916 edition of the Washington Times. Three employees of Mrs. John D. Patten were certainly among the head of the class: Bettie Upshur - 52 years, Robert Upshur - 45 years, Frances Mundy - 35 years.

Washington Times 3 November 1916

     From their beginnings as slave children in the attic of a plantation kitchen in Spotsylvania, Robert and Bettie Upshur spent their lifetimes in the service of others and made the best of what life had to offer them during that period. They spent their lives together, ending their days working in an architect designed mansion in Washington listed in the Register of Historic Homes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

George Row's horse

George Washington Estes Row (right)

     When historical fact collides with family legend, the results can be unsettling. But the truth that emerges from that impact is always welcomed here in this space. We are all about telling these stories as honestly as we can. [All images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     One of the hoary legends in my family concerns the time that 17 year old George Washington Estes Row enlisted in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. Once Virginia seceded from the Union, George abandoned his studies at the Locust Grove Academy in Albemarle County and returned to Spotsylvania to sign up for anticipated martial glory on April 25, 1861. Like many young southern firebrands, George was likely worried that the war would be over before he could see it.
     In any event, the legend handed down by his daughter, Mabel Row Wakeman, told us that George's mother provided him a slave about his age from Greenfield, and gave them the two best horses from the plantation to go off to slay Yankees. For now, I feel pretty confident about the part about the body servant sent with George, and Nancy Estes Row would have been obliged to provide him with a mount. But George Row had to make other arrangements for his own horse.

GWE Row's note to Nathan Johnson, 26 April 1861

     In 1856 George Row's uncle, Richard Estes of Boone County, Missouri, died and left to George a tidy sum in his will. Jonathan "Nathan" Johnson of Walnut Grove, who was married to Richard's sister Francis Estes Johnson, was appointed by the court to act as George Row's legal guardian, protecting his rights in the Estes legacy (George Row's father died in 1855). Settling estates in the nineteenth century often took years, if not decades. In this case, the fact that Missouri is a long way from Virginia complicated matters. And then there was that little thing called the Civil War, which made transacting business at Spotsylvania Court House all but impossible.
     Just recently Ginger Chadduck, owner of Walnut Grove, sent me the note shown above. In it, George Row is asking his uncle and guardian, Nathan Johnson, to pay from his "interest money" for a horse he had to buy:

Dear Uncle,
      When this acct. is brought forth, pay it from my interest money. I had to get me a horse to go into service as I am called out tomorrow. By so doing you will much oblige your

                                                                                      Nephew G.W.E. Row
                              April 26, 1861

     The day before George wrote this note he was enlisted into Company E, Ninth Virginia Cavalry by Francis C. Beverly, owner of Whig Hill.
     For several years, I had the key to this horse conundrum in my hand, thanks to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Society, where I scanned the legal papers regarding George Row's legacy from Richard Estes. A page from that file is shown below. I needed George's note to Uncle Nathan to understand what I had.

Account of George Row's inheritance

     About the middle of the page, you will see an entry for $100, dated April 26, 1861, payable to William Massie Simms.  This is the horse on which George Row rode off to war.
     Nancy Estes Row provided her son neither a horse nor the money to buy one. I suspect that she had great misgivings about her 17 year old son going off to war, and may even had found out about his enlistment after the fact.
     And what of the servant who accompanied him to the Ninth Cavalry? His name is lost to history, but many years later his grandmother told Mabel Wakeman what he had told her: "Master George said if had had known as much about war as he learned, he would have stayed at the Academy, for he never slept well except one night, when he awoke head to heels in snow, and as for food he lived on parched corn, and life was not pleasant."