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Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Post by Victoria Bynum; quoted passages by Thoburn Freeman, grandson of Sarah Ann Hulin Moore and great-nephew of Caroline Moore Hulin.

Determining what made fierce Unionists of some southerners is not always easy. Was it class? religion? distance from the cotton belt? In the case of Unionists who lived on the borders of Randolph and Montgomery counties, in the North Carolina Piedmont, the answer is easy: it was all three. Several interrelated families in this region–principally the Hulins, Moores, Beamans, and Hurleys–were nonslaveholding yeoman farmers who lived in the heart of North Carolina’s Quaker Belt and outside the South’s plantation belt. They were also devout members of the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist Church, which grew in numbers throughout the 1850s (for more on this community, click here).   

I wrote about these families in my first book, Unruly Women (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1992), and I return to their story in the forthcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War. Recently, I got in touch with Linda Beaulieu of the Montgomery Herald in Troy, NC, who graciously put me in touch with Elaine Reynolds, the keeper of the Hulin family papers. It was Elaine who generously provided me with the photos that accompany this post. She also sent me an essay written by Hulin/Moore descendant Thoburn Freeman, which was originally published in Winnie Richter’s Heritage of Montgomery County, NC (1981). I quoted from this essay in Unruly Women, and I am happy to quote from it again here on Renegade South.

The lives of these men and women differed greatly from those of wealthy slaveholders:

During the years before the civil War, the people lived quietly, going about their affairs with pride and purpose. The men were busy clearing land, building fences, homes, schools, and churches. The women were busy carding, spinning and weaving, not to mention cooking on open fire with coals on the hearth, tending children and house cleaning. Everyone worked in the fields. . . . In the fall, they would hold their Camp Meetings, when the families would move out and live in “tents” constructed of logs and later, boards.

“Everyone worked the fields” meant women and children as well as men. Making a living from the soil was a family endeavor that required the hard labor of all. Still, they enjoyed family visits back and forth, which included “quiltings, log-rollings, corn shuckings, spelling bees, and, in some communities, dancing.” Then came the war . . . .

During the war, most social activities, even hunting, were interrupted and came to a halt, except for some of the older men and young boys. All were afraid of the bands of Rebels that roamed the countryside. The church at Lovejoy was Wesleyan at the time, and their ministers preached against slavery. One preacher, Adam Crooks, was arrested in the pulpit. . . . Since most of the people in the area were opposed to slavery and not in sympathy with the Southern Cause, many men chose to hide out and were called “Outlyers” by the Rebels. Among them were 3 sons of Hiram and Nancy Sexton Hulin: Jessie, John, and William.

The men relied on the aid of women to elude capture by Confederate soldiers and vigilantes (Carolina Hulin, pictured above, was the wife of Jessie). One cold January morning, their luck ran out. . . .

Near the end of the war, the three Hulin brothers were arrested and held for several days in an old mill house near Uwharrie. Then without proper trial, in the early morning hours of January 28, 1865, with a light snow on the ground, they were taken to Buck Mountain and shot to death–less than four months before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered. The bodies were loaded onto a wagon and taken to Lovejoy Church by their father, Hiram Hulin [for more on Hiram, click here]. . . . The only offense the boys were guilty of was: they obeyed their conscience, which is the only personal contact we have with God–

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

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You may have noticed that there has not been an original post on Renegade South lately. The reason is that, for the past two weeks, I have been absorbed by the task of getting Southern Communities at War ready for the copyeditor at University of North Carolina Press. I hope to have that portion of its preparation for production finished by June 1. Immediately following that, I will turn to completing forms and questionnaires for the UNC marketing department.

I’m excited for the book to finally be at this stage–as many of you know, I have been working on it for several years. Most of the posts on this site relate to its essays, at least peripherally. But the book especially demands my attention between now and at least June 15, and so the blog will have to take second place for now.

Even while working on Southern Communities at War,  however, I check Renegade South at least once a day. I always find time to respond to comments! And I welcome, as ever, suggestions for future blogs and contributions of material or photos that you would like me to consider posting.

Thanks! Now it’s back to editing . . . .

NOTE, November 24, 2009: Southern Communities at War has been renamed The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. It is scheduled for release on Feb. 18, 2010.

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The following post appeared a few months ago on Southern Unionist Chronicles . I’ve decided to post it here as well because it relates so closely to my posts on Civil War Unionists from the North Carolina Piedmont. Hiram Hulin, the author of the letter reproduced below, was the father of Jesse, John, and William Hulin, three brothers murdered for their refusal to serve in the Confederate Army. The Hulins lived in Montgomery County, N.C., and were Wesleyan Methodists who opposed slavery as well as secession. They are the topic of chapter 3 of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, excerpts of which may be accessed here and here.

Many years ago, historian Bill Auman called my attention to Hiram Hulin’s 1867 letter to Col. M. Cogwell, Commander of the U.S. Post at Fayetteville in Reconstruction North Carolina. Hulin was seeking justice for his sons, who were murdered during the Civil War by Confederate home guard troops.

Vikki Bynum

 

 September 28, 1867

Sir,

Permit me to address a line to you in which I ask your opinion of the course proper to be pursued in regard to the arrest and trial of certain persons who in the time of the war murdered my three sons Jesse, John, and William Hulin and also James Atkins who were evading the military service in the Confederate Army; after arresting them they took them before two Justices of the Peace for trial. From the only information which we can get the Justices committed them to jail. They were delivered into the hands of the murderers who were home-guard troops and while on their way to the pretended prison they deliberately shot and beat to death with guns and rocks my three sons and Atkins while tied with their hands and handcuffed together. One Henry Plott now residing in the County of Cabarrus was the officer in command of the s[q]uad of murderers at the time of the murder was committed. Most of the murderers were strangers to the people of the County and their names are entirely unknown to us except one George W. Sigler who now resides quietly in Marshall County, Mississippi. Against him a bill has been found by the Grand-jury of this County. His Post office is Byhala about 16 miles from Holly Springs, Mississippi. I have informed the State Solicitor of his where abouts and nothing is done for his arrest. Permit me to pray you in the name of my departed sons to lend aid of the Military force of the government to arrest and bring to trial the felonious murderer. I beseech you by all the paternal feelings which a father should hold for a son to lend us aid in this matter.

We would earnestly commend that you arrest Henry Plott as so-called Captain in the Confederate Army in command of the murderous squad and that he be held in custody till he reveals the names of the remainder of the murderers. Henry Plott was heard to say soon after the murder “we caught four,” and the question was asked, “what did you do with them?” Answer “we put them up a spout.”  “Did you kill them?” “Yes we did.” All the facts above stated can be proved by the best of testimony.

You will please inform us by your earlyest convenience what course you can take in [this] matter and what it may be necessary for us to do in the premises. With Great respect I am sir

Your Obedient servant

Hiram Hulin

Published in Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, ed. “Letters from North Carolina to Andrew Johnson,” North Carolina Historical Review vol. 28, no. 1 (Jan. 1952): 118-119.

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1st Lt. of Knight Company

1st Lt. of Knight Company

In 1864, with the nation at war, soldiers and civilians alike must daily have asked themselves, would life ever return to normal? At the same time, daily routines had to be continued if folks were ever to see better times. Resigned to the fact that hard-working people now must work harder than ever just to keep body and soul together, on a spring day in April, Indiana Welborn went to the family barn to milk the cow.

According to the story I heard some ten years ago, Indiana was milking the cow when she noticed to her horror that blood was dripping down on her from the barn loft above. She soon discovered that a wounded man had secreted himself in the family barn, and that it was his blood that dripped on her.  That man was James Morgan Valentine, Newt Knight’s 1st Lt. in the Knight Company. Morgan had been shot by Confederate Cavalry while swimming in a river, but had managed to make it to Lawrence Welborn’s barn, where he hid in the loft. After discovering him, Lawrence’s daughter Indiana took it upon herself to nurse Morgan back to health, and never told anyone about it until after the war. Or so the story goes.

Sometime in 2005, I had the good fortune to be contacted by Danny and Dwayne Coats, great-grandsons of Morgan Valentine. I eagerly ran this story by them, which they in turn confirmed had been told to them, too, by their own grandmother. According to Dwayne Coats, his grandmother told him “that the lady [Indiana Welborn] that took care of him told her the story herself. My grandmother also said that he had lost so much blood that his earlobes were completely white.”

As 1st Lt. of the Knight Company, Morgan Valentine was one of the band’s most important members, and obviously very close to Captain Newt Knight.  Like most of the Knight Company, Morgan also came from a strongly Unionist family, evidenced by the four Valentines, in addition to Morgan, who appear on Newt Knight’s roster (see Knight Company roster).  In addition, Morgan’s father Allen, like William Wesley Sumrall’s older brother, Harmon Levi, signed a letter of defense of Newt Knight in 1870, when Newt filed his first petition for federal compensation for the men of the Knight Company (see 1870 Letter of Support for Newt Knight’s Compensation Claim).  

Demonstrating once again the seamless personal and political ties that bound the Knight Company men to one another, I should note that Morgan’s second marriage was to Newt Knight’s niece, Mary Mason Knight. And that Morgan’s sister, Tolitha Eboline Valentine, married another stalwart Unionist, Warren Jacob Collins, brother of Jasper, and leader of the Hardin County jayhawkers of East Texas (see Collins Family Unionism, Mississippi to Texas).  

In 1895, James Morgan Valentine testified on behalf of Newt Knight in Newt’s third and final claim for compensation (see  Newt Knight vs. the U.S. Court of Claims). In the next few days, I will abstract that deposition and post it on Robert Moore’s Southern Unionist Chronicles. I’ll cross-list it on Renegade South, so please watch for it!

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Note, Oct. 18, 2009: The title of this book has officially been changed to The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

I’m pleased to announce that my forthcoming book, Southern Communities at War: Essays on Civil War Dissent and Its Legacies, is now officially in press. On May 6, the editorial board of the University of North Carolina Press met and approved it for publication. After a long, arduous process of research, writing, submission, revision, and resubmission, it now enters the (also arduous) copyediting  and production stages. It should be available by spring 2010. To see a description of the book, click here, for an excerpt from the introduction, here, and for the table of contents, here.

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By Vikki Bynum

In 1998, I published an article on Davis Knight’s miscegenation trial in The Journal of Southern History (Vol. LXIV, No. 2, May 1998). Subsequently, I included his story in my book The Free State of Jones (2001). Davis, the great-grandson of Newt and Serena Knight, was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. Because of his slave ancestor, Davis was convicted in 1948 for having crossed the color line when he married Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman.

The case is significant because the Mississippi State Supreme Court remanded Davis’s case in 1949 on grounds that the lower court did not prove that Davis had 1/8th or more African ancestry. Legally, regardless of custom, the “one drop rule” did not determine one’s racial identity. Davis thus avoided going to prison for having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). For the rest of his life, he lived as a white man.

It turned out, however, that the rest of Davis’s life would be quite short, as was the marriage that he suffered to defend in court. Some years ago, Ken Welch of Soso, MS, provided me copies of Davis’s divorce and death records. They show that in 1954, five years after his Supreme Court victory, Davis sued Junie Lee for divorce on grounds she had abandoned their home in 1951. The couple had no children, and Davis claimed that Junie Lee had given birth to another man’s child during their separation. The marriage was officially dissolved on July 20, 1954.

Soon after, Davis moved to Channelview, Texas (near Houston), where in 1959 he would lose his life in a fishing accident. Before that tragic day, Davis married for a second time, to Evelyn (Evie) Wilburn, and worked as a painter’s helper for Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. When I interviewed Ethel Knight (author of Echo of the Black Horn) in 1992, she told me that Davis had abandoned Junie Lee for a rich, white, older woman who lived in Texas. If Davis’s divorce testimony is to be believed, however, it was Junie Lee who left him. And while his new wife, Evie, was fourteen years older than him, and white, I have found no evidence that she was rich. Evie had been twice divorced, and had two sons, Joel G. Hill, age 31, and James W. McDonald, 24, who were closer in age than she to her new husband.

On the morning Davis Knight died, he had just embarked on a fishing trip at the Sheldon Reservoir with his stepson, Joel. According to Joel, he first waded and floated out to a small island where the two men intended to fish. Davis followed, carrying his fishing rod and wearing a life preserver. As he entered into deeper water, the preserver slipped upward and he was momentarily submerged, causing him to panic and thrash about. Several fisherman came to his aid, but by then Davis had been under the water for 3 to 5 minutes and could not be revived. An autopsy ruled his death an accidental drowning.

Davis’s Texas death certificate described him as a 34-year-old white man. Although the Mississippi Supreme Court had granted him the same status, the “one drop rule” of race meant that most people who knew his roots would never accept him as white. So, like many kinfolk before him, Davis escaped the dangers and degradation of being labeled a “black” man by leaving the state. For him, that escape proved all too brief.

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For those of you interested in learning more about the role played by Harmon Levi Sumrall in the Free State of Jones, please visit Robert Moore’s  Southern Unionists Chronicles .  There, I have posted and analyzed excerpts from depositions provided by H.L. Sumrall on behalf of Newt Knight for the U.S. Court of Claims in 1890 and 1895.

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William Wesley Sumrall is the only man with the Sumrall surname listed on Newt Knight’s roster (see related post, “1870 Knight Company Roster”). He and his brother, Harmon Levi Sumrall, were nonetheless among Jones County’s strongest Unionists.

Being over the age of military conscription, Harmon Levi never joined the Knight band, but was every bit—perhaps more—of a Unionist than his younger brother. Born in 1817, H.L. was 23 years older than W.W., and may have been more like a father to him than a brother, especially given that W.W. lived with him and his family in 1860. It’s quite possible that H.L. influenced W.W.’s views on secession and his decision to ditch the Confederate Army and join the Knight band. In fact, H.L. seems to have been one of those “old and influential” citizens described by Confederate Col. William N. Brown (of Col. Lowry’s raid) as having imbued the younger generation with “Unionist ideas” based on the principles of the “agrarian class.”

If by that remark, Brown meant independent and prosperous nonslaveholding farmers who believed secession was madness, Harmon Levi indeed fits the description. He was also one of five men, all past the age of conscription, who signed a letter of support for Newt’s claim in 1870 (see related post, “1870 letter of support for Newt Knight”). Those five men were of an older generation that opposed secession and likely encouraged their sons, nephews, and younger brothers to desert the Confederate Army, just as Col. Brown reported. They also fed, hid, and even helped arm those young men during the war. After the war, they supported their petitions for federal compensation for having served as unofficial Union soldiers in the Knight Company. Again in 1890 and 1895, H.L. Sumrall testified on behalf of Newt Knight’s claim (on Newt’s claim, see related post “Newt Knight vs. the Court of Claims”).

As we’ve come to expect, ties of marriage and kinship bound the Sumrall brothers to other men and families who joined or supported the Knight Company. And, again, the Collins family was their strongest kinship tie with the band. In 1861, the same year the Civil War erupted, William Wesley Sumrall married Nancy Emeline Collins, daughter of Simeon and Lydia. That meant that he joined the Knight Company along side a father-in-law and three brothers-in-law.

Long after the war ended and his first wife had died, W.W. Sumrall married Mary Olivia (Mollie) Knight, daughter of Newt Knight’s cousin, George Baylis (Clean Neck) Knight. At the time of their marriage, W.W. was 68; Mollie was 24. The couple had one son together.

Harmon Levi Sumrall also had close ties to the Collins family. One of his daughters, Sarah Palestine (Pallie), married Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Collins; another, Lucinda, married Morgan Collins. Both Jeff and Morgan were sons of Simeon and Lydia Collins. H.L.’s son, Benjamin Franklin, also married a Collins (Sabra), while other of his children married into Unionist branches of the Mathews and Valentine families.

The Sumrall brothers’ immersion in the Knight Company reinforces two important points about the Jones County Civil War uprising: first, that branches of at least eight area families—including Collinses, Bynums, Valentines, Mathews, Welborns, Welches, Walters, and Knights—exhibited strong Unionist views traceable to an older generation of pioneers born before 1820; second, that this network of families intermarried extensively, reinforcing cultural and economic principles that would predispose them to oppose secession in 1861.

By late 1863, many men from these families were not only unwilling to serve in the Confederate Army, but had organized and armed themselves to fight for the defeat of the Confederate Government. Their Knight Company did not secede from that government, however, as “Lost Cause” legends claimed. In their minds they had never signed on in the first place.

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For those of you interested in North Carolina Civil War history, please visit my latest post at Robert Moore’s Southern Unionists Chronicles. Nancy Brewer’s application for compensation from the federal government for property confiscated by Yankees during the Civil War is a wonderful example of how many people in the South suffered at the hands of both Union and Confederate soldiers. But it offers even more–a tantalizing glimpse into a marriage between a free woman of color and an enslaved man.

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Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.

Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.

Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:

In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?

It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.

The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.

With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”

That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.

Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.

NOTE:  The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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