Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘north carolina piedmont’

Guest columnist Gary B. Sanders, who is kin to the Sanders family of Montgomery and Randolph Counties of North Carolina, has ancestors on both sides of the U.S./Confederate divide.  Here, Gary tells the story of his great, great, grand uncle, Joseph Sanders of Jackson County, Alabama, who was murdered during the Civil War on account of his Unionist views.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Confederate-Unionist Conflict in Jackson County, Alabama: The Murder of “Uncle Joe” Sanders, 1863

By Gary B. Sanders

Jackson County, Alabama, lies in the northeast Alabama hill country, near the Tennessee border, a region of yeoman farmers who were only reluctantly persuaded to join the Confederacy in 1861. As the war progressed and the fortunes of the Confederacy waned, there was a breakdown in social control in such counties, often leading to guerrilla warfare, revenge killings, and general lawlessness. The story of the murder of the elderly Joseph Sanders on April 10, 1863 on his own farm in Jackson County was one such incident, briefly mentioned in newspapers of the time but long remembered by Joseph’s descendants as they passed down the family tradition of their ancestor who died a martyr to his loyalty to the Union. As always with such stories, embellishments along the way and varying renditions of the event may not reflect what actually happened. A closer look at the life and death of Joseph Sanders, however, may help us understand the disrupting impact of the Civil War on life in Jackson County.

Jackson Co., Alabama

Scene from Jackson County, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Joseph Sanders was born in 1793, in Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sanders. The elder Joseph, a Revolutionary War patriot, died in 1803 and made provision in his will that if any of his children became orphaned before they came or age or were married that they should be apprenticed to Quakers. This provision of the will never took effect, as all the children were married within six years of their father’s death. Five of senior Joseph’s seven children married children or grandchildren of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County, who, according to DNA tests of his descendants, was not related to Joseph at all. This close relationship between these two unrelated Sanders lines has baffled genealogical researchers among their descendants, but it helped to cement family ties and loyalties whenever descendants of Isaac and Joseph moved from North Carolina.

The younger Joseph was the last of his siblings to marry when he wed Martha Sanders on August 21, 1809 in Randolph County. In the late 1820s, Joseph and Martha, their large family of children, and many of their relatives moved to Jackson County, Alabama. As the Cherokee and other Indian groups were pushed further west, the northeast Alabama region along the Tennessee River became a prime destination for white settlement. Joseph bought land in Jackson County in 1831 and farmed there the rest of his life. Many of his Sanders cousins also moved to Jackson County as did his brother George and his brothers-in-law Francis Sanders and Benjamin Sanders, along with their numerous families.

During the late 1830s, Martha died, and Joseph began seeking a new wife. He re-married about 1838 to Deborah Saunders who was another granddaughter of Isaac Saunders of Randolph County. One of the descendants of Joseph’s second marriage, Lottie Kingery Hoge, later wrote of Deborah,

I don’t know how she first got acquainted with my Alabama grandfather, Mr. Joseph Sanders, but she went to Alabama and they were married. He was much older than her for he had been married before and had 12 children, most of them grown and married, probably at ages of 14-16. I don’t know when they [Joseph and Deborah] were married but probably about 1838 for their oldest son was born about 1840. That was Uncle Henry.

Joseph and Deborah had three children together before she died about 1854. Joseph married for the third time on November 11, 1860 to a widow, Mahala Harper Shelton of Jackson County. The 1860 census list Joseph as age sixty seven with personal property worth $1500 and real estate worth $1500. While he was not a wealthy man, these assets were enough to indicate his farm was prosperous by the standards of the time. Joseph Sanders, by 1860, was the acknowledged patriarch of the Jackson County Sanders. Nearly everyone called him “Uncle Joe,” regardless of whether he was actually an uncle, cousin, granduncle, or some other relative. In fact, nearly every Sanders in the county was related to him, in some cases as double cousins.

When the Civil War began, the citizens of Jackson County were split far more evenly in loyalty than in most southern counties. There were few large slave owners in the county and many residents were subsistence farmers who had little regard for the institution of slavery. In 1850 only one man named Sanders in the county owned slaves. Nevertheless, there was still substantial support for the Confederacy, and those who refused to accept secession were regarded as traitors by those who supported the Rebel cause. Although too old to serve as a soldier, Joseph Sanders remained loyal to the national government and his sons and many of his nephews and grand nephews joined the Union Army.

The conflicting loyalties in northeast Alabama created a very chaotic and lawless situation in which it is often difficult to determine the motivations of the people involved. Confederate and Union armies moved back and forth across the county, as did bands of deserters, often with no loyalty to either side. Murders, shootings, and acts of violence were commonplace toward the end of the war. “Uncle Joe” Sanders was killed in one of these incidents in 1863 while at his farm at Mud Creek.

The following letter by Louie Richard Davis of Texas was written to friends in Scottsboro, Alabama, July 24, 1974, and was published in Sanders Siftings, July 2000, p. 1:

I know you have some information on the Sanders that was killed by bushwhackers. I have heard a story here in Texas passed down through generations (may have changed some). One of the Sanders, close relation to Phoebe was caught off guard while plowing in a field by bushwhackers. They took him and his horse to the top of a hill and made the Sanders dig a grave. Then the bushwhackers killed both man and horse and buried both in the grave with the legs of the horse sticking up out of the grave. This is some tale and may not be exactly true but is what I have heard.  [This Phoebe was the daughter of Joseph’s sister Mary and her husband Benjamin Sanders. Louis Davis was a descendant of Phoebe.-gs]

Other accounts of the killing differ somewhat in the details. A second version was e-mailed to me in 2007 by Bob Dean, a descendant of Rebecca Sanders, Joseph’s niece:

Mud Creek is located north of Scottsboro, and there is a cave there, the one that we have always known as Blowing Cave. Joseph Sanders patented 80 acres of land in 1831 that contained this cave. I will tell you the story told [to] me as close as I can remember it.  It is not exactly like the story that we have heard before but close.

Bob’s informant, John Dolberry, owned the Mud Creek property that belonged to Joseph Sanders and he remembered listening to his grandmother talk about the murder many times when he was a child. His grandmother was the daughter of John Sanders, a son of Mary Sanders, Joseph’s sister, and her husband Benjamin Sanders. In his conversation with Bob Dean, John Dolberry pointed to the cove behind the house and said they hanged Joseph

back in the cove at the foot of the mountain on a big mulberry tree. It had a big limb that ran out and then turned up. His grandmother said that was the limb that they hung Joseph on. He was hanged by southerners who thought he was giving help to the Yankees. There were three of the rebels, one a neighbor by the name of Barbee. After killing him they left with a horse they were using as a pack mule to carry, I suppose, the things that they had taken. After they killed Joseph, they left, leading their horse. That evening, not long after the rebels left, a group of Yankees came down out of the mountain and went after the rebels. They caught up with them near the foot of the mountain close to the old Moody Brick. The Yankees killed the horse and made the men dig a grave for it. When the grave was dug, they killed the men, put them in the hole and rolled the horse in on top of them. This could be the story of putting Joseph in the grave with the horse on top of him and the horse with its legs sticking up.

They [Joseph’s family] buried Uncle Joe and there were four cedar posts put at the corners of his grave. These were moved after somebody in Texas had the marker put in. [This grave marker was erected in the 1990s.-gs]. The mulberry tree was there for a long time; it had a limb that stuck out and turned up. That was the limb upon which they hanged Uncle Joe.

His [great] grandmother sat over there with the body until someone came to help get him to the house.  So, apparently he was not killed where he was buried. But the fact that he was buried there would seem to indicate that he lived there.

Bob concludes, “It may be as close to eyewitness information as we can get even though his information did not come directly from someone that was there. It did come in a direct line from someone that was a witness to the events.  I’m sure that the story is not without flaws, mistakes, and bad memory but may be as close to the truth as we’ll ever get.”

More detail about the identity of the men who killed Joseph Sanders is found in a January 27, 2004 posting on the Sanders Ancestry.com forum by Don E. Schaefer, editor of Sanders Siftings, and a descendant of Benjamin Sanders who married Joseph Sanders’ sister Mary:

Here is some information about the Joseph Sanders (1793-1863) often referred to as Joseph, Jr.:
Concerning the murder of Joseph Sanders, this is what I have picked up from several sources. From notes in the Scottsboro library: “Joseph Sanders was taken from his home during the Civil War and was shot while on his knees by a rock because his boys were in the Union Army. Everyone called him Uncle Joe. He was shot by Jeff Barbee, Thomps Houston, and John Teeters on his farm near Mud Creek, these men were tories never served on either side during the Civil War.”  Ann Barbee Chambless of Scottsboro told me that she has been searching for the real story of what happened. A brother of her great-grandfather was one of the “whippersnappers” and she can find no record of a trial. Her ancestor had a record of an estate settlement about that time. Possibly some vigilante justice or Union troops took care of things, without leaving a record. With the lack of a trial or record, I guess many versions of what happened cropped up, slanted to whatever a person’s sympathies were during and after the war. Glenn (Chick) Sanders of Huntsville says that there was no marker for Joe Sanders and he and some other relatives had one put up on his grave. He also said he has been told that two of Joseph Sanders’ sons, Henry A. and John G., killed two of the men who murdered their father.

Don Schaefer’s account is based partly on the testimony of Carroll Jackson Brewer in 1876 to the Southern Claims Commission concerning the compensation claim of John Sanders, Joseph’s nephew: “James Hawkins and others searched for his uncle often and did take out him, J. Sanders who was seventy years old, they taken him out of the field when he was at work and shot him on the side of the mountain.” Carroll Jackson Brewer was married to John Sanders’ half-niece and therefore related by marriage to Joseph.

Don Schaefer also contributed some material he received from Ann Barbee Chambless who was related to one of the men who killed Joseph:

I keep hoping you will unearth the real story about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders, even though my great grandfather’s brother was one of the three culprits. One of the older men in this county has told me the “hanging tree” still stands at the head of Mud Creek where justice was administered. I still do not know if it would be labeled “roadside justice” or as you suggested Federal troop intervention. I do know that a group of Federal troops stationed in this area took over the Barbee home for their winter quarters one year. My great-great uncle was a very young boy at the time. He lived until I was about six or seven years old, so I remember hearing him repeat stories from that time period. Of course, he never told about his brother being hung. His stories were about his father’s death just before the Civil War (died in 1860) and how another brother died of measles after enlisting in the CSA. That brother was buried at Corinth, MS. My own great grandfather was a CSA Scout and was in the Federal prison at Rock Island. Uncle Lewis told what a difficult winter he, his mother, and his older sisters had the winter they were forced to live in what had been slave quarters. That is one reason I have always been so interested in learning more about the murder of Uncle Joe Sanders and what happened to the culprits. If your Madison County contact provides you with any part of the story, please be sure to share with me.”  [From Ann Barbee Chambless, the Jackson County (Ala.) Historical Association].

Although John Dolberry’s family tradition was that Joseph was hanged, the only document contemporaneous with the murder, a brief newspaper article from the Huntsville Confederate for April 23, 1863, stated that Joseph was shot: “On the same day, we learn, an old man, named Saunders, who affiliated with the Abolition Army, when they occupied Jackson county, and went off with them, but returned to depredate on the neighborhood, was shot and killed by some unknown person, on Mud Creek in that county.”

Just as we do not know for certain whether Joseph Sanders was shot or hanged (or possibly both), we have no firm documentation on what happened to the men who killed Joseph Sanders. The family tradition from John Dolberry states that the killers were slain by federal troops shortly after the murder; another account mentioned by Don Schaefer is that “vigilante justice,” possibly by Joseph’s sons, took care of the killers. Whatever may have happened during the war as the aftermath to the incident, after the war the event lived on for the most part only in the tradition of the Sanders family and their relatives. There are no records of legal investigations and no suggestion of any enduring blood feuds. Probably, for whatever reason, the murderers did not live long after the killing.

The impact of the War, of course, endured for the rest of the lives of the participants. Joseph’s widow and her stepsons appear to have quarreled over his estate. In 1874, eleven years after his death, she was given as her dowry rights a one-quarter distribution from his estate.

Three of Joseph’s sons served in the Union Army and two of them were wounded at the Battle of Nashville. When Henry, one of the sons, returned home and discovered that his young wife was pregnant, he divorced her and had nothing to do with her or the baby. He married again and eventually had eight children. Joseph’s nephew, John Sanders, returned home after serving in an Ohio Regiment and later became a justice of the peace in Jackson County. In 1876 in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission,  John’s friend and relative by marriage, Carroll J. Brewer, stated that John had been a firm Union supporter even before the War:

I knew him about twenty-five years for all that time and live about three miles from him at Mainard cove, PO, Jackson county. I have heard him discuss that he could not sustain the secession principles…all of his talk with me was in the side of the union and he always voted in support… Claimant went into the Regular Federal Army and served nearly three years, and he caused nineteen men with him when he went.

The loyalty of the Sanders family of Jackson County to the Union probably had more to do with the unique political climate of the county rather than with any philosophy unique to this family. Close relatives of Joseph and his nephew John who lived outside the county often joined the Confederate Army. John Sanders himself recognized the influence of geographical location in his testimony to the Southern Claims Commission:

I have a brother said to be in the Confederate army. I did not see him [join?] Isaac Sanders, forty-four or five years of age on entering the Confederate army in Montgomery County, Arkansas. I have no influence on him. He lived in Arkansas when he joined the army. [He or I?] contributed nothing to his outfit. [He] would not of have been living here.

This may mean, possibly, that in John’s opinion Isaac would not have joined the Confederates if he had still been living in Jackson County.

In John’s testimony and in that of his neighbors, we can ascertain his intense national loyalty. We see much the same intensity in the affidavits filed in support of pension claims of the other Sanders men who fought for the Union or in testimony to the Southern Claims Commission concerning their claims for compensation for property losses during the war. With Joseph Sanders, however, the record is silent on any voiced expressions or writings he may have made in support of the Union cause. All we have as a record is his actions in encouraging his sons and neighbors to support the Union, efforts that ultimately led to his death.

John Dolberry, the descendant who still lived on Joseph Sanders’ farm as of 2007, stated that Joseph was not buried near the mulberry tree where he was killed. Instead, he was buried some distance away near where an infant child of Joseph and Deborah had been buried earlier. There may very well be other family members who are buried nearby, but no other markers are present today.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Originally four cedar posts were erected to mark Joseph’s grave. Later, in the early 1990s, someone erected a modern tombstone marker.  Unfortunately, the dates on the new tombstone are incorrect and the name is given as Joseph B. Sanders, although there are no records that give him a middle name or initial. His real birth and death dates are 1793 and March 10, 1863, according to census records and the testimony to the Southern Claims Commission of his friend Carroll Jackson Brewer.

Joseph Sanders gravestone, photo by Gary B. Sanders

The grave is located under a tree at the end of County Road 111 in Jackson County. Local people call this site “Dolberry Hollow.” My sister and I visited the resting place of our ancestor in 2007. Today, one sees only a pastoral view of thriving fields of corn and mountain scenery. It is difficult to imagine the strife that engulfed the area at the time of Joseph Sanders’ death.

Also located across the road is the “Blowing Cave,” which is something of a local tourist attraction. A strong breeze blows from the cave, hence the name by which it has been known since before the Civil War. In her book Sanders and Bean Families: Past and Present Virginia Retan describes the Blowing Cave as follows:

Mother Nature provided an air conditioner during the terribly hot season of summer, known as the Blowing Cave. The cave was named Blowing Cave because of the cool breeze that forever flowed from the entrance in the summer and the warm breeze which flowed in the cooler months. This cave was, and is today, quite an attraction.

Inside the cave, there are many rooms. People have used the Blowing Cave many times for shelter from tornadoes and other storms. Unfortunately, many of the rooms have been washed away by great gushes of water which are known to come unexpectedly from the cave. Some people say that the end of the cave comes out in Winchester, Tennessee. Some have said that they have traveled all through the cave and it took them three or four days to reach the other side.

Photo courtesy of Gary B. Sanders

Now (1986), many groups enjoy exploring the cave, with experienced guides, of course. Scouts enjoy staying overnight there, checking out the remaining rooms of the cave. The cave is now posted and people enter at their own risk. Young couples used to take walks there on Sunday afternoons; even now in 1986, it is said there is evidence of courtships of days long ago, in the names carved on trees or scraped in the rocks at the entrance of the cave.

Although the cave is no longer open to the public (as of 2007, the time of my visit), one can still stand about several yards away and get a good view of the cave opening, and sometimes even feel the cool breeze from the cave, just as Uncle Joe Sanders and his family and friends probably used to do on hot summer days before the Civil War.

–Gary B. Sanders

Great great-grand nephew of Joseph Sanders

December 2011

Read Full Post »

Note from Moderator: Phebe Crook belonged to the same North Carolina community of Unionist women that I’ve been researching and writing about for 25 years as did Martha Sheets and Caroline, Sarah, and Clarinda Hulin.  Thanks to exhaustive research by historians in local, state, and federal records, we now know that women were active participants in the American Civil War. Particularly in southern regions that displayed strong Unionist sentiment, ordinary farm women like Phebe engaged in inner civil wars that centered around protesting Confederate policies that claimed the lives of their fathers, sons, and husbands, and which threatened them with impoverishment and even starvation.


Phebe Crook and the Inner Civil War in North Carolina

By Vikki Bynum


On September 15, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a young unmarried woman of the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina, wrote an unusually detailed and articulate letter of protest to Governor Zebulon Vance. Phebe Crook began her letter with a polite salutation:

Mr. Vance, Dear Sir,  I imbrace this opertunity of writing you a few lines in order to inform you of the conduct of our oficers and leading men of this county as you are appointed govenor of the state and [because] I Beleave that you are willing to Do all that you can in trying to protect the civil laws and writs of our county.

Then Phebe got down to business, providing the governor with her eye-witness account of Confederate militia sent to her community to enforce conscript laws and arrest deserters:

Whearas I believe you are a Man of high feelings and one that is willing to Do your duty in every respect, I will now inform you of some of the conduct of our Militia officers and Magistrats of this county. Thir imployment is hunting Deserters, they say, and the way they Manage to find them is taking up poore old grey headed fathers who has fought in the old War.

Seizing fathers and grandfathers was one means by which Confederate soldiers sought to learn the whereabouts of men who evaded or deserted Confederate service. But according to Phebe,

Some of them [men who evaded service] has done thir Duty in trying to support both the army and thir family, [but] these men [home guard and militia] that has remained at home ever since the War commenced are taking them up and keeping them under gard without a mouthful to eat for severl days.

Militia and home guard also tortured deserters’ wives, claimed Phebe, by

taking up the women and keeping them under gard and Boxing thir jaws and nocking them about as if they were bruts and keeping them from thir little children that they hav almost wore our thir lifes in trying to make surport for them. And some of thes women is in no fix to leav homes and others have little suckling infants not more than 2 months old.

Nor were children exempt from torture. According to Phebe, Confederate militia were

taking up little children and Hanging them until they turn black in the face trying to make them tell whear thir fathers is When the little children knows nothing atall about thir fathers. Thir plea is they hav orders from the Govenner to do this and they also say that they hav orders from the govner to Burn up thir Barns and houses.

It seemed to Phebe that the mission of the Confederacy was to

Destroy all that [families] hav got to live on Because they hav a poor wore out son or husband that has served in the army, some of them for 2 or 3 years and is almost wore out and starved to Death and has come home to try to take a little rest. [Deserters are] Doing no body any harm and are eating thir own Rations, [whereas the home guard] has Remained at home ever since the Ware commenced, [and] take thir guns and go in the woods and shoot them down without Halting them as if they war Bruts or murderers.  [They] also pilfer and plunder and steal on thir creadits.

Phebe Crook ended her letter by asserting her own credentials:

As for my self, I am a young Lady that has Neither Husband nor father no Brother in the woods, But I always like to [see] peple hav jestis and I think if thes Most powerfull fighting men that has always remained at home would go out and fight the enemy and let thes poore wor out soldiers Remain at [home] a little while and take a little rest that we would have Better times. But they [Confederate militia and home guard] say that if they are called they will Lie in the Woods until they Rot Before they will go to the war. And now why should thes men have the power to punish men for a crime [when] they would Be guilty of the same?

Although she began and ended her letter with a tone of politeness, Phebe now demanded that Governor Vance respond to her description of the desperate situation faced by the ordinary war-weary people of the North Carolina Piedmont:

So I will close By requesting you to answer this note if you pleas, and answer it imediately.

Yours Truly,

Phebe Crook

Direct to Phebe Crook, Salem Church, Randolph County, N.C.

NOTE: If there are descendants or kinfolk of Phebe Crook among readers of Renegade South, I would love to hear from you. I have not been able to trace Phebe’s whereabouts after the war. I do know that she was the daughter of William and Rachel Crook and the sister of Clarinda Crook Hulin. After the war, Clarinda and her husband, Nelson Hulin, moved to Kentucky.

Vikki Bynum

Read Full Post »

By Vikki Bynum, Moderator

In recent weeks, The Family Origins of Vernon Dahmer, Civil Rights Activist, by Yvonne Bivins and Wilmer Watts Backstrom, published December 6, 2009 on Renegade South, has received increased attention and interesting comments from readers. I’m pleased that Tiffany Jones even republished it on her blog, Mulatto Diaries.

A few readers of Renegade South posed interesting questions after reading the Dahmer history.  “Ms T. A.”, for example, wondered what caused Vernon Dahmer, a man of limited African ancestry, to identify as “black,” and ultimately sacrifice his life working for black civil rights. Also, in regard to racial identification, A.D. Powell (author of Passing for Who You Really Are: Studies in Support of Multiracial Whiteness), drew attention to two instances in which the mixed-race infants of unmarried white women were reportedly given to mulatto families to be raised.

To better understand the ways in which economic class as well as race have historically shaped multiracial communities, I returned to my research files on mixed-race people, and also to a few books on my shelf.  In her 1986 history of the Horne family, for example, Gail Lumet Buckley illuminated the “old black bourgeoisie” from which her mother, Lena Horne, descended. That elite group, writes Buckley, was comprised of “three segments of black society in existence before the Civil War: free northern blacks, free southern blacks, and ‘favored’ slaves.” (The Hornes: An American Family, p. 4)*

Of course, most mixed-race people were not part of this black bourgeoisie. Two classic autobiographies proved especially helpful in understanding less elite families : Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861), and Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (1956, 1978). Both the authors were defined legally as “black” despite having greater degrees of European than African ancestry.  White appearance notwithstanding, Harriet was born and raised a slave. Pauli, born after slavery was abolished, was the great-granddaughter of an enslaved woman who was impregnated by the sons of her master. On Pauli’s great-grandfather’s side, she was descended from a northern interracial marriage between a white woman and a mixed race man.

Both Harriet and Pauli had advantages denied to most people defined as black by white society.  Harriet’s father was not only mixed-race, but a skilled carpenter; her grandmother on her mother’s side was the daughter of a white planter who managed through her connections to white society to gain her freedom (but not her children’s).

Pauli’s southern ancestors were likewise slaves. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s sisters, however, were removed from their mother’s slave cabin by Mary Ruffin Smith, the sister of their wealthy white fathers, and raised in the “Big House.” Although Mary never publicly admitted that the four sisters were the daughters of her brothers (and therefore her nieces), she could not bring herself to treat them as chattel slaves.

My point in discussing Harriet Jacobs and Pauli Murray is not to retell their fascinating life stories, but to explore how white connections might mitigate the disadvantages of race, particularly among light-skinned people of African ancestry. Despite their white ancestry and advantageous connections, Harriet and Pauli, like Vernon Dahmer, identified first and foremost with their African American kinfolk. And why wouldn’t they? Despite light skin and interracial connections, Harriet was nonetheless a slave; Pauli was subjected to segregation. And, of course, both women witnessed abuse and discrimination against people of African ancestry all their lives. It was the cultural rather than biological experience of race that shaped their consciousness.

The lives of mixed-race children who had no favored place or acknowledged kinship with wealthy or influential whites were, of course, much different. Here, my research into North Carolina court records is most revealing. Not only were most mixed-race slaves raised in the quarters rather than in the Big House, but records indicate that being the mixed-race offspring of a single white woman or a free black woman often brought unwelcome attention from the courts, as such children were born free in a slaveholding society.

In chapter four of my book, Unruly Women (1992), “Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch,” pp. 88-110, I covered in some detail the multiracial communities of Orange and Granville Counties in North Carolina. Susan Williford of Granville County provided a particularly vivid example of the ways in which southern lawmakers punished poor white women for crossing the color line.  Although Susan, a white woman, remained in a stable relationship with Peter Curtis, a free man of color, for most of her adult life (the two were forbidden by law to marry), all of their mixed-race children were removed by the courts from their home and apprenticed to white farmers or planters of the community. The children were forced to live and work for these “masters” until they reached adulthood.

Free women of color were likewise forbidden to marry across the color line, or to marry slave men. By law, any child born to a free woman was also free, regardless of the woman’s race or the father’s status.  Therefore, if free women of color bore children to either white or enslaved men, those children were also subject to being apprenticed by the courts to white families.

In North Carolina, the pre-Civil War system of apprenticeship thus supplemented slavery in controlling the mobility and labor of free people of mixed ancestry. It also served to create the fiction of a society divided between “white” and “black” people, when in fact many free “blacks” (and a good many slaves) had more European and Indian than African ancestry.

Reviewing historical records and autobiographies makes it clear that economic class and gender, as well as heritage and physical appearance, played an integral part in shaping one’s racial identity. This was true in the North as well as the South, where even among Northern abolitionists racial discrimination was commonly practiced. For example, after escaping to the North, Harriet Jacobs wrote that she “found the same cruel manifestations of that cruel prejudice which so discourages the feelings and represses the energies of the colored people,” as in the South (p. 176).

Harriet E. Wilson’s 1859 autobiographical novel, Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, highlighted the racial hypocrisy of white northerners who viewed slavery as only a southern problem. This Harriet, who was the abandoned mixed-race daughter of a poor white woman of New England, expressed contempt for white abolitionists “who didn’t want slaves at the South,” but also did not want people of color in their homes: “Faugh!” she wrote,  “to lodge one; to eat with one; to admit one through the front door; to sit next to one–awful!” (129)

A final word about “passing”. This term might best be eliminated from our vocabulary, as it legitimizes the basis for the “one drop rule” of race. To “pass” implies that even though people might look at you and believe that you are “white,” you are nonetheless “black”–and should identify yourself as such–if you have an African ancestor lurking in your past. The assumption is not only that race is an objective biological category of distinction, but furthermore that African “blood” somehow overwhelms all other “blood” in determining who a person really is.  The late Mae Street Kidd, a former “black” representive from Kentucky, exposed the absurdity of the one drop rule and the concept of “passing” when she said, “I’ve been passing for black all my life because I’m almost 90 percent white. . . . It’s so very obvious that I’m so much whiter than I am black that I have to pretend to be black.”  (Wade Hall, Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd (1997), p. 177)

The Dahmer family history certainly raises provocative questions and provides tantalizing insights into mixed-race or multiracial communities.  For those interested in exploring the topic further, I recommend visiting Mixed Race Studies and  Study of Racialism, both great bibliographic resources for both online and printed sources.

And here’s a hopeful sign, brought to my attention by A.D. Powell, that we are moving beyond simplistic and dualistic notions of race:

Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies,” the first annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, will be held at DePaul University in Chicago on November 5-6, 2010.

http://las.depaul.edu/aas/About/CMRSConference/index.asp

* Note: To view a tribute to Lena Horne’s life and work, see the webpage posted by the Institute of Jazz Studies, a special collections unit of the John Cotton Dana Library on the Rutgers University Newark Campus:
http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/IJS/

Read Full Post »

A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum  

Author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies  

Published April 15, 2010  

$35.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0  

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

  

Q. There seems no end to books about the American Civil War. What does The Long Shadow of the Civil War offer that is new?
A.
Although Civil War books about the home front are not new, this is a new sort of home front study that focuses on three communities from three different states. Rather than close with the war and Reconstruction, The Long Shadow of the Civil War follows individual Unionists and multiracial families into the New South era and, in some cases, into the twentieth century. This historical sweep allows the reader to understand the ongoing effects of the war at its most personal levels.
   

Q. What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?
A.
Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.  

All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.
   

Q. What were the most important similarities among the three communities of dissent? The most important differences?  

A. All three communities were located outside the South’s plantation belt and all had large non-slaveholding majorities. Important differences were religious practices and length of settlement. The North Carolina Quaker Belt had a history of religious dissent that included Moravian, Mennonite and Dunker sects as well as Quakers.   

Beginning around 1848, Wesleyan Methodism, with its anti-slavery ideals, gained popularity in this region. The Quaker Belt was also a long-settled region of expansive, deeply entwined family networks that lent force and stability to anti-Confederate sentiments.

By contrast, neither Jones County, Mississippi, nor Hardin County, Texas, exhibited significant or organized religious dissent against slavery. As in North Carolina, family networks were important to anti-Confederate activity; however, in East Texas, more recent migration from states like Mississippi meant that family networks were less extensive there. Less cohesive and deeply rooted communities, coupled with politicians’ successful linking of Texas’s 1836 revolution to the Southern cause of secession, undermined organized anti-Confederate activity among non-slaveholders in East Texas.  

Q. Why did you return to the Free State of Jones County, Mississippi, and to the North Carolina Quaker Belt, two regions that you wrote about in previous books, for this study?
A.
Ever since I discovered that a splinter band of Unionist deserters, led by several brothers of members of the Jones County band, kept Confederate forces at bay in the Texas Big Thicket, and after discovering ancestral links between the North Carolina Piedmont and Jones County, Mississippi, I have wanted to combine the inner civil wars of these three regions in the same volume. Doing so also gave me the opportunity to analyze research materials that were not included in my earlier works: two examples are documents concerning the lives of freedpeople and poor whites in Orange County, North Carolina, and Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 Mississippi claim files.  

Q. You cite abolitionism as a motive for anti-Confederate sentiments in only one of your three communities: that of the Randolph County area of the North Carolina Quaker Belt. How and why did religion play such an important role in this region, but not in Jones County, Mississippi, or the Big Thicket of East Texas?
A.
The Randolph County area of North Carolina (including Montgomery and Moore Counties) was the “heart” of the state’s Quaker Belt. Quaker opposition to slavery had faded over time because of the state’s changing demographics, but it never entirely disappeared, making this region fertile ground for Wesleyan Methodists who gained a foothold in the 1850s. In Montgomery County, the Rev. Adam Crooks condemned slavery from the pulpit of the Lovejoy Methodist Church. In contrast, Jones County, Mississippi and Hardin County, Texas, were Baptist strongholds during the secession crisis. I have found no evidence that any Baptist church in either county publically opposed slavery or secession; indeed, the Leaf River Baptist Church of Jones County publically supported the Confederacy.
   

Q. Newt Knight, the controversial “captain” of the Knight Company, is a polarizing figure who even today evokes heated arguments among readers. Why is this so, and how did it affect your historical treatment of him?
A.
As long as we continue to debate the causes, meanings, and effects of the Civil War, Newt Knight’s motives and character will also be debated. We know that he defied Confederate authority during the war, supported Republican Reconstruction afterward, and openly crossed the color line to found a mixed-race community. To neo-Confederates, such facts make Newt a scoundrel and a traitor to his country and his race. To neo-abolitionists, he is a backwoods Mississippi hero who defended his nation and struggled to uplift the black race. My response to such powerful and emotional narratives is to examine critically not only the documentary evidence, but also the mountain of published opinions about Newt Knight that have too often functioned as “evidence” for both sides of the debate.  

Q. Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and former family slave, Rachel, were the founding parents of a multiracial community. What sort of a community was it in terms of racial identity? How did members of the community identify themselves racially, as opposed to how the larger white society defined them?
A. As segregation took hold in New South Mississippi (1880-1900), the descendants of Newt, Serena, and Rachel were increasingly defined by white society as black, i.e. as “Negroes,” despite being of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, however, few of these descendants identified themselves as “black.” Depending on their physical appearance, including skin shade and hair texture, descendants of Newt and Rachel variously defined themselves as white, Indian, or colored. Whereas white society applied a “one drop rule” that grouped together all people of African ancestry, these descendants self-identified in ways that reflected their multiracial heritage.  

There is no direct evidence of how Newt, Serena, or Rachel racially identified their multiracial descendants. Descendant Yvonne Bivins, the most thorough Knight researcher, was told by her elders that Newt Knight actively encouraged his descendants to identify as white. All that is certain—but nonetheless remarkable—is that they economically supported, nurtured, and lived openly among both white and multiracial kinfolk all their lives.  

Q. By crossing the color line, Newt Knight deviated from the norm by acknowledging and supporting his multiracial descendants. What may we deduce from those facts about his political views on race relations in the era of segregation?
A.
Since we don’t know that Newt Knight identified his multiracial descendants as “black,” we can’t deduce from his intimate relationships with them, or by his efforts to enroll them in a local school (one that he helped create) alongside his white descendants, that he supported equality for all people of African ancestry—that is, for people classed as “Negroes.” Only if we adhere to the “one drop rule”—and assume that Newt Knight did, too—can we conclude that Newt’s protection of his own kinfolk extended to all Americans of African ancestry.  

Newt’s efforts on behalf of freedpeople as a Republican appointee during Reconstruction do not necessarily make him an advocate of black equality, as some historians have argued. There were many Reconstruction Republicans who supported the same basic rights of marriage and military service that Newt upheld for freedpeople, while supporting segregation and opposing black voting rights. We simply don’t know Newt’s political position on these issues.  

Q. For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?
A.
The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.  

Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.  

Q. The Long Shadow of the Civil War is as much about the legacies of Civil War dissent as about the war itself. Why did you include both topics in a single volume?
A.
To truly understand the Civil War, we need to understand its long-term impact on the lives of those who endured it. Southerners who took a Unionist stance lived with that decision all their lives, as did their children and grandchildren. Some struggled to put the war behind them and never spoke of it again; others, like Newt Knight and Warren Collins, defended their actions all their lives, and went on to fight new political battles.  

Multiracial communities that grew out of war and emancipation grew larger and more complex in the late nineteenth century. Faced with racial violence and segregation, many of their members exited the South during these years. But among those who remained, we witness the birth of a multiracial Southern middle class.
   

Q. You locate a long tradition of political dissent among certain Jones County families that found expression in third party political movements after the Civil War. How does this New South agrarian radicalism shed light on Civil War Unionism and vice versa?
A.
In all three regions, I found examples of emerging class consciousness among non-slaveholding farmers as a result of the Civil War. Late in life, Newt Knight, for example, offered a class-based critique of Southern society. Two prominent Unionist brothers, Jasper J. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi, and Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, went even further, carving out political careers as populists and socialists in two separate states.  

A close study of individual lives reveals how the Civil War reshaped their perspectives. Of course, the majority of Southern Unionists did not join third-party political movements in the aftermath of war. It appears, however, that some ideologically committed Unionists, such as the Collinses of Mississippi and Texas, grew ever more militant in their political views as the years passed.  

Q. Your epilogue, “Fathers and Sons,” compares and contrasts three twentieth-century histories of individual guerrilla leaders written by their sons. What do these biographical sketches reveal about the impact of kinship and politics on the Civil War memories of Southern Unionist families?
A.
All three biographies were written after the deaths of their subjects, and reflect the need for sons to defend notorious fathers against charges of treason, lawlessness, or ignorance—especially in the wake of New South glorification of the Confederate cause. Further complicating Tom Knight’s biography of Newt Knight was his effort to present his father as a hero to the segregated, virulently white supremacist society of the 1930s. At the time of Newt’s death, Tom was estranged from him and the family’s interracial community. He knew little about his father’s early years (his narrative is studded with factual errors) and his “memories” of Newt Knight during the Civil War and Reconstruction were profoundly influenced by his need to valorize Newt and thereby restore respect for his family. Though very different in tone and accuracy, Vinson A. Collins’s and Loren Collins’s biographies of their fathers, Warren J. Collins of Texas and Jasper J. Collins of Mississippi, are presented not only with a sense of each son’s relationship with his father, but also in the context of the nation’s politicized memories of the Civil War.  

###
This interview may be reprinted in its entirety with the following credit: A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (University of North Carolina Press, Spring 2010). The text of this interview is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/uncp/media/bynum/.
                                                                                                                              PUBLISHING DETAILS
ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0, $35.00 hardcover
Publication date: April 15, 2010
240 pp., 9 illus., 1 map, bibl., notes, bibl., index
For more information: http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-7790.html
The University of North Carolina Press, http://www.uncpress.unc.edu
116 South Boundary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-3808
919-966-3561 (office) 1-800-848-6224 (orders) 919-966-3829 (fax)  

CONTACTS
Publicity: Gina Mahalek, 919-962-0581; gina_mahalek@unc.edu
Sales: Michael Donatelli, 919-962-0475; michael_donatelli@unc.edu
Rights: Vicky Wells, 919-962-0369; vicky_wells@unc.edu

Read Full Post »

When I wrote Unruly Women, (published 1992) I focused primarily on showing how the lives of nonslaveholding women–poor white, free black, and farm women–were impacted by living in a slaveholding society. I was particularly interested in what sorts of behavior marked a woman as “deviant.” I soon discovered that women who crossed the color line, thereby blurring the boundaries of race in a slaveholding society, were most consistently hauled before court magistrates for their crimes of passion.

One women who did not make it into Unruly Women was Mary (Polly) Harris of Granville County, North Carolina. One reason I passed her over was because she lived a generation too soon for the framework of my study (1830-1865). It certainly was NOT because Mary obeyed the rules of society. But, unlike most unruly women, Mary’s behavior was rarely reported in court records, probably because she was from the slaveholding class, for whom personal matters were often settled privately. 

Nevertheless, I did discover Mary Harris while working in the North Carolina State Archives in 1983, and I took notes on the interesting circumstances of her life, which included giving birth to children–lots of them–without the benefit of marriage. Nothing more defined a woman as “deviant” than this, and yet I didn’t discover Mary’s habits in the county court’s bastardy bonds, but, rather, in the estate papers of Adam Gooch, who died around 1821. Gooch was a Granville County bachelor who fathered five of Mary’s children: William, Nancy, John G., Jane, and Elizabeth (Betsy).

I was reminded of Mary Harris and Amos Gooch last week when I received an email from Daniel Mahar of San Francisco. Descended from one of Amos’s brothers, Daniel discovered Mary in the records of the North Carolina Archives many years ago, and wondered if I had also encountered her while researching Unruly Women. Daniel’s expansive knowledge of Mary’s life, as well as the lives of her children, stimulated me to return to my files and, with his help, piece together a fascinating chronicle of unorthodox living arrangements among members of North Carolina’s early slaveholding class. 

In 1804, Amos and Mary’s illegitimate daughter, Betsy, received a slave from her mother. The following year, Amos recognized Betsy as his daughter, and pledged in a guardian bond to support her and her slave. Eventually, Betsy Harris became Betsy Gooch. Curiously, the Gooch name was not bestowed on Amos and Mary’s other four children. 

Among the descendants of Amos Gooch and Mary Harris, slaves and land were passed from one generation to the next, with courtroom battles occasionally fought over who deserved to inherit what. For example, Nancy Harris, the “natural born” daughter of Amos, owned four slaves when she died in 1826. After Nancy’s estate was dispersed, her half-sister, Susan Harris, sued its administrator, Thomas Jones, and won a judgment for $211.25 from the state supreme court.

That only begins the task of sorting out the tangled skeins of a distinctly unruly family of North Carolina’s early upper class. According to family researcher Arnom Harris, Mary Harris gave birth to a total of twelve children: five fathered by Amos Gooch; three of uncertain paternity (one of whom, Susan, appears either to have been mixed-race or the mother of mixed-race children); and four by Moody Fowler, whom Mary married in 1830 (yes, this unwed mother did eventually marry!). 

Mary Harris’s life story raises intriguing questions about deviant behavior among upper-class Southern women; about interactions between Granville County’s “free black” population (which was overwhelmingly multiracial) and the white slaveholding class; and about the distribution of property among intricate kinship groups that included “legitimate” and “illegitimate” children.

Need I add that were I writing Unruly Women today, Mary Harris would be prominently featured?

Vikki Bynum

Read Full Post »

Researching Civil War Home Fronts and Beyond

by Vikki Bynum

Back in fall, 2001, just months after the release of my book, Free State of Jones, David Woodbury (moderator of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) interviewed me for the Civil War Forum Conference Series. As I read today the questions that he and others posed, and my answers to them, it becomes clear why I wrote The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. There was so much more I wanted to know, or knew and wanted to tell. For example, although I identified the Collins and allied families as representing the heart of Jones County Unionism, I had only touched on the parallel renegade band led by another branch of the same family in the Big Thicket of East Texas.  Likewise, I had barely tapped into records detailing the postwar political activism of Collinses in both Mississippi and Texas.  And then there was Newt Knight himself. I obtained copies of Newt’s voluminous claim files of 1887-1900 from independent researcher Ken Welch shortly before Free State of Jones went to press. Although the claim files did not change my essential understanding of Newt Knight, they provided such rich detail about the claims process, and the men who either joined or opposed the Knight Band, that I decided to devote a chapter to them in the new book. In yet another chapter, I expanded on the history of the multiracial Knight community that resulted from collaboration between Newt Knight and Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather. For the new book, I also returned to my research on the Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont who figured so prominently in my first book, Unruly Women. The inner civil war that raged in North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt” (Montgomery, Moore, and Randolph Counties) had stimulated me to research the similar “war” of Jones County.  Yet, despite their similarities, I soon discovered important differences between these Civil War home front wars. That’s when I decided to compare all three communities of dissent–those of Jones Co., MS, the NC Quaker Belt, and the Big Thicket of East Texas–in the same volume. And so the idea for Long Shadow of the Civil War was born. As you read the 2001 question and answer session that follows, I think you’ll understand why I felt compelled to continue my research on southern dissenters, and to expand the story even further beyond the Civil War. My thanks to David Woodbury for permission to repost his Q & A session with me.

 

Transcript of the 35th session of the Civil War Forum Conference Series. GUEST: Dr. Victoria Bynum TOPIC: The subject of her book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” Date: October 25, 2001 ——————————– Greetings, and welcome to the  35th session of the Civil War Forum conference series. We are very pleased tonight to have with us Dr. Victoria Bynum, professor of history at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, discussing the subject of her new book: “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). Let’s get started.

Q. (David Woodbury): Welcome Dr. Bynum.  Since this is probably a fairly obscure topic even among Civil War buffs, can you begin with an overview of Jones County, and what set it apart from the rest of Mississippi (e.g., the paucity of slaves there), and the events that gave rise to stories of the so-called “Free State,” or Kingdom of Jones?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Jones County was founded in 1826, and it’s part of one of the earlier-settled sections of Mississippi (because of Native Americans already being pushed out of that part of the state, but not out of the more fertile portions of Mississippi). Many of the earliest settlers were veterans of the War of 1812, especially. I won’t go too much into it, but because it was the Piney Woods region, you didn’t have a great many slaveholders there. Slavery was important — there were slaveholders — but not many *big* slaveholders. It had the lowest number of slaveholders of any county in the state, and almost 80 percent of those slaveholders owned fewer than four slaves. So, just to leap forward to the Civil War itself, this was a region that was pretty ripe — by around 1862 — for seeing the war as a “rich man’s war” and “poor man’s fight,” because they were the poorest men in the state. I don’t want to imply that they were landless, because they were small landowners, but in terms of slaveholders, they were the poorest in the state. [The county] voted almost 2-1 against secession. Moving ahead to the 20th century about how all these stories got started — what made this story so legendary and why it has persisted so long is that the leader of this band of deserters crossed the color line. Now, it’s not that crossing the color line was so unusual, it’s the way that Newton Knight did it. He not only crossed the line, but two of his children intermarried with the children of the slave woman who was his chief collaborator (it was after the war that they intermarried — she was his collaborator during the war). And that resulted in a mixed-race community that’s still very vibrant today — a very large mixed-race community that claims descent from Rachel the slave, and Newton, the leader of the deserter band. …So you’ve had this ongoing battle — this is why I make the second part of the title, “Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” because factions of this family have been debating the meaning of this uprising since the Civil War. And with the racial aspect, it has made the debate particularly volatile. Those who wanted to defend the Unionism of the Knight band generally just erased the story of the race-mixing, and those who were pro-Confederate . . . used the racial mixing as just further examples that these were deviant men who committed treason against the country, against the Confederacy, and against their race. That’s why the story has lasted, [and] because there have been several books written, and a novel, and even a movie made from the novel.

Q. (David Woodbury): One of the fun things about reading your book is the spirit of investigation, or discovery, in unmasking the past. Can you recall any major breakthroughs during the course of your research, or any particular surprises you encountered upon digging deeper?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I believe some of the most delightful surprises were the ongoing discoveries I made about the Collins family — I believe that their story is one that was buried because of the notoriety of Newt Knight. The discovery that their ancestors were both Regulators back in the 1760s and Populists in the 1890s kind of gave me a whole view of Southern dissent as represented by this family, in a way that just stood right out — and made them the core of the Unionist group there, rather than Newt Knight. And I want to add that probably the biggest surprise was that the Collinses had brothers in Texas who were leaders of their own deserter band, so there were actually two deserter bands which existed simultaneously. It just showed the uncompromising nature of their Unionism; not nearly all the deserters were as Unionist as the Collins’s. There was a core group of about five different families that I would call truly Unionist. Putting that together was very exciting, because I kept finding connections between the very distant past, and the Civil War era, and connections between the  various families as well.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): What was the reaction of the Confederate authorities? Was it as  brutal as the suppression of the earlier East Tennessee Unionist uprising?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I’m not sure just how brutal that was, in terms of making an exact comparison, but the Confederacy did send two expeditions into Jones County to put down the uprisings there, and in the Official Records [of the Confederate and Union Armies] there is quite a bit of discussion of Jones County. The most important example is Colonel Lowry’s raid on Jones County. In the space of a few days, they executed ten members of the Knight Company –the Knight Band. That was the worst experience that the  Jones County group experienced. I imagine that it was probably worse in East Tennessee due to the geographic location. Jones County was still pretty remote, and there weren’t as many raids.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): So nice to have you here to tell us more about your book! My co-workers, not Civil War buffs, were intrigued by the subject, and seemed ready to read more on the topic. One question I had is about “jeans” cloth. Can you tell us anything about it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): [You're] referring to when Newton Knight — in 1865, he was relief commissioner — had an order from the military government in place at that time to seize a certain amount of goods from the former CSA representative of the county, who was a merchant, and they refer to Jeans cloth in there…

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): Jeans cloth is not denim, but a particular weave of wool. It was  commonly used in uniform trousers. I just had to stick that in. My question is about Unionist sentiment in Jones County. How many precincts of the county voted to remain in the Union? Here in Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, three of 16 precincts voted to remain in the Union.  Overall, the county voted 2:1 to secede.

A. (Victoria Bynum): All I know — that I’ve been able to find — is that 166 people voted against secession, and I believe it was about 89 who voted for it… Let’s see… Yes, 166 for the Cooperationist Candidate, and 89 for the Secessionist Candidate. In fact, neighboring Perry County (I don’t have those numbers with me) was even more Unionist. So Jones County was not isolated in that respect. The Perry County delegate held out longer.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): Did any of the Jones County Unionists articulate why they supported the Union? The pressure must have been intense in the Deep South for secession?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Yes, of course in their county they didn’t feel that so directly — more so when the war began — but (after the war) they cited the 20 Negro Law [when] citing reasons for their desertion from the Confederacy. The only articulated Unionist statements are by the Collins family, who did not believe that the election of Abraham Lincoln was grounds for secession. And there’s a quote of a certain Collins brother counseling men to try to get duty in the hospitals as nurses if they did join the service — that they should not fight against the Union. And one more statement attributed to the Collinses is that while they didn’t believe in slavery, they also did not believe that the federal government had the right to end it.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): Early in the book, you describe rivers that were dammed to provide power for mills, but preventing fishing for those needing to do that. It seems such a conflict! I know the Jones County deserters were really against the 20 Negro Law, which was the objection to “government” in their era.

A. (Victoria Bynum): One of the things that I found, as you no doubt noticed, were that these were people who were very touchy about the government’s role in their lives. And again to use the Collinses as an example, since they were always in the thick of it — as they moved across the frontier they continued petitioning the government to respect their rights as citizens and to provide them protection, not only against Indians, but against corrupt local officials. So this is a theme that runs throughout their history, and I think that’s the point that you’re making with your comment.

Q. (David Woodbury): It sounds like your research benefited nearly as much from elderly locals and descendants as it did from archival work. That is, they were able to show you things, like the grave sites of Newt and Rachel Knight. Could you have written this book 20 or 30 years from now, after many of these people are gone?

separate photos of tombstones of Rachel (left) and Newt Knight. Photos by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): I agree that my personal contacts with descendants was really crucial to the book, and no I couldn’t have written the same book. I could have written *a* book — a study — but in fact when I started writing this book I had no idea that I would achieve the kind of contact with local people that I did. It brought perspectives that I just don’t think I could have pieced together from archival documents. In particular, I don’t think I could have described the mixed race community if I hadn’t spent a lot of time among the descendants of Rachel and Newton Knight… And I don’t believe I could have written *nearly* the kind of study of their community without that personal contact. That was crucial.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): To tie into what Terry asked, I’ve seen some opinions that many of the Unionists areas in North Carolina, etc., in the mountains had had no experience with the US government, except for the postal system and the first experience they had with an intrusive government was Confederate authorities enforcing the conscription and impressment laws?  Is that what you saw?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would say that in general that was true, once they settled in Jones County, that they had a lot of local autonomy. Some writers suggest there was no real government in Jones County before the war, but that just isn’t true. But it is fair to say that they had very limited contact with state government at the top, or federal government. However, I would still point out that their frontier petitions do show quite an interest in the Federal government and  its power. They have a long history of protest of corrupt local government, and I suspect that during the Civil War they developed a similar relationship with the Federal government, because they saw the Confederacy as another example of corrupt local government. That tradition goes all the way back to the Regulators.

Q. (David Woodbury): You include a photograph of the Leaf River in your book, “site of Deserter’s Den — the Knight Company’s Civil War hideout.” Were you able to pinpoint the actual location, and what is there today  (presumably private property)?

The Leaf River, intersection of Covington and Jones Co., MS, site of Deserters’ Den. Photo by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): It is private property today. I took the photo myself and I was taken there by one of those local old-timers. Not very far from that river — the site of that river in the photograph — is the cemetery of Newton Knight’s grandfather. That land is now in the hands of a private company, and we had to be escorted into the cemetery by someone who had a key… But all of those lands used to be owned by the core members of the deserter band.

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): On the subject of “intrusive” government, how much intrusion did Jones County see during the war from officials on either side? The territory between Hattiesburg and Meridian was pretty much no man’s land, wasn’t it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it was pretty much considered no-man’s land between those areas. The Confederacy managed to have a Home Guard unit down in Jones County, headed by a local Confederate officer, and that was Amos McLemore, reputed to have been murdered by Newt Knight and his men. By April of 1864, when more and more reports were reaching Confederate officials elsewhere that Jones County was under the control of deserters, and they had murdered some of the tax agents, then they sent the two expeditions I mentioned earlier… Col. Maury, in March (1864), subdued the deserters a bit but they came back just as strong, so then they sent Col. Robert Lowry in April. Now that really did splinter the band. He executed ten of them, and that’s when a number of them fled to New Orleans and joined the Union army. About 40 — they weren’t all members of the band — about 40 Jones County men joined the Union Army in New Orleans… And then about 15 men were captured and forced back into the Confederate army. That left about 20 more whom they never caught, including Newt Knight, still out in the swamps.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): You describe the prominent role of women in the book. Using “polecat musk and red pepper” to throw off the scent of the men from the dogs was rather emphatic. How did that come to be known as the thing to use?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Well, according to Ethel Knight, who wrote the best known book (The Echo of the Black Horn, 1951), the white women learned it from Rachel, the slave. I don’t know where she got her information from.

Q. (Azby): In your opinion, at what point did the Civil War become “inevitable”?  question?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would suppose that once Lincoln called for troops from the South, and even many who opposed secession turned the other way — when the image of invasion became a vivid one, the firing on Fort Sumter and the call for troops, one could say that’s when it began to appear inevitable. Or you could look at it more broadly, and simply say that when the Northern states put in their constitutions gradual emancipation while the South simultaneously began designs for expanding slavery into the Southwest, some would say that’s when war became inevitable. But I’m not real big on “inevitability.”

Q. (David Woodbury): When did you first hear of the legend about Jones County in the Civil War? And what first drew you to this as a subject of scholarly research?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I first learned about Jones County around 1976 when I was an undergraduate in college. I saw it in a footnote in the Randall and Donald — the old Civil War text [Randall, James G., and David H. Donald. The Civil War and Reconstruction]. I did not hear about it from within my own family, even though my father was born in Jones County. What drew me to it as a subject of scholarship was writing my first book, Unruly Women. I have two chapters on the Civil War there, and one of those chapters centers on a county very similar to Jones County in many ways, and that’s Montgomery County, North Carolina. …But I just became fascinated with the topic of Southern Unionism, and the way that entire families were involved in resisting the Confederacy. It was both the class element in it, and the participation of women and free blacks in North Carolina that made me then want to look at Jones County. So, it was only as I developed as a historian myself that I decided I would like to do a study of Jones County.

Q. (David Woodbury): Would you talk a little bit about the so-called “white Negro” community in Jones County after the war, the trial of Davis Knight in the 1940s, and why this is such an important part of the story of “The Free State of Jones.”

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it’s incredibly important because it reveals how 20th century race relations and segregation buried the story of the Free State of Jones beneath all these stereotypes about race-mixing, and then combined with the Myth of the Lost Cause, which presented Unionists as treasonous. The story had just become so distorted. And so I began and ended the book with the trial to basically look at why race was such a volatile part of the story, and then to move from there to look at the story of a class-based uprising of white men that is an important story in its own right, and would not have been buried so deeply if it had not been for the obsession with Newton Knight’s interracial relationship with Rachel. And so I was determined to tell both stories, and particularly to try to bring back the stories of all these other members of Knight’s band who had just sort of been lost from the picture. Thanks everyone. The questions were good ones, I enjoyed them.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010)

UNC Press

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Read Full Post »

My forthcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, will feature Unionist communities from the North Carolina Quaker Belt as well as Mississippi and Texas. Recently, I received a series of comments and questions from Amanda Hall and Kelly Atkins Hinson, descendants of the Hulin and Atkins families of Civil War Montgomery County, North Carolina. (See their comments following Unionists at War in the N.C. Quaker Belt).
 
Three Hulin brothers, John, Jesse, and William, and a cousin, James Atkins, were members of a Wesleyan Methodist community headed by patriarchs Hiram Hulin and Valentine Moore, and known for its anti-slavery views and opposition to the Confederacy during the Civil War. In early January, 1865, the Hulin brothers and Atkins were killed by pro-Confederate forces for refusing to serve the Confederate Army (see here and here).

Amanda and Kelly expressed interest in seeing the following letter written to Governor Zeb Vance during the midst of the war by John A. Beaman, grandson of Valentine Moore and brother-in-law to Hiram Hulin. The letter is undated, but was probably written before Beaman’s Hulin and Atkins cousins were killed.

I discovered the letter in the N.C. Governors’ Papers in 1983 while researching my doctoral dissertation (the basis for Unruly Women). As a graduate student, finding Beaman’s letter fueled my fascination with anti-Confederate sentiments among the southern yeomanry. In it, he does not discuss religious ideology or political philosophy, but does express the rage felt by many nonslaveholding farmers over Confederate exemption policies that privileged slaveholding planters and manufacturers over plain farmers.

Except for adding punctuation and a few dropped letters, I have transcribed Beaman’s letter just as he wrote it. Despite his frequent misspellings, John was more literate than most Southern farmers of the time, and he did not let his rudimentary education prevent him from addressing Governor Vance as an elected official who needed to hear the opinions of his constituents.

Mr. Z. B. Vance

Mr. Z. V., gov, I take the presant opertunity of droping you a few lines to inform you [of] the condition of my settlement and our county and the parciality of the conscript law [so] you know the rotnest of it and the men that is exempted by it; and unles it is repeald you can’t think us conscrps will obey the call that is made. You know the farmer is the life of hour country and I want you to tell me one farmer exempted unles he has twenty slaves; and I want you to tell me one of them that has anything to sell tht will sell for confedrt money

I have trid [to buy from] them and also I hav trid [to buy from] the manufactors that is exempted; and corn or bacon they must have [for payment] or you cant buy cotn [cotten] yarn or shurtin [shirting]. Confedrit money they will not hav, and I want you to tell me hough hour family will liv if we leav to fight for such men as these. We air forced to revlutionize unles this roten conscript exemption law is put down, for they are laws wee don’t intend to obey, for wee farmers had as well to be exempted as the slavholder and the manufactory for we air the life of the hole [country].

I hav made moor corn and mor wheat and more bacon than any slavholder in the confedret state for sale, and I hav dun more smithin than any smith in hour county–for nothin acordin to my fose [foes?]; and yet I must go to fight for the seeceders and all mechanics and men who air doing no good at tall at home.

Mr. Vance, I want you to send me some exemptions for I am doing no good at tall, for they want me to fight and I am bound not to go unless all the rest of the blacksmiths and manufactors do. 

Gov, I will close

John A. Beaman to Mr. Gov. Vance

Note: To visit this book’s page at the University of North Carolina website, click here.

 

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers