By Victoria Bynum
Some time ago, I posted an essay about the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorization of Orange County, North Carolina, in the years following the Civil War. Recently, I recovered from my files evidence of the Klan’s rampages through neighboring Granville County as well.
The following petitions, sent in 1868 and 1869 to North Carolina’s Republican governor, William W. Holden, include the names of numerous Granville County men of color who were free from slavery long before the Civil War. Silas L. Curtis, Terral Curtis, Cuffee Mayo, William Tyler, and A. B. Kerzy lived in the Tally Ho township of Granville County. Having grown up before the war, they were forbidden by law to learn to read or write; thus, most of the men were semi-literate or illiterate. Silas Curtis, who wrote both the petitions, was an exception.
The 1868 petitioners belonged to a local branch of the Republican Union Leagues (also called Loyal Leagues) which were under assault by the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, determined to turn back Reconstruction, drive Republicans from power, and reassert dominance over African Americans, functioned as a terrorist arm of the pro-Confederate southern wing of the Democratic Party.
The petition is blunt in describing the violence wreaked upon the community, and includes details of the sexual humiliation of a woman of color and the attempted murder of another. The petitioners are adamant in declaring their rights and their need for state assistance. In signing or allowing their names to be placed on such a petition, they risked great personal danger. A note at the bottom asks its deliverer to hand the petition directly to Governor Holden to prevent the “Rebels” from destroying it.
I recognize many of the men’s names from the extensive research I conducted in county records while writing my first book, Unruly Women. In that book, I discussed A. B. Kerzy (Archibald Kearsey), at some length for his participation in underground trading during the war; others are mentioned as well. Although I also briefly mentioned the petitions, they are published below in their entirety.
In transcribing the letters, I have added paragraph breaks and used common punctuation and grammar, but endeavored to spell words exactly as they appear on the originals. (The originals of both petitions are contained in the Governors’ Papers, W.W. Holden, N.C. Department of Archives and History)
Oct 11, 1868
Our Governor–Dear Sir:
I take the privilige of writing to you on this occasion for this reason, not because we are scared out, but in the first place, you are our State Executive. And when we are having outrages comitted among us, you are our only refuge to which we have to flee for advice and protection.
Therefor I take the privilige to inform you of some outrages comitted amoung us. And it is not only now and then—it is geting to be a genrel thing. On Saturday night last, the Ku Klux were raging in Oxford and Tally Ho. They first formed themselves in line in front of the Colored School Room, thinking the Leagues men were at lodge in there. And failing to find them, went off to other places and don the same, tho as it happen the leagues had adjoined [adjourned] before they came out and they watched them.
And they now say they intend to brake up the Leagues before the Election. Col. Aimey, in a speech on Friday last at Oxford, [said] that if we would stop the Leagues he would stop the KuKlux. And if not, he could not do nothing with them.
On Thursday night last they went to a Colored man’s house and got him out and Beet him cruley, beet his wife and cut her dress open and tied her to a tree—then told them if ever they told it, or told who it was, they would kill them. They then went to another one’s house and comence to tarring the top of his house off and some of them at the door. I broke in [and] got hold of his wife—he got out of the way—and got her out and she got loose and ran and they shot her in the back and by the side of the face and she now lies in a low state of helth. And a few nights ago they went to another colored man’s house and treated him the same.
I will now give you the colored mens names: Ned Mallory, Parson Jones, and Pressley Herndon. Those white men was John C. Hugen, William Stem, John Wheeler, John Day, William Boles, Hay Stem, and one by the name Bishop, Jack Boothe, Flay[?] Moor, Sam Boothe, Henry Hasken, Flucher [Fletcher?] Moor, Tom Jones, Wm. Jones, and others–that are comiting these outrages. And I have not told near all they have and are doing.
We appeal to you–for some protection in some way. Such men oght to be stoped in their outrages.
Sir, I hope to hear from you soon. We don’t want a malissia [militia] here among us. But God in heaven knows we must have something—otherwise we will have to give up Gen. Grant and take Seymour.* And if I have to do that I am going to take me a rope and go to the woods. Your obedent Servant,
Silas L. Curtis
Josep R. Halley
W. S. Boon
A. B. Kerzy
*Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, and Horatio Seymour, Democrat, were the 1868 candidates for the U.S. Presidency.
The second petition, 1869, protests Tally Ho’s township election, claiming that Democrats deliberately miscounted votes in order to claim victory for their own candidate.
This petition, also written by Silas Curtis, contains similar but fewer names and appears to have been written in much greater haste. One of the appended names, “Lunchford Wiliford” (Lunsford Williford), caught my eye immediately. Lunsford was the son of Susan Williford, a poor white woman who appears prominently in chapter four of Unruly Women. Antebellum North Carolina laws against interracial marriage forbade Susan to marry Peter Curtis, who, like Silas L. Curtis, belonged to one of Granville County’s most prominent free families of color. Susan had several children by Peter Curtis, though it’s not clear whether Curtis also fathered Lunsford. Nevertheless, Lunsford became part of the Curtis family when he married Harriet Curtis, the daughter of Peter’s sister, Nancy Curtis.
Note that this petition proclaims an alliance between “the colored race and the labering class of white people,” reflective of kinship ties that created vibrant communities of mixed-race people in North Carolina.
August 11, 1869
Your Exencilence Governor W.W. Holden,
Dear Sir, We the Republicans of Granville County most respetifully protest against the township election of Tally Ho in consequence of the way it was conducted. And do earnestly believe that it oght to be remoddled, and a fair and square election given.
We most recollect that the Democrats will—and do—do all and everything they can to get in power. And they think if they can fool the Republicans, as they have already done at Tally Ho and other places, and get in power in the townships. By that means, after awhile, they can get the county offices and from that to the state’s offices and United states offices. And then they can nullify the republican form of government and place the colored race, and labering class of white people, in the same position—only wors—as they were before.
And please your honor, Sir, if you cannot grant us a re-election—which we honestly believe that we oght to have—what must we do in such a case? And we can also prove by a colored man, a responsible one—that the Democrat candidate told him that they had beet them. And if the Republicans had had as meny more as they did have, we would have beet them. And as it was, they only beet [by] about thirty.
What must we do? Must we put up with sunch [such], when we know there are frode [fraud?]. Know we will die first.
Recollect that dividing into townships all of the counties makes a consitable difference—among the colored people—egnorent as they are.
And meny and numbers are dissatisfied at the Election except [if] it had bin don fair, and we appeal to our Superior—our Surpream, for refuge.
Most respectfully Your obedient Servents
Hoping to here from you soon.
Silas L. Curtis (sig)
Cuffee Mayo (sig)
Solomon Green (sig)
And many others—too tedious to mention, both white and colored.
Answer to S. L Curtis
NOTE: For more on violence against freedmen in post Civil War North Carolina, “The Death of a Freedman,” also on Renegade South.