Closing Out Grant Year 2015-16

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky staff is wrapping up the grant year for both of our major federal grants, from the NEH and the NHPRC. This is a good time to reflect back on what we have accomplished.

And we are now poised to enter a new grant year. What will Civil War Governors be doing between now and next October?

Civil War Governors is also going live in 2017, hosting a major scholarly conference in Frankfort and presenting at professional organizations and community groups across Kentucky.

Graduate Research Associates 2016-17

Overview

The Kentucky Historical Society seeks eight Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) familiar with 19th century United States history to write short informational entries for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWG-K). GRAs will receive a stipend of $5,000 each and can work remotely from their home institutions.

Each GRA will annotate 150 assigned documents each. Each GRA must be a graduate student in at least the second year of a M.A. program in history or a related humanities discipline. In accordance with its commitment to facilitating relationships between history practitioners and organizations in Kentucky and nationally, KHS hopes that these GRA positions will help advance the professional skills of early-career historians in Kentucky and elsewhere. Preference will be given to candidates who are enrolled in graduate programs in history at Kentucky universities, though applicants worldwide are encouraged to apply. These positions are funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives.

CWG-K is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the commonwealth, 1860-1865. Yet CWG-K is not solely about the five governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. CWG-K will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of hundreds of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. To see the project’s work to date, visit discovery.civilwargovernors.org.

Scope of Work

Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on named persons, places, organizations, and geographical features in 150 documents. Each document contains an average of fifteen such entities. This work will be completed and submitted to CWG-K for fact-checking before June 30, 2017.

Research and writing will proceed according to project guidelines concerning research sources and methods, editorial information desired, and adherence house style. This will ensure 1) that due diligence is done to the research of each entity and 2) that information is recorded for each item in uniform ways which are easy to encode and search.

All research for the entries must be based in primary or credible secondary sources, and each GRA is expected to keep a virtual research file with notes and digital images of documents related to each entry. These will be turned over to CWG-K at the completion of the work. CWG-K will fact-check all entries for research quality and adherence to house style. CWG-K projects an average rate of one document annotated per two hours of work. Each GRA may expect to devote approximately 300 hours to the research—though the actual investment of time may vary.

Each GRA will work remotely. Interaction with the documents and the writing of annotations will take place in a web-based annotation tool developed for CWG-K, which can be dialed into from any location. CWG-K will make use of online research databases to make its work efficient and uniform. Other archival sources may be of value but are not required by the research guidelines. Securing access to the paid databases required by CWG-K (Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Louisville Courier Journal) is the responsibility of the GRA. If regular institutional access to these databases is not available to the GRA through a university or library, it is the responsibility of the GRA to purchase and use a subscription to these databases. KHS will not reimburse the GRA for any travel, copying, or other expenses incurred in CWG-K research.

In order to maintain quality and consistency as well as to foster a collegial and collaborative work culture, CWG-K will conduct weekly virtual “office hours” via Google Hangouts, during which GRAs are required to dial in, ask questions of staff, share expertise and research methods, and make connections with their peers at other universities. Virtual attendance at these office hours is mandatory, and multiple sessions may be offered to accommodate schedules.

The Kentucky Historical Society will hold copyright for all annotation research as work for hire.

Evaluation Criteria

A proposal should consist of at least a narrative statement of professional ability in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included. Applications are due by September 16, 2016 to Tony Curtis, tony.curtis@ky.gov.

The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the proposals based on the following factors:

Research Experience (70 points): Describe your familiarity with research in 19th century U.S. history. Describe some projects you have undertaken. What sources have you used? Have you been published? Have you interpreted historical research in forms other than a scholarly peer-reviewed publication? How does the proposed research project differ from those you have undertaken in the past? Describe your familiarity with the strengths and weaknesses of online research databases such as Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, ProQuest, and Google Books.

Project Experience (30 points): Describe any work you have done in the editing of historical documents. Discuss how a project such as CWG-K maintains balance between thorough research and production schedules. Have you worked on other collaborative projects in the field of history or otherwise? Describe your ability to meet deadlines and regulate workflow. Describe your understanding of and/or experience with the Digital Humanities. From what you know of the CWG-K project, how does it fit with current trends in the field? What do you hope to gain from working on the CWG-K project?

Institutional Affiliation (10 points): Additional points are available to applicants who are enrolled in graduate programs at Kentucky universities. Applicants claiming this status should discuss how they will use this experience to help build and sustain relationships among history organizations across the state and articulate why such relationships are valuable. This does not imply any relationship between KHS and the educational institution.

Civil War Governors Reviewed on HistoryNet

Ural Rev“Easily explored by browsing or keyword search, this superb site offers excellent resources for those whose reading, research and writing interests lay at the crossroads of the battlefield and the home front.”

Read more from University of Southern Mississippi Professor Susannah J. Ural’s review of the new Early Access interface from her Ural on URL column on HistoryNet:

http://www.historynet.com/the-war-on-the-net.htm

SCWH Cross-Post: So, You Want to Create a Digital Project

CWG-K XMLHave you found a hidden gem of a collection that you want to share with the world? Thinking of creative ways to actively engage your students in the work of history? Want to attract students to your department and develop diverse career skills for history majors?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, a digital project might be in your future. But how exactly do you do start?

From the earliest conceptual stages through our Early Access web development, Civil War Governors has learned quite a bit about designing and launching a digital history project—sometimes the hard way.

Read some distilled tips from project director Patrick Lewis at the Society of Civil War Historians blog.

NHPRC Support

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition and the Kentucky Historical Society are proud to announce that Civil War Governors was awarded $62,400 in the May 2016 cycle of National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) funding.

This is the second grant Civil War Governors has recieved from NHPRC. The first grant supported the digital publication of Early Access, an Omeka interface that will host 10,000 Civil War-era documents. This site will allow users to access 10,000 digital document images and transcriptions, and sample the rich content that Civil War Governors will deliver. Civil War Governors true impact on scholarship, however, will be in annotation. To the extent possible given the restrictions and biases of the historical record, Civil War Governors will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of tens—perhaps hundreds—of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. The network of identified and annotated people, places, businesses, government agencies, and military units, will come as close as possible to a historical reconstruction of mid-nineteenth century society as it was lived and experienced in wartime Kentucky.

This second grant will support that next phase of work: publishing an annotation interface of 1,500 fully edited and linked documents. This important step to the full Digital Documentary Edition of a projected 40,000 documents will help reconstruct the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. The diverse and largely unknown lives of the people captured in the Civil War Governors documents—generals and politicians, prostitutes and plantation mistresses, free African American professionals and “contraband” refugees—as well as the social, economic, political, and geographic networks they allow us to visualize and understand, are what Civil War Governors hopes to capture and deliver to the public.

This will be an important test of the Civil War Governors vision of a digital research environment within which a user can encounter the past multi-dimensionally through the documents and the powerful annotation network that links the documents together. In this document-driven historical ecosystem, users can explore intuitively—moving seamlessly through seemingly disparate historical themes, events, and topics; breaking into the plane of social and geographic space to understand the deep patterns that underlay the issues raised in a text or set of texts. Through it, Civil War Governors will understand how project staff must balance all phases of editing work as well as how a variety of users will navigate the research platform. Early Access shows the public a tantalizing sample of Civil War Governors content, but the next phase will demonstrate how Civil War Governors will shape the ways researchers, students, and teachers will explore the past in the future.

Visualizing Unionism: Congressional Redistricting in 1861

Modern political observers will not be surprised to hear that the redrawing of Congressional districts every ten years is an intense political battle within each state. Imagine how fraught that struggle was in Kentucky when the lines of political opposition were not only drawn between parties, but between opposing forces of loyalty and treason.

As CWG-K builds its 10,000-document Early Access interface (with funding from the NHPRC), we created a set of maps for the reference section of the site. Starting with blank NHGIS shape files based on the 1860 Kentucky census — files graciously processed by digital cartographer, GIS expert, and former KHS Research Fellow, Andrew W. Fialka — we tagged each district with a color code to track both geographic shifts (in the size of districts) and their physical placement within the state itself. This allowed us to fully visualize the redistricting process in the wake of the 1860 census and understand just how seriously the state government of Kentucky took the threat that the rebellion posed.

In the prewar map drawn from the 1850 census, Kentucky had ten congressional districts, varying widely in geographic size but (as required by law) roughly equal in population. Congressional Districts, 1859 to 1861, 37th Congress

Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior, Caleb Smith, informed Governor Magoffin that Kentucky would lose a seat in the Thirty-Eighth Congress on July 9, 1861 (CWG-K document KYR-0001-023-0070), in the midst of one of the most politicized summers in Kentucky history. Elections for members of Congress and a new legislature served as referenda on secession in the state, which was in its period of official, declared neutrality. Union candidates dominated the summer voting, though some Confederate sympathizers soured on voting in the contests and stayed home. Nine of the ten Congressional seats went to Unionists, the exception being Southern Rights firebrand Henry C. Burnett of the far-west First District.

Legislative elections in August were equally lopsided Union victories, which meant that the new maps would be drawn by men determined to counter the rebel political threat. Looking at the 37th and 38th Congressional maps side by side, we can see how Unionist legislators sought to break up known clusters of rebel support and tip the balance in each Congressional district towards Union support.

Congressional Districts, 1863 to 1865, 38th Congress

The First District, rebel virtually to the core, lost Hopkins County, which may not have changed its electoral chemistry significantly. Hopkins was the scene of a protracted local political and paramilitary struggle between Union and Confederate elements in the later years of the war, but so was virtually every county in the region.

The Second District, anchored by Unionist Christian and McLean counties needed all of that loyal influence to brace divided Henderson and Daviess and stem electoral charges from the rebel counties in the eastern half of the district.

Any rebel sentiment in the Third District, the site of Kentucky’s secession convention at Russellville (Logan County) and the capital of the Provisional Confederate Government at Bowling Green (Warren County), was cunningly neutralized by stretching the district eastward to grab the hilly Union bastions of Cumberland, Clinton, and Russell counties.

What had been the Fifth District in the old system became the new Fourth and grew dramatically south and east in much the same manner as the Third. Notice how the soon-to-be guerrilla infested counties of Meade, Bullitt, Spencer, and Marion were neutralized with staunchly loyal Green, Adair (home of 1863-67 Governor Thomas E. Bramlette), and Casey.

The old Seventh, new Fifth, remained dominated by Louisville, a city that sent a fair number of citizens into the rebel ranks but was politically dominated by Unionists of the severest (sometimes even abolitionist/anti-slavery) stripe. Watch, though, as the new Fifth District swings east to break up the northern Kentucky rebel hive that was Owen and Grant counties. The rebels of Sweet Owen get drowned out by the Louisville vote.

Owen County’s old home, the Tenth District, became the new Sixth. And with the Owen-Grant connection broken up, the legislators thought it safe to reach down and include evenly divided Harrison County in the Northern Kentucky district, to be outweighed by the loyal voters in Covington and Newport.

Henry Clay’s old Ashland District, the heart of the Bluegrass, had fallen suspect in the eyes of the loyal legislators. The scions of the thoroughbred families were lured by the promise of John Hunt Morgan even as their old-Whig fathers drew maps in Frankfort. To brace the new Seventh District, the legislators dipped way down south into the Presbyterian-Unionist domain of Danville to prop up the district which John C. Breckinridge had represented more recently than Clay.

The two great mountain districts were largely safe from rebeldom. The new Eighth District, its political  center at London (Laurel County), remained loyal throughout the war and would become the rural base of the postwar Republican Party in the state into the twentieth century.

The new Ninth gained the rebel votes in Pike and Johnson counties, to be balanced by the unconditional unionists in Boyd and Greenup.

Reading the maps side by side gives us great insight into the ways that Kentucky leaders perceived the geography of rebellion — perceptions which have largely been borne out by historical scholarship since. What else do you see happening in these maps?

Patrick A. Lewis is Project Director of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

“A Very Catiline”?: Finding Richard Henry Stanton

A few weeks ago, CWG-K was approached by Feliks Banel, a Seattle historian and radio broadcaster, seeking information about the man who named Washington state. A Kentucky Congressman in 1853, it seems, had suggested that Columbia—the name under which the territorial bill had been submitted—might be confused with the District of Columbia. So, Richard H. Stanton suggested the compromise name of Washington—which, he apparently thought, wouldn’t get confused with any other important center of political power in that District.

So, Feliks asked, did anyone in Kentucky remember this Richard Stanton? Turns out, the answer is generally no. Not in Maysville, where Stanton lived and is buried. Not in Powell County, where the county seat is named after him. But he was well known to CWG-K.

Listen to Feliks’s radio piece on KIRO, which features CWG-K project director Patrick Lewis summarizing Stanton and his place in Civil War Kentucky.

What do CWG-K documents tell us about Richard Stanton? He and his law partner (and brother-in-law) Thomas Throop were two of the most important attorneys in the state when the Civil War came to Kentucky. Stanton had undertaken the gargantuan task of compiling a revised and annotated edition of the Kentucky Revised Statutes in 1860, making Stanton a household name to whom attorneys and judges across the state turned for the latest interpretation of state laws. On a regional level, Stanton was Commonwealth’s Attorney (akin to a district attorney in most other states) for the Tenth Judicial District serving Mason, Lewis, Greenup, Rowan, Fleming, and Nicholas Counties.

S&T

But in CWG-K documents, Stanton conducts very little business as a Commonwealth’s Attorney. He appears most frequently in private practice requesting pardons for their clients, and they seem particularly close to the Democratic administration of Beriah Magoffin.

Why was such an influential attorney like Stanton unable to hold his position as Commonwealth Attorney after 1861? The first clue came from a letter of his partner Tom Throop to Magoffin in November 1860:

Your positions are undoubtedly correct, and if our union as states is preserved the movement must come from the north. They must abolish all these nullifying laws, carry out the provisions of the constitution, as to the comity between the states, carry out the provisions of the fugitive slave act, respect their so called personal liberty bills, allow the free transit of persons from the south with their families & property through their territories; acknowledge by their acts, not words only, that we as states have an equality of rights, with them: unless this is done, our union is a farce, it is effete, a humbug & a cheat.

Throop certainly seems a John C. Breckinridge Southern Democrat, but did he speak for his friend Stanton? Union General “Bull” Nelson certainly seemed to think so. He arrested Stanton and six other Maysville men on October 2, 1861. According to Nelson (a native Maysville man, himself) the group were “traitorous scoundrels who were engaged in fitting out men for the Southern army, subscribing moneys, getting up nightly drills and doing the manner of things usual among the secessionists. …with the Hon. R. H. Stanton at their head.”

In another letter, Nelson asserted that “This man Stanton is the head of secession in Northeast Kentucky” and that “He has harbored in his house an officer of the Confederate Army” and forwarded 259 men from the area to Humphrey Marshall’s rebel forces in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. This was entirely plausible. Stanton’s son returned from a law practice in Memphis at the outbreak of the war to raise a company of troops in Mason County for Confederate service. Henry T. Stanton may have been the very officer harbored by his father.

Whether with evidence or speculation, Nelson concluded that Stanton “is the soul of rebellion in this part of Kentucky.” “[M]orally a very Catiline” whose arrest “has struck secession dumb here.”

First taken to Cincinnati, then to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and finally to Fort Lafayette in New York City, Stanton proclaimed his innocence the entire time. As did many Kentucky secessionists facing the state and federal government crackdown on wartime dissent, Stanton proclaimed himself a strict neutralist. In a letter to Secretary of State Seward, Stanton argued that “we were in favor of Kentucky maintaining a neutral position in the contest…and advocated that policy, hoping that the State would be in a position to maintain peace within her borders and mediate between the two sections.”

Eventually, the Lincoln administration felt enough political pressure from undoubtedly loyal Kentuckians (including a petition from a majority of state legislators) and released Stanton on December 17, 1861, after taking the loyalty oath (read the whole case file in the OR, Series II, Volume II, pp. 913-33). Stanton & Throop continued to practice—carefully avoiding such overt political statements as Throop had made to Magoffin just after Lincoln’s election—for the rest of the war.

From the politics of Manifest Destiny to the mechanics of Confederate recruiting in Union territory to the ever-important American debate over civil liberties and dissent during wartime, Richard Stanton should not be a name that Kentucky historians forget again. Even at this stage, CWG-K has identified a host of mid-level political players like Richard Stanton, and as the project moves forward into annotation and social networking—identifying each unique individual mentioned in our documents and linking them and their known associates together into a massive research platform—we will find many more. What new life story will CWG-K uncover next?

Patrick A. Lewis is Project Director of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

“Shall I order from Cuba”?: Kentucky’s Transnational Neutrality

Last week, Matt Hulbert explored the contradictions between the Jeffersonian, states’ rights rhetoric of the provisional Confederate government of Kentucky and its actual record of heavy-handed governance and suppression of civil liberties in the counties under its control in the winter of 1861-62. In his piece, we learned that provisional Confederate Governor George W. Johnson accused the Union party in Kentucky of polluting Kentucky’s declared neutrality (which lasted from May through September, 1861) from the outset, always intending to use neutrality to save the state from secession and deliver it to the Union cause. And they did. The problem was, Matt tells us, that the Confederates had precisely the same game plan going into the summer of 1861, but were politically outmaneuvered and, later, outvoted. The rebels lost the neutrality cold war and convened their rump secession convention when they lost their bid for the legitimate government in Frankfort.

I want to jump back to that cold war, to show just how the rebels used the cover of neutrality to prepare the state for secession and civil war. In the weeks after Fort Sumter, Magoffin rejected Lincoln’s request for troops and called a special session of the legislature to consider considering secession. As Magoffin’s famous exchange with Alabama Secession Commissioner Stephen F. Hale reveals, the governor was a conditional unionist, not an outright secessionist. Lincoln’s call for troops, though, proved the limit of Magoffin’s conditionalism, and like many Upper South politicians after Sumter, he seems to have been in favor of secession. To his credit, though, Magoffin genuinely respected the will of the electorate and knew that if Kentucky were not to devolve into a miniature civil war, it must secede legitimately – through a convention called by the legislature or direct legislative action. The closest he (and all the Kentucky secessionists) could get in the May 1861 special session was neutrality and the hope that the political winds would blow the majority of Kentuckians to their side as the year wore on.

With the special session yet to convene in Frankfort, Magoffin began to set the state’s military house in order for whatever decision – secession, Union, or neutrality – might result. As chief executive and commander in chief, Magofffin could take out loans and expend state funds for arms and ammunition that (theoretically) would be put to any purpose the people of Kentucky demanded. By working through fellow secessionists at home and across the Gulf South, though, Magoffin could covertly ensure that if the cold war between unionists and secessionists turned hot, his party would have the upper hand.

Magoffin tapped Luke Blackburn to coordinate buying the weapons. Blackburn, a postwar governor of Kentucky, is most famous for his unsuccessful 1864 plot to blight northern cities with yellow fever with infected blankets from Bermuda routed through Canada. Yet secret missions involving Britain, the Caribbean, and the Gulf South had been Blackburn’s forte since the very outset of the war.

Things began promisingly. On April 26, Blackburn wired that he had “purchased two pieces heavy Ordnance two thousand muskets six hundred Kegs powder” and asked for $30,000 to be transferred from a Kentucky bank to his credit. Blackburn’s preferred shipping company, commission merchants Hewitt, Norton, & Co., whose antebellum business had brokered southern cotton between New Orleans and Liverpool, put 1,500 guns costing approximately $14,000 on rail cars bound for Louisville on May 1, but warned that the frenzied buying from agents of other southern states meant that other supplies were drying up quickly. The firm had only secured $15 worth of percussion caps and could find no more powder. “Shall I order from Cuba”? asked Louisiana Secession Convention member M. O. H. Norton? “Blackburn cant be found.”

MOHN

KYR-0001-019-0023

No one knew where Luke Blackburn had gone, and no one could act on Magoffin’s behalf as the available supplies in the Gulf South dwindled. When Norton requested new instructions on May 2, Magoffin was more than happy to turn the operation over from Blackburn to Norton, with additional funding secured by Louisville pork merchant Benjamin J. Adams. Fellow Kentuckian and cotton broker in the Louisville-New Orleans firm of William T. Bartley & Co. Robert A. Johnson had notified Magoffin the day before in a private cable that “Luke Blackburn [was] intoxicated Since Saturday” and urged the Governor to “Withdraw powers authorize another Agent”.

LPB

KYR-0001-019-0029

Luke Blackburn was certainly neither the first nor the last Kentuckian to let the French Quarter get the better of him. But why had Magoffin trusted him for the mission?

Though a Kentucky native, Blackburn was living and practicing medicine in New Orleans in 1861. In fact, he had lived his adult life in the cotton kingdom along the banks of the Mississippi River. Blackburn had lived in Natchez, Mississippi, as a young man and had family ties to Helena, Arkansas, where his interests and kin overlapped with “The Family,” an early Arkansas Democratic political dynasty built on Kentucky connections to  provisional Confederate Governor George W. Johnson. Taken alongside Blackburn’s later experiments in biological warfare, the New Orleans arms deal raises important questions about how elite antebellum Kentuckians participated in a complex – yet surprisingly intimate and personal – international economy of slaves, cotton, liquid capital, and thoroughbred horses and how those economic connections encouraged them to address the question of secession. These kinship-political-business relationships are precisely the sorts of interconnections that the future social networking capability of  CWG-K is designed to document.

Little wonder, then, that when Magoffin needed arms for Kentucky, he tapped into the networks that funneled cotton, slaves, and capital up and down the river from Kentucky to New Orleans and out to the world. Magoffin’s fallback agents at Hewitt, Norton, & Co. fit precisely the same profile. Kentucky’s 1861 neutrality was not an inward facing, isolationist political posture. The way Magoffin managed arms procurement demonstrates that he understood the Civil War as a conflict over global agricultural and industrial markets, a war fought for the interests of the southern states in and on an international stage.

Patrick A. Lewis is project director of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

The Caroline Chronicles: A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South – PART V

The Caroline Chronicles: 
A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South

“Part V – The Husband”

By Patrick A. Lewis

Once during Levi’s absence Mrs Levi reprimanded Caroline & her husband (a contraband who hired to Levi’s brother but slept at Willis Levi’s with his wife evry night) that they must not site up so late & keep a light burning

This passage has always been a frustrating one. In 6,500 words of documentary evidence about Caroline, her husband is only ever mentioned in this passage. Who was he? Did they run away together from Tennessee? Did she meet him on the road to Kentucky or in the streets of Louisville?

And, spoiler alert, I can’t answer any of those questions. But after looking for answers, we have a new appreciation for the bigger implications of Caroline’s story.

Let’s deconstruct that sentence. Who was “Levi’s brother”? The Willis Levi in whose home Caroline was a domestic servant was, in fact, Willis Levi, Jr. His namesake and father, a Virginia native, co-owned a “sale and exchange stable” that hired and sold horses and carriages on Market Street with an elder son, Elias Levi. There are other Levi brothers besides Elias in the picture, too. A 36-year-old Mordecai (in the family business of horse trading) and a 35-year-old James Levi (in the fascinating profession of lightning rod maker) live next door to the Levi patriarch in 1860.

So, knowing there were a number of potential Levi brothers to whom Caroline’s husband might hire, I went to the Jefferson County Court Minute Book to see what official county records might reveal. Elias was the only Levi who appeared on the record in 1862 and 1863. What was he up to?Levi

Monday May 4th 1863.

It is ordered that the Sale bond of Elias Levi for Two hundred and forty five Dollars taken for the purchase of a negro runaway Slave John Wesley, be and the same is hereby credited by the sum of One Hundred and eighty six & 30/100 Dollars Jailors fees, fifteen Dollars Physicians fees & thirteen & 31/100 Dollars Sheriffs Commission & costs of advertising as of 27 April 1863.

He is buying fugitive slaves from the sheriff of Jefferson County. Under Kentucky law, a sheriff was required to publicly advertise the capture of a fugitive and, if the owner did not come forward, to sell the fugitive to recoup the state’s expenses. Following that process, Elias Levi bid on and won John Wesley, “about 25 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, weighing 145 lbs; thin whiskers and mustache; round face and high forehead,” and Mary, who was not among the 18 people advertised in the Louisville Journal but was on a list of 29 people in the County Court minutes sold by the sheriff that day.

Could John Wesley be Caroline’s husband? Maybe. Of course, the testimony we have says that her husband hired to Levi’s brother, not was a slave of. But, then again, that testimony concerned events in February 1863, at which time we can say with certainty that Elias Levi did not own John Wesley (even if he may have controlled or coerced his labor under some other arrangement). And, frankly, without some new information we’ll never be able to know.

The (maybe) good news for John Wesley is that he was not the slave of Elias Levi for very long thanks to the United States Army. The day after Levi’s bond was entered, the County Court demanded to know why Captain Matthew H. Jouett “took from the custody of the Sheriff the runaways” sold on the block alongside John Wesley. Jouett punted up his chain of command to the Provost Marshall of Louisville, Colonel Marcellus Mundy, who had ordered the sales of fugitives in Louisville invalidated. Mundy had, to put it mildly, no especial regard for African American refugees in Louisville. In fact, he had complained directly to Lincoln about emancipation policy, pleading that Unionist Kentuckians—”masters for loyalty’s sake“—should be exempt from the hard hand of war.

Fortunately—and probably because of sentiments like the above—Mundy was being watched closely. Word of the sale in which Elias Levi had purchased John Wesley and Mary had reached Washington, prompting President Lincoln to clarify his Emancipation Proclamation and the Second Confiscation Act for any Kentuckians who—like Mundy, the sheriff, and Elias Levi—thought freedom didn’t follow individual refugees from the Confederacy when they entered the loyal slave state of Kentucky.

The President directs me to say to you that he is much surprised to find that persons who are free, under his proclamation, have been suffered to be sold under any pretense whatever; and also desires me to remind you of the terms of the acts of Congress, by which the fugitive negroes of rebel owners taking refuge within our lines are declared to be “captives of war.” He desires you to take immediate measures to prevent any persons who, by act of Congress, are entitled to protection from the Government as “captives of war” from being returned to bondage or suffering any wrong prohibited by that act. (OR series 1, volume 23, pt. 2, p. 291)

John Wesley and Mary weren’t sold, but were they subsequently freed? If so, where did they go after the army intervened to stop their sale to Elias Levi? Unfortunately, these are the same unanswered questions we have for Caroline after Governor Bramlette pardoned her in September 1863.

What we can say, though, is that executing Kentucky’s fugitive slave laws was profitable for sheriffs, local governments, and would-be slaveowners looking to purchase cheaply when supply was high, that the first waves of emancipation were a boon to the economies of slavery in Louisville and surrounding counties. As thousands of African Americans like Caroline and John Wesley escaped slavery in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, they made perfect targets for reenslavement schemes run by law enforcement and local slave traders. Those individuals and institutions exploited the uncertainty about contrabands, confiscation, emancipation, and freedom in the fall of 1862 and spring of 1863 to flood Kentucky slave markets with Deep South slaves at bargain prices—this after Kentucky had been a net slave exporter to the cotton plantations of the Old Southwest for a generation. The very months when most Americans believe the Emancipation Proclamation freed tens of thousands of slaves proved to be the greatest slave market bonanza in Kentucky history.

While we can look ahead and see Caroline and John Wesley as the harbingers of emancipation in Kentucky, it may not have looked like that to Kentucky masters—and it certainly didn’t look like that to them.

Patrick A. Lewis is Project Director of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

The Caroline Chronicles: A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South – PART III

The Caroline Chronicles:
A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South

“Part III – The Defense’s Case”

By Patrick A. Lewis

For those of you who missed previous installments, we’ll begin with a very brief rundown of Caroline’s story to this point. (A full accounting of the events that led to her trial for infanticide is still available here.) In 1862 Caroline Dennant, a Tennessee slave, was brought to Louisville, Kentucky, as war contraband by Don Carlos Buell’s army—she was subsequently arrested as a fugitive slave and placed in the home of Willis and Anne Levy—a few months later, Blanch, the Levy’s toddler-aged daughter died of strychnine poisoning—Caroline was soon after charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. This and last week’s installments are written from the perspective of the prosecution and the defense in the matter of Caroline’s petition for executive clemency (and may or may not reflect our actual positions on her case!).

As the prosecution alleges, there is little the defense can do to refute the circumstantial evidence against Caroline. She had been held to labor as a servant and nurse in the home of the Levys. Willis Levy did acquire, distribute, and store a large amount of strychnine. After the child’s death, Caroline was seen to have facial expressions and otherwise behave in ways to which sinister motives were later assigned by witnesses. While the defense concedes this circumstantial evidence, it entirely rejects the fanciful and conspiratorial theory of the (so-called) crime advanced by the prosecution.

Yet to secure the conviction in the trial at the May 1863 term of the Jefferson Circuit Court, the defense knowingly suppressed the extent to which Willis Levy “spread enough strychnine (or poison) to kill a regiment of men” in and about his premises. Evidence freely offered by the neighbors and family of the Levy family since the time of the trial now begs reconsideration of the case. The defense appeals to the clemency of the executive for a pardon on the following grounds:

One. That having resided in Louisville less than six months before the death of the child Blanch Levy, “in a strange place without any one to advise with” except defense counsel hastily assigned her case and without adequate time to prepare, Caroline was unable to secure witnesses for her defense at the trial.

Two. That the witnesses for the prosecution, namely Anne and Willis Levy, did not testify to the full extent to which Willis Levy spread strychnine about his premises. Only two occasions were established in evidence by Willis Levy, and Caroline could swear to no more. “Your petitioner will now state one important fact which was not developed on the trial, Mr Levy put out the poison on more than two occasions; he put it out many times to kill Dogs & Cats, & it was never taken up, & what became of it no one knows.”

Three. That the testimony of Raymond and Josephine Lynch—neighbors and in-laws to the Levys, uncle and aunt of the deceased Blanch Levy—establishes the true extent of Willis Levy’s indiscriminate and dangerous application of strychnine in and around his and his neighbors’ property. Josephine Lynch swears that “Mr Levy put out the poison every night for a great while I would think a hundred times” over a span of time “from fall to spring.” Moreover, Mrs. Lynch herself had been “very uneasy many time for fear that my children would get some of the poison I alwaise thought Mr Levy was very reckless about throwing out poison.”

Four. That the prosecution argues against accidental ingestion of the poison in the yard from the fact that no pieces of poisoned meat were found in the stomach of the deceased Blanch Levy.

Five. That testimony developed on the trial and that subsequently sworn to by Josephine Lynch establishes that a considerable amount of strychnine was spread in the yard and neighbors’ yards by means other than on meat, including but not limited to on grains designed to kill birds and loosely distributed in and around the privy.

Six. That Mrs. Levy grasped the extent to which her husband had indiscriminately spread poison in and around the Levy house. Immediately after the child’s death Mrs. Levy threw out a “bucket full of parched coffee that was bought from the soldiers,” believing it to be tainted with the poison.

Seven. That if Anne Levy was made sick by coffee on the morning the child died, this was from Willis Levy unwittingly contaminating the household coffee supply with strychnine as part of his campaign to eradicate vermin.

Eight. That if the true extent to which Willis Levy indiscriminately scattered strychnine in and around his own property and that of his neighbors had been known at the time of the trial, Caroline’s conviction would not have been sought by the prosecuting attorney. Louisville City Attorney William G. Reasor attests that “from strong circumstances made known to me since that trial, I feel that Executive clemency will have been worthily bestowed if she be fully pardoned.”

LevyNine. That if the true extent to which Willis Levy indiscriminately and dangerously scattered strychnine in diverse methods and in diverse locations in and around his own property and that of his neighbors had been known at the time of the trial, Caroline’s conviction would not have been secured by the jury. Nine of the gentlemen of the jury who tried her case—L. A. Civill, W. O. Gardner, John Sait, Joseph Griffith, Thomas Schorch, Samuel Ingrem, R. H. Snyder, William K. Allan, and E. P. Neale—have signed a sworn statement asking to overturn the verdict and sentence they rendered.

All this the defense presents as evidence for Caroline’s innocence in the death of the child Blanch Levy. The defense will not—as it believes it has grounds to do—pursue the argument that Caroline’s service in the Levy household was in violation of the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, which provides that “all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States “shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves” and that “no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty” regardless of the laws pertaining to enslaved persons and persons of African descent in that state, territory, or district.

The defense reiterates that given the circumstances of the defendant and her insecure position in Louisville, the evidence presented in this petition was unavailable to Caroline and her counsel at the time of the trial.

If all that were introduced in this petition were this new testimony, the defense would feel confident in their expectation of His Excellency’s clemency, but having in hand the sworn statements of the prosecuting attorney and the jury, the defense feels that the pardoning power would be justly used in the case of Caroline. The premises considered, the defense asks that His Excellency Governor Bramlette issue a full and unconditional pardon.