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.

To Own Life and Death: The Boundaries of Race and Mastery

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Early one evening in May 1859, an inebriated Jesse Williams handed one of his slaves—a young man named Wesley—a loaded musket. Williams commanded Wesley to take the weapon, under cover of darkness, and with it to assassinate Edmund Stevens. In other words, Williams instructed his African American slave to take a weapon he wasn’t legally allowed to possess and gun down a white neighbor in cold blood. Williams and Stevens had apparently been feuding for years. Now, sufficiently fortified by liquor and desperation, Jesse aimed to end their dispute once and for all.

This scenario constituted the ultimate “lose-lose” for a slave like Wesley. On one hand, if he obeyed Williams, it would mean committing murder and virtually guaranteeing himself a date with the hangman. On the other, if Wesley refused to heed his obviously deranged master’s word, it would mean, at the very least, a severe beating—and given Williams’s current states of mind and intoxication, possibly much, much worse. So with no good options laid before him, Wesley took the gun and half-heartedly trudged off to the Stevens farm.

Later that same night, Wesley returned home with the gun bearing its original load. Williams, still quite drunk and now irate, demanded an explanation; when he told a slave to do something, he expected results. Murder was no exception. But according to Wesley, it wasn’t his fault. He’d been thwarted by Stevens’s dog—the animal barked whenever Wesley got too close, so it had been impossible to sneak into range. Undeterred, Williams sent his would-be assassin back into the night, this time with a small cache of poison to silence the dog. Minus the barking, Wesley could presumably finish off Stevens. And if Wesley failed again, Williams promised “to cut his back all to pieces.”

Wesley did fail again. And as court documents later revealed, he’d failed many times before: the dog was just one item from a long list of excuses concocted to avoid murdering Stevens. Wesley harbored no animus against Stevens and had even less interest in committing murder on Williams’s behalf. In fact, on more than one occasion, Wesley never even left the Williams farm; he simply hid in the nearby woods and reported back to his master in the morning, as if he’d gone out after Stevens but a clear shot had never materialized.

Even when sober, Williams wasn’t particularly bright. (And as witnesses later told it, he wasn’t sober all that often.) But eventually even he caught on to Wesley’s stalling. So one day, as he prepared to “hunt” Stevens alone, Wesley must have been disheartened to learn that Williams would be tagging along as field supervisor. Together, the pair snuck within range of Stevens and, with an insistent Williams looking over his shoulder, Wesley pulled the trigger. The projectile found its mark. Edmund Stevens fell dead in his tracks.

wesley indictmentGiven his ongoing strife with Stevens, Williams was the prime suspect, but he had a built in scapegoat: he hadn’t technically killed Stevens. Rather, it was his slave, Wesley, who’d pulled the trigger and should be legally held responsible for the deed. Not surprisingly, Williams banked on the fact that investigators would inherently take the word of a white slaveowner over that of a slave, let alone one accused of backshooting a white man. Even less surprising, Williams neglected to mention that he’d commanded Wesley to commit the crime on numerous occasions. Not long after the shooting, Williams died—almost certainly the result of his drinking. So Wesley was forced to stand trial alone, and a jury convicted him of Stevens’s murder.

This is the point in Wesley’s story where things get a little complicated. Williams, as a white, male slaveholder, had literally owned Wesley. As his owner’s human property, Wesley was technically bound to follow orders or suffer terrible—even mortal—consequences. Unity between white slaveholders and white non-slaveholders played a major role in imbuing the institution of slavery with this absolute, race-based authority. In other words, Williams, Stevens, and even the men investigating the crime were all supposed to be complicit in maintaining the color line that justified mastery over commoditized (black) human beings. But Williams broke from that protocol when he exercised the absolute authority granted him by the institution of slavery and wielded it against a member of the very community vital to maintaining the institution in the first place. More simply put, Williams overextended his ownership of the life and death of a black slave by also making a claim on the life and death of a free white man.

wesley forced

“That he done it under the eye of his master and under the fear that he would be killed himself or great Bodily harm would be done him, if he failed or refused to obey the command of his master.”

Following his conviction, Wesley was condemned to death. A petition offered on his behalf to Governor Beriah Magoffin argued that Wesley should be spared the gallows because Williams had both owned him and ordered him to assassinate Stevens. Even Williams’s supporters, few as they might have been, couldn’t discount the fact that two, distinct sets of footprints were found at the scene of the crime. Interestingly, though, the petitioners did not seek a full pardon for Wesley—merely that he might escape execution to spend the rest of his life in prison. The request, which Magoffin granted, illustrates how irrevocably interwoven the legal system of Kentucky had become with ideas of race, slavery, and social power. The petitioners (and Magoffin, for that matter), likely still believed that, as a rule, Wesley was duty bound to do as his master commanded. At the same time, though, they were compelled to prevent future instances of white masters using black slaves to assault other white Kentuckians. Not to close this loophole was akin to allowing the color line on which so much of slavery’s power depended to erode from within.

This means that Magoffin had to concede that what Wesley was ordered to do was wrong. By implying that the command had been wrong, the implication was also made that Wesley should have known better, morally speaking, than to obey it—a line of thought that unavoidably called into question Williams’s absolute mastery over his slave property. But even as Magoffin seemed to understand that Wesley—again, as a rule—had no choice but to obey Williams and that Williams’s order had been morally wrong, the governor, who himself owned slaves, couldn’t take that reasoning to its logical conclusion: complete exoneration for Wesley. I.e., no prison time.

wesley commutedWhy not? Because to have consented to the ability of a slave like Wesley to only obey orders he found morally acceptable wouldn’t just have conceded a level of humanity among chattel that many slaveholders found discomforting, it would have utterly undermined a vital defense of the institution of slavery itself. (That is, the idea that slavery was a positive good for African Americans, a people otherwise incapable of thinking for themselves.) And to undermine the institution of slavery would have ultimately threatened the chief enforcement mechanism of a racial hierarchy that elevated white over black in matters social, political, economic, and cultural. With this in mind, to some extent, Wesley didn’t actually go to prison because he was a slave—Wesley went to prison to the preserve the very means of his enslavement.

 

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: W. H. Calvert et al. to Beriah Magoffin, 16 July 1861, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (hereafter KDLA); Edward P. Campbell et al. to Beriah Magoffin, 16 June 1861, KDLA; Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Wesley (a slave), Judgment, 15 June 1861, KDLA.

“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.

Wanted, Dead or Alive: The Fugitive Jim Brown and the Price of Loyalty

By Matthew C. Hulbert

On Monday, April 1, 1861, a Henderson County physician, Dr. Waller Norwood, emerged from his home and matter-of-factly ordered a waiting slave to fetch his mount. The unnamed servant obeyed Norwood’s command; in the stable, however, he found more waiting than his master’s horse. Encamped in the hay loft, with little intention of coming down, was an African American man owned by Mrs. Saraphine Pentecost. Here were two men in different stages of enslavement—one still in a state of submission, at least physically, as the other waged a one-man revolt for emancipation—brought face-to-face by a fluke encounter. However random, or harmless, it might appear at first glance, the events set in motion by their meeting would drive the paranoia of Kentucky slaveholders to new heights and raise serious questions about the mortality of their Peculiar Institution as civil war engulfed the nation.

Puzzled by the news of a squatter in his stable, Norwood went to investigate for himself and did, indeed, find a man encamped in the hay loft. When asked to state his business, “the Negro replied that he had run away some days before from his mistress.” This declaration seems to have angered the doctor; he immediately ordered the runaway to climb down and surrender himself. According to an account of the incident later sent to Beriah Magoffin, then governor of Kentucky, the “negro replied by sundry threats” and refused to cut short his escape. Further enraged by this show of defiance, Norwood “then ordered the servant who was holding his horse to bring him his gun.” If the runaway wouldn’t come down from his perch peacefully, the doctor was determined to capture and return him to the Pentecosts by force.

The resolution would prove fatal.

As Norwood waited for a firearm, “the negro sprang towards him” and “at the same time shot him through the left breast, with a large dueling pistol.” The doctor “fell dead in his tracks.” Having heard the report of the gun, Mrs. Norwood came to investigate. She shrieked and sobbed hysterically at the sight of her slain husband—but his killer quickly pulled yet another pistol and she fled the scene. Norwood’s killer, who was eventually identified as Jim Brown, briefly admired his handiwork and “after leisurely viewing the dead body of the murdered man,” he “made for the woods.”

Norwood Reward

Citizens wrote to Governor Beriah Magoffin requesting a hefty reward for the capture of Jim Brown.

News of the assassination swept through Henderson and into surrounding counties. A well-respected white man—himself a slave owner—had been gunned down by an escaped slave. Posses formed, bloodhounds were summoned, and a coterie of outraged citizens convinced Magoffin to authorize a $500 bounty on Brown’s head. It could be earned dead or alive. Odds seemed to favor dead. As one spectator noted, “it is the universal opinion, that if taken, he will be immediately punished, without a moments hearing” as “those in search of him are armed with double barrel shotguns and will in all probability shoot him down upon sight.”

After a burst of activity, Brown’s trail went cold. For days, posses hunted the surrounding counties and turned up nothing. Varying descriptions of the fugitive circulated widely. One listed him as “about 5 feet 9 inches tall … weighs one hundred and fifty pound … quick spoken and fond of talking.” Another added that Brown had “a bushy head,” “whiskers under the chin,” was “of very dark brown color,” and distinguished by “eyes rather prominent.” With $500 on the line and so many men on the hunt in and around Henderson, Brown’s sole chance at permanently escaping bondage seemed to lie across the border in Indiana. But for reasons never fully explained, he actually stayed within a few miles of the scene of the crime, traveling by night and hiding in lofts and outbuildings during the day.

Eventually, the pursuers caught a break: they stumbled across an elderly slave woman who confessed to feeding Brown and pointed the posse in the direction of his last known hideaway—a nearby hayloft. Brown’s options quickly went from bad to worse. On one hand, he’d be returned to his master and made to stand trial. He’d be executed, no doubt, but might live for a few weeks in the meantime. On the other hand, he might throw down his gun and simply be killed on the spot. So as armed men surrounded the farm and cut off all routes of escape and then began searching the barn, Jim Brown decided to die fighting and initiated a skirmish he knew he couldn’t win. Very shortly afterward, he was dead.

In hindsight, the reaction to Norwood’s death shouldn’t surprise us. In any state that allowed slavery, the shooting of a white man by a runaway slave was going to elicit a thunderous response, especially from the slaveholding community. But in Kentucky, the skies were particularly volatile.

For his part, Magoffin tried to keep Kentucky “neutral” as other Upper South and Border West states slipped from the Union. And while Kentucky did ultimately remain within Lincoln’s grasp, the main impetus for doing so came from Conservative Unionists—men who weren’t necessarily interested in Unionism or sake of the Union itself, but simply because they believed the Union would be better suited to protect their investments in human chattel. This positioned Magoffin squarely between the proverbial rock and hard place.

The public had branded Jim Brown a “desperate and bloodthirsty villain” from the start. So the fact that sentiment skewed toward a swift, terrible, and if need be, extra-legal, brand of justice for Norwood’s slaying, shouldn’t much surprise us either. One petitioner, writing a day or so after the murder, went so far as to caution the governor not to be cheap with his reward amount, lest important constituents start to consider him weak on the issue of slavery and find support elsewhere. “Exercise your discretion in offering a reward,” the letter stated, but “considering the character of the offense, and the excitement of the country on the slavery question, I think the larger the reward is the better.”

Jim Brown poster

“The above reward will be paid immediately upon his arrest.”

As we already know, Magoffin offered a sizable $500 bounty and didn’t require that Brown be taken alive. Put another way, based almost entirely on the word of people involved in the situation (and hopelessly biased), the governor issued posses a license to lynch the fugitive on site and to be paid for their services as vigilantes. These terms, along with Brown’s demise, temporarily reassured Kentucky slaveholders that their wealth was still safe under the umbrella of the Union—but they also set an exceedingly dangerous precedent concerning what future concessions masters would expect in exchange for their loyalty and good behavior.

Taken in a much broader context, covenants such as these were partly responsible for the chaos that enveloped Kentucky in 1863–1864. When it became necessary for Abraham Lincoln to close the loophole that allowed the state to avoid fulfilling its quota of black troops for the Union Army, men who’d become accustomed to swapping their political loyalty for sake of maintaining a preferable social and economic status quo learned a hard lesson: by the time Lincoln changed the terms of the deal, their greatest bargaining chip—the threat of secession—had lost its power. The temper tantrum that ensued came in the form of guerrilla warfare.

 

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: Alex H. Major to Beriah Magoffin, 3 April 1861, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY (hereafter KDLA); L. W. Trafton to Beriah Magoffin, 9 April 1861, KDLA; Robert Glass to Grant, 4 April 1861, KDLA; F. A. Cannon, Reward Notice, 4 April 1861, KDLA; Robert Glass to Beriah Magoffin, 4 April 1861, KDLA; Jim Brown Fugutive Slave Reward, 12 April 1861; Beriah Magoffin, Executive Journal, 12 April 1861, KDLA; Edmund L. Starling, History of Henderson County, Kentucky (Henderson County, KY: 1887), 558-561.

For more on the history of Henderson and Henderson County, Kentucky, check out Volume 113 (Autumn 2013) of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, available through Project MUSE.

It’s a Hard Knock Life for… Everyone: The Laws of “Universal Adulthood” in Civil War Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

spencer1In 1865, a jury of Covington (KY) residents slapped William Spencer with a 3 ½ year sentence for stealing a pair of pants from a fellow boarder. Now, if you’re at all familiar with previous CWG-K bloggings, you know that convicted murderers, rapists, and rampaging guerrillas frequently found themselves on the business end of far lighter sentences than Spencer (and sometimes without any sentences at all). What makes this case all the more compelling, however, is that by modern standards—that is, by contemporary, western ones—William Spencer was still a child at the time of his trial. According to affidavits, he was “left an orphan at two years of age and was tenderly reared by his Grandparents who were worthy members of the Methodist Church.” His grandparents died soon after and, while living with an uncle, young William fell in with “bad associations.” At roughly fifteen years of age, he quit “Sabbath School,” ran away from home, found a job, lost it, and was induced by poverty to steal the aforementioned pair of trousers.

At first take, sending a fifteen year old boy to the state penitentiary—a facility brimming with much older, more violent inmates—for stealing a pair of pants seems unthinkable. Even more so when we recall that the pants weren’t even new and couldn’t have been worth more than a few dollars. In reality, though, this wasn’t all that unusual of an occurrence in Civil War Kentucky. To put things mildly, perceptions of adolescence and understandings of how the law should be applied to children was a combined mess.

turman1Take for example the legal woes of James L. Turman, a tavern owner in Boyd County, who was fined $50 for “selling liquor to an infant.” The legal drinking age in Kentucky was twenty-one, then as now, and Turman fully confessed to having sold spirits to Sobble Burgess in spring 1863. The barkeeper defended himself, however, owing to the facts that at the time of the sale, Burgess was twenty years old and representing himself as twenty-one, but was also “well grown,” “doing business for himself,” and had permission from his father to drink. Perhaps most strikingly of all, in May 1863 when he bought the drink, Burgess was a candidate in Catlettsburg’s mayoral election, which Turman assumed could only be so if Burgess was “in his majority.”

Then we have the case of John Watson, a fourteen year old boy who enlisted in the Provost Guard as a drummer in 1861. A couple of years later, when part of his battalion was mustered out of service, Watson “reenlisted in Capt Flares Mounted company 34th Ky Vols.” This move prompted Colonel W. Y. Dillard of the 34th Kentucky Infantry to write Governor Thomas E. Bramlette with a request to have John transferred to his command; apparently the Colonel had “promised his [Watson’s] widowed mother to take care of him So long as I remain in the service.” In other words, with the Union not facing troop shortages like the Confederacy, Dillard understood that Watson was still a child and believed that he didn’t belong in combat service. (Once under his purview, Dillard could have Watson put back into his role as a drummer boy.)

Around the same time Dillard was trying to secure a transfer for Watson, a “free man of color” named Peter Yager was being convicted of larceny. According to petitioners on his behalf, Peter “was charged with stealing Tobacco, which was tied up in large hands & handled indifferently, and upon the trial, the proof introduced established beyond a doubt, that said Boy Peter, raised & cured just such Tobacco.” They also argued that “the Boy Peter proved a good character from his youth up to said trial, for industry and honesty his age was also proven to be from 15 to 17 years.” Translation: Peter’s (white) defenders believed that a farmer had carelessly lost his own tobacco and then blamed Peter for stealing it to cover the loss, despite proof that the young man had raised his own crop. Even the town marshal who’d originally arrested Peter and the prosecutor who’d convicted him signed the plea for executive clemency.

akin1Finally, we come to the October 1863 saga of Graham Akin, a fourteen year old boy from Danville. Described as “very delicate & slender,” Akin was swinging in the gymnasium of the Frankfort-based Waterman School when Thomas Davenport, three or four years Akin’s senior and billed as “heavy & stout,” stood in front of the swing and refused to move. Akin tried to ignore the bully; “he continued his exercises and slightly brushed against Davenport, where-upon Davenport Choaked and otherwise maltreated Akin.” In response, Akin snapped: he “rushed into the house of Mr Waterman, sized his gun and shot Davenport with small shot.” A grand jury in Frankfort indicted Akin on a charge of “shooting, in sudden heat and passion … with intent to kill.” Despite being held on $6000 bond, when Akin pled guilty to the charges, he was found guilty and fined just $50.

So what happened to all of these “child criminals?” And more importantly, what sense can we make of their stories?

  1. In September 1863, John Turman had his fine remitted for selling liquor to a minor and, while it appears Sobble Burgess lost his bid for the mayor’s office, he was never legally disciplined for misleading Turman.
  2. In December 1863, William Spencer was pardoned after serving only about a month of his prison sentence; he went to live in New York with relatives and, as far as we can tell, stayed out of trouble.
  3. Unfortunately, we aren’t sure if John Watson was transferred to the care of Colonel Dillard—or if he survived the war.
  4. We do know, however, that freeman Peter Yager had served half of his prison term by the time his petition was rejected by Governor Thomas Bramlette and that he spent another six months in the state penitentiary. (This isn’t a major surprise: by 1863–64, Governor Bramlette did little to hide contempt for his African American constituents.)
  5. And, lastly, there’s Graham Akin, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was fined a whopping $50. Upon appeal to Governor Bramlette, his fine was remitted. Davenport, now sporting a nasty scar, presumably stopped picking on Akin.

As their cases collectively illustrate, from regulations on drinking and firearms to military service and everyday criminal offences, the law in Kentucky generally failed to take a consistent stance on children. On one hand, the state enforced a mandatory drinking age, which clearly transmitted the idea that some citizens (those under twenty one) were not yet considered “legal adults” by the law’s reckoning. But the state also allowed boys technically under the legal enlistment age to serve in the military, which immediately weakens the notion that mandatory age limits were strictly enforced across the board and calls into question how the state could justify not allowing a twenty year old citizen to drink whiskey on account of his age but saw no issue with handing him a rifle and sending him into Napoleonic combat. (A question many still ask of current drinking and enlistment laws in the United States.)

On the other hand, though, we see numerous instances of children either being punished as adults for petty crimes, such as stealing worthless pants, or being pardoned due to their youth and inexperience for very serious crimes, such as attempted murder. This indicates that to some extent, the legal code in Kentucky blanketed all of the state’s residents, regardless of age, with a “universal adulthood”—while at the very same time the people who supposedly made and maintained that legal code (the governor, judges, lawyers, town marshals, etc.) understood more often than not that children ought to have been afforded unique treatment by the justice system.

Why they didn’t take the time to update the books and infuse stability into the juvenile sector of the justice system is anyone’s guess, though being trapped in the middle of the bloodiest military conflict in American history probably had something to do with it. Regardless, Kentucky was the epitome of contradiction when it came to legally dealing with children in the 1860s. Then again, given the state’s penchant for Conservative Unionism, its self-injuring methods for combating irregular violence, and the peculiar, even counter-intuitive legal hoops it jumped through to protect slavery, when wasn’t Kentucky a contradiction during the Civil War?

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.


SOURCES: Richard Areson, Affidavit, n. d., Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter KDLA); Richard Areson to Thomas E. Bramlette, 24 Nov 1865, KDLA; James L. Furman to James F. Robinson, 4 May 1863, KDLA; Charles B. Cotton to Thomas E. Bramlette, 6 Jan 1864, KDLA; P. U. Major, W. H. Sneed, and John M. Hewitt, Jr. to Thomas E. Bramlette, 23 Oct 1863, KDLA; S. D. Delaney et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n. d., KDLA; H. M. Pierce to Beriah Magoffin, 28 May 1861, KDLA; W. Y. Dillard to Thomas E. Bramlette, 9 March 1864, KDLA; W. L. Jermane to Thomas E. Bramlette, 28 Nov 1865; KDLA.

One Time in Civil War Kentucky…: Intemperance and Crime on the Homefront

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Within the database of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, cases abound of alcohol-related crimes: gambling, vandalism, larceny, tippling, rape, and even murder. This shouldn’t land as much of a surprise: law enforcement distracted by a war on the homefront, hard economic times, easy access to deadly weapons, and even easier access to liquor all tended to mix as poorly in the mid-nineteenth century as in the present. In the simplest terms, as the following four cases will underscore, Civil War Kentucky was a stage set for tragic—and oft-times bizarre—intersections of intemperance and crime.

The last words of an inebriated Ewing Litterell.

The last words of an inebriated Ewing Litterell.

We begin with the booze-fueled demise of Ewing Litterell. On a spring evening in 1858, he arrived—intoxicated and uninvited—at the Savage household. There, James Savage lived and cared for his elderly parents, while also providing for his younger sisters. According to court testimony, Litterell burst into the house “with a pale of whiskey” in hand and “declared his intention to have a frolic.” James vehemently protested the intrusion and commanded Litterell to leave. In response, Litterell “exposed his person in the presence of the family” and proclaimed that “he was a stud horse and had had intercourse with all the family both mother and sisters and would do so again when it suited his convenience.” To this final insult, James Savage responded not with his mouth, but with his rifle; Litterell fell dead in his tracks. Savage was charged with manslaughter and imprisoned for five years before receiving a pardon in September 1863.

Now consider the plight of 70-year-old John Branstetter, once an upstanding citizen, but by June 1864, a virulent alcoholic. As described by men petitioning Governor Thomas Bramlette to remit a gambling fine on his behalf, Branstetter had generally been known as a “sober & discreet man.” That is, until an encounter with Confederate guerrillas derailed his life. In addition to being robbed of “a great deal of his property,” Branstetter’s two sons “joined an independent company called the ‘Metcalfe Tigers’ for the purpose of hunting down guerrillas & were exposed to many dangers.” The thought of his boys gunned down in the bush by heartless marauders drove John Branstetter straight into the bottle. To be fair, he certainly wouldn’t have been the only father to cope with a son’s military service by drinking. But, as the petitioners also revealed, Branstetter wasn’t your average drunk—liquor made him “delirious and wild.” He became so untamed, in fact, that he literally had to be “guarded” by neighbors once a drinking spree ensued. His plea for clemency was rejected.

Next, we have the account of Mary Doolin, who was “shot & died from Effects of same, by a gun in hands of one Thomas Kinsloe.” Supporters of Kinsloe alleged that he’d come home one day in October 1864 to find Doolin drunk in his house. The two had always been friends, but on this day, for reasons unexplained, “he & her had a fuss” in which “she tried to scald him.” Kinsloe grabbed and aimed a shotgun at Doolin, though, if we believe his side of the story, he believed the gun unloaded and only intended to scare her. Regardless of what Kinsloe believed, when he pulled the trigger, smoke and lead shot erupted from the barrel, the latter striking his stunned target in the hip. The wound proved quite serious and the rest of Mary Doolin’s life would not be pleasant. “She was taken to the hospital” where, after several days of agony, a group of “unskillful surgeons amputated her leg.” Doolin died soon after and Kinsloe went to prison—though he always claimed the surgeons had done more to kill Doolin than he had.

And, finally, we come to the legal troubles of Lafayatte Brafford and John Mullins. In spring 1862, a Kenton County jury found both men guilty of manslaughter following their roles in the death of a man named David McCullough. Everything had started a few weeks earlier when Brafford and Mullins, both “having indulged in drink too freely,” jumped into the carriage of a passing meat wagon. In the process, “Brafford by accident sat down in a bowl of sausage meat.” The wagon’s owner, the aforementioned McCullough, briefly scolded Brafford and Mullins. The pair of drunkards then followed McCullough back to his butcher’s shop, where a general melee ensued. Mullins attempted to enter the shop, but McCullough refused to let him in and blocked the doorway. In turn, Mullins shouted “You won’t do me that way!” to which McCullough responded by hitting him in the face with a two pound weight. Though staggered by the blow, Mullins managed to drag McCullough to the floor with him—at which time Brafford ran forward and stabbed McCullough three times with a small pocketknife. According to testimony, the wounds were only superficial, which explains how McCullough kept fighting.

A few minutes later, all three men were winded; they sat staring at each other on the steps of McCullough’s shop. Mullins asked McCullough if his nose was bleeding. McCullough informed Mullins that it was, in fact, and Mullins retorted that McCullough’s nose was also bleeding—just as he landed a brutal sucker punch to McCullough’s jaw. This ended the fight, but not for sake of the punch itself. Almost at once, all three men realized that their brawling had splintered a barrel and that one of the shards had punctured McCullough’s abdomen. The wound bled profusely and the butcher died twelve days later, almost certainly from infection. Despite their initial convictions, both Brafford and Mullins requested pardons from Governor Beriah Magoffin after only a few months in the state penitentiary. Their supporters alleged that “both Brafford & Mullins were intoxicated greatly” at the time of the assault and could not, therefore, truly be held responsible. (In other words, the liquor made them do it.) Moreover, Mullins apparently promised that “after the lesson of the past few months”—in which he’d drunkenly vandalized a man’s property and then helped kill him—he would “forever abandon intoxicating drink, & adhere to those habits of industry & sobriety for which he has been so uniformly noted during the years of his youth & early manhood.” Magoffin granted both pardons.

The sagas of Ewing Litterell, John Branstetter, and Mary Doolin are not recounted here to suggest that good things didn’t happen to people who drank excessively in Civil War Kentucky. (After all, it’s no great secret that the same booze that got Brafford and Mullins into trouble in the first place also formulated the grounds for the clemency they received from Magoffin. Occasionally, it seems, drunkenly committing a crime trumped committing it soberly.) However, it would also be incorrect to assume that bad things didn’t happen to non-drinkers. On that issue, look no further than James Savage, Thomas Kinsloe, or the unfortunate David McCullough who, when all was said and done, had essentially died over a man sitting in a bowl of sausage meat.

In the end, the flood of intemperance-related paperwork that crossed their respective desks should have made one thing abundantly clear to each of the state’s Civil War governors: between 1861 and 1865, the odds of finding oneself wild and delirious, arrested and fined, assaulted, stabbed, imprisoned, under the knife of incompetent surgeons, impaled by a barrel stave, or otherwise dying an unimaginably horrible death increased exponentially when distilled spirits entered the equation. But learning that lesson was one matter; attempting to force sobriety on a populace equal parts armed, enraged, and skeptical of government was another altogether. The smartest play any of the Civil War governors could make was probably to stick with the devil they knew—to let the people drink. And drink they did.

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.


SOURCES: M. P. Buster to Unknown, 28 Sep 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter cited as KDLA); Robert Miller et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n. d., KDLA; Affidavit of George Shirley and E. Wilty, 13 June 1864, KDLA; John L. Sallee to James F. Robinson, 20 May 1863, KDLA; Benjamin Fink et al. to Beriah Magoffin, 30 July 1862, KDLA; A. J. Gray to Beriah Magoffin, n.d., KDLA.

Governor _____?_____ of Kentucky: “Please fill in the name of the person who is governor…”

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By Tony Curtis

In November 1862, William A. M. Van Bokkelen requested a commission as Commissioner of Deeds for Kentucky in the Nevada Territory. A series of letters discovered by the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWG-K) shows his attempt to obtain a commission through politically connected Kentuckians, and a lack of response on the part of the governor. Continue reading

The “Ladies of Frankfort” Assert Their Right to Petition

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By Tony Curtis

March is Women’s History Month and the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) theme for 2015 is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” An appropriately themed document recently appeared in the form of an undated Franklin County, Kentucky, petition signed by the “Ladies of Frankfort.” Continue reading