A Caroline Chronicles Update: A Research Journey Through the Louisville Daily Journal

By Tony Curtis

Just when you think that you have gathered all of the available information on the Caroline Chronicles (read all the documents on Early Access) you stumble across a digitized collection of the Louisville Daily Journal on archive.org. I am particularly interested in how news of the Blanche Levi murder was revealed to the public and how the ensuing case was covered by a prominent Louisville newspaper. And what did a deep dive into this collection uncover about the Caroline Chronicles? I invite you—our readers—to join me on this research trip!

The Levi family appears at various points in the newspaper from August 1862 until September 1863. Willis Levi—a steamboat engineer—first appears listed as a survivor of the Steamer Acacia disaster on August 30, 1862:

Louisville Daily Journal, August 30, 1862

Louisville Daily Journal, August 30, 1862

And again with his brother Elias Levi in an auctioneer advertisement on January 30, 1863:

Louisville Daily Journal, January 30, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, January 30, 1863

The Levi’s are being mentioned regularly with this advertisement for their auctioning services, and Elias is even covered anonymously through a printed Jefferson County Sheriff’s advertisement for the sale of John West(ly)—Caroline’s husband. We see the original in the Jefferson County Court books in previously discovered documents. Elias Levi bought John West(ly), aged 25, on April 27, 1863 for $245:

Louisville Daily Journal, April 18, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, April 18, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, April 28, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, April 28, 1863

But what about the death of Blanche Levi—daughter of Willis and Anne Levi? The first mention of the death of Blanche occurs in the April 22, 1863 obituaries, her death occurring one day earlier. The obituary is brief, giving her age, when the funeral will occur, and a brief bible verse:

Louisville Daily Journal, April 22, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, April 22, 1863

The newspaper then falls silent for ten days. Not one mention of Blanche, the Levis, or Caroline—until May 2, 1863, when the newspaper prints, “For two weeks past we have withheld giving publicity to one of the most horrible and treacherous deeds ever committed in this city, in order to give the officers ample time to ferret out the guilty parties.” They announce “the wretch”—Caroline—was arrested and faced arraignment that same morning. Showing the inherent racial bias of society, the newspaper supposes that Caroline could not have committed without accomplice, stating, “It was believed that the girl had been instigated to this deed by some fiend in human shape, but diligent investigation has been made, and no accessory has as yet been discovered. There is something very mysterious about the crime, from the fact that no cause whatever had been given to the girl to prompt her to wreak her vengeance in this horrible crime. If she has an accomplice we sincerely trust that the wretch will be brought to justice.”

Louisville Daily Journal, May 2, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, May 2, 1863

This article also references Caroline’s status, they define her as “a contraband negro, from Tennessee, in the employ of Mr. Willis Levy.” Much like the previously discovered documents, Caroline’s status is constantly in flux. On May 2, 1863, the “Police Proceedings” section—the Civil War-era police blotter—announced “Caroline, a slave of James Deman, charged with poisoning a child of Willis Levi. The slave being too sick to be brought into court, the witnesses were recognized to go before the grand jury of the Circuit Court.” This gives us more insight into Caroline’s status, but it is also contradictory information. What was Caroline’s status—self-emancipated woman, contraband, slave, or a free woman of color (f.w.c.)? I am afraid newspaper coverage does not clarify Caroline’s status and as we concluded in prior research, her status remains inconclusive. It is unknown as to what the newspaper means by “too sick”.

Louisville Daily Journal, May 4, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, May 4, 1863

On May 6, 1863, the grand jury of the Jefferson Circuit Court returned an indictment against “Caroline (a slave)”.

Louisville Daily Journal, May 7, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, May 7, 1863

The June 10, 1863 Louisville Daily Journal announces the “Commonwealth vs Caroline (a slave)” case for trial as a part of the June 1863 docket of the Jefferson Circuit Court—the trial to be held on Wednesday, June 17, 1863.

Louisville Daily Journal, June 10, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, June 10, 1863

Further mention of Caroline’s case does not appear until June 19, 1863, when a guilty verdict is announced: “The negro woman who poisoned the family of Mr. Levi, of this city, some months since, from the effects of which one of his children, a sweet little girl, died, was yesterday convicted of murder in the first degree in the court now in session here. She will doubtless be hung.”

Louisville Daily Journal, June 19, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, June 19, 1863

The next mention of Caroline is not until August 14, 1863—almost two months later—announcing when she is to be hanged “at the corner of Eighteenth and Broadway streets” in Louisville. And again on September 8, 1863, following a month long respite.

Louisville Daily Journal, August 14, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, August 14, 1863

On September 11, 1863, Caroline is granted a second respite “for a few days” by Governor Thomas E. Bramlette “on account of some newly discovered testimony which may have some bearing on her case.”

Louisville Daily Journal, September 11, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, September 11, 1863

And the new evidence convinced Governor Bramlette in favor of executive clemency, as the final mention of Caroline occurs on September 25, 1863, under the headline “Pardoned.”

Louisville Daily Journal, September 25, 1863

Louisville Daily Journal, September 25, 1863

So what have we learned from the Louisville Daily Journal coverage? The Levis were active members in the Louisville business community. We have more concrete dates on the death of Blanche Levi and the chronology of Caroline’s case. We know that the newspaper purposefully withheld any coverage of the case to allow for time to investigate the facts of the case and to arrest any suspects. The newspaper coverage further complicates Caroline’s status for us—Caroline inhabited many different worlds depending on time and place. We also learn that there is no additional coverage of “one of the most horrible and treacherous deeds ever committed in this city”—no editorials, no letters to the editor . . . Nothing. So once again, a set of research questions has led us to more research questions—some of the questions remain, others have been developed. The search continues and we will update you as new evidence is uncovered.

Tony Curtis is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

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.

“Acquainted with the Value of Slaves”: The Commonwealth Invests in an Institution

By Tony Curtis

On April 8, 1863, the Hickman Circuit Court empanelled a grand jury to review an arson case against three enslaved, runaway men—John, Elijah, and James. The jury indicted the three men for, “maliciously willfully and feloniously, set fire to and burn the dwelling house of Wm Poore, the Said Slaves having conspired to-gether. . .with one [gap] Wheeler (a white man).” All pled not guilty to the charges with court appointed attorneys by their side, but the jury found all three “guilty as charged and Say by reason thereof they shall Suffer death, but we recommend that the Governor modify the Same to punishment in the penitentiary for life.”

Not all Hickman County citizens agreed. In a letter to Governor James F. Robinson, twenty-five citizens of the county maintained that “the crime of these negroes was committed with every circumstance of atrocity possible, and simple justice demands their execution under the law.” The petitioners claimed that the three defendants had been seen with the 21st Regiment of Missouri Volunteers while at Clinton (whose commanding officer appeared on their behalf at the trial) and that they are “a scourge and terror to the whole County. They obtain arms—United States muskets—whenever they choose and make nightly excursions into the country, bursting open the houses of citizens, robbing them, putting upon them and their wives & families every kind of indignity and insult short of actual murder and violation.”

Voicing the frustration of Kentucky slave owners in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, they stated that the military had taken no action to stop the alleged robberies and that the “citizens of this county have no hope except in the civil laws. If these afford them no protection and that immediately society here will be broken up and the negro become supreme.” They wanted a “stern but just” sentence to intimidate their “fellow marauders,” where “imprisonment would strike little terror to the negro.” Governor Robinson agreed, and the Court ordered all three men to be hanged on May 15, 1863.

As interesting as the politics of the case, historians should also pay attention to the procedures demanded by law when slaves were to be executed. The Revised Statutes of Kentucky (1852) specified that slaveowners be compensated for the execution of their slaves convicted of crimes. From Chapter 93, Article 7, Section 24:

§ 24. When the court shall sentence to death a slave, the value of such slave shall be fixed by the court, and entered on record. If the slave be executed, or die in jail, after conviction, before the day of execution, the value, so fixed, shall be paid out of the public treasury to the master or owner, upon a presentation of a copy of the record, and certificate of the sheriff of the fact of the death or execution of such slave. If a slave, imported into this state contrary to law, or passing through this state, by land or water, to any other state, territory, or country, be executed for crime, or die before execution, he shall not be paid for as above.

To obtain a value on each of the slaves, the Hickman Circuit Court reached out to individuals “acquainted with the Value of Slaves”—in this case two physicians (H. O. Earle & C. T. Seay) and a farmer (George B. Moss). Seay and Moss owned slaves, though the record is unclear as to whether Earle owned any slaves. However, it is interesting to note that they consulted two physicians and a farmer—assessing value in terms of both physical ability and skill sets. Was this a standard makeup of court appointed valuators of slaves? Was there a particular set of qualifications to fulfill this requirement? Was there a standard form used to evaluate each enslaved person? Whatever the answers are to these questions, they valued each man as follows, “John (the slave of C S Parrott) at One thousand & Sixty Dollars. James (the Slave of Quirus Beckwith) at One thousand one hundred & forty Dollars and Elijah (the slave of Quirus Beckwith) at Eight hundred dollars.”

The Annual Report of the Auditor of Public Accounts…for fiscal year ending October 10, 1863, confirms the payment of the aforementioned amounts to Beckwith and Parrott:

Excerpt from the Annual Report of the Auditor of Public Accounts…for fiscal year ending October 10, 1863

As the Caroline Chronicles reminds us, money flowed out of the state coffers and in some cases into the state coffers as a direct result of slaves being caught up in the Kentucky legal system. In this case, public funds were used to compensate slaveowners for their loss of human property.

Another twist on the state’s criminal laws and slavery documented in CWG-K collections occurred in 1862, when two enslaved men—Jordan of Scott County, Kentucky, and Abner of Graves County, Kentucky—were convicted of Manslaughter and sentenced to life in the Kentucky State Penitentiary. In these cases legislative action was sought to remove these men from the penitentiary and sell them back into slavery. The men agreed to this pardon and to the stipulation to be returned to slavery—with no say as to who and where they would be sold at public auction. Chapter 93, Article 7, Section 25 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes needed amended in order to give the Governor the power to sell Abner and Jordan back into slavery. This section already granted the governor the power to commute the sentence of a slave, but it did not give him the power to sell said enslaved men into slavery to the financial benefit of the state. The act only stipulated that the slaveowner “shall be paid for him as though he were executed, or take the proceeds of his labor in the penitentiary.” An act passed on March 17, 1862, entitled “An ACT to amend section 25, chapter 93, if Revised Statutes”, amended this section:

An ACT to amend section 25, chapter 93, of Revised Statutes

An advertisement for the sale was placed in the Frankfort newspapers , and Jordan and Abner were returned “to their original condition of servitude” by the governor and the state treasurer by public auction held at the Franklin County Courthouse doors on July 21, 1862. The proceeds were “paid into the public treasury, and the slaves delivered to their purchasers.”

These two documents offer insight into another way in which Kentucky was complicit in the perpetuation of the institution of slavery—by codifying and enforcing slave laws, collecting taxes on enslaved property, just to name a few ways—and in the instance of these two documents, by compensating slaveowners when the enslaved were executed and by collecting payment for enslaved persons sold at public auction from the Kentucky State Penitentiary. This is yet another example of how the entire white population of Kentucky—slaveowner or non-slaveowner, rich and poor—participated in and benefited from the fully integrated slave economy.

Tony Curtis is an Assistant Editor with the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. John a Slave of C. S. Parrott Elijah & James Slaves of Q Beckwith, Indictment, April 11, 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (hereafter KDLA); Thomas G. Poore et al. to James F. Robinson, Correspondence, April 11, 1863, KDLA; For more on the policy of the military and runaway slaves, see Diane Mutti Burke On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (2010), 284-287; Revised Statutes of Kentucky, 627-648; 1860 Federal Slave Schedule, Ancestry.com; Annual Report of the Auditor of Public Accounts…for fiscal year ending October 10, 1863, 18; Tri-Weekly Commonwealth (Frankfort, Ky.), July 4, 1862; Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 243; See also Tim Talbott, “Negroes for Sale,” Random Thoughts on History (blog), June 19, 2013, http://randomthoughtsonhistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/negroes-for-sale.html; and Abner and Jordan, Affidavit, July 21, 1862, KDLA.

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

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

“Part IV – The Decision”

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Over the past three weeks, we’ve recounted the tangled saga of Caroline Dennant, a Tennessee slave brought to Louisville, Kentucky, by Union General Don Carlos Buell’s army as contraband of war. Charged in the death of an infant left in her care, Caroline was eventually convicted of infanticide and sentenced to death by hanging. In addition to a more detailed version of this narrative (Part I, found here), the fundamental arguments for executive clemency and in favor of a pardon for Caroline can be found here (Part III) and here, (Part II).

We also promised to reveal whether or not Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, himself a slave-owner and virulent white supremacist, granted Caroline’s pardon based on the multiple petitions authored on her behalf. The answer is found in an entry to Bramlette’s Executive Journal dated September 24, 1863. Following the remissions of a gambling fine against J. N. Cornell ($200), damages levied against J. M. Harper ($653.94), and an appointment as Notary Public for F. G. Robbins of Jefferson County, this item appeared:

“He Pardoned Caroline (a Slave) sentenced to be hung by the Jefferson Cir Court for Murder.”

caroline_pardonCaroline’s pardon from Bramlette not only released her from impending execution — it overruled the jury’s original guilty verdict and exonerated her of any and all charges. Problematically, at precisely moment Caroline appears to overcome a legal system rigged against both African Americans and women — and maybe doubly so against African American women — she seems to disappear from the historical record. We’re working right now to track her down.

So was Caroline actually innocent? In reality, we don’t — and probably never will — know the answer to that question. But luckily for Bramlette, he wasn’t tasked with determining ultimate innocence or guilty; rather, the governor only had to determine if reasonable doubt existed, in which case the execution could not legally be carried out. Considering the circumstantial nature of the case, even in spite of admittedly damning evidence, most of the CWG-K thinks Bramlette made the right call.

This leaves one final question concerning the pardon: what do YOU think? We’ve transcribed all of the surviving materials from the case and invite you to make up your own mind: Caroline Chronicles Documents

***

In the coming weeks, we’ll be analyzing Caroline’s story and the trial from various historical perspectives. Next on tap is a “think essay” about a man named John Wesley who may or may not have been Caroline’s husband and how the process of re-enslavement through contraband and fugitive slave auctions worked in Civil War Louisville. In two weeks, stay tuned for a survey of the cultural stigmas associated with female slave resistance, poison, and infanticide that almost certainly accompanied Caroline and her all-white jury into the courtroom.

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.

Who are “We the undersigned”?

We recently featured the case of William Brockman, a German man appealing his murder conviction to Governor Bramlette (read the full transcription here). Our previous post pointed out the fascinating diversity of topical subjects CWG-K will bring to the attention of scholars — the immigrant experience, violence and public arms bearing, micro-economies of military posts, and the environmental and urban history of the Ohio River.

KYR-0001-004-0787But who signed the petition to pardon William Brockman? Why did they do so? What can we learn about a war-torn and refugee-swelled Ohio River city from analyzing the actors in William Brockman’s world?

Each of the document’s 65 glossary entries contains a list of associated documents (Read the full glossary here). In those 65 entries, this document makes 4,353 connections across the CWG-K corpus. Excluding the four best-connected entries (Thomas E. Bramlette, Louisville, Jefferson Circuit Court, and Tennessee), the remaining 61 entries yield 441 connections to a web of 248 unique documents spread across 25 unique collections in 3 separate archival repositories. The glossed people, places, and institutions in this document link to a median of 5 other records.

Though these appear to be no more than numbers on the page, this is the raw data of a complex series of geographic, economic, social, personal, and political networks that bound 1860s Kentuckians to one another, to the nation, to the war, and to the world. The patterns in these accession numbers suggest fascinating research questions which the user can further explore through documents themselves. What shared interest led twenty of the signers of this petition to appear in another document KYR-0001-004-0121? What political or personal factors inclined the individuals named in this document to appear more frequently in collections associated with Bramlette (145 documents) than Magoffin (50 documents)? What does the appearance of Zachariah Sherley and his business partner Richard Woolfolk in documents from all three repositories suggest about the breadth of their interaction with state institutions? Might this suggest ways in which their steamboat-supplying firm benefited from military mobilization?

The entries from this document also highlight what CWG-K can do with even the most fragmentary information. A man named Donheimer, for example, testified in the case related to Brockman’s petition, but we know nothing further of him—not even his given name. CWG-K will, nevertheless, create a glossary entry for him and include what information can be gleaned from the document. Even though what we know of Donheimer is limited now, the open-ended nature of a born-digital project allows CWG-K to expand the entry as new documents are identified and transcribed and as the CWG-K universe becomes populated with more interconnected historical actors. The point is not that we know very little about Donheimer now. Rather, it is that we may learn more about him in the future, and, even if not, scholars will use the networks of which he forms a part.

This document reveals how researchers will be able to visualize and study the interactions Kentuckians had with their neighbors, their governments, and their enemies, linking an untold number of individuals—enslaved and free, men and women, Union and Confederate—together in an interconnected web of relationships. CWG-K will be an unimaginably powerful tool for studying the whole of a society under the strains of civil war.

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.

CWG-K’s “Best of” – 2015 Edition

2015 was an eventful year for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition. Numerous fellows utilized the power of the ever-growing database (you can apply to be one here), we are steadily approaching the launch of an Early Access edition of 10,000 documents and transcriptions and a Beta prototype. Governor’s Day — an interactive open house introducing the project to other departments at the Kentucky Historical Society — was a major success.

To recap the year, we’ve organized a series of “Best of” lists that chronicle everything from our individual takes on the most powerful people of Civil War Kentucky to the most memorable deaths to time travel (more on this anon). We hope you’ll enjoy reading these lists these as much as we enjoyed creating them.

POWER RANKINGS: Based on their own criteria, each member of the CWG-K editorial staff was asked to rank a “Power 5” group of figures found in the database.

Tony

  1. George W. Johnston – Powerful Judge of the Louisville City Court, a Louisville/Jefferson County pardon application was never complete and rarely received a positive reply without his signature.
  2. John B. Huston – Besides competing for the worst handwriting award for Civil War Kentucky—stiff competition from James F. Robinson and James Guthrie—Huston was a power broker, attorney and state legislator from central Kentucky, whose endorsement of a pardon application carried a lot of weight with multiple Kentucky governors.
  3. John B. Temple – Attorney, banker, and president of the Kentucky Military Board—Temple exerted a lot of power in all Kentucky military matters. He and the Military Board of Kentucky were de facto Commander-in-chief of Kentucky, slowly whittling away Beriah Magoffin’s military authority with the aid of the Kentucky General Assembly.
  4. George W. Norton – President of the Southern Bank of Kentucky, he was a Magoffin ally, made sizable loans the Commonwealth of Kentucky to support Magoffin in his efforts to purchase arms early in the war. Other banks made similar investments, yet Norton appeared to have the ear of the governor.
  5. C. D. Pennebaker – Lawyer, politician, Colonel of the 27th Kentucky Infantry, and Kentucky Military Agent in Washington, DC. He served in the legislature, commanded troops in battle, and served in a civilian military post for Kentucky in DC. In addition to this he wrote the more thorough letters and reports. Kudos Mr. Pennebaker!

Matt

  1. W. T. Samuels – Not unlike Matt Damon’s character in The Good Shepherd, Samuels had the dirt on everyone following his stint as state auditory. Given his knowledge of everyone’s finances and his legal prowess, he was a potential kingmaker in the Blue Grass. (In other words, there’s a reason he’s one of the few through-and-through Unionists to remain powerful in state government post-1865.)
  2. D. W. Lindsay – He commanded a crew of paid guerrilla hunters under the heading of “secret police”; these men, like Edwin “Bad Ed’ Terrell, were paid to track down and kill Kentucky’s most notorious bushwhackers.
  3. Stephen Burbridge – Though he technically fell under the authority of Thomas Bramlette in Kentucky, Burbridge more or less did as he pleased, which included deeming other powerful Union officers (like Gen. John B. Huston) disloyal and having them arrested on behalf of President Lincoln.
  4. Thomas Bramlette – As governor he oversaw nearly all of the state’s wartime activities—and was still expected to keep civil government afloat.
  5. E. H. Taylor, Sr. – Taylor was a member of the influential Military Board (which oversaw military purchases for the state) at the same time he helped run one of the state’s major money-lenders. If you needed a loan—and Kentucky always needed a loan—this was the man to see.

Whitney

  1. Thomas Bramlette – He takes first place by virtue of holding the highest office for the longest amount of time, evidenced by almost 3,000 documents.
  2. John W. Finnell – As Adjutant General, principal military advisor to Gov. Bramlette while a war was raging, he was in a very influential role.
  3. Samuel Suddarth – Serving as Quarter Master General, Suddarth was tasked with keeping the troops supplied by managing the ordering & distributing of supplies essential to the war effort.
  4. James F. Robinson – Though he served as Governor for a short time, he was part of a compromise wherein the Confederate-leaning Magoffin agreed to step down and let Robinson, a moderate, take over. Interestingly, since he never resigned his Senate seat, he technically filled both rolls simultaneously.
  5. James Garrard – He served as State Treasurer throughout the war, and as Mayer Amschel Rothschild allegedly said, “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.”

Patrick

  1. James F. Robinson – Don’t let his one-year term as Governor fool you, Robinson played state politics as adeptly as Frank Underwood could have done. While we can’t know if he pushed anyone in front of a train, Robinson adeptly turned down the senate speakership before having a cabal of Lexington friends arrange Magoffin’s resignation and his convoluted ascension to the Executive Mansion. As George Washington showed, the best way to accrue power is to look like you don’t want it. More astonishingly, Robinson refused to vacate his senate seat, leaving him free to return to harassing the Lincoln administration via the Committee on Federal Relations after Bramlette took office.
  2. Hamilton Pope – Louisville politics ran through Hamilton Pope. An old-Whig and former Know-Nothing, Pope was undoubtedly part of the closed-door decision that cut Louisville German and Irish immigrants out of independent regiments and elevated his brother, Curran Pope, to a Colonelcy. In addition to being an invaluable petition signature for anyone hoping for a pardon out of the Jefferson Circuit Court, Pope also runs point on using city government and the police department to enforce (increasingly irrelevant) fugitive slave laws.
  3. Rufus K. Williams – A fiercely Unionist circuit judge from the overwhelmingly Confederate Jackson Purchase, Williams raised a military unit and used his recruits to broker a deal for himself. When the time came to muster his troops into federal service, Williams traded a permanent military commission for a seat on the Kentucky Court of Appeals (the forerunner of the state supreme court) vacated by rebel sympathizer Alvin Duvall—ditching a hostile local electorate for a secure post backed by the statewide Unionist majority.
  4. Madison C. Johnson – His brother, rebel governor George W. Johnson, gets all the headlines in the family, but Madison Johnson controlled most of the available credit in the Bluegrass via the Northern Bank of Kentucky in Lexington. Johnson arranged hundreds of thousands of dollars in military loans to the Commonwealth in 1861-62—and was never hesitant to hold up the next installment to ease along a friend’s military commission. His loans to the state, backed by eventual federal repayment, helped his bank weather the collapse of many borrowers’ fortunes after slavery ended in 1865.
  5. Sherley & Woolfolk – This Louisville corporate duo of Zachariah M. Sherley and Richard H. Woolfolk often appear together in documents. Their firm ran a number of steamboats along the Ohio River and operated an outfitting business that sold supplies to others. Consequently, whether the state needed to move a battalion from Maysville to Paducah or buy a few barrels of ships biscuit to feed a hungry regiment, Sherley & Woolfolk were ready and willing to profit. That they signed insider political petitions under their corporate name shows an awareness of the importance of their business to the management of the war and, perhaps, some intuition for hammering home a branding message.

MOST MEMORABLE NAMES: Our editors have compiled a list of the most memorable names encountered in the CWG-K database in 2015.

  • Greenberry Tingle
  • Swift Raper
  • Wam Timbar (involved in a hatchet-throwing case, if you can believe it)
  • Green Forrest
  • August Worms

MOST MEMORABLE DEMISE: If you’ve followed the CWG-K blog over the past few months, it’s readily apparent that the database has no paucity of unusual and/or gruesome deaths. Each editor has selected the most memorable demise.

Tony

  • Jane Doe Murder Victim – In October 1865, evidence was presented concerning the corpse of a woman, approximately twenty-five years old, found on the outskirts of Louisville. The following is a description of her condition: “Her wounds are as follows a cut over each Eye one on forehand Forehead one just in front of Right Ear. Several Bruises on inside of right thigh and a wound which looked as though the flesh was twisted out her intestines was puled from her body through the Fundament Showing an act of the moste Diabolical rufianian the intestines cut or pulled loose from her body. Her cloths were all torn off of her not a Partickel remaining on her except one garter. Her right arm had been amputated just below the shoulder. the Evidences was plain of a sever strugle with some one from all I can learn I think a Negro did it.”

Matt

  • Ewing Litterell – An uninvited Litterell drunkenly barged into the home of James Savage, proclaimed himself “a stud horse” and boasted that he’d had sexual relations with all of the women in the house (and that he would do it again whenever he pleased). Savage let a full load of buckshot — which he fired into Litterell’s chest — serve as a “no you won’t.”

Whitney

  • Philip Medard – In January 1864, Philip Medard of Jefferson County died of cold and starvation after his son, Jacob Medard, “did confine & Starve his said father in an out house & kitchen & did starve and freeze him the said Philip by refusing to provide meat & food & clothing for him, & by thus exposing him to the weather.” There are definitely more violent deaths in the CWG-K database, but to date, only one happened in the out house.

Patrick

  • Colonel Francis M. Alexander – In what seems to have been an un-diagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder, Alexander drew a pistol on and killed a good friend without any motive or memory of the incident. His pardon petition is a moving account of a man coming to grips with his actions and his state of mind. “The exciting circumstances of the rebellion and its fearful consequences…which in rapid and mournful succession swept over his native, and beloved State, have Come upon his anxious and troubled mind with such force, that many events have transpired in his history during the last four years of his country’s trial, which appear to him almost as a dream.”

MOST OUTRAGEOUS PARDON: A major component of the CWG-K archive is requests for executive clemency. Each member of the editorial staff was tasked with identifying the most memorable pardon of 2015.

Tony

  • Otha Reynolds – In May 1862, Peter Gastell jumped bail and caused his bondholder, Reynolds, to forfeit $1000 to the court. That is, until Reynolds petitioned Governor Thomas Bramlette for clemency. Bramlette gave no legal justification for issuing Reynolds a remission, but said this: “Being in a merciful mood Ordered that this forfeiture except costs & fees be remitted.”

Matt

  • Michael Foley – An Irish rail worker and former Union vet, Foley believed that Merritt and Vardiman Dicken were pro-Confederate guerrillas on the run. In reality, the Dicken brothers were themselves fleeing from an attack by pro-Confederate bushwhackers. Foley attempted to detain the brothers and killed Merritt in the process. Governor Thomas E. Bramlette granted Foley a full pardon on the logic that it was better to accidentally kill men who might not have been guerrillas than to let any potential guerrillas escape unharmed.

Whitney

  • Garrett Whitson – Supporters of Garrett Whitson successfully requested his pardon for murdering violent melon thief, John Spikard. In the petition, they do not claim his innocence, but rather report that Whitson was convicted on the flimsy evidence of two notorious prostitutes, relatives of the deceased. That, combined with his ill health and large family, was enough to procure his release.

Patrick

  • Lawrence County Lynch Mob – In KYR-0001-004-3193, the members of a lynch mob on the Kentucky-West Virginia border preemptively write to Governor Bramlette late in 1865 after they have caught and summarily executed members of a pro-Confederate guerrilla band which had murdered many men in their community. “In getting Rid of them People Did not think that the act was unlawful & might get those Engaged in it in Trouble They only felt that Each man woman and child in our Valley was safer than before.”

TIME TRAVEL MEETING: Finally, we’ve asked each editor to select one character from the CWG-K archive that they would most like to spend an hour with when the Flux Capacitor becomes a reality.

Tony

  • Richard Hawes – Mostly to ask, where were you? What did you do for three years after you were installed as Provisional Governor of Kentucky?

Matt

  • Joseph Swigert – In a word: bourbon. The Swigert family owned the Leestown Distillery (which would later become E. H. Taylor’s O. F. C. Plant, then the George T. Stagg Distillery, and today Buffalo Trace).

Whitney

  • Sarah Bingham – It’s safe to say that upon moving to Grant County in 1866, Ms. Bingham did not receive a warm welcome from the neighbors. The women of the area “were of the opinion that the morals of the neighborhood would not be improved by having in their midst a common prostitute.”  When her cabin burned down, nine local men indicted for arson. The petitioners claim these men were honorable, respectable citizens who would never commit such a common crime and accuse Sarah Bingham of burning her own house down with the intent to disgrace these men. Their petition was refused by Bramlette, who, like myself, must have realized there was more to this story.

Patrick

 

 

The Conundrum of Gun Control in War-torn Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Gun control—particularly when it concerns the ability of private citizens to carry concealed firearms in public—is one of the most controversial and hotly-contested political issues twenty-first-century America has to offer. Conceptions of the past often play a major role in how the debate is framed. When we imagine the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, there’s a tendency to envision everyone (minus slaves) legally carrying a weapon whenever, wherever, and perhaps most importantly, however, he or she wished. From frontiersmen (see Jeremiah Johnson [1972]) and quick-drawing shootists (see The Outlaw Josey Wales [1976]) to gamblers and their belly guns (see Maverick [1994]) or even Jim West’s spring-loaded Derringer (see The Wild West [1965-69]), pop culture has done much to reify that America was, in its “frontier days,” a gun-toting nation. What most observers don’t realize, however, is that this seemingly modern debate over the right to bear arms has actually been raging since the 1860s—and nowhere was it more intense than Civil War Kentucky.

In May 1866, John L. Peyton was indicted in the Hopkins Circuit Court for carrying “concealed deadly weapons,” which essentially meant that he’d left home with a revolver tucked under his coat or hidden in a pocket. The law in Kentucky that regulated concealed weapons dated back to March 1854:

Sec. I. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: That if any person shall hereafter carry concealed any deadly weapons, other than an ordinary pocket knife, except as provided in the next section, he shall be fined on the first conviction not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars, and on any subsequent conviction not less than one hundred nor more than five hundred dollars.

Sec. II. That the carrying of concealed deadly weapons shall be legal in the following cases:

  1. Where the person has reasonable grounds to believe his person, or the person of some of big family, or his property, is in danger from violence or crime.
  2. Where sheriffs, constables, marshals, and policemen carry such weapons as are necessary to their protection in the efficient discharge of their duty.
  3. Where persons are required by their business or occupation to travel during the night, the carrying concealed deadly weapons during such travel.

Sec. III. This act shall be given in charge by the judges to the grand juries.

According to his supporters, Peyton had good reason not to travel in Hopkins County without a gun. In February 1866, he’d been appointed the Superintendent of Freedman’s Affairs there and charged with overseeing the transition from bondage to citizenship of the area’s African American population. Neither task nor title won Peyton many new friends among local Conservative Unionists (those who’d remained loyal to the Union for sake of protecting the institution of slavery) or among Rebel guerrilla bands (some of whom hadn’t yet called it quits in 1866).

Peyton’s defenders dispatched a petition to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette requesting that the charge be dropped. Their plea was based on two mitigating factors. First, that “being an officer of law, duly appointed, and acting and believing it to be his [Peyton’s] right and that the circumstances eminently justified it, did carrying a Colts Navy Revolver about the country for protection, during a part of his term of office.” And second, “that it would have been unsafe for said Peyton or any one else in the discharge of a similar office in said county, to have gone unarmed in the country, owing to the presence of late Guerrillas and lawless characters, who would have delighted to murder the ‘Nigger Bureau’ as he was decisively and maliciously called by them.” In other words, Peyton’s circumstances adhered to the letter of the law; carrying a concealed weapon was a de facto requirement of his job and to condemn a man in his line of work for doing so was like asking him to commit suicide.

This was a problem Noah Allen faced a county away while defending himself against an identical charge in the Crittenden Circuit Court. Though not an agent of the Freedman’s Bureau, Allen was a discharged Federal soldier (formerly of the 17th Kentucky Cavalry) and, like many of his ilk, had been allowed to retain his sidearm for purposes of personal protection. Petitioners on his behalf noted that the “country was filled with desperate men, and Union soldiers were being murdered everywhere.” Worse still, while the law appeared to favor Allen’s case, the men doing the murdering seemed to control the justice system. “Our Rebel jury,” Allen’s supporters continued, “were not satisfied until he [Allen] was indicted” even though “Rebels carry their arms every where and not one have they ever been indicted.”

A few years prior to the petitions from Peyton and Allen, Bramlette had been asked to intervene in the legal proceedings against Richard Murray (1863) and Brutus J. Clay (1864). Murray, of Munfordville, Kentucky, was convicted of possessing a concealed deadly weapon and fined $100 when a revolver he was apparently hiding in his pants discharged and resulted in a serious injury. According to a petition penned on Murray’s behalf, he was unable to pay the $100 penalty for carrying the weapon because “he is now a cripple and will be for life” as a result of his self-inflicted wound.

skein imageClay, the son of noted Kentuckian Cassius M. Clay (and the namesake of Cassius’s brother, Brutus), was walking along the road one afternoon and stopped to throw a rock at a pigeon; he missed, and the stone projectile struck a bridge house. The bridge keeper, a Mr. Gale, became enraged and threatened to assault Clay—but retreated when the young man produced a revolver that had been concealed in his clothing. While their situations seem far more trivial than former Union soldiers being hunted by pro-Confederate guerrillas or a man accidentally shooting himself in the leg—and while neither seemed to meet the justifications for concealed carry as stipulated by state law—Bramlette granted each a pardon because he believed that “in a time of Civil War when every loyal man ought to be armed for defense; I think none should be fined for being armed.”

The cases of Peyton, Allen, Murray, and Clay underscored a set of deep, interconnected problems that plagued Kentucky—and its governors—during the war and its immediate aftermath. Though the state had remained loyal to the Union, many Kentuckians had only done so to protect their hold on slave labor and white supremacy. When war broke out in 1861, they couldn’t have imagined Lincoln or his Republican allies in Washington D. C. punishing their loyalty; even so, the Peculiar Institution was eradicated and, in response, violence against newly-freed African Americans and their supporters—that is, men like Peyton—exploded. (So much so that Kentucky became one of only two non-Confederate states to elicit the presence of Freedman’s Bureau agents.)

And then there were the guerrillas. Bramlette and his top commanders had struggled mightily to control them during the war and fared little better during Reconstruction, as irregular activity took on a decidedly pro-white, as opposed to anti-American hue. In turn, ex-guerrillas found more generalized support among white former Unionists. This alliance, combined with restrictive gun laws in the Commonwealth, made life exceedingly precarious for the likes of Peyton and Allen. On one hand, statutes against concealed weapons existed to protect civilians from guerrillas and outlaws—but did little to help former soldiers and current government agents when those civilians turned on them, formed terror organizations, and became guerrillas and outlaws. On the other hand, the “shenanigans” performed by Murray and Clay underscored that even in times of war, loyal men with concealed weapons could often do more harm than good—and made it difficult to justify officially loosening the reins on concealed carry during the war or afterward.

At first glance, the solution seems so obvious: to openly carry a sidearm. It was, after all, perfectly legal to do so in Kentucky during and after the war. In reality, though, there wasn’t a solution outside of carrying concealed weapons for Peyton and Allen, and both seem to have known it. To go totally unarmed meant certain harassment and potential assassination. To go armed so brazenly, however, essentially invited a fight; more to the point, it invited a fight with men who’d spent the war perfecting the art of killing and evading capture—and who had the ability to influence when and how juries enforced the 1854 statute. For lack of a better, more formal description, this scenario was simply a “lose-lose” for Peyton and Allen, a direct and unavoidable consequence of Kentucky’s unique Civil War and Reconstruction experience.

In the bigger picture, it was also a systemic problem for Thomas Bramlette and the state’s pro-Union government. Bramlette’s chief task as governor was to protect his loyal constituents—but as the nature of Kentucky’s war created a necessity for citizens to arm themselves in self-defense from guerrillas run amok on the homefront, it simultaneously created a necessity for Bramlette to more strictly enforce extant guns laws to protect certain citizens (read: Richard “the leg shooter” Murray) from themselves. It simply wasn’t possible for Bramlette to assuage both needs at once and the consequences of this inability continue to echo: the conundrum of self-protection vs. protection from self has been debated for 150 years since and shows no signs of abatement.

 

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


SOURCES: J. A. Skein to Thomas E. Bramlette, 6 Nov 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter KDLA); G. T. Wood et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, 10 Nov 1863, KDLA; Brutus J. Clay Affidavit, 19 March 1864, KDLA; R. J. Littlepage et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n.d., KDLA; Richard H. Stanton, The Revised Statutes of Kentucky, Volume I (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1867), 414.