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.

Subject Guides: Slavery and Capitalism

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KYR-0001-004-0638Alanson Trigg to Thomas E. Bramlette, Mar. 1864
[Petitioner] could not owing to the condition of the County well bring these negroes from Warren to Barren County, in ^which^ your petitioner resides. Both ^Each^ of them had wives ^a wife^ in Warren County near a farm owned by this Petitioner for many years & on which he had kept his slaves. On selling his farm he did not want to sell his slaves & allowed them to remain in Warren out of humanity. But he placed them in the care & control of John Petty and Wm G Hendrick who promised to take care of & manage them as their own & if the law has been violated your Petitioner says others & not he violated it. Your Petitioner avers that there are not better behaved & more honest slaves any where to be found than the two mentioned in the Indictment & he humbly asks your Excellency to remit the fine imposed upon him

KYR-0001-004-1722 C. A. Wandelhor et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, Apr. 28, 1865
Polly Southgate is a free woman of Color and the slave so permitted to go at large is by the name of Caleb and both her husband and Slave. He makes a living for himself and family be engaging in Such jobs of work as he can get to do in and around Falmouth and the earnings of his labor so performed are the only means of Support for himself and family … Should she be required to pay the full amount of said fine. She will be compelled to sell her Slave and husband to do so. and will then be without any means of Support whatever for herself and children…

KYR-0001-005-0040Benjamin P. Cissell, Affidavit, Jun. 8, 1864
The affiant B P Cissell states that in the year 1856 he qualified as the Guardian for Samuel, William, Sarah, Carrie & Angeline Ten, that Samuel, William & Sarah has arrived at Majority he has divided the property & settled with said parties Carrie & Angiline are girl of quite tender years, & own under said division two slaves each, one owns a small girl & Phil, a man about 26 or 27 yrs old, the other a girl a boy named Dick about 14 years old. That these slaves are all the property said Children own that yield any income to raise & educate them. That for the year 1864 he had hired Phil to D R Burbank for 240$ Dick to same for $225. That neither of said slaves as he verily believes was fit for military duty, one of them, Dick was not even enrolled. That During the late raid of one Col Cunningham ^of the U S Army^ with an armed force of slaves in Union County said two slaves were captured on the farm of said D R Burbank in Union County & carried to Paducah or some part to affiant unknown and have never been returned and affiant has been informed that Said Cunningham insists that all said slaves are now forever free & refuses to allow any of them to return—

KYR-0001-008-0003 Thomas E. Bramlette to Kentucky General Assembly, Feb. 13, 1864
Since the commencement of the rebellion large numbers of fugitive slaves have been arrested and committed to jail, under the provisions of chapter 93, article 6, Revised Statutes.

This statute was framed in reference to peaceful relations, and to ensure those acts of comity, due from one State to another, of the same government.

The law was intended to secure to the owner the return of his slave.

This purpose of the law can not now be accomplished.

The hostile attitude of the other slave States to the position and relations of Kentucky, wholly precludes the owner, in hostile States, from the benefits of the law. He can not come here to prove ownership and reclaim his property. …

For whose benefit is the arrest and committall to be made? The owner can not be profited by it; and no Kentuckian desires to appropriate these fugitives to the public use; nor is it desirable in this questionable mode to increase that population, at this time, with its cumulative evils upon our people, in violation of the spirit of our constitution and the laws pursuant thereto, prohibiting the importation of slaves into this State, as merchandize. No one derives benefit from the law except the captors, who obtain the reward, and speculators, who buy at nominal rates, and by selling, shift the loss upon others.

KYR-0001-020-0438 W. H. Calvert to Beriah Magoffin, Jan. 14, 1861
I therefore beg your Excellency to give me further indulgence on the debts first respited by you until times grow better and money can be come at or until I can get a judgment to sell the land and slaves of James & John Williams for the payment of their debts. There was a division of the slaves of the Estate of Jesse Williams among his children on the 1st of January 1861 and five slaves were alloted to James & John Williams which are in my possession except a man who is in Jail under an indictment for Murder, with $900.00 a Boy aged 16 worth $900.00 a woman aged 40 years worth $700.00 A Boy aged 10 years worth $700.00 a girl aged 14 years worth $700.00 There will be about 160 acres of land coming from said Estate to James & John which will be worth $8.00 an acr all of which which will be sold for their debts to the commonwealth & others—the above is all the property that will be coming to James and John from their Fathers Estate, and I have already as above stated paid out for them nearly five thousand dollars, and am still indebted for them to the Commonwealth nearly four thousand dollars as the representative of their father who was their surety—.

KYR-0001-020-1206 Sparke & Gallagher to Beriah Magoffin, Jul. 23, 1861
Particular attention given to the purchase of Plantation and Levee Supplies
Wm. H. Sparke,
John T. Gallagher.
Office Sparke & Gallagher
Grocers and Commission Merchants.
No. 207 Main Street, between Second and Third
Louisville, July 23rd 1861
Hon. B. Magoffin
Dear Sir

The barer D. C. Kelley we are assured is worthy of the favor he asks at your hands and we hope you may do him the favor of remitting the fine as the party for whome he is bound has enlisted in the Southern armey and it would ruin him pecuniarly to pay the bond.

Very respectfully we remain Your frieneds
Sparke, &, Gallagher

KYR-0001-020-2183 Hiram McElroy et al. to Beriah Magoffin, date unknown
[Petitioners] will State that they verily believe that the death of Said Slave was owing to accident & a want of desertion of said Leonard, and free from any design on his part to take life—That said negro was notoriously vicious headstrong and ungovernable—had been hired out year after year, and was all ways returned to the owner, as soon as his character was ascertained—that Clements had hired him: and he chastisied him with the sole view of making him perform his duty; & not to take life but, said negro afterwards died either from the correction, or from some disease in his system that was superinduced by said correction to produce death

Clements has paid the owner of said negro $1600 for said negro—that he is a young man of fine family, Steady habits & moral character, we therefore pray for your Excellency to grant him a pardon & restore him to the bosom of his family & country & in duty bound they will ever pray &c

KYR-0001-023-0022 James G. Seach to Beriah Magoffin, Feb. 18, 1861
I have recd from Mr. Yancey a copy of his speech in the African Slave trade, delivered in the Alabama Convention the 18th Oct. He takes ground against it viewing it as a question of political economy, contending that the states Composing the Confederacy will have as much slave labor as will be profitable, and he therefore recommends the adoption of a provision in the Constitution prohibiting the introduction of Slaves as merchandize from any foreign source whatever. This will prevent Ky & other slave states that refuse to join the Southern Confederacy from sending their slaves for sale.

From what I can learn since my return this County is largely for Convention. Mr. Wright will have an Editorial in this weeks paper, severely, but I think justly, Commenting on the proceedings of the recent session of the Legislature.

KYR-0003-092-0084 W. H. Johnson to George W. Johnson, Dec. 2, 1860
I have not as yet been able to sell Harriett nor do I believe I shall be able to do ^so^ in the present condition of financial affairs in the country. The negro traders tell me they have not sold one this fall. I offered 2 negro men for sale, at public auction, belonging to the Black estate and did not get a bid on them. The rate of interest on money is so great, that every one who has it prefers it loaning, to investing in negroes or any other description of property. I have known the paper of the best paper houses in Vicksburg to sell for 4 per cent, per month discount. Under these circumstances would it not be better to send Harriett up to Miller’s place? She is doing nothing in Vicksburg. But if you still desire her to remain I will do the best I can, and in this event you must let me know the lowest price you will take for her.

Political affairs in this section are in a most critical condition. All of the Cotton States as they are called with the exception of Texas and Arkansas have called Conventions of their citizens or are preparing to do so. A great desire exists to establish a Southern Confederacy, the only question being how shall it be accomplished? Some are in favour of the immediate secession of each state, and then consult with the other ^slave^ states in regard to forming a Union amongst themselves— Others, and amongst them myself, are in favour of having a general consultation with all the Southern States, before either acts seperately. Having the same rights and interests at stake, I think it would be wrong in any one state to take such a position as would ^force^ others against their wishes to join her, without at least first consulting them on the propriety of the course. What will be the result of this movement, it is impossible to conjecture— It has already depreciated property to a most alarming extent, deranged financial ^matters^ beyond all precedent, and created distrust where good feeling should exist. A few months and these grave questions will all be settled.


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Protecting Slavery in a Union State: The Letter vs. the Spirit of the Law

By Matthew C. Hulbert

In October 1863, the Mason Circuit Court (based in Mason County, Kentucky) hit Peter Miller, a legally licensed tavern owner, with maximum fine of $50 for tippling. If this strikes you as odd, it’s because by its very definition in 1863, tippling meant selling alcohol or operating a tavern in which said spirits were sold without a license. Miller balked at the ruling. “I have kept a Bar in Maysville for a number of years,” he noted confidently, “and have always endeavored to comply with the strict letter and spirit of the law.” The fundamental hang-up in the Commonwealth v. Peter Miller, however, was that in this case the letter and spirit of the law actually veered in wildly different directions at the crossroads of slavery.

Chapter 212 of the Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Passed, Volume I, published in 1856, dealt specifically with the sale of spirituous, malt, or vinous liquors to both slaves and “free negroes.” (Note: the law more or less assumed that all slaves would be African American and thus did not label them “enslaved negroes.”) The statute read as follows:

It shall not be lawful for any person or persons in this commonwealth, either with or without a license, to sell, give, or loan to any slave or slaves, not under his or her control, any spirituous, malt, or vinous liquors, unless it is done upon the written order of the owner or person having the legal control of the service, for the time being, of such slave or slaves; and the written order here meant shall clearly specify the quantity to be sold, given, or loaned, and name the slave or slaves, and shall be dated and signed; and such order shall only be good for the one sale, loan, or gift; and the persons violating the provisions of this act shall be liable to pay the owner not less than twenty nor more than fifty dollars, or to be confined in the jail of the county, where such conviction is had, not less than thirty days nor more than six months, or may be both fined and imprisoned, at the discretion of a jury, for each offense, and also be liable for any actual damage sustained, to be recovered by suit in any court having jurisdiction.

The circumstances of Miller’s case aren’t all that complicated. In fall 1863, a “free negro barber,” Nathaniel Oldham, rented “the negro boy Ed” from a local slave-owner named Samuel W. Wood. And, according to undisputed court testimony, “while thus hired to Oldham, the boy and Oldham his master for the time, drank at Peter Millers bar and purchased from him at the County of Mason upon one occasion, the whiskey & beer drank having been furnished for & paid for by him in the presence of and at the instance of Oldham the free negro to whom he was hired.” So Miller was charged with tippling not for selling without a license, but for selling to someone who wasn’t allowed to be drinking alcohol, licensed or not. The bartender had a sturdy defense: Oldham temporarily owned Ed by virtue of the labor deal with Wood and that as Ed’s temporary master, Oldham held final authority over his chattel’s ability to consume alcoholic beverages. Miller further contended that Ed’s permanent owner, Samuel Wood, “cared nothing about the matter” and that the conviction had only been delivered because “political excitement was bitter at the time.”

Peter Miller on his Indictment

“Political excitement was bitter at the time and I was indicted…”

The law clearly favored Miller, especially on two points. First, As Ed’s temporary master, Oldham had legal control of Ed’s services and was in a position to legally purchase him liquor (re: “unless it is done upon the written order of the owner or person having the legal control of the service”); and, second, Miller clearly stated that the drinking only occurred once and it doesn’t appear that anyone disputed the assertion in court (re: “and such order shall only be good for the one sale, loan, or gift”).

The elephant in the room, then, is how Peter Miller was ever convicted of anything in the first place?

Our answer here lies not with the letter of the law—but with its spirit. The “political excitement” Miller referenced revolved around the increasingly-tenuous position of slavery in Kentucky. Lincoln’s war aims were changing; the demise of the Peculiar Institution had become a real possibility if the Confederacy faltered now and Conservative Unionists in Kentucky weren’t particularly pleased about it. (If slavery in the Confederacy went, what chance did it have in the nominally-loyal Border States?) So while he’d technically broken no laws in the Commonwealth, by serving two black men in his tavern—one free and openly exhibiting mastery over a slave, just like his white counterparts might do—Miller had violated the social and cultural mores that governed his own local, white community. In turn, the offended members of that community chose to ignore (that is, completely misappropriate) the particulars of the statute and punished Miller for his breeching of racial protocol.

Upon receiving Miller’s petition for executive clemency, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette quickly reversed the decision and remitted the $50 fine. In the process of interpreting the law, Bramlette exposed an ironic weakness within the institution’s white supremacist foundation: the spirit of slavery in Kentucky was unquestionably based on race (white > black) and constituted a pillar of the state’s social hierarchy (white slaveholders > white non-slaveholders > any African Americans).

But to protect the integrity of the legal codes which were intended to govern the behavior of slaves and how white Kentuckians interacted with them, Bramlette was forced to concede that, according to the letter of the law, a black master (albeit a temporary one in Nathaniel Oldham) could exert the same authority and claim the same legal rights as a white master. In short, Bramlette was forced to reckon with an unanswerable question: which was a higher priority, maintaining the racial hierarchy, or maintaining the institution (slavery) that enforced the racial hierarchy? Luckily, for thousands of men and women like Ed, before Governor Bramlette left office, President Lincoln and the Union army made his decision a moot point.

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


SOURCES: Peter Miller to Thomas E. Bramlette, 12 Nov 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter KDLA); Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Peter Miller, Judgment, n.d., KDLA; Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Passed, Volume I (Frankfort, KY: A. G. Hodges, State Printer, 1856), 42-44.

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KYR-0001-002-0010 T. J. McGibben to J. G. Foster, Jan. 26, 1864.
I am a loyal citizen of the state of Kentucky, residing in Harrison County, five miles from Cynthiana in said county. I am a farmer having about three hundred and seventy acres of land. I have a distillery and have for several years past distilled the grain of my own product on my farm, and fed and fatted my stock hogs upon the swill. I have about 400 barrels of Corn and 5000 bushels of wheat on hand. I produced most of this grain on my farm, and purchased a part of it, before any military order was issued restricting distillation. I have 900 hogs purchased and raised by me before any order was issued against distilling grain. It will require more grain than I have on hand to feed and keep said hogs. I will ^suffer^ great loss, almost total loss of my hogs if the grain is taken from me. The swill from the corn, in distilling it, will feed and fatten the same ^or greater^ number of hogs, being fed when warm, than the grain itself would feed and keep.

KYR-0001-003-0116William DeB. Morrill to Unknown, Aug. 8, 1865.
At this place there came into the Coach a woman with four small children. The children were crying with hunger. The Mother said that neither she nor her children had tasted a mouthful of food that day (past noon) I bought some food before we started, when we got to the hotel, had them stop & gave them all a dinner, I gave her ten dollars in money. She was entirely destitute. This woman was the widow of John White of the 3d Ky,, Cavly,, Govr Bramlette’s regiment. He, White died in the Service. The rebels had destroyed evrything at Mt Vernon, her home & even shot her cow, while she was milking it. some of the balls passing through her dress, & one wounding her little girl in the shoulder as I could see by the scar.

KYR-0001-004-0131James R. Dupuy, Affidavit, date unknown.
About two months before the death of the child (which occurred sometime in Feb 1863.) Levis who had purchased some strychnine for the purpose of killing some cats and pigeons that had been annoying him asked his wife for the poison…. He called Caroline & had her to bring him some beef which he took & cut into three peices, small peices, about 1 1/2 inches square & on each peice put some of the poison saying at the time that “here is enough strychnine (or poison) to kill a regiment of men”. Caroline standing near by with the remainder of the beef in her hand & hearing the remark Levi put these peices of meat under the house (the adjacent house) of a neighbor (a plank being off next the ground), placing the beef as far under the house as he could reach with his arm

KYR-0001-004-0441Merie G. Banks to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jan. 25, 1864.
my Husband was only a common Soldier his pay as you know was only $13, per month— which was not enough to support us. the duties which he had to perform were that of being guard at Barracks no 1. So his times was not occupied all the time, So he would Sell various articles of necesities to Soldiers at the Barrack and Hospitals, Such as fruits tobacco and cigars the profits of which in addition to his regular pay enabled us to live tolerably comfortable, But when he got these two packages of tobacco from the Boys, he though he would Sell it at wholesale. hence he offered it ^to^ the grocerymen Saying to the groceryman to Say nothing about it, the reason that he wished him to keep it a Secrect was that he knew that the Police would arrest him for Pedling without licens if they became conizant of the fact, So doing Such a small business he could not afford to take out license hence they requested Secrecy.

KYR-0001-004-0544 John G. Brookover to Maggie, Mar. 15, 1864.
I have had to Spend Some money in buying butter and vetetables that we cannot draw from the commissary department. These things are all very high in the army butter is worth 75cts and and one dollar per pound Green apples have been worth twenty and twenty five dollars per Bbl and have been Since last fall, and other things as high in proportion Whisky Sells for fifty cents a drink and from eight to twenty five dollars per gallon. I have not bot any of it in no form Since our army left Helena We could ^get^ a little there from the commisary department for Sixty cents per gal= Potatoes are worth ten and twelve dollars per Bushel and none Scarcly to be had at that price. We have had a little fight at South bend bend forty mile below us on this river the Rebels captured one of our boats loaded with commisary supplies: but our forces recaptured the boat and took one one hundred Rebel Prisoners

KYR-0001-004-2416 David Schroeder to Thomas E. Bramlette, Sep. 7, 1865.
I David Shroeder would respectfully state that in the month of November 1861 I purchased a cow of Joseph Nicholas on Market streret near 6th ^street^ in Louisville Ky in open market & in presence of Joseph Kramer & my son John then about 13 years old. On the following day I killed the cow and sent the hide to a tanner. One Geo F. Huber on the same day having lost his cow as he said, went to the tanner and there among about 20 green skins found one which he claimed as the hide of his cow. I was arrested & gave bail for my appearance at the next term of the Jefferson Circuit Court.

KYR-0001-004-2738 John Rice to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jun. 14, 1865.
The Grand Jury at that Term Indicted him for Tipling (that is for two acts of selling sprituous Liquor. …we have been Living for several years without Courts or Law & it was a very hard matter for Union men who remained her to sell any way—I am no Grocer or Tavern Keeper I had a small quantity of Apples which I distilled & had some little apple Brandy on hand this selling that I have Confessed is all that I Sold by the Small have no more on hand—& will not again be caught I am a Poor man & have a wife & several children to support a small mountain farm to make a Living on for them & if I am Compelled to pay the Judmt it will deprive my family of actual Comforts of Life & it will not be felt by the State hence I verry Respectfully ask your Excellency to Remit said Fine

KYR-0001-004-3439 John S. McGrew to Unknown, date unknown.
I beg leave to report that I have made a thorough examination of the Western Military Asylum at Harrodsburg Ky and found the grounds & buildings greatly delapidated, Yet they are intrinsically very valuable to the Government & it can be made one of the most beautiful and delightful Soldiers Homes in the United States. … there are ample out buildings of every kind including also fine green houses full of flowers grasseries & vineyards. and especially a very large amount of valuable fruit trees of every new and improved vaieties. There are two large vegetable gardens of about five acres each in a high state of cultivation handsomely laid out one of which alone was sold, last Year about $1000 of marketing after supplying the large family of the occupant. The vineyards are now yielding their crops and a good many barrels of wine are made from them annually … The tillable land would raise all the Corn Oats Hay &c necessary for the Establishment. The grass lands would sustain all the stock necessary to carry it on indeed all the necessary Beef & Pork could be raised upon it and the “House” could be made in a few years self sustaining from the labor of the Soldiers which could be performed by them merely as a healthy recreation

KYR-0001-009-0065 J. A. Cook et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, date unknown.
[Your Petitioners] state that they grain they have is nearly all of their own product, and that it is necessary to feed the stock they have on hand. Beside a large number of hogs to be fed by them, there cattle and some mules are kept and fed upon the swill. The grain is absolutely necessary to sustain and keep their stock. The hogs, mules and cattle are necessary for the country and for the army and the use they make of it must inure to the general and public benefit. And the taking the grain from them will inflict a serious and unpardonable loss and injury to them
and to their families, and they ask to be allowed to distil their grain—grain of their own product and that your Excellency procur permission to this effect and protectiion to them against molestation in distilling—They state that they are licensed distillers, have paid to the Collector of Internal Revnew the tax or license fees, as required by act of Congress.

KYR-0001-017-0163 John B. McIlvain & Son et al. to Beriah Magoffin, May 1861.
We the undersigned Manufacturers and dealers in flour in this City, have pititioned the Legislature. to pass a Law giving your honor the power to appoint an Inspector of flour in our City independent of the two that is appointed by our City Council, the cause which leads to this is set forth in our petition to the Legislature to which we refer you, Having a deep interest in the Commercial prosperity of our City, and knowing that the flour trade is rapidly increasing this point becoming one of vast importance and having had the benefit of W.G. Timberlakes services as an Inspector of Flour for the last three Years and having entire Confidence in his Judgment capacity and Integrity most earnestly recommend him to your Excellency for the appointment as Flour Inspector.

KYR-0001-020-0190John G. Carlisle and Joe G. Kennedy to Beriah Magoffin, Jul. 27, 1860.
Baker was tried for stealing a parcel of fruit trees; the evidence was altogether circumstantial, and it was the prevailing opinion among those who heard it the evidence, that he was innocent- He was himself a dealer in fruit trees and had on hand a large number at the time of his arrest-The owner of the lost trees examined those of Baker, and thought he identified some of his among them- Baker proved that he had for some time been purchasing trees in the Cincinnati market, but he could not prove that these identical trees had been bought there.

KYR-0001-020-1423H. Berlin to Beriah Magoffin, Jan. 20, 1860.
Now your petitoner Solemly avers that the true facts of the Case and these, He says that he Keeps a Tavern, near the Pork house of A. S. White & Co, at the head of Jefferson Street in the City of Louisville Ky, and that said slave was hired by his owner to work at sd pork house, and that on the day named in said in said indictment a white man came into the Tavern of the undersigned, with said slave, and represented that he was one of the managers of said pork house—that the slave was in his Employ & directed me to let him have a Dram of whisky, I done so, never thinking but that the white man was authorized to Call for the Drink

KYR-0001-029-0179 E. B. Davis et al. to James F. Robinson, date unknown.
Rebels passed through this county and stoled all of the horses he had which was one in number they took and destroyed all of his beading and clothes for himself and family destroyed all of his cupboard ware such as tea cups saucers plates knives and forks and all of his cooking utencels besides salt Bacon & Beef and fed out a quantity of corn &c and upon the whole he was Litterally destroyed as a house Keeper; and he was taken a prisoner by the Rebels and taken away from home at the same time.

KYR-0002-204-0044Military Board, Receipt to Foster Ray, Dec. 16, 1861.
The State of Kentucky
To Foster Ray Dr

Date of Purchase                                                                                             Dollars Cents
Oct 30th 1861 to Nov. 20

To 21107 lbs of Beef at 3½ cts pr. lb                           738      74
To 1199 lbs of Bacon 10 cts pr. lb                              119      90
” 66 Bushels potatoes at 25 cts pr. b                           16        50
” 2 Bags ground coffee at 22½ pr. lb                          51        75
” 500 loaves bread (of Shirley & Woolfork 3½          17        50
Louisville Ky) Freight on same                                   2          50
” 19 lbs ground coffee sent from home 22½                4          28
” 191 lbs green Coffee @ 19c                                      36        29
” 10 Chickens, 12½ Qts butter                                     1          50
” ½ Bushl Red Pepper in pods –                                 1          00
” 107 lb Sugar 13 cts                                                    13        91
” 1 Barrell Vinegar 5. 50                                             5          50
1009    37
for one thousand and nine Dollars & 37 cents –

I certify that the above account is correct and just, and that the articles have been accounted for on my property return for the [gap] ending the [gap] of [gap] 186[gap].

Jno M Harlan Col Ky Vols


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Civil War Governors at Keele

In a previous post, Patrick Lewis discussed the exciting opportunity to bring the work of CWG-K to the David Bruce Centre Colloquium held at Keele University in England. This video is the web version of his presentation. Watch it for a preview of the powerful social networks that CWG-K will be able to generate and analyze!

Understanding the Complexities of Slavery in Kentucky

Aside

By Tony Curtis

The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), in Frankfort, Kentucky, houses the largest collection of papers concerning Kentucky’s Civil War-era governors. Comprising a large portion of this collection are “Official correspondence and petitions related to appeals for pardons, remissions, and respites.” Each appeal for executive clemency provides historians with new glimpses into the complexities of Civil War-era Kentucky. One particular document, from the papers of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, opens a window on two relatively unknown aspects of slavery in Kentucky: slave hiring and slave marriages.

Slave hiring was a common practice across the commonwealth of Kentucky, throughout the larger Border South, and in many other slave states. While plantations did not comprise the majority of farms across Kentucky, slavery lay at the foundation of every aspect of the economy, society, and culture of the state. Many farmers, from small farmers to the urban businessmen, hired or hired out the enslaved on contract. In a March 1864 letter,[1] Alanson Trigg, a plantation owner, merchant, and banker from Western Kentucky, petitioned Governor Bramlette to “remit the fine imposed upon him” by the Warren Equity & Criminal Court “for permitting as was alledged [sic] two negro men slaves to go at large & to hire themselves.” “Owing to the condition of the County will,” he wrote, he was unable to “bring these negroes from Warren to Barren County, in which your petitioner resides.” As Trigg further states, “he placed them in the care & control of John Pelty and Wm G. Hendrick who promised to take care of & manage them as his own & if the law has been violated your Petitioner says others & not he violated it” and that “there are not better behaved & more honest slaves any where to be found than the two mentioned in the Indictment.” Not only did Trigg shift the blame from himself, he shifted the blame away from the two enslaved men and toward the two individuals who promised to “take care of & manage them.” According to an endorsement written by Trigg’s lawyer, J. B. Underwood, the two men accepted blame at the court hearing. However, Trigg was convicted and fined. Another endorsement by R. B. Hawkins supported Trigg’s claims and added, “The same privileges are given many other negroes in the town & country.”

Little is known about slave hiring across Kentucky, both in the urban and rural setting. Historians have noted that approximately 12 percent of the slave population in Lexington and 16 percent of the Louisville slave population were hired out in 1860, which is higher than Eugene Genovese’s estimate of 5 to 10 percent across the entire South.[2]

Alanson Trigg’s letter to Bramlette also includes a discussion of slave marriages—another important subject, about which historians continue to learn. Trigg states that he left his two enslaved men in Warren County under the auspices of supervision, and due to the fact that, “Each of them had a wife in Warren County near a farm owned by this Petitioner for many years & on which he had kept his slaves. On selling his farm he did not wish to sell his slaves & allowed them to remain in Warren out of humanity.” Why might historians and other researchers find this statement valuable? We still do not know enough about the prevalence of slave marriages and unions in Kentucky. Yet, while not supported by Kentucky law, marriages were often recognized by slave-owners on the same plantation or farm, or across property boundaries. Slaveowners engaged in this practice for several reasons, as a method to sustain the institution of slavery, as a means to increase their personal value, and as an avenue for increased connectivity of the slave economy. In short, more slaves, more slaveowner capital, more interconnectedness —the more sustained and entrenched the slave economy in Kentucky.

This document suggests several questions for future research on slavery in Kentucky: How common were cross-plantation or cross-farm marriages in Kentucky? What structures and networks sustained slave communities? What kinship ties existed among nuclear families and larger kinship networks, including enslaved women, and perhaps free blacks as well? Were enslaved men and women allowed to negotiate their own hiring out, or was this a relatively isolated incident that occurred within the context of black enlistment and the ultimate destruction of slavery? To answer questions like these, many more documents of this type will need to be found! But Trigg’s letter suggests we have more to learn about slavery in Kentucky.

[1] Alanson Trigg, et al., to Thomas E. Bramlette, March 1864, Office of the Governor, Thomas E. Bramlette: Governor’s Official Correspondence file, Petitions for Pardons, Remissions, and Respites 1863-1867, Box 9, BR9-508 to BR9-509, Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky.

[2] Aaron Astor, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2012); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage, 1974); and Jonathan D. Martin, Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004)

For Reading:

Barton, Keith C. “‘Good Cooks and Washers’: Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon
County, Kentucky.” Journal of American History 84 (September 1997): 436-60.

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Burke, Diane Mutti. On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Kaye, Anthony. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South. Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 2007.

Lucas, Marion B. A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation. Frankfort: Kentucky
Historical Society, 2003.

Martin, Jonathan D. Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 2004.

O’Neil, Patrick. “Posses and Broomsticks: Ritual and Authority in Antebellum Slave Weddings,” Journal of Southern History 75 (February 2009): 29-48.

West, Emily. Family or Freedom: People of Color in the Antebellum South. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

—. Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina. Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 2004.

—. “Debate on the Strength of Slave Families.” Journal of American Studies 33 (August 1999): 221-41.

—. “Surviving Separate: Cross-Plantation Marriages and the Slave Trade in Antebellum South Carolina.”
Journal of Family History 24 (April 1999): 212-31.