Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Underground Railroad & Free Black Barbers


It seems that it was not unusual for free black barbers in Kentucky to assist runaway slaves. Georgia fugitive slave John Brown wrote about being helped by a Paducah barber. Louisville barber Washington Spradling both loaned money to slaves to buy their freedom and helped others make their way across the Ohio River to the free state of Indiana. 

White Kentuckians' attitudes toward free African Americans were often influenced by stories such at that shown above. White citizens perceived that free blacks not only threatened their ordered slave society by being examples for slaves to aspire to, but also by assisting slaves in escaping from their servile situations.

This short article was printed in the June 30, 1855, edition of the Louisville Weekly Courier. It claims that Louisville free black barber, Theodore Sterrett, who was apparently "well-known" in the community, ran off to Canada after running up debts and borrowing money from friends. However, the last paragraph identifies a different or possibly additional reason for Sterrett leaving town. Sterrett, much like the other free barbers noted above, had a reputation for helping runaway slaves; possibly even encouraging them to abscond. Did Sterrett perhaps help a slave or group of slaves with the funds he allegedly borrowed, or did he possibly fear being caught and imprisoned after assisting an escape and thus make his was to Canada in effort to avoid be remanded?

It seems that Sterrett had a barber's position that provided for his family, and since he was "well-known," he likely had plenty of customers. The article indicates that Sterrett "packed his duds, his wife and other things" and made his way out of town under the cover of night. It does not say anything about the rest of his family. The 1850 census lists Sterrett as a 31 year old "mulatto" barber, who was born in Virginia. In his household was wife Ann, who was 23 years old, six year old son Don, four year old daughter Lurena, and two year old daughter Sarah. Did Sterrett leave his children behind in Louisville? Or, more likely, did the article just not mention them. In addition to the immediate family, three other individuals were listed in the Sterrett household: 10 year old Heston A. Ewing, 16 year old John Helton, and 14 year old George Helton. Did these boys make away with Sterrett and his family, too?

Regardless of the true details of this story, it provides a good example of how white attitudes toward free blacks were often shaped..               

Monday, April 21, 2014

Frederick Douglass and Black Barbers


I found the short article pictured above in the January 29, 1855, edition of the Louisville Daily Democrat. Extremely brief articles of this type were quite common in mid-nineteenth century newspapers. They usually provided little in the way of significant news, were used to fill column space not occupied by advertisements or other real stories, and often attempted humor.

I am not sure whether this particular article has a truthful origin. Was the mixed-race Frederick Douglass refused service by a mixed-race barber in Biddeford, Maine? Honestly, it might be difficult or impossible to corroborate this story. I can confirm that the town of Biddeford, Maine, does exist, so at least that part was not made up. And, I would not be surprised to find that the rest of this incident did in fact occur. If it did, it provided perfect fodder for those wanting to denigrate Douglass, particularly those of the Democratic Party. Of course, Douglass made a career speaking out against slavery and attempting to bring equal rights to African Americans. What better way for his enemies to show Douglass in a bad light than to promote a story where he was not offered service by a "belubbed brudder" [beloved brother] black barber. Naturally, if the incident did occur, Douglass would have been disgusted with not being served. Douglass never felt below any man - white or black. 


Interestingly, Douglass used his various publications to voice his thoughts on blacks in the barber profession. Douglass viewed barbering as a menial service occupation that reinforced both white and African American perceptions of blacks as being subservient, docile, and unmanly. In addition, Douglass believed that black barbers imitated their white patrons, and instead of helping their fellow African Americans, used their spare time for non-beneficial pursuits and their earnings for conspicuous consumption. Douglass once wrote in his newspaper, "To shave a half dozen faces in the morning, and to sleep or play the guitar in the afternoon - all this may be easy; but is it noble, is it manly, and does it improve and elevate us." Douglass also advised black parents to guide their sons away from service jobs such as waiters, porters and barbers. He saw that the barbers' time waiting on their next customer as that of being wasted and unproductive. 

At least one black barber responded to Douglass' harsh treatment of his chosen profession. Uriah Boston, a black barber in Poughkeepsie, New York, claimed that he toiled in a respectable occupation that provided many black men with the opportunity to own their own business and thus elevate themselves and offer wages to their black barber employees.  

Perhaps Douglass was speaking primarily of those black barbers he was familiar with in the free states where he lived, who though restricted in many ways, were still not as curbed as those that operated in the slave states. Douglass may not have fully appreciated the fact that free black barbers in the slave states used their occupation to gain a measure of independence that few other jobs there could offer or were even available. In addition, Douglass was likely unaware that free black barbers in the slave states sometimes owned their own business, accumulated both real and personal property, and in some instances - like Washington Spradling in Louisville - used their knowledge and earnings gained through servicing white patrons to assist slaves in making their escape or purchasing freedom. 

Douglass image courtesy of the Library of Congress.   

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Slave Barber and Family for Sale


As one might expect, finding information on enslaved barbers here in Kentucky has been much more difficult than finding out about free men of color barbers. Due to obvious restrictions placed upon them traditional sources such letters, journals, and diaries are just plain rare if not nonexistent. However, some information has come to light though searching more unconventional source materials.

A while back I shared a captured runaway notice that advertised Jo Scott, who claimed to be a barber and had been caught in Trimble County, Kentucky. That ad also stated that Scott played the violin. Enslaved men who possessed additional skills were obviously more marketable than those that were unskilled.

The advertisement pictured above ran in the February 14, 1855, edition of the Lexington Observer and Reporter. The notice offered a five member family for sale. The father was listed as a good carriage driver, house servant, and barber. By noting all of the possible jobs that this man could hold, the seller naturally appealed to a broader audience of potential buyers. The purchaser could use this man as his personal driver or house slave, or could possibly hire him out to a local free man of color barber; the owner keeping part of the enslaved man's earned wages.

Along with the father of the family, the mother also possessed desirable experience in washing, ironing, and cooking. The oldest daughter (10 years old), too, was an experienced house servant. The other two children, were too young yet for much labor, but were potentially productive workers.

Sometimes ads such as these included language to the effect that the offered family was not to be broken up. Obviously, that was not the case here. If buyers desired only the skilled father, he could be separated from his wife and children. Or, if a trader preferred to purchase the children and not the parents, there was nothing that could be done to prevent their parting.

This harsh reality is one that resonated with abolitionists in an age of romanticism and one they capitalized on in both works of fiction, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, and fact, such as narratives like Henry Bibb's.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Black Barbers and the 1850 Kentucky Census


Well, today I finally finished going through all of the Kentucky counties in the 1850 census in my search for African American barbers. I did this for several reasons. First, I wanted to see where these men were primarily located. Knowing where they were will hopefully help me narrow down my search for even more of their newspaper advertisements. Second, I wanted to know what kind of property values they owned. Unfortunately, the 1850 census only gives real estate values. To get personal property values, one needs to search the 1860 census. Third, the 1850 census was the first census available that actually listed free persons' occupations. I am sure that in this census there were free men of color who were barbers but were either given a generic "laborer" for their occupation or were left totally blank for their profession. That is how it goes though, one just has to work with what one has.

There were a few neat things that turned up in my census search that I thought I'd share:

The oldest barber was 73 years old. His name was Doctor Perkins and he barbered in Augusta (Bracken County). He owned $400 in real estate.

The youngest, Seward Johnson, was 13. He was located in the 7th Ward of Louisville and was in either in the household or barber shop of Andrew Johnson, a 51 year old barber and possibly his father. It was interesting that Seward Johnson's occupation was given as the census form only asks for the occupations of males 15 years old and up. Other young barbers included: 16 year old Peter Mallery in Samuel A. Oldham's Lexington household; also in Lexington 17 year old Robert Taylor; 15 year old John Burney in Frankfort; 15 year old John Wilson and 17 year old Henry Hutchinson in Maysville; and, 17 year old Zachariah Mitchell in Bowling Green.

Not surprisingly, barbers were located in Kentucky's cities and towns. After all that is where the greatest customers were to be found. Having a barber shop in some rural outpost would just not have been good business sense. Suspected towns and cities such as Louisville (47 barbers), Lexington (9), and Frankfort (12) had the most barbers. Although Frankfort was less populated than Lexington, it likely had a few more barbers due to the fact that it was the state capital, and thus had a ready population that needed barbering services. Maysville had 8 barbers. Most other towns and cities had only a hand full of barbers. Danville (2), Augusta (1), Princeton (1), Hopkinsville (1), Cynthiana (1), Henderson (1), Nicholasville (1), Covington (2), Smithland (2), Paducah (1), Russellville (1), Harrodsburg (1), Shelbyville (2), Georgetown (4), Bowling Green (2), and Versailles (3). If I count correctly, that is 102 Kentucky African American barbers.

45 of the barbers were listed as "mulatto," while 57 were described as "black."

20 barbers owned real estate for a total combined wealth of $19,600. The average barber real estate owner thus owned $980. The wealthiest barber was 55 year old Louisvillian David Graves, who owned $4000 in real estate. These figures are almost certainly incomplete, as wealthy Louisville barber Washington Spradling and prosperous Lexington barber Samuel A. Oldham, were both noted as not owning real estate on the census, which is probably wrong. But again, you work with what you have.

As I made my way through the end of the counties alphabetically today, I was surprised to find a "mulatto" barber named L. Talbot, in Shelbyville (above image).  He was 46 years old and lived with his 51 year old wife and 7 year old daughter. Talbot owned $300 in real estate. Very neat!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wise Barber Advertising


Lexington African American barber Robert S. Taylor demonstrated savvy business sense when he advertised in the March 6, 1861, edition of that city's Observer and Reporter newspaper. In that issue, Taylor wisely did not post a sole advertisement asking customers to come to his shop(s); instead he ran two notices that attempted to appeal to customers staying at two different downtown hotels to come to his shop(s) for his services. 

Subtly, the advertisements appeared on different pages of that edition. The first ad, which appeared on page two, offered shaving service for customers staying at the Curd House hotel. Although the ad's headline boldly claimed "Curd House Shaving Saloon," the ad notes in finer print that Taylor's shop was "immediately opposite" the Curd House. It also stated that "expert barbers" were on hand to attend to customers' needs. In addition, it claimed that the shop was "open at all hours."

The Curd House was apparently located on West Vine Street between Mill and Upper Streets.  


Taylor's ad marketing to the customers staying at the Phoenix Hotel was on page three of the newspaper. The 1859 Lexington business directory lists Taylor's shop as being on the southwest corner of Main Street and Mulberry Street (now Limestone), which corroborates this location. Like the Curd House ad this ad boldly stated "Phoenix Shaving Saloon." In the ad Taylor claimed that he employed "none but the best barbers" and that his shop was "kept in a style to suit the most fastidious taste."

Looking at an 1855 Lexington city map, it appears that Taylor likely operated two different shops at this time. While both shops appear to be within relatively close distance to each other, they don't seem to be at the same exact location.

I have not been able to confirm whether the Phoenix Hotel or the Curd House employed their own in-house barbers at this time (many hotels and inns did in this era), but I would suspect that they did not and Taylor was attempting to capitalize on that fact with these ads. I would be surprised if the proprietors of these hotels would have let someone advertise for their hotels' customers if they had in-house barbers.

Robert S. Taylor must have been somehow been missed by the census taker in 1860, but is noted as a 17 year old mulatto barber in the 1850 census.  A Henry Taylor, who was a 19 year old  barber, and also described as mulatto, was living in the household of noted Lexington black barber Samuel A. Oldham in 1850. I would not be surprised to find that the Taylor men were brothers or cousins.

Taylor's advertisements show that antebellum black barbers were entrepreneurial in thinking. They clearly understood their amount of business - and thus their income - could be increased by marketing to white customers that read newspapers daily, stayed in nearby hotel establishments, and needed daily grooming services such as shaving.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Black Property Owners in the South

Continuing my search for secondary source information on antebellum black barbers, I found Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915, by Loren Schweninger. I became acquainted with Schweninger's writings several years ago due to his several collaborations with my favorite historian, John Hope Franklin.

A couple of Schweninger's past books examine two Southern barbers' experiences. In James T. Rapier and Reconstruction, the author provides a biography of this free black barber in northern Alabama, who became a politician during Reconstruction. And, in In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South, Schweninger and Franklin cover the Thomas family. One member of this fascinating family, James Thomas, who started as an apprentice (and was James Rapier's uncle), owned a barber shop in Nashville, Tennessee.

While Black Property Owners in the South certainly does not solely focus on barbers, it does include some coverage. Schweninger's intriguing statistics and conclusions are similar to those I am finding. On page 124, Schweninger claims of barbers in the upper South, "Some of them owned cigar stores or bathing establishments or ran small shops selling wigs, ties, lotions, and hats. Most of them invested heavily in city real estate. By 1860, their average realty holdings exceeded $6,500, two and a half times the average for their counterparts in the lower [Southern] states."

Later in his discussion about the post Civil War years, Schweninger contends that "The occupational transition from the antebellum to the postbellum periods was symbolized by the decline among prosperous barbers. In 1860, among realty owners in the South with at least $5,000 worth of property, 5 percent were barbers, and among those with at least $20,000, 10 percent practiced the same trade. By 1870, while the proportion with more than $5,000 remained about the same, those with the larger amount dropped from 10 to 5 percent."

Black Property Owners in the South consists of six chapters. The first chapter covers the understanding of property as was brought by slaves to the New World and provides background information on black property owners during the colonial and Early Republic eras. The next two chapters discusses antebellum property ownership among slaves and free people of color respectively. Chapter four looks at extraordinarily wealthy free people of color, particularly in Louisiana and South Carolina. Schweninger contends that a transition occurred that saw the most wealthy black owners shift from the lower South to the upper South after the Civil War.  Chapter five looks at postbellum black property owners, and the final chapter examines prosperous African Americans in the postbellum South.

The amount of wealth that some free people of color were able to accumulate was astounding and a true credit to hard work, frugality, and a strong business sense. But despite the amount of wealth free blacks were able to establish and pass on, they well understood - especially those in the antebellum years - that they walked a precarious road among their potentially jealous white neighbors. While some blacks were able to loan and even sue whites to collect debts, those acts were often done with great care as not to offend those with power.

As a supplement to the book's text (and what I considered a true bonus), Schweninger includes a number of primary source correspondence, petitions, and probate court records in the appendices.

Despite the numerous charts and figures, both percentages and dollar amounts, which I sometimes found distracting, Black Property Owners in the South is an important and eye-opening book, which clearly shows that property ownership was achievable even for slaves.  And, for free blacks, it was one of the few ways for them to exercise a measure of independence in a world controlled by others. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cool Civil War Photograph


Unidentified Confederate soldier
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Samuel A. Oldham Advertisements


I have mentioned African American barber Samuel A. Oldham in number of recent posts, but I believe that I have neglected to share any of his advertisements. The earliest of Oldham's ads that I have located (above) so far is one from 1835 that was printed in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette. In it Oldham - as often appears in black barber ads - thanks his past customers for their patronage. Then he promotes his "Bath-House" which offered that service "at all hours--night or day." Oldham next provided clear directions to ensure that potential new customers could find his shop. In addition, and apparently in effort to generate extra revenue, Oldham also advertised that he carried "fancy articles," which meant toiletries, and sold "jointed, alabaster, and wax" dolls, as well as "curls, wigs, and top pieces." I suppose by curls he meant hair extensions, and that his top pieces referred to toupees.  


The following year Oldham ran an extended column advertisement that covered much of same material as the previous ad. An interesting point this notice made though was that Oldham had "FOUR HANDS that he can depend upon as Shavers and Hair Cutters."   



The above ad, which Oldham ran in 1840, explained to his customers that he had relocated his shop or at least part of his business, to a new address. The ad says his dressing room has moved a block away from his old stand, but the ad does not indicate if the barber shop part had been relocated. However, it seems the bath house moved, too, as well as his "fancy store" that sold toiletries and other assorted goods.     


Oldham had at least two sons that followed him into the barber trade. As this ad by his son Nathaniel states, the son had learned barbering from his father in Lexington. The purpose for this ad, which ran in the fall of 1840, was to announce the opening of Nathaniel's shop. Another of Oldham's sons, Samuel C. Oldham seems to have only worked in his father's shop.   

Perhaps Nathaniel Oldham's Lexington shop did not prove successful, or maybe his father's business proved too competitive, because he eventually moved to Maysville, Kentucky. Nathaniel is listed there in both the 1850 and 1860 census. Samuel A. Oldham is listed in the 1850 Lexington census as 56 years old and son Samuel C. as 22. Oldham the elder was not listed as having any real estate property in 1850. In 1860, father Oldham was 66 and son Samuel C. was 33. Oldham was listed as having no real estate again in 1860, but was noted as having $1500 in personal property. 

The information contained in these advertisements is very valuable in providing a better understanding of their business activities. In addition, it will be interesting to map the location of their shops along with others in the Lexington city directory to see the density of competition for barbering services and to see where barbers chose to locate their businesses. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Black Barber John S. Goins "Schooled" at His Shop


In what is probably the most clever and creative antebellum black barber advertisement that I have so far located, Lexington's John Stratford Goins uses comparisons between his craft and that of an academic.

Goins opens the ad by calling his business a "scientific establishment." He then quickly labels himself a "professor of shaving and hair cutting." Goins' scientific establishment is also referred to in the ad as his "college," where he "delivers lectures" in his field of study, i.e. barbering.  Goins schooled his customers from "daylight until 10 o'clock at night."

This ad was helpful in that it provided an idea of what barbers charged for their services at that time. For one "lecture on shaving" Goins charged 12 1/2 cents, and 25 cents for a hair cut. In part of his "lecture room" (barber shop), he offered various grooming items, tobacco products, and, for the follicly challenged, he sold wigs and toupees. In addition, behind his "lecture room" Goins, like many other barbers at this time period, offered a bath house, which charged 25 cents per bath. Patrons also had the option of purchasing five bath tickets for one dollar. 


Although I was unable to locate census information on Goins, I confirmed his race with the 1838-39 Lexington business directory, which used an "*" to signify that he was African American. In the directory Goins was listed as John S. Goin at 25 East Main Street. His business was labeled as "hairdresser, mediterranean baths." It also appears that Goins lived at his business address. I have not been able to determine yet whether he owned or rented the location.

The year before the "scientific establishment" advertisement appeared, Goins ran an intriguing ad (above) that explained that he had previously operated his business in Frankfort, where he was "long known." The notice also states the he was now taking over the shop previously operated by G. W. Tucker. What is interesting about this is that Tucker had advertised his shop only months earlier in the same newspaper.

Goins' creativity and ingenuity in marketing his business is a pleasant surprise. To me it indicates that he thought "outside of the box" in attempt to bring business into his barber shop and thus increase his earning power.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Just Finished Reading - While in the Hands of the Enemy

If the hundreds of thousands of deaths and terrible wounds caused by the Civil War was not enough to make it "America's greatest tragedy," the physical and mental suffering inflicted on those that became military captives surely confirmed that label.

Ever since the Civil War ended in 1865 North and South have each had their fair share of apologists explaining why almost 56,000 soldiers died in the war's military prisons. Much of that past interpretation was given based on half truths and sustained by biased perspectives. In While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War, author Charles W. Sanders, Jr., goes a long way toward putting those old interpretations to rest with solid research from a wealth of sources. Sanders proves that there was plenty of blame to go around for all of those thousands of deaths.

I appreciated Sanders opening While in the Hands of the Enemy by providing a brief history of military prisons in America. His examination of prisoner camps in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Mexican-American War gave a better understanding for the situation entering and during the Civil War. Those lessons learned from previous conflicts were seemingly ignored or quickly forgotten though.

In hindsight it seems quite obvious that the conflict between the sections would not only produce death and wounds, but prisoners as well. And while many on both sides thought it would be a short war, little proactive thinking concerning prisoners of war was made. Early battles such as First Manassas and Balls Bluff opened both belligerents' eyes wide to the realities of holding captives.

On the surface and in the present it may not be that difficult to see how deep the animosity ran between the Union and Confederacy (they were after all at war), but the hatred especially comes through in the politics and motivations behind the establishment and then operation of Civil War prisons in both the North and South.

Sanders concedes that "difficulties such as organizational incompetence, inexperience, and chronic shortages of essential resources certainly contributed to the horrors," but he strongly argues that "Union and Confederate leaders . . .knew full well the horrific toll of misery and death their decisions and actions would exact in the camps." Using official reports as well as private correspondence Sanders implicates many big wigs on both sides.

Notorious prison camps such as Andersonville, Elmira, Libby, Camp Douglass, Rock Island, Cahaba, and Danville come in for the greatest amount of coverage.  And Sanders implicates men such as Union commissary general of prisoners Lt. Col. William Hoffman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and Commissary General of Subsistence Lucius B. Northrop for decisions that produced willful neglect and were designed to be harmful to those incarcerated.

One of the decisions that Sanders explores is the long held understanding that general prisoner exchanges were stopped by the Union due to the Confederacy's unwillingness to exchange African American soldiers. While the Union brass provided this explanation to the press, Sanders claims that the refusal to continue exchanges had more to do with keeping those captured Southerners off the field of battle and thus increasing the Union's manpower advantage. Simply, the Union could find more men to be soldiers while the Confederacy had a limited amount.  In addition, those Union soldiers that "bounty jumped" were less likely to do so knowing that prisoner exchanges were halted.

Sanders ends the book with a very insightful paragraph that succinctly summarized the work. "It is impossible to know the number of deaths that could have been prevented. What is clear, however, is that tens of thousands of captives would not have suffered and died as they did if the men who directed the prison systems of the North and South had cared for them as their own regulations and basic humanity required. Yet this was something that they very deliberately chose not to do. The failure to treat prisoners humanely, young Sabina Dismukes had warned back in 1864, would 'most surely draw down some awful judgement'; and at long last, that verdict must be rendered. For both the Union and the Confederacy, the treatment of prisoners during the American Civil War can only be judged 'a most horrible national sin.'

While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War is a revisionist work of art. Sanders' arguments are difficult to dismiss with the analysis and evidence he provides. I highly recommend this book about a too often overlooked and marginalized subject. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.      

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Way Up: Black Barber Apprentices


I felt very fortunate to find the Samuel A. Oldham Papers at the University of Kentucky's special collections. And although the collection only contains 26 items, to have any insight into aspects of the life of a free man of color barber here in Kentucky is quite amazing.  

One of the most fascinating items in the collection was an 1851 apprentice agreement (above) between Oldham and a father, who bound out his son, Henry Mitchell, to Oldham for 10 years to learn the barbering trade. Here is a transcription of the document:

I have bound my Son Henry Mitchell to Samuel Oldham till he is 21 Years old.

He is now 11 Years old on the 1st day of August 1851. To learn the trade of a Barber which said Oldham is to teach him & to have him as well Schooled as the nature of the case & condition of the Free blacks here will admit, and at the end of the time if Said boy behaves well and Serves faithfully is to give him a new Suit of Sunday clothes & ten pounds in money witness our hands and seals this 15th January 1851

Sam'l A. Oldham – Seal

Leaner Lervgin – Seal
His X mark

It seems quite logical why a free parent of color would want their child to apprentice with a barber. It was obvious to all that free black barbers were some of the most financially and socially successful members of the antebellum African American community. Enslaved and free blacks often sought out barbers for personal favors such as loans and serving as power of attorney.

These apprenticeships were likely a win-win situation for all involved; except perhaps those young men who did not particularly want to pursue the profession. The parents were able to place their child with a dependable individual who provided the young man with the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to make their own way in life at a time when professions were limited for African Americans. The barber received a long-term employee and revenue generator, to whom apparently he did not have to pay wages.


In the 1850 and 1860 Kentucky census records I have located a number of young men that were listed as apprentices. Other young barbers were listed in the households of established barbers, but were more than likely apprentices. For example, Samuel A. Oldham's household, in 1850, included his son Samuel C. Oldham, 22 years old, Henry Taylor, 19 years old, and Peter Mallery, 16 years old.  

One Lexington barber, G.W. Tucker, even included a "help wanted" addendum to his 1836 newspaper advertisement (above), which sought two young apprentices to work in his shop.

Apprentice opportunities with barbers provided a unique chance for young free men of color - and likely some slaves, too - to take some preliminary steps toward a measure of economic independence.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Another History Mystery Solved

Last year I was able to fit a few pieces of information together to help find the identity of a previously unnamed but photographed USCT soldier.  A couple of weeks ago, I encountered another conundrum. I shared some Kentucky barber advertisements from the early nineteenth century and pondered on how to determine if they were African American.

I am happy to say that of those three barbers, whose advertisements I showed, I now know the race of at least one. I feel that I have to give partial credit for finding out to plain good fortune, but a measure of persistence helped some, too.

One of those barber advertisements was for a Lexington man named Solomon Bundley. I had been unable to locate Solomon Bundley in the census, but had found an African American Solomon Bunley in Louisville in 1880. I reasoned that the 1880 Solomon - although his last name was spelled slightly different from the advertiser, but phonetically virtually the same - may have been the advertiser's grandson. However, unfortunately, that did not give me much to go on.

Yesterday, I visited the Special Collections at the University of Kentucky to see the Samuel Oldham Papers. Oldham was a free man of color barber in Lexington, who ran a shop for over thirty years. I had hoped that I would find some nuggets of information in his papers that would help me.  I'm glad to say and I wasn't disappointed.

Among a number of interesting pieces of information, I came across a power of attorney for one Reuben Bunley given in 1835. In it Bunley explained that his father, Solomon Bunley (ah ha!), had purchased a house and piece of property back in 1808 which had since come under dispute. Reuben Bunley gave Oldham power of attorney to compromise and settle this claim.

Although Reuben Bunley's choice of free man of color Oldham as his power of attorney made me fairly confident in my belief that he, and thus his father, Solomon, were African American, I still wanted more solid information to raise my level of confidence. Having Reuben Bunley's name (which the power of attorney document obviously provided) gave me the missing link of information I needed. Then, searching the 1850 census for Reuben Bundley, I located a free man of color (described as black) of that name in Louisville, who was listed as 58 years old, and, who was - you guessed it - a barber.

Interestingly, Reuben Bunley is listed twice in the 1850 census, both in the 2nd District of Louisville. In the other one he is indicated as Reuben Burnley, a 55 year old black barber. I am not sure why the different ages were recorded by the census taker, but I speculate that one recording was done in the barber shop in which he worked and the other was done at his home, as his family is listed in that second record.

Regardless, my question about the race of the 1813 advertising Solomon Bundley is now answered to my satisfaction. Now, I just need to find out about Thomas Young and Charles Cummens.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Frankfort Barbers: Jones, Samuel, and Sims


This set of three barber advertisements struck me as intriguing when I ran across it in an 1846 issue of the Frankfort Commonwealth. I found myself wondering, did these three men request for their notices to be run together? Did they pool resources to potentially make their businesses more noticeable? Or, did the newspaper publisher just throw them together due to the similar services they provided? Evidence would seem to point to the former speculation as all the ads were listed as posting on January 1, 1846.

The top advertisement touted the shop of Q. B. Jones on Main Street. In 1850, Jones appeared in the census as a 40 year old black man worth $2000 in real estate; probably meaning he owned his shop. In his household was his wife Nancy, 22 years old, and their children, Orlando, Eugenia, and George.  Also listed in the home were Celeste Richards, Nancy Jones, Sarah Taylor, and a 30 year old mixed race barber named Jack Buckner, who likely worked in Jones' store.

By 1860, Jones had moved to Louisville's 6th Ward, but was still employed as a barber. In the census he was listed as owning $200 in personal property. He and Nancy were still married and son George still lived with the couple. In addition, other children listed were Ann, Dove, and Ellen. Also, a group of adult women lived in the Jones' home: S. Taylor, C. Allen, Bell Allen, and Fanny Allen.

Twenty years later, Jones was still in Louisville, but was listed as a "store keeper."  Nancy was noted in this census as "Nellie." Dudly Jones may have been a derivation of Dove in the 1860 census, as he was exactly 20 years older. Nellie Jones, 18, and Stella Jones 21, were marked as having attended school within the past year. The tradition of additional boarders in the Jones home continued as 35 year old Laura Bowman and 18 year old Henry Clayborn are also listed, both of whom had the occupation of "servant."   

The middle barber, Henry Samuel, advertised in the Commonwealth often during the 1840s, 50s, and 60s. His shop was on St. Clair near the Mansion House hotel.  A fire to the shop caused him to move in the 1850s a few doors down St. Clair. He was a well established Frankfort feature, who likely benefited from legislator business in the state capital. 

Barbers Nat (Nathaniel) Sims and Simuel "Sim" Ellis, noted in the bottom advertisement, worked in a shop on the southeast corner of Main and Ann Street, probably in the corner building shown below.


This building and those adjacent have since been demolished and the Farmer's Bank building (below) presently stands at that location. 

 
Sims is listed in the 1850 census as 35 years old and described as "mulatto." No real estate value is provided for Sims, so he likely rented the shop location in which he worked with Ellis. Sim Ellis is noted as 31 years old in 1850 with a black complexion, and in Nathaniel Sims' household.

In 1860, Nathaniel Sims was still cutting hair in Frankfort, where he was listed as 46 years old. Sims and Ellis seem to have parted ways in intervening years.

Along with these men, Frankfort supported at least seven other barbers in 1850. In 1860, that number reduced to a total of five barbers. Only Henry Samuel and Nathaniel Sims from the 1846 group of advertisements were listed as still cutting hair in the capital city on the eve of the Civil War.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just Finished Reading - The Soldier's Pen

I truly believe that it is essential to read primary sources in order to comprehend (as much as possible) the experiences that Civil War soldiers endured. When I say primary sources, I mean the letters, diaries, and journals generated at the time these events were happening by the men out fighting in the field. Sometimes authors of secondary sources rely on post-war memoirs, which are often clouded by time, faulty memories, and postbellum politics.

Many books containing collections of soldiers' letters are available to readers. Some are published journals or diaries of a single soldier, others are compilations that discuss a specific topic. The Soldier's Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War, edited by Robert E. Bonner, does neither. Instead, this fantastic book gives a soldier's eye-view through the duration of the war by providing excerpts from 16 combatants, 11 of which were Union and five who were Confederate. One of the Union soldiers was African American. All of the documents used come from the Gilder Lehrman collection.

The diversity of the soldiers chosen for study is certainly a strength of the book. According to Bonner "six of the men lived in the slave states in 1860, three were slaveholders, two came from relatively modest means, and one, a Kentucky Unionist, joined the Federal Army and became an enthusiastic recruiter of black soldiers. Among the ten soldiers from the free states were a free African-American from Syracuse, New York, a German-speaking artist from Manhattan, a Republican editor from rural Illinois, an anonymous satirist from Massachusetts, and an assortment of farmers and workers of differing ages, incomes, and levels of education."

Bonner provides an excellent and insightful introduction for the book. He then covers a diversity of soldier experiences: combat, homesickness, fatigue duties, physical illness, boredom, allegiances, rumors, politics, and much more, over six chapters by drawing on those experiences through the soldiers' own words. The final chapter, "Relics of War," provides a nice conclusion.

I was happy to find that Kentucky receives a fair amount of mention in The Soldier's Pen. As stated above, one of the soldiers' group of letters used by Bonner was a Kentucky Unionist. William Brunt was actually born in England, but had moved to the Ohio River town of Hawesville, Kentucky before the war. Brunt initially joined an Illinois regiment in 1862, and then was appointed to captain in the 16th USCT. Part of Brunt's duty landed him in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he oversaw a contraband camp. While there in the summer of 1864 Brunt wrote home to his wife. His sentiments were certainly not that of the majority of white Kentuckians, but Brunt's non-native status probably explains why.  He wrote:

"Well Martha Ky feel the smart a little, I think, for two thirds of those Contrabands in my charge are from Ky - I had a ritch joke on a Loyal son of Ky a week before last. Peter Threet of Todd Co Ky came here to get a family of his mothers slaves to return home with him - he plead in vain - they would no go. He then offered me 250 Dollars in Green Backs & said he would give me more if I would persuade them to go home & pledged himself to keep it a profound secret. I let him plead, not taking any offence at the proposition so that I could draw him out fully. I then flattly refused to accept the bribe - telling him it was principle - not money that I came into the service for. He hoped he had not hurt my feelings I told him no he had not - for I expected all Ky loyalists to violate all Federal Orders that did not suit their interest. I judge other mens loyalties by their own hearts. He then begged me not to report him - I told him I cam to do my duty - & so far I have done it regardless of the Commander of the Post, he had him arrested & Threet says he did not offer me the money as a bribe. . . .

Our camp is thorn in the side of Ky for their slaves come here by the score and the able bodied men go into the army. . . . I send the children to school . . . using the fine College building for the Contraband school - that galls the secesh here, they think it an outrage, to take the building erected to educate their children in & use it to educate their slaves in. But I tell them it is just - for many of the scholars are their illegitmate children & have as good a right morally as the legitimate ones. . . .

I am in glory now, I used to be called an abolitionist. I am one now practically. Please send me your Photograph Marttha. Give my love to Each & all your folks. Write soon & Direct to Capt. Brunt Box 442 Clarksville Tenn.

Yours Truly in Universal Freedom,
William"

Although this just one of the many letters included in the book, it shows the many issues that concerned soldiers.

If you are looking for book that lets you see the war in the many different ways that the soldiers saw it then The Soldier's Pen is for you. I highly recommend it.  On a five point scale, I give it a full five.        

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lincoln, Barbers, and Race


In my ongoing search for references to Kentucky's African American antebellum barbers, I came across the short article above. It was printed in the April 14, 1864, edition of the Maysville Dollar Weekly Bulletin. Apparently, it was a reprint from the Richmond [Virginia] Inquirer, and thus must be taken with a grain of salt. 

However, with that being said, it certainly speaks of Lincoln's style. He typically used a humorous story to attempt to get a point across, especially in one-on-one or small group situations.   


Lincoln's use of a barber for his story (if this tale is true) probably came from personal close experience. In 1860, the future president met free man of color William Johnson in Springfield. Not a whole lot is known of Johnson history, but he was apparently skilled with shears and razors, as he came along with the Lincoln's to Washington D.C. as a barber and personal valet. 


It seems that the White House staff did not take kindly Johnson's valet service.  There appears to be evidence that the lighter complexioned staff did not care to associate with the darker Johnson. The situation called for a change, so Lincoln wrote to the Secretary of Treasurer, Salmon P. Chase, to help find Johnson a different position (letter above). On occasion Lincoln continued to employ Johnson for various personal services. The relationship between Lincoln and Johnson is covered quite well in one of stories in the New York Times "Disunion" series printed a couple of years ago. It is certainly worth the read.

Unfortunately, Johnson died an early death. He passed away in 1864 from smallpox, possibly contracted from the president. A headstone in Arlington Cemetery simply reads "William H. Johnson, A Citizen." Whether that is the barber's final resting place is unknown, but it certainly an appropriate epithet for such a man. 

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cool Civil War Photograph


In this photograph an unidentified African American boy wearing a military cap and trousers stands in front of Union army camp scene backdrop. This young man was more than likely a so-called "contraband" who served as a Union officer's servant.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Park Day is Coming Up!


Are you looking for something productive to do? Do you want to make a contribution that really counts? If so, Saturday, April 5, 2014, will provide lots of opportunities to help out at Civil War site in your area.

The Civil War Trust has been sponsoring the volunteer-driven "Park Day" for over 15 years. Each participating location selects various duties that need completed in order to improve their individual site. 

You may get some blisters on your hands, a sore back, or dirt under your fingernails, but I guarantee you will be glad you took the time to help make a difference.

For more information and the locations needing your help, go to the Civil War Trust's Park Day page.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Social Relations in Our Southern States

I have recently enjoyed reading a couple of books that were published during the antebellum era. A previous post briefly discussed slave housing as it was described in A South-Side View of Slavery, which was originally printed in 1854. Earlier this week, I finished reading Social Relations in Our Southern States, written by D. R. Hundley, and published in 1860.

While often presenting deeply biased perspectives, these books' advantages are precisely that. These works allow the reader to see the time periods being described through the authors' eyes. This is especially true in Hundley's book.

I will not belabor you with Hundley's biography, but I will recommend its reading in the online version of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. In Social Relations, Hundley provides his impressions on the various class divisions of Southern society. His categories are: the Southern Gentleman (in which he would likely place himself), the Middle Classes, the Southern Yankee, Cotton Snobs, the Southern Yeoman, the Southern Bully, Poor White Trash, and the Negro Slaves. I found it interesting that he did not include free men and women of color in his categories.
Some of Hundley's class descriptions are quite similar. For example, there is seemingly not much difference between the Southern Yankee and the Cotton Snobs.  Likewise, little distinction is made between the Middle Classes and the Southern Yeoman, other than possibly the point that many of the Middle Classes were merchant men, while yeomen were largely farmers.

I found Hundley's examination of the Southern Yeoman as perhaps the most intriguing. Hundley describes these people as "nearly always poor," He claimed that "As a general thing they own no slaves." But, Hundley also contends that the Southern Yeoman "are almost unanimously pro-slavery in sentiment." His discussion of why these men were the way they were makes for a good  explanation as to why so many non-slaveholding whites eventually fought for the Confederacy.

Hundley boldly asked, "were you so situated [as the Southern Yeoman] would you dare advocate emancipation?" He continued, "would you be pleased to see four millions of inferior blacks suddenly raised  from a position of vassalage, and placed upon an equality with yourselves? made the sharers of your toil, the equals and associates of your wives and children? You know you would not." Hundley admits that the Southern Yeoman was not as educated as some of the other classes, but "they yet possess the hearts of men, of fathers and husbands, and they know as well as any political economist of you all, that their own class, in the event of emancipation, would suffer the most of all classes in the South, unless we except the negroes themselves."

Personally, Hundley's examination of the Negro Slaves as a class was the most disappointing. I was hoping for an intimate view of the minutia of African American life in the slave states through the eyes of a white man. But instead he provided a discussion on how the institution was providentially ordained and how slavery had served as a civilizing influence to blacks. In this chapter Hundley argued that "a man has to be educated to appreciate Freedom," but did not seem to want to comprehend that in most slave states an education - whether formal or informal - was not only not available to the vast majority of the enslaved, it was usually illegal.

I highly recommend reading Social Relations in Our Southern States. Its publication on the eve of secession and the Civil War, and its frank discussion of sectional divisions due to the institution of slavery should not be ignored. It provides an intriguing insight into Southern society, by a native Southerner, and it comes with all the baggage of that fact.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Early Kentucky Barber Advertisements


In contemplating the reach of my research on African American barbers, I did not know how far back I would be able to find information. And, let me state up front that I have not been able to confirm that the barbers mentioned here in this post were men of color. Unfortunately, at this point, the early census information has not been able to corroborate my suspicion that they were African American. 

The above advertisement ran the earliest of all those shown here. It was among the many diverse notices in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette on September 9, 1812. In it barber Thomas Young announced his movement to a new location, offered a wealth of health and beauty aids, and asked for the public's patronage. 


Young continued to advertise in the Kentucky Gazette. The ad immediately above ran on November 3, 1812. In this ad Young, like other later black barber ads, calls his customers his "friends." Young's notice wisely offered to this patrons "spanish and domestic segars, and prime chewing tobacco," all of which I am sure were popular with the men that brought him business.


Like Thomas Young, I have been unable to confirm that another Lexington barber, Charles Cummens, was African American. Cummens is listed in the 1818 Lexington City Business Directory, but racial distinctions were apparently not made in that early publication, and I have not been able to locate him in the 1810 or 1820 census. 

Cummens, like Young, was an active advertiser.  He placed notices about his business as early as 1813. The above as was in the December 19, 1814, issue of the Kentucky Gazette. In this ad he announced his skill in cutting hair and shaving. He also noted that he carried a line of wigs and hair "FAC SIMILIES." Along with these services, he listed a number of beauty and grooming products that were "just received from Philadelphia."


Cummins added a bit of poetry to his advertising when the above notice ran in the Kentucky Gazette on August 14, 1815.  The language he used is intriguing to me. What does he mean by the opening line "The Eagle suffers Little Birds to Sing?" And, is he making a point of being a black barber with the line "Pale barbers saw him spurn their bounded reign?" Hmmmm.


Yet another early ad was run by barber Solomon Bundley. This one in the Kentucky Gazette on September 28, 1813. Bundley made sure to give clear directions  to his business location. There he wished to be visited and show that he deserved "a share of the public patronage." 

If anyone has any information on these gentleman or can point me toward where I can find out more about them, I would greatly appreciate any tips. If I can determine that these men were African Americans that were advertising at this early point, it will make a strong case for my proposed argument and answer one of my big questions.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Free Black Barber's Adverstisements


Back last spring, while I was researching slavery advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War newspapers, I occasionally came across advertisements from barbers. Knowing that most barbers in slave states were African American, I made note of the advertisements, promising myself to return and do more research later. Back then I posted about Henry Samuel, a free black barber in Frankfort that advertised often the the Commonwealth.

One of the other initial advertisements I came across is pictured above. Of course, I wanted to try to find out more about John P. Glark to determine if indeed he was an African American, and any other information I could locate. At that time, little did I know that the barber's name had been printed incorrectly. The man's name was actually John P. Clark.

The above advertisement ran in the Lexington Observer and Reporter on October 19, 1861. In it Clark makes notice that his shop had moved to Short Street in Lexington. I intentionally left the advertisement below Clark's partially visible to show that these black barbers' ads were not segregated in any way from other businesses that advertised seeking patrons. The ad that lists "Ambrotypes" was a photographer in Lexington named Anderson.  


John P. Clarke [sic] is listed in the 1860 census as a 39 year old barber with $600 in personal property. Also listed in the household were Catherine Clark, a 29 year old seamstress, who I assume was John's wife, and six year old Ellen, who I'm guessing was John's daughter. In addition, Clark's home included Luther Dandridge, 17, an "apprentice barber."

Clark ran the advertisement above in the Lexington Kentucky Statesman, on January 1, 1861. Clark likely reasoned he could increase his business by posting in two of the city's newspapers. Apparently this ad noted his address before moving to the Short Street location. 

The language Clark used in the notice is particularly interesting, but perhaps not surprising given the time, location, and circumstances for his business. Like many other ads from black barbers that I have located, Clark thanks his customers for using his services and asks for their continued patronage.  


Clark's ad (above) changed looks when he again advertised in the Kentucky Statesman, on August 9, 1861. This ad, ran a couple of months before the very top notice, also informs the public of the moving of his shop to the Short Street location in the Old Post Office building. In this ad Clark uses the same service-style language. This ad asks not only for old customers to come by for their grooming needs, but also "as many new ones as possible."

I also found John P. Clark in the 1867 Lexington city directory. Apparently at that time he was no longer in business for himself but was working at the Southern Hotel. The directory listed Clark's home residence as being on Church Street between Upper Street and Mulberry. I would sincerely like to know what happened to Clark to cause him to lose his shop.

It seems that Clark's hard luck continued, for in the 1870 census, there is no mention of Catherine or Ellen Clark, who were listed with him in 1860. In 1870, Clark was listed as living in Alexander Clark's home (perhaps his father), and apparently out of barbering altogether as at the time he was working at a brickyard.

Did Clark's new location in 1861 prove to be more expensive than what he was earning in revenue? Did perhaps some personal demon prevent Clark from keeping his business and family? Maybe the competition drove Clark out of the barbering trade. After all, in that 1867 directory there were 18 black barbers listed in city in addition to Clark. In a town the size of Lexington the competition of haircuts and shaves must have been fierce. Perhaps it was a combination of circumstances. Or, maybe he just got tired of cow-towing to his so-called superiors.