Recovering and Preserving African American Cemeteries – Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Pinewood Cemetery COPYRIGHT Nadia Orton

Pine Forest Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina

The reverence attached to cemeteries and burial grounds, which have long been considered sacred sites, is an example of enduring Africanisms and cultural tradition in the African American community. Burial grounds have always been regarded as places where ancestors could be properly honored and provided with the dignity, care, and respect in death that had often been denied them in life.

Interest in the study of my family tree has led me to over a dozen cemeteries throughout Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and helped reconstruct a family legacy spanning over 400 years. Cemeteries offer an important, tangible connection to history allowing closer interpretation of days past than most other sources can. Genealogists and family historians have long recognized the benefit of cemeteries in the study of family history and an increasing popular interest in genealogy has led to an increased focus on them.  READ MORE

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, Georgia, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Richmond, Virginia, Wilmington

Portsmouth, Virginia: Eight local heroes to receive new headstones

Eight more local heroes to receive new headstones. They were all born enslaved, and risked all in their collective escape to freedom to fight against the institution of slavery. Over the years, their gravestones have become weathered, vandalized, and nearly forgotten. The replacement gravestones for Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Pvt. David Bailey, and Cpl. George Baysmore, have already been approved and delivered to a local monument company for installation. Now, five others join them, and will be installed soon, weather permitting. They are:

 

Pvt. Austin Smallwood (ca. 1845-1894)

Bertie County, North Carolina

Co. I, 14th Regiment, U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Smallwood USCT Copyright Orton 2010

Pvt. Austin Smallwood. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Richard Reddick (ca. 1847-1896)

Perquimans County, North Carolina

Co. F, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2010 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Richard Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Thomas Reddick (ca. 1838-1901)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. K, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Thomas Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 24, 2014

 


 

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris (1839-1902)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. A, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored infantry

Landsman, USS Allegheny

USS North Carolina, USS Cyane, USS Independence

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Morris USCT Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 5, 2011

 


 

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1844-1884)

Gates County, North Carolina

Co. G, 28th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

 

Sgt. Rodgers Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 22, 2012

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baltimore, Bertie County, Brazos Santiago, City Point, Civil War, Corpus Christi, Craven County, Gates County, Hampton, Lincolnsville, Maryland, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Perquimans County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Delaware: Tracing family roots, past and present

African American Cemetery Delaware - Copyright 2017 Nadia K. Orton

African-American cemetery, Kent County, Delaware, August 19, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

In mid-August, we attended a family reunion in Wilmington, Delaware, for two of the paternal branches of our collective family tree, lines that extend to the 18th-century in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County (est. 1765), and City of Portsmouth (est. 1752), and to Warren County (est. 1779), in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

On the way to the reunion, and in keeping with the theme of “family,” we stopped at this peaceful spot, a well maintained cemetery in Kent County, Delaware. It’s located near the birthplace of Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896), a free person of color and Civil War Navy veteran who was included in my first blog a few years ago. (Thomas is buried near my paternal great-great-great grandfather, Max Jolly Orton, also a Navy veteran, and other ancestors in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia.)

Walking through the sacred ground, I reflected on Thomas Craig’s family history, and wondered if any of his relatives were laid to rest in the cemetery. In all probability, they’re not, as the family moved to several areas throughout Kent and New Castle counties after 1855, when Thomas left Delaware and moved to New York City to enlist in the Union Navy. Still, it was nice to be able to visit the region, and forge another tangible connection to history, a moment only made possible through the protection and preservation of the cemetery. ♥

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Chesapeake, Civil War, Delaware, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Warren County, Wilmington

Portsmouth, Virginia: ‘Til Death Do Us Part’: The marriage of Pvt. Esau Bowers, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Bowers Marriage Cert Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Marriage certificate of Pvt. Esau Bowers and Lucy B. Williams. Portsmouth, Virginia, 1876.

 

“Til Death Do Us Part” – The marriage certificate of Pvt Esau Bowers, (ca. 1837-1877) Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and Lucy Brownley Williams, Portsmouth, Virginia, April 5, 1876. The minister who performed their marriage, Rev. John H. Offer, was also a Civil War veteran. Born in Maryland, Rev. Offer was a Sergeant with Co. H, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and served as the pastor of historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Portsmouth from 1871 to 1877.

Pvt. Esau Bowers was born enslaved, in Portsmouth, Virginia. According to marriage records, he was the son of Esau and Charlotte Bowers. When he was about twenty-six years old (as indicated in military records), he enlisted on July 6, 1863, at Portsmouth, Virginia, under (then) Col. William Birney, and mustered six days later at Arlington, Virginia. During the Battle of Natural Bridge (Florida), on March 6, 1865, Pvt. Bowers was hit by grapeshot on his lower right leg. Left on the field of battle, he was presumed captured by Confederate forces. Bowers was later returned to his company, or “exchanged,” according to George Connor, a fellow member of the 2nd Regiment, on March 8, 1865. Due to the severity of his injury, Pvt. Bowers’ right leg was amputated below the knee, and he spent awhile recuperating in Hicks General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, before being discharged from service in 1866.

 

Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. Library of Congress

 

Lucy was Esau’s third wife.  She was born on Easter Sunday, 1836, in Mathews County, Virginia. Lucy and her parents, William and Sally Brownley, were slaves on the Willow Grove plantation, owned by Thomas Smith, a wealthy scion of a prominent colonial family.

 

Map of Gloucester and Mathews counties, Virginia, 1862. Library of Congress

 

Lucy and Esau weren’t married very long before his health took a grave turn for the worse. Upon his return to Tidewater, Virginia, Esau continued to suffer from the complications of his amputation during the war. Often in pain, he tried to work as hard and often as he could, out of economic need, with the use of a prosthetic, then commonly known as a “cork leg.” Like many African American families in the region, Esau and Lucy were poor, and struggled daily to make ends meet. A foreman of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard noted that despite his determination and fortitude, Esau often had to take breaks, physically unable to work because of the consistent pain in his leg. Not being able to afford a doctor, Esau and Lucy depended on help from their neighbors, and those that tried to fill the void prepared salves for Esau’s leg.

 

Pvt. Bowers Portsmouth Orton Copyright 2010

Gravestone of Pvt. Esau Bowers, Co. B, 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry. Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 10, 2010

 

Pvt. Esau Bowers passed away on January 5, 1877. His headstone, in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), was provided by the Gross Brothers of Lee, Massachusetts. After Esau’s death, Lucy continued working as a washerwoman, and was a resident of Portsmouth’s Lincoln Park by 1900. She passed away soon after. The location of her grave in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex is currently unknown.♦

 

2 Comments

Filed under Arlington, Baltimore, Chesapeake, Civil War, Florida, Fort Monroe, Hampton, Maryland, Mathews County, Norfolk County, Slavery, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Four United States Colored Troops get new headstones

Four more replacement headstones for Portsmouth, Virginia Civil War veterans have been installed in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. These brave men, who fought for freedom and equality, were from Hinds County, Mississippi, Currituck County, North Carolina, and the independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Stay tuned for more updates!

 

Pvt. Zachariah Taylor, Company H, 5th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born September 2, 1846, in Hinds County, Mississippi. Enlisted on May 18, 1864, at City Point, Virginia. Mustered in seven days later at City Point, May 25, 1864. Mustered out on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina. Passed on September 4, 1909, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Taylor USCT Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton

Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010.

 

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2017

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017

 


 

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born October 8, 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 


 

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 


 

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Sgt. James Edwards USCT Mt. Olive Portsmouth Orton

Sgt. James Edwards, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

2 Comments

Filed under Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, City Point, Civil War, Currituck County, Galveston, Hopewell, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Mississippi, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Suffolk, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Three new headstones for local freedom fighters!

We just received word that three more local freedom fighters are set to get new headstones. Two have Bertie County, North Carolina roots, and one is from Portsmouth, Virginia. The headstones will be installed over the next few months, weather permitting. They are:

 

Pvt. Arthur Beasley Mt. Calvary Portsmouth copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Co. I, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. Mount Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 9, 2013.

 

Private Arthur Beasley, Company I, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born about 1840, Bertie County, North Carolina. Enlisted on August 2, 1864, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered in September 7, 1864, at Newport News, Virginia. Mustered out, February 4, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas. Passed away on May 8, 1896, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex).

 

Pvt. David Bailey 10th USCI Portsmouth Copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Pvt. David Bailey, Co. F, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 28, 2013.

 

Private David Bailey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born about 1840, Western Branch, Norfolk County, Virginia. Enlisted on December 4, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered in December 17, 1863, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out on May 17, 1866, at Galveston, Texas. Died on November 30, 1916, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912).

 

Cpl George Baysmore 36 USCI Portsmouth Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton

Cpl George Baysmore, Co. H, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. Mount Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 8, 2011.

 

Corporal George Baysmore, Company H, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born about 1835, Bertie County, North Carolina. Enlisted on July 13, 1863, at Plymouth (Washington County), North Carolina. Mustered in January 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out on January 17, 1866, at Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, an early discharge due to disability from gunshot wounds received at the Battle of New Market Heights/Chaffin’s Farm, September 29, 1864. He passed away on November 19, 1898, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). ♥

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baltimore, Bertie County, Chesapeake, Civil War, Craney Island, Fort Monroe, Maryland, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia, Washington County

Brunswick County, North Carolina: Close Encounters

Copyright 2017 Nadia K. Orton

Don’t mind me, I’m just a piece of driftwood!

 

Another great reminder; in cemetery preservation, the goal is to help record history, not become it. Be mindful of your surroundings, at all times.

Tread smartly, and carefully.♥

1 Comment

Filed under Brunswick County, New Hanover County, North Carolina

Portsmouth, Virginia: Replacement headstones on the way!

Yesterday, I was able to visit ancestral ground, and mark the grave locations of three Civil War veterans, freedom fighters all, who’ll soon get new headstones. Our family was able to set aside the money necessary to install them. A great day!

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010, Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2013. Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

2 Comments

Filed under Civil War, Currituck County, Hampton, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Perquimans County, North Carolina: Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry, Belvidere

Pvt. Josephus Riddick Perquimans NC Copyright Nadia Orton 2017

Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

A few days ago, our family visited the grave of Pvt. Josephus Riddick (1844-1925), of Company E, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. The concrete headstone stands about three feet tall, and contains the inscription, “husband of Mary Riddick,” perhaps carved by hand or pressed into the cement before it set. The marker is in very good condition considering its age, and was most likely made by someone skilled in working with the material. I wanted to take a picture of the gravestone without the vine obscuring the inscription, so we wet the stone face with a few bottles of water to loosen the vine’s roots, then carefully snipped it away. Due to the heat, it didn’t take long for the stone to dry. As a rule, we generally try to do as little as possible to a gravestone, but may return soon to remove the rest of the biological growth, as it contains acids that may further damage the stone.

Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1 USCC, with vine removed. Biological growth (i.e. lichen), remains.

In military records, Josephus is listed as “Joseph Redick.” He enlisted at the age of 21 on March 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia under Capt. Charles W. Emerson (d. December 17, 1905), formerly of the 3rd New York Cavalry. Josephus was born in Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia, and was described as five feet, six inches tall, with the occupation of “general laborer.” He mustered in at Camp Hamilton, in Hampton, Virginia. After a term of about two years, he mustered out on February 11, 1866 with the surviving members of his regiment at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

After returning to Perquimans County, North Carolina, Josephus married Harriett Ann Turner, daughter of Eliza Turner, on January 12, 1878. The ceremony took place at the home of Rev. Willis Whitehead. The young couple resided in Belvidere Township, where Josephus worked primarily as a farmer. According to census records, five children were born to Josephus and Harriett Ann, sons George, Henry, and James Herman, and daughters Josephine and Wincy.

Belvidere Perquimans Co. Sign - Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton

Belvidere Township sign, December 15, 2012. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

Harriett Ann Riddick passed away in 1914. Josephus later married Mary Riddick, daughter of Noah and (Harriett) Ann Riddick, on November 18, 1915, in Belvidere. Josephus died on October 15, 1925.

It’s exciting to discover and document a “new” U. S. Colored Troop, but I can’t take credit for finding his headstone; that honor goes to my father. He’d spotted it almost immediately. Josephus is a “Riddick,” and the surname is common on the paternal side of our family tree. Perhaps Josephus is another long-lost relative? Only time will tell…♥

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, Hampton, North Carolina, Perquimans County, Suffolk, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries

Accomack County, Virginia: Documenting a historically African-American cemetery, Father’s Day, 2017

Documenting a historically African American cemetery on Father’s Day (June 18th), 2017, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. One of the oldest, inhabited areas of the state,  it’s become one of our favorite family destinations. The cemetery is just north of the birthplace of a family elder, who was a much beloved and respected teacher and educator of historic I. C. Norcom High School, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Unfortunately, most of the oldest sections of the cemetery were too overgrown for closer investigation, and my father warned of snakes and other dangers that may have been hidden by the overgrowth. We observed some areas that had been cleared by family members in order to reach their ancestors’ gravesites, perhaps in observance of Decoration Day, or Father’s Day. It was an encouraging thought; we’ll return soon in the hope of further exploration.  ♥

Accomack County African American cemetery copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical African American cemetery in Accomack County, Virginia

 

African American cemetery Accomack Virginia copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical African American cemetery in Accomack County, Virginia

Leave a comment

Filed under Accomack County, Civil War, In Memoriam, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, Virginia

Edgecombe County, North Carolina: Historical marker dedication, State v. Will, 1834

State v Will marker Battleboro NC Copyrigh 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical Marker, State v Will, 1834. Battleboro, NC, June 10, 2017

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to join fellow members of the Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, for the dedication of the historical marker commemorating the landmark State v. Will Case of 1834. From the pamphlet distributed during the program:

The North Carolina Star, January 31, 1834

“On January 22, 1834, Will, a slave belonging to James Battle at his Edgecombe County plantation, Walnut Creek, killed a white man. The charges brought against Will at the time resulted in the State v. Will case, in which the North Carolina Supreme Court protected slaves from a charge of murder when acting in self-defense.

The day started with an argument between Will a slave foreman named Allen over the possession of a hoe that Will had made by hand. Tempers flared and Will broke the hoe before going to work at a nearby cotton mill. After learning of Will’s behavior, Richard Baxter, Battle’s overseer, set off on horseback with his gun. Allen followed with his whip. Confronted by Baxter, Will attempted to flee but was shot in the back. Wounded and running for his life, Will was overtaken. Armed with a knife, Will fought off Baxter. A deep knife wound to Baxter’s arm proved fatal.

Will was charged with murder, although a white man in the same circumstances would have been charged with manslaughter. After looking at the evidence Battle believed that Will acted in self-defense, and he hired two prominent attorneys, Bartholomew Figures Moore and George Washington Mordecai, to defend Will against the murder conviction.

The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that any slave under such provocation could only be charged with manslaughter. This challenged the 1829 State v. Mann decision which held that a master’s power over a slave was absolute and that the slave’s submission must be “perfect.”

Justice William Gaston, who wrote the opinion, said that the law required exceptions to the unconditional and absolute power over slaves as described in Justice Thomas Ruffin’s State v. Mann. Ina direct reference to Thomas Ruffin’s opinion in Mann, Moore had opened his argument with the point that “absolute power is irresponsible power, circumscribed by no limits save its own imbecility and selecting its own means with unfettered discretion.” Gaston reasoned that the act was “a brief fury” that left Will incapable of rational thought. Further humanizing Will he wrote that it was “instinctive to fly, human to struggle, and terror or resentment the strongest of passions, had given the struggle its fatal issue.”

It was Gaston’s conclusion that the law must treat slaves as any other human in such a case. He stated, “If the passions of the slave be excited into unlawful violence by the inhumanity of a master…is it a conclusion of law that such passion must spring from diabolical malice?” The decision was praised by abolitionists, covered by newspapers around the country, and cited as precedent in other legal cases. Will’s bold act of resistance served to humanize slaves in the eyes of the law.” (ncmarkers.com)

The dedication of the marker was held at the Dunbar Community Center in Battleboro, North Carolina. During the program, I learned that the director of the Dunbar Center and members of the Dunbar community had graciously allowed the center’s use for the program, and I once again appreciated the maintenance of ties between extant black communities and the preservation of African American history. The center was once a funeral home, donated to the community, and preserved and enlarged through several state and private grants. Others in attendance included representatives of the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Black Workers for Justice, and the Carolina Auto, Aerospace and Machine Workers Union (CAAMWU)  . The Benediction and Grace was delivered by Deacon Linwood Armston of Holy Temple Holiness Church, Tarboro, North Carolina.

Dunbar Community Center Battleboro NC 2017 Copyright Nadia Orton

Dunbar Community Center, Battleboro, North Carolina

 

Dunbar Center North Carolina Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Dunbar Community Center, June 10, 2017. Edgecombe County, North Carolina

 

Keynote Preservation State V Will Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Keynote speaker, Dr. David Dennard, Director African and African American Studies, East Carolina University, and member of the North Carolina Historical Commission

State v. Will is an extremely interesting piece of history, and it must be placed within its appropriate historical context, occurring between the publication of David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, and the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford case, or Dred Scott Decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that “a black man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect.” In 1834, Will, through his act of self-defense, had essentially asserted his own humanity. In the aftermath of the case, Will’s owner, James Smith Battle (1786-1854), sent Will to Mississippi, where he was later executed (by hanging) for the murder of another slave. As reported in an article by the News and Observer, Will’s wife,  “Aunt Rose,” was overheard saying “Will surely had hard luck.” On June 10th, the program held in commemoration of Will’s act of resistance provided some small measure of dignity to a man who was afforded so little in life. And in learning more of Will’s story, I came to fully  appreciate the symbolism inherent within the program’s location: in an early institution of the Dunbar community (former funeral home), preserved as a recreation and heritage center, and surrounded by living descendants of the enslaved on the Battle plantation.

State v. Will (1834), near Tarboro, NC, is the sixth historical marker sponsored by the Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Others include: African Americans Defend Washington (1863), Washington, NC; the Knights of Labor (1886-1890), Tarboro, NC; Congressman George H. White & Black Second District (1897-1901), Tarboro, NC:  Thelonious Monk (1917), Rocky Mount, NC; and Operation Dixie: Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing Campaign (1946), Rocky Mount, NC.

 

The Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina

“To recover, record, and promote the unique history of Edgecombe County experienced by members of its African American community.”

State v Will Historical Marker Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

State v Will Historical Marker. Battleboro, North Carolina, June 10, 2017

Leave a comment

Filed under Edgecombe County, Mississippi, North Carolina, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Virginia