Tag Archives: Orton

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. ♥

 

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

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.

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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). ♥

 

 

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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

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. ♥

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

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

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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

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

An African American cemetery in Virginia

Black cemetery copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

An African American cemetery in Virginia

 

On the road, and visiting an African American cemetery in Virginia. We’ve seen so many of these before; some in which our ancestors are interred. Acknowledged and preserved over generations, extant through the efforts of families and communities, despite all hardships and historical and current discrimination. Sacred ground; graves identified by modern stone, some handmade, or marked through memory and heritage.

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Filed under In Memoriam, The Descendants Corner, Virginia

On Memorial Day, Reflecting on African-American History – The National Trust for Historic Preservation

First Memorial Day plaque Charleston SC Copyright Nadia Orton 2015

Plaque honoring the first Memorial Day in the United States. Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 6, 2015

 

Every May, the nation marks Memorial Day, the longstanding tradition we use to recognize fallen veterans. The holiday has its origins in “Decoration Day,” originally held in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, when thousands of former slaves, Union soldiers, and missionaries honored Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison and were subsequently buried in a makeshift mass grave.

Historian David Blight recounts that after the soldiers’ proper burials, a massive parade followed. Participants decorated the graves with flowers, and clergy delivered speeches to commemorate the fallen.

My personal introduction to Decoration Day began with oral histories provided by my family’s elders. In rural Tidewater, Virginia, they told stories of Decoration Day commemorations stretching back to the 1880s. Parades began in African-American communities and ended at local black cemeteries. Families and friends honored their ancestors through song and praise, while their graves were cleaned and re-decorated.

They had good reason to pay homage: Many veterans had returned from the front lines of war to become leaders in their communities, forming masonic lodges, burial societies, schools, churches, and cemeteries. These institutions formed the foundations of post-Civil War African-American communities, giving their communities potential for the very type growth and development African-Americans had been denied in slavery. READ MORE…

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Filed under Charleston County, Civil War, Craven County, Mississippi, New Hanover County, New York, North Carolina, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Slavery, South Carolina, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Memorials to United States Colored Troops, Pt. 5 – Portsmouth, Virginia

Memorials to United States Colored Troops

A photo-essay series dedicated to the United States Colored Troops, and how they were remembered in contemporary news media

Pt. 5

Portsmouth, Virginia

Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

 

Dred Smith Lincoln Memorial Portsmouth VA Copyright Nadia Orton 2017

Pvt. Dred Smith, Co. G, 38th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. Commander, Silas Fellows Post No. 7, Grand Army of the Republic. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912)

 

“After an illness of two days, Mr. Dred Smith, an energetic and faithful member of G. A. R., died at his home, 612 Race street, Thursday, June 20, at 9 p.m. Funeral service was held at Emanuel A. M. E. church Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Sympathy is extended the family. Thus passes away another of the grand old landmarks.” — New Journal and Guide, June 30, 1917

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 27, 2017)

 

Sgt. Nelson Carney 10 USCI Portsmouth VA Copyright Nadia Orton 2015

1st Sgt. Nelson Carney, Co. E, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“Zion’s Oldest Deacon Dead – Mr. Nelson Carney, a well-known and respected citizen of Portsmouth, Va., died at his residence, 717 King street Sunday, November 1, at 6:15 p.m.

He was stricken at his home October 20, and sustained a brief illness of just eleven days. The funeral service was held Tuesday, at 2 p.m., at the Zion Baptist Church of which he was the oldest deacon and Sunday school teacher.

The rain did not prevent the attendance of a large number of members and friends who were anxious to pay the last tribute of respect.

Mr. Carney served in the Civil War and was a member of Silas Fellows Post No. 7, G. A. R. and Grand Chaplain of the Dept. of Va., and North Carolina.

Rev. J. M. Armistead conducted the service, and eulogistic remarks were made by Rev. E. E. Smith, A. Gomer, Commander Grandy of Dept. of Va. and North Carolina, G. A. R.

The floral tributes were numerous and beautiful and the casket was draped with a large American flag.

He is survived by five children, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a host of friends.

He will be greatly missed by both the church and community. His remains were interred in (Mt.) Calvary cemetery.” — The New Journal and Guide, November 7, 1925

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 23, 2015)

 

Alexander Gordon USN Portsmouth VA Copyright 2011 Nadia Orton

Alexander Gordon, USS Young Rover – Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“The funeral of Alexander Gordon, a well-known colored man, who died yesterday at his residence, 633 North street, will take place from the North Street A. M. E. Church Friday at 3 p.m. Gordon, who was 70 years old had a wide acquaintance in Portsmouth, where he had lived all his life, and had the respect of all who knew him. He is survived by his widow, two sons and a daughter.” — The Portsmouth Star, August 9, 1917

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, February 20. 2011)

Pvt. Edmond Riddick 36 USCI Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton 2016

Cpl. Edmond Riddick, Co. A, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“Death Claims Prominent Citizen – The funeral services of Com. Edmond Riddick, who died after a brief illness at midnight Thursday, took place from Zion Baptist Church last Sunday at 1:15 p.m. Rev. E. E. Smith, pastor, officiated assisted by Revs. J. M. Armistead, D. D., W. H. Willis and W. Miller. Rev. Smith spoke from those words, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” He paid a glowing tribute to Mr. Riddick’s loyalty and faithfulness to the church and community. Dr. Armistead stressed his straight forwardness and character, pronouncing it the best he has known in any man. “A Charge To Keep I Have,” and “I Am But A Stranger Here,” the favorite hymns of the deceased were sung. The Roland Hayes Glee Club sang, very effectively, “Sleep Sweetly, Tender Heart.”

The large concourse and numerous floral tributes bore unspeakable evidence of the esteem and worth in which he was held.

At the age of seventeen he enlisted in the Civil War, Co. A 36th Regiment U. S. C. Inf., served throughout the war, was honorably discharged at Brazos, Texas. Mr. Riddick was commander of Silas Fellows Post, member of Evening Star, Lodge of Odd Fellows, Grand Master’s Council and the Teamster’s Association.

Two sons, Richard Riddick and W. E. Riddick, survive him.

The following members of the Col. Young Post Spanish War Veterans, Moses Shepherd, Albert Holliday, Chas. Ahrens, Alex Davis, James Tann, Albert Baker and Hall served as active pall bearers. Messrs. L. Mingo, Mason, Solomon Vann Sr., Wellington Jefferson were honorary pall bearers.

The members of the Grand Army were with the family.

The body was laid away in the family plot in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.” — New Journal and Guide, June 26, 1926

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, February 6, 2017)

 

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Filed under Civil War, In Memoriam, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Portsmouth, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia: A sketch of the life of Valentine Griffin (1820-1894)

Distractions that lead to unexpected learning opportunities are curious things. The scourge of writer’s block was an unwelcome visitor this week, and thumbing through newspaper archives seemed the only remedy for sheer frustration. However, an interesting obituary in the Richmond Planet caught my attention. It featured a brief summary of the life of Mr. Valentine Griffin, an aged and much respected figure in Richmond’s African American community, who passed on March 16, 1894.

Richmond Planet, April 7, 1894

“Died at his residence, 1222 Buchanan St., Friday morning, March 16, 1894, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, Mr. Valentine Griffin. Deceased was born of free parentage in Charles City County, Va., worked as hireling until he became twenty one years of age. He removed to the County of Henrico, and there remained until the beginning of the Civil War. He was pressed into the service of the Confederates in the year of 1862, and placed upon the breast works. Near the close of the year 1863, he left the Confederates and went to the Union Army, and was placed in charge of the Commissary, where he remained until the close of the war.

He was with the Sherman Division in the far South, and it was some time after the surrender before he returned.

In 1866 he removed to his late residence in this city.

He was a member of the church for forty nine years; was a member of the Fidelity Division, Sons of Temperance for twenty years; was a member of the Rising Sons of Zion for thirty eight years, and the Daughters of Messiah for twenty nine years. In all these he was a faithful member.

All who knew him loved him, and he continually added to his host of friends. The principles of honesty, integrity, and sobriety, which were inculcated in childhood, and which are peculiar to and characteristic of himself, grew stronger as he grew to manhood; but in his declining years when nature began to fail him, they remained undaunted and the same; even imperishable shall they live. When he shall have mouldered away in forgotten dust, the philanthropist of ancient or modern times could not have left a richer legacy than he, ever had they their million extended from generation to generation. In tears of regret we leave Valentine Griffin to sleep the sleep of a peaceful citizen and a devout Christian and gentlemen.”

Immediately following the obituary was a testimonial to Mr. Griffin from Spencer T. Hancock.

Richmond Planet, April 7, 1894

“Dear Sir: Excuse me if you please. I want to say a word about my friend, Mr. Valentine Griffin. For twenty years I have known well. He was a pure, honest, upright Christian man. His word was as good as his bond. In all of his dealings with me for 20 years he never one time failed to fulfill a promise. If too unwell to attend to it himself, would invariable send a son or daughter.

In speaking of his afflictions to me he would cheerfully remark: ‘I am in the hands of the Lord. He knows best, and all that He does is right.’ I cannot express my feelings as I would wish, but a pure, good Christian man has left us to reap his reward, which I feel must be great. I am past three score and ten, have had dealings with a great many all over the country and never with a more honest, upright, Christian man than Valentine Griffin. What an example the has left for his children. May they follow it. May God bless us all, and may we all pattern after the life of this good man. He was my good friend, and I am proud to say, Valentine Griffin was my friend.”

A man of African descent, born free in 19th-century Virginia, pressed into Confederate service, escaped to Union lines, Sherman’s march to the sea? As a genealogist and confirmed history buff, this was simply too tempting. I had to dig a little deeper.

Half of my paternal ancestors from Virginia were born free from slavery, though that status didn’t necessarily make their lives any easier. One of the many restrictions placed on their freedom was the passage of a law in 1793 that required free African Americans to register every year.

“Free Negroes or mulattoes shall be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the town clerk, which shall specify age, name, color, status and by whom, and in what court emancipated. Annually the Negro shall be delivered a copy for twenty-five cents. A penalty is fixed for employing a Negro without a certificate; the Negro may be committed to jail. Every free Negro shall once in every three years obtain a new certificate.” (Black Laws of Virginia)

Forced to abide by the punitive measure, at age 21, Valentine Griffin registered with the Charles City County Court in July, 1841, along with siblings John, William Bolling, David, James, Cassandra, and Eliza Ann. His registration read:

“Ordered that it be certified that it appears to the satisfaction of the Court by the testimony of _______that Valentine Griffin (son of Reuben Griffin), a man of dark brown complexion, 21 years old the 15th of April last, five feet six inches high, scar on the fore finger of the left hand, and one or two on the back of the right hand, was born free in this County.”

Valentine’s obituary noted that he moved to Henrico County soon after his twenty-first birthday. Shifting to Henrico County documentation, I located a marriage record for Valentine and Nancy “Lewis or Adams” (per the document), on January 5, 1847. There’s evidence that several family members made the move to Henrico along with Valentine. Between 1851 and 1864, his name regularly appears on lists of free African American registrants with James and William Griffin, who may have been his brothers.

1854 Free Negro Tax List, Library of Virginia

In addition, I located what may be a “free negro” certificate for Valentine’s father, Reuben, who registered at the age of eighty-two in Henrico County Court on April 3, 1848. If correct, Reuben’s date of birth would have been sometime around 1766, which would appear to match the date of birth estimates for Reuben Griffin in the 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840 Federal Census records of Charles City County, Virginia.

Free negro certificate for Reuben Griffin, 1848, Henrico County Court, Virginia

By 1850, Valentine, Nancy, and son Malachi (Malachia), are documented in the Western District of Henrico County, and by 1860, are documented in Henrico’s Eastern Division, with children Joshua, Maria, and Jeremiah.

Valentine’s obituary notes that he was pressed into Confederate service in 1862.  I located his Confederate service record. In it, Valentine is described as a “helper, native of Virginia, citizen of Richmond,” and “free negro.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The use of the term “helper” is interesting; neither Valentine nor most free African American males between the ages of 18 and 50 had much choice in the matter. As the Richmond Dispatch reported on July 17, 1861, “any free negro duly detailed and notified as aforesaid, who shall fail or refuse to obey the requisition as aforesaid, shall be subject to the penalties provided by law for persons drafted from the militia and failing or refusing to obey such draft,” as per the regulations passed by the Virginia Assembly regarding “negro conscription.”

After the war, in the 1870 Census, Valentine is documented in Richmond’s Jefferson Ward, working as a tobacconist. Sons Malachi and Joshua worked in a tobacco factory, and daughters Maria and Sarah, and son Joseph were “attending school.” In 1880, the Griffins were living on N. 20th Street, with Valentine documented as a general laborer, wife Nancy keeping house, son Jeremiah working in a tobacco factory, and daughter Maria listed as a servant.

1877 Beers map, Jefferson Ward, Richmond, Va. Library of Congress

Spencer T. Hancock, who provided a written testimonial to the Richmond Planet in honor of Valentine Griffin, relayed a wish for Valentine and Nancy’s children to someday “follow his example, “ and if Mr. Hancock meant an industrious life spent serving their community, then by all accounts they did. Son Jeremiah B. Griffin eventually relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he married, and became a pastor. He passed away on March 31, 1910, as a result of a terrible trolley accident, as reported by the Philadelphia Enquirer. He’s buried in Merion Memorial Park, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Son Rev. Joshua R. Griffin, ordained in 1887, was a shoemaker by trade. He was also a mason, member of the Common Council of Jackson Ward, and later, a trustee and president of the East End Memorial Burial Association.  A small biography carried in an 1895 edition of the Richmond Planet, described him thusly:

The Richmond Planet. Date unknown

“J. R. Griffin was born in Henrico County, October 9, 1853. He sold daily papers during the war. Later he attended night school and also the public schools for several sessions after they were established.

On account of straightened circumstances, he went to work in a tobacco factory. He conceived the idea that he could learn a trade of some kind during his leisure moments, and accordingly served an apprenticeship under Mr. Smith, a shoe-maker who did business on 25th street, and Mr. Patterson (now deceased), who lived also in Church Hill.

In 1880, he went in business for himself____. He has done business within ____blocks of the present location ____May, ’81.

He served on the Republican City ____Committee one term.

He was judge of election of the 4th Precinct, Jackson Ward in1884 in the Blaine and Cleveland campaign when more than 800 suffragans cast their ballots for their choice.

In 1886 he was elected to the City Council when the reform movement swept the city. He was true to the nominees of the caucus, through all the exciting scenes.

In 1892, he was re-elected and served faithfully. He was again elected in 1894, which term he is now serving.

His motto is “Find the right, and stick to it.”

He is a member of Friendship Lodge, No. 19, A. F.M. He is secretary and has served six years. Has served as W. Master for five years.

He is Royal Arch Mason and is now holding the position of High Priest of Mt. Olivet Commandery, Knights Templars. He is now serving a third term as Eminent Commander, being elected consecutively. He served as District Deputy Grand Master three consecutive terms, and as Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of the State of Virginia. He has been superintendent of the Fifth Street Bapt. Church Sunday School since its organization. Although last summer he tendered his resignation it was not received.

He is a man of independent action, carefully weighing facts as presented to him and fearlessly acting in accordance with his convictions. Rarely losing his temper in a controversy, he is influential with those with whom he comes in contact. He is a pleasing speaker and possesses oratorical powers of which he may well be proud.”

Joshua married twice, to first wife Minerva Payne (ca. 1854-1904), and in 1909, to Virginia A. Stewart Miles, widow of Reuben Miles, and daughter of Thomas and Mary Stewart. Rev. J. R. Griffin passed on January 30, 1914, and is buried in East End Cemetery with several family members.

Son Malachia H. Griffin was also active in social welfare and masonic organizations in Richmond, including the Independent Order of Saint Luke. Malachi passed away on February 26, 1905. At the time of his death, he’d just been promoted to the position of watchman at the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. A description of his death and funeral was featured in the March 4, 1905 edition of the Richmond Planet.

“Seldom has there been a greater funeral display than was witnessed last Tuesday afternoon at the First Baptist Church, when Mr. Washington Early and Mr. Malachi Griffin, both faithful and devoted members of the I. O. St. Luke were laid away forever. There were about seventy-five carriages in the procession. One hearse was behind the other, both being preceded be a floral car, containing the costly designs sent by friends of the deceased.

Rev. W. T. Johnson, D. D., and Rev. Z. D. Lewis, D. D., were the principal speakers at the services, while letter after letter of condolences were read from friends and organizations. It was after 6 o’clock before the cortege moved to go to Evergreen Cemetery.

A peculiar feature of the affair was that Mr. Early had been watchman at the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. His death created a vacancy and Mr. Griffin, who was apparently well was elected to succeed him. He went on duty Saturday night and on Sunday morning, he was a corpse, dying suddenly after reaching his residence on North 8th St.

Previous to this Mr. Griffin had made arrangements for draping the hall in memory of Mr. Early and it later transpired that he was draping it for himself as well. The remains of both of them ‘laid in state’ at the St. Luke’s Hall and the funeral just described was the result. Funeral Director William Isaac Johnson had charge of the remains of both of them. Mrs. Maggie L. Walker, the accomplished official of the order was present.”

According to his death record, (George) Washington Early (ca. 1858-Feb. 25, 1905), Malachia’s predecessor, was from Cumberland County, Virginia, and noted as a “night watchman.” He was unmarried at the time of his death. Mary E. Griffin, wife of Malachia H. Griffin, who passed in 1918, is also buried in Evergreen Cemetery with her husband.

Gravestone of Malachia H. Griffin, Evergreen Cemetery. April 6, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

Independent Order of Saint Luke building, Richmond, Virginia. January 22, 2015. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

One question lingers: just where are Valentine Griffin and his wife Nancy buried? There are three candidate cemeteries, Barton Heights, Evergreen, or East End Cemetery. A trip to the Library of Virginia should sort that out. Until then, I continue to marvel at how one genealogy clue (in this case, an obituary) may illuminate a glorious path of discovery. It introduced me to the Valentine Griffin Family of Richmond, a free family of color from Charles City County, Virginia, and their legacy of social and political service to Richmond’s late 18th-early 19th century African American community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Charles City County, Civil War, Georgia, In Memoriam, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Obituary Files, Richmond, Slavery, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia