Category Archives: American History

Black History Month and the American Dream

            Each year during Black History Month, I enjoy listening to sound bites from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches.  My favorites are the so-called “Mountain Top” speech and the “I have a Dream” speech.  In the latter, Dr. King characterized the American Dream as a land where an individual’s worth is determined by the measure of one’s character and not the color of one’s skin. 

            If one compares America today with America during the fifties and sixties when I was in school, it cannot be denied that much progress has been made toward realizing Dr. King’s dream.  Even in Mississippi, Black and White folks can sit together in a fast-food burger joint—the dime store and drugstore lunch counters having long since vanished—and enjoy a hamburger, fries, and cola without fear of falling victim to a lynch mob.  And even though 12 o’clock noon on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America, some Whites and African Americans gather together for worship and prayer.  There are even some interracial churches, although theological differences and cultural preferences in style of worship will likely keep them from becoming the norm anytime soon.

            I believe that what Dr. King referred to in his “I have a Dream” speech was very different from what the Founding Fathers and their descendants desired.  The Europeans who came to America did not come to establish some utopian society of free speech, freedom of religion, or equality.  The indentured servants who were brought to Jamestown found themselves in servitude.  The individuals fortunate enough to live long enough to fulfill their agreed terms of service often found that the length of their service had been extended for some technical reason.  Masters were legally allowed to impose harsh punishments for alleged offensives, including whippings.  Some died as a result.  Some were disfigured or disabled.  It is estimated that roughly 60 percent of the indentured servants died before fulfilling their terms of service.  Some tried to run away, but where would they go?

            The Calvinist Pilgrims and Puritans came to New England to enjoy religious freedom.  But what did they understand by “religious freedom?” They left England because they could not reconcile their beliefs and practices with those of the Established Church of England (a.k.a,  Anglican).  They saw themselves as God’s elect, chosen by God for eternal bliss, while all others were sentenced to eternal damnation.

            The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Separatists of Plymouth Colony were Congregationalists, and if you lived within their jurisdiction, you had to be a member of the Congregationalist Church.  They believed very strongly in the separation of church and state, but they believed that one of the primary functions of civil authority was to punish those who violated God’s laws as defined by the clergy. 

            There was no freedom of speech or religion in the Puritan colonies.  Banishment from the settlement was the fate of those who refused to conform.  Punishments for violating Puritan laws included fines, imprisonment, pillory, stocks, whipping, ducking stool, public humiliation, hanging, tar and feathering, cutting off ears, burning, and even a hot awl through the tongue if an individual spoke against their religion.  Failure to attend church services was punishable by time in the stocks, a public whipping (adults and children), a fine of 50 pounds of tobacco, or six months of rowing.  Roger Williams (1635) and Anne Hutchinson (1638) are the best-known examples of those who were banished for refusing to conform.       

            I believe, however, that what Dr. King envisioned on that memorable day in Washington, D.C. was not so much the American Dream dreamt by our Founding Fathers as the myth of the American Dream.  Neither the Native Americans, women, nor enslaved Africans considered property that could be bought and sold were included among those who, “according to the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” “were created equal, that their Creator endows them with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence).  Those Europeans who came to America wanted to establish a land of opportunity, not a land of brotherhood.  They desired a land where the individual would be free to pursue their own economic gain unhindered by any moral or ethical precepts of Judeao-Christianity.  This version of the American Dream has been the motivating force in American history.

            Anyone who doubts the degree to which the vision of the Founding Fathers has been realized need only take a trip to their neighborhood Stuffmart Super Center.  One can be found on the edge of just about every community, large or small.  Often open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, they are surrounded by acres of free parking spaces filled with cars, vans, RV’s, and pickup trucks displaying bumper stickers proclaiming “God Bless America,” “NRA,” “Fight Crime Shoot Back,” “In Guns We Trust,” “In Jesus We Trust and He is Armed,” .and many more.

            Everyone is equal at the local Stuffart Super Center.  “Come as you are” is taken literally by Stuffmart’s loyal shoppers.  Many look like escapees from a carnival sideshow of human oddities.  Recently I saw a woman who was somewhat overweight.  She looked like a giant, round balloon with a head on top and four appendages.  She had taken a large portion of her frontal girth, like a big bag of liquid fat, and lifted it and placed it in the area usually occupied by an infant.  I am not kidding you!

            The inside of a Stuffmart Super Center is a wonderland of gadgets and widgets from all over the third world.  The shelves are filled with a cornucopia of cheap merchandise.  Whether or not one can afford to make a purchase, one can touch, smell, try on, and sometimes taste the goods offered for sale.  The smiling employees are not referred to as unskilled laborers, retail clerks, cashiers, or simply employees.  They are called “team members.” Pride in being a team member of a gigantic international retail empire helps team members to overlook the fact that they are working for minimal wages and no benefits, that in many cases, they are only part-time team members whose earnings qualify them for welfare. 

            Not everyone who walks down the aisles of their local Stuffmart Super Center is there to purchase necessary provisions.  Some like to simply “window shop.” They allow themselves to dream of upgrading their lifestyle by filling their cart with many things they never knew they needed to enjoy life.  Also, Stuffmart is a convenient place to meet friends.  If fortunate enough to have a Stuffmart Super Center with a snack bar area, friends can meet and remind each other how God has blessed America with material prosperity.  For a few moments, anyone can escape the nagging suspicion that in America, in the final analysis, the individual’s worth is determined neither by character nor skin color but by the balance in one’s bank account. 

            The Founding Fathers would no doubt smile with satisfaction if they could see how successful their experiment in self-government has been.  America remains a land of opportunity where the strong, industrious, and clever can succeed and enjoy the fruits of their success in the struggle for survival without feeling the need to help those who are losers in the struggle for survival.  Opportunity, not success or even a minimal standard of living, is the American Dream.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always go under the mercy

Back in the Day

There seems to be an abundance of nostalgia about that golden age in America’s history, the 1950s, and the 1960s.  It is particularly strong among those of us senior citizens born during or just after World War II, the last “good war.”  As with every generation before us, we become more sentimental about the past as we grow ever nearer to the end of our sojourn here on earth.  We tend to wander around antique stores remembering when we used this or that “antique” item before they were antiques.  We smile and comment on how if that item is antique, we must be antiques.  Nostalgia is a good thing.  It helps us remember the good times and overlook the painful ones.  But it is important to remember that it is an incomplete picture. 

            I recently took up writing a kind of autobiography or memoir.  I recall listening to my father talk about his childhood during the 1910s and 1920s, growing up as a child of German immigrants on a farm in Michigan.  I have some of his stories on cassette tapes and my mother’s stories of her childhood.  I want to leave a record of my life as I remember the good and bad times for my children, only I will do so in the form of a book complete with pictures and assorted “documents.”

            My first ten years were spent in a small village called Linwood along Michigan’s Saginaw Bay.  Most residents were either farmers or worked in the many factories that made Michigan one of the leading industrial states.  The role played by America’s industries in winning the war against Nazism, and Japanese imperialism resulted in the period from 1945 to 1980 being the golden age of the American working class.  A bright future envisioned by my generation consisted of taking over the family farm or finding employment in one of the factories after finishing high school.  Many of our parents, mine included, did not have a high school education, but they knew the advantages of having one and never missed the opportunity of stressing the importance of staying in school. 

            When I started elementary school in 1949, we had a picture of George Washington on one side of the blackboard (Real black slate!) and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the other.  There was an American flag in the corner.  We started each day with the pledge of allegiance to the flag.  “Under God” was not added until 1954, when I was in the 5th grade.  One teacher (no aides) was in a room with kindergarten through the third grade.  There were no guards, video cameras, lockable doors, etc., just a teacher and a room full of kids who knew how to behave and the consequences of not doing so.

            Linwood Elementary School had only three rooms.  The number of kids in each room varied yearly, but the average was 48.  There was only one teacher per room and no principal.  The method of instruction was simple.  There was a table with chairs at the front of the room next to the teacher’s desk.  That is where she taught.  She would call out, for example, “First-grade reading,” or maybe “Second-grade arithmetic,” or “Third-grade whatever.”  The grade called out would go to the table at the front, and the teacher would teach them.  The teacher was able to spend only fifteen to twenty minutes on each class.  The rest of the students were expected to remain in their seats quietly, working on whatever they were supposed to be working on. 

            I mention my first school because of the role that small country and small-town schools play in books, movies, and television shows meant to make the audience feel good about the past.  I call it a Hallmark, Little House on the Prairie, or Mayberry make-believe world that never actually existed, but we nevertheless enjoy remembering.  It’s a small part of the mythical history of America that includes pilgrims eating Thanksgiving dinner with Pocahontas’ family; slaves singing in the moonlight after a good day’s work for Ole Massa; and poor but industrious young men pulling themselves up from poverty to membership in that elite club of Robber Barons that included the likes of Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry Ford. 

            The nostalgic memory of America’s past includes a well-developed civil religion that goes something like this:  To enjoy religious freedom and take the Christian gospel’s good news to the New World’s heathen populations, the Pilgrims and other brave Protestant souls endured the long, harrowing journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of North America led by divine Providence.  After a patriotic war for freedom from England’s oppressive rule, the newly-founded United States of America set about fulfilling its manifest destiny to expand from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, eventually becoming what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the greatest force that God has ever allowed to exist on His footstool.”[i]

            The period 1945-1970 was, however, a time when America was still a mostly homogeneous nation with a worldview consensus derived from Western Civilization.  As some are quick to point out, it was dominated by white Euro-American males.  There were racial and cultural minorities concentrated in various locations, but they were kept on the outside looking in.  To the dominant racial and cultural class, they were basically invisible, humorous characters in movies and on radio and television shows.  Like the children in that small village school that is a part of an Idyllic past that never actually existed, those non-Euro-Americans knew how to act.  They knew their place, as we said in those days, and the consequences for not doing so, for presuming to be included in the opening line of the Constitution, “We the people,….” It was a cruel and unjust time in our history for many, not only cultural and racial minorities but women and those who chose to march to the sound of a different drum.  That America to which many Americans, myself included, look back with feelings of nostalgia is long gone, and thankfully so.

            My generation is the children of those who NBC Nightly News anchor and author Tom Brokaw called “the Greatest Generation,” those resilient and patriotic Americans who lived through the Great Depression and then fought in World War II.  Many, like my parents, experienced the Great War, later called World War I, and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1919.  They survived without the benefits of unemployment insurance (1941) or Social Security (1935), both of which were part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.  FDR’s opponents accused him of being a Communist, or at least a Socialist, for suggesting that the country owed its citizens assistance when the nation’s economy was experiencing a slump.  Many referred to the New Deal as FDR’s “Jew Deal,” communist and Jew being the same for many Americans. 

As we grew up during the 1940s and 1950s, our parents expected us to become mature adults.  We faced challenges that required courage and character to survive.  And so they instilled in us the same values that served them—knowing right from wrong, the difference between justice and injustice and always choosing the side of justice, a sense of fair play, and loyalty to our country, our family, and most importantly to the God of our fathers.  We needed their guidance and example of courage, for we were growing up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, expecting at any moment a nuclear holocaust.  At school, I learned the Duck and Cover song (1951) and how to follow the example of Bert the Turtle.  If we heard the explosion or saw the flash of light, we were to do like Bert the Turtle,

“When danger threatened him he never got hurt
He knew just what to do

“He’d duck and cover, duck and cover
He’d hide his head and tail and four little feet
He’d duck and cover!”[ii]

And then we would get under our desks with our hands over our heads. 

            A part of the nostalgia from the 1940s and 1950s was the lack of computer technology.  Many of us senior citizens find ourselves adrift without a compass in this new technological world.  We are frustrated, angry, and subject to panic attacks when trying to use our laptop computers that seem determined to thwart all our efforts.  Blessed are those of us who have a child nearby to ask for help.  I recall a Sunday morning when my wife and I were teaching a kindergarten Sunday school class.  It was when the movie “Frozen” was what the children discussed among themselves.  “What is your favorite character?”  “Do you remember when…?”  “What was your favorite part?”  Many of the children had some smartphone or other high-tech device within reach.  As I heard the word “App” mentioned repeatedly, I eventually asked, “What is an App?”  One little girl turned to the girl next to her and, smiling, said, “He doesn’t know what an App is.”  They all laughed.

Smartphones?  We communicated by telephone if we were lucky enough to have one.  Many, including my family, were on a “party line,” meaning more than one household had the same telephone number.  You had to learn your number of rings to know whether or not to answer the phone when it rang.  Long-distance calls were costly, so sending a Western Union telegram might be cheaper.  The local, national, and international news were broadcast over the radio or television if you were one of the fortunate few who owned a tv set.  Most people relied on the local newspaper delivered by the “paper boy.”  For visual images, we had Movietone News shown at the theater between the main feature, or features if a double feature, along with the mandatory cartoon and previews of coming attractions. 

My father brought home our first television set in 1952.  It was enclosed in a wooden cabinet and had a 12-inch screen.  We could receive only one station.  It was a NBC affiliate out of Bay City, Michigan that would sign on in the morning and off at midnight.  Black, white, and various shades of gray were the only colors on the screen.  Color was introduced in the United States in 1953.  The Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1954, was the first program broadcast nationally in color.  The Perry Como Show (1956) and The Big Record with Patti Paige (1957) were the first two regular programs broadcast in color.  The first all-color prime-time season was in 1966 when I was a Junior at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

Color television sets appeared in stores in January 1954 with price tags that placed them clearly out of the range of most consumers.  Westinghouse made available a color television in the New York City area in February 1954 that sold for $1,295 ($13,422 in 2022).  Thirty sets were sold during that first month.  Since we are looking back nostalgically at that golden age, it is worth noting that a new 1954 Ford Crestline 4 Door Sedan could be purchased for $1,975 when the median yearly income for men was $3,200.  It was not so good for women.  Their median income was only $1,200. 

I learned to drive in a car with a “straight stick” on the stirring column and a clutch next to the brake and gas pedals.  My first car, like all others, came equipped with air conditioning, meaning I could roll the windows down mechanically.  It had four gears, first, second, third, and reverse.  In winter, the heat came from a “heater,” a box located beneath the dash.  I learned how to signal the vehicle behind me my intentions by sticking my arm out the window.  If it was straight, I was about to turn left.  I was about to turn right if it was pointed up at a right angle.  And if I pointed it down at the pavement or gravel, I was slowing down or about to stop.  Most cars had bench seats in front, charming for taking your date to the drive-in theater.  We navigated with printed road maps given free at service stations.  Today’s GPS was spelled “map” back in the day. 

            For the guys, the military draft was always something that one had to calculate into any plans for the future.  Most men graduated high school at 18 and were soon called upon to serve their mandatory two years in the United States Army.  We had options.  Rather than wait for the infamous letter from the local Draft Board, one could choose to join one of the four military branches for three years rather than two or join the National Guard or a reserve unit of one of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Navy.  Unlike today, the Guard and Reserves were not used to fight wars.  They were “weekend warriors.”  They dressed up once a week to play soldier.  One way of avoiding the draft was to carry a purse to your draft physical when called up. 

            The female portion of the population did not have to worry about the draft.  War was a man’s sport.  It was considered uncivilized to send women into combat.  They were better suited for nursing and clerical jobs.  Hence the various women’s auxiliary corps—WAAC (Army), WAVES (Navy), WASP (Air Force), ANC (Army Nurse Corps), and SPAR (Coast Guard).  Women serving in the Marines were called simply Marines. 

            Being old enough to remember the 1950s and the 1960s, I have difficulty deciding which of the two decades is most worthy of nostalgia.  I yearn to make a return visit to both for different reasons related to my growing maturity and awareness of the world in which I live.  I see things and am aware of things today that I was not aware of back in the day.  I was unaware of the evils of segregation at home or imperialism abroad.  I was blissfully ignorant of the negative side of life that has always been, and always will be, present in every age. 

            We live in a postmodern age when the study of history is considered irrelevant, yet we keep hearing George Santayana’s prophetic comment, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is a cure for ignorance about our past, which is education.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when most educational institutions have abandoned the teaching of any history. 

            There are growing signs that historians are taking a new and more objective look at our nation’s history.  Many stories that were treated as history back in the day are being replaced with carefully researched narratives.  Both the positive and negative are given a fair hearing.  A good example of history replacing myth is exposing the “Myth of the Lost Cause” as a myth.              Still, there will always be a place for looking nostalgically back at our past.  When I was in the third and fourth grades, I did walk two miles to school in the snow during the winter and was happy to find when I got there that the furnace was not working and I could walk back home in the snow,

[i] Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the State of the Nation.,” Dwight D. Eisenhower Radio and Television Address to the American People on the State of the Nation. | (The American Presidency Project, April 5, 1954),

[ii] “Dick ‘Two Ton’ Baker – Bert the Turtle (the Duck and Cover Song),” Genius, accessed November 2, 2022,

Thoughts on Memorial Day 2021

Every Memorial Day we pause to remember those who served and those who died in the wars that involved our country.  Not all wars are included.  For example, we make no mention of the so-called Indian Wars that did not end until 1924.  Perhaps the latter are omitted because even the most nationalistic American tends to look back at them with shame.   

We are right to remember those who served, whether as volunteers or draftees.  Most, even those who could not understand why they were fighting, did so as a matter of duty to one’s country, and for many, it was more then that.  They believed, or were able to convince themselves, that they were fighting to defend their country and the noble ideals for which it stood, even if they were among those groups of citizens who were denied the ideals for which they fought.  Despite 200 plus years of history “We the people” remains a promise, a goal, a work in progress towards which we continue to strive. 

We see evidence of the cost the veterans paid in the many monuments that are often neglected except on Memorial Day or July 4, and we see it in the physical scars that some veterans bear for the remainder of their lives.  Often overlooked are the psychological scars that haunt many veterans with memories of war that cannot be exorcised by pills, liquor, or counseling.  The pain suffered often extends to those loved ones who live with the physical and psychologically wounded, or with memories of loved ones who lost their lives in past and present wars. 

During the fall of 1993 I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.  It was very late during the night, and yet there were still people visiting the memorial.  Some were very emotional.  Perhaps they were looking for the name of a son, husband, or father who died while serving his country.  The average age of those who served in the Vietnam War was 22.  The youngest to die in combat was only 15.  His name was Dan Bullock.

Dan Bullock was an African American who dreamed of one day becoming a pilot, police officer, or U.S. Marine.  At age 14, he altered the date on his birth certificate to say he was born on December 21, 1949 rather than 1953, and joined the Marine Corps on September 18, 1968.  He arrived in Vietnam on May 18,1969 and was killed in action just 20 days later on June 7. 

It took a lot of courage for a young man–dare I say boy—of only 14 to volunteer for military service during wartime.  He had to have been physically strong for his age and a strong spirited individual to have survived Marine boot camp.  I cannot help but wonder what he might he have become had he not joined, or having joined, survived the war?

Memorial Day should be a day of mourning not a day of celebration.  Cancel the parades, picnics, sporting events, and trips to the beach or the mountains.  Cancel all the Memorial Day sales and close all the stores and even the restaurants.  There is nothing to celebrate.  We celebrate positive events—births, weddings, graduations, promotions, anniversaries, etc. etc.  War is insane!  War represents the worst in human nature.  Although it has been with us since the beginning of human history, and will no doubt be with us to the end of history, any rational human being would agree that war has no victors.

A friend of mine posted on social media the official statistics on how many Americans died in our nation’s past wars.  As one might expect, World War II had the highest number of deaths, 291,557.  More then 7,000 have died in combat since 2001.  But as I mentioned above, the number of deaths is only a small part of the cost a people pay for participating in wars. 

Instead of listening to the national anthem and watching heroic war movies, listen instead to antiwar songs and read the memoirs and poetry of those who know the true meaning of war.  I have been told, and I believe it true, that those who abhor war most are those who have experienced it. 

I did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War.  I tried very hard not to be a participant.  As a historian by profession, I have studied the history of wars throughout the millennia of human history.  What have I learned?  I am not sure I can answer that question.  I remain puzzled.  I read once that Leon Tolstoy wrote War and Peace in attempt to understand why so many men would march halfway around the world to kill a bunch of people they did not know or have any reason to fight.  Did he find an answer?  I do not know.  Tolstoy was a pacifist, but pacifism is not a rational answer, unless of course, everyone was to become pacifists.   And how likely do you think that will occur, given the historical record of human folly?

So, I sit here on this Memorial Day with no desire to join the celebrations or go out shopping in order to show my patriotic support for the American economy.  In the past two years I lost a very good friend and a brother-in-law, both of whom I would like to have known much better.  Both of them served as officers in the Vietnam War.  One was a Marine captain; the other a captain in the Army.  Both lived the remainder of their lives with the after effects of the war.  The one was wounded 5 times and carried pieces of shrapnel around in his body.  The other could never forget those under his command who died, nor come to terms with the feeling that the United States abandoned the Montagnards whom they recruited to fight the Viet Cong. 

One thing I do conclude, sitting here thinking about this Memorial Day, is that the line from the Roman poet Horace, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” * often quoted to glorify war, is a lie, a very BIG LIE.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and live under the mercy.

*”It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.”

American Society and the Great War: A Book Review

The last time I attended a ballgame, actually a high school football game, was in 1957 or 1958. I was in the 8th grade. I snuck into the game along with a friend, not because we wanted to watch the game free, but because we wanted to flirt with the 7th- and 8th-grade girls who would be there. I have never had even the least interest in sports. I do not even know the rules for playing football, baseball, basketball, or any other sport. That said, why would I read a book about baseball?

Randy Roberts’ and Johnny Smith’s WAR FEVER: BOSTON, BASEBALL, AND AMERICA IN THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT WAR (New York: Basic Books, 2020) is a very enjoyable read about America at the end of World War I. The two authors, history professors at Purdue University and Georgia Tech, succeed in giving the reader a real feel for American life during our nation’s two-year experience in Wilson’s war to “make the world safe for democracy.” Not only did Americans go off to war as if on a Fourth of July parade that was soon overshadowed by the realities of modern industrialized mass slaughter, but at the same time had to grapple with the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Cheering crowds soon gave way to a public transformed by paranoia and fear of enemies within and without who threatened the pristine peace and prosperity of American life. The “war fever” and “Red Scare” that followed during 1919 and 1920 were a preview of what would follow World War II during the so-called “McCarthy Era.”

Roberts and Smith reveal the era through the lives of three individuals: Charles W. Whittlesey, Karl Muck, and George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Whittlesey was an intellectually-gifted young lawyer with a degree from Harvard. He was a great admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, easily inspired and influenced by the Rough Rider’s bombastic and inspiring rhetoric. Whittlesey found in Roosevelt a kindred spirit, an American hero he wanted to emulate.

Karl Muck was the popular and gifted conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Muck was born in Darmstadt, Germany, but became a Swiss citizen at age 21. He won acclaim throughout Europe, where he conducted all of the great orchestras and enjoyed the admiration and support of the cultured elite, including Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. Muck was an artist. He had no desire to become embroiled in the prowar fever fueled by the “yellow journalism” of Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst.

George Herman Ruth, Jr.’s grandparents were German immigrants. “Babe Ruth,” as he is remembered, and a sister were the only two of eight children who survived infancy. His father, a saloon owner, was unable to control his rebellious son. When George was seven years old, his father enrolled him in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible, and Wayward Boys, where he remained until he was twenty-one.

In April 1917, President Wilson led America into the Great War in Europe to rescue American business interests from financial ruin. War fever in the guise of patriotism seized the American public. Charles Whittlesey joined the American army. In October 1918, he was a major in command of the 308th Infantry, 77th Division, made up largely of New York City recruits who spoke forty-two different languages or dialects.

Whittlesey led a group of 554 men against the German trenches in the Meuse–Argonne offensive. Cut of from supplies and communications, Whittlesey’s command of the 77th Division, later known as the “Lost Division,” earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, he tried to return to the quiet life he enjoyed before the war, but the public adulation and constant demand for public appearances led him to seek escape by taking his own life in 1921, one of many postwar casualties of the “war to make the world safe for democracy.”

Karl Muck became a special target of the anti-German frenzy encouraged by A. Bruce Bielaski, Director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), and the American Defense Society, advocates of “one hundred percent Americanism.” Muck’s personal friendship with Count Johann von Bernsdorff, the German ambassador who was trying to prevent war between the United States and Germany, and his resistance to efforts to make the Boston Symphony an instrument of prowar propaganda, made it easy his enemies to accuse him of being a German spy. Muck was arrested in March 1918, the evening before he was to conduct Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion. His notations on the music score were alleged to be evidence of pro-German espionage activities. Karl Muck and his wife were deported in August 1919. He continued an illustrious career in Europe and refused all attempts to lure him back to the USA, even for a brief tour.

Although George Herman Ruth, Jr. was the grandchild of German immigrants and grew up speaking German, he did not experience the anti-German paranoia that many other German-Americans faced every day. Babe Ruth was the quintessential American antihero. His mother hated him, or so he claimed. His teammates called him “Cave Man,” “the Big Pig,” “the Baboon,” “Tarzan, King of the Apes,” and “Nigger Lips.” The last implied that he had black ancestry and was therefore inferior and less than a man.

Ruth more than lived up to the negative popular image of him being a throwback to the earlier primates. He drank more booze than any fish did water. He gambled with abandon on horses and cards. He was a regular at the brothels and seemed to prefer women who “would really appeal to a man who was just stepping out of prison after serving a 15-year sentence.” “He ate raw meat, seldom flushed toilets, treated farts as gifts to be admired, and enjoyed telling stories of his sexual exploits.” Babe Ruth was not a sophisticated gentleman.

Ruth was, if anything, a baseball player like none other before or since. America needed a folk hero, and the Babe was the perfect candidate. The sound of Ruth’s bat connecting with a baseball, sending it over the fence for a home run was symbolic of what the average American believed the American army in France would do to the German army, drive it back into Germany and surrender.

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith do an admirable job of capturing all the excitement and contradictions of American society as it followed blindly Don Quixote into a war to save the Old World from self-destruction. WAR FEVER is written as history should be written, that is, as literature to be enjoyed. They have done their research as evidenced by the extensive notes at the end. As one who taught history for over forty years, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good history book.

Not all Cinderella Stories have a Happy Ending

In a time when it was said that a woman’s name should appear in the newspapers only to announce her birth, engagement, marriage, and death, Rose Parker Stokes was the woman’s name most often appearing in American newspapers between 1918 and 1921.  She was also the subject of a popular novel, Salome of the Tenements, published in 1922.  Within less than a decade, her name disappeared from the public space, while the names of those who were key figures in her life—Eugene Debs, John Reed, Emma Goldman, and others—have never disappeared from scholarly or popular attention.

The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 was followed by a wave of pogroms during which “angry mobs rampage through towns, cities, and Jewish shtetls, or hamlets, raping women, looting shops and homes, and attacking Jews of all ages.”  Pogroms against the Jews in Russia were nothing new.  But the new repression that included new legal restrictions on the daily life of Jews and where they could live resulted in a wave of Jewish emigration to Western Europe and America.

Rosa Harriet Wieslander, an orthodox Jewish refugee from the Jewish shtetl of Augustów, was only 11 years old when she arrived in New York City in November 1890.  Like so many immigrant children, Rosa found employment as cheap labor producing, but not enjoying, the wealth that earned America before World War I the epitaph, “the Gilded Age.”

Rosa spent her first 12 years of employment rolling cigars.  She earned 77 cents for her first week’s work, roughly $22 today.  Later, she earned 13 cents for every 100 cigars she rolled, enabling her to occasionally earn as much as $8 in a week, roughly $240 today.

Immigrants, especially Jews, were looked down on by most Americans.  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge described those from Russia as “inferior people,” and as “dangerous to America as the Goths and Vandals who trampled over Rome.”  The author Henry James, after visiting the Lower East Side of NYC, described the Jews he saw there as “swarming . . . small, strange animals—snakes or worms.”  The future president, Woodrow Wilson, described the immigrants coming to America at the turn of the century as “multitudes of men of the lowest class [possessing] neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence.”  It was as if, Wilson said, that “the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population.”

Rosa’s life took a dramatic turn in 1903.  She was writing articles for the Yiddishes Tageblatt, the nation’s orthodox Jewish newspaper.  She wrote articles calling for an end to “Jew-baiting and Negro-lynching” and calling attention the grinding poverty in which the working classes lived.  One evening in July, she met young James Graham Phelps Stokes, a member of one of America’s wealthiest families.  Despite his wealth, “Graham,” as he was known, was committed to championing the cause of justice for the working classes, and after meeting and marrying Rosa in July 1905, advancing the cause of socialism.

Socialism prior to World War I was not smeared by an association with Bolshevism and communism that resulted from the Russian Revolution in 1917.  It attracted many evangelical Christians and reform minded members of the wealthy classes, who the press sometimes referred to as “millionaire socialists.”  Graham and Rosa joined the Socialist Party of America.  Graham ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1908.

Rosa’s marriage to Graham Stokes was a real-life Cinderella story.  Their residence of Caritas Island off Connecticut’s Long Island Sound coastline became a sort of aviary frequented by the who’s who of intellectuals who identified themselves as socialists, trade-unionists, anarchists, suffragists, poets, etc.  Among those in the circle around Graham and Rosa were, at various times, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, William F. Cochran, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, John Reed, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jack London, “Mother” Jones, Lincoln Steffens, and many more.  Rockwell Kent referred to Caritas as “the very citadel of the Socialist movement.”

Two events in 1917 doomed the socialist movement in America and eventually were responsible for destroying Cinderella’s marriage to her prince charming.  The first was the Russian Revolution that ended with a Bolshevik victory and the establishment Marist-Leninist totalitarianism.  The second was Woodrow Wilson’s decision to lead the United States into the Great War in Europe to secure a victory for England and France, thus protecting the immense financial investments of America’s bankers and industrialists.

Once the United States entered the war in Europe, Graham became an ardent supporter of the war effort, while Rosa became a fervent defender of the Russian Revolution.  Rosa never wavered in her support of the new Soviet Union, whereas some of her socialist friends who actually visited the USSR—e.g., Emma Goldman—returned totally disillusioned.  Rosa and Graham separated and eventually divorced.  Rosa went to Frankfurt, Germany in February 1933 to undergo a new radiation treatment for cancer developed by a prominent doctor who was an outspoken anti-Semite, who later became an SS officer who gave “a notorious illustrated lecture portraying cancer cells as Jews and victorious beams of radiation as Nazi storm troopers.”

Adam Hochschild is a historian in the best tradition of Barbara Tuchman, Paul Johnson, Bruce Catton, and others who write scholarly researched history in a style than can be enjoyable to read as well as informative.  I have read 2 of his earlier books, King Leopold’s Ghost (1998) and To End All Wars (2011) and adopted them as reading for history courses I taught as a history professor.  When I first heard of Rebel Cinderella, I knew I was in for a great reading experience.  I was not disappointed.  Rebel Cinderella appears at just the right time.  The 2020 presidential election has opened up interest in the history of socialism in America’s history, as well as comparisons of the era known as the Gilded Age and our own time, considered by many to be a second Gilded Age.

As both a retired history professor and one who enjoys a good book, I wholeheartedly recommend Adam Hochschild’s Rebel Cinderella : Rose Pastor Stokes: Sweatshop Immigrant, Aristocrat’s Wife, Socialist Crusader (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020).

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always go under the mercy.

A “Must Read” Book on the Vietnam War

As one who was in high school and college during the 1960’s, I have always had an interest in the Vietnam War.  I went to two draft physicals, one in 1964 and another in 1969, but managed to avoid being drafted.  I had many friends and family members who were not so lucky.

During my forty years as a history professor, I taught courses on the Vietnam War.  I read many books on the subject and talked to many veterans who served in Vietnam.  They too were lucky, in that they survived.  I have an abiding respect for those who served and morn those who died in a senseless and wasteful episode of the Cold War.  The Vietnam War was but one of a number of proxy wars fought between the two Cold War super powers.

Of the many good books on the Vietnam War, Daniel H. Weiss’ IN THAT TIME: MICHAEL O’DONNELL AND THE TRAGIC ERA OF VIETNAM (New York: Public Affairs, 2019) is the one I would recommend for the general reader who wants some understanding of the war without all the detail included in more scholarly books.

Daniel Weiss, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was deeply moved by the story of Michael O’Donnell, just one of 58,220 Americans and millions of Vietnamese who lost their lives in a war that should never have happened. Weiss lets the reader know at the outset one reason why he chose to write and publish this book at this time:  “I wanted to understand how a democratic government, presumably with all the best intentions and led by people who considered themselves honorable, effectively decided to sacrifice the lives of its own citizens to advance an ill-considered and poorly developed political idea.  If we understand the taking of life to be the ultimate human transgression, we need to understand how such decisions are made—in this case without a substantive understanding of purpose or consequences.”  Perhaps by sharing Daniel Weiss’ journey to understanding, we may be able understand why our national leaders chose during President George W. Bush’s administration to repeat that same error, taking us into the war in Afghanistan.

Michael O’Donnell was piloting a helicopter on a mission in March 1970 to rescue American soldiers trapped inside Cambodia.  After picking up eight, O’Donnell was ascending when his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and exploded in fireball.  Because of the enemy’s strong position in the area, and the fact that “officially” American forces were not operating inside Cambodia, the remains of O’Donnell and those who died with him remained in the jungle where they died until January 1998, when they were finally recovered and returned to the United States for burial.

Weiss does an admirable job of communicating the tragedy, not only of O’Donnell’s death and those who died with him, but of that whole era in American history.  This is a book that should be read by everyone who desires some real insight into that era.  I especially recommend it to those of us who were in high school and college during the sixties and still wonder why it all happened.

After reading IN THAT TIME, I recommend for those wishing further insight two additional books on the Vietnam War:  James Wright’s ENDURING VIETNAM: AN AMERICAN GENERATION AND ITS WAR (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2017) and Christian G. Appy’s PATRIOTS: THE VIETNAM WAR REMEMBERED FROM ALL SIDES (New York: Viking, 2003).

Until next time be good to call God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.


The Baby Boomers’ War

There are many books about the Vietnam War. Many more will be written. The war was a national trauma that we, the generation who experienced it either as soldiers or civilians, will never really get over. It was a major event during a period when what it meant to be an American was questioned and forever changed.

Historians have written narratives of the war. They have tried to understand how we became involved in a war that others in the world understood was unnecessary and unwinnable. Few Americans could have found Vietnam on a world map; much less had any knowledge or appreciation for the history or the culture of the Vietnamese people.

The nation’s military and civilian leadership were woefully ignorant, as well. Why else would military forces designed to fight a conventional war in Europe be sent to the jungles of Southeast Asia to fight a guerrilla war. High tech weaponry proved no match for the primitive weapons of the Vietnamese guerrillas.

President Johnson in 1965 referred to Vietnam as a “damned little pissant country.” He and those around him believed that America could bomb the Vietnamese into accepting our plan for their future. If necessary, we would bomb them back to the Stone Age. In pursuit of that goal, we flew over 3.5 million sorties over Vietnam, only 8 percent over North Vietnam, and dropped more than 8 million tons of bombs on an area roughly the same size as New Mexico.

By 1969, America no longer saw victory in the war as an objective. So why did the war continue until 1975? The lives of American and Vietnamese soldiers and the lives of the Vietnamese citizens meant little in the drama of American politics. Neither President Johnson nor President Nixon wanted to go down in history as the first American president to lose a war. Eventually, both became victims of the war they could not bring themselves to end.

The real subject of James Wright’s book is not why we fought and lost the war in Vietnam. Rather it is what the war did to the so-called “baby boomer” generation, those who served in Vietnam as well as those (myself included) who by luck or design managed to avoid military service. All of us were to some extent changed by the war.

The extensive research, especially the numerous interviews undertaken by Professor Wright, together with an obvious gift for writing a historical narrative that keeps the reader turning the pages, enables the reader to experience the trauma of the war. We are able to live it, or in some cases no doubt relive it. This is not a book that will leave the reader with a “good feeling.” ENDURING VIETNAM is a book that will enlighten all who read it, but will be especially meaningful for those who came of age during the sixties, those who lived with the war day by day, and for those for whom that experience will never end.

Slavery in Lynchburg, Virginia


     While a student at Brookville High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, I wanted to get just one thing out of school, myself!  I never considered the possibility of going to college.  Like many young men during the early 1960’s, I assumed that I would be drafted into the army soon after graduating in 1963.  What would come after that was anyone’s guess.

Rather than the army, I spent three years attending the Lynchburg Branch of the University of Virginia.  There weren’t any so-called community colleges in Virginia at that time, at least not that I am aware of.  The Lynchburg Branch of UVA was the forerunner of what later became Central Virginia Community College.  The Branch provided the first two years of college at a bargain price.  I believe the tuition was a mere $240 per semester, or was it a year?  I do not remember exactly.

Because I never thought of going beyond high school, I had to take several high school algebra and geometry courses in addition to the traditional freshman and sophomore classes.  Hence, it took me three years to get the two.

There were some really terrific teachers at the UVA Branch.  Some were professors at the main campus in Charlottesville.  One who I particularly remember was Mr. Anderson, a graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.  Mr. Anderson would ride the Trailways bus down to Lynchburg one night a week and teach philosophy.  After class, some of us would walk to the bus station with him and discuss philosophy, while he waited for his bus back to Charlottesville.

There was one faculty member in particular who had a profound influence on my future.  Benjamin W. Wright, Jr. taught history at the UVA Branch and later at Central Virginia Community College.  He was a very demanding teacher, as were most college and university professors in those days before the rapid decline of higher education in America.  I took every course he offered, both semesters of Western Civilization and both semester of U. S. History.  Mr. Wright required three book reviews, three detailed map projects, and a research paper for each of his classes.  During my forty-two years teaching history at various colleges I could never have required that much for any of my classes, intro or upper level.

Mr. Wright challenged me to do a research paper on slavery in Lynchburg for the second half of the U. S. History survey during the spring semester of 1965.   I did so, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my undergraduate years.  I did the research at the old Jones Memorial Library located on Rivermont Avenue.  Handling old newspapers and other documents stored in the library at that time was pure joy.

I kept that paper, as well as others I did while at the UVA Branch and later at Lynchburg College.  Recently I decided to retype the paper and post it on my blog for anyone interested in the subject.  A copy of the original was in the Jones Memorial Library for many years, but I believe it failed to survive the closing of the library in 1987.

I retyped the paper without making any changes, except to correct the misspelled words noted by Mr. Wright.  That old portable, manual typewriter of mine did not have a spell check, like the laptop computer I am using to type these words.



Paul R. Waibel

University of Virginia, Lynchburg Branch

United States History Term Paper

May 6, 1965

Benjamin W. Wright, Jr., Instructor



I.      Antislavery

  • Antislavery Sympathy of the Lynchburg Quakers
  • The Anti-Abolitionist Meeting of 1835
  • The American Colonization Society

II.     The Slave Trade

  • Professional Slave Trading
  • Individual Slave Trading
  • Free Negroes and Slavery

III.    Slave Labor

  • In Local Industry
  • Employment of Lynchburg Slaves Outside the City
  • Domestic Slave Labor

IV.     Slaves and the Law

V.      Slave-Master Relationship

VI.     Some Lynchburg Census

VII.   Notes

VIII.  Bibliography

IX.     Important Sources Consulted But Not Quoted



Antislavery Sympathy of the Lynchburg Quakers

            The first mention of the existence of slavery in Lynchburg is one of antislavery sympathy.  In reading the records of the Meetings of Women Friends of the South River Quakers, we find the first mention of slaves dated “the 12th day of the 10th month 1763” with the comment, “The instruction of negroes among us is too much neglected.”[1]

It is not surprising that the antislavery sympathy in Lynchburg should come first from the Quakers.  The Quakers were the first abolitionists in Virginia.  “As early as 1711 in Virginia, steps were taken definitely to wipe out slavery.”[2]  The Meetings were directed in 1775 and 1776, “to expel all those who refused to let their slaves free.”[3]  Before members of the Quaker faith could receive letters of transfer from one Meeting to another, they had to be free of, in addition to debts, etc., ownership of slaves—“he must own no slaves.”[4]  Quakers were disowned for holding slaves and were forbidden to buy, sell or hire slaves from their masters or to act as overseers.[5]

Lynchburg Quakers were no longer buying and selling slaves in 1771.  Referring back to the records of the Meetings of Women Friends in 1771, we find, “Friends are clear of buying and selling negroes,” and, on April 4, 1798, the record reads:  “None among us hold slaves except where the mistress only have right and we believe the greater bear testimony against this practice.”[6]

The rules imposed upon members of the Quaker faith governing their relationship with the institution of slavery, were strictly enforced.  According to the records the following persons were disowned by the South River Meeting held in Campbell County,[7] for purchasing or holding slaves:

Moses Kendrick, “8-18-1787”  Disowned “for purchasing a slave and holding liberated slaves in bondage.”

Obediah Kerby, “8-18-1792”  Disowned “for purchasing a slave and holding in bondage.”

Richard Tullis, “12-15-1792”  Disowned “for retaining a negro in bondage.”

Samuel Moorman, “3-21-1795”  Disowned “for holding a slave.”

Thomas Jackson, “12-11-1802”  Disowned “for hiring a slave.”

Samuel Fisher, “8-12-1820”  Disowned “for disposing of a colored man into slavery and not instead granting him freedom.”[8]

Also the children of Edith Easley who had attended the services at South River to “a degree of satisfaction,” could not be received in 1798, “on account of their father holding slaves.”[9]

In 1790 the first serious rumblings of the question of slavery were heard in Lynchburg.  The strong antislavery sentiments of the South River Quakers were until 1790 restricted to the Quakers themselves.  They had already freed their own slaves and were now moved to speak openly against others not in their society.  Says Douglas Brown: “The anti-slavery movement for all was on its way.”[10]  Even so, “In 1814 the records of South River complained that its members were ‘free from slavery but reluctant to speak against it.’”[11]

The Anti-Abolitionist Meeting of 1835

            On August 27, 1835, an anti-abolitionist meeting was held in Lynchburg.  The meeting was called because at the time an outside group was agitating the slaves and urging them to rebel by force.  Samuel J. Wiatt was chairman and R. H. Toler was secretary.  As an outcome of this meeting a strong vigilance committee was appointed in each ward, with instructions to suppress anything looking to abolition.  The meeting also resolved to petition the state Legislature to pass laws keeping out of the state so-called reformers, to strengthen the police force and request the postmaster to detain all incendiary publications.  However the most important outcome of the meeting was the action by the merchants in which they bound themselves not to trade with any place whose representatives interfered with the slaves.[12]

The action by the merchants which was aimed at the Northern agitators had a disastrous effect upon the Quakers in the Lynchburg area.  Largely as a result of this action the remainder of the Quakers left the area and headed west.[13]  Pressures placed upon the Quakers because of their antislavery sentiments caused many of them to leave earlier.  “When the Civil War finally broke out only a small remnant was left anywhere in Virginia and the old South River Meeting House had already been abandoned and was fast falling into ruins.”[14]

The American Colonization Society

            Eminent Virginians had long fought for the gradual abolition of slavery.  As a colony before the formation of the United States they struggled with the crown and later when Virginia became a member of the United States they had to struggle against proslavery sentiments in Virginia and the Nation as a whole.  When one views the efforts made by leading Virginians to abolish slavery in the state, it is not surprising that the “very backbone of he American Colonization Society was in Virginia.[15]

The American Colonization Society which had branches in the North as well as the South and foreign nations,[16] founded an auxiliary chapter in Lynchburg.[17]  Of the founding of the Lynchburg Chapter, Asbury Christian makes these comments in Lynchburg and Its People:

. . . . . in August, 1825, the colonization society, with Rev. John Early president, was started.  The purpose of this organization was to raise means to send to Africa ‘all free people of color’ who desired to go, and all slaves who were freed on that condition.  Regular meetings were held, a large amount of money raised . . . . a good work was done for the negroes who desired to return to their original home.[18]

Thus we see that after the Quakers were removed as an antislavery force the Colonization Society took their place.  Outside of Lynchburg and Its People there appears to be no mention of the activities—success or failure—of the Society in Lynchburg.  We can only study the activities of the Society on a state-wide or nation-wide basis and draw our conclusions from it.   It is safe, I feel, to take this course of action.  However due to the lack of space and the limited area of my topic I will confine myself to a very few remarks.

On the whole the Colonization Societies were becoming quite successful prior to 1831.  They had received the backing of many prominent Americans.

Among the nationally known men who were members of this society, (American Colonization Society) . . . . were such distinguished men as Francis Scott Key, John Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Charles Fenton Mercer, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and a long line of other prominent Americans.[19]

The Colonization Society received both federal and state aid, and in Virginia in 1832 the House “passed a bill which provided for the deportation and colonization of the free negroes of the Commonwealth, (1832) and such as thereafter might become free.”[20]  After the Nat Turner insurrection the Society fell a victim to the censorship which began to prevail in the South and gradually declined.


Professional Slave Trading

            Slave traders set up businesses in Lynchburg just as they had in all other major cities of the South.  Four traders—George Davis, M. Hart, E. Myers and Seth Woodroof—advertised in the Christmas, 1845 and other numbers of the Lynchburg Republican.[21]  Slaves were also bought and sold by local individuals who, like the traders, advertised in the Lynchburg papers.

The professional slave traders advertised their offers in the Lynchburg Virginian and the Daily Republican.  It appears their main interest was in the purchasing of large quantities of Negroes rather than the selling of individuals.  This is not too difficult to understand.  The speculator’s “slave pen” or “office” was generally well known to everyone in the surrounding area.  They knew where to go if they wished to purchase a slave and did not need any advertisements to guide them.  On the other hand if the speculator was interested in gathering together a quantity of Negroes for shipment to the deep south cotton country, it would be necessary for him to announce his intentions to the plantation owners and other holders of slaves.  Thus we find that the ads placed by slave traders in the local papers dealt mostly with the purchase rather than the sale of slaves.

To the slave traders the Negroes were big business.  George Davis alone advertised in the June 9, 1845 Republican, for two hundred young Negroes of the usual ages.[22]  This advertisement not only indicates the large numbers of slaves called for by the traders but also indicates that there was a generally known and accepted range of ages that would be purchased.  Davis also offered to match the prices that could be gotten in Richmond or elsewhere and would go anywhere to inspect and make offers.[23]  He did not mention in this advertisement why he desired such a large quantity of Negroes, but he also advertised as a partner of M. Hart’s (“Davis and Hart”) to “buy any number of negroes that would suit the Southern market.”[24]  It is quite clear then that the large quantities called for by the slave traders were intended for shipment to the Deep South cotton kingdom.[25]

Seth Woodroof was also a very enterprising slave trader in Lynchburg.  He “sought from 75 to 150 between ages of 10 and 25, later extended to 30.”[26]  “By 1852 he had a newly erected brick building on First or Lynch street, behind the Farmers’ Bank,”[27] where he guaranteed to “keep them as secure as if they were placed in the jail of the Corporation.”[28]

Not all slave traders who advertised in the Lynchburg papers were necessarily from Lynchburg.  J. B. Mc Lendon advertised for Negroes between ten and thirty years old.  He could be called on at the “Washington Hotel, Lynchburg, or address him by mail.”[29]  From this I believe we can safely assume that Mr. Mc Lendon was some sort of traveling speculator who set up temporary quarters at the Washington Hotel.  He would probably purchase a quantity of Negroes from this area and then move on to another community.   Where did he keep the Negroes he purchased?  From the previously cited advertisement by Seth Woodroof we can assume that it was customary to keep them in the jail of the Corporation.

Individual Slave Trading

            Individuals advertised in the Lynchburg papers to sell or purchase slaves.  Micajah Davis, Jr. advertised in the August 8, 1855 Lynchburg Virginian, a twenty-seven year old Negro woman and her “four very likely[30] children.”[31]  His intentions were to sell five slaves, and the advertisement leads one to feel he hoped to do this in a one package family unit.  Others advertised a desire to purchase slaves.  A good example of this is a private individual who advertised in the Virginian for a Negro boy sixteen to twenty years old.[32]

A large number of advertisements appearing in the papers for the sale of Negro slaves were placed by the administrators of the estates of deceased persons announcing the auctioning off of the deceased’s property.  One such advertisement is titled “Public Sale of Negroes,” and reads in part:  “Billy and his wife Hannah and their three children, Daniel, Essex, and Mary, or so many as may be sufficient to satisfy the debt named in said deed.”[33]  This advertisement is an important example in that, unlike the one by M. Davis, Jr. previously quoted, this seller will break up the family if necessary.  The advertisement concludes, “it may take all to satisfy the purpose of the aforesaid.  The balance will be sold at the same time and place.”[34]  The advertisement was placed by “Balda McDaniel, adms. Of Henry Clark, dec’d.”  Credit was often extended in such sales of Negroes for twenty days to twelve months.  As a rule however, they were sold for cash.

Slaves sold for high prices even when the transaction was carried on between individuals.  A receipt, dated October 2, 1858, shows a Mr. D. Nowlin paid $950.00 for two Negro slaves guaranteed sound and healthy.[35]  Another receipt, dated October 16, 1858, just twelve days later than the previous one, shows David Nowlin paid $450.00 for a Negro slave forty-six years old.[36]  Neither receipt was on paper which would suggest the seller was a dealer.

The prices paid by David Nowlin seem like bargains when compared to the prices brought by some sales at two times when one would expect the prices of slaves to have fallen sharply.  Despite the frenzy of possible, or known, war between the states, slaves continued to bring good prices.

Bryan Akers, the auctioneer, sold, on April 12, a lot at the following prices:  A negro woman, nine hundred and ten dollars; a negro boy, seventeen years old, eleven hundred and thirty dollars; a girl, eighteen years old, eleven hundred dollars; a boy twelve, six hundred and forty dollars; a woman fifty, with child, seven hundred and sixty dollars.  The terms of the sale were cash, and the right of dower in the negroes was retained.  The price of slaves had not yet begun to depreciate.[37]

The Proclamation of Emancipation was issued on January 1, 1863.  It had little effect upon the price of slaves in Lynchburg.  During the same month in front of the Market House a Negro man of forty, a carpenter, sold for $3,120.00, a boy eighteen years old sold for $1,860.00, and a girl fifteen years old sold for $1,500.00.[38]  “The price of slaves had really gone up since the proclamation.”[39]

Free Negroes and Slavery

            It is a historical fact that free Negroes in the South owned slaves.  Consequently we should not be surprised to find that free Negroes in Lynchburg also held slaves.  Richard Parsons of Campbell County, a free Negro who owned property in Lynchburg, owned nine slaves.[40]  Russell Thomas a free Negro of Lynchburg who was a grocer, held one slave.[41]  We cannot know for sure what the motives were behind these Negroes who held in slavery members of their own race.  We need only ask ourselves, what were the motives behind the white people (Romans, Spanish, etc.) who also held in slavery members of their own race.  However we are, I think, safe in assuming that neither Parsons nor Thomas engaged in the buying and selling of slaves on a commercial basis.  But they are not all.  There were others.

Three Lynchburg barbers who were free Negroes—Armistead Pride, Claiborne Gladman, and Thomas Gladman—“held one, two, and three slaves respectively.”[42]  Claiborne, unlike Armistead or Thomas, apparently held slaves on a commercial basis.  Says Luther P. Jackson in his book Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in Virginia, 1830-1860:  “Claiborne Gladman had manumitted the slave members of his family in 1817, but after this event he held slaves apparently on a commercial basis.”[43]  So we have seen that the free Negroes of Lynchburg also were slave holders and to some extent may have engaged in the holding of slaves on a commercial basis.


In Local Industry

            With antislavery and the slave trade behind us, we will now examine slave labor and its employment in Lynchburg.  Most people when they think of slavery, picture in their mind a crew of Negroes cropping tobacco or picking cotton in the hot blistering sun on some southern plantation.  This of course is an accurate picture, but there is also another picture of slavery in the prewar South.  This is the picture which one gets who has given some study to slavery and its application in the major Southern cities, and in particular the industrial cities of Virginia—Richmond, Petersburg and Lynchburg.

Slavery was becoming an economic burden in Virginia prior to 1831.  “The records show beyond question that up to 1830-31 there was a steadily growing body of public opinion in Virginia . . . that slavery was an economic, moral, and social evil.”[44]  This is largely evident from the Virginia Slavery Debate of 1832.[45]  The chief agricultural center had shifted to the deep South cotton country causing slavery to be a burden upon the economy of the upper South.  Those who owned plantations found that the slaves’ services were no longer needed.    They had to find a new source of employment for them, sell them south to the cotton growers, or free them.  Unfortunately certain power structures prevented the later from being realized.

The Virginia cities of Petersburg, Lynchburg and particularly Richmond were fast becoming the industrial centers of the South.  Richmond was the major industrial city of the South and was thought of by contemporaries as the manufacturing heart of Dixie.[46]  In these three cities slavery was being applied to an industrial economy.  Richmond’s Joseph R. Anderson’s Tredegar Works (Tredegar Iron Company), a major employer of slave labor, was regarded as a “test case of adaptability of slavery to heavy industry.”[47]

Lynchburg’s industry was largely in tobacco processing and manufacturing of railway cars, steam engines and agricultural implements.  Her growth in the field of tobacco was phenomenal.  “In twenty-three years of the town (23 years after incorporation in 1805) . . . [it] is stated to have become the point for the largest tobacco inspection in the United States.”[48]  Somewhat later but of equal importance was the development of heavy industry in Lynchburg.  Kathleen Bruce notes that:

Between 1855 and 1860 in the Piedmont town of Lynchburg on the James River, and in Petersburg at the falls of the Appomattox, twenty miles by railway from Richmond, men were manufacturing railway cars and almost as great a variety of steam engines and agricultural implements as were made in Richmond.[49]

Yet there is still more.  As early as 1828 the Lynchburg Manufacturing Company was founded to manufacture cotton.[50]

Because their services were not needed on the plantations, slaves owned by masters in the counties were often sent into the cities (including Lynchburg) for employment.[51]  Those slaves who were sent to Lynchburg were employed largely in the tobacco factories, where they worked side by side with free Negroes.[52]  Kenneth M. Stampp has these comments to make about the employment of bondsmen and their importance in the society of the tobacco towns:

Almost all of the thirteen thousand workers in the tobacco factories of the Virginia District were bondsmen.  The majority of them were employed in the three leading tobacco manufacturing cities—Richmond, Petersburg, and Lynchburg.  These slave workers were not only a vital part of this industry but also a curiously paradoxical element in the society of the tobacco towns.[53]

Employment of Lynchburg Slaves Outside of the City

            Negro bondsmen from Lynchburg were hired out by their masters to industries outside of the city.  We find evidence of this practice in various advertisements in the Lynchburg papers calling for Negro labor.  The Thedegar Iron Works of Richmond advertised in the January 10, 1863 Daily Republican for five hundred, “able-bodied NEGRO MEN, to be employed by us at our Blast Furnaces, in Botetourt county, and at our Coal Mines, on the James River seventeen miles above this city.”[54]  In the same paper on January 12, 1863, The Marion Magnetic Furnace in Smith county sought to employ sixty Negro men (also wanted 40 Irishmen) as “Wood Choppers, Colliers, Teamsters, & c.”[55]  On January 23, 1863, J. M. Harris advertised for seventy-five Negro men, “to work on the repairs of the JR&K Canal, and North River Improvement for the year of 1865.”[56]  He was obviously a man who believed in planning well ahead.

None of these advertisements mention the price that would be paid for the bondsmen’s labor, although the Marion Magnetic Furnace did offer “customary prices.”  All were in agreement in that they would furnish the slaves with provisions and clothing.  The Thedegar Iron Works even guaranteed that they would be well guarded.

City Employment of Slave Labor

            The extent to which slaves were employed by the city itself for public works, etc., I have not been able to discover in my limited research.  In Slavery in the Cities, Richard Wade did careful research into the employment of bondsmen by city governments and the tasks they performed.  He made this general statement which I believe would hold true for Lynchburg as well as the cities which Mr. Wade studied.

Municipal works depended heavily on slave labor.  Gangs of Negroes graded, paved, and cleaned streets, built bridges, collected garbage, dug canals and sewers, and generally provided the muscle for city projects.[57]

Mr. Wade also states that owners were usually paid from twenty-five to fifty cents a day for the slave’s labor.

Domestic Slave Labor

            Slaves were often hired out by their masters to serve as servants, cooks, etc., in Lynchburg homes.  Advertisements placed in the Daily Republican and Lynchburg Virginian both offered and sought to hire slaves to serve in local homes.  R. H. glass ran an ad in the Daily Republican on January 10, 1863 which read:  “I have for hire a servant girl, 17 years old, for nurse or house servant.”[58]  Another advertisement read, “for hire two negro women—one a good Cook, Washer and Ironer; and one accustomed to house work, about 15 years old.”[59]  Others sought to hire labor and advertised to this effect.  One such advertisement read:  “WANTED IMMEDIATELY—A colored GIRL, (slave preferred) from 12 to 14 years of age, to nurse an infant.  A trusty girl will find a good home by early application at the Virginian office.”[60]


            The standing of the slave in the eyes of the law was not the same as that of a free person.  In Lynchburg the position of the slave before the law was the same as in all other cities of the South.  If a law were broken by a free person he was fined a set sum of money.  fIf the same law was broken by a slave (and in some cases a free Negro) he or she could receive as many as thirty-nine lashes.  Occasionally the slave or his master could pay a fine in lieu of the usual punishment.  This was not always so since it was left up to the discretion of the Magistrate.

The town of Lynchburg passed, on November 29, 1844, Ordinance VIII titled, “An Ordinance to provide for the recovery of fines and penalties generally; and to fix the mode and extent of punishment in certain cases.”  Section three of Ordinance VIII read:

Be it further ordained, That in all cases of penal laws within this Corporation, where free persons are punishable by fine, slaves shall be punishable by whippings; and in cases where the extent of such punishment is not stated, it shall be fixed at the discretion of the Magistrate:  Provided, That such punishment shall not exceed twenty lashes for any one offence; and provided moreover, that the Magistrate may, if the nature of the offence be such as to render it proper, suffer a slave, or some body for him, to pay such punishment.[61]

From this ordinance we can get a general idea of the law and its application to both free men and slaves.  Simply stated, punishments were dealt out according to the rule—fines for free persons, whippings for slaves.

The citing of a few ordinances as examples will serve to illustrate further the above and to some extent the areas covered.  Sections five and six of Ordinance I passed November 29, 1844 forbid slaves to sell on their own articles of food.  It was titled “An Ordinance to prevent violations of good morals and decency,” and read:

Be it further ordained, That any slave living within this Corporation, who shall hereafter sell, or expose to sale, with the same any butter, eggs, foods, or vegetables, shall receive any number of lashes on his or her bare back, not exceeding fifteen; unless such articles are the actual property, and sold for the benefit of his or her owner.

Be it further ordained, That any owner of a slave or slaves, who shall suffer such slave or slaves to own or keep any horse, cow or hog, for the use of such slave or slaves, without showing to some member of the common council how the same is maintained, shall pay a fine of five dollars for every such offence.[62]

This ordinance sought to improve the morals and decency of the Negro slaves by making their masters accountable in part for their actions.

Section five of Ordinance II, “An Ordinance to secure orderly conduct, to restrain and punish persons guilty of disorder, and concerning the cage,” passed 29th November 1844, dealt with “any person who defaces or injures any part of the Post Office, or the Cage, or any building, etc. about the Post Office or Cage, or the Market Place proper.”  Offences by a free person were punishable by a fine of five dollars.  If the offence was by a slave, “he or she shall receive on his or her bare back any number of lashes, not exceeding thirty-nine.”[63]

And so it goes much the same with all of the ordinances.  Occasionally an ordinance instructed that the lashes be “well laid on,” or that the punishment be doubled for additional offences.  Acts of the General Assembly relating to Lynchburg were also included with punishments running much the same as the city ordinances.


            After one has made a study of the slave trade, the hiring out of slaves to industries, the treatment of slaves at the hands of the law, etc., he is likely to conclude that all slaves were cruelly treated and held in bondage that is best described as a living hell.  No doubt this was very true in many cases, but in others it was not.  The life of some slaves was far better than they could have expected as free men.  The life of a free Negro was not always as rosy as one would like to think.

The life of a free Negro anywhere in the South was far from being a truly free one.  He was often bound by the same restrictions in social life and before the law as were the bondsmen.  In the Lynchburg area the free Negro men worked mostly in the tobacco industry.  When the season was over they did whatever came their way.  The women were often forced to resort to prostitution.  There is evidence which shows that a free Negro woman in Lynchburg operated a house of ill repute.  Where the bondsman who happened to land in a good home had security, the free Nero had none.

Of course not a great many slaves were fortunate enough to land in good homes.  But some did and they respected their masters just as their masters respected them (bearing in mind they were slaves), and remained loyal throughout the dark hours of the Civil War.  We can find several examples of the existence of this type of relationship in Lynchburg and the surrounding area.  One such slave was Blind Billy whom I have found mentioned in several sources.  Margaret C. Cabell in 1858, spoke well of Blind Billy and several other Negroes both free and slave.  Says Mrs. Cabell in Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg:

There in Lynchburg many colored persons, both free and slaves, who possessed very good characters, and some of them were remarkable for good sense as well as for moral virtues.  There were uncle Cato and aunt Sopby his wife, Arthur Holcombe, Armistead pride . . . .

There was BLIND BILLY, who will long be remembered, though the soft clear notes of his flute are now no more heard.  Like all blind persons, he possessed a great talent for music, and at balls, parties, and military parades, he was a most important personage.  Billy was a slave, owned by the late Dr. Howell Davies; and there was not an inhabitant of the town who would pass Blind Bill without at least a kindly word. . . . . His death, occurring a few years since, left in the musical world a chasm not easily supplied; for who can now play so sweetly for us those touching old Scotch airs, which tearfully recall the loved, the lost—or who can so gladden us with the sounds of merry music as poor Blind Bill! [64]

Silas Green a slave in Franklin County tried hard to join the Confederate Army.  He enrolled himself with the others of the county but when it came time for him to join the army in the field his master refused to let him go.  He then formed a company of his own, drilled and prepared for camp, but again he had to stay behind while the others went off to fight.  He later came to Lynchburg where he pursued the calling of a drayman.[65]

Blind Billy and Silas Green are not the only examples.  On May 8, 1861 and old Negro who had served as a drummer in the war of 1812, came to Lynchburg with one of the Roanoke troops.  “When asked if he could go through the war, he replied, ‘yes Marsa, I spects to lib to git old linkum’s skull.’”[66]  Gabriel Hunt who in 1927 was a janitor at the Campbell courthouse and a Confederate veteran pensioner, spoke of the happenings on Samuel Pannill’s Green Hill plantation, on which he was a slave, “with the pride of one who participated there.”[67]


            A meeting was held, on September 30, 1865, to “express the sentiments of the citizens of Lynchburg in regard to the situation at that time.”  From it arose this statement, “we recognize the abolition of slavery as an existing fact (and have no purpose or wish to attempt its restoration in any form).”[68]  Thus slavery was officially ended and so accepted by the citizens of Lynchburg.

This paper has been a brief summary of the institution of slavery and its many aspects as it existed here in the city of Lynchburg.  It is not all that could be said and further research by a competent authority could, I am sure, result in a good size volume.

In dealing with Quakers further research could have been conducted and included the family history of the Lynch family, founders of Lynchburg and members of the Quaker faith.  I could have mentioned that Dr. John C. Lynch, son of John Lynch founder of Lynchburg, was poisoned by a slave.  The slave was tried but acquitted because the court was not unanimous.  There is no finer example of strong Quaker convictions in regard to slavery than the actions by John Lynch and his second son Edward, who became the administrators of John C. Lynch’s estate.  At the end of the trial they emancipated the slave saying it was not for them to judge, and that freedom and liberty was the natural right of every man.[69]

I could have mentioned other forms of “slavery” that existed in Lynchburg for a short time.  Further research could be done on the Barnes family who moved to Lynchburg in 1829 from New York, and who brought with them a little white bond servant girl.  The girl was seldom fed and one day a neighbor woman observed Mrs. Barnes with the girl tied to a bed post, beating her with a stick, and then throwing a shovel of hot embers over her.  The girl later told of “how she had been put into a box, shut up in the baker, hung by her thumbs, and in many other ways cruelly treated.”  After being run out of Lynchburg, Mr. Barnes complained in a letter to the New York Courier of how bad he had been treated in Lynchburg.[70]

I have mentioned earlier a book by Richard C. Wade titled Slavery in the Cities.  In this book Mr. Wade made a careful study of slavery and its application in the major cities of the South.  He dealt in the general areas of slave labor in industries, homes, etc., and the slaves relationship with the law (social life, also).  I have tried to follow Mr. Wade’s example and cover much the same areas in my paper as he did in his book.  Although he did not mention Lynchburg, he did give good coverage to Richmond the only major industrial city in the South during the period.  Since Lynchburg had an industrial economy similar to Richmond’s, although on a smaller scale, I was able to draw helpful parallels between them.  I think I can say without putting myself on the spot that the picture presented by Mr. Wade in his book, is representative of Lynchburg as well as the cities he covered.

I have included in this paper mention of several admirable relationships between slaves and their masters.  These and the short paragraphs at the end on John Lynch and the Barnes’ are, I think, good for general interest and for presenting a more well-rounded picture of the institution of slavery in Lynchburg.




Year                 Whites             Free Negroes              Slaves              Total

1816[71]              1,765               256                              1,056               3,087

1828[72]              2,492               385                              1,751               4,628

1850[73]              4,178               491                              3,401               8,071


          [1] Douglas Summers Brown, A History of Lynchburg’s Pioneer Quakers and Their Meeting House 1754-1936 (Lynchburg, 1936), pp. 82-83, quoting records of Meetings of Women Friends, October 12, 1763.

[2] Ibid., p. 81.

[3] Ibid. pp. 81-82.

[4] Ibid., p. 69.

[5] Ibid., p. 82.

[6] Ibid., p. 83.

[7] The South River Meeting House is the present restored Quaker Meeting House located on Timberlake Road across from Fort Hill Shopping Center.  At one time well outside of the city and on the “edge of the forest,” the Meeting is now surrounded by modern, twentieth-century Lynchburg.

[8] Our Quaker Friends of Ye Olden Time (Lynchburg, 1905), pp. 148-150.

[9] Brown, Quakers, p. 83.

[10] Ibid.,  pp. 62-63.

[11] Ibid., p. 85.

[12] W. Asbury Christian, Lynchburg and Its People (Lynchburg, 1900), pp. 119-120.

[13] Brown, Quakers, p. 89.

[14] Ibid.

[15] J. D. Eggleston, “Southern Leaders’ Attitude Toward Slavery,” reprint from:  The Farmville Herald, XIII (May 30, 1930).

[16] The African Repository and Colonial Journal, V (November, 1829).  See the Journal also for an excellent example of the courageous vigor with which the American Colonization Society fought slavery on all grounds.

[17] Theodore M. Whitfield, Slavery Agitation in Virginia, 1829-1832 (Baltimore, 1930), p. 12.

[18] Christian, Lynchburg People, p. 82.

[19] Theodore G. Bildo, “Voluntary Resettlement of American Negroes in Africa,” reprint from:  Congressional Record (April 24, 1939), p. 4.

[20] Eggleston, “Southern Leaders’ Attitude Toward Slavery.”

[21] Frederic Bancroft, Slave-Trading in the Old South (Baltimore, 1931), p. 92.

[22] Ibid., pp. 92-93.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] When we consider the price paid for a slave we can get some idea of the large amount of capital which was invested in the slave trade.  To purchase two hundred or “any number” would have required many thousands of dollars.

[26] Bancroft, Slave-Trading, pp. 92-93.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution:  Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New York,1963), p. 261.

[29] Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston, 1853), p. 144, quoting Lynchburg Virginian, November 18, 1852.

[30] “Very likely” is a phrase which appears in almost every advertisement for the sale of slaves.  It must have served to express a very broad list of qualifications supposedly possessed by the Negroes.  The central points in Lynchburg for the sale of Negro slaves appear to have been in front of Lynch’s Warehouse and in front of the Market House.

[31] Vol. III, No. 1.

[32] August 18, ???? [In my original paper I listed the year as 1934, which is obviously wrong.  It maybe 1864 or 1865.], Vol. XIII, No. 1.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Nowlin Family, MS.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Christian, Lynchburg People, p. 192.

[38] Ibid., p. 208.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Luther Porter Jackson, Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in Virginia, 1830-1860 (New York, 1942), p. 219.

[41] Ibid., p. 221.

[42] Ibid., p.220.

[43] Ibid.

[44] J. D. Eggleston, “The Attitude of Virginia Leaders Toward Slavery and Secession,” The Virginia Teacher, XIII (September-October, 1932), p. 6.

[45] Joseph Clarke Robert, “The Road From Monticello:  A Study of the Virginia Slavery Debate of 1832,” Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society, Series XXIV (Durham, 1941).  This is a very good source of information on the slavery debate.

[46] Richard C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities:  The South, 1820-1860 (New York, 1964), pp. 12-13.

[47] Ibid., p. 35.

[48] Kathleen Bruce, Virginia Iron Manufacture in the Slave Era (New York, 1931), p. 123.

[49] Ibid., p. 322.

[50] Ibid., p. 124.

[51] Jackson, Negro Labor, p. 176.

[52] Ibid., p. 74.

[53] Stampp, Peculiar Institution, p. 64.

[54] Vol. 6, No. 19.

[55] Ibid.,  Vol. 6, No. 20.

[56] Ibid., Vol. 6, No. 30.

[57] Wade, Slavery in the cities, pp. 44-45.

[58] Vol. 6, No. 19.

[59] Lynchburg Virginian, August 8, 1865, Vol. 33, No. 1.

[60] August 13, 1865, Vol. 33, No. 3.

[61] Revised Ordinances of the Corporation of Lynchburg, Together with a Digest of the Acts of the General Assembly, Relating to the Town of Lynchburg, rev. by Robert J. Davis (Lynchburg, 1845).

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] (Richmond, 1858), pp. 204-205.

[65] R. H. Early, Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches:  Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia 1782-1926 (Lynchburg, 1927), p. 68.

[66] Christian, Lynchburg People, p. 199.

[67] Early, Campbell Chronicles, p. 264.

[68] Christian, Lynchburg and its People, p. 208.

[69] Early, Campbell Chronicles, p. 68.

[70] Christian, Lynchburg People, pp. 97-99.

[71] Ibid., pp. 58-59.

[72] Ibid., p. 108.

[73] Ibid., p. 148.


The African Repository and Colonial Journal, V, 9 (November, 1829).

Bancroft, Frederic.  Slave-Trading in the Old South.  Baltimore:  J. H. Furst       Company, 1931.

Bildo, Theodore G.  “Voluntary Resettlement of American Negroes in Africa,” reprint from:  Congressional Record, (April 24, 1939).

Brown, Douglas Summers.  A History of Lynchburg’s Pioneer Quakers and Their Meeting House, 1754-1936.  Lynchburg:  J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1936.

Bruce, Kathleen.  Virginia Iron Manufacture in the Slave Era.  New York:  The Century Co., 1931.

Cabell, Margaret Couch.  Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg.  Richmond:  C. H. Wynne, 1858.

Christian, W. Asbury.  Lynchburg and its People.  Lynchburg:  J. P. Bell Company, 1900.

[Lynchburg] Daily Republican.  Various Issues.  Lynchburg.

Davis, Robert J., rev. by.  Revised Ordinances of the Corporation of Lynchburg, Together With a Digest of the Acts of the General Assembly, Relating to the Town of Lynchburg.  Lynchburg:  Toller Townley & Statham, 1845.

Early, R. H.  Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches:  Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782-1926.  Lynchburg:  J. P. Bell Company, 1927.

Eggleston, J. D.  “The Attitude of Virginia Leaders Toward Slavery and Secession,” reprint from:  The Virginia Teacher, XIII (September-October, 1932), 6-7.

Jackson, Luther Porter.  Free Negro Labor and Property Holdings in Virginia, 1830-1860.  New York:  D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1942.

Lynchburg Virginian.  Various Issues.

Nowlin Family.  ms.

Our Quaker Friends of Ye Olden time.  Lynchburg:  J. P. Bell Company, 1905.

Robert, Joseph Clarke.  “The Road From Monticello:  A History of the Virginia Slavery Debate of 1832,”  Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society.  Series XXIV.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 1941.

Stampp, Kenneth M.  The Peculiar Institution:  Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher.  A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Boston:  John P. Jewett & Co., 1853.

Wade, Richard C.  Slavery in the Cities:  The South, 1820-1860.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1964.

Whitfield, Theodore M.  Slavery Agitation in Virginia, 1829-1832.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins Press, 1930.


Drewry, William Sidney.  The South-hampton Insurrection.  Washington:  The Meale Company, 1900.

Hart, Albert Bushnell.  Slavery and Abolition, 1831-1841, vol. XVI of The American Nation:  A History, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart.  New York:  Harper& Brothers, 1906.

Pollock, Edward, ed.  Sketch Book of Lynchburg, Va.:  Its People and its Trade.  Lynchburg:  Edward Pollock and S. C. Judson, 1887.

Speech of Hon. Wade Hampton, on the Constitutionality of the Slave Trade Laws.  (Delivered in the Senate of South Carolina, December 10, 1859), Columbia:  Steam-Power Press of R. W. Gibbes, 1860.

(Copyright, 2016 by Paul R. Waibel)




Al Capone and America’s Noble Experiment

My father and another man owned a small meat packing business in Freeport, Wisconsin during the 1920s and the Great Depression.  They, like so many small businesses, went bankrupt during the depression.

Freeport lies 133 miles northwest of Chicago.  My father delivered meat to various stores, etc., in and around Freeport and all the way to Chicago.  Some of Al Capone’s speakeasies in Chicago were among his customers.  My father never met any of the bootleggers or gangsters.  Probably the closest he ever came to one was when he went to see a movie on the evening of July 21, 1934 at the Biograph Theatre on the north side of Chicago.  It was the following night, in front of the Biograph Theatre, that federal agents gunned down John Dillinger.  Ironically, the movie playing was “Manhattan Melodrama,” a gangster movie featuring Clark Gable and William Powell.

America was at that time—1920-1933—conducting what was called a “noble experiment”—prohibition.  “National prohibition of alcohol . . . was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.”  It failed in every area.  In fact, many believe that all prohibition did accomplish was to make organized crime big business.

Prohibition became the law of the land with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution on January 16, 1919.  The amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes . . . .”  Mississippi was the first state to ratify the amendment (January 7, 1918).  The necessary number of states ratifying the amendment was reached, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify it on January 16, 1919.

Prohibition divided the nation into camps.  Those who supported prohibition were known as “dries.”  Those who opposed it were known as “wets.”  The dries were led by rural Protestants and social Progressives in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  They saw it as a victory for the improvement of public health and morals.  The wets opposed prohibition as an attempt to impose largely rural and Protestant values on urban centers with large immigrant and Catholic populations.

Although there was widespread support for the Eighteenth Amendment, at least initially, there was significant opposition.  The amendment left it to the federal and state governments to pass the necessary legislation to enforce the ban.  Congress acted by passing the National Prohibition Act, commonly referred to as the Volstead Act, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in October, 1919.

The Volstead Act went into effect at midnight on January 17, 1920.  The first documented violation occurred just fifty-nine minutes later, when $100,000 worth of “medicinal” whiskey was hijacked from two railroad freight cars in Chicago.

It was near impossible to enforce prohibition.  Most citizens simply ignored the law.  Prohibition did succeed in making lawbreakers out of ordinary, law-abiding citizens, while at the same time lowering respect for law in general.  Ordinary working-class people felt that they were being deprived of their occasional glass of beer or shot of whiskey by the upper classes that had easy access to as much as they wished to consume.

There was little enthusiasm among federal, state, and local law enforcement to enforce prohibition.  Congress provided funds to hire a mere 1,500 agents to prevent 125 million people from having a drink of liquor or a glass of beer.  A federal judge ruled that physicians could prescribe liquor for “medicinal” purposes, resulting in an average of 10 million such prescriptions per year.  Some doctors sold blank prescription books.

Even if violators were arrested, it was difficult to get a conviction.  Of 7,000 arrested in New York during given period, only 17 were convicted and none sentenced to jail.  Juries often refused to convict violators.  In San Francisco a jury drank up the evidence, thus forcing the judge to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

Disrespect for the law reached the highest levels of government.  Both Presidents Woodrow Wilson and his successor kept private stashes of liquor in the White House.  One attorney general serving under Harding accepted bribes from bootleggers. An ingenious entrepreneur named George Cassidy was the unofficial bootlegger to Congressmen and Senators.  He made regular daily deliveries, as many as 25 a day, to House and Senate offices.  Cassidy wore a trademark green hat so that capitol police would recognize him and not interfere with his business.  He operated his enterprise for five years in the House grounds before transferring to the Senate office building for another five years.

Americans made folk heroes out of gangsters who risked their freedom to quench the public’s thirst for alcoholic beverages.  They weren’t gangsters so much as they were Robin Hood like defenders of the public’s right to drink what he or she pleased against a too intrusive government.  “I violate the Prohibition law, sure,” Al Capone admitted.  “Who doesn’t?  The only difference is that I take more chances than the man who drinks a cocktail before dinner and a flock of highballs after it.  But he’s just as much a violator as I am.”

It is impossible to speak of the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition without mentioning Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone.  “Only twenty-nine and at the height of his power,” writes journalist Nathen Miller, “Capone held a near monopoly on bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and labor racketeering in the Chicago area.”

When Frank J. Loesch, reformer and founder of the Chicago Crime Commission, wanted to have an honest election in Chicago in November, 1928, he went to Capone and asked, “Will you help me by keeping your damned cutthroats and hoodlums from interfering with the polling booths?”

“All right,” answered Capone, “I’ll have the cops send over squad cars the night before the election and jug all the hoodlums and keep ‘em in the cooler until the polls close.”

Chicago police went through the streets the night before the election and rounded up known lawbreakers.  Seventy police cars cruised city streets on the day of the election.  Capone honored his word.  Loesch later recalled, “It turned out to be the squarest and most successful election in forty years.  There was not one complaint, not one election fraud and no threat of trouble all day.”  Chicago was Capone’s city.

Capone was a successful businessman, if also a gangster. The Office of the U.S. Attorney in 1925 estimated Capone’s annual income at $105 million, or approximately $1.5 billion in 2015.  He knew how to prosper in a free economy.   “I am like any other man,” he once said.  “All I do is supply a demand.”  Adam Smith discovered the law of supply and demand; Al Capone knew how to exploit it.  “Prohibition,” he said, “has made nothing but trouble.”  He recognized that there was a demand for a product that could not be obtained through legitimate channels.  Like a good capitalist, he became the supplier.  “When I sell liquor,” said Capone, “it’s called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, it’s called hospitality.”

Capone did not believe that competition between criminal gangs should include murder.  “There was, and there is, plenty of business for all,” he said.  But a smile went only so far.  A smile backed up by a gun was sometimes necessary.  When rivals refused Capone’s peace terms, he simply had them gunned down.

Hymie Weiss, leader of the North Side Gang, rejected Capone’s peace overtures, he and several of his associates were gunned down in broad daylight.  Capone, who everyone knew ordered the hit, said that “Hymie Weiss is dead because he was bull-headed.”  Always conscious of his public image, Capone paid the medical expenses of an innocent bystander injured during the raid.  He also paid for damages done to shops in the area.

Capone made one fatal mistake as a business man; he failed to pay taxes on criminal income.  The Supreme Court ruled 1927 that even illegally earned income was taxable.  Capone was arrested and convicted of income tax evasion in 1931.  In addition to being sentenced to eleven years in prison, he was fined $50,000 plus $7,692 for court costs.  He also owed the IRS $215,000 plus interest in back taxes.

Capone was 33 and suffering syphilis, gonorrhea, and cocaine addiction, when he entered prison in May, 1932.  He was paroled in November, 1939 after serving just over seven years of his eleven year sentence.  His progressive mental decline resulting from syphilis was evident even before his release and retirement to his estate at Palm Island, Florida.  He died January 25, 1947. Only months before a psychiatric examination revealed that he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old child.

A little known aspect of Capone’s life was his love of music.  He was a fan of opera and jazz.  He played the banjo and mandola.  While at Alcatraz he played banjo in the prison band, the Rock Islanders that gave concerts for inmates on Sundays.  He even wrote a love song, Madonna Mia, which was recorded in 2009.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always live under the mercy.