Sunday, January 29, 2023

Caswell County, North Carolina: Years Immediately Following Civil War

Civil War Stripped Caswell County of Pride and Spirit

"Events of the brief span of time between 1861 and 1865 completely changed the course of the history of Caswell County as it did for much of the state and the South. What the effect was of the price paid with the life of so many young men can never be determined, of course. The loss of many thousands of dollars invested in slaves was regarded as significant only briefly; mere dollars were soon forgotten in the face of more pressing concerns.

"The totally changed pattern of life throughout the county, however, was a different matter. For blacks it meant freedom from the bonds of slavery, a brief period of rejoicing, and then a resumption of a life of hard work. For many whites it meant the abandonment of the familiar plantation life style; for the previously poor small farmer it meant even greater poverty; and for the whole county it meant a reduced standard of living all around, abandoned land, and a public revenue inadequate for the services that governments ordinarily were expected to provide.

"The character of the county underwent a metamorphosis that perhaps would not have surprised Bedford Brown, Willie P. Mangum, or Jonathan Worth had they lived to recognize it; but most people were stunned by what had happened, and they lost the pride and the spirit that had made Caswell a leader among counties for so many years."

Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham (North Carolina): Moore Publishing Company, 1977 at 225.


Caswell County Suffers after Civil War

Entries in the diary kept by John F. Flintoff [1823-1901] portray very realistically the situation which many people in Caswell County faced at the end of the war. On August, 17, 1865, he wrote:

"The people have had scarcely bread to supply them till harvest fall -- they will live on what there is -- very little meat anywhere to be had -- altho I have corn sufficient to supply my wants until Nov, when new corn will be dry enough to grind -- we have had 3 bad crops -- Years 1862-3-4 -- this year so far promises good for corn & tobacco for which I am worst by hard work -- this summer I am feeble as to health and only weigh 136 lost 12 lbs. in 4 months tho I am still at work -- My negroes all stay with me while the most of others are running about from home to home believing they are free -- many of them are killed and dieing for want of money and protection -- poor creatures -- I have to ride often after them and arrest them for trial, for their fighting, stealing and other meaness they are very troublesome to the white people."

Five days before Christmas he noted that he then had plenty of grain and pork and 85 bushels of wheat. "Bete, Sarah and William left me as free folks -- John, Mary, Sally & Henry stays with me yet -- I have to hire them as free Negroes." For Flintoff the situation may have been stable for the better part of a year, but on Christmas Day, 1866, his diary entry begins: "Allen left me. . . ." And in January, 1868, he noted: "All my negroes have left me -- I hired 3 hands this year. . . ."

Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham (North Carolina): Moore Publishing Company, 1977 at 228-229. 


It appears the population of Caswell County remained somewhat stable between 1860 and 1870 (at least on a net basis), decreasing only 134 people.

Caswell County Population

1860: 16,215 (Enslaved: 9,355; Free Black: 282; White: 6,578)

1870: 16,081 (Free Black: 9,494; White: 6,587)

Source: Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham (North Carolina): Moore Publishing Company, 1977, p. 543.

Friday, January 27, 2023

"Lost Cause" Myth

"Lost Cause" Myth*

It did not take long for southern newspaper editors to launch the "Lost Cause" myth.

Note the following from the accompanying newspaper item:

"The radicals sometimes declare that the negroes are the only loyal people in the South, but the Southern people believe that, during the war, the colored people were about as loyal to the Confederacy as any class."

"Caswell County Black Mail Carrier." The Day Book (Norfolk, VA), 21 June 1866.


* The Lost Cause of the Confederacy is an American pseudohistorical negationist mythology that claims, among other things, the cause of the Confederate States during the American Civil War was just, heroic, and not centered on slavery. Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.


Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth by Kevin M. Levin (2019).

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, scores of websites, articles, and organizations repeat claims that anywhere between 500 and 100,000 free and enslaved African Americans fought willingly as soldiers in the Confederate army.

But as Kevin M. Levin argues in this carefully researched book, such claims would have shocked anyone who served in the army during the war itself. Levin explains that imprecise contemporary accounts, poorly understood primary-source material, and other misrepresentations helped fuel the rise of the black Confederate myth. Moreover, Levin shows that belief in the existence of black Confederate soldiers largely originated in the 1970s, a period that witnessed both a significant shift in how Americans remembered the Civil War and a rising backlash against African Americans’ gains in civil rights and other realms.

Levin also investigates the roles that African Americans actually performed in the Confederate army, including personal body servants and forced laborers. He demonstrates that regardless of the dangers these men faced in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield, their legal status remained unchanged. Even long after the guns fell silent, Confederate veterans and other writers remembered these men as former slaves and not as soldiers, an important reminder that how the war is remembered often runs counter to history.


2019 Eugene Feit Award for Excellence in Civil War Studies, New York Military Affairs Symposium

Levin, Kevin M. Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Yanceyville Meeting to Discourage Growing Tobacco During Civil War: April 1863

Yanceyville Meeting to Discourage Growing Tobacco During Civil War: April 1863

After a few years of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America experienced difficulty feeding its military troops (and its civilian population). North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance issued a "Proclamation" requesting North Carolina farmers to divert some agricultural production from tobacco to edible crops. In response to this, a meeting was held in Yanceyville April 13, 1863, that resulted in the following:

"That it is the duty of all to devote themselves with self-denying zeal to the production of breadstuffs of every sort, and to use their best land for this purpose. And to these ends, we who are now here assembled do pledge ourselves to devote our farms to the production of food, making only such quantity of tobacco as cannot interfere materially with the fullest production of corn and other grain, and vegetables of every sort.

"We pledge ourselves not to plant and cultivate in the present year, more than twenty-five hundred plants of tobacco to the efficient hand on the farm, and in ascertaining the number of hands by which to govern ourselves in planting we will have reference to, and be controlled by the lists recently returned to the Colonel of the regiment of our county, on the occasion of the first call made for slaves to work on the fortifications in our State."

Bedford Brown, Chairman
James E. Williamson, Secretary
Anderson Willis, Secretary

Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, NC), 17 April 1863 [Click image below to see a larger version.]

Friday, January 20, 2023

Yanceyville, North Carolina, Celebrates Fort Sumter Firing: 1861

All Dressed Up, But No Where To Go

"In Yanceyville, Caswell County, the news [presumably the firing on Fort Sumter] was received with loud and long cheers for the Southern Confederacy and Jeff. Davis. The people turned out en masse. Bells were rung, eight rounds were fired by the Yanceyville Greys, -- one for each seceded State [of which North Carolina was not one] and one for the secession party. Our correspondent adds that 'many and loud were the curses heaped upon the head of our quandam [former] friend of the Standard, and the Black republican ape, old Abe.'"

The Semi-Weekly State Journal (Raleigh, North Carolina), 17 April 1861.


At the time, the seven seceded states were:

1. South Carolina: December 20, 1860

2. Mississippi: January 9, 1861

3. Florida: January 10, 1861

4. Alabama: January 11, 1861

5. Georgia: January 19, 1861

6. Louisiana: January 26, 1861

7. Texas: February 1, 1861

North Carolina Civil War Secession History

North Carolina Civil War Secession History

On January 29, 1861, the North Carolina General Assembly decided to put the issue of a secession convention to a vote of the people on February 28, 1861. By the date of the convention vote, seven southern states already had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America.

Unionists defined the issue of a convention as a question of “Union or Disunion.” Secessionist attempts to redefine the campaign in terms of self-defense were not successful. The unionists defeated the secessionists by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672, carrying the northeastern counties and most of the piedmont and western counties. Caswell County's NC Senator Bedford Brown was opposed to a convention.

Civil War: State Secession Dates

1. South Carolina: December 20, 1860
2. Mississippi: January 9, 1861
3. Florida: January 10, 1861
4. Alabama: January 11, 1861
5. Georgia: January 19, 1861

6. Louisiana: January 26, 1861
7. Texas: February 1, 1861

Confederate States of America Established: February 4, 1861
North Carolina Secession Convention Not Authorized: February 28, 1861
Civil War Began: April 12, 1861

8. Virginia: April 17, 1861
9. Arkansas: May 6, 1861
10. North Carolina: May 20, 1861 (Secession Convention)
11. Tennessee: June 8, 1861

While North Carolina voters had rejected a secession convention in a vote held February 28, 1861, by May sentiment had changed, and a secession convention was convened May 20, 1861.

Proceedings of the North Carolina State Convention

Day 1 (May 20, 1861): Elected Weldon N. Edwards (1788-1873), a Democratic planter from Warren County, as president; voted to secede from the United States of America (by repealing the state’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution); voted to join Confederate States of America.

Day 2 (May 21, 1861):

Day 3 (May 22, 1861):

Day 4 (May 23, 1861): Mr. Brown, of Caswell, presented a letter from his colleague, John A. Graves, Esq., resigning his seat in the Convention and the same being read and accepted, Mr. Brown offered a resolution requiring the President of the Convention to issue a writ to the Sheriff of Caswell County, authorizing him to hold an election for a delegate to supply the vacancy created by the resignation of Mr. Graves. Adopted.

The convention had not been restricted and met three more times before finally adjourning on May 13, 1862, almost a year after first convening.

The above reports John Azariah Graves (1822-1864) resigned his seat at the NC Secession Convention. He did so to accept a commission as captain in one of the Caswell County regiments being formed to fight the Civil War (Company A -- Yanceyville Grays). A lawyer in civilian life, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, was captured, and died at Johnson's Island Prison, Lake Erie, Ohio.

When John Azariah Graves resigned his seat at the NC Secession Convention May 23, 1861, he was replaced by Dr. James Edward Williamson, M.D. (1799-1867). The new delegate took his seat June 10, 1861, a couple of weeks after the secession decision had been made.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Caswell County Court of Oyer and Terminer: 1861

Oyer and Terminer Court: 1861

In a December 1860 session of the North Carolina General Assembly a bill was introduced authorizing a session of an Oyer and Terminer Court in Caswell County, North Carolina. This apparently passed the next month (January 21, 1861). [See below].

On January 26, 1861, The Tarborough Southerner newspaper (Tarboro, NC) reported the following: 

"His Honor, Judge Saunders, has been appointed to hold the special term of Oyer and Terminer, appointed for Caswell County, 21st inst."

These courts of Oyer and Terminer were used by some southern states before the Civil War to hear criminal cases against enslaved people charged with capital crimes (where a death sentence could result).

The Judge Saunders referenced most likely is Romulus Mitchell Saunders (1791-1867), who already was serving as Caswell County's Superior Court Judge. See photograph.

Unknown is why an act of the North Carolina General Assembly was required to authorize for Caswell County a special term of Oyer and Terminer to hear cases over which the Caswell County Superior Court already had jurisdiction. Query whether this somehow was in response to the recent election of US President Abraham Lincoln and the secession discussions being held in North Carolina and throughout the southern slave states.


An Act to Authorize the Holding of a Court of Oyer and Terminer in Caswell County

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That the governor of this State shall issue a commission of oyer and terminer to one of the judges of the superior court of law, to try all slaves that may be now confined in the jail of Caswell county, charged with rape or any other felony, which said court shall be held forthwith; and the judges shall be clothed with all the powers necessary for the trial.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That the said court shall be held at Yanceyville under the same rules, regulations, powers and restrictions as govern the courts of oyer and terminer appointed to try slaves for insurrection, rebellion, or conspiracy.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That the clerk of the county court, and sheriff, assisted by two justices of the peace, shall draw a jury of thirty-six persons, who shall be summoned by the sheriff, from which shall be made the grand jury and petit jury; and the court shall have power to order a special venire, as in other cases of felony.

Section 4. Be it further enacted, That this act shall be in force from and after its ratification. [Ratified the _____ day of January, 1861.]

Chap. 77-78.
Passed By The General Assembly, At Its Session of 1860-'61.