Tag Archives: Alexandria Gazette

Stealing Freedom: The Fairfax Slave Who Liberated Himself and His Son

By Kyle Rogers, Virginia Newspaper Project intern

During my research so far this summer for the Virginia Newspaper department’s continuing project in collaboration with Cornell University, Freedom on the Move, I have already found and collected over one-hundred fugitive slave advertisements from historical Virginia newspapers.  Most notices concerning runaway slaves follow a boilerplate format, but a few particularly unusual and fascinating ads have caught my eye.  The most extraordinary of these were posted in the Alexandria Gazette by one John Wilkinson of Fairfax County, VA, during the winter of 1814:

Alexandria Gazette 1814-10-22

Alexandria Gazette 1814-12-15

I titled this blog post “Stealing Freedom” in reference to the complex legal significance of slaves’ self-liberation in the early-nineteenth century, when these advertisements were printed.  By law in states where slavery was legal, enslaved Africans were the property of their masters, so for a bondperson, running away was tantamount to stealing oneself.  A forty-year-old slave named Humphrey did just that on or about 12 October 1814, when he ran away from his enslaver John Wilkinson, probably to seek refuge with his wife in Alexandria.  Wilkinson paid the Alexandria Gazette to republish his notice several times, but evidently to no avail; Humphrey had successfully escaped, at least as far as the historical record can confirm.

Humphrey’s self-liberation is, in itself, a historically significant act of resistance to the institution of slavery, but his story grew even more astonishing two months later.  On December 15, Wilkinson posted another advertisement to alert the public that his house had been broken into by none other than Humphrey, his former slave.  According to Wilkinson’s notice, Humphrey had only stolen one thing: his eight-year-old son, Thornton.  Humphrey risked his life not once, but twice, to not only liberate himself but also to rescue his young son from bondage and, thereby, reunite his fractured … read more »

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From Virginia Chronicle, One Century Ago: Three Dailies & Four Weeklies Report the End of the Great War

“It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. . .And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime. I looked again at the broad street beneath me. It was deserted. From the portals of one of the large hotels absorbed by Government Departments darted the slight figure of a girl clerk, distractedly gesticulating while another stroke of Big Ben resounded. Then from all sides men and women came scurrying into the street. Streams of people poured out of all the buildings. The bells of London began to clash. Northumberland Avenue was now crowded with people in hundreds, nay, thousands, rushing hither and thither in a frantic manner, shouting and screaming with joy. I could see that Trafalgar Square was already swarming. Around me in our very headquarters, in the Hotel Metropole, disorder had broken out. Doors banged. Feet clattered down corridors. Everyone rose from the desk and cast aside pen and paper. All bounds were broken. The tumult grew. It grew like a gale, but from all sides simultaneously. The street was now a seething mass of humanity. Flags appeared as if by magic. Streams of men and women flowed from the Embankment. They mingled with torrents pouring down the Strand on their way to acclaim the King. Almost before the last stroke of the clock had died away, the strict, war-straitened, regulated streets of London had become a triumphant pandemonium. At any rate it was clear that no more work would be done that day.”

–Winston Churchill (From The World Crisis 1911-1918, Vol. 2)

RTD Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)Alexandria Gazette Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)World News Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)PlanetClinch Valley News Nov. 15, 1918 (full front page)Presbyterian of the South Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)Big Stone Gap Post Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)read more »

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The Wawaset Disaster, August 9, 1873: An “Extra” Alexandria Gazette, Over The Transom And Into The Archive

Not the Wawaset, but very close. No archived photo of the Wawaset, to our knowledge, is available.

Each year the Newspaper Project receives papers from private collections which are generously offered as archival candidates.  Many are duplicates of papers already cataloged.  But some aren’t.  Some are added to our select collection of singular editions with headlines announcing moon landings, assassinations, the end of wars, and dramatic presidential elections. Then there is the unexpected item that provokes the response,  “Wait…what is…that?”   Most recently, the following:Virginia Gazette Extra

Curious, the masthead’s absence of a year and its resemblance to the precursor of the “extra” edition — the single page, single-sided broadside of early newspaper history.  Much like below (which I wish was in our collection, but is taken from a volume from the Library main stacks):

Boston Gazette extra

 

Alexandria GazetteBut do we already have this in our possession? Is this Gazette upstairs in the archive in original or on film?  Or both?  Our hard copy archive of bound editions of the Alexandria Gazette is as extensive and space consuming (and heavy, not to be dropped on a foot) as any on the shelf. But there is a gap of some years after the Civil War and among the years in that gap, yes, 1873.

What about the microfilm?  The film, shot by the Library of Congress, includes a complete run of 1873, and is the source of the digital images on both Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle. While it does contain the standard edition of the Gazette for the 9th, there is no indication of the earlier extra edition.  In short, while we can’t conclusively speak to its rarity, so far our research points to a genuine find. Google map

 

 

In the links I’ll provide to the press coverage of the Wawaset’s demise you’ll see references … read more »

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Alexandria in a time of war: From Mansion House to Camp Distribution

Alexandria was a lively town during the Civil War, so it’s no wonder PBS draws from the city’s history for its new drama Mercy Street. The series, inspired by real people and events, turns the lens from the battlefield and focuses instead on the Mansion House, a luxury hotel turned Union hospital. It follows the life of Mary Phinney Von Olnhausen, an inexperienced but capable nurse who is constantly faced with the challenges of working in an overburdened, chaotic war hospital.

Mercy Street

http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/home/ August 29, 2016

So, what are the reasons Civil War era Alexandria is such an interesting setting? When Virginia officially left the Union on May 23, 1861, it was a city at once in Confederate territory and adjacent to the Union Capital. President Lincoln, needing Alexandria to shield Washington DC from Confederate forces, immediately sent Federal troops to occupy it—its proximity to the Potomac River and the railroad line also made it perfect for supply shipments.

View from Potomac 1863

View of Alexandria from Potomac 1863

The influx of thousands of Union soldiers only a day after Virginia’s secession vote may not have come as a total surprise to Alexandria’s inhabitants, but it wasn’t greeted with unanimous enthusiasm either. Henry B. Whittington, a Confederate sympathizer, wrote in his diary, “This is a sad day for Alexandria, and whatever may be the issue of this contest, this unprecedented move upon the part of a Republican President will ever linger in the minds of citizens while memory lasts.”

From the Alexandria Gazette, May 13, 1862

Alexandria quickly morphed from a quaint mercantile town into a “labyrinth of wharves, quartermaster storehouses, commissaries, marshalling yards, and railroad shops. . .Churches, public buildings and abandoned mansions were converted into hospitals, prisons and headquarters.” (George Kundahl, Alexandria Goes to War) And as the war progressed, … read more »

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Newspaper Accounts on the Death of Lincoln

With the renewed interest in President Abraham Lincoln due to Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at newspaper coverage of the assassination and the ensuing manhunt. In the spirit of full disclosure, much of Lincoln was filmed in Richmond, Virginia and I was an extra in the film, playing a Radical Republican. See photo below.

Photo of Silver Persinger in costume as a 19th Century Congressman.

I played Republican #17 in Spielberg's "Lincoln."

To my surprise, our collection has very few Virginia newspapers from the period just after the war. Many newspapers we have from that time seemed to have stopped publishing in March 1865 as a result of worsening conditions in wartime Virginia. It is helpful to know a few dates concerning the end of the war: Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865; Lincoln was assassinated on Friday evening of April 14, 1865 and died the following day at 7:22 AM.

I was able to find several papers from the days following the assassination that have interesting information I have never come across before. I thought it would be beneficial to simply transcribe some of these accounts to satisfy public curiosity.

Over the next several days, we will feature extracts of articles from the newspapers published shortly after Lincoln’s assassination.

Masthead of The Alexandria Gazette

From The Alexandria Gazette, April 21, 1865

On page 1, appeared the following:

OFFICIAL
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, April 20, 1865,

One Hundred Thousand Dollars Reward.
The murderer of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is still at large !!!
FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid by the Department for his apprehension, in addition to any reward offered by Municipal authorities or State Executives.
TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid for the apprehension of G. A. ATZEROT, sometimes called “Port Tobacco,” one of Booth’s accomplices!
TWENTY-FIVE … read more »

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