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After Winning the War, still Losing Battles: reconstruction in Loudoun County

19th century quaker man
Henry Smith Taylor (1799-1866)
Picture courtesy of great-great-grandson Henry Taylor

A thorough and insightful article can be read here, “The Freedmen’s Bureau in Loudoun County, Virginia: Getting Started, June 1865 – March 1866,” by Betty Morefield. It covers some of the challenges facing Loudoun County, Virginia at the end of the Civil War and start of the Reconstruction years. In the article, Morefield mentions letters written by Goose Creek Meeting Quakers Henry S. Taylor and William Holmes. Taylor’s letter is dated 1st of January 1866 and addressed to the Freedmen’s Bureau in Washington. He gives his mailing address as “Lincoln, Virginia,” – the earliest written use of this new village name I have seen.

Henry S. and Hannah Taylor lived at Coolbrook Farm outside Lincoln. Along with Virginians far and wide, the family had suffered through the years of Civil War. Here is a post about one example of their heavy losses: the autumn 1864 “Burning Raid.”

William Holmes’ January 19, 1866 letter was sent to fellow Quaker Samuel M. Janney; Janney was well connected and had important friends in the nation’s capital. He forwarded Holmes’ letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau office in Washington. Both letters are concerned with a Loudoun County black couple identified by Betty Morefield’s research as Paris and Sydna Champ. The Champs were living through a perilous situation that had come to the attention of their Quaker neighbors.

Though shooting and artillery battles officially stopped in April 1865, it quickly became apparent that Civil War would carry on by other means. Virginia governance was chaotic. Newly freed black men, women and children, such as the Champ family, were particularly vulnerable to unlawful violence, exploitation, and retribution.

Freemen’s Bureaux were established throughout the former Confederate states and were quickly overwhelmed with too many needs and not enough resources. By 1872 the Bureau offices were closed down. Illustration courtesy of Harper’s Weekly

The Freedmen’s Bureau, set up under the U.S. Department of War, attempted to enforce laws protecting southern blacks’ civil rights and to facilitate their housing, education, employment, and health services. However, Bureau efforts were frequently and aggresively undermined by former Confederates. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. has thousands of letters and documents in its Freedmen’s Bureau collection. Most of the letters are a plea for help, revealing painful stories. Henry S. Taylor’s letter is, in that sense, typical. A transcript is below his letter’s image.

19th century reconstruction era letter
Cover page to Henry S. Taylor’s letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau, Courtesy National Archives M1055 reel 5
19th century reconstruction letter
Henry S. Taylor letter to Freedmen’s Bureau, Washington, D.C. January 1st, 1866Courtesy National Archives M1055 reel 5

Cover page to Taylor letter: Lincoln, Loudon [sic] Co. Va. Jany [January] 1, 1866

Taylor, Henry S. Civilian

Invites attention to the case of an aged colored man – destitute & homeless, asks instructions, assistance, & c.

—— Washington Jany 18, 1866 Respectfully respond to Chaplain [James] Ferree, Supt. Loudon Co. Va. for investigation & report. These papers to be returned. J.S. Fullerton Asst. Brig. General –

Henry S. Taylor addressed his letter to Union General Winfield Scott Hancock (center) who was in Reconstruction military service in Washington at war’s end, though not in command of the Loudoun County region.

General Hancock                                                        Lincoln, Loudoun County, Va

                                                                                    1st Month 1st day 1866

                                    Some three or four days ago, a colored man, nearly blind, and I should suppose from his appearance, seventy five or eighty years of age, made complaint to me as a justice of the peace, that his former master’s representatives were going to turn him and his wife out of the house where they have been living. He is entirely incapable of labor and of course cannot get another house. I told him his case was a hard one, but I did not know whether I could do anything for him, as our present laws are altogether opposed to the rights of the freedmen. I think as thy have had all the benefit of his labor for his whole life, and have sold nearly all of his children as slaves in the South, that they should not be allowed now to turn him out of doors to starve, but should be compelled to clothe and feed him comfortably fhe few short years of his life. He formerly belonged to Hugh Smith now deceased, near Mount Gilead in this county.

    If not too closely engaged, I should like to receive a note giving information as to whether anything can be done for him, or whether he is to be left to the mercy of rebels and traitors.

                                                            Respectfully

                                                                        Henry S. Taylor

The man’s name is Paris, but I forget his last name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

William Holmes’ letter to Samuel M. Janney is also in the National Archives Freedmen’s Bureau Collection. His newsy letter lists neighbors “awearing away,” succumbing to “afflictions of the heart” and falling off horses. But before all that, he gives details about the old black couple, whom he does not name, but we know from his description of the situation that he is discussing Paris and Sydna Champ. His original letter can be seen and read here. A transcript is below:

19th century quaker man sitting holding glasses
Samuel M. Janney, Lincoln, Virginia, Courtesy of Friends Historic Library Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

S. M. Janney

                        Dear friend I may just inform thee that we got home on second day evening and  found all as well as usual I was at the store this evening thy family are about as well as they have been the main object of my writing at this time is on account of those colored people that I told thee about on our way down who was formerly the property of Hugh Smith of Middleburg they have lived in a small house on his farm for the last 20 or 30 years and have raised fourteen children twelve of them have been sold for the benefit of the family the old man is about eighty years old his wife not quite so old by the permission of Capt Ferree of Leesburg they have got an order of court to put them out forthwith without any place to go to and the overseers of the poor say they cannot do anything for them Summerfield Bolen is the Sherrif [sic] that has to turn them out he is very anxious to know whether Ferree has done his duty and whether the Freedmen’s Bureau will not perform the task if there is any way to get out of it we therefore request thee to inform thy self on the subject and inform us as soon as thee possibly can of the result.

I have been to see D. Brown to day he appears to be awearing [sic] away very fast indeed is now confined to his bed.

Noble Bradens wife was buried to day of an affliction of the heart

Thomas Heaton died yesterday from a fall from a horse

No more at this time but remain thy friend               W. Holmes

1st mo 19th 1866

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

old virginia handwritten census
Loudoun County Virginia 1860 Slave Schedule, showing two census entries for Hugh Smith – second column, 3rd and 6th name down. Courtesy Historic Records & Deeds Office, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Loudoun Co. Virginia

A Loudoun County, Virginia 1860 Slave Schedule Census shows two seperate entries for Hugh Smith, with his enslaved workers listed by “age,” “sex” and “color.” One of the men, marked “M” for mulatto, is shown in 1860 to be 70 years old. Is this man Paris Champ?

Henry S. Taylor’s concern for “nearly blind” Paris and his wife, Sydna, must have been a talking point amongst the Quaker settlement of Lincoln. William Holmes, returning from out of town almost three weeks later, was passing information and still seeking help for the couple from Samuel M. Janney, himself out of town.

Henry Taylor asked in his letter if the former slaves were going “to be left to the mercies of rebels and traitors.” According to Betty Morefield, only after Samuel Janney’s involvment was the Washington office of the Freedmen’s Bureau prompted to look into the situation. The Bureau intially supported the Champs being allowed to stay in their home, but then reversed that decision after hearing from the land owning Smith family. The Champs were forced out, though they stayed living in the area. By 1870 Paris Champ may have died; his name does not turn up on the Loudoun County census. Sydna (“Sydney”) Champ is listed as head of household.

Henry Smith Taylor died in April 1866, a few months after his effort to save the old freed couple from being made homeless in the middle of winter. Taylor rests at Goose Creek burial ground alongside wife, Hannah, parents, siblings – including brother Yardley Taylor – cousins and friends.

old southern graveyard
Henry Smith Taylor (1799-1866) Goose Creek Burial Ground, Lincoln, VA, photo by author

The location of Paris and Sydna Champ’s graves, after a lifetime in bondage and twelve children sold away, is unknown.

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