William Tate’s journal of American History

William Tate (1796-1884) photograph Courtesy of Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Quaker William Tate lived outside the village of Lincoln, Virginia all his life. He was a man of modest record keeping, recording in a small notebook many of the routines of his family and community life. The little worn book is filled page by page with the cares of a farmer who has many responsibilities: farm animals, crops in the field, Quaker religious oversight, and the background simmer of anti-slavery activity.

William and his wife Priscilla had no children, so it is a miracle the journal didn’t get thrown away when the old generation died. Fortunately it was kept, and in 1954 the journal was sold along with Samuel M. Janney letters and papers to the Library of Virginia. That state library is where the well worn notebook is now located, waiting to be appreciated. Surely that day of appreciation has arrived!

William Tate’s memo book, deceptively plain. Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, Richmond.

The page from Tate’s book shown below for the 10th mo (October) 1846 records an eclectic set of facts: $2 was paid out to free black woman, Jane Jones, for washing. 3 gallons of mollasses [sic] cost Tate $1. Then on the 16th of the month 10 1/4 lbs of Coffee was bought for $1.07.

A more remarkable expense is written at the bottom of this page: “for Ann, Mary & Elizabeth Securities for Wilson Robinson for 1200 dollars to buy his wife & 4 children.” The page is turned sideways to write the names of local Quakers who helped collect the necessary $1200 for the purchase of the enslaved women and children. Their names were S. [Samuel] M. Janney, Dr. Nathan Janney, John Janney, John Smith, William Holmes, Thomas Nichols, Johanna Nichols, Israel Nichols, Joel Nixon, E. Hamilton, Benjamin F. Taylor, Wm Tate.

Page from William Tate’s memo book, showing information about the October 1846 purchase of Wilson Robinson’s wife and four children. Shown courtesy of the Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA

On March 22nd, 1865, William Tate recorded that his wife prepared meals for 16 of John Singlton Mosby’s battalion men, as well as the Tate farm providing forage for the men’s cavalry horses. This incident is discussed more thoroughly here.

Memo book’s page written by William Tate, mentioning Mosby’s 43rd Battalion coming to the Tate farm for meals and a night’s sleep, after the skirmish in Hamilton which took place nearby on March 21, 1865. Courtesy Library of Virginia.

William Tate was one of the most courageous and determined of anti-slavery, abolitionists in the Goose Creek Meeting. He and his wife Priscilla have a page on Nest of Abolitionists. He was a yeoman farmer, challenged by a spelling dictionary perhaps, but very conversant with the meaning of the words kindness and justice…he lived those words.

old quaker handwriting on picture
Writing on the back of the William Tate picture seen at the top of this page. Courtesy Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore University, Swarthmore, PA

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