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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

It is Time to Revise Williamson County's Official Seal

On today's date, 1968, Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term.

Wiliamson County Seal

According to the County's website, "The upper left section depicts a flag and cannon, which symbolizes the rich history in the county."  It hardly needs pointing out that the seal does not merely contain "a flag." It is the Confederate flag - It is not the flag of the United States nor the flag of the state of Tennessee.  Using this particular flag only reflects one part of our rich history - it leaves out the men who fought for the Union during the Civil War - white and black; it omits the history of Williamson County's native sons who fought to preserve this country. 

This has to change. It is shameful that we as a community are choosing to elevate one flag - to celebrate the values celebrated by this flag - and it is NOT the flag of our own country.  

It is also worth recognizing that this version of the "Confederate flag" represented on our official County seal was originally the battle flag of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  Later, that flag came to be seen as a national symbol of the Confederacy and was eventually co-opted by many associated with racial violence. 

Those of you who have read my blog before know that I think it is always important to understand the context in which events occur.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Here is a brief timeline of national and local events that I believe are meaningful to understanding the significance behind the time period when the Confederate flag was the sole flag chosen to represent Williamson County's history.

May 1954. US Supreme Court unanimously passes the Brown vs. Board of Education decision ending racial segregation in public schools and knocking down the doctrine of "separate but equal."

September 1957.  Black families in Nashville were harassed and threatened on their first day of school as their first graders desegregated public schools. That night, one of the schools was bombed.



That same month in Little Rock, Arkansas the Governor called in State Guardsmen to prevent nine high school students from attending school there. Later that month, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to the school to prevent the state guard from stopping the students from attending high school.

Spring 1960 Sit-ins held by college students in Nashville cafeterias and stores to protest their segregation policies.

Agitators attack a sit-in demonstrator at Woolworth's lunch counter, February 27, 1960.
Part of the Nashville Banner Collection at Nashville Public Library.

Summer 1961. The state began a several years' long 100th-anniversary commemoration of the Civil War that was heavy on the Lost Cause and Confederate symbolism, including a parade around the state Capitol by three Confederate cavalry regiments - one of which was made up of young boys on ponies making up the Kavalry Kadet Korps [i.e., KKK] of Savannah, Tenn.


August 1961. Seven years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, public schools in Williamson County were still segregated and a group of citizens in Franklin filed a formal request of the School Board for action to be taken. They also pushed for greater representation of African Americans on jury duty and in leadership positions in city and county government. At the time, Williamson County's population was about 25,000 people - about one-third of whom were Black.



Fall 1962.  Franklin Special School District desegregated using a "grade a year" voluntary plan - starting with first grade. This meant that Black families had to volunteer to send their six-year-olds to all-white schools.  Two families sent daughters to the all-white Franklin Elementary School that year.  The desegregation plan did not apply to Williamson County schools or to the high school in Franklin.


August 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights March in Washington DC

July 1964. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

November 1964 - Franklin held a commemoration of the Battle of Franklin and the Confederate Monument was rededicated.



October 1966 - US Department of Education was withholding federal funds for the Franklin Special School District due to failure to adequately comply with desegregation orders.

Fall 1967 - Williamson County School Board desegregated Franklin High School and the formerly all-black Natchez High School briefly became an "annex" to FHS. No attempt was made by the County to archive or save the trophies or artifacts important to Natchez High School, which had a thriving football team, marching band, and other extracurricular programs important to the Black community. Following the desegregation of public schools, several private schools formed in the area in reaction to this change.


April 1968. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee

July 1968 Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term

November 1968 - Williamson County voters went for George Wallace in that year's Presidential election.  Wallace was running as the far-right American Independent party candidate and was a staunch segregationist. 

George Wallace campaigning in front of the Confederate flag

Clearly, during the years leading to the adoption of the Williamson County seal, historical memories of the Civil War, the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause had become intertwined with opinions about racial segregation for many. That may not have been the motivating factor behind the adoption of the flag on Williamson County's seal. However, regardless of the rationale, it is no longer appropriate - and never was - to only honor the flag of the Confederacy while the American flag was left off of the official County seal.

It is also worth noting that in 1968, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War.  Men from Williamson County were fighting across the world under that flag.  Several young Black men came home in body bags - including Pvt. Richard Carothers (killed in 1966 and a graduate of Natchez High School), Pvt. James Andrew Cunningham (killed in Vietnam in 1967, a 1964 Natchez High School graduate), Pvt Charles Herbert Hardison (died in Vietnam in 1968, enlisted when still a student at Natchez High School), and Spc John Willie Woods Jr (killed in Vietnam in 1966 and captain of the Natchez High School football team his senior year). 

This week, the Williamson County Commission (the modern version of the County
 Court that adopted the seal in 1968) voted to form a task force to determine whether or not there is “substantial need” to alter the Williamson County seal. The resolution calls for the nine-member task force to receive public input, determine whether there is a need to alter the seal, and study the various community impacts of such an alteration, reporting this information to the commission in September. The following representatives would comprise the task force:
County Mayor Rogers Anderson will form the task force, which will present its determination concerning the county seal to the commission at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 14.

Should the task force and the commission decide the seal should change, the County's resolution includes a clause finding that it meets the definition of a "memorial" requiring the consent of the 
Tennessee Historical Commission to be changed.  This is the same authority that governs the removal of Confederate monuments like Franklin's Confederate Monument. Therefore, a request would go before that body, where it would need two-thirds approval before a final decision could be made by the Williamson County commission.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Nancy Perkins Gardner: 1855-1944 - "I will be with you always!"

Nancy Gardner was born in Franklin in Williamson County, TN. She was interviewed in the 1930s as part of a program run by the federal government WPA's Federal Writers Project that hired writers to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing about 2,500 people and took 500 photographs. The interviews were organized by state and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. Many of the WPA interviewers attempted to transcribe the dialect in which interviewees spoke - which can make reading them sometimes difficult. 

I have tried to track down all the slave narratives of people with ties to Williamson County and have compiled them in this blog post.

Below is the interview with Nancy Gardner along with my comments.  She was about 79 years old when she was interviewed and living in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Well, to tell you the truth I don't know my age, but I was born in 1858, in Franklin, Tennessee. Now, you can figure for yourself and tell how old I am.

[Based on later records, I actually think Nancy was born a little earlier - at least by 1853.]
I am the daughter of Prophet and Callie Isaiah, and they were natives of Tennessee. There was three of us children, two boys and myself. I'm the only girl. My brothers names was Prophet and Billie Isaiah. 

I can't tell you much 'bout work during the slave days because you see I was just a baby you might say when the War broke out. I do remember our Master's name though, it was Dr. Perkins, and he was a good Master. 

[I believe that Nancy was enslaved by Dr. Peter Augustus Perkins and his family.  He was born in Franklin, Williamson County in 1817. His parents were Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins and Mary Hardin Perkins, one of the wealthiest couples and largest slaveholders in Williamson County. 

Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins II (1745-1848)

Mary Harden Perkins (1794-1840)
Portrait from Tennessee Library & Archives

Dr. Perkins grew up in the Forest Home area of Williamson County. By 1850 he was enslaving 67 people; in 1860 he was enslaving 68 people. 
A portion of Indenture from Dr. Peter A. Perkins to his brother William O'Neil Perkins
Listing the enslaved people he was selling for $5 in order to assure his brother would care for his wife and children following his death. Listed were Nancy and her parents Prophet (Proffit), Callie (Caledonia), Prophet Jr, and perhaps her youngest brother Willie (Babe).

In 1862, Dr. Perkins entered into an agreement to sell 41 people to his brother William O'Neil Perkins.  W O'N Perkins was a successful attorney and former County Commissioner of Williamson County. Following the Civil War he would serve as Tennessee's Speaker of the House. In the sale agreement between the brothers, the people to be sold were listed and the list included "Proffit, Caledonia, Proffit Jr., Nancy and Babe." I believe this was Nancy's family - who she described as Prophet, Callie, Prophet Jr, and perhaps Babe was her youngest brother Willie. I think that William O'Neil Perkins had them taken from Dr. Perkins to Memphis where they were sold.]

Ma and pa sure hated to have to leave him, he was so good to dem. He was a rich man, and had a big fine house and thousands of acres of land. He was good to his n*****s too. We had a good house too, better dan some of dese houses I see folks living in now. Course Dr. Perkins n****** had to work, but dey didn't mind 'cause he would let dem have little patches of dey own such as 'tatoes, corn, cotton and garden. Jest a little, you know. He couldn't let dem have much, there was so many on Dr. Perkins plantation. I don't remember seeing anybody sick in slavery time. You see I was just a kid and there's a lot of things I can't remember.

"I don't 'member much about them [her brothers and father]  as we was separated when I was seven years old.

I'll never forget when me, my ma and my auntie had to leave my pa and brothers. It is just as clear in my mind now as it was then, and that's been about seventy years ago.

Oh God! I tell you it was awful that day when old Jeff Davis had a bunch of us sent to Memphis to be sold."

Image may contain: text
This ad was placed by a woman looking for her three children who had been sold in Memphis.
I think it describes a little bit of what Nancy must have gone through being separated from her father and brothers that awful day in Memphis.

[I have seen a few references to Jefferson Davis selling enslaved people or interacting with them.  I wonder if his name came to represent any slave trader - like Nathan Bedford Forrest - who it is much more likely that Nancy would have come into contact with in Memphis. However, she was living in Montgomery, Alabama after the War - the original capitol of Jefferson Davis' Confederacy, so it is possible that she was around him there.]

I can see old Major Clifton now. He was a big n***** trader you know. Well, they took us on up there to Memphis and we was sold just like cattle. They sold me and ma together and they sold pa and the boys together. They was sent to Mississippi and we was sent to Alabama. My pa, oh how my ma was grieved to death about him! She didn't live long after that. She didn't live long enough to be set free. Poor ma, she died a slave, but she is saved though. I know she is, and I'll be with her some day.

I knowed old Jeff Davis good. Why I was jest as close to him as I am to dat table. I've talked with him too. I reckon I do know dat scoundrel! Why, he didn't want de n****** to be free! He was known as a mean old rascal all over de South.

Abraham Lincoln? Now you is talking 'bout the n****** friend! Why dat was de best man God ever let tramp de earth! Everybody was mighty sad when poor old Abraham was assassinated, 'cause he did a mighty good deed for the colored race before he left this world.

I wasn't here long during slavery, but I saw enough of it to know it was mighty hard going for most of de n****** den, and young folks wouldn't stand for dat kind of treatment now. I know most of the young folks would be killed, but they jest wouldn't stand for it. I would hate to have to go through wid my little share of it again."

I have not determined how or when Nancy was able to claim her freedom, but she seems to have settled in Montgomery, Alabama. On Christmas Day1869, Nancy Perkins married Bailey Gardner in Mongomery, Alabama. Bailey was a hack driver - he drove a horse and carriage giving rides to people around town for a fare.  They appear to have lived a comfortable life. In the 1880s, Bailey's mother lived with them in a home they owned. Nancy worked as a washerwoman and her mother-in-law was a seamstress. 

1880 Federal Census, Montgomery, Alabama

"It was thirty years before my pa knew if we was still living. Finally in some way he heard that I was still alive, and he began writing me. Course I was grown and married then and me and my husband had moved to Missouri. Well, my pa started out to see me and on his way he was drowned in the Missouri River, and I never saw him alive after we was sold in Memphis."

[I have not been able to find any references to Nancy living in Missouri - perhaps she meant Mongomery? But around this time, she did reunite with family living in Guthrie, Oklahoma.  In 1904 she visited her cousin, Cornelius H. Bradley.  I cannot imagine what that must have been like for her.  She had last seen her father and brothers in a slave pen when she was a child.  Her mother had died soon afterward.  But here she was, reuniting with living relatives.  What a joyous time that must have been for her.  

Nancy's cousin had grown up nearby on the extensive Perkins plantations. He was the son of Wallace Bradley (b. 1826) and Margaret Green of Williamson County. Wallace Bradley was enslaved by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins - the father of Dr. Peter Perkins and William O'Neil Perkins. When Nicholas Bigbee Perkins died in 1848, he left his daughter Margaret Perkins Bradley (sister to Dr. Perkins and W O'N Perkins) 40 enslaved people. Named was Wallace -- Cornelius’s father.
Portion of Will of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins
Williamson County, Tennessee 1848

In the 1870 Census, Wallace Bradley's family was counted living on or near the former plantation of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son Nicholas Edwin Perkins. Cornelius was 16 years old.
1870 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6

Wallace's son Cornelius married his wife Elizabeth Ridley in Williamson County in 1877.  Cornelius, Elizabeth, and their son O'Neil (named after the former enslaver?) moved to Kansas and later to Oklahoma where Nancy visited them.  Their participation in the Exoduster movement followed the path that so many African Americans from Williamson County took - read more here about this migration. In 1904 trip the visit was reported on in the local newspaper, the Guthrie Progress.]

The Guthrie Progress - 23 Jul 1904 - Page 3

The Guthrie Progress was published by
O'Neil Bradley, the son of Nancy's cousin.

[It was no coincidence that the paper reported on the reunion. At the time of the visit, Cornelius'  son O'Neil was the publisher of the Guthrie Progress newspaper. It was common for formerly enslaved people to publish newspaper ads looking for long-lost family.  Since O'Neil was in the publishing business, it makes me wonder if that contributed to the family finding each other again.  (You can find my collection of these types of ads for people from Williamson County here.)  Sadly, the year after her visit, Nancy's cousin Cornelius died.

O'Niel Herman “O.H.” Bradley
O'Niel Herman Bradley
Son of Nancy's cousin

In 1911, Nancy's husband Bailey also died and she sold his horses and equipment by placing an ad in the local Montgomery, Alabama newspaper. 

Soon after, she returned for another visit with her cousin's family in Oklahoma. In this newspaper clipping, we learn that not only did Nancy have a cousin living in Oklahoma, but she also had an uncle there. 

Judge George Napier Perkins
Nancy Perkins Gardner's uncle
Photograph, Oklahoma Historical Society

Nancy and Cornelius had an uncle Judge George Napier Perkins. He was an extraordinary man and I will write more about him and the family in a future blog post. Once again, I have to say how wonderful and remarkable it must have been for Nancy to be surrounded by family - and such a successful one. Her cousin's son O'Neil had been elected as the town's Justice of the Peace since her last visit. During her visit, she may have visited other Williamson Countians living in Dover, Oklahoma such as Green Currin's family (see my blog post about him here).


Sadly, during this trip to visit family in Oklahoma, the house that Nancy and her husband Bailey Gardner had worked so hard for was burned down in an arson. 

Montgomery (Al) Times, Oct 10, 1912

After the fire, Nancy moved to Oklahoma to be closer to her family following the loss of her home and her husband. She seems to have remained close to Cornelius' widow and son O. H. Bradley. By that time, O. H. Bradley was an undertaker and publisher and editor of the Boley Progress, a newspaper for African Americans in the all-Black town of Boley, Oklahoma. O.H. Bradley was even the mayor of Boley in the 1930s.

Video about the history of Boley, Oklahoma

By 1916, Nancy Perkins Gardner moved to Oklahoma City where she worked as a cook - and where she was interviewed about 20 years later when she was in her mid-70s. 

1932 Oklahoma City Directory
Listing for Nancy Gardner, widow of Bailey
She was living at 501 Missouri Avenue

I am fairly certain that Nancy died in 1944. There is a plot in Block 29, Lot 79 of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma that I believe is hers. Her cousin Cornelius was buried in the adjacent plot- Block 29, Lot 81 in 1904. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1944 and son O'Neill died in 1948 they were buried there as well. Her Uncle Judge Perkins and his wife are buried in a nearby section (Section 2, block 5).  (Full cemetery map here.)

A portion of Summit View Cemetery map showing locations of Judge George Perkins burial (far left) and suspected burial of Nancy Perkins Gardner and Bradley cousins (upper right)

Nancy Perkins Gardner does not appear to have left any descendants. But her life and her legacy live on through this interview. 

Her description of her faith is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.

I joined the church nigh on seventy years ago and when I say dat, I don't mean I just joined the church. 

I mean I gave myself up to the Heavenly Father, and I've been goine straight down the line for Him ever since do now,

You know in those days, we didn't get religion like young folks. Young folks today just find the church and then call theyselves Christians, but they ain't. 
I remember just as well when I was converted.  One day I was thinking about a sermon the preacher had preached and a voice spoke to me and said,"The Holy Ghost is over your head.  Accept it!"  Right then I got down on my knees and prayed to God that I might understand that voice, and God Almighty in a vision told me that I should find the church.  I could hardly wait for the next service so I could find it, and when I was in the water getting my baptisement, that same voice spoke and said, "Now you have accepted don't turn back because I will be with you always!" O you don't know nothing about thatat kind of religion!
I remember one night shortly after I joined the church I was laying in bed and there was a vine tied 'round my waist and that vine extended into the elements. I could see my Divine Master and he spoke to me and said, "When you get in trouble shake this vine; I am your Master and I will hear your cry."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

William Street: "There is not a man born, who can represent slavery so bad as it is."

Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist acting in cooperation with officers of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, visited various towns of Upper Canada around the middle 1850's, interviewing scores of refugees from the slave states and printing their interviews. For reasons of safety, he protected the identity of his informants and used fictitious names. There were about 30,000 people of African descent at that time in Upper Canada, mostly adults who had once been enslaved. 

Will Street was a blacksmith from Middle Tennessee. He mentions knowing of the Perkins family's iron works.  I can't help but wonder if he was somehow related to Williamson County's Reuben Street whom I have written about before.  Street's narrative provides a fascinating description of his escape from a slave trader while onboard a steamboat in Nashville as he was about to be taken south to be sold. 

Below is a full transcript of his story.  I am printing it as an example of what life in Middle Tennessee was like for those who lived under the horror of slavery.  This was not "Gone With the Wind."  These were places of torture and we should not and must not forget that.

A North-Side View of Slavery.The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada.Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada: Electronic Edition. Drew, Benjamin, 1812-1903

Testimony of WILLIAM STREET. 
I am from Middle Tennessee, where I worked as a blacksmith, another man taking my wages. All I got was my victuals and clothes, and not much at that. Twenty-five years I was a slave,--was bred and born a slave, and cannot read or write.

My mother has several times told me that her father was sick, and his mistress drove him out of the house, and he leaned his breast over the fence and died. She often showed me the place where he died. I was hired out when very young--did not get the lash. It was never "Can you do it?" or "Will you do it?"--but "You must go and do it." Sometimes I would do a good day's work, and then have another job put on me. I can't paint it as bad as it is. I have seen a man at the iron-works--Perkins's--who said he did not believe that there was a bit of skin on him that he was born with,--they had whipped it all off.

If a northern man were to go right into a slave State, he would not see the worst of slavery. By the time he was up in the morning, the slaves would be a mile off--he would see but little of the evil--he wouldn't get to see it.

My master died when I was seven; my mistress when I was twenty-five. Then we were divided out: I fell to a son who lived in Mississippi. I had been living with a doctor two years, and I asked him to buy me. But my master wouldn't sell--the doctor offered $1,100 for me. I was put in jail five days--I and my brother, who had fallen to the same man, were there. Our owner came in with irons and handcuffs, and put them on, and took us to the blacksmith to have them riveted. I left two men in the jail who had run away from Mississippi and had lain there eleven months,--in one month to be sold. One of them was a great fellow to pray: I'd hear him praying every morning for the Lord to help him. He said he wished the doctor would buy me. The rivets were fixed: we went to Nashville, and were put on board a steamboat, I and my brother chained together. They were loading the boat, which takes two or three days. I heard some one tell a colored man to pump the boilers full, and they'd put out in the morning. I said to my brother, "When you hear me say to-night, the dog's dead, then we 'll put out."

At 11 o'clock we laid down. I made believe that something ailed me, and kept going out. By and by, I said "the dog's dead." We crept into the wheelhouse, and down on the wheel, to the outside of the guard, and got on board a stone-coal boat. We walked eighteen miles that night,--but we were not away yet--yet had no thought about Canada. I had heard of it, but had no thought about getting to it. We laid down, meaning to stay till next night.

Two men went out to hunt partridges, and at about one o'clock they came across us. "What are you doing here, boys?" We had broken off the chains, but the handcuffs were on each of us. "I am going to Columbia--did n't you see that wagon with the boiler on it?" They said, "Come, go this way," and one threatened with his gun. We up and ran. The slaveholders both followed us. We ran across a field about half a mile: when we got across there was a mill and a creek. We ran through the creek: there was a big hill. I went one side, and my brother the other: they followed after me. I stopped and hailed, "What do you want?" They thought I was coming in to give up,--but I passed them and went into the creek, where I fell down, and got wet all over. I crossed at the mill; they after me: there was a horse tied there, and there were several men about the mill; one a colored man, who had the horse. "Can I take your horse?" "No." I took him any how. I cut the bridle, jumped on, and started. Then a white man put his gun over a tree and shot me--some eight or ten small shot went in--they are most of them in me now. The horse then put out with me--then I was shut of them. They had no horse--he put out like lightning--I did not know where I was going,--I rode two miles, got off, hitched the horse, and went away and left him. Thinks I, they 've gone from the mill now--I'll go back and get my clothes now,--I had left them in my hurry. As I went back to the mill, I saw them and took them, and then I saw the men coming back from pursuing my brother. I heard them say, "Yonder he is! yonder he is!" I ran to an open field where there was a little grass, and laid down. They did not see--they hunted about and gave it up: then I went to an old house that had hay in it, and put my clothes in there. I then walked right before the door of a house where were slaves at work--nobody spoke a word to me. After I got through them, I saw an old colored man with a wagon. He told me, "You go this way, and when they come I'll tell 'em you 've gone that way." I did as he advised me, and got into a tree that had been burned out, and stayed in it till night: then I went and got my clothes, and started for the old place where I was raised.

I went on to where my oldest brother lived in Tennessee and told him the circumstances. I was then told to go into the barn-loft, and stay there,--I did--stayed three days hid in the wheat: then I went in the woods, and stayed eight months without ever going into a house,--from Christmas until the last of August. Then my owner came from Mississippi, with a man named T--, who brought three bloodhounds along with him. A white man who saw me the day before, told them where they had seen me. They went to that place, and put the bloodhounds on my track. I had never seen a bloodhound, but I heard them, and I spoke to myself; says I, "I'm gone." I had a pistol, a big stick, and a big knife. Then I ran out of the corn field into a little skirt of woods, and the bloodhounds got over the fence when I did. I wheeled and shot one of them through and through. He never got away from the place at all. I got back to the corn field, the others both with me in the field; one hold of my wrist, the other of my leg. I have the marks--here they are on my wrist. I struck at the dog with my knife a number of times--but he dodged every time. Then my master came up with a pistol, and said if I did'nt stand, he'd put a ball through me. T--came up and struck me with a hickory stick five or six blows, on the back of my neck. I cried, "Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" then T--made the dogs let go. He then took out his handcuffs and chains, and put them on, and took me to a blacksmith's, to have them riveted, putting in another chain between the cuffs, to make 'em strong, so I could n't get away anyhow.

They concluded I must know where my youngest brother was, but I did not and could not tell them any thing about it. They did n't believe that, I was standing up; a great many gathered round to see me: I was chewing tobacco. T--said, "G--d--you, quit chewing tobacco, and tell us where your brother is, for I know you know." Some fellow asked my master what he was going to do with me,--he said he was going to give me up to T--, because I had killed the bloodhound,--T--would n't have taken five hundred dollars for him; said "he was worth more than him, d--n him." He was the fastest one they had; before they brought them from Mississippi, they had caught a man and torn out his entrails,--T--told me so himself. They kept me going round from that day, Tuesday, to Friday, trying to find my brother,--chaining me to the bedstead at night. Thursday morning they thought they had heard of him; went eighteen miles to Shelbyville. A great many went with them for the fun of the thing. This was in the beginning of September, 1851.

I was now at the old place where I was bred, and was left with master's brother-in-law, in his care. At three o'clock, the brother had some sheep to shear: he took me into the stable, put on shackles, and took off my handcuffs, so I could shear. After dinner, said I, "Mr. E--, won't you give me some grease, if you please, to grease my boots?" "Oh, yes." I went into the kitchen where my mother had lived, close by, and thought over all things that had passed before. Pretty soon he told me to fill a kettle with water. The kettle was some fifty yards from the house; there were some six men on the piazza, who could watch me. I filled the kettle. "Did you see my boys?" says he. I told him, "Yes--behind the barn." The barn was further off than the kettle. "Shall I go and tell them to make a fire about the kettle?" Says he, "Yes." They wanted to kill a shoat against the folks got home with my brother. I stepped to the barn to tell them; I looked round,--no one was looking. I told them. They all started for wood, etc. I looked up to the sun, and said to myself, "it's three o'clock." I threw my boots over a stump, and drew them so I could run, I kept my boots, and ran off to Canada. . . . .

It is above my language to tell how overjoyed I was on getting into Canada. Nothing harasses a man so much as slavery. There is nothing under the sun so mean: after a man is dead, they won't let him rest. It is a horrible thing to think of, the ignorance slaves are brought up in. There is not a man born, who can represent slavery so bad as it is.

I work here at blacksmithing: I own this shop. I have plenty of work, and good pay."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Franklin's USCT Statue Honors Our Native Sons

Today, the final fundraising threshold was met to be able to erect a statue to the US Colored Troops on the Public Square in downtown Frankin. This would not have happened without the hard work of many people, especially those involved in the Fuller Story project.

The statue will be a full-scale bronze representation of a USCT soldier sculpted by Tennessee native Joe F. Howard. Design work and sculpting are already underway. Plans are to unveil the statue in early 2021.

I wanted to take this moment to describe exactly who this statue is depicting - to put a human face on it. The soldiers represented by the statue have direct ties to Williamson County - they were born here, they lived here, married here, enlisted here, served here, raised families here, died here and are buried here. They are our native sons. Many of them left widows and orphans and bereft parents behind. So far, I have identified 59 Black soldiers from Williamson County who died in service to our country during the Civil War. At least ten of these men died of wounds received in the Battle of Nashville. Many of their remains lie in unmarked or unknown graves. When Franklin's Confederate monument was erected in 1899 - 35 years after the Civil War - many of the surviving local USCT soldiers were still living in Williamson County.  Not only was their service not honored, but it was also in many ways a liability.  It is beyond time - these local men all deserve public recognition for their service to us and to our nation.

For some context, you should know that during the Civil War, approximately 180,000 African American men joined the federal forces in the USCT to fight. Tennessee sent the third-highest number of men of any state - more than 20,000.

Tennessee sent the third-largest number of men to join the USCT during the Civil War.
About 20,000 black men from Tennessee joined USCT regiments.

I believe that the 300 men from Williamson County I have identified actually represent a significant undercount. I think the number of local USCT could easily be as much as double that or even triple. The reason for the undercount has to do with the lack of indexed and digitized military service records for these men, incomplete enlistment records, and other issues that make it hard to track and identify the birthplace and residence of these soldiers.

Further, it is important to remember in thinking about the statue and the men it represents, in addition to sending USCT from Williamson County, they were also active in and around our community throughout the War.

For example, in mid-August 1863 more than 60 African American men were enlisted into Company A of the 13th US Colored Infantry right in Franklin - perhaps inside the old Williamson County Court House that sits on the Square - right where the statue will be installed. Later that October 1863, recruiters again were enlisting Black men into US Colored troop regiments in Franklin.

In March 1864, Moscow Carter of the Carter House wrote a letter in which he said a company of USCT was garrisoned in Franklin and he expected a regiment to be sent here. He was probably referring to the 17th US Colored Infantry. On March 21, 1864, 19-year-old Samuel Cox - who was born in Williamson County - enlisted in Franklin in Company C of the 17th US Colored Infantry.

Company Descriptive Card
Samuel Cox
17th US Colored Infantry

Peter Bruner
12th US Colored Heavy Artillery

Later that summer, a portion of the 12th US Colored Heavy Artillery was sent here to guard cattle. Pvt. Peter Bruner described in his memoir how,

Then we started on our journey from Bowling Green to Nashville, Tennessee, to guard a thousand head of cattle. Everything went well with us until we arrived at Franklin, Tennessee, except it rained on us every day. After we had passed into Franklin the next night we went into camp, everything began to go wrong. The food gave out and the rebels fired in on us. The rebels had three men to our one but they did not get any of our men or cattle. All of this occurred after night. We managed the next day to go to the mill to get some flour and when we came back we made it up with water and put it on a board and held it up before the fire to bake it. We did not have any salt nor any shortening nor anything. That evening we found a hog that had five little pigs just about three days old and cleaned them and made soup of them. About that time that the soup was done the rebels fired in on us and made us go and forget all about our pig soup. So after this we did not have any more trouble until we reached Nashville with all of our cattle safe.

Most significantly, following the Battle of Nashville, probably hundreds of local men were serving with the 12th US Colored Infantry, the13th US Colored Infantry, the 14th US Colored Infantry, the 16th US Colored Infantry, the 17th US Colored Infantry, the 44th US Colored Infantry, and the 2nd US Colored Light Artillery, Battery A. Their contributions were significant to winning the Battle and bringing about the end of major fighting in the Western Theatre. You can learn more about the contributions of Williamson County's USCT in the Battle of Nashville in this blog post. The next day, these men hounded the defeated and retreating Confederate Army of Tennessee right through Williamson County and Franklin. A few USCT, including Franklin native Sgt. Major Andrew Ewing, was left sick in a hospital here.

As they came through town on their way to Murfreesboro to board trains, these local men - who were returning as triumphant soldiers, no longer slaves, had this remarkable encounter with their commander General Thomas:

Following the War, US soldiers discovered the remains of two soldiers from Company K of the 17th US Colored Infantry who were “Found in Vicinity of Squire Carter’s on Battlegrounds.” These men were later buried in the Stones River National Cemetery. They likely died during Hood's Retreat.

Even long after the surrender, US Colored Troops were kept on active duty in this area as peacekeeping troops, security forces and burial details. On February 4th, 1866, two brothers of the 17th US Colored Infantry, Co E were on furlough from Nashville. They were traveling on foot to Triune to visit their parents who were living near there. They were attacked by a civilian and one of the brothers, Pvt.Henry Moon was shot and killed.

Pvt. John Dubuisson served in the 100th US Colored Infantry. In my blog post about him, I described how he married his wife Bettie here in early 1867. He died in July 1909 and is buried in the historic Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetry in Franklin.

Pvt. Freeman Thomas was enslaved just west of downtown Franklin. He was shot in the leg during the Battle of Nashville, raised a successful family in Franklin following the War and owned a house on Franklin Road that still stands. You can read an interview with him in my blog post here. He died on his 91st birthday and is also buried in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetery.

Private Granville Scales was enslaved in the College Grove area of Williamson County with his parents before the War. He enlisted in the 44th US Colored Infantry. He was taken Prisoner of War two times and escaped both times. The second time he was shot in the shoulder so badly that he had to have his arm amputated. In my blog post, I describe how he declined a medical discharge and stayed on active duty, becoming his regiment's principal musician. Following the War, he moved his family to Kansas and then Oklahoma where he built a grocery store and was a leading member of the community.

Felix Battle was born in Williamson County and was just 13 years old when he enlisted in the 13th US Colored Infantry. He served as a drummer boy during the intense Battle of Nashville and after the War raised a large family in Louisiana. He was a very successful farmer and sent his children to school in Nashville.

These are just a few examples of the connections that USCT had in and around Franklin and Williamson County during and after the Civil War. It is long past time to honor and remember them. We have lost their stories and now we can bring their legacies home. I am so grateful to everyone who is making this a reality through their support of the statue.

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Some additional local USCT Stories can be found here: