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Saturday, April 29, 2017

William Holmes - Company A, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Veteran

William Holmes served in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, (Colored) Company A during the Civil War.  On his enlistment papers he was described as 5'8" tall and of black complexion - although in census records later in life he is described as mulatto, or biracial.  His enlistment papers state that he was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia which is about halfway between the Confederate Capitol of Richmond, Virginia and the US Capitol of Washington DC.  In his pension file it states that he was raised between Lynchburg and Richmond, Virginia. Later in life, as we will get to, he settled in Williamson County.  His life before that, however, deserves some investigation.

Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I have not been able to uncover much information about William Holmes' pre-service life. In the 1860 Federal Census there was a free William Holmes who was 17 years old - the correct age - and mulatto, living in Alexandria, Virginia - which is in the vicinity where the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry eventually camped and would have recruited him. This William Holmes was working as a sailor and living with a 35 year old woman named Harriet Chelton (whom I think could have been his mother - this Census didn't designate family relationships) and several children younger than William all with the last name of Holmes. I think their father's last name might have been Holmes.
1860 Federal Census - Free Inhabitants of Alexandria, Virginia
To make things even more confusing, there are also two William Holmes' that signed the Draft Enrollment books -both 22 year-old "colored", single men from Virginia.  They were living in different counties on the Maryland side of Washington, DC in the summer/fall of 1863 - prior to our William Holmes' enlistment (he would have been about 20 years old).  So either of them - or perhaps neither of them - could be the man we are looking for. 

It's not at all clear which - or whether any - of these William Holmes are our William Holmes, but they could be, so I wanted to mention them here.

The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry

Some of the best research into the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry comes from two sources - a book written by Steven LaBarre entitled The Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry in the Civil War and a website entitled Men of Nerve. I have relied heavily on both in my research into William Holmes' military experiences.  

When William Holmes enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry it had already been largely organized - he was a latecomer to the group. The organization had begun starting on January 9, 1863 at Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts and Private Holmes wouldn't enlist into its ranks for five more months.  On March 26, 1864 Charles R. Douglass, one of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass' two sons, enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, Company I.  

The following article appeared in a Boston newspaper in May 1864 just as the men were leaving Boston, having received orders to head south into battle.  It described how the men were "mounted, armed, equipped, and ready for service."  They left Boston for New York City and went on to Washington, DC.  Company A - into which William Holmes would later enlist - was commanded by Captain Albert R. Howe; Col. Henry S. Russell was in charge of the full Regiment.
May 13, 1864 Boston Liberator Newspaper, page 3
Captain Albert R. Howe, Company A. 5th Massachusetts Cavalry
Carte de visite, circa 1864-1865
Image 8.7 cm x 5.5 cm; whole page 17 cm x 12.5 cm
From the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment carte de visite album
Photo. 228.10

Mid-May 1864, Enlistment in Washington, DC.  On May 9, 1864, the 5th Mass Cav arrived in Washington, D.C.  After an eventful trip from Boston that involved derailed train cars outside of Baltimore, the regiment encamped at Camp Casey.  

"Camp Casey near Fairfax Seminary, Virginia 1st Brigade, Casey's Division". Handcolored lithograph of site of Camp Casey. Wisconsin Historical Society

Charles Pickering Bowditch. Carte de visite by John Adams Whipple, circa 1864-1865
Image 8.7 cm x 5.5 cm; whole page 17 cm x 12.5 cm
From the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment carte de visite album
Photo. 228.45, Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society Photo Archives 

Captain Charles Pickering Bowditch, from Company F, described the Camp this way in a letter to his mother on May 10th:

We are allowed nothing but shelter tents here though there is a prospect of the officers living in barracks. . . . There are at present some 1200 men in camp here (all colored) besides our own. They are the most undisciplined mob I ever saw. They havent more respect for officers than nothing at all. I haven't seen more than a couple of men salute since I have been here. The officers are about as bad. . . . We have got a very nice camping ground with a gentle slope and large enough for ten companies. . . . We staked the whole camp out, and I tell you, when it is finished, will make a mighty nice appearance. Our camp here is about three miles from Washington over Long Bridge.
Enlistment papers
Major Horace N. Weld took charge of the regiment at this time due to Col. Henry Russell's appointment to command the provisional brigade.

May 12, 1864 was cold and rainy. The entire regiment camped on Arlington Heights outside the capital. On this day and the next, 50 men - including William Holmes - enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. William appears to have been illiterate because he signed his name with an "X". On May 13, 1864 - the day William Holmes enlisted - the men were given orders by Major General Silas Casey, commanding the Department of Washington, to dismount.  They were turned into infantry soldiers and ordered to surrender their horse-related equipment. Instead they were armed and equipped as infantry and ordered to report to Fort Monroe, Virginia that day via Alexandria, Virginia. Private Holmes was probably not ever equipped with cavalry gear; rather he was likely instead just issued infantry equipment.

The next day, his first morning as a private in the US Army was a rainy one, according to his comrade Private Fitzgerald's diary. He writes:
Raining this morning our tents afford but little shelter from the rain, it beats through, our things are all soaked. . . .The regiment moves today we have turned our sabers in and are to be used as infantry for thirty or probably sixty days, 6 P.M. are now at Alexandria, Virginia, were (sic) we take ship

Victim of Bounty Hunters? When William Holmes joined the Army at Washington, DC he was formally enlisted by Captain and Provost Marshall Henry A. Scheetz of Washington, DC.  An article in a Richmond newspaper implies that unscrupulous recruiters were pressuring African American men to enlist so that the recruiters could claim the draftee for the state of Massachusetts, and then not pay the bounty to the recruit.  The article states in part that, "most of the negroes who went from [Washington, DC] into the army 'were taken possession of by men of their own color, and sold into the service of the United States.' and . . . 'many of them were credited to Massachusetts.' It says further that, 'many of the soldiers (black) were enrolled in the spring of 1864 [this is when William Holmes enlisted] for the Massachusetts colored cavalry [this is the unit into which William Holmes enlisted]. For each of these recruits that State 
Richmond, Virginia Dispatch December 18, 1865 Page 4
paid a bounty of three hundred and twenty-five dollars for each recruit.'"  Another article that appeared well after the war, also touches on this subject and refers to these recruiters as "Bounty Brokers."  The recruiters are alleged to have enlisted the soldiers with promises of large bounties, paying them only $100 down "and promise to give him the balance as soon as he was mustered into the service. But as soon as he was mustered in . . . the bounty broker would pocket the balance and the poor negro never would see anything beyond the first $100."
New Orleans Daily Democrat (April 29, 1879), page 8 - Full article here

It's pure speculation, but it seems possible if not likely that a recruiter found William Holmes that Spring of 1864 and induced him to enlist for a bounty that was never paid.  He was certainly being enlisted into the right unit at the right time for this to be happening.
This issue of unpaid bounties had already come to a head with the Regiment. Other men had received similar treatment in Massachusetts and were awaiting outstanding bounties.  There was a great deal of dissent - bordering on mutiny - while the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was in Boston.  The men did not want to leave the state without their promised payments.  However, they ultimately consented to cooperate and left for Washington, DC without being paid. For further discussion of this issue, I refer you to Steven LaBarre book The Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry in the Civil War.

Fort Monroe, Virginia  After this time in Washington DC, William Holmes and his new comrades - the men of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry - were sent to their duty station of  Fort Monroe, Virginia on board the steamer USS Webster.
Upon arrival, they were sent straight to Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, and assigned to the XVIII Corps of the Army of the James.  Fort Monroe had earned a reputation among enslaved African Americans in Virginia as a safe haven - it was here that the US Army's General Butler first coined the term "contraband" in referring to runaway slaves that were under the protection of US military forces. The following video gives a good overview of what the conditions at Fort Monroe could have been like when the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry arrived on their stopover heading further south in early summer 1864.

May 13-14, 1864 City Point, Virginia After a brief time at Fort Monroe the men of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry were sent to City Point, Virginia as infantry attached to Rand’s Provisional Brigade, 18th Army Corps, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina. Just two weeks before, the US Army of the James had occupied City Point and the 1st and 22nd regiments of U.S. Colored Troops had been sent there to hold it. 

Battle Near Petersburg June 15-19, 1864  Within weeks of joining the regiment, William Holmes was sent into action - despite insufficient training or drilling. On June 15th, a detachment of the 5th Massachusetts and other regiments assaulted Confederate soldiers at Baylor’s Farm, northeast of Petersburg, Virginia. One cavalryman from his regiment reported,
“We kept on, while the shell, grape and canister came around us cruelly. Our Major and Col. Russell were wounded, and several men fell—to advance seemed almost impossible; but we rallied, and, after a terrible charge, amidst pieces of barbarous iron, solid shot and shell, we drove the desperate greybacks from their fortifications, and gave three cheers for our victory.”
Another trooper recalled,
“The soldiers of the Fifth cavalry proved themselves to be men of nerve, taking things as coolly as veterans.. . .[they] displayed a high degree of courage, such as was well worthy of imitation.” 
The following article recalls that, during the fighting at Petersburg, Virginia, the men charged into battle with the cries of "Remember Fort Pillow" and they "carried the fortifications at Spring Hill."

New York Times (New York, New York) June 26, 1864, page 3
Because only a detachment of men from the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry fought that day, it's not clear whether Private Holmes was involved in the action.  Nothing appears in his compiled military records to indicate that he was involved in the fighting.  If not, he would certainly have been close enough to have his first taste of what war was really all about and would have heard and seen all about it.

Gunshot Wound of Right Side?  His pension record does contain a tantalizing clue, however.  William Holmes states that he suffered a "gun shot wound in right side" at City Point, Virginia and was treated before they were sent to Texas.  The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry does come back through City Point, Virginia later in their service - and its possible that his claimed gun shot wound occurred then.  Although if he was injured it would have been more likely to have happened at Petersburg and perhaps his memory was foggy and he confused Petersburg with City Point where they had just spent some time.  Additionally, my analysis would be incomplete if I did not also state that the examining pension doctors were not convinced that William Holmes' scars were those of a gunshot wound.  He was suffering from severe senility at the time of his claims, so perhaps his claim of a gunshot wound at City Point were not accurate.  We may never know.

William Holmes' pension claim of a gun shot wound received at City Point, Virginia

William Holmes' statement that he was treated by a physician in a hospital
at City Point "previous to the trip to the Rio Grande"

Point Lookout, Maryland - POW Guard Duty - "The bottom rail's on top now!"

In early July 1864 the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry arrived at Point Lookout, Maryland to help guard about 12,000 Confederate prisoners of war who were being kept there in tents. 

Point Lookout, Md. View of Hammond Genl. Hospital & U.S. genl. depot for prisoners of war, 
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 dcu,
July 18, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer, Page 4
While at Point Lookout it seems as though tensions began to boil over between the officers and enlisted men of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.  Evidently one soldier was accused of attempted rape and was punished by having his thumbs tied up over his head - a common military punishment at the time.  A comrade wrote a letter to an African American Washington, DC newspaper complaining about his treatment and the following is the disparaging comment by a white newspaper:

July 20, 1864 Washington DC Evening Star, page 1
But a Pennsylvania paper took a more sympathetic view of his treatment.

August 31, 1864, Bloomberg, Pennsylvania (The Star of the North), page 1
Despite this, the soldiers appear to have enjoyed their new-found position as this article nicely describes - they are the ones "on the top rail now":

The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) November 26, 1880 page 3
A Confederate prisoner named Jacob Omenhausser made many sketches depicting scenes of his time in confinement at Point Lookout, including this one memorializing this famous phrase:
Rebel prison scenes, Point Lookout Maryland, 1864.
Naval History Society Collection. Series 37. Point Lookout sketches, 1864.
The rapport between the black guards and the white prisoners was not all harmless. There was much animosity between the groups as well. One Confederate who had managed to purchase his freedom from the prison reported that "murder was not only not scrupled at, but opportunities sought for its commission by the guards, who are known to have been offered by the officer of the day as much as $10 and $15 apiece for every prisoner they could shoot in the discharge of their duty." 

And then there is this account (recalled from a few years later) of men who had been POWs charging that members of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry shot into groups of prisoners, as well as describing terrible conditions of the camp.

Louisville Daily Courier (Kentucky), April 18, 1868, page page 4

Just as their time as guards at Point Lookout was drawing to a close, their beloved leader Col. Henry Russell resigned his command.  His health was failing as a result of a previous injury.  The following letters were written by his officers and published in the papers praising him as a "wise and faithful friend of the colored race."  The testimonial went on to explain, 
"Every friend of civil justice and equality will confess, that the patient endurance and steady valor showed by so many of our colored troops, have done very much to establish, among friends and foes, the manhood of the negro.. . . [T]he colored man has won an incontestable right to share with the white race every civil right, every civil prerogative, and every civil emolument." 

February 24, 1865 The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts), page 3

On February 14, 1865 the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry received orders that they were to be returned to mounted cavalry duty and receive their horses and other necessary supplies.  They returned to action in March 1865 as a mounted cavalry unit and were sent to Virginia where they participated in the final campaign to reclaim Richmond for the US forces.
Unidentified African American cavalry soldier; Library of Congress.

What happened next is described on the Men of Nerve website

Early on the morning of April 3, 1865, a terrific explosion from the direction of Richmond awoke the cavalrymen. “It seemed almost to cause the earth beneath our feet to quake, we could not at the time form any conjecture what it was,” recalled one private in the regiment. “At half past seven a.m., the bugle sounded the well-known call for boots and saddles. After receiving orders to mount we were drawn up in line where Col. Chas. Francis Adams Jr., the commanding officer, made known our destination, by telling us that this day would likely seal the fate of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, and that he wanted every man to do his duty as a soldier in defence of his country’s rights, and at all hazards not suffer the colors we had so bravely defended on former occasions to be disgraced by any act of cowardice. He hoped that every man of us would be able to eat his dinner that day at 12 o’clock in the rebel capitol.”
Another soldier recalled that they “proceeded towards Richmond for about four miles, when we dismounted to fight on foot. We waited about half an hour, and as heavy cannonading was going on in front and skirmishing on our right we again mounted, and the balance of the distance to Richmond we went on a gallop. …We passed infantry, artillery and some cavalry, and entered Richmond, the first mounted men in the city, which was entirely evacuated by the Confederate army.” He added, “Going through the city we passed thousands of citizens, colored and white, who cheered and cheered us as we rode in triumph along the streets.” The fleeing Confederates buried several torpedoes, or mines, as booby traps, but the “contrabands” that watched them plant the devices informed the black cavalrymen where they were hidden."
The statement that they were the "first mounted men in the city" has been disputed and most think that, at least, they were the first African American soldiers to arrive in Richmond. Gustavus Booth, a private in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, provided a great description of their service that morning - one he was clearly still proud of 18 years later.
National Tribune (Washington, DC) September 27, 1883, page 2
On May 6, 1865, the men of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry were moved to Light House Point, Virginia. Under Special Orders, Number 146 they were assigned to the Cavalry Brigade, 25th Army Corps, on May 30th. Perhaps this is where William Holmes received a gun shot wound - maybe he confused Light House Point with City Point?  The timing - just prior to their departure for Texas - seems more likely, but again no notation in his file confirms this.

Brazos Santiago, Texas.  Once Richmond was claimed and the final outcome of the War seemed final, the men had time to serve on their 3-year enlistments, so they were sent to Brazos Santiago, Texas for the remainder of their service. 
Galveston (Texas) Daily News, June 14, 1865 page 2
It seems the transport ships headed first to Mobile Bay from Fortress Monroe in Virginia before heading toward Texas. 

Next they arrived in New Orleans on June 17th where they loaded up with wood and water (according to a small notice in the paper there).

Daily Dallas Herald (Dallas, Texas) July 1, 1865, Page 1 

Juneteenth, June 19, 1865.

Galveston (Texas) Daily News, June 21, 1865, Page 1
On June 19, 1865 the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, as part of the 25th Corp, arrived in Galveston, Texas.  The news clipping to the left shows that General Granger (who was stationed here in Franklin) and Weitzel - who was the commander over the 25th Corp which included the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry and other USCT regiments - had arrived with their men. This is significant, because it means that William Holmes was in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 - the day that General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which read in part:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."
This day has been celebrated as Juneteenth every year since - as a commemoration of the day when the slaves in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom - and more broadly of a general celebration of freedom of all enslaved African Americans. How remarkable that Private Holmes was there on that day!  And what another incredible connection that General Granger who was stationed for so long in Franklin, and for whom our Fort Granger is named, was the man who issued this order.

To the Rio Grande.  Next the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was sent further south - to the Rio Grande.  Brazos Santiago was once a small low barrier island at the mouth of the Rio Grande in southernmost Texas but it no longer appears on today's maps. The closest approximation today is the southernmost tip of South Padre Island in Texas.
Map made with Mapcarta.
Red dot is location of Brazos Santiago where the Rio Grande spills into the Gulf of Mexico.
Their job was to provide a presence along this small section of the Mexico/Texas border to monitor the activities of the French military and its Imperial Guard stationed in nearby Matamoros. Additionally, the men may have worked as laborers on the new railroad adjoining the Island of Brazos Santiago to White's Ranch (along the river).

US Colored Troop soldiers digging trenches at the north end
Brazos Island 1864 - Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper 1864. Courtesy of
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
While there, Private William Holmes is listed as "Absent - sick in Hospital at Brazos Santiago" on his muster cards in July & Aug 1865.

Galveston (Texas) Daily News, August 10, 1865 Page 2
According to a news report in August of 1865 - around the time that Private Holmes would have been in the hospital - "the whole coast from Brazos Santiago to Clarkesville is lined with colored troops and a large force is camped along the river as high as Brownsville. . . . The troops are generally enjoying good health and the officers seem active and diligent."  It includes a report of two soldiers being executed for crimes committed in Virginia, and a third under the death penalty.

In Clarksville, Texas on October 31, 1866 the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry mustered out of service.  According to Steven LaBarre's book, they immediately started for Massachusetts, completing most of the trip by steamship by way of New Orleans and New York City. 

Private Holmes Makes His Way to Tennessee.  How Private Holmes made his way to Tennessee is a bit of a mystery to me.  Did he take the transport back to Boston (even though he enlisted in Washington?) and then leave from there and head to Tennessee?  Did he strike out straight from Texas (if that would have even been allowed)?  And why Tennessee?  And why Williamson County?  We have no way of knowing, but we do know that he was in Texas with several other men with Williamson County ties -and perhaps he learned about this area of the country from one of them:
  • Moses Nelson served in the 29th US Colored Infantry. Although born in Williamson County, he appears to have perhaps been a run-away because he enlisted in Chicago on January 29, 1864. He was promoted to sergeant and later mustered out as a sergeant in April 1866 in Brownsville, Texas.
  • Miley Harris served in the 46th US Colored Infantry. Like Moses Nelson, he was also born in Williamson County, but he enlisted in Helena, Arkansas on May 1, 1863. He mustered out Jan. 30, 1866 at Boca Chica, Texas.
  • Isham Anderson also served in the 46th US Colored Infantry and likewise was born in Williamson County and enlisted in Helena, Arkansas on May 1, 1863.  He spent time in Brownsville, Texas and died there in September, 1865 of dysentery.  Perhaps he was in the hospital with Williams Holmes during his illness earlier that summer? 
  • Benjamin Cook served in the  8th US Colored Heavy Artillery. He was born in Williamson County but enlisted on January 28, 1864 in Paducah, Kentucky. He mustered out February 10, 1866 in Victoria, Texas.
  • And of course, General Gordon Granger - but whether William Holmes would have had any personal contact with a general is doubtful.
In his pension record, two men from Williamson County - Ephraim Crockett (a veteran from the 13th US Colored Infantry) and Isaac Dalton (a veteran of the 14th US Colored Infantry) - sign an affidavit on William Holmes' behalf stating that they knew him for about four years before he married his wife Mary.  He married Mary in 1868 - which means they would have known him in 1864.  However, neither Crockett nor Dalton served in Virginia nor Texas, so its doubtful that they met him in the service. Probably the men met William in Williamson County and were mistaken about the length of time that they had known him.

Wedding on Christmas Eve 1868  Within two years of leaving the Army, on Christmas Eve 1868, 23-year-old William Holmes married 31-year-old Mary Poyner at the house of Charles Crockett (an African American man) in "Petersburg" (now called Arrington).  The ceremony was performed by Samuel Sawyers (a white constable and Methodist Minister). Mary had been previously married (to Louis Johnson) - so she is named as Mary Johnson on her marriage license.  It's interesting to note that later in life, when Mary applies for a widow's pension she and all others who sign statements on her behalf, swear that she was never married before.  I assume this is because a prior marriage would have complicated her chances of obtained a pension.

Ann Starnes' affidavit in pension application

Mary Poyner's Early Life  In Mary Poyner Holmes' pension application, two of the children of Charles Mason "Mac" Poyner - a Williamson County farmer from Halifax, Virginia - state that Mary had belonged to him for most of her life.  For example, C. M. Poyner's son W. D. Poyner stated that Mary belonged to his father since Mary was a baby.
Affidavit of W. D. Poyner in Mary Holmes' pension application.

However, I believe that they were mistaken.  These children would have been very young when Mary was with the family and their recollection may not have been accurate.  In the 1840 Census - when we would expect Mary to be about a three year old girl  - Charles M. Poyner shows only one adult male on his Slave Census.  So instead, I believe that Mary was enslaved by another Williamson County farmer from Virginia named Robert Poyner.

Robert Poyner is known to have enslaved eight people comprising the family of Dick Poyner, a  highly skilled furniture maker who would later gain his freedom before the Civil War and live as a free person of color.  In the 1840 census, Robert Poyner enslaved two girls under the age of ten - either one of whom could have been Mary (who would have been three years old).  

Free White Persons - Males - 20 thru 29:1
Free White Persons - Males - 60 thru 69:1
Free White Persons - Females - 60 thru 69:1
Slaves - Males - Under 10:3
Slaves - Males - 36 thru 54:2
Slaves - Females - Under 10:2
Slaves - Females - 10 thru 23:1
Persons Employed in Agriculture:2
Persons Employed in Manufacture and Trade:1
Free White Persons - 20 thru 49:1
Total Free White Persons:3
Total Slaves:8
Total All Persons - Free White, Free Colored, Slaves:11

Dick Poyner Side Chair
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery (Public Domain)
By the time Robert Poynor died in 1848 he only enslaved 7 people.  It is believed that Dick's wife Lucinda - the mother to his children - died in 1840, so that may account for the missing person. The inventory of Robert Poynor's estate includes the following seven people:
  1. Dick [Mary's father] (46 years)
  2. Catharine (20) [Mary's older sister]
  3. Thomas (19) [Mary's older brother]
  4. James (16) [Mary's older brother]
  5. Philip (13) [Mary's older brother]
  6.  Mary (11)
  7. [Lucinda] Jane (9) [Mary's younger sister].   
Dick Poynor's chairs in particular are very collectable and are on exhibit in museums around the country.  Rick Warwick, Williamson County Historian, is the foremost expert on Dick Poynor's family and his craftsmanship.  He has written numerous articles and spoken many times about Dick Poynor's life and work.  Rick has also written this book about Dick Poyner and other's craftsmanship.  

Inventory of Robert Poyner's estate, dated July 4, 1848 - signed by A. B. Poyner, Administrator

Mary Poynor Holmes would have been 11 years old in 1848 which seems to confirm that the 11 year old Mary mentioned in Robert Poyner's will was our Mary.  

Elsewhere in the probate documents of Robert Poynor's estate is a document showing which white Poynor family members received distributions of the assets including the six members of the enslaved family of Dick Poynor:

  • to John Poynor - Negro Thomas, Valued at $650
  • to Joseph Bancroft - Negro Catherine valued at $600
  • to Dr. A. B. Poynor - Negro Dick valued at $450 [this seems low], James valued at $600 and an allowance for keeping Phillip
  • to S [Shadrack] Sudburry [this was Robert's son in law, married to Robert's daughter Susana] - Mary and her sister Lucinda [Jane] valued collectively at $850

1850 Shadrack Sudburry's Slave Census
Two years after inheriting 11 year old Mary and 9 year old Lucinda Jane, the Sudburry's moved to Dyer County.  I don't think they took Mary and Lucinda Jane with them.  However, in the 1850 slave census, Shadrack Sudburry does claim one 12 year old girl and one 10 year old.  Mary would have been around 13 years old and Lucinda Jane would have been 11 years old, so this could be them.  I speculate that perhaps they were being "hired out" to other families and still being claimed on the Sudburry census.  For more information about the practice of "hiring out" please read this blog post.  
I believe that although the Sudburry's legally owned Mary she was being hired out to the CM Poyner family as a nurse.  The CM Poyner family lived directly across Pinewood Road in Leiper's Fork from Mary's father Dick Poyner who by now had secured his freedom.  Mary was a young teenager and serving as the nurse for his daughter Francis and son W. D. Poyner (and probably his other daughter Amanda). 
Mary Francis Poyner Foster (1850-1925)
Mary Poyner Holmes was her nurse from the time
she was a young baby until Mary was freed by the end of the Civil War.
Slave Suicide in 1855.  An intriguing event happened in 1855.  At this time Mary was 18 years old and still  living in the home of CM Poynor working as the nurse to his children.  According to this small news account a "valuable negro man" belonging to Charles' Poynor "hung himself."  Its hard to imagine what that would have been like for Mary and how that would have effected the family or who that young man might have been.

Nashville Daily Patriot Saturday August 4th, 1855
Marriage to Louis Johnson.  Around 1858 Mary married a man named Louis Johnson who may have lived near the Garrison area in the same vicinity that Mary was living. According to Rick Warwick, Williamson County Historian, he may have been a slave of Louis and Nancy Johnson at one time. Its not clear what happened to Louis but he seems to have died or left the area.  While no marriage certificates for slaves are available, Mary seems to have treated their union as a true marriage because when she married William Holmes twenty years later she is using the name Mary Johnson and her children are using the last name of Johnson.  The couple had four daughters - Beatrina (born 1859), Analise (b 1859), Sarah Elizabeth (b1862) and Martha "Mattie" (b 1866).  Mattie would have been the only one of Mary and Louis Johnson's daughters to be born free.

Around this time, in the 1860 Census, Dick Poyner and his second wife Milley were living free with their son Phillip right across Pinewood Road from his enslaved daughter, her children and her employer.  This would have been at the time when CM Poynor's children Francis and W.D. remember vividly Mary being their nurse.  

According to Francis Poynor, "She [Mary] remained a slave of my father until freed at the close of the Civil War."  W. D.'s recollection of these events is very similar. Therefore, its safe to assume that by 1865 Mary Poynor and her daughters were free.  
Affidavit of Francis Foster in Mary Holmes' pension application
New Family is Formed.  In late October 1866 William Holmes had mustered out of the Army and on Christmas Eve 1868, he and Mary Poynor Johnson were married in the Arrington area of Williamson County.  Mary was the single mother to four little girls ages 9, 8, 6 and 2.  According to the pension records, within a few months of their marriage the new family moved from the Arrington area to the western part of the county "where they lived since."

Ann Starnes' affidavit in pension application
It appears as though around this time a young, single white farmer named George Hunter gave William and Mary Holmes and their daughters a place to live and a job sharecropping. George Hunter stated in Mary's pension application that the couple, "lived together as man and wife on my farm for about 10 years after they were married and have lived in my neighborhood ever since."
G. B. Hunter's affidavit in pension application
In the 1870 Census, taken on July 11, 1870, William and Mary Holmes appear as the third family counted in the Third Civil District of Williamson County - this would have been on Pinewood Road near the Leiper's Fork area today and probably on the land that G. B. Hunter described.  William Holmes is listed in the Agricultural Census that year as well.  This schedule shows that he is farming 13 improved acres and 60 unimproved acres.  They are living right next door to Dick Poyner and his second wife Milly (Mary's step-mother).  William is farming and lists his personal estate as worth $100. He confirms he was born in Virginia, is described as mulatto (biracial) and says that he cannot read or write. Three of his step-daughters are living with the couple. Beatrina (11 years old) is the only one of the three children attending school. Also in the home are Sarah Elizabeth (8) and Martha "Mattie" Jane (5). I think that Analise may have passed away because she no longer appears with the family.
1870 Federal Census, Third Civil District, Williamson County, Tennessee
In that same census, the very next family counted (the 5th family) is the Charles M. Poyner family who are living across the street.

In the June 15, 1880 Federal Census we learn that both of James parents' were born in Virginia. The couple has had two sons of their own, William Jr and Robert and only the youngest of Mary's daughter's Mattie is still living at home.  The family is no longer living next to Dick Poyner, who at the age of 77 seems to have given up working as a furniture maker. Mary and Mattie can both read but none of them can write.

1880 Federal Census, Third Civil District, Williamson County

By 1882, the couple have added a third son to the family - Kemp.  
Pension document dated January 31, 1889
In this pension document we learn the birthdays of William and Mary's three sons:

  • William H. Holmes (Jr.) born January 18, 1875
  • Robert Holmes, November 3, 1878
  • Kemp Holmes, May 5, 1882 

The 1890 Federal Census is missing, but the "Veterans' Schedule has survived and William Holmes did declare himself as being a US Army veteran - a private of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, Company A.  This is how he was first identified as being an African American Civil War veteran from Williamson County by other historians. 

1890 Veterans' Schedule
During this Reconstruction period, William and Mary seem to be working for J. S. Jones.  In a statement in Mary's pension application he says that the couple . . .  worked for him doing "wheat threshing, corn shedding and hog killing off and on for at least 25 years. 
Statement of J. S. Jones
In the 1900 Federal Census we learned that William (now using "Bill") Holmes and Mary own their own farm "free" of any mortgage.  This farm was on Pinewood Road near the Hillsboro School in the town of Leiper's Fork. Mary has had 8 pregnancies but only three children have survived.  I suspect that in stating she has only three living children, Mary is only counting her three sons from William because at this point her daughter Mattie was still alive.  In fact, in 1900 Mattie was a 44-year old wife and married mother to six children living in Dickson, Tennessee.  William Jr (now 25) was living in Nashville and working in a lumber yard after attending Fisk University. Robert (22 years old) and Kemp (19 years old) were both farming and living with William and Mary.  Robert is  married to his wife Mary and they have a baby daughter - William's first grandchild.  According to the census, William Sr is not literate but his sons can read and write.  They are all farming.
1900 Federal Census, Third Civil District, Williamson County
In 1903, William Holmes requested a pension.  He said he was a farmer but that he couldn't walk well and couldn't push a plow.  He was granted an $8/month disability pension on the basis of senility instead of physical disability however - the doctor noted that he was "senile, far beyond that which would be expected of one of his stated age." 

On June 10, 1906 William Holmes died.  I have not been able to find his gravesite.

According to Mary's pension application, when William died, she still lived at their home in Leiper's Fork and had "a mare and mule colt and an old wagon and buggy and some farming implements altogether worth [$140 or $150]."  She had "no income" and her homestead was said to need "about $36 per year."  This information was provided by Charles A. Bond, the superintendent of the County Poorhouse who originally sold Mary and William their land in 1896.

Mary provided an even more detailed description of her assets and their home.  She states:  "My husband William Holmes left in his own name ten acres of land with log house with shed rooms over one side and galley on the other with [corn] crib and stables in it in which I have a life estate in the 3rd [Civil] District [of Williamson County].  . . . I have one old buggy worth $10 and an old mare and good suckling mule colt - both worth $125. I have no income and no one is legally bound to provide for me."
Mary's statement as to her net worth
Mattie Holmes and her husband Reuben Pope
When Mary was widowed in 1906, she was about 68 years old.  Her father Dick and step mother had already passed away (Dick in 1882 and Milley in 1879).  Additionally, her siblings Catherine, Thomas and James had also already passed away.  Mary stayed in Leiper's Fork initially but seems to have visited her daughter Mattie and her husband Reuben Pope and their family in Dickson, Tennessee regularly.  The below newspaper clipping describes one such visit - although it erroneously  refers to Mary as Mrs. Reuben Holmes.
Portion of the Hillsboro Notes column from
the Nashville Globe, dated January 20 1911

Portion of the Hillsboro Notes column from
the Nashville Globe, dated April 23, 1909
Mary and Williams' son Kemp was living in Nashville during this time (but also visiting home - see the article at left).  Kemp was a laborer and sadly contracted tuberculosis.  He moved back to Leiper's Fork where he died at his mother's home in 1916.

Robert Holmes' visit home to Leiper's Fork (called Hillsboro) -
Reported in the April 23, 1909 Nashville  Globe
William and Mary's two oldest sons William Jr and Robert moved to Kankakee, Illinois.  William Jr was working in a rock crusher and Robert was working odd-jobs.  It appears as though they moved to that area with at least three other families from Williamson County.  The brothers both returned home to Leiper's Fork for visits in the spring and summer of 1909.  
Portion of the Hillsboro Notes column from
the Nashville Globe, dated September 3 1909

Portion of the Hillsboro Notes column from
the Nashville Globe, dated August 20 1909

Portion of the Hillsboro Notes column from
the Nashville Globe, dated August 13 1909
By 1920, Robert had moved to South Bend, Indiana where he was working in a factory.  Mary now 82 years old had moved to be with him and was living with Robert, his wife Josephine, their two young daughters and a boarder.  They were all living in the same house with Mattie (Mary's daughter from her first marriage) and her husband and their youngest son Albert. Reuben was a laborer in a foundry. They were living at 219 1/2 South Chapen Street in South Bend.
1920 Census from South Bend Indiana, showing Mattie Pope and her family
living with Mary Holmes and her son Robert and his family
On January 21, 1920 Robert died in South Bend.  He was working as a brick laborer.  His body was sent back to Franklin for burial.  Mary appears to have stayed living in South Bend, living with her daughter Mattie, because she died there on April 30, 1929.  She was buried in South Bend on May 2, 1929.  

Some of Mary and William Holmes' descendants stayed in the Franklin and Dickson areas.  The story of William Holmes' journey from Virginia to Texas to Tennessee is a remarkable one.  His involvement in one of Massachusetts' famous all-black Civil War regiments - and its only cavalry unit - is legendary.  Williamson County should be so proud to claim his story as our own and I am privileged to be able to share it here.