What’s in a Name?

Depiction of the role of the Freedman’s Bureau, Harper’s Weekly, July 25, 1868.

Depiction of the role of the Freedman’s Bureau, Harper’s Weekly, July 25, 1868.

From Russ Smith:

A commonly held belief, one that has been challenged recently, is that newly freed slaves, having no surnames of their own, adopted the surnames of their final master. One explanation given in the classroom and elsewhere is that “Carter’s William” easily became “William Carter.” luckily, there are now some local records easily accessible on-line to test whether slaves in one area actually did adopt their final master’s name.

On March 19, 1866 Col. Orlando Brown, the assistant commissioner in Virginia of what is commonly called the Freedman’s Bureau, ordered that a register be created of the names of freedmen “cohabitating together as man and wife.” The register contains not only the surnames of each individual, but also the names of the former masters of each. There are some 1,756 freedmen’s names (if I counted correctly.)

The results of reviewing the names in the register were revealing. Not only did freedmen not usually take the name of their former master, they almost never did. Of the 1,756 names reviewed, only 27 or 1.5% are the same as the final master. If some of the matches are only coincidental, that lowers the number further yet.

This raises the question that, if the names didn’t come from the final master, where did they come from? A great number of the freemen’s names are the same as those of local white residents. Did the freemen choose these names when they became free or are these surnames that they carried before freedom came? Although official records seem to have only recognized one name for slaves, did they actually have first and last names? This practice is not unknown and may have been more common than we assume. Only further research will tell.

Note: The volume relating to Caroline County survives in the archives of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center. That part of the register relating to couples is entitled: Register of Colored Persons of Caroline County, State of Virginia, cohabitating together and husband and wife on 27th February, 1866. A transcription of the register is available on the University of Mary Washington’s Department of Historic Preservation’s excellent website.

An unprecedented opportunity to see a special place: Moss Neck

From John Hennessy:

Mort Kunstler, Review at Moss Neck.

Few places in the Fredericksburg region are more steeped in both history and mystery than Moss Neck. Jackson’s headquarters during the winter of 1862-63, the place has been portrayed by artists and historians alike as a happy refuge, where war, a family, and a great man came together for several magical months.

Moss Neck is privately owned and rarely opened for visits. But this Friday night we will have special access, as History at Sunset visits Moss Neck, thanks to its kind owners.  Frank O’Reilly and Eric Mink will lead the way through the property.  For more information, click here and scroll down.

We hope our M&C readers can join us. The program begins at 7 p.m.

A 1927 ad for the sale of Moss Neck.

A balm to a wounded South: honoring Jackson and the dead at Guinea Station, 1866

From John Hennessy:

"Fairfield," the Chandler Plantation at Guinea Station, before the removal of the big house (left), early 1900s. The farm office where Jackson died is at right, and survives.

The great risks that attended secession did not become obvious to many Southerners until the experiment failed, until the South was vanquished. In diaries and letters written during the months following Appomattox, the people in and around Fredericksburg struggled to reconcile defeat with the immense losses the community, state, and South had suffered. In May 1865, Lizzie Alsop of Princess Anne Street wailed,”Each day increases the weight upon our hearts; & we feel more accutely the loss we have sustained; our country, our cause, our all.”  A other great example can be found in this letter from Hannah Rawlings of Spotsylvania County.

As witness to more Southern sacrifice than any other place in the nation, the Fredericksburg region symbolized the cost of war acutely. A few residents seem to have been much aware of the immense investment the Confederacy had made here, and sought to justify that sacrifice with honor.  Here is a letter from Guinea Station, written in 1866 (it appeared in the Fredericksburg Ledger  on June 29). The letters speaks to the nexus between wartime and postwar suffering and the need to honor the sacrifices embodied at the failed attempt to create the Confederate States of America.

The farm office at Jackson Shrine today.

Guiney’s Depot,  Caroline County, Va.

Editor of the Ledger:

            DEAR SIR:–I suppose you can, in some degree, appreciate the condition of the people at present;  we are without money and nothing to see to get it; there is a complete failure in the wheat crops in my neighborhood.

            I have intended for some time to give you some account of the way in which the anniversary of the death of our much lamented Jackson was spent in the neighborhood of Guiney’s depot, by the patriotic young ladies and gentlemen in that vicinity.  They turned out on that day and made up and decorated with flowers, over one hundred greaves of the Confederate soldiers, mostly from the Southern States.  I think such things should be published to let the friends of those who fell in our country’s cause know that they are not forgotten by the people of Virginia; that their husbands and sons, though filling soldier’s graves, are alive in the hearts of those who were engaged in a common cause.  Much credit is due, especially to the ladies, for this manifestation of their respect to the soldiers; much has been done, and I hope much more will be done in honor of the soldiers who lost their lives in behalf of our beloved, though unfortunate country.

            With my best wishes for your prosperity, I subscribe myself yours with respect.

                                                                            J. M. B. 

Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett – Part 3

From Mink:

Part 1 of this story can be found here

Part 2 of this story can be found here

Upon his release from Old Capitol Prison in Washington, it seems likely that Willie Jett returned home to Westmoreland County, Virginia. Willie gained a slight amount of fame from his encounter with Lincoln’s assassin and he appears frequently in accounts of Booth’s escape and death. Many of these descriptions claim that Willie was discarded by Izora Gouldman, the woman he was purported to be courting in Bowling Green, and that he was ostracized by his friends and family for having guided the Union authorities to Booth’s hiding place at Garrett’s. John L. Marye, Jr. a relative of Willie’s and the son of Fredericksburg’s John Marye, later wrote about Jett:

“He was never ostracized by his friends or outlawed by his family. No person of sense blamed him in the slightest degree for his action in piloting the Federal cavalry to where he had left the lame man (Booth)… Mr. Jett was in his spirits and demeanor in no way affected by the unfortunate circumstances with which he was frequently connected. He went to Baltimore a year after, engaged in business, traveling constantly in Virginia, and married the daughter of a prominent physician of Baltimore.”  – “Mr. Jett and the Capture of Booth” by John L. Marye, in The Century Magazine, Volume 52, Issue 4 (August 1896) pp. 637-638

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Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett – Part 2

From Mink:

Part 1 of this story can be found here

After having secured Booth a place to stay at Richard Garrett’s farm, the rest of the travelers continued south, parting ways. Jett’s two riding companions were cousins Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge and Mortimer B. Ruggles. Bainbridge had served as a private in the 3rdVirginia Cavalry, before apparently joining Colonel John S. Mosby’s command in the final weeks of the war. Ruggles served through the war as a Lieutenant on the staff of his father, General Daniel Ruggles, before resigning his commission on March 29, 1865 in order to join Mosby. As they left the Garrett Farm, Herold and Bainbridge headed for the home of Joseph Clarke, a friend of Bainbridge’s. Jett and Ruggles rode to Bowling Green, the seat of Caroline

Site of the Star Hotel in Bowling Green, Va. The building was razed in the 1940s, but bricks were salvaged and used in the construction of the real estate office that now occupies the site.

County. Rumors suggested that Jett was courting Izora Gouldman, whose father ran the Star Hotel in Bowling Green. It was there that Jett and Ruggles spent the night of April 24, 1865. The following morning, Herold and Bainbridge arrived at the hotel, picked up Ruggles and the three men rode back to the Garrett Farm where Herold rejoined Booth. Bainbridge and Ruggles left the farm and never saw Booth or Herold again.

For over a week, Union authorities had been scouring the countryside looking for Booth. As  Booth and Herold reposed on the Garret Farm, Union cavalry closed in. Willie spent April 25 at the Star Hotel, little knowing that he would not get much sleep that night. Having been tipped off about Willie’s association with Booth, and his whereabouts, a patrol from the 16thNew York Cavalry rode into Bowling Green shortly before midnight. The horsemen surrounded the Star Hotel and then entered the building, bursting into Jett’s room. A frightened Willie acknowledged his

Site of the Garrett Farm along US Route 301 north of Bowling Green, Va.

identity before confiding in one of the officers. “I know who you want; and I will tell you where they can be found.” It was exactly what the authorities wanted to hear and with those words Willie gave up the most hunted man in the country.

Willie guided the cavalry to the Garrett Farm. He was left at the gate to the property, while the cavalry rode in to get Booth and Herold. Herold surrendered, and later hanged for his crimes, but Booth was shot in the Garrett barn. The Union soldiers carried the mortally wounded assassin to the porch of Mr. Garrett’s house. Willie was brought to the scene. While he lay dying, Booth looked up, recognized Willie and asked: “Did that man betray me? Did Jett betray me?” His question went unanswered, but surely he knew the truth. A few minutes later, Lincoln’s assassin expired.

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Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett – Part 1

From Mink:

I’m going to stray a bit from Fredericksburg and the battlefields to look at a story that unfolded in Caroline County, Virginia. The National Park Service does have a vested interest in Caroline’s Civil War history, as it maintains the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, the small plantation office building where the Confederate general died in 1863. The events discussed in this and follow-up posts occurred only a few miles from the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.

A small government-issued Confederate headstone stands in the northeast corner of the Fredericksburg City Cemetery. Aside from its inscription, it doesn’t appear any different than the other Confederate stones scattered about the cemetery. The stone marks the grave of William Storke Jett, a native of nearby Westmoreland County who served in Company C of the 9th Virginia Cavalry.

Willie, as he was known, spent less than one year in Confederate service. He joined the 9th Virginia Cavalry on June 16, 1864, at the age of seventeen. Thirteen days later, Willie received a severe wound when shot in the abdomen during the First Battle of Reams Station in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. The wound so incapacitated Willie that he never returned to active duty with the regiment. By his own account, once he recovered from his wound he served the remainder of the war as a commissary agent on duty in Caroline County, Virginia. When he learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, Willie claimed that he made his way to Westmoreland County to meet up with his brother, Lucius, who was a private in Colonel John S. Mosby’s 43rdBattalion Virginia Cavalry. If he could not rejoin the 9th Virginia Cavalry, he would join another command.

William Storke Jett

From Westmoreland, Willie traveled to Loudoun County, where he learned that Mosby’s command had already disbanded. At that point, Willie determined to return home to Westmoreland County, believing the war was over. First, however, he would pay a visit to friends in Caroline County. Willie Jett’s name would most certainly have been forgotten to history if not for a chance encounter on his trip home. On the afternoon of April 24, 1865, Willie, in the company of two other former Confederates, waited for the ferry along the Rappahannock River at Port Conway. There, they made the acquaintance of the most wanted man in the country, John Wilkes Booth.

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