Black History in Tennessee

Black Hisory In Tennessee

This is another of a series of historical articles on Anderson County and her people.

Part I

Clinton Courier News
August 13, 1981.

County Historian

Legislation is starting point
Information on black race
important history segment

It is a never-ending task–that of exploring, finding and studying documents, books and personal interviews concerning history of the black race in Tennessee and Anderson County.

Tennessee having been a border state as regards slavery, and East Tennessee being outside the plantation area of the state, the number of slaves in East Tennessee (and Anderson County) was negligible compared to that of Middle and West Tennessee.

A good starting point for this type of research was found to be territorial and state laws regarding slavery, free persons of color, slave owners and others. This is an important part of black history.

From 1784, beginning with territorial legislation, it was the law that “all sales of slaves shall be in writing, attested to by at least two witnesses, or otherwise shall not be deemed valid.”

Beginning in 1794 it was the law that “all Negroes, Indians, mulattos and all persons on mixed blood, descended from Negro or Indian ancestors, to the third generation inclusive, whether bonded or free, shall be incapable to be witnesses, except against each other.”

In 1831 the state of Tennessee passed a law prohibiting “free persons of color” to emigrate into the state, under the following penalty:

“Such persons shall be tried before the grand jury
or circuit court of the county where he or she may
attempt to reside, and if convicted shall be fined
ten to fifty dollars, to the use of the county, and
shall be sentenced to not less than one nor more
than ten years at hard labor in the penitentiary.”

If at the end of the sentence such person or persons who should refuse to leave the county, unless delayed by sickness or unavoidable accident, would be liable to indictment as before, and on conviction, the penitentiary term would be doubled.

Under the same law, any assemblage of slaves in unusual number or at suspicious times and places not authorized by their owners was subject to whipping, not to exceed 25 lashes.

This law also provided that no slave could go about the country under the pretext of practicing medicine, under penalty of 25 lashes, if convicted.

Another provision of the 1831 law was that any person delivering to the jail or magistrate any runaway slave was entitled to the sum of $5.00, to be paid by the owner of the slave.

Another provision of this law was that patrollers (called “pattyrollers” by slaves) and searchers who faithfully served to terms of three months were exempt for terms of 12 months from military muster, working on roads and searching in their respective bounds during the day as well as night, and they had power to arrest and punish all slaves found under suspicious circumstances off their masters’ property without written passes.

An 1832 act prohibited any stage contractor, owner or driver, or captain of any steamboat or other water craft, to receive or carry from any place in Tennessee to any other place either in or out of the state any black or colored person unless said person could produce the certificate of the clerk of the court or the county from which the stage or boat was to depart. The certificate was to shoe that said colored person was free, or a slave had to carry a written permission from his owner. Penalty for this offense was, on conviction, a fine of from $200 to $500 and imprisonment of from three to six months.

In 1844 an act was passed to authorize the mayor and aldermen of any incorporated town in Tennessee to employ runaway slaves committed to the jail of county for the public improvement of the town. The town officials were required to keep on file an accurate description of each slave so received, to be advertised in the event of escape. They also were to execute a bond of the town, payable to the sheriff of the county, in double the value of such slaves, conditioned for the safe keeping, good treatment and delivery of said slaves to their owners upon application of such owner or his agent, or to the jailer, upon expiration of the period of confinement of such slave.

An 1860 law provided that “any person who had sold spiritous or vinous liquors by retail to any free person of color knowingly, or suffer them or slaves to assemble at night time or on Sundays on the premises of such person who may have spiritous liquors, such person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished at the discretion of the court and jury.”

Part II

Clinton Courier News
August 20, 1981.

County Historian

Efforts to document slave life
History of black people told best by themselves

Even during the days of slavery the experience of slaves had been recorded in a few instances.

Since that time there have been numerous pen pictures and narratives of old slaves, or their descendants, documented.

One such record coming to the writer’s attention seems especially interesting, perhaps because it contains narratives in the actual words of slaves who were still living in 1937-38-39 and who had been slaves in various places within the southeastern part of the United States. Other portions of the volume consist of narratives by descendants of slaves which had been told to them by their parents or grandparents.

The volume is entitled Lay My Burden Down. It is a fold history of slavery, edited by B. A. Botkin and published in 1945. It is a selection of recorded interviews which constituted a portion of the Federal Writers Project. Botkin was chief editor of the writer’s unit of the Library of Congress at that time.

The book contains personal narratives of ex-slaves, or their descendants, in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indian Territory, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In the state of Tennessee, the towns or counties where interviews were held included Caneville, Chattanooga, Davidson County, Decatur, Jackson, Knoxville, Memphis, Sparta, and Wildersville, Murfreesboro and Nashville.

One interview in Knoxville was with a slave who, when he was 8 years old, had been sold to Ben Cowan. Another was with Andrew Moss of Knoxville, an ex-slave who had been born in 1852 and was 85 years old when interviewed in 1937. The Tennessee colony on the Cumberland Plateau was mentioned by one ex-slave who went there after freedom.

The volume is well worth reading, but interesting as it is, it does not contain anything about Anderson County during the days of slavery. And, really, very little has been found in published works about slave life in East Tennessee. So, Anderson County’s history of its black citizens becomes subordinate local history to general studies of social history of life in the South during that period.

However, a great many interesting facts about the black population of Anderson County have been gleaned from official court records, deeds, wills, newspapers, personal interviews and other sources. These facts concern persons and accomplishments of which the county may be proud.

To be a slave in Anderson or any other East Tennessee county was vastly different from slave life on a large plantation where a hundred or more slaves lived in the slave quarters. On the small farm, or in the case of black house servants, the relationship of master and slave must have been on an easier footing than where routine and rules had to be established for large numbers of slaves belonging to the same owner.

John H. Garner, who died before 1858, had several slaves. His farm was 400 acres. The settlement of his estate in 1858 showed the names and prices at which some if his slaves were sold. They all brought high prices. Rinda sold for $1,204, Vinny $558 and Mitty and her child brought $1,191. Others sold at from $500 to $1,100.

An interesting sidelight mentioned in the court settlement was that Trigg and Temple, attorneys of Knoxville, were awarded a gee of $350 by court decree. They declined to take more than $250 until the case was completely closed, saying them they would decide if they thought their labor would entitle them to all of the $350.

The following is a portion of an interview with the late Mrs. Louranie McAdoo Weaver a few years before her death. She remembered that Charlie Moore, a former slave, had a cobbler shop for a long time on Hendrickson St. in Clinton about where the W. K. Ghormleys now live.

She remembered when the apartment house located on Moore St. in Clinton, almost straight across the railroad tracks from the Southern depot, was known as the Whitson House, famous for its meals, and that passenger trains going through Clinton would stop at meal time for passengers to go across and eat at the Whitson House.

She said that the first black school in Clinton was in the old Baptist cemetery on Edgewood Drive, in the old, old church building. Early black teachers in the county were John Shelton, a Mr. Hatcher and Spencer Roberts. There was a black school in the community where Mrs. Weaver lived (on Lewallen Rd. near Clinch River just above Moore’s Ferry, or Clinchmoore Bridge, but it was discontinued many years ago. Blanche Goode taught there, as well as Blanche Jarnigan before she married a Mr. Hadyn.

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