Friday, April 11, 2014

Exploring further Holleman History in Old Virginia, Part 11

by Glenn N. Holliman

Our series on some Holleman families that lived in Antebellum Isle of Wight County, Virginia continues.  As always interpretations and any errors are mine alone.

For the most part Hollemans shared in the wealth of the plantation economy of the Tidewater.   As discussed in previous articles, Josiah Holleman and his son, Joel, represented these interests as elected officials, Joel even serving from 1839-41 in the U.S. House of Representatives.  As I have written, it was a conflicted society of paradoxes, and a state that denied, to varying degrees, human and political rights to poor whites, free persons of color and, of course, those in slavery. 

In the 1850 Federal Census, I examined 101 households in the Eastern District of Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  Half of these house holds were inventoried before the census taker surveyed the Wilson Holleman family, who lived on the original farm of Christopher Holyman who had patented 1,020 acres in 1684. 

 The other half of dwellings were recorded after the Holleman's visitation.  In other words, these homes comprised the Holleman rural 'neighborhood'.

Thirty eight (38%) of the households were slave owners, the largest slave holder being neighbor John E. Thomas who owned 36 persons, and his land was valued at $12,000.  

By contrast, the Wilson Hollemans had 17 slaves and farm land valued at $4,300, also placing the family in the upper echelons of the economy.  The Wilson Hollemans were not the top 1% in terms of wealth, but they were definitely in the top 10% of the population with their accumulated assets.  The majority of the assets were not their inherited Christopher Holyman (1618-1691) land, but rather of human beings held in bondage.  This Holleman family and thousands of other white Southerners had much to lose economically if slaves were emancipated.

Thirty-four (34%) families were white non-slave holders, all farmers.  

In this same neighborhood were 29 (28%) house holds of 'Free Persons of Color'. These quasi-free persons had been emancipated by former owners or were the product of natural increase of freed African-Americans.  In all of what is the present state of Virginia, some 11% of the population were free persons of color in 1860.  This Holleman neighborhood in Isle of Wight County in the decade of the 1850s was unusual, representing a high percentage of freed ex-slaves and/or their descendants.

That free persons of color, as decribed by the census, existed is often a surprise to non-historians.  Normally novelists have presented the pre-Civil War South as three classes: slave owners, poor whites and slaves.  A more accurate description would be planters with numerous slaves, yeoman farmers who might own a family held in bondage, yeoman farmers without slaves (the majority of white southerners prior to the war) and of course, slaves. Frank Owsley's 1949 Plain Folk of the Old South remains the ground breaking tome on this interpretation of the Antebellum South.

I am trying to get my head around what this Isle of Wight County society was like.  This is not the romanticized South of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.  This was a rural environment where black Americans in slavery lived adjacent to or at least in the same district with almost 200 free persons of color!

Granted the 'free' person of color was required to carry papers at all times stating that they were emancipated, could not vote, sue white persons, serve on juries, and, if they did not pay their paltry property taxes, could be sold into slavery, but they were 'free' to work for their own wages, own land, grow their own food and take the day off when they, and not the overseer, decreed. Nor could their children or spouses, their own flesh and blood, be sold away from them as if they were cattle.

If one was a slave, did one not have an envy of the freed black person and a smoldering anger of the white family and society that denied one's liberty?  What must have been the simmering tensions and fears that abounded in this culture?   How could there be social peace with so many contradictions?

The reality is that the white South did live in anxiety and some element of fear.  In a previous post of February 2, 2014, I wrote of Josiah Holleman, Wilson's father, and his role as a commissioner (read Justice of the Peace) to enforce the repressive slave and racial codes of Antebellum Virginia. The 1831 Nat Turner rebellion in neighboring Southampton County, resulting in the deaths of 55 white persons, preyed on the minds of all slave owners.

Some white Virginians were deeply troubled by the denial of liberty to African-Americans, so much so that in 1831-32, Virginia had a free and open debate at a state convention in the capitol in Richmond to discuss the issue of human slavery.  Called in the wake of slave rebel Nat Turner's murderous uprising the previous August, the state legislature courageously called for an extended debate on the future of slavery in the 

Historian Susan Dunn in her book, Dominion of Memories, has written of this convention, its disappointing outcome in terms of emancipation and a resulting hardening of racial feelings.  Her work captures the deep ambiguities that many slave owners, including persons such as Jefferson, Monroe and Madison, had about the paradox of slavery in a free republic. 

This is a good read of a state in economic decline prior to the Civil War, in large part because of slavery.  Ironically and disgusting to modern sensibilities, Virginia's chief export, besides tobacco, was that of surplus slaves to the recently opened cotton fields of the Deep South.

Dunn's book echoed the 1990 work, Pocahontas's People by Helen C. Rountree.   "By 1830, the attitudes of whites was hardening generally toward non-whites.  In states that proclaimed themselves pro-slavery, as Virginia did... free Negroes came to be detested and feared by whites because they represented the possibility of freedom for all Negroes, an idea distinctly threatening to a white power structure whose economy as based upon slave labor.  

The activities of abolitionists in the North made the situation worse by increasing the possibility of slave rebellions.  White's fears of losing their income and privileged status caused them to heighten the barriers between themselves and all non-whites." p. 191.

Another historian, Peter Wallenstein wrote in 2007 in his book, Cradle of America, Four Centuries of Virginia History, "The social and cultural arrangements of eastern Virginia were constantly in flux, but their center of gravity focused on slave labor and tobacco cultivation.  In a grotesquely uneven struggle over work rhythms and family life, the people of Virginia's free and enslaved populations worked together as they created another new world.  At the top of the social and economic world in Virginia were the great planter families." p 40.
The Civil War came in 1861, and Virginia plunged into the abyss.  The Commonwealth suffered more battles fought on her soil than any other state.  By 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, almost all of Isle of Wight County was devoid of slaves.  Inflation ruined families, and reduced planters such as the Hollemans for a while to subsistence farming.

However, Wilson Holleman (1803-1873) kept his land and saved the 1830 Federal Period house. The home remains on part of the original land settled in 1684 by Christopher Holyman.  This land and Isle of Wight County have survived Indian raids, Bacon's Rebellion, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and blessedly have experienced economic and social reconstruction and renewal. 
 To this day, the home and land remain in a branch of the Holleman family, a testimony to the ability of families and a nation to survive turbulent times.... 

Next posting, an article by cousin Allen Holleman of North Carolina on the Hollemans who remained in Virginia....

Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

Join your many cousins at and view an expanded Holliman family tree and many files on the history of the family.  Just write to for an invitation. Or go to the HOLLYMAN GENEALOGY MyFamily site at Then click on "Request to Join" in upper righthand corner!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exploring further Holleman History in Old Virginia, Part 10

by Glenn N. Holliman

Holding Back the Tide of Change....

Our study of the Holleman families of Antebellum Virginia continues.  Christopher Holyman (1618-1691) migrated to Virginia from England in 1650 and left his four sons over 1,000 acres of land.  By the time of the American Civil War, many descendants had moved south and west to populate the southern United States.  Some descendants remained in Isle of Wight County, Virginia and began to spell their names Holleman.  

In the early 1800s, a branch of Hollemans in Isle of Wight County were successful politicians whose views reflected the mores and social conventions of the day.  As we noted in recent articles, slavery was conflicting this plantation culture.  A tide of change was about to engulf Virginia and the South.  

In our last posting, we reviewed the life and career of Josiah Holleman (1771-1848).  This story is of one of his sons, Joel Holleman (1799-1844), who died young but for a decade was a conservative spokesperson for the Virginia planters of the Tidewater. He represented a society that was receiving growing approbation from the western and northern United States.

Again, we have Helen Haverty King, Isle of Wight historian, for an outline of his political service plus the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, the Political Register and Congressional Directory, a biography from Wikipedia, the 1840 Federal Census and Susan Dunn's Dominion of Memories.  The photograph of Joel Holleman is from the collection of L. Willard Ballard.

Joel Holleman graduated from the University of North Carolina. 

1818 - Appointed an assistant principal at Dr. John Purdy's school, Smithfield, Virginia

1822 - Married Caroline Carroll

1829 - Helped in corporate Smithfield Academy

Member Smithfield Union Lodge 16 Masons (date unknown)

Admitted to the bar and practiced at Burwell Bay, Isle of Wight (date unknown)

1832-1836 Member of the Virginia House of Delegates

1836-1839 Member Virginia Senate

1839, March 4 -1841, December 1 -  Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

1841-1844 Member of and the 20th Speaker (1842-44) of the Virginia House of Delegates

1842 - First wife died.

1844 - Married sister of late wife, Emily W. Carroll

1844, August 4 - Died, cause unknown

Let's go back to the bitter 1840 presidential contest.  In 1839, at the time of his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Joel Holleman said he would resign his House seat if the Whigs won his district.  General William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate for President, carried the district, and Holleman, a Democrat true to his word, resigned. 

Ironically, Harrison died after one month in office, and Virginian John Tyler, the Vice President, assumed the office.  Tyler's policies were decidedly conservative favoring states rights, a position embraced by Holleman.  Tyler was 'read out' of the Whig party after only six months as President.  

The was the famous, hard fought presidential election of 1840 that coined the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too".  General Harrison led troops during the War of 1812 that smashed the Shawnee tribes of the Midwest.  Kentucky's Senator Henry Clay's Whig Party stood for internal improvements and a larger role for the Federal Government to help develop the western United States.  The Democrats of that day, the party of another general, Andrew Jackson, generally favored a smaller Federal footprint and states' rights. 

During that election, U.S. Representative Joel Holleman, a Democrat, an owner of nine slaves in 1840, gave a two hour speech in his district, Elizabeth City, Virginia.  The speech must have been powerful because it engendered a book in response, a work that has been reprinted several times since its original publication in 1841.   

The Essays of Camillus, addresses to the Hon. Joel Holleman is by an unknown Whig author who took great umbridge with Holleman's speech, so much so, he penned rapidly this tome. It has been reproduced because it caught so well the issues of the time.

Page after page is a defense of Harrison's character and military record.  However, what is telling to the modern eye, is how Camillus lambasts Holleman for accusing General Harrison of alining himself with abolitionists, those who wished to do away with slavery.   

Wrote Camillus to Holleman, "You state the Whigs are driven by that miserable and detestable party of the North, the Abolitionists, into the party of Gen. Harrison.  Your zeal is to fix upon the Whig Party the stigma of abolition."

Of course, those who wished to disturb the 'domestic institution' of slavery in the South such as Abolitionists were an abomination to slaveholders.  

Prior to the Civil War,  power in Virginia was in the hands of the eastern gentry, the plantation owners who used slave labor to plow fields and tend livestock. Many white males were denied the right to vote due to property requirements, and there was no secret ballot, only a voice vote in public. 

The Virginia House of Delegates remained disproportionately in the hands of the eastern counties. It was the House of Delegates, not the people, who elected the state governor An 1829 state convention to rewrite the Virginia's archaic constitution failed to dilute the voting power of the Tidewater aristocrats.   

The deeply conservative Tidewater representatives from Isle of Wight County in the 1820s to the 1840s were the father and son combination, Josiah and Joel Holleman.

Joel Holliman died at age 45 in 1844.  If he had lived a life span of seventy years, he would have seen his Virginia separated from the Federal Union, devastated, conquered and split into two states.   His political and economic views were assigned to the dust bin of history, but a historical marker adjacent to the Isle of Wight Museum in Smithfield, Virginia records his name.

On the same marker is a Gwaltney name, a family into whom several Holleman ladies married through the centuries.   In 2013 Smithfield Foods, a major conglomerate with sales of $14 billions annually, was purchased by a Chinese corporation for $4.7 billion.  

Time, accompanied by economic and social changes, flows on and no man can stay that tide.

Next Posting more on the Hollemans who stayed in Virginia....

Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

Join your many cousins at and view an expanded Holliman family tree and many files on the history of the family.  Just write to for an invitation. Or go to the HOLLYMAN GENEALOGY MyFamily site at Then click on "Request to Join" in upper righthand corner!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Exploring further Holleman History in Old Virginia, Part 9

By Glenn N. Holliman

The Conflicted Society....Hollemans in the Antebellum Age of Virginia

This continues our series of articles on Josiah Holleman (1771-1848) and his two sons, Joel (1799-1844) and Wilson (1803-1873), descendants of Christopher Holyman (1618-1691) who lived in Isle of Wight County, Virginia.   It was Wilson Holleman who constructed the Federal Period red brick home in 1830 on what remained of the original farm of Christopher Holyman.  Josiah was the son of Jesse (1735-1825) and Charity Cofer Holleman (1748-1810).  We will be posting an article on Jesse by cousin Allen Holleman in the near future.

On 10 January 1791, Josiah Holleman married Nancy Clark ( 1769-1844) of Southampton County, Virginia. According to records, they had ten children, a not uncommon number for couples prior to the 20th Century.  

Historian Helen Haverty King records in her history of Isle of Wight many references to Josiah's service to his community.  Below is a chronology.

 1818 - Jailer for Isle of Wight

1821 - Appointed school commissioner.  There were ten commissioners in this early attempt to further public education, one for each military district in the county.  In addition, he and Exum Eley were overseers of the poor in the Broadwater District, now the southern part of the Hardy District. 

1821 - 1829 - Member Virginia House of Delegates

 1823 - 1845 - Commissioner of Isle of Wight

1846-47 - Sheriff of Isle of Wight
1848 - Josiah died 15 March, Isle of Wight County, Virginia

The Divided Nation ....

In 1780 Pennsylvania became the first state to outlaw slavery by gradual emancipation. By 1847, there were no slaves in the state.  As a member of the PA Heritage Foundation board of directors, I had the thrill this past month of viewing the actual legal document in the PA Archives.

Seeking to know more of these early 19th Century Hollemans last December 2013, I ventured into the Library of Virginia in downtown Richmond.  The building is modern, the staff helpful, the records amazing and the parking is free.  I was given a folder with the original records, including writs signed by Josiah Holleman - "Guide to the Isle of Wight County (VA) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1785-1861Barcode number: 1186868."   The Library of Virginia can be found at

It was in this folder that stories of a strange culture revealed itself further.  Isle of Wight County, Virginia in the Antebellum period was struggling to maintain a system of human bondage.

Just a glance at this map indicates why the western counties of  the 1860 Virginia withdrew and were recognized in 1863 as the new State of West Virginia.  There were many fewer persons held in bondage in the western mountains.

Yet within this system were not only slaves but a significant  percentage of 'persons of color' who were not 'owned' by other human beings, but were as free as the laws at that time grudgingly allowed!  According to 1860 Federal Census records in Virginia (including West Virginia), approximately 65% of the population was white, 31% slave and 4% free persons of color!  If just the current state of Virginia is counted in 1860, over 10% of the population were free persons of color.

Virginia, perhaps in a burst of revolutionary fervor, had in 1782 allowed for the emancipation of blacks from bondage by their owners as long as the freed slaves would not become wards of the state, i.e. too old or sick to care for themselves.

One finds in the Isle of Wight records numerous writs of slave owners freeing slaves.  In fact in 1832, Josiah Holleman, owner of fourteen slaves in 1830 and an elected official who authorized the return of runaways and the paying of night patrols to keep slaves from roaming, freed one Isaac HollemanWhy?  We do not yet know and may never know.  He did not free his other slaves. For additional information on the life of Isaac and Ann Gray Holliman, the reader is directed the June 27, 2013 posting.

Several printed emancipation documents in the Isle of Wight collection read as follows: 

"Fully persuaded that freedom is the natural right of all mankind and that it is my duty to do unto others as I would be done in the like situation, and (this is a fill-in-the-blank line) having under my care a negro girl, Jane, now in her minority, age 13 years, whom I do hereby emancipate and set free, after she shall obtain lawful age..."

Holding this 'domestic' system together required stringent laws of race and servitude, and a never ceasing vigilance on the part of the law enforcement establishment.  We can see the stresses in this environment in the documents I was studying.

While a jailer in 1818, public records reveal Josiah Holleman detained one James alias David Thomson, a runaway slave.  Numerous writs in this folder in my hands were signed by Josiah and others eluded to the fact that runaway slaves were an on-going issue in Antebellum times. 

The public records concerning the maintaining of the slave economy in Isle of Wight are deeply troubling to 21st Century concepts of human dignity and freedom. One poignant paper described a woman of color, writing from the Chickasaw Nation in Mississippi in 1832, pleading for Isle of Wight authorities to reissue papers stating she had been a free person before being stolen by a slave catcher and sold into bondage in the deep South!  Shades of the current movie, Twelve Years a Slave

Later, in 1842, Commissioner Josiah Holleman  directed the county court clerk to replace papers, destroyed by fire, to an indentured servant, Beaver Jack Wilson, stating he had been free since birth.  

What then were the contradictory thoughts of Josiah Holleman as he exercised his legal responsibilities, owned slaves, emancipated a slave himself and lived in a community with numerous free families of color?  How could Isle of Wight County, Virginia exist partially free and partially slave?  We know the end of the story; it is called the American Civil War.

It is beyond the scope of this simple article to review slavery in Virginia and the South, but I have chosen several of my favorite books on the subject to suggest for further reading. More on the Hollemans and a conflicted society in our next posting.

Right, Dr. Carter Woodson's ground breaking work was first published in 1922.  My volume is a 7th edition.  His work long has been superseded by contemporary writings but the book remains the most important, serious early work of African-Americans in North America.

Below, first published in 1929, 'Life and Labor'  was a serious and some what benevolent look at slavery in Antebellum times.  U.B. Phillips has long been eclipsed in scholarship by others who differed significantly with his 'soft' interpretation of human bondage in the South.

Kenneth M. Stampp's 'The Peculiar Institution' published in 1956 presented an antidote to U.B. Phillip's and ushered in the Civil Rights era interpretations of  the horrors of American slavery, a thesis that stands to this day.

John Hope Franklin is the current dean of African-American historians.  All was not well on the plantation as the Isle of Wight papers and 'Runaway Slaves' attests in this heavily documented work published in 1999.  Franklin's histories are well-worth reading for content and clarity.  His classic 'From Slavery to Freedom', first published in 1947 and revised numerous time is still a standard work.

Below, a more recent work, 2006, by Francois Furstenberg focuses on the founding father's conflicted feelings about slavery.  George Washington is generally remembered for freeing his Mt. Vernon slaves at his death in 1799.  Actually his will stated his slaves were to be freed after his wife's death.  Martha did not wait for her possible premature death to be administered by an restless slave.  She emancipated her slaves under Virginia law two years after the Founding Father's death!

Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

Join your many cousins at and view an expanded Holliman family tree and many files on the history of the family.  Just write to for an invitation. Or go to the HOLLYMAN GENEALOGY MyFamily site at Then click on "Request to Join" in upper righthand corner!

Mary HOLLEMAN, b. 30 Jan 1807.