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 Ancestry.com 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
1823 - 1845 - Commissioner of Isle of Wight
1848 - Josiah died 15 March, Isle of Wight County, Virginia
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, 1785-1861. Barcode number: 1186868." The Library of Virginia can be found at http://www.lva.virginia.gov/.
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 Holleman! Why? 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.
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.
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!
Join your many cousins at MyFamily.com and view an expanded Holliman family tree and many files on the history of the family. Just write to firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation. Or go to the HOLLYMAN GENEALOGY MyFamily site at http://myfamily.com/group/
Mary HOLLEMAN, b. 30 Jan 1807.