Negro Mob in Richmond

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Negro Mob in Richmond

Sara Martin, Boston College ‘10

When I selected this class at the beginning of the semester, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  It was truly a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach when I consulted my course catalogue and felt a tingle of intrigue pass through at the prospect of being a 19th century detective for a semester, how different!  What a challenge it has been, but not without reward, of course.  I feel that I have been able to recognize the rewards of taking a course like this outside of my comfort zone in the last few days more so than I felt the entire semester.  I now fully understand that it was both the drawing’s contextual and stylistic urgency that beguiled me.  I am so glad that I was drawn to it, no pun intended…

My drawing, Negro Mob in Richmond depicts a complicated scene of many African American men and women involved in a riot in the middle of the public square in Richmond that housed the market, jail and town meeting place.  The inscription at the bottom states that the people are rioting because they are trying to rescue an African American man who has just been arrested.  The inscription in the bottom left corner reads, “Negro Mob in Richmond – Negroes rescuing Negro prisoner from the Police and the Second Market Station House from a sketch by Our Special Artist.”  Much to my surprise, the event depicted in the drawing did not occur during the Civil War, or even at the beginning of Reconstruction, which was my belief for the majority of the semester, but actually five years after Richmond had fallen and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, during “The Municipal War” in Richmond, Virginia. In this paper I will explain my navigation through Richmond’s history after the Civil War, the struggle Virginians faced in accepting Reconstruction into their society, the political turmoil of this part of the South after the Confederacy fell, and how I came upon the discovery of the role of the Municipal War in Richmond’s history.

Negro Mob in Richmond is both politically and racially charged.  As I leafed through the numerous “unknown” drawings that awaited research, Negro Mob in Richmond jumped out at me. It screamed passion, violence, and the risk of taking justice into one’s own hands. I had to have it; I loved its chaos.  While other drawings demonstrated the artists’ ability to render accurately, I felt that such a tumultuous and chaotic scene required a different kind of eye. I wanted to understand more about the frustrations and difficulties that accompany working with a scene that involved so many different kinds of people overlapping, interweaving, and with so much movement.  Besides the aesthetic interest of the drawing, my feeling that the image was supposed to provoke sympathy added to the mystery of the artist and piqued my curiosity about his political opinions and other works he might have made during the Civil War.

I first approached the drawing by learning what I could about its time frame and the relevant events that had occurred during the Civil War specifically in Richmond.  Since slavery effectively came to an end in the spring of 1865, what was occurring during the Reconstruction era that was so unjust that it would inspire a mob to fill the streets of Richmond to reclaim a brother on the cusp of incarceration?  I dove into investigating the events in Richmond during Reconstruction and particularly the establishment of Black Codes, which were imposed to keep African Americans from enjoying basic freedoms and which led to countless unjust incarcerations and lynchings. It seemed like a likely route to follow given the unruly scene before me.  I also wondered how the quality of life had changed since the Civil War had ended.  Had things really gotten better, worse, or just more complicated by the end of the war?  Was this drawing intended as propaganda, or was it purely informative?  And, of course, who was responsible for this drawing, and why did he think it was important to capture this image?

Although some Reconstruction efforts helped southern states to regain their ability to be self-governing, their seats in Congress, and the civil status of the leaders of the Confederacy, the primary focus of Reconstruction was to establish the rights of “Freedmen,” which was the term used for newly freed slaves.  This focus on the constitutional and legal status of Freedmen especially their civil rights and whether they should be given the right to vote became the catalyst for eruptions so violent they seemed comparable to skirmishes during the war.[1] Violent confrontations erupted throughout the South over these issues.  Groups such as the White League and Red Shirts, which were the earliest white supremacist groups, began to pop up all over southern states.  They were dedicated to preventing Freedmen from participating in elections and taking any place in public office.[2]

In May of 1865, President Andrew Johnson proposed his plan for Restoration of the southern states and it seemed to undermine the more noble goals of Reconstruction.  In response to this proposal, Congress ended up equalizing the pay, equipment, arms and medical services for African American troops.[3]  The former Confederates were faced with a power struggle so troubling that they found solace and a certain amount of control in establishing as many pre-war conditions as possible in the form of stipulations called “Black Codes.”  The Black Codes placed taxes on free African Americans who tried to pursue nonagricultural professions, restricted their abilities to rent land or own guns, and even allowed the children of "unfit" parents to be apprenticed to former slave masters.  These codes were essentially a continuation of slavery!

It was during this time period that anti-black groups such as the Ku Klux Klan had begun to form.  By the late spring of 1865, massive revolts were happening all over the South and many African Americans were being unjustly thrown into prisons and mistreated horribly. On November 24th, Mississippi was the first state to establish the first restrictive Black Codes, which restored many pre-war rules that sharply limited the rights and freedoms of Freedmen to vote, own property, or get an education.[4]  In the majority of cases, Black Codes prohibited African-Americans from serving on juries or providing legal testimony.  Also, the codes outlawed interracial marriage and created segregated public facilities.  Harsher aspects of the codes included vagrancy laws, under which unemployed African Americans were often fined and then sent to prison to work off their fine, as well as licensing requirements for non-agricultural occupations.[5]  Mississippi began a cycle of gratuitous violence, unjust arrests, and virtually the re-enslavement of African Americans across the South.  The establishment of Black Codes spread throughout other southern states and created the most adversity in Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia.  Black Codes also provoked further political unrest and inspired former Confederate soldiers to organize secret societies that became the Ku Klux Klan.[6]

The post-war South was in a more economically, physically, emotionally and spiritually devastated place than it had ever known, and that change was reflected in treatment of African Americans.  Having been the center of commerce and prosperity, Virginia was not prepared for such an extreme change in lifestyle.  Shortly after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Virginians enacted their first sets of Black Codes, which focused primarily on restricting the movement of the Freedmen.  Their codes strongly discouraged Black self-sufficiency by preventing African Americans from getting paid for their labor and from raising their own crops.[7]  They attempted to control almost every aspect of the lives of African Americans including the freedom to travel.  Many codes prohibited African Americans from entering certain towns, such as Richmond, without permission.  In Richmond in 1865, African Americans needed permission from their employers to enter the town.  They needed a note that stated the nature and length of their visit and any black person found without a note after ten o'clock at night was likely to wind up incarcerated.[8]

With this background about the time period when Negro Mob in Richmond was drawn, I reached out with all my might to scholars, archivists, and prints curators at the Historical Society of Virginia, the University of Virginia, the University of Richmond, and the Valentine History Center of Richmond. I had some extremely successful results, primarily with the help from a wonderful man by the name of Jeffrey Ruggles, archivist at the Historical Society of Virginia. The first useful information I gathered was about the Second Market Station House and the surrounding area. Margaret T. Kidd, a project archivist, was the first to respond to my query about this drawing and her knowledge linked with Jeffrey Ruggles’ insights helped me to understand the setting of Negro Mob in Richmond.  Second Market Station House was located on 6th and Marshall Streets in Richmond, VA.  It opened around 1817 and was sometimes referred to as the New Market. It eventually became the 6th Street Market.  During the 19th century there was a jail located in the market facility.[9]  A brick building between Marshall and Clay Streets held butchers, and a shed structure between Clay and Leigh held vegetable sellers.[10] In the main brick buildings at both First and Second Markets, the City had police stations on the upper floor with a lock-up.[11]  Ruggles led me to conclude that the view shown in my drawing is of the entrance to the stairs up to police station on the left, looking up 6th, across Clay Street.

Equipped with this new information about the location, I explored two different websites that organized documentation of newsworthy events during the Civil War by location in Richmond.  Bob Kenzer, the archivist at the University of Virginia, recommended these websites.  I emailed information I had found to him, and he determined the only two events that were traceable from this specific area that might have resulted in the scene in my drawing.  They were as follows:  

City Council. – Monthly Meeting, July 11th; present a quorum, - A petition was presented by Mr. Harvey, President of the Danville Railroad, asking that the road should be extended up Virginia street, Also, a remonstrance against the same by J. Johns, Medical Purveyor, and other Government officials. Referred to the Commissioner of Streets. A petition from J. G. Griswold, former Captain of Company D, 1st Va. Regiment, asking to be relieved from liability for $375, contracted for his company, was presented and referred to the Committee on Arms. Mr. Crutchfield, by leave, introduced a bill concerning the weighing of long forage in the Second Market. Referred to the Committee on Markets. Adjourned.[12]

and the second:

Joseph Bassett, a free negro, for threatening to strike a white boy in the Second Market and using indecent language, was ordered to be whipped.[13]

I was deeply troubled that these dates were terribly far off from what I had been expected and felt discouraged about my place in research.  It was then that I decided to contact the master of this Civil War Richmond website myself.

Mike Gorman is a historian and web-master who has made his livelihood specializing in documentation of the history of Richmond’s role in the Civil War.  Through email correspondence we came across two other possibilities involving seemingly unjust arrests, but the dates simply didn’t match up! Gorman himself wrote, “If there was an event like this at any point around 1865, I would know about it.”  Our findings were:

9/27/1862; interesting editorial on the “stampede” of Negroes that occurs when the Union army approaches – recommends legislation to remove them to the interior when the army approaches. Berates the delusions of slave-owners as to the “fidelity” of their slaves.[14]

And…

10/7/1862; Mayor’s Court: James Williams, drunk soldier, sent to Castle Thunder;  Hoenniger charges men with burglary, room #44 Spotswood Hotel; slave charged with stealing money from guest at the Ballard House (discharged); free negro without papers ordered whipped for smoking a cigar in the street; another free negro threatens boy in Second Market & used “indecent language” – ordered to be whipped.[15]

I discussed my frustrations about these events not really adding up with Jeff Ruggles, and we began digging deeper and making some progress in determining the actual event.  Following the capture of Richmond by Union forces in April 1865, the Union commanders were determined to establish cooperation and to run the city smoothly.  They even went so far as to bring back Mayor Mayo, whose domineering presence had controlled the city.  Mayo tried to control the black people in Richmond with the same strict manner that he had before but it was relatively futile.  With little support from the new Union commanders to counter Mayor Mayo’s dominating ways, the newly freed slaves were forced to take matters into their own hands in a number of circumstances. 

This struggle for power went on for nearly five years in a tumultuous Richmond.  I have attributed my drawing to March 16, 1870.  After exchanges with John McClure, a colleague of Jeff Ruggles, I began to understand that I hadn’t been looking late enough past the end of the Civil War. Virginia was allowed to rejoin the Union in January of 1870 after their seemingly ceaseless fighting between Richmond conservatives and Reconstructionist Republicans.  The governor at the time was New Yorker Gilbert Walker and the mayor was Richard Cahoon.[16]  Then, a new council met and they decided to replace Cahoon with Henry Ellyson, the publisher of the Richmond Dispatch and the former sheriff.[17]  Chahoon and his supporters strongly objected to this decision and argued that Ellyson would reinstate Chief of Police John Poe Jr., who was notorious for his alcoholism and violent behavior towards Reconstructionist Republicans and black citizens; specifically, he had attacked a Republican politician who advocated the rights of freed blacks in 1869 while intoxicated.[18]

This situation divided Richmond into warring groups with police forces and city officials on both sides.  Cahoon loyalists seized the First Market House at Seventeenth and Main streets.[19] The majority of African Americans in Richmond had taken Cahoon side, and they braved open fire from Ellyson and his men who cut off Cahoon’s food, water, and gaslights on March 18, 1870.[20]  The Cahoonists had barricaded themselves on the upper level of the Market House without any food, and they tried to get help.  It is my best educated guess that Negro Mob in Richmond depicts a crowd of African Americans who may have taken over the Second Station, perhaps to release a sympathetic African American -- but also as part of a larger effort to support Cahoon -- and then was forced to give way to the Ellyson forces.[21]

In the midst of trying to understand the significance of this drawing, I had been searching Frank Leslies Illustrated News and Harper’s Weekly for the publication of my drawing.  The inscription written on it, “By Our Special Artist,” led me to assume that it had been printed, but I could not find it anywhere and neither could any of the historians whom I consulted.  I had narrowed my possibilities regarding the identity of the artist down to Walton Taber and Alfred Waud. Walton Taber’s Parade of the 3rd PA Artillery strongly resembled some of the stylistic qualities of my drawing.  The faces depicted had the same vagueness and there was a similar smoothness given to the architecture that I had not seen in many other artists’ drawings that I had encountered so far.  However, Taber’s drawings had a great deal more of black and white contrast, while Negro Mob has more gray tones with less contrast. I was also attracted to Taber because he continued to publish drawings after the Civil War, including images of the development of the telegraph. Since I was certain my event occurred after the war, this seemed to support the possibility that Taber was my man.

While I was excited and fairly confident about attributing my drawing to Taber, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was not a drawing by Alfred Waud.  His drawings of The Review of Brigadier General Buford’s Cavalry and The Winter Camp North of the Rappahannock reminded me of my drawing, but I could not find evidence that he was in Richmond after the war.  Then, I came across Edwin Forbes’s drawing, Passing Federal Columbus Cheer Grant on the Evening of May 7th.  This sketch was exactly like mine in the aspects that I had been searching for all along: the style of drawing the hats, the lines of the torsos, and the way that the arms and bodies overlapped in the crowds.

Forbes went to war in the spring of 1862, when he was twenty-three years old.  His tools of war were a sketchbook, sharpened pencils, pens, crayons, sticks of charcoal, some brushes, a few watercolors, and probably a pair of field glasses.  He became extremely skilled at drawing battle scenes and became best known for his coverage of the battles at Gettysburg.[22] He made his last battlefield sketch on May 22, 1864, at a bridge across the Mattapony River near Bowling Green, Virginia. It appeared in print on September 3rd.  It is assumed that he remained in Virginia for the next few years and then returned to New York towards the end of his life.[23]

As I began making my facsimile of Negro Mob in Richmond, I came across a quote from Forbes that I really loved: “I fully expected, when I started for the front, to accompany the troops into battle and seat myself complacently on a convenient hillside and sketch exciting incidents at my leisure, but how greatly reality differed from imagination I will tell you.”  I thought about this as I tried my best to recreate this incredibly chaotic and distressing moment in history, and was reminded of the reading “How a Battle is sketched,” and the great risk that artists took to be a part of informing the public by capturing these terribly risky situations because that is what people wanted to see.  This perspective made it much easier to create my facsimile as I sat quietly at my desk and did not have to wince as bullets grazed my pencil.

 

Bibliography

Ayers, Edward L., and Gary W. Ayers. Crucible of the Civil War; Virginia from Secession to Commemoration. Charlottesville: University of Virgina P, 2006.

Berg, Gordon. "An Artist's view of Combat." Questia Online Library. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://www.questia.com/app/direct/SM.qst>.

Boritt, Gabor, and Scott Hancock. Slavery, Resistance and Freedom. London: Oxford UP, 2007.

Chesson, Michael. Exile In Richmond. Charlottesville: University of Virgina, 2001.

Civil War Richmond. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://mdgorman.com/>.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much about the Civil War. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc, 2006.

Kidd, Margaret. "Second Street Market." E-mail to the author. 3 Mar. 09.

McClure, John. "Standoff in Richmond... Response to Civil War Drawing Mystery." E-mail to the author. 24 Apr. 2009.

"Richmond Daily Dispatch." Ed. Kenzer Robert. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://dlxs.richmond.edu/d/ddr/>.

Ruggles, Jeffrey. "Civil War Drawing Mystery..." E-mail to the author. 27 Mar. 2009.

"True Richmond Stories: Historic ... -." Google Book Search. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://books.google.com/books?id=wkEK1k95l4cC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=municipal+war,+Richmond+VA&source=bl&ots=SKxJbqPOcf&sig=f3QZHdpDBPFPItB19xmnou5rZ84&hl=en&ei=D4T3Sbj7PNHVlQeH0rHGCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PPT1,M1>.

 


[1] Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much about the Civil War. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc, 2006. 121.

[2] Ayers, Edward L., and Gary W. Ayers. Crucible of the Civil War; Virginia from Secession to Commemoration. Charlottesville: University of Virgina P, 2006. 204.

[3] Davis. 220.

[4] Davis. 422.

[5] Boritt, Gabor, and Scott Hancock. Slavery, Resistance and Freedom. London: Oxford UP, 2007. 9.

[6] Chesson, MIcheal. Exile In Richmond. Charlottesville: University of Virgina, 2001. 373.

[7] Boritt. 133.

[8] Boritt. 43.

[9] Kidd, Margaret. "Second Street Market." E-mail to the author. 3 Mar. 09.

[10] Ruggles, Jeffrey. "Civil War Drawing Mystery..." E-mail to the author. 27 Mar. 2009.

[11] Kidd.

[12] Richmond Daily Dispatch. Ed. Kenzer Robert. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://dlxs.richmond.edu/d/ddr/>.  15 July 1862. 1.

[13] Ibid. 7 Oct. 1862. 2.

[14] Ibid. 27 Sept. 1862.

[15] Ibid. 7 Oct. 1862.

[16] McClure, John. "Standoff in Richmond... Response to Civil War Drawing Mystery." E-mail to the author. 24 Apr. 2009.

[17] "True Richmond Stories: Historic ... -." Google Book Search. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://books.google.com/books?id=wkEK1k95l4cC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=municipal+war,+Richmond+VA&source=bl&ots=SKxJbqPOcf&sig=f3QZHdpDBPFPItB19xmnou5rZ84&hl=en&ei=D4T3Sbj7PNHVlQeH0rHGCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PPT1,M1>.

[18] Ibid.

[19] McClure.

[20] Ruggles, Jeffrey. "Civil War Drawing Mystery..." E-mail to the author. 27 Mar. 2009.

[21] McClure.

[22] Berg, Gordon. "An Artist's view of Combat." Questia Online Library. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://www.questia.com/app/direct/SM.qst>.

[23] Ibid.