A recent historical discovery

Recently I got a Facebook message from a woman in California who came across the Civil War impressment document for a Hairston slave named Ben, who was requisitioned as a laborer for Robert E. Lee’s army on October 17, 1864. Ben’s value was set at $5,000.

According to my correspondent, some 30 years ago she bought an antique stationery box containing the document. She writes — “I can’t remember exactly where I purchased this.  It was in 1980 or ’81 and I was living in Maryland at the time, so it is quite possible that I did buy it in Virginia.  However, I hit just about every swap meet and rummage sale I could find throughout the eastern states, primarily the New England area, so I’d just be guessing.” While researching the document, she came across my book about the Hairston family and contacted me.

The owner was Major S. H. Hairston–Samuel Harden Hairston of Chatmoss plantation in Henry County. The transaction was handled by B. J. Hawthorne, the Captain of the Enrollment Office in Henry County. Ben was very likely sent to work on the defenses around Richmond and Petersburg, where Lee was besieged by Grant.

I don’t know Ben’s fate. Samuel Harden Hairston survived the war but he was killed in 1870 when a ceiling in the state capitol collapsed. A slave descendant described him as a very cruel master, as I recount in my book.

The bottom of the box bears the label “Pickfords”–presumably the seller or the manufacturer.

2 Responses to A recent historical discovery

  1. jp says:

    As I understand it Jefferson was bankrupt at the time of his death. Ergo his assets belonged to his creditors and manumitting them might have been void as a matter of law as an attempt to defraud his creditors.

    • Jefferson freed five men in his will and his creditors did not protest as far as I know. His grandson tried to revive the bequest left to Jefferson by Thaddeus Kosciuszko (which I discuss in the book) to save some people from auction but it was too late. Jefferson had the means to free slaves throughout his life and did not do it.

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