Chapter 3

Terms of Use

About Me

Poems for

Stories for

Cruise to

there is a day a coming--Robert and Kate Crawford to Edward Coles, October 23, 1840, Princeton University Library. Back

Edward's brother Isaac writes to a Northern friend--Isaac Coles to Richard Rush, April 1810, Roberts Coles Collection. For a detailed discussion of the role of violence in the relationship between master and slave, see Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., Violence and Culture in the Antebellum South, Austin, 1979, pp. 114-160. Back

a slave named Nim escaped--The story is told by Edward's father in a letter to Edward, December 14, 1805, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

in 1818 he writes--Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, December 28, 1818, University of Virginia Library. Back

one of the ameliorating--1844 autobiography, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

most blacks, like Crawford--The story persists in Charlottesville that Coles' slaves returned to Virginia after a few years of freedom in Illinois, begging to be taken back. This story was told to me by the late Mr. Roberts Coles as something that he had heard said. It is untrue for all cases that can be tracked down. The various fates of Coles' freed slaves will be discussed in later chapters. Back

They exhibited a spirit--Robert McColley, Slavery and Jeffersonian Virginia, Urbana, 1964, pp. 108-109. Back

In 1789 Edward's mother writes to her mother--John Coles II and Rebecca Coles to Rebecca Tucker, February 11, 1789, Roberts Coles Collection. Back

Don't leave your slaves--Edward Coles to James Madison, January 8, 1832, William and Mary Quarterly, series 2, vol. 7 (1927) 37-38. Back

We have had considerable alarm--W. Radford to Andrew Reid, April 8, 1806, William and Mary Quarterly, series 1, vol. 8 (1899-1900), 219. It is not clear whether Coles was in Williamsburg at the time since he left Williamsburg for home sometime during the first week in April. For a vivid look at the general climate of slave insurrection and murder in Virginia, see James Hugo Johnston, Race Relations in Virginia and Miscegenation in the South, Amherst, 1970, chapters 2, 6, and 7. Back

There was real cause for alarm--Helen Skipwith Coles to Lady and Selina Skipwith, November 27, 1820, Roberts Coles Collection. Edward Coles was in Illinois at the time. Back

an equal number of blacks--The population of Albemarle County was evenly split between whites and blacks, but the proportion of blacks was steadily growing. In 1800 there were 8796 whites, 7436 slaves, and 207 mulattos and free negroes in the county; in 1810, 8642 whites, 9226 slaves, and 400 mulattos and free negroes. See John Lancaster Riordan, "Albemarle in 1815: Notes of Christopher Daniel Ebeling," Magazine of Albemarle County History, XII (1951-1952) 42. Back

As it is--Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. H.A. Washington, Washington, D.C., 1854, vol. 7, p. 159. Back

The idea of--Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, August 25, 1814, Princeton University Library. Jefferson's plan for the gradual abolition of slavery and his personal advice to Coles are from the same letter. Back

increased by about 25,000--McColley, p. 141. McColley's actual figures are from 1780 to 1810: 3,000 free blacks to 30,000. In that time the slave population, not including slaves exported out of state, rose from 250,000 to 400,000. After 1806 the Virginia legislature made it increasingly difficult to free slaves. Back

Another estimate of--James C. Ballagh, A History of Slavery in Virginia, Baltimore, 1902, p. 121. Back

they married the Winston sisters--The information contained in this discussion of John Payne's and Dolley Madison's life can be found in any standard biography of Dolley Madison. See especially, Katherine Anthony, Dolly Madison: Her Life and Times, Garden City, 1949; Ethel Arnett, Mrs. James Madison: The Incomparable Dolley, Greensboro, 1972; and Maud Goodwin, Dolly Madison, New York, 1896. Note that the spelling of Dolley's first name varies. Back

Travis freed his slaves--Evidence for the fervency of Travis' Methodism can be found in an undated manuscript by him in the Princeton University Library. The inference that he freed his slaves in the 1780's is drawn from the comment by Rebecca Coles already cited in John Coles II and Rebecca Coles to Rebecca Tucker, February 11, 1789, in the Roberts Coles Collection, to the effect that one of Uncle John's slaves wishes he would die so that she could be freed by Uncle Travis. Back

Edward's father describes--John Coles II to John Tucker, February 24, 1799, Roberts Coles Collection. Back

Helen Skipwith Coles concluded--Helen Coles to Lady and Selina Skipwith, November 22, 1820, Roberts Coles Collection. Back

He packed a number--John and Travis Tucker to Tucker and Edward Coles, March 10, 1809, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Uncle John insisted--John Tucker to John Coles II, September 22, 1808, Roberts Coles Collection. John Tucker's slaves are also discussed in the following letters in the Roberts Coles Collection: John Coles III to John Tucker, July 6, 1808 and February 28, 1809; John Coles III to Travis Tucker, January 5 and February 28, 1809; and John Tucker to John Coles III, February 20, 1809. Back

the terms of his will--John Tucker's will, dated April 18, 1811, can be found in the Roberts Coles Collection. Since this will was drawn up long after Coles had made his decision to free his slaves, its provisions obviously could not have influenced that decision. But the will suggests aspects of John Tucker's thought and character that may have influenced Coles earlier. That the will was honored in at least one particular is clear from the copy in the Roberts Coles Collection, on which it is duly noted in October 1825 by Tucker Coles that Edy's son Henry, having come of age, is to be set free. Back

What seems clear--There is perhaps some question whether Hannah Lewis was black. That John calls her his servant rather than his slave is not significant: "servant" was a common euphemism for "slave," and in fact the word "slave" does not appear once in John's will. Since John neither gives Hannah and her children to anyone nor provides for their freedom, they must have been either freed earlier or white. But the probability that they were white is small since it was not common for a slave owner in Virginia to hire white household servants. It was not that uncommon, on the other hand, for a master to recognize and provide for his mulatto children. For a general discussion of the issue and a sampling of wills similar to John Tucker's, see Johnston, pp. 217-236. Back

Perhaps the most striking--The information contained in this discussion of the Sweeney case is taken from Julian P. Boyd, "The Murder of George Wythe," and W. Edwin Hemphill, "Examinations of George Wythe Sweeney for Forgery and Murder: A Documentary Essay," both in The William and Mary Quarterly, series 3, vol. 12 (1955) 513-574. Back

his murderer to go free--George Sweeney also escaped punishment on the lesser charge of forging Bank of Virginia checks in his uncle's name. Because of a loophole in Virginia law, closed hastily by an embarrassed legislature immediately after Sweeney's release, it turned out that forging Bank of Virginia checks was, however reprehensible and immoral, not strictly illegal. Back

a curse inherited--That Coles shared this common belief can be seen in his 1844 autobiography and in his article, "To the Citizens of Illinois: no. 5" in the Illinois Intelligencer of June 11, 1824. See also Marshall W. Fishwick, Virginia: A New Look at the Old Dominion, New York, 1959, p. 94. Back

Edward Coles

Chapter 3