Chapter 15

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that I intended to free them--Coles goes on to say that some of them own that they had been considerably alarmed, in consequence of having been told by many persons prior to and during their journey, that if I were opposed to slavery it was not my intention to free, but to send them to New Orleans, and then sell them. Thus on the day that he emancipated them, Coles says, they were in a state of hope and fear. However, since nearly all of the slaves elected to go to Illinois, it seems as though they were more ready to believe that they would be freed than that they would be sold downriver. Back

those slaves knew all about it also--Helen Skipwith Coles to Selina Skipwith, November 27, 1820, Roberts Coles Collection. Back

A total of seventeen--Ten slaves listed in a suit later brought against Coles were as follows:

Robert Crawford, mulatto, 5'7", 25 years old
Polly Crawford (Robert's sister), mulatto, 5'1", 16 or 17 years old
Ralph Crawford, mulatto, 5'3", 46 or 47 years old
Kate Crawford (wife of Ralph), 5'2", 43 or 44 years old
Betsey Crawford (daughter of Ralph and Kate), 5', 16 or 17 years old
Thomas Crawford (son of Ralph and Kate), 13 or 14 years old, partially crippled in right arm
Mary Crawford (daughter of Ralph and Kate), 11 or 12 years old
William Crawford (son of Ralph and Kate), 9 years old
Thomas Cobb, 5'6", 38-40 years old
Nancy Gaines (possibly related to Polly Crawford), 5', 16 or 17 years old

In addition, not named in the suit (since they were not living in Illinois), were Emanuel, Sukey, and their five children.

See Clarence Alvord, Governor Edward Coles, Illinois Historical Society Library, 1920, pp. 206-207. Back

may also have been related--Isaac Coles, in a letter to John (January 4, 1821, Roberts Coles Collection), mentions
Tom Cobb's niece as one of the former slaves on Coles' farm, but doesn't say who she is. In a letter dated July 1, 1814 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania), Coles writes John that Polly (perhaps Polly Crawford) desires me to remember her to Mamma Rebecca and all--particularly her sister Nancy--perhaps Nancy Gaines. Although their last names are different, they may have been half-sisters. Back

Then there was Sukey--1827 autobiography, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The names of Sukey and Emanuel and the number of their children are given in various sources: Edward Coles to Rebecca Tucker Coles, April 24, 1819; Robert Wash to Edward Coles, March 25, 1834; and an undated and unsigned slip of paper containing a list headed, "Manuel and Sukey's children"--all in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. See also the Illinois Intelligencer, June 29, 1822, and Alvord, pp. 261-263. Back

in fine health and spirits--Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, December 26, 1818, University of Virginia Library. Back

In a later letter--Isaac Coles to John Coles III, February 4, 1819, Roberts Coles Collection. Back

In late January--James Monroe to Edward Coles, January 31, 1819, Princeton University Library. Monroe refers in this letter to "the office at Kaskaskia," but this is probably an error. Coles wrote from Illinois requesting the office at Edwardsville, which is the one he eventually got. Back

a piece of patronage--Ironically, in 1827 Coles was to protest precisely the practice that had put him in the Edwardsville land office in 1819. Before my arrival here [Washington], he writes back to a friend in Illinois, the Sec of War had appointed young Menard, on the recommendation of Cook, as the Indian Agent at Peoria; and also had filled the vacancy at Chicago, of the existence of which I was unappraised until my arrival here, by the appointment of someone from Virginia. I spoke very freely in disapprobation of this last appointment to the Secretary, told him it was disrespectful to the State, and unjust to its citizens, that we did not claim as a right to share in the loaves and fishes, but that we did to the crumbs which fell from the public board on our soil. But it was then too late to reconsider, the appointment had been made. I cannot but think if I had been here I could have prevented it, and if I could not have gotten it for a friend, I could at least have had it conferred on a citizen of the State (Edward Coles to Thomas Sloo, Jr., February 15, 1827, in Alvord, pp. 289-291). Back

It will give me sincere satisfaction--James Monroe to Edward Coles, January 31, 1819, Princeton University Library. Back

some people in Illinois resented Coles--See the Edwardsville Spectator, November 27 and December 4, 1821. Back

On March 5--The certificate appointing Coles to the office, signed by Monroe, is in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The other dates are from the Almanac Dates. An account book in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania records the purchases in Staunton as having been made on March 30, but that may have been the day they were entered. Back

by a different route via Montpelier--A letter from Coles to John (April 11, 1819, University of Virginia Library) gives the particulars of his route. Back

I have particular pleasure--Ibid. Back

two flat boats--In the 1844 autobiography Coles gives the dimensions of the boats as 50' by 12' each. Back

Horses and everything are now on board--Edward Coles to John Coles III, April 11, 1819, University of Virginia Library. Back

either April 15 or 16--In a letter to his mother (Edward Coles to Rebecca Tucker Coles, April 24, 1819, Historical Society of Pennsylvania), Coles writes that he reached Pittsburgh about 36 hours after leaving Brownsville, which would make it about April 13 or 14. He spent one day in Pittsburgh buying another horse and some supplies, and picking up a traveling companion, a Mr. Green, who by an arrangement with Capt. Peyton I was to have met there, Coles writes. I found him, and he has descended the river with me, and has proved to be a very amiable young man. In a letter to Madison (July 20, 1819, Chicago Historical Society), Coles identifies Mr. Green as the son of Gen. Green of Culpepper. Coles freed his slaves the next morning, according to the 1844 autobiography, while floating down the Ohio River, which would make the date of the emancipation either April 15 or 16. Coles' account book in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania says that he bought a horse in Pittsburgh on April 11. He mentions in this letter that he did buy a horse there, but unless all other dates are wrong, on April 11 he was in Brownsville, and he did not reach Pittsburgh until two or three days later. Back

Coles writes in the 1827 autobiography--Both the 1844 and 1827 autobiographies tell the same story in different order and with different emphases. I have mixed the two, choosing whichever version seemed to me most felicitous. Back

a quarter section of land--According to the account book in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a quarter section of the Military Bounty lands cost Coles $100. There is no indication in Coles' papers of how much he paid for Emanuel, but assuming that a healthy male slave in Virginia would have brought about $500, the six years remaining of Emanuel's servitude could not have cost Coles more than $200. Back

And I suppose--Edward Coles to Rebecca Tucker Coles, April 24, 1819, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Not knowing much of the woman's husband--Coles also tells the story of this family in a letter to the editor of the Intelligencer, June 29, 1822 (in Alvord, pp. 261-263). Back

only three were heads of families--The deeds to the Military Bounty tracts that Coles gave to Tom Cobb, Robert Crawford, and "Kate Crawford and family" (by the time the deeds were dated, Oct. 15, 1819, Ralph Crawford had recently died) are in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Coles' account books in the same collection reveal that he continued to pay the taxes on Robert and Kate's tracts up to June 29, 1835 (Tom Cobb had died by 1824), and in a letter to them on July 7, 1837, advises them not to sell the tracts as prices are rising (Princeton University Library). It seems clear that none of Coles' former slaves ever used or lived on the land he provided for them, and at least until 1837 never profited from the land in any way. Back

value of the slaves themselves--For relevant estimates of the price of slaves, see Robert Fogel and Stanley Engermann, Time on the Cross, Boston, 1974, vol. 2, p. 74; Jeffrey Brackett, The Negro in Maryland: A Study of the Institution of Slavery, Baltimore, 1889, p. 147; and Harrison Anthony Trexler, Slavery in Missouri (1804-1865), Baltimore, 1914, pp. 37-44. John Peck, a close friend of Coles, estimates that at the time Coles inherited them, his slaves represented about 1/3 of his wealth (Annals of the West, ed. James Perkins, St. Louis, 1851, p. 790). But Peck may simply have been echoing what he had heard from Coles. In a letter to Robert Crawford, a former slave (February 7, 1837, Princeton University Library), Coles says that he freed his slaves at the sacrifice of more than one third of all that was considered my lawful goods and chattels; that is, more than one third of the value of his property excluding his slaves, which would be about 1/4 of the total value of his property. In 1805 the value of six slaves purchased by Edward Coles' father was $500 each (John Coles II to Edward Coles, Dec. 14, 1805, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Back

You can better imagine--Edward Coles to Rebecca T. Coles, April 24, 1819, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

We have had a good tide--Ibid. See also Edward Coles to James Madison, July 20, 1819, Chicago Historical Society, in which Coles summarizes the events of his trip west with his slaves. Back

reporting a bit late--On March 5, 1819, Monroe signed a certificate stating that the appointment of Coles to the land office at Edwardsville was to take effect on April 20 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Assuming that it took Coles the week that he estimated to his mother, he arrived in Edwardsville around April 30 or May 1. Back

Edward Coles

Chapter 15