Untangling the Past – Alfred’s Story

We are fortunate to have several talented researchers among our volunteer corps. Heather R. Hiner is one of them, and she has spent a great deal of time and energy unraveling the stories of Locust Grove’s enslaved community. Today, she introduces us to Alfred, an enslaved man who is introduced to modern researchers in a letter dating from 1825.

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Two interpreters portraying slaves Rose and Alfred in the hearth kitchen at Locust Grove

First person interpreters, Sidney and Xavier portray Rose and Alfred in the hearth kitchen at Historic Locust Grove. (Photo by Heather R. Hiner of Fox and Rose Photography.)

There are several letters in the Croghan family papers that mention an enslaved man named Alfred. These letters span many years and until recently, it was assumed they were all part of the story of one enslaved man.  However, as I started cross-referencing the Croghan family letters with documents I had found in other repositories, it quickly became apparent that there were actually two men of different ages being discussed. While untangling the lives of these two men has answered some questions, many more have bubbled to the surface as new, tantalizing details emerge.

This post will share the story of the first of the two men, who was simply known as Alfred.  There are no documents that list a last name for him. Upcoming posts in the series will share the story of a man who did take a last name for himself, Alfred Croghan. The stories of both men give us insight into different roles enslaved men played in the Croghan household while also exposing the lack of control they had over their own lives.

Alfred’s story begins abruptly in May of 1825. While it may change in the future, we currently have no information about Alfred’s life before this time.  He is first mentioned in a letter from Ann Croghan Jesup, who was living in Washington DC, to her mother Lucy Croghan at Locust Grove, near Louisville, Kentucky.  Ann was not the only person from the Croghan household to relocate from Louisville to Washington DC when she married Thomas Sydney Jessup. Leaving behind friends and possibly family, at least three enslaved people owned by the Croghans, including Alfred, also went with Ann to help establish her new household.

1828 map of Washington D.C. showing location of the Jesup home.

An 1828 map of Washington DC. According to the 1827 Washington Directory, the Jesups lived on I Street, NW between 16th and 17th streets. Ann relates in a letter that the Jesups lived close enough to the President’s House to be able to see it from their home.  (De Krafft, F. C, W. I Stone, and John Brannan. Map of the city of Washington. [Washington, D.C.?: John Brannan, 1828] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress])

Our first reference to Alfred is tantalizingly small, but we can still glean some of his personality from it.

“Old Mrs. Calhoun has been here, no kind of wether [sic] stops her, I don’t know which she talked most about her Methodist coachman who has run away and gone she thinks to New York “the cunning fellow to wate [sic] until his new cloth were finished & then march off with himself” – or her grand daughter that is a month old today “tis a wonderful fine child” I had a mind to ask as Alfred did, “if she was cutting teeth” the one before this is six weeks younger than Lucy Ann, & is not near so large nor can’t walk one step.” (Ann Croghan Jesup to Lucy Croghan, May 19, 1825, Croghan Family Letters – Filson Historical Society)

1825 letter fragment mentioning Alfred

A letter mentioning Alfred dated May 19, 1825. (Croghan Family Letters – Filson Historical Society)

Ann, the proud mother of Lucy Ann, seems to enjoy Alfred’s sarcastic response to the doting grandmother proudly expounding upon (and possibly exaggerating) the qualities of her latest grandchild. However, there is always a line that could not be crossed and while it doesn’t seem to be an issue here, this may ultimately play a hand in Alfred’s fate.

1830 census showing Jesup household

The 1830 Federal Census reveals a free white woman, four free persons of color, and two enslaved people shouldered the domestic work in the Jesup household.  Because Alfred was moved back and forth between the Croghan and Jesup households, it is not known if the enslaved man listed in the census in 1830 is Alfred or another man named David.

A short four months later, we find Alfred back in Louisville and Lucy Croghan is visiting her daughter, Ann, in Washington DC.  While she is away, Lucy’s eldest son, Dr. John Croghan is overseeing things at Locust Grove. Ever the dutiful son, Dr. Croghan includes news of how things are going at home in a letter to Ann’s husband, Thomas Sidney Jesup.

“Inform her [Lucy Croghan] that every thing goes on here exceedingly well. The women have dried a great deal of fruit, and are at their houses spinning wool or cotton or something of that kind. Old Nanny officiates for me in the cooking department. Two churns are going daily. Alfred goes to market almost every day & gives the profits to Larriway.” (John Croghan to Thomas Sidney Jesup, Sept. 8, 1825 – Locust Grove Manuscript Collection)

We don’t know why Alfred was back in Kentucky, but it was a common occurrence to move enslaved people between Croghan family members.  We can glean from this letter that Dr. Croghan trusted Alfred enough to carry goods to be sold in town and transport the profits from selling those goods.

What happens next is still a mystery to be solved and Alfred’s story ends as abruptly as it began.  Nine years of his life pass without documentation and what we do have is frustratingly only a small part of the story.  The final two letters we have show us that Alfred is back in Washington DC with Ann Croghan Jesup and her family.

1834 Letter about Alfred from John Croghan to Thomas Jesup

Letter from Dr. John Croghan to Thomas S. Jesup about Alfred.  (John Croghan to Thomas S. Jesup, September 29, 1834 – Library of Congress)

“As it respects Alfred I am in hopes that you will that which you deem best.”  (John Croghan to Thomas S. Jessup, September 29, 1834 – Library of Congress)  

We learn that something has happened with Alfred and that Dr. Croghan trusts his brother-in-law’s ability to handle the situation.  Dr. Croghan will quickly send a second letter a few days later, that includes his mother, Lucy’s feelings on the matter.

Letter from Lucy Croghan to Thomas Jesup concerning Alfred

Instructions from Lucy Croghan to Thomas S. Jesup in regards to the “improper” behavior of Alfred. (Library of Congress)

 

“…In obedience to your request I send you the enclosed from my Mother in relation to Alfred.  He has acted so improperly that he deserves no quarters…

Yours truly

                                                                    John Croghan

P.S.  Dear General,

        By your letter to John I find Alfred is unwilling to return to Ken; I, therefore, have no objection as he evinces so little gratitude, and as his conduct has been so improper to dispose of him.

                                                                    Affectionately yours,

                                                                    Lucy Croghan ”

(John Croghan to Thomas S. Jessup, October 31, 1834 – Library of Congress)  

While I continue to search, we currently have none of the letters or any other records describing what Alfred did that led Lucy Croghan to instruct her son-in-law to “dispose of him.”  We also lack Alfred’s version of the events. The earliest letter referencing him hints at a sarcastic wit, but we currently have no way of knowing what it was that the Croghans found so “improper.”

However, this last letter gives us a prime example of a slave owner, in this case, Lucy Croghan, wielding the threat of selling an enslaved person in an attempt to force him to be grateful and follow her orders.  We can deduce that the Croghans and Jesups felt Alfred should show gratitude for the opportunity to return to Kentucky and possibly be punished in some way once he was there and that they weren’t pleased when he chose not to return to Locust Grove.

Alfred isn’t mentioned in any of the Croghan family letters that we have past this point in time.  While Alfred may have changed his mind about coming back to Kentucky after learning of Lucy Croghan’s willingness to sell him as punishment for his actions, the lack of him being mentioned further hints at the possibility that he was indeed sold.  

While this is all I have to share of Alfred’s story for now, research into his life is ongoing.  I am currently continuing to search for mentions of him in correspondence from and about the Croghans as well as working with the Library of Congress to research Thomas Sidney Jesup’s financial records in an effort to learn if he was indeed sold by General Jesup. If I do uncover anything new, I will be sure to share an update in another post.

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Thank you for sharing Alfred’s story, Heather. You can find more of Heather’s work at The Past in Focus. We will be sure to share more of Alfred’s story here.

This post has been shared from The Past in Focus with the author’s permission. 

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Dressing Miss Ann Croghan

We are fortunate to have many, many dedicated individuals researching, writing, baking, sewing, and making so that we can tell the stories of Locust Grove’s community. Our guest blogger today is Amy Liebert, Theatrical Director and Women’s Costuming Director for our First Person Interpreters program. Amy recently draped and consulted on a new dress for Heather, who interprets the role of Ann Croghan in our cast. Here’s a look at her process, and how our interpreters at Locust Grove use historical sources to create historically accurate, and ideally, character-driven clothing, to educate museum visitors on the year 1816.

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Dressing Miss Ann Croghan by Amy Liebert

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather is 16 years old and she portrays Ann Croghan, daughter of William and Lucy Croghan who owned Locust Grove. Ann was born in 1797 and was 19 years old in 1816. Heather will hopefully portray Ann for some time to come.

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

This is a portrait which was painted of Ann after her 1822 marriage to Thomas Sidney Jesup. She is a brunette, wearing the color red.

We didn’t ask her to do this, but Heather actually started dying her hair, which is naturally dark blond, brown for this part. Talk about dedication! Her mother made her some false curls based on my post here, and modified this method of styling Heather’s hair.

I found the fabric for this dress on Fashion Fabrics Club, before Heather joined the cast. It reminded me of the fabric this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit was made from. Since we ask that all fabric for this program be approved, I will often pick up approvable fabric when I find a good deal, and pass it on at cost to the ladies in the program.

Polka Dot printed dress, 1810-1815, from private collection

1810-1815 (Private Collection)

I draped the bodice for the dress on Heather and drew up instructions for the skirt. We chose a front opening dress so she would have an easier time getting dressed.

Heather as Ann Croghan wearing front opening dress

Heather’s grandmother Patsy actually did all of the construction on the garment with my instructions and consultation. She was a real champ about learning historic clothing construction techniques!

Heather wearing polka dot dress as seen from the back

Apparently, Patsy has come to really enjoy doing tucks.

Tucks at the hem of Heather's skirt

Here, you can see the tucks at the hem of Heather’s skirt.

Heather stuck with the red theme for her evening gown, which was made from some lovely red silk from 96 District Fabrics. I also draped the bodice for this on her, and helped fit all the tucks on the fashion fabric. Patsy handled all the major construction.

Bodice of red dress ins progress

Here she is in action with her ‘sister’, Eliza Croghan.

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

I may be biased, but I think they look pretty darn great!

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You can read more of Amy’s work on her blog, Places in Time. Look for Ann Croghan’s dress in action during Christmastide, 1816 on Saturday, December 8 from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm!

Locust Grove is open for 2018!

Welcome back, friends! After being closed in January–a month full of repairs, planning, and snow for staff– we’re ready to welcome all of you to the place where Louisville begins for 2018!

When you next visit us, you may notice a change or two. One of these changes was in our gallery. We’ve created a permanent home for our introductory film, thanks to support through Give for Good Louisville and other generous donors. We’re looking forward to having a more welcoming space for you to begin your visit and learn more about George Rogers Clark and the Croghan family.

In addition to our gallery changes, another major project is now ready for the public. Today at Locust Grove, we’re launching an exciting new feature that has been in the works for a long time—an audio tour of our grounds and outbuildings! We’ve designed this tour with our visitors in mind, in order to provide an opportunity to explore Locust Grove wherever you are in the world.

Did you know that Locust Grove sits on 55 acres, all that remains of the Croghans’ original 693.5 acre farm? We wanted to find a way for you, our friends, neighbors and visitors, to explore more of Locust Grove’s landscape, whether or not we’re open for tours. If you’re coming to Locust Grove to enjoy a house tour, walk the grounds at your leisure, or participate in an event, we wanted to make it easy for you to learn more about the grounds and outbuildings at your own pace. This tour is meant to complement the house tour offered daily by our wonderful docents.

So, how does the tour work? Simply call  502-373-2978 and follow the audio prompts. You can dial the number from any phone—the cell phone in your pocket, the landline on your desk, one of those airphones on planes, or even Clark Kent’s phone booth. The tour can be taken from beginning to end, following the map below, or you can call in to learn more about specific buildings on the property at your leisure.

The voices you hear on the tour are members of our docent corps, all volunteers who dedicate a great deal of time to giving tours of our house and grounds each year.

At different points during the tour, you may also be prompted to enter numbers that do not appear on the map. These prompts lead to members of our talented first-person interpreter corps reading letters and other primary source documents written by Croghan family members. We hope you enjoy hearing these voices from the past!

Locust Grove is the place where Louisville begins. We hope this new audio tour can begin new conversations about our house and the people who called it home.

 


If you have feedback on the tour, you can record it by dialing 0# at any point on the tour or by sending us an email.

Tour credits:
Audio:
Hannah McAulay
Alana Gillett

Voices:

Robert Boone
Lynn Boone
Nancy W. Lee
George P.
Mia Seitz
Keith Stevenson
Jeannie Litterst Vezeau
John Vezeau
Brandon Vigliarolo
Ted Wright

This tour was developed and produced by Hannah Zimmerman, Locust Grove’s Marketing and Communications Director, with assistance and feedback by Locust Grove staff members.