Out of History’s Shadow: The Story of Alfred Croghan, Part 1

Two actors portraying enslaved workers through a window

Alfred and Rose, portrayed by Sidney and Xavier, in the hearth kitchen at Historic Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky. – Photo by Heather R. Hiner/Fox and Rose Photography.

Today, volunteer and researcher Heather Hiner continues to share her research into the enslaved community at Locust Grove with the first in a series on the life of an enslaved man named Alfred Croghan. Her previous post tells the story of another enslaved man, also named Alfred who was most likely sold by the Croghan family of  Locust Grove as punishment for an unknown act. 

For the most part, the enslaved people who lived and labored at Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky are poorly documented. When I started this research project, Alfred Croghan was documented better than most. But “better than most” is a low bar. I knew his first name, the approximate year of his birth, and that he had spent part of his adult life at Mammoth Cave. After many, many hours of research and with the help of librarians, archivists, and others, I am excited to share that Alfred Croghan has gone from being poorly documented to being the first enslaved person owned by the Croghan family that we can trace from a child at Locust Grove to his death as a free man in Louisville.

Alfred’s first documented appearance may be in the 1820 Census. According to the census, half of the enslaved people living at Locust Grove were 14 or younger. I cannot be entirely sure that Alfred is one of the children listed in the census because the only person listed by name is the head of the household, Major William Croghan. Major Croghan’s family and the enslaved people he owned are not listed by name.

1820 census document

1820 Federal Census for William Croghan (highlighted in yellow). Alfred Croghan may have been one of the eight male enslaved children seen in the census (highlighted in orange).

I have not come across any records of births of enslaved children at Locust Grove. However, I am pretty confident that Alfred was born in 1820 based on some wonderful photographs I will share in a future post about Alfred. The census was taken in August of 1820, which means if Alfred was born before August, he is one of the eight enslaved male children living at Locust Grove who were recorded on the census.

Portrait of mid-19th century man

Portrait of William Croghan, Jr. by James Reid Lambdin

The only real glimpse of Alfred’s childhood that we have is a letter written by William Croghan, Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III in 1828. In fact, it is the best account of enslaved children in general that we have and is a treasure trove of information.

“Locust Grove, Fall, 1828

…If you were only here now to see the dear little calves, & the lambs & little pigs – You never saw so many pigs & only to think how you would find the ducks & your eggs. Little Abe & Al, find the most & Al comes in & says “here old mister here is egg, now give me cake” & then away he runs & then Abe he comes in with his – Little Tommy & Susan live at the river, but they come up here of a Sunday to see us all” –

Little Harvey wants to go with me to Pitts; he says he belong to you. Little Bob lives in town & is learning to be a barber. He lives with the black Barber than once cut your hair –”…

Excerpt, William Croghan Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III – Locust Grove Manuscripts

Portrait of mid-19th century woman

Portrait of Mary Croghan Schenley by James Reid Lambdin

Based on a birth year of 1820 and with no other records pointing to another man around the same age with the same name owned by the Croghans, it is a near certainty that “Al” is an eight-year-old Alfred Croghan. It’s an account that shows an exuberant boy who is bold enough to be a bit cheeky with William, Jr.

William Croghan, Jr. inherited Locust Grove from his father in 1822 and continued to live there until the death of his wife in October of 1827. Devastated by his loss, William and his children moved to Pittsburgh where he could manage his late wife’s estate. He wrote the above letter to his son in Pittsburgh one after the death of his wife while he was visiting Locust Grove.

Pittsburgh also became a part of Alfred’s story. John Abbott met Alfred during a visit to Mammoth Cave in 1854 and shared that “Alfred formerly belonged to Miss Mary Croghan [daughter of William Croghan, Jr.]… After she went to England, she gave Alfred to some of her relatives, and he belonged to Dr. Croghan at the time of his [Dr. Croghan’s] death…”

Being moved to Pittsburgh to serve William’s daughter, Mary, followed by being passed between other members of the Croghan family would have been an experience Alfred shared with other enslaved people owned by the Croghans. It was a common practice for the Croghans to loan, buy, or sell, enslaved people who belonged to their family amongst themselves.

Under the ownership of Dr. John Croghan, William, Jr.’s, oldest brother, Alfred would become one of the enslaved guides of Mammoth Cave. Working alongside the storied Stephen Bishop, Materson Bransford, and Nicholas Bransford, Alfred would leave his own marks at the cave and become a part of its history. And that’s a story for the next blog post, so stay tuned!

You can follow Heather’s continued research on her blog, The Past in Focus. 

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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!

Seeds of Knowledge with Sarah the Gardener

We’re ready for spring at Locust Grove, but it’s been a very productive winter! Our gardener Sarah conducts a great deal of research, and today, she’s sharing some insights from her favorite garden journal with us! Tell us more about sainfoin seeds, Sarah!

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Sarah hard at work!

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During those long, grey winter months, a gardener has more time to catch up on her reading, and what better to read than old garden journals! One of my favorites, which I return to again and again, are the journals of Joseph Hornsby. Mr. Hornsby, formerly of Williamsburg, VA, moved to Shelby County with his nearly-grown children and began his journal in Feb. 1798. Not just a simple listing of what seed varieties were planted where, he also used these pages to discuss health, social calls, family, weather, land disputes, and other affairs of his farm life.

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Mr. Hornsby arrived in Shelby with sacks (literally) of seeds from friends in Williamsburg and abroad, and had a curious nature in regard to plants. One of the things I noticed early on was his mention (Oct. 22, 1798) of planting sainfoin seeds. My research reveals that this plant was introduced to the U.S. in 1786, but not much was done with it until the 1900’s, yet here was Mr. Hornsby, giving it a try! What is sainfoin and why would Mr. Hornby have had interest? It is a plant in the legume family which is grown much like alfalfa, yet it is more nutritious and non-bloating, making it an ideal forage plant for livestock, especially sheep. Mr. Hornsby never says how his experiment turned out, but I’m impressed with how forward–thinking he was!

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His non-gardening entries were interesting, too. Suffering from headaches, he allowed himself to be “electrified” to seek relief. No such luck, though! His daughter Peggy experienced a mysterious, lengthy illness, for which the doctor bled her freely. He then posted ‘Doctor Moore went home early this morning & I think my daughter Peggy out of danger.’ ” Does he mean Peggy was cured, or that she’s safe now that Dr. Moore has gone? They spent a great deal of time visiting between neighboring farms, and a visit could last days, involving fox hunting and sending somebody out to barter corn for alcohol!

fall grounds

Mr. Hornsby was a slave holder, and I find his interaction with his enslaved population interesting. He elected to use the term “My People”, which initially confused me when I read that “The People” were in the corn crib! It’s not easy to find terms slave-owners used for their enslaved population, but it appears that variations on unpleasant terms, “servants”, “field hands”, and just plain “slaves” were more common terms. He was an odd mix of concern and indifference. He carefully noted which slaves were sick each day and seemed to have no problem sending for a doctor when needed, but he also had them working outside in foul weather, with inevitable results. On February 8th, 1803, he sent John to Doctor Knight to pick up pills for Alice. But on December 3rd of that year he dryly noted …”Clear and Cold, Mr. R. Merriweather set off after breakfast. Sally brought to Bed, Child Dead, John making shoes.” He had the same emotion earlier that year when he noted “One cow called young Nubb calved last night, the Calf dead.” Also, there seemed to be little division of labor, on gender lines, on Hornsby’s land when it came to outside work. His most constant gardener was a young woman named Dicey, who appears to be a “Jack of all trades” and quite capable of hoeing, grubbing stumps, making maple syrup, and helping in the kitchen when needed.

1840s hemp
What I would most like to find, however, is a connection between the Croghans and Mr. Hornsby. Shelbyville before modern travel is not exactly next door, but he made trips to Louisville and mentions, in March 1798, getting walnut trees from a friend in town. These plants, as well as English raspberries, English walnuts, English honeysuckle and weeping willow, came from a Mr. Moore, and Hornsby notes the garden was “formerly Mr. Lacasong’s (sic) Garden in his lifetime”. Is this somebody one of the Croghans knew? Mr. Croghan and Mr. Hornsby appear to be of roughly the same income and social standing, and had similarly-sized estates and enslaved populations. If I could just find a connection, I could argue that perhaps Locust Grove had the same plants and taste in garden design, perhaps from Hornsby himself!

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Want to learn more? The diary is available online through the Library of Congress (just Google Joseph Hornsby’s diary) and there is a transcribed copy in our library as well. I would suggest reading it online, as you’re bound to find interesting and obscure words and terms which will send you on a mission of discovery!

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Thanks for sharing, Sarah! We hope to bring you more updates on research related to understanding more about the Croghan family’s daily life and the lives of their neighbors over the next few months. What do you want to know? Ask us your questions–we always love hearing from you and we love sharing what we learn!

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Happy Spring!

Sincerely,

Hannah