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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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. 

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