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.


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.

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. 

Curatorial Curiosity: Meet Hannah M.!

Here at Locust Grove, we are fortunate to have so many tremendously talented people share their time and talents with us.  Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization, and our interns serve as a superb resource for all sorts of projects. Over the past few months, Hannah M. has acted as our Collections Intern, working with our Curator Mary Beth to bring our collections storage and registry up to snuff. Hannah is a Louisville native who grew up near Locust Grove, and has many fond memories of adventures on the property. Take it away, Hannah!

Hannah M. in newly reorganized Collections Storage!

Hannah M. in newly reorganized Collections Storage!

Hi! I’m Hannah M. As a homeschooled kid, my siblings and I spent many hours roaming through the woods and creeks behind Locust Grove and often picnicked at HLG back in the 90s. I moved away from Louisville in the early 2000s but recently moved back with my husband, Justin, and our two Australian Shepherds, Dash and Zero. While I was away, I received my bachelors degree from the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg, VA. It’s a lovely, small school that used to be the sister school to UVA! At UMW,  I double majored in Historic Preservation and American Studies with a minor in Museum Studies. I also interned at Kenmore Plantation, the home of George Washington’s sister, and Ferry Farm, GW’s childhood home! After graduating, I worked for a hospital system’s supply chain management department back in Virginia. It was nice to experience the “cubicle-life” but it made me even more sure that I wanted to work in a museum. I decided to take the leap and go back to school! Currently, I am completing my Masters in Museum Studies to be a Registrar or a Collections Manager at the University of Oklahoma. I have three classes to finish and am expecting to graduate in July. I also work part time at the Speed Art Museum but am starting to apply for “real jobs” in Registration all over the country!
2. What brought you to Locust Grove?

I was drawn to Locust Grove for two reasons. First, I spent a lot of time here as a child and always felt that my many visits helped spur me towards studying museums and history as an adult. Second, I love house museums! They all have many quirks and challenges, but for the most part, the people who work and volunteer at house museums do it because they love their jobs and are passionate about the work they do.

Hannah helps Curator Mary Beth with piece from our textile collection.

Hannah helps Curator Mary Beth with piece from our textile collection.

3. What are you working on at Locust Grove? 

I actually started interning at HLG last summer! I spent the fall interning in collections. Among other things, I reorganized collections storage, helped number and accession a number of objects, and updated our PastPerfect records. This spring I am starting a new project with Mary Beth. We are going to start researching and rewriting parts of Locust Grove’s Collection Management Policy. I am also going to help write a corresponding Collection Management Procedures document to help in the adherence of our current Collection’s Policy. It’s going to be exciting to continue to move HLG towards AAM excellence.

Thanks to Hannah, everything is in its proper place!

Thanks to Hannah, everything is in its proper place!

4. What has been your favorite part so far?

I have so many favorite parts! I loved getting hands on experience in Collections Storage. I learned so much about proper collections storage and AAM standards. I have also enjoyed working hand-in-hand with Mary Beth and seeing the behind the scenes of Collections Management and Curation at a House Museum.

Hannah and Education Assistant Diane polish silver.

Hannah and Education Assistant Diane polish silver.

5. What do you hope to gain from your Locust Grove experience?

I have already gained so much on-the-job training that is going to be relevant in my future career. I am beyond thankful to intern at such a vibrant House Museum. The staff and volunteers here are wonderful and I feel lucky to be here!

Thanks, Hannah! We’re lucky to have you! If you’re interested in joining the fun, stay tuned for summer internship opportunities! They will be posted here on our website.

Our 2017 events calendar is also on the website! Be sure to check out all our upcoming events and don’t forget about the Used Book Sale, March 3-5! We can’t wait to see all our friends this year.

Sincerely yours,

Hannah Z.


Remembering Lynn Renau

Here at Locust Grove, we focus a lot on the past, and the people who lived and worked here before Blankenbaker Lane even had a name. In the present, wonderful people help preserve the stories of the past and keep them alive for current and future generations. Recently, we lost one of these wonderful people–an historian, storyteller, docent, and volunteer known for her distinctive way of telling people about the past she loved. Lynn Renau passed away in late December, and our hearts are heavy with the loss of such a lively presence from Locust Grove. Lynn cared fiercely about history and firmly believed that learning about the past was crucial to living well in the present. Now, in order to live out her legacy, we’d like to share some memories of her, so we can always remember how important she was to our story.


Photo courtesy of Jason Hiner.

Nina Ayers:

“She first volunteered at Locust Grove in 1964, which made her one of our first. She volunteered from 1964-1968, then again in 1978-1979. She returned and started back on a regular basis in 2008.

“She drove me crazy, but we got along very well.  She had a wicked sense of humor. She also was very generous to Locust Grove […] When my Newfoundland dog died, she sent a very sweet condolences card from [her dog] Lord Barkley. It actually meant a lot to me. I still have it. We talked about our dogs a lot. He was so precious to her […] She was just a very unusual but fascinatingly interesting person. Her knowledge of early American, and especially Jefferson County, history was massive, but I remember recently a discussion of outhouses. She knew almost nothing about outhouses. A revelation.”

Tim Ayers:

“The most time I had ever spent with her was the last Book Sale when she and I worked as cashiers at the table by the door. We worked out a deal […] that she would count the books into hard bound, paper backs, etc. She would give me a total and I would get the money and give the change […] It worked really well except when somebody didn’t buy enough books to suit her, and then she would tell them ‘Look, you need to go get two or three more books’ and she would tell them, ‘The rule around here is that these are such good prices that any books we don’t sell we have to take out back and burn, and if you buy just a couple more we can meet our quota. You don’t want to be a book burner do you?’ I wondered what the heck was she talking about, but 90% of them would go back out and get a couple more books. I liked that a lot.”

Frances Lussky, Tsh-Tae-Wahjun and Goh-Deeyee-Dohleth:

“I loved bringing my children to her Death at Locust Grove presentation around Halloween. She made it so fun and interesting. I also brought my friend to it. I also enjoyed knowing that I could see her at each event I attended at Locust Grove, say hello and talk a bit about what might be going on. I will miss visiting with her.”


Kenny Karem:

“Not only did I teach Lynn’s daughter, [I] have run into her numerous times because of our involvement with local history writing and causes and recently moved down the street from her, I have in the past year seen her numerous times walking her dog in the neighborhood as I have walked mine. I often misspoke her dog’s name as my dog, Chile, wanted to play with him. But as I greeted her dog, Lord Barkley, he would have none of it. Or, was is it …Sir Barkley? Lynn always corrected me in a most debonair manner on her dog’s ‘proper’ title. Obviously I still have problems remembering correct titles of dog nobility.”

Jason Hiner:

“[…] Lynn was one of the most active, passionate, and sometimes even combative tour guides at Locust Grove. I’ve never known anyone who felt as strongly about history as Lynn — and she loved to figure out what part of history you were most interested in and then engage you in a repartee about it.
“If you were lucky enough to get Lynn as your docent on a Locust Grove tour — and many were because she tirelessly volunteered so many hours every week — then you got a customized stroll through the past because she always started her tours by asking why you came and what you wanted to learn[…]”

(A longer memorial by Jason can be found here.)


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Heather Hiner:
“A few years ago, I was talking to her during the week leading up to the Jane Austen festival. We were having a conversation about ways docents can make history more relatable to guests and I shared that I love to tell the story of Mary Schenley during Jane Austen Festival because it’s straight out of the pages of an Austen novel.
Lynn confided in me that she had recently realized she had never read any of Austen’s books and that she came to the conclusion that it was important for her to be more versed in them so she could better interact with festival attendees. So she had sat down the previous weekend to read Jane Austen. I asked her which book she had read and she replied, ‘All of them.’ Startled, I asked, ‘All of them in one weekend?!’ Her reply was something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know which ones they’ll want to talk about so I had to read all of them.’ Lynn never did anything halfway.”

Bonny Wise:

“[Lynn] told me a few years ago she didn’t think she liked Jane Austen… I said, that’s okay, not everyone does. And we left it at that. A few weeks later she approached me and said, ‘Bonny! I love Jane Austen!’ She became a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America!”

Sharron Hilbrecht :
“I can’t imagine LG without her. I will always remember whenever she’d engage me in a conversation about something I knew she thought I was well-versed in. She’d give me that knowing glance, like she was letting me in on something, just the two of us, and then she’d proceed to tell whatever it was, saying something like, ‘Well you know…’ as if I truly did know. I never, ever wanted to act like I didn’t! […]  She was truly one of the most amazing people I ever met.

“[Lynn’s death is] … like a library has burned to the ground. She was one of my favorite people. Knew something about every possible topic. What an incredible loss to us all.

“It took me a while to ‘get’ Lynn. She didn’t suffer fools lightly. But once I understood how genuinely kind she was and how much she loved Locust Grove, I could not have had a better friend.”


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Lynn Boone:

“We at Locust Grove will need to work very hard to compensate for all she did for LG. Her tenacious search through incoming books found [that] what looked like trash was actually a valuable, as well as rare, source for genealogical KY research. Her quirky sense of humor took some by surprise as she delivered her statements with ‘deadpan’ sincerity but were really just her way of poking fun. Lynn was truly dedicated to history in all forms–books, reenactments, book sales which benefited the total Locust Grove experience. I will truly miss her and her dedication!!!!”

Bob Boone:

“I got to know Lynn well during the last five years when I became active as a Locust Grove docent and part of the weekend staff. As a writer and historian, she was always interested in discovering new books on Kentucky & American history of the Locust Grove period. We traded books and provided each other with titles of interesting writers and subjects. We had running discussions of various historical topics – some a little odd and obscure […]

“She was always good for an interesting story or anecdote on anything under the sun. She seemed to know or have known just about everybody in Louisville. She knew all about our local scandals – both past and present.

“She was fascinated about long hidden facts about the area. She was thrilled when an LG volunteer found an on-line obituary for John Collins – William Croghan’s 100 year-old business manager. A few months ago she met a tour guest who was a direct descendant of Henry Hamilton – the infamous British “Hair Buyer” of the Revolutionary period and an adversary of George Rogers Clark. She had planned to correspond with this fellow and glean some information about Hamilton’s American roots.

“Lynn had a dry and unpredictable sense of humor which I am not sure everyone understood – it may have gotten her into trouble some times but I thought she was great fun.

“Seeing her numerous times at Locust Grove interacting with staff and guests, I also saw her do some very kind things for a number of people – this should not be forgotten.

“She was my friend and I will miss her.”

Jamie Eiler:
“Lynn made better historians of all of us. It’s good to remember her humor could be just as sharp as her mind […] I never knew anyone who marshaled facts like Lynn. You might disagree with her on a rare occasion, but you’d better be able to quote chapter and verse. She always did so with authority. I worked with Lynn on the old Liberty Bank commercial with the coffin pumper now at the Vintage Fire Museum. It wouldn’t roll back onto the truck – until Lynn casually kicked the chock out from under the wheel.”

Tricia Langley:
“I could always call Lynn to go to an auction or antiquing with me. She was kind, thoughtful, intelligent to the max and I will always miss her. She was one of my best friends. And such a loss to Locust Grove and most of all to her dear family.

“I will miss Lynn so much. She was so special to me. She knitted my first grandchild the most beautiful sweater and about a month ago she came into Locust Grove carrying a brand new bag of cat food she had bought she thought my little cat would like […] Lynn was always so thoughtful. I could tell her anything. Not so many people I can do that with. She always understood and knew where I was coming from.”


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Kristie Slack Shockley:
Lynn got excited when my daughter Heather told her that she was doing her National History Day project on Susan Look Avery. She did a little clap. She proceeded to tell Heather a lot of information that helped her with her research […] And when she found out that we owned Air Devil’s Inn Lynn had information that we did not have. The roof of ADI was in a James Bond movie! She also said ‘as you know….’ to us. We didn’t always know. But it was fun to be in on her ‘secret’.”

Cheryl Kinberger:
“I worked with Lynn these last few years at LG during book sales, book sorts and mailings. We usually sat at the same table during LG volunteer events. I always enjoyed her conversations. Lynn attended many lectures and was always reminding me how much she loved lemon bars and, with that smile of hers, hinted that I should make them more often.”

John Vezeau:

“Lynn was an interesting conversationalist. I enjoyed my times chatting with her in the Locust Grove volunteers’ library and elsewhere. She was an ardent researcher … not just in books and dusty documents. She would take to the field eagerly, like the time I helped her discover the Herr Family Cemetery, tucked back in a half-hidden location in Graymoor-Devondale.

“She possessed a great memory … and her mental library was chock-full of interesting tidbits and long-scoped stories. She could – and did – discuss many topics with enthusiasm, and then just as quickly another subject matter would claim her attention.

“Lynn spiced her conversations with witticisms and irony. Yes, there were straight-forward facts … but weren’t these dealt with so much more enjoyably with a sprinkling of off-beat humor?

“I’ll miss those chats … and the many spinning pinwheels of her stories.”

Lynn strides through Market Fair in October 2016, using her "18th century app" to promote the Book Sale.

Lynn strides through Market Fair in October 2016, using her “18th century app” to promote the Book Sale.

Lynn’s life will be remembered at Locust Grove on February 5 at 2pm. Please join us to share more stories and celebrate the woman who gave so much to the place we all love so well.