Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Cemetery Visit: Honoring Dred Scott

He was a simple man, who had many odds against him. Born a slave, his name gained the attention of the world when he sued for his freedom. I had always heard of Dred Scott and I had the chance to visit his gravesite on Monday July 6th.

I arrived St. Louis, on an early flight on Monday, when I arrived to attend and to teach at the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, (MAAGI). This early arrival allowed time for a pleasant lunch with genealogy friends. Upon leaving, it was suggested that we visit the gravesite of Dred Scott. I had never known where he was buried, and finally I got to stand over the final resting place of this man whose name will be forever known.

After a brief stop at the office of Cavalry cemetery, we were given a map that would direct us to his gravesite. Driving through this massive cemetery was amazing, with rolling hills and magnificent monuments to those long gone. After turning onto a nearby road, a glance to the left revealed a small yet neat stone bearing the name, Dred Scott. The stone is simple yet elegant.

Additional words about his life describe the significance of Scott's struggle for freedom and the impact of the Dred Scott decision. It is eloquently stated, "In memory of a simple man who wanted to be free."

Another small memorial stone next to  Dred Scott's stone is dedicated to his wife Harriet. That memorial marker was dedicated in 1999. Harriet Scott is believed to be buried at Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis County.

Over the years visitors to the Dred Scott grave have started a tradition of leaving evidence of their visit to his gravesite by leaving a coin. The typical momento is to leave a copper penny at his grave. In respect for the tradition, my colleague Noreen Goodson and I, both left our pennies on the headstone, as well. A thank you for his struggle for freedom and a prayer that he and Harriet continue to rest in peace was said while standing there.

 To mark the occasion of this visit to the gravesite of Dred Scott, my colleague Noreen, and I posed for a photo next to the stone.

Few facts about the early life of this man are really known. He lived as a free man very briefly and facts about the lives of his wife and daughters in the years before the freedom suits are few. However, some poignant facts were collected a few years ago in a book about the lives of Dred and Harriet Scott, when genealogist and author Ruth Hager wrote a book that provided some insights into the life of the Scott family. The book is entitled, Dred and Harriet Scott: Their Family Story. 

In 2012 while attending a conference of the St. Louis African American Genealogy Society, I had the pleasure of meeting Dred Scott's direct descendant, Lynn Johnson, his gr. gr. granddaughter. She is now the director of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation and works to keep the legacy of her ancestor alive.

Angela Walton-Raji and Lynn Jackson, standing near portrait of Dred Scott.

There are many notable names in history who struggled against the yoke of slavery. Some fought for themselves and their loved ones such as Dred Scott. Others fought for the freedom of others, like Harriet Tubman. We read about them, and remember their names, but the chance to visit their gravesite is rare. I am grateful that I was able to visit the gravesite of this man, whose struggle, and landmark case deferred a mighty dream. 

He was an ordinary man, a simple man who only wanted to be free. I am humbled by the chance to say that his battle mattered.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Buffalo Soldier Recruitment Letter Among Freedmen's Bureau Documents

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 7

The 9th and 10th Cavalry as well as the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments of the U.S. Army are known by many as Buffalo Soldiers. These men enlisted in the US Army after the Civil War.

While recently studying the records of the Freedmen's Bureau recently, an interesting letter was found among letters in the Ouachita County Arkansas records. (1) The letter was sent to the  various agents of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. In the body of the letter were instructions to the agents to identify men from the newly freed population, and to encourage their enlistment in the army for the 10th Cavalry. The 10th Cavalry was one of the regiments that became known as Buffalo Soldiers and who made a name for themselves as they served on the western frontier.

Both pages are found on the Internet Archives site:
Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen &Abandoned Lands for the State of Arknasas, Roll 7

The letter reads:

"I am directed by the Assistant Commissioner, to inform you that he wishes the Agents of the Bureau  to render such service as they can, consistent with their other duties, in obtaining recruits for the 10th Regiment, U.S. Cavalry, (Colored). When it comes to the knowledge of any Agent, that there are colored men suitable for, and desiring to enlist in, this regiment, he will at once report by telegraph or letter to Capt. J. W. Walsh, 10th U.S. Cavalry, Little Rock, Arkansas.

All recruits are to be at least 5 feet, 6 inches high.  Capt. Walsh will soon furnish to the Agents a few posters giving all the terms of an enlistment. Any expenses incurred by telegraphing or otherwise in obtaining recruits will be paid by Capt. Walsh.

Agents will inform the colored men, through the medium of their preachers that recruits are wanted for this regiment, and the manner of effecting an enlistment.

                                                                                     I am very respectfully,

                                                                                     Your O B't Serv't

                                                                                      Jno. Tyler (signed)
                                                                                       1st Lt. 43rd, US Infantry
                                                                                       Act'g Ass't Adj't Gen'l

Joseph S. Thorpe

*****     *****     *****     *****

This is one of the more unique kinds of records to be found in this amazing record set. The records, also referred to as Record Group 105, contain many name rich records of newly freed slaves, southern whites and land owners. The typical records are labor contracts, marriage records, transportation records and a number of letters and complaints. This particular letter reflects some of the unique orders that were sent to and received by the various agents of the Freedmen's Bureau.

The critical lesson for genealogists is look beyond the lists of names. In the many letters, one can find other gems such as recruitment orders, local county stories and reports of unique incidents that never made it to published county histories.

(1) Bureau of the Office of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. National Archives Record Publication M1901, Roll 7.