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This book unearths the story of a significant historical figure: George Washington Fields (1854-1932). Born into slavery in Hanover County, Virginia, he started at the bottom. But he managed to escape with his remarkable family to Hampton at the height of the Civil War. He worked to support the family, and still pursued an education at the storied Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Later going North, he worked for nearly a decade, including stints as manservant for various luminaries, before completing his legal studies as Cornell University’s first African-American graduate. He then went home to Hampton where—though blinded in 1896—he continued to overcome, eventually becoming a leading attorney of the region. Most importantly, in his later years, he wrote an autobiography. This book presents in full form that hitherto unpublished work, rediscovered in a museum in Hampton. The autobiography ranks as a major slave narrative. It is an incredible document, telling a riveting tale of escape and triumph, while

The Indomitable George Washington Fields

The Indomitable George Washington Fields

The Indomitable George Washington Fields From Slave to Attorney

conveying a sense of this great and greatly likeable person. He recounts his story with a special blend of humor and wisdom, laying out in no uncertain

Before and after that autobiographical centerpiece, the other parts of this book provide context and fill gaps in the five-act life story: the wrenching antebellum life of a slave family, the dramatic escape during wartime, the rebuilding of family life during the South’s Reconstruction, the necessary

CLERMONT

terms the set of values that guided him through his fascinating times.

move up to the North for more work and schooling, and finally the return to Hampton for a largely happy and very productive life.

KEVIN M. CLERMONT is the Ziff Professor of Law at Cornell University.

Kevin M. Clermont


Copyright Š 2013 by Kevin M. Clermont All rights reserved. ISBN: 1490335625 ISBN-13: 978-1490335629


TABLE OF CONTENTS Part One George and Cornell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 I. Prologue. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Setting the Stage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Proofreading in 2004. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Speechifying in 2012. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 II. A Life. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 1. Antebellum Life: 1854-1860. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 2. War and Escape: 1861-1865. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 3. Work and School Down South: 1866-1878. . . . . 18 4. Work and School Up North: 1879-1890. . . . . . . . 20 5. Return to Hampton: 1891-1932. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 III. Two Epilogues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Georgian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Cornellian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Part Two The Autobiography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I. Antebellum Life: 1854-1860.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Beginnings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Moving to Hanover Courthouse. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Early Days. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Working Days.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . II. War and Escape: 1861-1865. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . War Comes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Last Years on the Plantation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . War Returns. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Escape to Freedom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Among the Yankees. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Working for the Bartletts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Moving to Hampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Getting Work and Food.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reuniting Family. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . War Ends. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

47 49 49 51 53 54 57 57 62 67 70 73 80 82 85 88 89


III. Work and School Down South: 1866-1878.. . . . . . . . . . . 90 Getting Schooled.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 Working Years.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Getting More School and Work. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 IV. Work and School Up North: 1879-1890. . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 Going Up North. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 Serving a Brooks Brother. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103 Serving Governor Cornell.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108 Studying Law. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 V. Return to Hampton: 1891-1932. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Part Three The Thesis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163


PART ONE George and Cornell


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I. PROLOGUE Setting the Stage For decades Cornell Law School publicly prided itself on having an early law school graduate of color: Eugene Kinckle Jones Jr. of the Class of 1936. He came from famed Cornell University roots. His father, Eugene Kinckle Jones (1885-1954), had earned a Cornell Master’s Degree in Social Science in 1908. While at Cornell in 1906, he helped found the nation’s first black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, which makes him one of the celebrated seven Jewels of that influential organization.1 He went on to great things. He became the first Executive Secretary of the National Urban League and served as a member of FDR’s so-called Black Cabinet of advisors.2 In the father’s time, “Cornell had an acceptable reputation as a liberal white institution among black intellectual circles.”3 After all, Cornell was championed for its forward-looking dedication to inclusion. It was founded in 1865, by the terms of its motto, as “an institution where any person can find instruction,” regardless of sex or color. But affirmative pursuit of inclusiveness lay far in the future, and so decades would pass

1

See African American Fraternities and Sororities (Tamara L. Brown, Gregory S. Parks & Clarenda M. Phillips eds., 2d ed. 2012); Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence (Gregory S. Parks & Stefan M. Bradley eds., 2012); Carol Kammen, Part & Apart: The Black Experience at Cornell, 1865-1945, at 47-56, 70-71 (2009). 2

See Felix L. Armfield, Eugene Kinckle Jones: The National Urban League and Black Social Work, 1910-1940 (2012). 3

Id. at 17.


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before the first African Americans would graduate. That is to say, Cornell exhibited little active discrimination, but considerable indifference to the presence of blacks. Its location and cost and the small number of blacks, in the school and in the town, were hardly a draw. Moreover, living conditions followed the pattern of Jim Crow, and so the blacks who did attend Cornell lived lives socially separate from the white students. Consistently with its race-blind attitude, Cornell University generally did not code students by race. Indeed, Cornell Law School did not start to do so until 1976! Accordingly, writing about the early black students is a challenge, as is merely identifying them. One has to rely on secondary sources, like class notes or obituaries, for clues as to race. But which students should one investigate through those materials? Photographs might be somewhat helpful in selecting students to investigate. But, always unreliable, photographs of students were by no means common early on, nor comprehensive later on. In brief, who knew if Eugene Kinckle Jones Jr. really was the first law school graduate of color for Cornell? Proofreading in 2004 Well, at least I know a lot about me. So, permit me to switch to that angle, if only fleetingly. In late 2004, taking a break from reading page proofs of a new book,4 I chose to wander, virtually, in the Cornell University Library’s marvelous digital card catalog. Because I was proofreading a section on the jury, I searched for trial by jury. I so stumbled on the thesis of one Washington Fields, Cornell Law School Class of 1890, entitled “Trial by Jury.” Procrastinating some more, I looked for the thesis in the law library’s caged Cornelliana collection. The thesis turned out to be a beautifully written rebuttal of what I had just proofread. Fields characterized himself “as being in entire disfavor of jury trial and in favor of its speedy abolition.” My views, and modern empirical research, pointed the other way. But several of my colleagues had persisted in agreement with Fields’ position. So I thought they might find their ally from 1890 to be of interest, if not a reason to convert to my modern position.

4

Kevin M. Clermont, Principles of Civil Procedure (2005).


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Etching by George Cruikshank, Entitled A Local Court (1833)

Thus I was led to wonder who this guy was. By 2005 I had retrieved from storage the University records on him. They were scanty. It said of “G(eorge) Washington Fields,” that he was born April 25, 1854, entered Cornell in 1887, received his LL.B. in 1890, lived later at 124 Wine Street in Hampton, Virginia, and died in Hampton on August 19, 1932. More intriguing was that it included a copy of the Alumni News obituary: G(EORGE) WASHINGTON FIELDS ’90, a lawyer in Hampton, Va., died at his home there on August 19. Mr. Fields was butler for many years for former Governor Alonzo B. Cornell, and then entered Cornell where he received the degree of LL.B. He built up a large law practice among the colored and white population in Hampton. He became blind a number of years ago but continued in his profession.5 Whoa! A butler? Colored population? The Ithaca Journal obituary of August 24, 1932, was basically identical, but it called him George W. Fields6 and added: “He had many friends among the colored people of Ithaca during

5

Cornell Alumni News, Sept. 1932, at 8, available at dspace.library.cornell.edu/bitstream/1813/27038/1/035_01.pdf. 6

He definitely went by George before and after law school, not G. Washington or simply Washington.


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his residence here. He was a popular figure at reunions of his class.”7 Not proof positive, but intriguing. So, off I went to the listing and ranking of lawyers in the 1930 Martindales’s American Law Directory. It listed him as “colored,” gave his legal ability its middle ranking of “fair,” and reported him as good for paying bills. Next, the 1930 U.S. Census located him at 124 Wine Street and described him as “Negro.”8 Here was confirmation that I had stumbled upon a startling fact: the first of Cornell Law School’s black alumni had graduated forty-six years earlier than previously thought. That was enough for me to deputize our custodians to search for rumored composite photographs of the law school’s early classes. In deep, deep storage, within a forgotten attic, they found a framed presentation of the formal photographs of 31 of the 32 graduates of the law school’s Class of 1890. Among them was the photograph of G.W. Fields that adorns the cover of this book. The newly discovered composites now hang in Classrooms 387 and 389 of the law school. From all this came a 2005 article in the form of an imagined debate between Mr. Fields and me on the merits of the civil jury.9 Not earthshaking, but its preamble revealed what I had learned of my debater, “whom we now serendipitously know to be one of this nation’s very first law-school graduates of color. Previous Cornell Law School records had not reflected this fact.” Speechifying in 2012 On the basis of that 2005 article, the Cornell Black Alumni

7

In Ithaca, New York, he lived downtown on Albany Street and then on Wheat Street (now Cleveland Ave.), as I have since learned. Regarding reunions, he attended at least his Twenty-Fifth Reunion in 1915. 8

Later I was to see his mother and family regularly described as mulatto, as in the 1880 Census. 9

Kevin M. Clermont, Trial by Jury: Point/Counterpoint, Cornell L.F., Spring 2005, at 10.


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Association invited me to speak to its members at Cornell University’s 2012 Reunions. To prepare, I checked around to see if there was anything new on Mr. Fields. The results were astounding. The internet in 2012 was so much richer than it had been in 2005, when I first investigated George, that it was different in kind, not degree. From nothing then, a search for “‘George Washington Fields’ & Hampton” now produced 1270 hits. And many of these are informative hits.10 The online community proved vibrantly helpful as well.11 Moreover, many new books on the black experience had since emerged. None is more relevant to my topic than Carol Kammen’s marvelous tome from 2009, Part & Apart: The Black Experience at Cornell, 1865-1945. By prodigious research, she vastly increased the number of known early black graduates of Cornell University. At the same time, she provided a wonderfully insightful account of their experiences at the school. As a result, we now know of more black graduates of Cornell Law School. Between George Washington Fields 1890 and the previous recordholder, Eugene Kinckle Jones Jr. 1936, we now count these recipients of the LL.B.: 1892 – E.U.A. Brooks (and LL.M. 1893) 1911 – John Lawrence Brown 1912 – James Claus Thomas, Jr. 1913 – Richard Anderson Rice 1927 – Joseph Roosevelt Houchins (and S.J.D. 1934) 1927 – Frederick Wilson Wells 1928 – William McKinley Banks Each of these men has an interesting story. For example, Edward

10

My administrative assistant, Lyndsey Clark, proved especially adept—and tireless—at internet sleuthing on this project. 11

Special thanks go to Drusilla Pair, an Instructional Technologist in Distance Learning at Hampton University, who is researching George’s brother James and brother-in-law Madison Lewis, and to Ajena C. Rogers, a national historic park ranger, who is James’s great-granddaughter.


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Ulysses Anderson Brooks was born in Elmira, New York, in 1872, as the youngest of eleven children to formerslave parents from Virginia. In 1890 he graduated from Elmira Free Academy, and he topped off his Cornell Law School career with an LL.M. in 1893 to become the first black to earn a graduate law degree. He practiced law in Elmira from 1894 to 1901, and during E.U.A. Brooks 1892 that time he became a minister. As such, he served in and around the Ithaca area, in Waverly, Utica, Auburn, and other places, and also served as the director of the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People in Auburn. In 1911 he graduated from the Auburn Theological Seminary, and in 1913 he became pastor of Dyer Phelps Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Saratoga Springs. This distinguished career led him to become Alpha Phi Alpha’s second honorary member in 1908.12 As to early diversity at the law school more generally, the composite photograph of its Class of 1890 includes two Japanese students: Gitaro Narukawa and Matsugu Takemura. They were not the first, as Keigo Harada and Masayasu Naruse had entered with the school’s first students in 1887 and graduated in 1889. Indeed, Naruse got a Master of Laws in 1890, when the school awarded its first graduate law degrees. All were part of the wave of Japanese students who went abroad for further

12

See Skip Mason, Skip’s Historical Moments, http://www.skipmason.com/hm/hm24.htm (May 25, 1999).


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university study during the Meiji modernization.13 There was some geographic diversity among the North American students, as Cornell Law School was on its way to being a national law school. Still, 85% were from upstate New York. Moreover, George had no female classmates. The school’s first woman graduate was Mary Kennedy Brown in the Class of 1893.

Cornell 1913 Class Book But back to George. My local rediscovery of him for the Cornell Law School migrated into Cornell University’s history too. As well it should have. George was enrolled in the law department of the university and so was part of the university’s Class of 1890, which was in fact the first Cornell class to include African-American graduates. Thus, Cornell University, founded in 1865 as open to all, now claims him as a pioneering graduate on its website.14 As to early diversity at the university more generally, the University Archivist and head of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, who has written a nice history of Cornell, describes it so: Cornell also admitted international students from almost the very

13

See Kevin M. Clermont, When East Met West: 125 Years of Japanese Law Students at Cornell, Cornell L.F., Spring 2013, at 4. 14

S e e C o r n e l l’s D i v e r s i t y diversity.cornell.edu/timeline (2012).

T i meline,

http:/ /


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beginning. Ezra Cornell’s 1870 diary includes a list of “where students are from.” In 1870 there were students from twentyeight states, Washington, D.C., and eleven foreign countries, including a student from Japan. While there were black students during the 1870s, most were from Cuba and the Caribbean. Three African American students, Charles Chauveau Cook, Jane Eleanor Datcher, and George Washington Fields, graduated in 1890. Today, minority students comprise over 25% of the undergraduate population.15 Of those first three African-American graduates of Cornell University, Charles Cook and Jane Datcher were interesting young people, well-to-do cousins from Washington, D.C., who received the Bachelor of Letters and the Bachelor of Science, respectively.16 As we shall see, my renewed research revealed that George was nothing of that kind. For one thing, he is the only ex-slave ever to graduate from Cornell! II. A LIFE So, what route did George follow to appear in that photograph of Cornell Law School’s Class of 1890? That was quite mysterious—until I stumbled across a reference to George’s autobiography. As background for my 2012 talk, I was reading a fine book on the history of Hampton, Virginia, and in an appendix it made casual reference to “a copy of the George Washington Fields manuscript autobiography” that the author had obtained from the Hampton Association for the Arts and Humanities.17 Whoa, again! The Association no longer exists, but I managed, with assistance, to learn that the Hampton History Museum had acquired the

15

Elaine D. Engst, Cornell University, in Founded by Friends (2007), available at http://dspace.library.cornell.edu/bitstream/ 1813/5418/1/Engst_CU.pdf, at 19. 16

See Kammen, supra note 1, at 22-28, 121.

17

Robert Francis Engs, Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861-1890, at 180 (2d ed. 2004). The manuscript had earlier been found among the collected papers of Hamilton H. Sandidge “Sis” Evans, who was a preservationist connected with the Association and who may have revised the original version of the autobiography.


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unpublished document.18 “Come On, Children”: The Autobiography of George Washington Fields, Born a Slave in Hanover County, Virginia is, put simply, an incredible document. It recounts George’s march from slavery to a successful career as a blind lawyer. It convinces any reader that this was a great (and greatly likeable) man—and that his mother truly was a great woman. As a friend of mine reacted: “It would be so wonderful to understand his mother’s secret force—if only ‘Come on, Children’ would even get mine off the couch, much less out of slavery!” The manuscript was in rough shape, however, with numerous page fragments out of order and various sections repeated in somewhat different terms. It contained small sections in which the blind man’s hands had shifted on the keyboard to type what seemed to be gibberish, which therefore requires decoding by reconstructing which keys he had meant to strike. There were signs of some retyping, and also minor editing, probably by George and certainly by others, with interlineations and asides. So I have further edited it. I corrected minor errors in the writing. I mainly added a lot of commas, formatted paragraphs, and inserted headings, all to make it more readable. I annotated it by means of lettered footnotes, so that the reader can follow the chronology and the geography, and I provided illustrations. But I retained his words and his voice. His tone is curious, especially his frequent self-reference in the third person as Cock Robin, his slave nickname. I suspect the autobiography was written late in life, perhaps for his new grandchild. This would help explain why he so emphasized his early life, which would be of more interest and less known to his progeny than his life as a lawyer. The grandson is indeed the person who originally donated the manuscript to the Association. More recently, I have come across another account of the

18

Pat Court of the Cornell Law Library helped in obtaining the autobiography manuscript from Beth Austin, Registrar, Hampton History Museum, 120 Old Hampton Lane, Hampton, VA 23669.


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enslavement and escape of George’s family.19 Alice Mabel Bacon, an important white teacher at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, wrote a magazine account in 1892, just after the death of George’s mother, from information “gathered from the lips of her children.”20 First, although George wrote his memoir years later, the two accounts exhibit similarities. He is, after all, telling the same story. But I see no sign whatsoever that he relied on Bacon’s article. Her account is a very different work. Totally different in language, style, and outlook, it also differs in many small factual details. Second, since some of the factual differences concern matters that George would be unlikely to misremember or fictionalize, such as his brother’s name, I see no reason to think that the earlier account is more reliable. Worth noting is that Alice Bacon was herself writing many years after the events. Bottom line, George’s autobiography constitutes a major contribution to the impassioned literature of North American slave narratives. Like Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery (1901), Fields delivers, along with considerable literary value, a feel for the realities of slavery that third-party accounts could never achieve.21 The autobiography’s focus is the first half of George’s life, the years from his birth as a slave in 1854 until his debut as a Cornell student in 1887. It tells the story so movingly that I reprint it in Part Two of this book, to let him speak for himself. Here I shall proceed by an overview of his life, which will allow his own writing to shine all the brighter. My efforts will be to provide context for the autobiography, and more especially to focus on telling the mainly untold latter half of his life story. I divide the overview into the same five time periods into which I divided the autobiography. For each of the first three periods, I shall

19

Alice M. Bacon, From Slavery to Freedom (pts. 1 & 2), 21 S. Workman & Hampton Sch. Rec. 46, 62 (1892). 20

Id. at 46.

21

See also 17 WPA, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves—Virginia Narratives (1941).


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provide one piece of essential background on the period’s historical context. For the last two periods, including his Cornell and professional years, I shall necessarily be much more expansive about George’s experiences. I strongly recommend reading this essay and the autobiography in tandem, following each section of my essay with the corresponding section of George’s account. 1. Antebellum Life: 1854-1860 As I just said, I shall leave the actual details of George’s early life to his own words reprinted below. For present purposes, I note that he was born into the cruelties of slavery in Virginia on April 25, 1854. He was one of eleven children of Martha Ann Berkley and Washington Fields, a man who was a slave on a different plantation. George grew up in Hanover Courthouse, located in northeastern Virginia, on a typical medium-sized plantation. There he received his initiation into farm labor. The crops were tobacco, cotton, wheat, and corn. Livestock included cattle, pigs, sheep, and turkeys. The autobiography gives an emotional sense of plantation life in the South. His picture is not all dark, given that George was one to “keep on the sunny side of life,” as the old-time song goes. But the reality was dark, as a preview will show: In the spring about the latter part of May there appeared in our County Hanover what is called a bull bat. This bird flies very high in the air, and it was considered great for a farmer to bring one to the ground. My master succeeded in killing it and gave it to my mother, she being the cook on the plantation, to broil for my Mistress Catherine Winston, who when the bird was brought to the table claimed that the bird was cooked too hard so she could not eat it, and told master about it when he came to dinner from the field where he had been looking after the hands. After dinner he came down to the log cabin in which mother cooked and brought with him the bird. Asked her what it was. She answered, “It is the bird I cooked, master.” “Why did you burn it?” And before she could give any explanation, he demanded her to take off her waist, which was a kind of loose woolen garment woven and made on the farm and furnished to all of the women slaves. She of course could do nothing else than obey. He then took her to a large post to which


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he tied her and whipped her on her bare back until she fainted and would have fallen to the ground had she not been held up by the cord which bound her. Seeing her condition, he loosed the rope; and she in a half-dazed manner staggered back into the cabin. Little George and all of the other slaves who were not off in the fields witnessed this act of extreme brutality, but were powerless to prevent it. I of course was too young and small to do anything other than to ease my resentment in tears and cries. His siblings likewise suffered at the hands of the owners, enduring severe beatings. Three were sold off. One escaped. One died in infancy. Here is not the place to do more than allude to the boundless research on slavery.22 If one had to generalize thereon, the best statement would be that the 1960s saw a shift from the old view of slavery as a mild and even somewhat benevolent system, to the now-established revisionist view of a brutal institution that featured calculatedly savage punishment and sometimes inadequate food, clothing, and shelter. George’s autobiography supports the revisionist view. Revisionism involved a shift in focus toward study of the slaves themselves. By envisaging them as nondocile actors in the system, the new scholarship gave a much more balanced view of slave life and slave resistance. It explored how the South’s “peculiar institution” worked to create a distinctive culture among the antebellum slaves. The autobiography fits in nicely, going well beyond descriptions of slaves’ work to illuminate both their family and their religious life. The owners had every interest, or at least every property interest, in facilitating procreation. Thus, their masters supported the informal marriage of Martha Ann to a slave on another plantation and their conjugal visits. Although sale of children and emasculation of males obviously had destructive effects on black family life, the incredibly close relation of Martha Ann and her younger children is the dominant motif of the autobiography. George so movingly describes his anguish upon being separated even temporarily from his mother in order for him to work in the fields.

22

See generally Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877, at ixxi, 239-45, 247-49 (rev. ed. 2003). For guidance in the subject, I want to thank George Kirsch, history professor at Manhattan College.


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The owners often required slaves to attend sanctioned Christian services, using the Bible to justify slavery and to preach obedience. Many slaves converted to Christianity, creating a new form of Protestantism that combined Christianity with elements of African and Caribbean religious rituals and belief. What emerged was a gospel of freedom.23 The autobiography frequently paints Martha Ann as a deeply religious person with an unwavering faith in God’s plan to free her and all her family. “Morning after morning ofttimes the children were wakened from their slumber by the cries of our mother praying to God that He might deliver all of her children from slavery, and that she would see them all again once more gathered about herself.” George went on to lifelong involvement in his Baptist church. 2. War and Escape: 1861-1865 Hanover County was a hotspot of military activity. On one side was Richmond, which the South simply had to retain. On another side, on a spit of land opposite Hampton, lay Fort Monroe, which had always remained in Union hands. In March 1863, during a skirmish, George’s mother escaped along with him and five of his siblings—barely. They followed the Union soldiers, only to discover that to protect their retreat the soldiers had burned the sole bridge. Excitement, anxiety, and all manner of difficulties ensued. The family eventually reached Fort Monroe’s safety. They would soon settle for good on Wine Street in now-Union-held Hampton. At this point I can actually contribute something to George’s autobiographical account, by way of explaining his family’s historical significance. On May 23, 1861—little more than a month after the Civil War had begun—Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend rowed over to Fort Monroe. They were slave field hands, pressed into building a Confederate artillery emplacement on the other side of the harbor. They sought freedom, for which they addressed the commanding general. That would be Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, a lawyer and a politician who had just become a military officer. Indeed, he had

23

See id. at 143-48.


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taken command of the fort on May 22, the day before. It was for him to decide what to do. The Fugitive Slave Act dictated that he return the slaves to their owner, even to an owner in the Confederate Army. And the owner demanded that return, by sending an officer over the fort’s causeway under a flag of truce: Waiting before the front gate was a man on horseback: Maj. John Baytop Cary of the 115th [Virginia Militia]. With his silver gray whiskers and haughtily tilted chin, he appeared every inch the Southern cavalier. Butler, also on horseback, went out to meet him. The men rode, side by side, off federal property and into rebel Virginia. They must have seemed an odd pair: the dumpy Yankee, unaccustomed to the saddle, slouching along like a sack of potatoes; the trim, upright Virginian, in perfect control of himself and his mount. Cary got down to business. “I am informed,” he said, “that three Negroes belonging to Colonel Mallory have escaped within your lines. I am Colonel Mallory’s agent and have charge of his property. What General Butler do you mean to do with those Negroes?” “I intend to hold them,” Butler said. . . . “I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war, since they are engaged in the construction of your battery and are claimed as your property.” Ever the diligent litigator, Butler had been reading up on his military law. In time of war, he knew, a commander had a right to seize any enemy property that was being used for hostile purposes. The three fugitive slaves, before their escape, were helping build a Confederate gun emplacement. Very well, then—if the Southerners insisted on treating blacks as property, this Yankee lawyer would treat them as property, too. Legally


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speaking, he had as much justification to confiscate Baker, Mallory and Townsend as to intercept a shipment of muskets or swords.24 Immediately, escaped blacks began to stream into Fort Monroe, now the so-called freedom fort. President Lincoln and his cabinet decided not to decide, leaving the policy up to Butler. He stuck to his decision, which was a politically convenient one. Soon blacks were flooding across Union lines wherever lines existed. The escapees were called “contrabands.” They so achieved a version of freedom, long before the complexly motivated Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. And their presence behind Union lines did much to move public opinion toward ending slavery. This was the history to which Martha Ann and her children contributed when they arrived at Fort Monroe in April 1863. They arrived as freed people, rather than contraband, because Hanover County was one of the Virginia counties within the coverage of the Emancipation Proclamation. But they arrived in time to participate in the turbulent remaking of Hampton, where Southern slaves, free blacks, Union military, and Northern missionaries had embarked on their first large-scale encounter. The new history scholarship stresses the hitherto unchronicled humanitarian crisis generated by the many slaves’ escape.25 There were no protective public services yet in place. A completely unprepared Union witnessed the deaths of hundreds of thousands of former slaves from malnutrition and disease. Again, the autobiography supports this revisionist view. George recounts the exploitative situation at the hands of a white landowner into which the Fields family immediately fell. They

24

Adam Goodheart, The Shrug That Made History, N.Y. Times, Apr. 3, 2011, Magazine, at 40, 40, 42, available as Adam Goodheart, How Slavery Really Ended in America, http://www.nytimes.com/ 2011/04/03/magazine/mag-03CivilWar-t.html (Apr. 1, 2011). 25

See, e.g., Jim Downs, Dying for Freedom, N.Y. Times, Jan. 6, 2013, Sunday Review, at SR9, available as Jim Downs, Dying for Freedom, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/dying-for-freedom (Jan. 5, 2013).


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soon escaped this version of freedom that was pretty much indistinguishable from slavery, only to face deprivation back in Hampton. They lived in a shack, while scrambling for work and food. Even if George’s sunny attitude and the family’s can-do spirit almost turn the story into a grand adventure, it is evident that life was hard. 3. Work and School Down South: 1866-1878 Next comes the period when the freedmen’s work ethic, desire for education, and quest for civil and economic rights constructed a new society, albeit one separate from white existence.26 The Fields in particular survived this process and not too badly, according to the autobiography. Again, however, the dark side of the period presents itself in the account, even though Hampton for the time being was less repressive than other Southern locales. A racist mob murders his brother William. A ship captain wrongly accuses George of theft, although he gets acquitted. Still, George’s story emphasizes the positive during his pursuits of schooling and employment. The Fields family put great emphasis on education, yet every member had to help in supporting the family. Accordingly, while George intermittently pursued a public education in Hampton from his 1863 arrival through 1875, he also worked as a culler on an oyster boat, as a hack driver, and as a waiter on a famous steamboat. But then, with his younger sister Catherine’s encouragement, he got serious about education. They both graduated from the rigorous Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1878. Some background here should help. Reconstruction in Hampton had not proceeded smoothly, needless to say. Among many problems, the educational mission of the American Missionary Association faltered. The result was that its mission shifted to educating black teachers to educate blacks, leading the AMA to found eight normal schools in the South (“normal” refers to establishing norms while educating teachers). The AMA located one of these schools in Hampton. It established this storied institution as the Hampton Normal and

26

See generally Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988).


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Agricultural Institute, which was later named the Hampton Institute (1930) and then Hampton University (1984). The school’s success owed in good part to its first principal, Brevet Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839-1893). He was the son of AMA missionaries to Hawaii. After graduating from Williams College, he joined the army in 1862 and rose to command the Eighth Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. In March 1866 he arrived in Hampton as Superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau for the district, replacing Captain Charles B. Wilder whose reformist zeal had led to his dismissal. Armstrong proved adept at working with all sides in the difficult years of Reconstruction. He became the school-to-be’s principal in September 1866, and he set about creating what seemed destined to be “a white school for black students.”27 Armstrong’s views, although paternalistic, were progressive. His educational vision included a heavy emphasis on manual labor and moral education. The former implied teaching agricultural and mechanical skills, the latter implied coeducation and the development of a “home” atmosphere at the school. Classics were to be omitted, as he wrote in his first Report to the Trustees: An English course embracing reading and elocution, geography and mathematics, history, the sciences, the study of the mother-tongue and its literature, the leading principles of mental and moral science, and of political economy would, I think, make up a curriculum that would exhaust the best powers of nineteentwentieths of those who would for years to come enter the Institute. Should, however, any pupil have a rare aptitude for the classics and desire to become a man of letters in the largest sense, it would be our duty to provide special instruction for him or send him where he could receive it. For such the Howard University at Washington offers a broad and high plane of intellectual advantage.28

27

Engs, supra note 17, at 117.

28

Francis Greenwood Peabody, Education for Life: The Story of Hampton Institute 118-19 (1918).


GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

20

The school opened in April 1868 with fifteen students and five teachers. The students had to be of good character, able to read and write at a fifth-grade level, and be 15-to-25 years old. The teachers provided a three-year program. Armstrong moved quickly to attain independence from the AMA, a feat that he effectively managed in 1872 by securing a third of Virginia’s Morrill Act Land Grant funds. The school prospered. By 1887, the school was roughly at the level of a high school. It had become “more than a white school for black students. It was a partnership between well-meaning, if paternalistic, whites and able, assertive blacks.”29 Hampton Principal Armstrong took great interest in his students. Booker T. Washington ’75 owed him much. But that exceptional student was not alone in getting attention. Armstrong also helped, and pushed along, George Washington Fields. As we shall see, he was pivotal in getting George work as a waiter up North.30 Waiting tables at resorts was a coveted summer employment for Southern blacks. 4. Work and School Up North: 1879-1890 Immediately after graduation, George headed North for full-time work. A series of jobs as waiter at famous resorts and as manservant for prominent families led to a position in 1881-1887 as butler for the Governor of New York, Alonzo B. Cornell. After hours, George consumed more education from tutors and from schools, studying everything from French to medicine. But law was what grabbed him. Soon he was reading law with a lawyer. Reading law, the tutelage method to become an attorney, was then the norm, rather than attending law school. But two years of reading law only made him want to go to a real law school. There were then merely a few law schools of any consequence in the country. He selected Yale. However, Alonzo Cornell, who was the eldest son of Cornell’s founder Ezra Cornell, talked George into going to Cornell Law School instead. That encouragement is

29

Engs, supra note 17, at 126.

30

Armstrong visited Cornell, to give a fund-raising talk, while George was a student there. See General Armstrong Coming, Cornell Daily Sun, Nov. 8, 1889, at 1, available at http:// cdsun.library.cornell.edu/.


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a bit startling, as the law school did not yet exist. In the fall of 1887 George would arrive in Ithaca as a member of the school’s inaugural class. Cornell University itself had been founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White. They envisaged a law school from the beginning, but it had to await financing.31 In 1885, in White’s final report as University President, he made the fateful announcement: We are called upon to establish a University, and as a University in this, as in previous centuries, must have in view all the possibilities of applying the highest thought to the best action, we should look into the future with reference to those departments which will round out our existing organization to full University proportions,—especially the Departments of Law and Medicine. Our position as regards a Department of Law is most favorable. Our aim should be to keep its instruction strong, its standard high, and so to send out, not swarms of hastily prepared pettifoggers, but a fair number of well-trained, large minded, morally based lawyers in the best sense, who, as they gain experience, may be classed as jurists and become a blessing to the country at the bar, on the bench, and in various public bodies. In 1886, Cornell bought a 4000-volume law library, and the trustees approved their special committee’s proposal to establish a law school. Planning commenced. The law school opened as a separately administered undergraduate department of Cornell University in the fall of 1887. The law school operated under Dean Douglas Boardman with three resident professors who did the teaching: Francis M. Burdick, Charles A. Collin, and Harry B. Hutchins. The latter was also the school’s secretary. Professors Tyler and Tuttle from other Cornell departments and various nonresident lecturers supplemented the program. Tuition was $75 a year, payable in three equal parts, plus a $5 graduation fee. The law school’s catalogue for 1887-1888 estimated yearly living expenses at $200-300 and textbooks, etc., at $25-50, while noting: “The additional expenses of a

31

See generally Edwin H. Woodruff, History of the Cornell Law School, 4 Cornell L.Q. 91 (1919); Robert S. Stevens, The Cornell Law School from 1919 to 1954, 54 Cornell L. Rev. 332 (1969); W. David Curtiss, The Cornell Law School from 1954 to 1963, 56 Cornell L. Rev. 375 (1971).


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student depend so largely upon his personal tastes that it is difficult to give an estimate.” (This department of law did not adopt the name of College of Law until 1898, or Cornell Law School until 1925.) In the initial entering group, there were fifty-five students, including our George. They gathered with the three professors on September 26, 1887, not for a formal opening function but for an “introductory lecture” in a small room on the fourth floor of Morrill Hall. The building, which had been Cornell’s first new construction, dated from 1868. The law library was at the south end of that top floor, offices at the north end, and lecture rooms in the middle; but the three sections of the building were not interconnected, for fire safety, so going from one to another required descending outside the building to use a different entrance. “The quarters alloted to the school were inconveniently located, poorly ventilated and generally ill-adapted for the purposes of the school.”32 (Nevertheless, the school started well and grew rapidly. In 1892, the school moved into its own newly built building, the impressive Boardman Hall located where Olin Library now stands. In 1932, it moved into its present home, Myron Taylor Hall.) The course of study to an LL.B. would be two years. The prerequisite was a “reputable” high school diploma or an examination showing a thorough knowledge of “ a r i t h m etic, English grammar, geography, orthography, American and English history and English composition.” (Almost Morrill Hall immediately, pressure began growing to lengthen the course of study and to elevate the prerequisites. But the practicality of competition with the route of reading law in some law office long kept law schools from being too demanding in these regards. Cornell went to a three-year program in 1897. The prerequisites started rising, slightly, in 1892. By 1898, the law school

32

Woodruff, supra note 31, at 95.


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23

became as demanding as the rest of the university, by requiring a four-year high school education. In 1911, the school began requiring a year of college preparatory work. In 1919, it went to two years of college preparatory work. In 1924, it became a graduate program requiring a college degree.) The program of study was all prescribed courses, as it was until the late date of 1921. The method of instruction was primarily by traditional lectures or by textbook recitations, although modern pedagogy played a role as some study of cases was employed right from the beginning. Here is George’s curriculum, with the first of the two years being called the junior year: JUNIOR YEAR. 1. Elementary Law. Selected parts of the Commentaries of Blackstone are used as the basis of this work. The student is thoroughly examined each day upon portions of the text that have been previously assigned; he also listens to lectures and expositions by the professor in charge. 2. Contracts, including Agency. The work in this subject is carried on by text-book exposition and recitations, and after the elementary principles have been mastered, by the study of selected cases. 3. Criminal Law and Procedure. General lectures in which the fundamental principles are fully explained, supplemented by the study of selected cases. With New York students, special attention is given to the New York Penal Code and the New York Code of Criminal Procedure. 4. Torts. Text-book and recitations, supplemented by lectures and to some extent by work upon cases. 5. Domestic Relations. Text-book exposition and recitations principally; some parts of the subject, however, are taught by lecture. 6. The Law of Real Property. This is begun during the junior year, one term’s work of eleven weeks being devoted to it. The work consists of a thorough mastery of the second book of Blackstone so far as it is devoted to real property, with daily examinations. 7. Evidence. Text-book, lectures and cases. 8. Common Law Pleading and Practice in Cases at Law. Some


GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

24

approved text-book on pleading is used as a basis for this work. In connection with the text-book work, informal lectures on practice are given. The student is also given work in the preparation of pleadings, and his efforts are carefully examined and criticised by the professor in charge. 9. Civil Procedure under the Codes. This subject is begun during the last term of the junior year, and is taught chiefly by lecture. 10. English Constitutional History. Lectures. SENIOR YEAR. 1. Private and Municipal Corporations. Lectures, supplemented by a thorough study of cases. 2. Mercantile Law, including Bills, Partnership, Sales, Suretyship, etc. These subjects are taught principally by cases. 3. The Law of Real Property. Some standard text-book is used as the basis for the general instruction. With New York students, special attention is given to statutory modifications. 4. Equity Jurisprudence. A full course of lectures is first given which covers the fundamental principles of the science. This work is supplemented by a thorough study of cases, selected with a view of illustrating such principles. 5. Equity Pleading and Procedure in State and in United States Courts. Lectures. 6. Civil Procedure under the Codes. Lectures and practical work, together with a special study of the Code of Civil Procedure, by New York students. 7. Bailments. Lectures and cases. 8. This is a lecture course given by the Dean, and consists of “Practical Suggestions concerning the Preparation, Trial, and Argument of Causes.� 9. Roman Law. Lectures. 10. International Law. Lectures. 11. American Constitutional History. Lectures. 12. American Constitutional Law. Lectures.33

33

Harry B. Hutchins, The Cornell University School of Law, 1 Green Bag 473, 483-84 (1889).


George and Cornell

25

The students also took about a half-dozen special courses each year, offered by the nonresident lecturers. These covered matters such as Admiralty, Insurance, and Patents. The seniors additionally had to perform a weekly moot court program, an innovative program called University Court and intended to provide practical instruction in preparing pleadings and writing briefs. “The Cornell law school has always paid especial attention to pleading and practice and from the beginning to the present has probably devoted more time to these subjects than has been given to them in most other schools. The excellence of the courses in this field of law has become one of the traditions of the school.”34 The workload was heavy, whether compared to the rest of the university or to other law schools. Class attendance was compulsory. Each instructor gave frequent, indeed usually daily, quizzes. At the end of each of the year’s three terms, there were oral and written examinations. At the end of the senior year, there were comprehensive oral and written examinations. “Furthermore, the Faculty do not hesitate to drop a student from the rolls at any time during the year on becoming satisfied that he is neglecting his work.”35 Admitted students could get advanced standing by passing an examination in the subjects treated in the junior year, so nine students of the entering class were able to graduate in 1888.36 Thirty-six students graduated in 1889, but that number included some new admittees with advanced standing. The bottom line is that a fair number of 1887’s

34

Woodruff, supra note 31, at 95.

35

Hutchins, supra note 33, at 485. The comprehensive examinations and the required thesis were gone by 1897, but made intermittent returns in successive attempts at reform over the decades. 36

See Anne Lukingbeal, Cornell Law Students—Change and Continuity, Cornell L.F., 1988 Centennial Iss., at 33 (chronicling the Class of 1888).


GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

26

entering students—about a third—never graduated.37 George stuck around to graduate in 1890, as did his classmate Lewis Daniel Campbell, perhaps to allow for some academic catching up; the title page of George’s thesis shows “1890” written over a typed “1889.” Now, regarding that thesis, the law school’s catalogue for 18891890 ordained: Each member of the Senior Class who is a candidate for a degree, is required to prepare and deposit with the Faculty, at least one month before graduation, a thesis, not less than forty folios in length, upon some legal topic selected by himself and approved by the Faculty. The production must be satisfactory in matter, form, and style; and the student presenting it is examined upon it. Accordingly, George presented a thesis. It was typed, though some classmates’ theses were hand-written. It was not long, containing only about 4700 words, but its length was certainly typical of the other theses of the day (the ambiguous term “folio” in the catalogue seems to have meant nothing more than “page”). Trial by Jury is still available in our library, and recently was made available digitally.38 I offer it here, as Part Three of this book, in its original form. As one can see, Professor Harry Burns Hutchins (1847-1930) initialed the first page inside the cover, indicating that he had examined George and accepted the thesis. The irony here is that this was that very same Professor Hutchins who had conducted the fearsome entrance interview that George so well described in his autobiography. Perhaps Professor Hutchins ended up being more supportive, in line with this later description of him: At Cornell he was a thorough, methodical and considerate teacher and executive. In his class room and in his office his urbane and

37

A listing of forty-eight of the initial students, including Washington Fields from Hampton, Va., appeared in The Entering Class, Cornell Daily Sun, Sept. 28, 1887, at 1, available at http:// cdsun.library.cornell.edu/. Of the listed, sixteen did not go on to earn a degree. 38

Washington Fields, Trial by archive.org/details/cu31924103380121 (1890).

Jury,

http://


George and Cornell

27

dignified personality commanded the respect of the students. He was just and reasonable in the conduct of affairs. All these qualities found exercise in the establishment of the traditions of the Cornell law school at a time of beginnings. He was a large factor in overcoming the many obstacles that naturally attend the inauguration of a new institution.39 Professor Hutchins taught Domestic Relations, Law of Real Property, Common Law Pleading and Practice, Equity Jurisprudence, and Equity Pleading and Procedure. Before joining the initial Cornell law faculty in 1887, Professor Hutchins had been a professor at Michigan Law School, and he returned there in 1895 to become its dean. He later was President of the University of Michigan. As to the substance of George’s thesis, his principal concern was history. But he was anti-jury. Let me rehash the debate with my worthy opponent, with excerpts from our passages on the civil jury: Washington Fields, Trial by Jury (1890) In most cases the jurors are selected from the least informed portion of the community,—men without employment, street corner loungers in many instances and who go into the jury box, not for the purpose of administering justice but for the purpose of getting their dollar and a half or two dollars a day, or else farmers who are in a sense shut out from the busy scenes of life and know nothing of current events of the day. Thrifty enterprising business men, who are wide awake and in keeping with the time; men who read the papers and know what is going on, know too much to act as

39

Kevin M. Clermont, Principles of Civil Procedure (2005)

Are Juries Really That Bad? In Courts on Trial 123 (1949), Judge Jerome Frank pronounced: “To my mind a better instrument than the usual jury trial could scarcely be imagined for achieving uncertainty, capriciousness, lack of uniformity, disregard of the [law], and unpredictability of decisions.” Such attitudes are widespread, and they are undoubtedly important in determining which cases the parties send to judge trial and

Faculty, 4 Cornell L.Q. 114, 131 (1919).


28

GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

jurors. Few, if any of the states, require an educational qualification. It is no ground for challenge that a juror cannot read or write his own name. The bright side of trial by jury is a theme that has occupied the time and received the attention of some of our ablest men. Blackstone declares after summing up its numerous excellencies, “the trial by jury to be the palladium of British liberty, the glory of the English law and the most transcendent privilege which any subject can enjoy or wish for.” Such is the language we have long been familiar with, associated closely with our earliest education, and to impeach it makes one feel like profaning the wisdom of our ancestors. Yet this is an age of law reform, an age of universal change, the transition period of our history. At present, according to the regulation of our courts and right of appeal, the trial by jury is actually abolished in practice in nine out of every ten cases. The time has come when the trial by jury must itself be tried. By a little reflection, it will strike the mind that there is a remarkable contrast between the manner of conducting a legal dispute and that which is followed in the ordinary affairs of life. If a man breaks his leg, he employs a surgeon, who has spent the greater part of his life in the business. If he wants a house built he will be

which to the jury. But the basis in reality for these attitudes is problematic. Indeed, one of the more remarkable lessons that empirical study has to offer the law is that virtually no evidence exists to support the prevailing ingrained intuitions about juries as biased and incompetent, relative to judges. In fact, existing evidence is to the contrary. Admittedly, not much effective empirical work exists on the quality of the jury’s performance, and there is even less on juries’ performance as compared to that of judges. Studies on broad questions regarding the jury are difficult to do, and correspondingly shaky to interpret. But the evidence, such as it is, consistently supports a view of the jury as generally unbiased and competent, or at least so compared to a judge. The fact that jury and judge show a high degree of agreement is better supported. Research, for example, indicates that the strength of the trial evidence is the most important determinant of the verdict, not all those irrelevancies that everybody supposes prejudice the lay jurors. Evaluated over the run of cases, juries are good factfinders. More specifically, research does not support a view of the jury as overly generous on awards, frequently ignoring the


George and Cornell careful to employ the builder who has had much experience in that line. If he happens to be involved in a difficult question of law, he wants a man who has grown gray in the study of reports and statutes; and yet with all this, if his property, his reputation, his liberty or life is at stake he must entrust it to the voice of twelve men who may not ever have entered the court room before. At the summons of the law our jury quit their shops for the courts of justice; they march straight from the weighing of flour to the weighing of testimony; from dealing in lard, hams and liquor to dealing with the lives, properties and liberties of men. These are the judices facti,—the favorites of the law. Often disgraceful scenes are enacted in the jury rooms and the reports are full of cases where the jury tossed up or drew lots for the verdict. No one can dispute the fact that a man who has studied the law as a science, and who has made the comprehension of legal principles the business of life, is better capacitated to apply the law to the facts than the man who is ignorant of the law as a science, and who has had neither training nor experience in the application of legal principles. .... Some claim that the superiority of jury trial arises from the opportunity it gives for

29

law, or institutionally unable to handle complex cases. Related research suggests that a jury could even outperform a judge, because the judge is also human and be c a u s e groups typically outperform individuals by virtue of superiority in such tasks as recall of facts and correction of errors. The classic work in this area, Harry Kalven, Jr. & Hans Zeisel, The American Jury 63-64 (2d ed. 1971), addressed reliability (or the ability to treat like cases alike) rather than the validity (or correctness) of jury decisionmaking. Their questionnaires to presiding judges in some 4000 actual state and federal civil jury trials nationwide in the 1950s, asking them how they would decide those same cases, yielded data showing a 78% agreement between judge and jury on liability. When judge and jury disagreed, they exhibited no distinct pattern other than the juries’ very small tendency to favor plaintiffs relative to judges. The jury but not the judge found for the plaintiff in 12% of the cases, while the judge but not the jury found for the plaintiff in 10% of the cases. When compared to other human decisionmakers, this rate of agreement becomes more impressive than it first appears. The 78% agreement rate is better


30

GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

deliberation. The comparison of views on the part of twelve men will contribute greatly to the correct determination of the facts. Of course, this feature of the jury has its advantages; but too often the interchange is an interchange of prejudices or of unwarranted sympathies; often instead of honest consultation, with the single purpose of arriving at the truth, it becomes a contest of will power in which stubbornness has more to do with shaping the verdict than reason. We therefore suggest that the better plan would be to dispense with the jury trial altogether and in its place substitute the judge or judges whose large experience, superior intellectual training and discipline, and better knowledge of the law, all of which he brings to the consideration of the testimony, and to the application of the law to his findings of fact. The judge is impressed with a higher sense of responsibility than impresses twelve men called in for the time being from the busy scenes of life to pass upon the issues of fact in a peculiar case and then to disappear from view again.

than the rate of agreement between scientists doing peer review, employment interviewers ranking applicants, and psychiatrists and physicians diagnosing patients, and almost as good as the 79% or 80% rate of agreement between judges themselves making sentencing decisions in an experimental setting. So even if theory plausibly suggests some judge/jury differences—such as that juries, because of a need for compromise to produce a unanimous verdict, would tend to give plaintiffs more wins but less money—the significance of any such differences seems to fade in actuality. Apparently, judge trial and jury trial combine to deliver a decisionmaking system that is, at least in the technical sense, highly reliable. See generally Kevin M. Clermont & Theodore Eisenberg, Trial by Jury or Judge: Transcending Empiricism, 77 Cornell L. Rev. 1124 (1992).

His position is permanent; theirs temporary. His office is one of prominence and dignity. He knows that his highest claims upon the profession and the people who elevated him to this position is to be found in the qualities of honor

Using the Administrative Office database of federal civil cases, but limiting the study to sizable tort and contract categories that clearly involved a choice between jury and judge trial, one can show that while the actual jury

Which Take Longer, Judgetried Cases or Jury-tried Cases?


George and Cornell and impartiality, coupled with ability to comprehend and apply the law, which he exhibits in his judicial career. The very character of his office thus begets an exalted responsibility and a sensitive appreciation of the obligation resting upon him to deal out even handed justice to the litigants without fear or favor. Nothing conduces more to a correct determination of the facts than this high sense of obligation to decide the issues in every case according to the very truth and justice of the matter under the rules of the law, uninfluenced by every other consideration. .... Let trial by jury be abolished and the wheels of government would move more swiftly. Cases would be disposed of more expeditiously.

31

trials themselves may proceed twice as slowly as judge trials, over their lives on the docket judgetried cases last longer than jurytried cases: the mean judge-tried case spends 755 days on the district court docket, compared to the mean jury-tried case terminating in 678 days. That is, although most commentators have assumed that the wait for decision in the jury queue was longer than the wait for a judge’s trial and decision, the reality is the opposite. The explanation is that the press of other duties leads judges to interrupt bench trials and postpone their eventual decisions. Consequently, any reform of restricting jury trials in order to reduce delay is apt to be counterproductive. See generally Theodore Eisenberg & Kevin M. Clermont, Trial by Jury or Judge: Which Is Speedier?, 79 Judicature 176 (1996).

Why was George so anti-jury? Did his exposure to professional school affect him, so that he came to share the usual disdain of professionals for lay intruders in the profession? Or did George bring with him memories of white criminal juries operating in Hampton after Reconstruction? I do not know, of course. He certainly would have been clever enough to frame his thesis arguments in terms compatible with any prevailing attitude, but contemporaneous theses at Cornell did not show an anti-jury sentiment.40 Thus, the latter experiential influence does seem

40

From that era, there were four other theses dealing with the jury: Peter A. Delaney, The Jury System (1889) (defending the modern jury system, while suggesting modest reforms, in a thesis accepted by Professor Hutchins); James P. Harrold, History Development and Present Efficiency


GEORGE WASHINGTON FIELDS

32 more plausible.

5. Return to Hampton: 1891-1932 The family had stayed close, with Martha Ann always at its heart. The 1880 Census had shown his siblings John (laborer), James (teacher), and Catherine (teacher) to be living with their mother in their original home on Wine Street in Hampton, Virginia. Down the street lived brother Robert (farm laborer) and his family. (On June 14, 1880, the census taker had found George working for the summer as a waiter in a hotel and living with his younger sister Maria, who had married and moved with her husband to Andover, Massachusetts.) So after Cornell Law School, in the fall of 1890, George returned to Hampton to practice law. In those days, a law school graduate needed to apprentice for a period and take the bar exam. George did both. His older brother James was now a married lawyer. George read law in James’s law office, and he took an oral examination before three judges. He was admitted to the Virginia bar in April 1891. By this time, the detail in George’s autobiography is really thinning out. A big, albeit unmentioned, event was the 1891 death of his beloved mother.41

of the Jury System (1893) (defending the modern jury system, while suggesting modest reforms); Addison Berton Reed, Former Jeopardy in Cases of Discharged Juries (1895) (arguing against a strict approach to double jeopardy); and Clarence Rich Sperry, Province of the Jury (1893) (arguing against the jury’s right to disregard law). In the late nineteenth century, views on the jury were widely split. See Renée Lettow Lerner, The Rise of Directed Verdict: Jury Power in Civil Cases Before the Federal Rules of 1938, 81 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 448 (2013). 41

The photograph of Martha Ann’s gravestone is by Dawn Stewart in 2007 on www.findagrave.com, as are the later-presented photographs of the gravestones of Washington Fields and George Washington Fields.


George and Cornell

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Mother’s Gravestone George soon began building his own family. On November 28, 1892, he married Sarah (Sallie) Haws Baker, who had attended the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and who appeared on later censuses as a chiropodist but in her obituary as a hairdresser.42 Of their long and happy union, George’s autobiography says simply that “her constant help, encouragement and inspiration was of inestimable value to me. The issue of our marriage was a girl and a boy. My son died when but an infant.”43 George and his siblings did well. His extended family became “one of the wealthiest black families on the Peninsula.”44 George lived at

42

See Mrs. Fields, Negro, Dies in Hampton, Daily Press (Newport News), Dec. 20, 1944, at 9. 43

“My grandmother [Inez] said his high chair was near the stove/hearth and, unfortunately, I believe he was tragically burned.” Email from Lynne Scott Jackson, who is George’s great-granddaughter, to Kevin M. Clermont (May 26, 2012, 15:27 EST). Additionally, the 1910 Census lists a thirteen-year-old mulatto son, Chester S. Fields, as adopted from Michigan. George had in fact adopted “Chester Stuart, a small colored boy,” on April 22, 1910. Adopts Child, Daily Press (Newport News), Apr. 23, 1910, at 5. Nothing else is known of Chester. 44

Engs, supra note 17, at 139.


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34

124 Wine Street, in a very nice house just down the street from that extended family, some of whom still lived where Martha Ann had first settled the family. The back part of his lot was marshy, but George filled it in and grew corn there.45

124 Wine Street His life at the bar is harder to fill in than that marsh. His autobiography relates only a single but momentous event of his later life, and indeed closes with it: In 1896 I had the great misfortune to lose my sight. This for a time handicapped me and caused me to feel that all for this life was lost. But being spurred by an indomitable spirit and the determination to win at all hazards, after many agonizing hours of prayer, helped by my devoted wife and the memory of my dear mother’s admonition “Come on, children,” I took a new view of life and continued to struggle. The confidence of the people was an incentive.

45

See Hamilton H. Evans, Lost Landmarks of Old Hampton, Revolutionary War Port Town: A Guide to Some of the Personalities and People of Property Who Once Lived and Worked in “the Oldest Continuous English Speaking Settlement in America” 3 (1976) (providing the sketch of house).


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Apparently, the blinding was the result of a fishing accident.46 “Family folk lore reveals that salt water got into his eyes and then the hot sun damaged his eyes.”47 He nonetheless became a leading lawyer in the area. The previously quoted obituaries noted: “He built up a large law practice among the colored and white population in Hampton.” At least for some time his law offices were on King Street, but at later times he operated out of an office in his home. He popped up regularly in the newspaper. He represented Eliza Baker in a divorce case,48 and Gertrude Lively in another.49 He represented the victim in a successful criminal-assault prosecution.50 He often appeared as defense counsel.51 “In one case [from 1916], Fields represented Patrick Henry, a black mail carrier charged with shooting his son. Based on the testimony of Mr. Henry, Fields was able to

46

See Engs, supra note 17, at 158.

47

E-mail from Lynne Scott Jackson to Kevin M. Clermont (June 18, 2012, 21:16 EST). 48

See Suit for Divorce, Daily Press (Newport News), Apr. 6, 1905,

at 6. 49

See Negro Minister in “Pen,” Wife Sues for Divorce, Daily Press (Newport News), May 10, 1908, at 5. 50

See Used Bottle on Pennick, Daily Press (Newport News), Sept. 19, 1905, at 7. 51

See Fined Fifty Dollars, Daily Press (Newport News), May 11, 1898, at 3 (prostitution); Will Plead Self Defense, Daily Press (Newport News), May 13, 1898, at 3 (shooting death); The Story of the Murder of Artilleryman Now Rehearsed, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), Apr. 14, 1900, at 8 (complicity in murder); Gathright and Jones Are Each Fined $50, Daily Press (Newport News), Aug. 17, 1910, at 4 (selling whiskey without a license); Negro Officer Fined, Daily Press (Newport News), Oct. 20, 1910, at 5 (gambling “at Bay Shore, the negro resort”).


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get the charge reduced to carrying a concealed weapon, for which his client was fined thirty-two dollars.”52 The local newspaper more vividly, and offensively, described a victory from 1898 in a Hampton criminal case: Eli Downing, the proprietor of a shady establishment situated within a stone’s throw of the court house of this county, was yesterday [tried for] a vicious assault upon James Luster. Both are colored. Downing was represented by Attorney George W. Fields. He was acquitted, the jury being out less than five minutes. The offense for which Downing was indicted was committed on the night of August 9 at his place of business on Court street, known as the Old Dominion restaurant. A game of crap, in which Luster had, shortly before the assault occurred, been a participant, was in progress. Owing to a misunderstanding he had been barred out by the other gamblers. To make matters worse, he had parted with his cash and hence was not in the humor to continue the proceedings on a Sunday-school basis. He alleged that he had been wronged, and, adopting the principle that there should be honor among thieves, argued in Lincoln street vernacular with a blue flame attachment, that his wrongs should be immediately righted. It speedily became evident, however, that there was a marked disinclination upon the part of his companions to comply with his request, a condition which had the effect of augmenting his ire. Then the hazy atmosphere of the Old Dominion took on the snappy form which invariably precedes a row of the first magnitude in a disreputable negro dive. It was at this juncture that Eli Downing, the proprietor of this Court street crap gambling concern, took part in the fracas. Luster had told him but a moment before that his maternal parent was a quadruped of the genus Canis, an allegation which he at first attempted to resent with a base ball bat. A friend interfered to save Luster’s head, however, and Downing, a few minutes later, assaulted him with his fist, striking him with his right hand, on one of the fingers of which he wore a large ring,

52

J. Clay Smith, Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944, at 231-32 (1993).


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which is said to have served him almost as well as a pair of brass knuckles. In the affair that followed Luster was badly hurt. To the spectators in the court room the evidence was clearly against Downing. No effort was made to prove that the row was due to any other cause than a game of crap, and the only excuse that the prisoner put forward for assaulting Luster was that he had made use of offensive language. But the jurors saw the matter in a different light. In their eyes Downing was justified, after permitting Luster to engage in a gambling game, in making an assault because the latter had used toward him the words referred to. They thereupon acquitted the prisoner. But their verdict is severely criticized as one which, despite the fact that their intention was good, encourages lawlessness.53 Another case did not turn out so well, although it later achieved book-length treatment.54 This client was Virginia Christian. She was born on August 15, 1895, and died in the state’s new-fangled electric chair in Richmond on August 16, 1912, one day following her seventeenth birthday. Ginny, or Virgi, was the only female in the twentieth century to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the last female under the age of eighteen to be executed in this country. Obviously, it is hard to get at the unbiased facts, especially when they occurred a century ago. The town’s atmosphere was angry, almost leading to a lynching. The news coverage was viciously opposed to Christian.55

53

Downing Acquitted, Daily Press (Newport News), Sept. 15, 1898, at 3. 54

Charles Vaughan, Grant Me to Live: The Execution of Virginia Christian (2010) (self-published book); see also Derryn Eroll Moten, A Gruesome Warning to Black Girls: The August 16, 1912 Execution of Virginia Christian (1997) (dissertation). 55

See, e.g., Virginia Christian, http://www.rowdiva.com/ Virginia.html (quoting the local press: “A full-blooded negress, with kinky hair done up in threads, with dark lusterless eyes and with splotches on the skin of her face. Her color is dark brown, and her figure is short, dumpy and squashy. She has had some schooling, but her speech does not betray


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She certainly was not mature, nor blessed in appearance or intelligence. Coming from a large, poor, and dysfunctional family living at 341 Wine Street in Hampton, she worked as a washerwoman. Allegedly, on March 18, 1912, she robbed and killed an employer. The employer was a white 51year-old widow named Ida Belote, who came from one of the town’s more prominent families.56 That day at Belote’s home at 809 Washington Street in Hampton, she and the abusive Belote had a dispute over an earlier theft Virginia Christian of a skirt and a locket, a theft of which the employer accused her. Belote hit Christian with a cuspidor. Christian struck Belote on the forehead with a broom handle. Trying to silence Belote, Christian stuffed a towel down her throat, causing the woman to die by suffocation. In leaving the house, Christian stole Belote’s purse, which contained some money and a ring. The police would soon apprehend her. Thereafter she was held without bond. On the same day, March 18, the defendant’s father retained his neighbor George Washington Fields to represent her: The defense knew that they faced an almost impossible

it. Her language is the same as the unlettered members of her race.”). 56

See David V. Baker, Black Female Executions in Historical Context, 33 Crim. Just. Rev. 64, 76 (2008), available at http:// www.sagepub.com/gabbidonstudy/articles/Baker.pdf; Victor L. Streib & Lynn Sametz, Executing Female Juveniles, 22 Conn. L. Rev. 3, 25-27 (1989).


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task . . . how to defend Virginia Christian. Their only hope was to try to cast doubt on the premeditated and deliberate murder. They would argue second-degree murder. . . . Henry Christian could not have chosen a better lawyer than George Washington Fields. He was from a prominent Hampton family. His brother, James Fields, was state senator following the reconstruction. George Fields was the first black to graduate from Cornell University School of Law. He knew from the beginning that this would test everything that he knew about the law. Maybe his social position in the community would also be helpful. This would be his biggest test yet. .... Some said Henry Christian should have hired a white lawyer to defend his daughter. A black had to be respectful of questioning a white witness. Rarely was a black’s word accepted against a white person’s.57 Fields took on Joseph Thomas Newsome of Newport News, another African American, to assist him: Together, they and their staff worked overtime, assembling facts to defend Virginia Christian. It would be a huge task. They knew and impressed her family how dire her chances were. At best, she was looking at life imprisonment.58 The local papers reported that theirs was a vigorous defense. Her lawyers received no compensation, and paid expenses out of their own pockets. Promptly, on April 8, 1912, Christian went to trial as an adult in the local county court. The courtroom was packed, with the audience divided by race. The defense moved unsuccessfully for a change of venue based on pretrial publicity. The prosecution’s evidence on the first day was fairly strong, except as to intent. On the following day, the defense proceeded by recalling the prosecution’s witnesses and picking apart details of their testimony. George also called Henry Christian, who

57

Vaughan, supra note 54, at 27-28. Interestingly, a newspaper reported that “none of the white lawyers here would take the case.” Negress Held for Grand Jury, Times-Dispatch (Richmond), Mar. 21, 1912, at 5. 58

Vaughan, supra note 54, at 28-29.


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testified: “She never was in trouble with the police before. Never!” The defendant did not testify, because her previous statements made her even more problematic as a witness than a usual defendant. The defense’s closing arguments rehearsed the minor inconsistencies in the evidence, but the central point was that there was no direct evidence concerning the final fatal fight. The jury took an hour to convict her of first-degree murder. Capital sentencing followed, on April 9, 1912. Her bill of exceptions to the trial court and her appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals failed. George’s last hope was to organize a public campaign for mercy. Here is his petition to the Governor for clemency: Petition to Governor William Hodge Mann I am writing you in reference to Virginia Christian, as I feel a deeper interest in her case than that of an ordinary client. There are reasons, which I thought you should know, sufficient to justify appeal on her behalf. Virginia Christian is a coarse-mannered, homely girl and being extremely ignorant would surely have prejudiced her case before the jury and might have so thoroughly excited bystanders as to cause trouble. Before and during the trial of her case, feelings against her ran high and many threats of violence were made. Yet, her evidence would have given her a chance for a new trial before the Supreme Court, which she has not now and can never get. When it became general knowledge that the criminal is an ignorant black girl under seventeen, who went to the Belote Home—where she had been working for several years—in answer to a request left by Mrs. Belote with her parents, this feeling began to subside rapidly and now the consensus was of the opinion the infliction of the death penalty is too severe and that a commutation of such a sentence to life imprisonment would meet the general approval of all classes. You will pardon my persistence in the matter, but I have such a deep sense of responsibility and am anxious to put every phase of the case before you. It has been my very unpleasant duty to represent the accused. I say unpleasant because in conducting such a case, one has to be careful not to disturb the very cordial


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relations existing between the races, and which I was hoping may ever remain. If your Excellency will pardon personal reference, no one has worked harder than my colleague, J.T. Newsome, and I to strengthen and keep this relation intact. I am doing what I can in this suit from a standpoint of humanity and have not received one cent as fee. The father of the girl is head of a family of eight children with the wife hopelessly paralyzed, and has more than he can do to maintain and support them. Under these circumstances, we are doing what we can, hoping that the prayer of Virginia and those who join in the petition may touch the heart of the Governor of the Great Commonwealth, and that he may exercise judicial clemency and commute her sentence of death to one of imprisonment for life. The courts have from time-to-time declared that premeditation needs to exist but for a short period, but they have never intimated other than that it is necessary to be shown before a verdict of murder in the first degree can be had. The prevailing and more humane sentiment here is by commuting the death sentence to one of life imprisonment, the end of justice would be finally met. Trusting that the prayers of this poor, ignorant girl and those who join her petition may be answered, and that God may enable you to see your way clear to commute the death sentence to one of life imprisonment, I am Your Obedient Servant, George W. Fields This petition is evocative evidence of George’s legal skills. But the portions that I have italicized reveal, far better than I could ever do, the tightrope that a black lawyer had to walk in the society of that time and place. After sentencing, Christian voluntarily confessed twice (without Fields’ consent), but consistently denied intent. She admitted hitting Belote, but expressed shock that the victim had died from the fight; she insisted that she did not intend to kill Belote, but was angry and wanted to stop her beating. After the execution, prison officials found a note left


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behind in her cell: “I know that I am getting no more than I deserve. I’m prepared to answer for my sins. I believe the Lord has forgiven me.” George stayed true to his roots throughout his life. He remained attached to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, performing an “interesting solo part” in the Hampton Singers’ presentation of plantation songs at the annual Armstrong League’s meeting in 1917.59 He fought for black voting rights throughout his life,60 “and was considered a leader of his race.”61 He always played an active role in civic and religious affairs. He served, for example, on the board of the Weaver Orphan Home. He was long a trustee of the Third Baptist Church and superintendent of its Sunday School. On August 19, 1932, he died at the Dixie Hospital in Hampton after an illness of two weeks.62 The funeral was an impressive gathering, and included J. Thomas Newsome as an honorary pallbearer.63 Of his siblings, only Maria and Catherine survived George. III. TWO EPILOGUES Georgian It seems that Sallie Fields soon opened their large house to the community, as suggested by this picture from 1936 of the Mrs. Sallie

59

The Armstrong League, 46 S. Workman 182, 182 (1917).

60

See Engs, supra note 17, at 158.

61

Smith, supra note 52, at 231.

62

A life story full of surprises should end with a surprise. That hospital was named not for the South, but for Alice Bacon’s horse! See Engs, supra note 17, at 124-25. 63

See Every Walk of Life in Tribute to G.W. Fields, Norfolk J. & Guide, Aug. 27, 1932, at 5; Hold Funeral Services for Religious and Civic Leader, Chi. Defender, Aug. 27, 1932, at 4.


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Fields Community Center.64 She passed away on December 19, 1944.

Fields Community Center Their daughter, Inez C. Fields Scott (1900-1978), grew to be a person of significance. She graduated from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1914 and Boston University School of Law in 1922. She became the second black woman admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1924. She worked in the office of former Assistant United States Attorney General William H. Lewis. She married Frederick Conklin Scott, a professor of industrial education, in 1925. They returned to Hampton, where she became the third black woman admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1927. Using her maiden name professionally, she joined her father’s practice in Hampton in 1928. The 1930 census reports Inez, her husband, and her son, Frederick George Scott, living at 124 Wine Street with

64

The image is from the City of Hampton Historical Collection of Christopher E. Cheyne Photographs, located at the Hampton History Museum.


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George and Sallie. Inez and her husband are buried on the campus of Hampton University.65

Inez Fields

Frederick George Scott graduated from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1956 and married Juanita Thorpe in 1958. Their children are Frederick George Scott II (a logistics specialist at a technology company in Bloomington, Indiana), who married Tiffany Clayton, and Lynne Inetta Scott (a teacher of communications at City College of New York), who married Roland H. Jackson. In 1985 the latter couple had a son, Clinton P. Jackson, who graduated from Hampton University and then from Southern University Law Center on May 12, 2012.

65

See Mrs. Inez Scott, Attorney, Dies, Daily Press (Newport News), Aug. 12, 1978, at 25; Inez Fields Scott, http://www. findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln= Fields&GSiman=1&GScid=1726604&GRid=14231477& (May 9, 2006). The photograph of her is from http://www.masshist.org/longroad/ 03participation/profiles/fields.htm.


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Cornellian Time to come full circle. Back in 2005, there was a website entitled “The First Black Law Students and Graduates of White Law Schools.”66 Its focus excluded black law schools, such as the nation’s first, Howard University’s School of Law, founded in 1869. The website no longer exists, and it had lots of errors. But the information it contained was basically this: 1869 - George Lewis Ruffin, Harvard Law School 1870 - Gabriel Franklin Hargo, U. of Michigan Law School 1879 - Alexander Clark, Jr., U. of Iowa Law School 1880 - Edwin Archer Randolph, Yale Law School 1891 - Rufus Lewis Milford Hope Perry, NYU Law School 1892 - William Green, U. of Wisconsin Law School 1894 - Ida G. Platt, Chicago Law School (now Chicago-Kent) 1896 - William W. Ferguson, Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State) .... 1936 - Eugene K. Jones Jr., Cornell Law School The picture now looks different. Both George Washington Fields ’90 and Cornell Law School played a much more important historical role than anyone had suspected. Together they now place fifth on the list. Indeed, Cornell could not have placed higher on the list, because Cornell Law School did not even exist when number four entered law school. Moreover, none of the other schools included an African American in its entering class. More importantly, George started that trickle of black law students who passed through Cornell during the early years. Most importantly, he opened the door for the growing number of African Americans who have since followed him to graduation from Cornell Law School.

66

http://www.forfutureblacklawstudents.com/blacks.html.


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PART TWO The Autobiography


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Autobiography

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“Come On, Children” The Autobiography of George Washington Fields Born a Slave in Hanover County, Virginia I. ANTEBELLUM LIFE: 1854-1860 Beginnings In a little hamlet called Clover Plain in the County of Hanover, Virginia,a there was born on the 18th of December, 1813, a little girl by the name of Martha Ann Berkley. When she was about the age of 6 years, she was taken into the house of her Mistress and [made] to do the many other little chores such as taking up the rips or snags in her dresses and run errands to the barn where the overseer was usually found, and to the log cabin where the cook lived; and she grew, going from one degree of usefulness on the plantation to another. And when she was about the age of 19 or 20, she was allowed by her Mistress and Master to have company. There was a young slave at Taylorsville, Virginia, in the County of

a

Clover Plain no longer exists. It may have been part of the Locust Level plantation owned by the Robinson family at Hanover Junction, a community now called Doswell. See Berkeley Minor, “On People & Places,” 91 Va. Mag. Hist. & Biography 191, 211 & n.75 (1983). But there was a Clover Plain in King William County, which lies just to the northeast of Hanover County. Cf. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), in The Complete Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass 6, 14 (2008) (“I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.”); Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery 1 (1901) (“I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and at some time.”).


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Caroline, an adjoining county of Hanover,b whose name was Washington Fields, and as was the custom, he got the consent of his Master to visit and court Martha Berkley. And, after a very limited courtship, Martha and Washington were united in marriage to each other. On the part of the owners of the slaves, courtships were usually hurried or limited because of the desire of the slaveholders to have children born so as to enlarge their holdings of slaves, who were considered in their hands as personal property or other commodities such as cattle, sheep, hogs, wheat, corn, etc.c As a result of this marriage, 11 children were born to Martha Ann, all of whom, of course, were the property of Miss Catherine, who owned other slaves numbering 75 men and women and children. Miss Catherine subsequently, after the death of her husband, married a man by the name of Phillip Winston,d who was poor and added no estate to her already valuable slave property. His treatment of the slaves was fiendish, no cruelty being too severe to be inflicted upon the helpless and defenseless slave. It was a common thing to hear the cry of the slaves rending the air as he was being whipped unmercifully by this man. The children born to Washington and Martha Fields were John, Louisa, Matilda, James, Robert, Maria, William, Betty, Mary, Catherine,

b

Actually, Taylorsville was in Hanover County, just south of Hanover Junction. From Hanover Courthouse, Taylorsville was about eight miles away when going toward Caroline County. c

Slave marriages had no legal standing, nor did they affect the slaveowners’ powers over their slaves. Most slave weddings did not involve clergy or any formalities, although they might involve rituals such as the one of African origin known as “jumping the broom.” Marriages between slaves of different plantations, called “broad marriages” as in going abroad, were not unusual. Any children belonged to the slave woman’s owner. d

This was Philip Henry Winston (1818-1863), who married Catherine Robinson Berkeley (1806-1894) on December 11, 1849. Catherine, the daughter of Nelson Berkeley, Jr. (1766-1849) and Lucy Robinson (1775-1853), seems to have acquired Martha Ann’s family in the early 1840s from Catherine’s aunt Mary “Polly” Robinson (1768-1855), who had inherited Martha Ann in the early 1830s after her original master’s death.


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and George W., the writer of this, the memories of his childhood – who was born on the 25th day of April, 1854, at Clover Plain in the County of Hanover, Virginia. My sister Mary died in slavery when she was but an infant. Hanover and Caroline are adjoining counties, and my mother and father were allowed to visit each other quite frequently, but always had to obtain a pass from the master or overseer in order to keep from being whipped, a thing which would certainly happen should he be caught from off his plantation without such a pass.

Map of Virginia Moving to Hanover Courthouse My mistress subsequently sold the plantation at Clover Plain and bought a larger plantation at Hanover Courthousee upon which was situated the Tavern or inn.f My mother was chosen as cook for the tavern

e

Hanover Courthouse, the county seat and still an unincorporated community today, is in north-central Hanover County. It is often referred to simply as Hanover. An article by Alice M. Bacon, From Slavery to Freedom (pt. 1), 21 S. Workman & Hampton Sch. Rec. 46 (1892), implies that the family’s move here took place in 1855. f

The pictured tavern, where the patriot Patrick Henry had lived, still exists. See http://www.hanovertavern.org/. The next photo is of the historic Hanover County Courthouse and the Hanover Civil War


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Hanover Tavern and great house, the place where my master and mistress lived, and on this same farm was located the county courthouse, one square acre of land enclosed by a six foot brick wall, in which were the courthouse, clerk’s office, and jail. In the front of this enclosure a large tree had been sawed down, leaving a stump about 4 feet high. This was the auction block, and on every Saturday while court was in session, when many farmers and slave dealers were gathered, many slaves were sold from this block and separated from their loved ones with little hope of ever seeing each other again. I witnessed with much anguish and heartache the selling of my sister Louisa to a slave trader in Georgia. My two brothers John and Robert were [earlier] sold, though not from this block, John having been taken to Richmond and Robert to King and Queen County. These were all of my kinfolk that were sold, none of whom we saw or had any tidings from until after the close of the Civil War. My mother was a firm believer in God, and his ability to bring things to pass. Morning after morning

Memorial. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Hanover_Courthouse, _Virginia. Just behind the courthouse complex was the plantation’s great house, now called Nutshell Farm. See Hanover County Historical Society, Old Homes of Hanover County, Virginia 94-95 (1983) (with photograph).


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ofttimes the children were wakened from their slumber by the cries of our mother praying to God that He might deliver all of her children from slavery, and that she would see them all again once more gathered about herself. Several years before the breaking out of the Civil War, which was in 1861, a great Hanover County Courthouse contention and dissension [arose] over the question of state rights which was caused for the most part by the fact that many slaves were escaping from the South and the slaveowners to the Northern states. It was contended on the part of the South that no Northern state had any right to take and harbor any fugitive slave who had succeeded in getting into any state above Mason and Dixon’s Line; that whatever state encouraged this sort of thing, as it was the property of the owners in the South, violated every consideration of state rights or state sovereignty. The North, on the other side, from a humanitarian point of view was stout in their suggestion that no wrong could be committed after this fashion, hence the contention got ahold of the people, and subsequently in 1861 the war was declared. Early Days I was about the age of Geraldine [?] and can remember when we children used to be around mother in the kitchen. The kitchen was on the brow of the hill and during the rainy season we children used to take ahold of each other and holler, “Swamp do rise.” There was a very excellent spring – the water was as cold as ice – just across the opposite of the swamp. When the water in the swamp had risen to such a height, it would render the spring useless until after the freshet [flooding] season was over, as it rose higher than the spring. During this time the people would use the water from the wells on the farm and at the tavern for drinking purposes, but would return to the spring as soon as the water subsided. Saw mother with a big bag of copper pennies, gold and silver, and


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saw where she put it between the two mattresses in a big bag, and when the swamp was high I got the bag. It was between the straw tick. The children were throwing shells to see the shells bounce on the swamp, and I got the bag, sat down and began to throw the money on the water. I was always of a very sympathetic nature. At that time there was William, and another, I do not remember which one – another of mother’s children. I suppose I had thrown three or four pieces when she appeared. When she came she said, “Boy, what are you doing?” She took me in the house, and laid me across her knee, and I have never thrown away any money since. My master whose name was Phillip Winston usually raised a great many pigs, and in winter 1857 [there was] one of the greatest snowstorms known in the history of Virginia; and one of the things which gave me great pain of heart was seeing many of these young pigs struggling; and scraping their feet upon the hard crust from the severe cold caused their tiny hoofs to come off, and they could be traced by the blood stains on the snow. In many instances they would be dead when found. I was born in 1854 and was one of the seventy-five men and women and children which my master owned and, though very young, I can remember when the people were aroused by the blowing of the horn, the usual method used to awaken the people, that the snow was so deep when the doors to the quarters were opened they could not see out of the doors, for the snow was quite a few inches deeper than the door was high. The men who usually carried the shovel or farming utensils such as hoes, shovel and etc. from their log cabin quarters had to dig their way through the snow to the great house – the place where master lived – and from thence to the barnyard. [They] for several days busied themselves under the direction of the overseer clearing away the snow and ice so that they could get to the horses and cattle, which were in the stable and under the cow shed, in order to feed and water them, in which places for several days they were imprisoned. Working Days I loved my mother dearly, and never wanted to be separated from her for one minute, always was happy when I was with her or near her, romping and playing with the other slave children on the plantation. The first real trouble that I had or sorrow that my memory enables me to record came during the year 1860 when my master went to Richmond to carry several loads of wheat and tobacco and returned with a small hoe and instructed the overseer to take me to the field among the men that I might be taught the art of hoeing corn, and insisted that I keep up with the


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men. This of course took me away from my mother and the other slave children who were a few months younger than myself. It was the longest day that I ever saw and when night came it seemed that I had been separated from my mother for years, but as time rolled on I became more and more accustomed to the situation.

Map of Hanover County The little fellow, with eyes filled with tears, heart throbbing for the presence of his mother, worked away as best he could. After a few weeks he became quite an adept at the hoe. In addition to this George had to bring water from a spring which was quite a distance from the field in the woods, and ofttimes on his way to the spring he would see a large snake lying across the path. When he returned to the field he told the overseer, who would go to investigate, but often when he reached the place the snake would have for some reason moved away. Then came a flogging and a kick for little George to hurry him on to get water for the hands in the field. It was the custom with the farmers when they gathered their grain and corn in the fall to store it in their barns, and during the rainy and snowy weather the men were gathered in the barns where they would shuck corn and thresh out wheat. These times were seasons made merry


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by the slaves who indulged in singing plantation songs, many of which originated around the corn pile and are sung even to this day. The overseer would ofttimes bring a large jug of applejack, and a glass, which he would pass around to the men, which of course added additional merriment to the occasion. And Sam, perched upon the top of the corn pile or a box with his fiddle, furnished what he called an eyeopener for the happy gang which shucked corn, sung and played until the dawn of day, and then assembled in the barnyard to take orders from the overseer for the following day’s work, and seemingly feeling none the [worse] because of the revelries of the previous night. When weeding corn and harvest time was over, the attention of the men on the farm under the direction of the overseer was turned to cutting tobacco on the many acres adjacent to the barnyard, in which was a well of most delicious water, very cold the year round, which furnished water for the stock, which consisted of horses, mules, sheep, hogs and cattle; and when thirst came to men they would go to this well and drink. This of course relieved me from carrying water and from the necessity of having to encounter the snake, the rain crow and the killdeers. The cotton fields also adjoined the barnyard plot, and the pickers drank from this same well. I was then detailed to help one of the girl farmhands to watch the turkeys, a large flock of which my master owned, until about 5 o’clock pm when we would show them in the barnyard, where the girl and the overseer counted them; and Cock Robin, the name the overseer gave me because of my small or slender build, was hurried off to the fields to help Jacob, a boy my mistress bought from Essex County, Va., to drive the cattle home and to separate the calves from the cows and keep them so until the milkmaids had done their duty; and of course what was left the calves enjoyed, and indeed they had at times much to enjoy for one peculiarity of the mother cow characteristics [is that] she will invariably hold back milk for her baby. I was better known by the name of Cock Robin among the people on our plantation and those of the adjoining plantations then by Geo. W. Fields, my real name. Among the cattle was a cow whose name I, Cock Robin, will never forget, Old Wren. Whenever she had a calf, she became very jealous of her young. One day I was sent by the overseer with a message to my master and had to cross the field in which Old Wren with her calf were grazing. When I had gotten about halfway cross, the Old Wren caught sight of me and began to bellow and paw up the earth and came dashing after me. I beat her running to the fence and jumped over, but the fence proved no impediment to Old Wren who sprang over it with all the agility


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of a deer and caught me in the seat of my pants and pitched me back over the fence into the same field where her calf lay asleep; and before she could get over the fence again Cock Robin had succeeded in making my getaway with many bruises about the head and face; but the most painful bruises were on the most important part of my body, which made me prefer to stand or walk upright rather than to sit down for several weeks. Though right much bruised up, I was delighted at the happening that brought me from the field to the cabin where my dear mother was, who anointed my bruises with Jimson Weed salve, a bottle of which she always kept and an excellent remedy for such bruises. To reduce the swelling she would dig a large quantity of pork root and mullen, which she boiled together, and had me take a sitz bath every morning and night. Soon I was well enough to see the overseer, so the overseer ordered me out again but this time gave me another job: watching, feeding and watering the sheep along with another young fellow several years my senior. I was delighted with this job. I loved to see the lambs romp and play with each other and their mother and, though a boy of about the age of seven, I was struck with the innocence and meekness of the sheep, an impression made which I hope I may never outgrow. Indeed the human family would do well to consider these two chief characteristics of the sheep – meekness and innocence. II. WAR AND ESCAPE: 1861-1865 War Comes Under the direction of the overseer I was kept busy on the farm, as were the other hands, doing all sorts of farm work. But the cotton fields everywhere, which presented such a beautiful sight in early morning, were soon displaced by the Southern soldiers’ tents which covered every field, and one could see nothing but white tents with large armies of soldiers with guns and fixed bayonets glittering in the sun. Really it appeared like a solid sea of steel. Besides this, all day long regiments of soldiers, headed by bands playing the Southern national songs with banners flying, [were] going towards Richmond, which was fifteen miles away. I remember one of the songs was Way Down South in Dixie: In Dixie Land I take my stand To live and die in Dixie Land On a certain day [in 1861?] I was sent by my mother with the permission of the overseer to get some black molasses and two pounds of flour, and on my way back I heard what I thought was thunder and told


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mother about it. “No child, it is not thunder but the Yankees is coming.” Day after day this thunder seem more distinct and so insistent that it seemed it was only a very few miles away. Many of the colored people grew frantic with fear because of the stories told to them by the owners to keep them from going away with the Yankees. They said they would cut off their noses and eyes and ears and fingers. Said the Yankees had only one eye and that was in his forehead. But mother said, “I don’t care what they look like, God is going to take care all my children and me.” A few days after I had heard what I supposed was thunder, my mother let me go with Mr. Edmond Jones, who was a teamster in the Southern army and who drove a supply or provision wagon drawn by four mules. Mr. Jones was paying court to my sister Matilda, and had secured a leave of absence to visit her while his team and wagon were at Hanover Junction.g On our way we were startled by the voice of what turned out to be a Yankee soldier, who said, “Halt, who are you and where are you going?” Jones said he was going to the junction where his team was. “All right, take us there.” And then there arose what seemed to me a whole army of men with muskets and fixed bayonets, who were led by Edmond on toward the junction. I could not understand what it all meant and was holding fast onto Mr. Jones’ hand. We had to go up a very steep hill, and before reaching its summit I noticed a very bright light in the sky; and when on the top of this hill with an equally steep incline, we could see that the large granary at the junction had been set on fire together with the culvert; and all of the Southern supply or provision wagons had been taken and many Southern soldiers by the Yankees; and all of the Yankee soldiers who accompanied us to the Junction joined those who we found there in the work of setting fire to everything in the shape of a freight car or house, and some busied themselves in tearing up the track, while others were carrying grain, meat, flour, tobacco and meal and barrel after barrel of hardtacks, loading all of the wagons. After they had wrought all of the destruction it seemed possible, the teamsters were all ordered to mount and move forward. It was indeed a great commotion. Edmond Jones, who had

g

Here the tracks of two important railroads intersected, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad and the Virginia Central Railroad. The reproduced map of the Hanover Junction defenses comes from: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/txwotr/id/1430/rec/861.


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brought me, mounted his right-hand nigh mule; and a soldier caught me by the shoulder and threw me on the mule next to Edmond. It suddenly dawned upon me that this meant for me to leave my dear mother, and as I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was going I began to make the night hideous with my screams and cries. I fell from the mule’s back to the ground only to be tossed on the mule’s back again. Again I fell, and this time between the two mules, where I was extricated from my perilous position by Edmond, who sprang from his mule and pulled me out. An officer with red stripes up and down on his navy blue pants of some rank told Edmond to take that boy back to his mother and for him to hurry back. Looking back as we left the depot and junction, I could see glittering in the light of the burning cars and buildings more I guess than a thousand men, some mounted upon horses with sabers and short guns and many with fixed bayonets disappearing in the darkness with the wagon train closely following upon their heels. When once Edmond and I were at home, we remained there. For more than a month the bulk of grain, which had been set on fire by these Yankees, was burning and smouldering. On the very next day, however, the Rebels swarmed into the vicinity only to witness the work of destruction wrought by their enemies. Later it turned out that these Yankees were a scouting party, under the command of General McClellan, seeking to locate the greatest bulk of the Southern army and to get as near as possible to the Southern capital Richmond. These Yankees came and went so quick that only one slave got a chance to escape with or George B. McClellan, go with them, George Hall, a 1861 portrait by Mathew Brady slave owned by my master. In those days trains were not equipped with steam brakes and could not stop so suddenly that one is often thrown out of his seat, but they would have to begin to put on brakes and slow up several rods away before reaching the station. And on a certain day when a long trainload of


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Southern soldiers were on their way to the breastworks round about Richmond, because of the incline in the road and because the brakes could not stop it, it was plunged into the culvert burned by the Yankees; and the very sight of the accident was horrifying beyond description. Many of the men were pinned down beneath the engine and coaches, some were drowned in the rapid running stream, and some could be seen climbing through broken windows with bruises and cuts upon their faces and heads. Several reached the level in safety, and at once set to work to rescue their comrades. Those killed were buried on the slope of the hill near the junction, and the rescued were hurried off in hand cars to Richmond. After this the Rebel soldiers, under the command of the Rebel General Beauregard,h came pouring in from all quarters and massed themselves between Hanover Courthouse and Richmond. Things settled down on the plantations, and the slaves were made to resume their general routine work on the farms, having given up all hopes of ever being liberated from slavery, for it seemed to us that the whole world was full of Southern soldiers and that it was impossible for the Yanks to become the victors. Six or eight months intervened before the booming of the cannon was again heard in the long distance, and day after day the sound became more distinct and nearer. Soldiers and officers were apparently restless. Sharpshooters were practicing, and the cavalry and infantry were drilling, in seeming anticipation of immediate warfare.i It was about nine o’clock when I was sent again by my mother to the depot, where there was a store, for a pound of brown sugar and some flour. On my return I had to pass a brick wall, which surrounded an acre

h

General P.G.T. Beauregard became the first commander of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 20, 1861. General McClellan arrived on the scene in August 1861. i

Perhaps this was a reference to the upcoming minor Battle of Hanover Courthouse, which took place on May 27, 1862, as part of the Peninsula Campaign. That major campaign was one of the North’s repeated efforts to capture Richmond. General McClellan began it in March 1862, bringing his Army of the Potomac by ships to Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. He captured Yorktown and Williamsburg, established a supply base at White House Landing, and got within four miles of Richmond, before his caution or ineptitude caused ultimate failure by July 1862 at General Robert E. Lee’s hands.


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of land upon which the courthouse and jail stood. When once past this, I looked over to the farm owned by my master’s brother [William Overton Winston (1812-1862)] who possessed many slaves, some of which were plowing and fallowing the ground for wheat and oats. I noticed a man riding rapidly out of the woods. I could see his saber glitter in the sun. His horse was pacing and he was gesticulating. In a few minutes, all of the men mounted their mules and horses and went with the man into the woods. I ran into the house and told my mother what I had seen. Mother was a devout Christian and most times seemed to be praying, and sometimes she became unable to retain longer her emotion. She would cry out and say, “Oh, Jesus, how long?” Last Years on the Plantation Our master, Phillip Overton Winston,j was exceedingly cruel and treated his slaves in a manner too brutal to be described. I will only cite one act of his brutal treatment to my mother, for to cite the many other acts of his excessive cruelty would lead to a greater diversion from the object of this history of the life of Cock Robin, the name by which George W. Fields was called on the plantation by the overseer. In the spring about the latter part of May [of 1862?] there appeared in our County Hanover what is called a bull bat [or common nighthawk]. This bird flies very high in the air, and it was considered great for a farmer to bring one to the ground. My master succeeded in killing it and gave it to my mother, she being the cook on the plantation, to broil for my Mistress Catherine Winston, who when the bird was brought to the table claimed that the bird was cooked too hard so she could not eat it, and told master about it when he came to dinner from the field where he had been looking after the hands. After dinner he came down to the log cabin in which mother cooked and brought with him the bird. Asked her what it was. She answered, “It is the bird I cooked, master.” “Why did you burn it?” And before she could give any

j

This might be a misnomer. Based on various genealogy sites, Philip Overton Winston (1870-1891) seems to have been a nephew of the master, Philip Henry Winston (1818-1863). The latter’s gravestone in Hanover Courthouse appears from http://www.findagrave.com/cgibin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=31505576, with the other names being his step-brother and cousin. His wife’s Richmond tombstone is from http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55767719.


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explanation, he demanded her to take off her waist, which was a kind of loose woolen garment woven and made on the farm and furnished to all of the women slaves. She of course could do nothing else than obey. He then took her to a large post to which he tied her and whipped her on her bare back until she fainted and would have fallen to the ground had she not been held up by the cord which bound her. Seeing her condition, he loosed the rope; and she in a half-dazed manner staggered back into the cabin. Little George and all of the other slaves who were not off in the fields witnessed this act of extreme brutality, but were powerless to prevent it. I of course was too young and small to do anything other than to ease my resentment in tears and cries. Here again I must indulge in diversion and cite just two other cases of his heartless brutality. My sister Maria was at that time about five or six years old and was taken into what was called the great house to do little chores for my mistress, whose niecek lived with her and spent most of her time knitting. She would set the knitting needle in a quill fastened across her breast with some sort of catch. One day she misplaced the quill and imagined Maria had taken it. She told master, who set at once to whip sister most unmercifully; and in order to have him stop, she said she had taken it to the quarters. The child came screaming down to the quarters and ran under the bed in mother’s room. Master followed and, standing at the door, said in a gruff voice, “If you don’t come, I will kill you.” The child came forth, when he again began to beat her and, becoming more angry, took the butt end of the cow hide and struck her a severe blow in the forehead, causing a knot which she carried until womanhood. In the fall the farmers had men to repair the rail fences all around the plantation by taking out all rails that had become rotten. My brother James was, along with other men, detailed for this work. One afternoon in the late fall of 1861 at knocking off time, he shouldered a condemned or partly rotten rail and took it to the quarters to make a quick fire, he being cold and his clothes damp. Master saw him with it and went to the barn and called Robert and Daniel, two head men on the plantation, and instructed them to tie him. This, of course, they did. Then he administered a most unmerciful and brutal beating, and for several weeks after mother anointed the bruises with a salve which she made from the Jimson blossom, an excellent remedy for cuts and burn and bruises. After his

k

This might have been Catherine’s sister, Sarah Nelson Berkeley, who was eight years younger and continued to live with her after the Civil War.


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sores were healed, he said to mother, “I am going to leave, and if I ever come across Phil Winston I am going to kill him.” He had somehow come in possession of a large four-cylinder flintlock revolver [or pepperbox] and a bayonet. With these, after kissing mother and all of the children, he bade all goodbye; and opening the door cautiously and slowly, he peered out and, seeing his way clear, left in a half-stooping posture, and made his way

Philip Henry Winston’s Gravestone


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to the woods alongside a fence, which led there and which inclosed a greater part of the woodland adjacent to the large plantation. The next morning, when the horn blew to rouse the hands and to have the men assemble at the barn to be told by the overseer what fields to plow, what new ground to grub up, and tobacco and corn to take to Richmond and so on, James was not there. Master and the head men, uncle Robert and Daniel, were notified of the absence, and a general inquiry made among the slaves, but they could give no information as to his whereabouts. Then the slaveowners from the adjoining plantation and the master gathered with their bloodhounds, and for several days and to a very late hour of night scoured the woods far and near. These were days of great anxiety to my mother and all of us, for we knew just about how my brother would be tortured if he were caught. Four or five months after, James crept into the cabin, saw and kissed mother and all the children, but his visit was of very short duration when he retraced the same path alongside the fence and entered the woods again. I have heretofore referred to my brother John who was sold to a good slaveholder in Richmond. And James succeeded after fifteen miles of travel through the fields and woods, for he dared not take the road for fear of being captured, in reaching John’s house in that city. A reward was offered and detectives put to work in Richmond; and in about six months after this visit to us on the plantation at night, he was captured and turned over to the overseer who had come from the Courthouse to take him back to his master. His Catherine Winston’s Gravestone


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legs were firmly tied with rope and handcuffs on his wrists. It was a late hour when the overseer and he left Richmond, and the overseer concluded to stop at a tavern, which was about halfway between Richmond and my master’s home. On arriving there, he untied the rope from around brother’s legs and led him into the office where there was a stove, sat him in a chair and again tied his legs firmly to its rounds, and then went into an adjoining room and went to sleep. During the night a girl, whose business it evidently was to look after the fire, came in; and seeing my brother, she looked at him, and he as best he could beckoned to her to untie his legs. This she did, and he gradually worked the rope loose and, creeping to the door, turned the latch and walked out and ran as fast into the woods as it is possible for a man to run handcuffed; and [because] a part of the rope which he could not unloose made this noise as he ran by dragging through the leaves, he imagined the overseer was close on his heels. When finally he turned about with the exclamation “Get back, if you don’t, I will kill you,” he fell through exhaustion and remained for a while until he came to the realization that it was only the rope fastened to his leg that was chasing him. Having rested, he, though handcuffed, succeeded in loosening the rope from his leg. James was well acquainted with most of the slaves in the County of Hanover, and ventured to go to the house of one who broke the handcuffs from his wrists. Having once more the freedom of his limbs, he resolved to make his way to the Yankees, which he understood were across the Pamunkey River in the County of King William. It was on a very cold night amid a blinding snowstorm, while journeying through fields and woods, when he found himself almost in the very midst of a squad of Rebel pickets, some of whom called to him to halt, but he broke and ran through the woods, they pursuing, and suddenly finding himself on the brink of the Pamunkey, plunged in and swam across. They fired at him twice, but their bullets went astray. When once across, he was in King William, the county occupied by the Yankees. Then with clothes frozen stiff upon his body, he made his way to the home of a slave, who gave him shelter and a change of clothes while he dried his own by a log fire. About daybreak, the friend at whose house he had stayed and he set out to find the Yankees and, after traveling all day, discerned in the far distance the campfires burning and heard the bugle blow. They walked hurriedly along and soon were within the Yankee camps. The officer received them kindly, and upon request brother James became their guide, as he was well acquainted with Hanover and all the adjoining counties. We did not see our brother after his visit until [much later], when he related his story of his perilous escapes and of his thrilling


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experiences. War Returns Few if any of the of the slaveholders wanted the slaves to learn how to read and write, and my mother, though ignorant, taught her children daily lessons in observation. She would have them take notice and look about themselves to what was going on, with the understanding that they divulge nothing to anyone except herself who was our guide. Since the day I saw the soldier carry the men into the woods from my master’s brother’s field, my curiosity had been kept alive; and day after day I would look over that way, and on a certain day about the latter part of March 1863 in early morn, I saw pouring from the woods into the open fields Yankee soldiers. I ran into the cabin and told my mother, who came out and looking over there exclaimed, “Thank God. God told me my children and I should be free, and I should see them all again.” The Yankees formed themselves in a kind of rainbow shape, the Zouaves being in the middle, the horsemen surging toward the south and the infantry towards the north, and in this way advanced steadily upon Hanover Courthouse. The Rebel tents, which covered many acres of land, were hurriedly razed www.filsonhistorical.org to the ground, thrown upon army wagons and sent speeding to Ashland, which is about twelve miles from Hanover Courthouse. Beauregard, the Rebel general, was in command of this division, and a man more brave never sat in saddle. The long line of log cabins occupied by the slaves was just on the brow of the hill between the two contending forces. The general got his men in line and advanced to meet the Yanks, who had crossed the little stream at the foot of the hill and began with banners flying and bands playing a rapid ascent. The Southern soldiers were the first to open fire, which was returned by the Yanks, and the fight was on. Many of the


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Southern soldiers used the Negro cabins as breastworks, and a shot from a Yankee field piece struck the corner of the cabin upon the porch of which my mother was standing with her children huddled about her, causing it to sag, through it did not fall. The fight was of short duration, with only one man killed and one or two wounded; because of superior numbers, the Rebels were forced to retreat. Five hundred prisoners were taken by the Yankees and brought back to the courthouse and put in the enclosure, which surrounded the jail in which there were many slaves. The Yankees soon began to batter down the doors of the different cells, and not more than an hour or so elapsed before all of the prisoners were set free. This was a day of great rejoicing among the slaves, who had this day witnessed the dawn of the day of freedom. Master died several months prior to this invasion. My Mistress and her niece [remained] in the great house, and Mr. William Leary [was] the overseer in charge of the plantation. They were not in any way molested by the soldiers or the slaves. M ot h e r q u i c k l y packed up what little clothing she and the children had, and then baked several large cakes of flour bread which she put with two bottles of sorghum and a small bit of meat in a bag. Then she distributed the bundles among the children. My lot was to carry my youngest sister, Catherine, P.G.T. Beauregard who was too young to walk. All being ready mother put the pot on her head, and then the caravan of nine human souls moved off, and as we passed the great house mistress said, “Goodbye, Martha Ann,�


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with tears in her eyes. Mother said, “Goodbye, Miss Catherine.”l

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamunkey_River

l

A good deal less tolerant account of this mistress appears in Alice M. Bacon, From Slavery to Freedom (pt. 1), 21 S. Workman & Hampton Sch. Rec. 46 (1892). Based on information “gathered from the lips of her children,” that article about Martha Ann relates how the mistress breached solemn promises to her by selling Louisa and by abusing the family. The mistress planned to auction them all off in 1863. The departure went like this: “The mistress called to her as she passed along, ‘Martha Ann, are you going to leave me and take all the children too?’ ‘Yes,’ was the reply. ‘You have lied to me twice and you’ll never have the chance to do it again.’ At this the mistress fell down before her, praying and beseeching her to stay on with them . . . .”


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Escape to Freedom It was about five o’clock pm, the sun was getting low. All of the slaves and most of the soldiers had gone on ahead of us. Only a few Yankee pickets could be seen riding along the road and round the edges of the woods. All seemed to be hurrying towards Littlepage’s Bridge, which spanned the Pamunkey River and which separated Hanover from King William, which was in the possession of the Yankees. We hurried along, and as we got around the bend or curve in the road, we saw a great blaze. We could not understand it, but as we drew near we found that the Yankees had gone over and burned the bridge behind them, which was swept down by the current; and what few soldiers there were left forded the river as far as possible, and when the water got too deep, it transformed the [horses] into living boats and compelled them to carry the rider safely to the other shore. We could hear the Yankees’ bugle blow quite plainly. Here we stood on the brink of the river and still in the Rebels’ territory. What could we do? What should we do? All eyes were upon mother, who seemed for a while somewhat bewildered. She had a brother who was a slave to a man named Wickham, who owned a farm four miles away and several bloodhounds. He was head man on the farm and had charge of these, and how to get to her brother without arousing the hounds was the question. She had visited him often during the day by traveling the main county road, but she dared not take this way for fear that she might encounter the Rebel pickets. Suddenly being, so it seemed, prompted by a certain premonition, she picked up the iron pot, placed it on her head and said, “Come on, children,” and leaving the road entered the thickets and led the way, parting the bushes and the high weeds as she traveled alongside the open fields. All that night we wended our way through thorns and briars, with our feet and hands torn and bleeding. Occasionally we could hear what seemed to us to be a large snake darting through the leaves and dried grass. The whippoorwill and the large gray owl seemed delighted to accompany us from the start to the end of our journey. She with her song, and he with his whoo-whoo. On our way we came to a stream, which made up from the main river, around the head of which we had to travel, and back to the river which was our only guide to the farm where my uncle lived. It was about two or three o’clock when mother said, “You all stay here and don’t budge until I come back.” My sister, whom I carried, began to fret and cry. I took from the pot, which mother had left with us, a piece of bread and gave it to her. With this she became quiet. Mother had been


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gone only a few minutes when we heard the bloodhounds begin to bark furiously, and about the same time heard uncle say shut up and go back. They obeyed, for we heard them no more. We could hear mother in an undertone say, “William.” William, what said he, “Who is it?” “It is Martha Ann, come to the door,” and in a low tone of voice I heard her say, “I and all the children started with the Yankees but before we got to the bridge, they burned it down.” “Where,” said he, “are the children?” “They are out there in the woods.” “Go get them and bring them here.” Mother soon returned and said as usual, “Come on, children.” We followed her and came to the hut, which was just outside the woods, where Uncle John [Thornton] met us; and the bloodhounds it seemed came from everywhere, and with their broad faces and short noses appeared like so many demons ready to devour us. Uncle John bade us not to be afraid, as they were completely under his control. The very sight of these dogs looming up in the darkness rendered all for a while terrorstricken. The dogs, however, seemed anxious to make acquaintance with us, and soon convinced us that they were our friends by rubbing their large broad sides against us and licking our hands and faces. Uncle John had a boat which he had dug out of a large tree, the bottom of which he had flattened. This he used as a kind of ferryboat to cross the river into King William. The boat could only carry two persons at a time. Mother inquired of uncle if he could put us across. He answered in a rather doubtful way he thought he could. “Come on,” said he, and we followed down to the brink of the river, where we could hear the water madly dashing over the falls it had made for itself by piling up trees and other debris, which had become stationary permanently; then the gurgling deadly roar as it pursued its course brought to us another period of dread and terror. Uncle John left us for a moment and went down the steep muddy incline to the river to see if his boat was there, for he had often lost it, it having before been frequently torn from its mooring by the force of the rushing waters. He on his return said, “She is all right, Martha Ann, and I guess I will take you over first.” “No,” said mother, “I want you to carry all of my folks over first.”


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Madison Lewis,m who was paying court to one of my sisters and who subsequently married her, was the first to cross, but because of the steep incline and the slippery condition of the bank of the river, he had a terrible time reaching the level land, which he succeeded in doing by pulling himself up from first one tree or shrub to another. Uncle John, for fear the children could not do this, got a spade and dug clay and dirt steps in the bank so that we had little difficulty in reaching the level. One by one we were carried over, Uncle John instructing each to hold on to the young trees and bushes as we ascended. Next to the last came George W. Fields, or Cock Robin as he was called at his slavery home, with his little sister Catherine in his arms. As we came to the shore, uncle tied the boat to a tree and then, getting out, drew it near and got us both out and carried us to the level. All were over now but mother and, oh, how anxious we were until we saw her come climbing up the steps, catching hold of first one tree and another until she was on the level with us all. Then Uncle Madison Lewis’s Service Record John brought from the boat the

m

Madison Lewis, who married Matilda Fields, was born into slavery around 1836 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops on December 27, 1863, several months after he escaped to the Hampton area with the Fields family. He was a saddler in the First Cavalry, serving until March 6, 1866. He later became a prominent minister in Norfolk, Virginia. His pictured service record comes from http://www.freedom150.blogspot.com/search/label/ Madison%20Lewis.


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oblong iron pot. He and mother talked, and suddenly he said, “Hush, Martha Ann, I think I hear a horn blow, and look over yonder, there is a big light in the sky, and dar is where dem Yankees is.” “Yes,” said mother, “I hear that horn now, too. Well, John, I am going to see if I can find the Yankees, for they is certainly in King William and so are we.” After bidding her brother goodbye, she raised the pot to her head and, rousing the children, some of whom were asleep, conducted us to a large oak tree, which was about fifty yards from the river in an open field. There she stopped, and putting down her pot, she bade us set down and not stir until she returned. We obeyed, as we had been taught to do almost from birth, and as all did as long as she lived, except those who were sold before the war over whom she had no control. It was a dark night, and the clouds were hanging low. “Come on Madison. Stay there children,” and away she went towards the light and the bugle sound. She had not been gone very long before it began to rain in torrents, but one could be surprised to know how much shelter a tree can afford in a rainstorm. In about an hour, she and Madison returned amid a drenching rain. Both were wet, very much so, but apparently unconscious of the rainfall. She stooped down, picked up the pot and bade us follow her. Away we went through the night, all weeds and grass, which shed its rain drops about our bodies. I, being the shortest in the bunch, some of the weeds towered above my head; and whenever I touched against them, I was treated to a very copious shower bath. Soon we were at the top of the hill and could see not far away the Yankee campfires burning brightly. Among the Yankees On arriving there, the soldiers treated us very kindly. They gave us three hardtack sandwiches with thin pieces of fat meat between, and a tin cup of corn coffee already sweetened to taste. This we enjoyed immensely, and besides it saved to us the contents of the iron pot, for we did not know how far yet lay our journey ahead. We stood before the hot fire and, turning first one side and then the other, our clothes soon got dry upon our bodies; and we felt none the worse off on account of our terrible experiences during this awful night of terror. My father, who lived eight miles from Hanover Courthouse, and who was allowed to visit my mother and the children only every other week, knew nothing of our flight from slavery. He was still behind the


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Federal Encampment on Pamunkey River Rebel lines at Taylorsville near Richmond, a hamlet named after its owner, whose name was James Taylor. The following night, we were placed in a tent, and the soldiers again brought us hardtack and coffee. Everything was seemingly all right when about eleven o’clock it was learned that the Rebels had, by building pontoon bridges across the river, succeeded in getting into King William, and were working a rapid flank movement in order to cut off from the main bulk of the army, which was near the White House on the York River,n the two or three thousand in whose division we were. Then came the command to retreat, and in a jiffy every tent was razed to the ground, thrown on the army and provisions. The women and small children were

n

White House was a plantation located where the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers converge to form the York River. The reproduced photograph of the federal encampment is from http:// www.mikelynaugh.com/VirtualCivilWar/New/Originals2/, and the photograph of the bridge at White House Landing is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bridge_across_Pamunkey_R iver,_Va._at_White_House_Landing_-_NARA_-_526916.jpg.


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Bridge Across Pamunkey River at White House Landing allowed to get into the wagons, but the men and young half-grown fellows were made to double quick and foot it as did the infantry. Then came the stampede. Wagons drawn by four and six mules and horses, their drivers lashing them, came rumbling by, and the cavalry men kept some distance behind the infantry, and all moving as rapidly as possible. About Cock Robin, who at the start had been forbidden to get in the wagon by an officer, he had stolen in when the officer sped on and got under his mother’s dress and, thus concealed, rode all the way. About five o’clock pm, all came to a halt. They had joined the main bulk of the army and were out of danger of being cut off. Tents were pitched quickly, and all was again quiet. On tomorrow, we were escorted to the White House on the York River, about one and one-half miles away from the camp, along with more than a thousand refugees or slaves which had been taken by the Yankees from their owners, and after crossing a bridge, which appeared because of its height to be a mere thread to the west side of the stream, the people were put into barges, seven in number, fastened one behind the other with heavy ropes or hawsers, and all made ready for the trip down the York to some point unknown to this large cargo of refugees or slaves, whose faith in God caused them to believe that their deliverance had come.


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For about an hour we lay wondering why the barges didn’t move along. The soldiers were walking their beats as usual, the officers were riding among them giving orders. The cavalry and artillery men were moving restlessly about. Suddenly, there appeared two boats from around the bend of the river, one a tug and the other a barge side-wheel steamer. She was painted white, and just in front of the pilot’s house was mounted a beautiful eagle with its large wings, and as the boat rode the waves it seemed to Cock Robin that the eagle would fly away at any moment. Cock Robin enjoyed the sight immensely, as he had never seen such a beautiful thing before. The side-wheeler maneuvered around for a while and then took a position in front of the long line of barges; a large hawser thrown from her was tied in a kind of half-hitch fashion around the stem of the foremost barge. The little tug took a position about midway of the line. All being ready, this large flotilla of human souls, numbering about four thousand, began to move slowly down the river. The people cheered and cheered again, again and again, and the songs of praises to God went up from all along the line. Some of the younger people, at the age that knew nothing about seriousness, sang the following song: Abe Lincoln ride the bay horse Jeff Davis ride the mule Abe Lincoln is a gentleman Jeff Davis is a fool! Chorus: Shout, boys, Shout For I am a Union man Oh, Yankee Doodle dandy Hurrah for Uncle Sam! A large majority of the people, being severely drilled in the school of experience lessons, took the situation more seriously and soberly, and hundreds sang the following song: Christ does not care for the king’s bright throne, the noble and the great He’ll bring the proudest sinner down to beggar at his feet Chorus: Come over now, Slavery chain done broke at last, broke at last, broke at last Praise God till I die Geo. W. Cock Robin Fields, with his mother and all of his brothers who came on this trip, together with many hundreds other slaves,


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were on the barge last in the long line; and in the midst of this great rejoicing, the large rope or hawser by which our barge was fastened to the others parted, and we found ourselves slowly drifting back up the river, where it was said a Rebel gunboat was, and for a while great indeed was the consternation. The people were frantic with fear, women and children were screaming, and the men were doing what they could to quiet them, as they ran from one side of the boat to the other, causing it to take water; and for a while it seemed that all were doomed to fill a watery grave. During the stampede one poor woman was trampled to death, but I have never known what became of her body. I suppose, however, it was buried at sea. The little tug soon discovered our perilous condition and came alongside, threw a hawser across our bow, and it was not long before we were again drawn up to the line. It was not fear of death that terrorized them so much, but the fear of being recaptured and taken back to the relentless taskmaster, where the cry of the slave for mercy and where the barking of the bloodhounds on the trail of some runaway slave seem never to cease. They preferred a burial at sea, or any other place out of a land of bondage and oppression. As we journeyed down the river, someone raised the following hymn, in which all joined: Oh freedom, oh freedom Oh freedom, oh freedom over me, over me And before I would be a slave I would be buried in my grave And before I would be a slave I WOULD be buried in my grave And go home to my Lord and be free This was in the month of April 1863, and this song is now sung as a jubilee song in most of the schools where Negro music is taught and sung. At nightfall, we drew up at the wharf at Yorktown.o Again we could see tents pitched and soldiers’ campfires burning brightly up the hill. Here our two friends, the large beautiful white side-wheeler trimmed in

o

Yorktown is on the southwest bank of the very wide York River, which defines the northeast side of the Virginia Peninsula, with Hampton at its tip. It was long in Union hands. The following map of the Norfolk and Hampton area in 1919 is from http://mapas.owje.com/maps/ 9579_map-of-norfolk-and-portsmouth-newport-news-hampton-and-oldpoint-comfort-fortress-monroe-virginia-united-states-1919.html.


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dull red with golden eagle and the little tug, steamed away into the darkness. A few minutes after we arrived at the wharf, there came several soldiers in the charge of an officer of some rank with red stripes up the side of his pants, and after talking with some of the older folks he went up the hill toward the tents and where the campfires were burning. Soon this same returned with thirty or forty soldiers, bringing large boxes of fat meat sandwiches and two large camp boilers filled with coffee, and began at once to distribute the sandwiches to the many hungry refugees; and as they went among them, the soldiers filled their cups with coffee already sweetened to taste. The people enjoyed this repast immensely. After all were served most bountifully, the soldiers left with the boxes and cans, saying to the people, “Good night, auntie. Good night, uncle. We will see you again in the morning.” The people retired for the night in the holds and on the decks of the barges. Early in the morning, at the gray of dawn of day, the people began to stir about the boats and to wonder what would the next move be. Is this our destination or shall we expect another? Where are we going and what’s going to become of us? Mother said, “Children, you are going wherever God say go, and we will be all right wherever that will be.” Just then the soldiers appeared in the distance, bringing the boxes and large cans of boilers of coffee. This put an end to the query, for all knew that breakfast was being brought as supper had been brought the night before. After having distributed the sandwiches and coffee, as they did the night before, they left telling the people that they would not see them again. Again the people were thrown into wonder land. What do they mean by saying they won’t see us any more? Are we to be left here to perish? At this point, their fears were suddenly quelled when they saw in a distance their two friends, the large white side-wheeler with the little tug following close behind her, rapidly approaching. They soon reached us and swung themselves in position, the side-wheeler in front and the little tug about midway of the long line of barges. The men rapidly cast off the ropes which held us to the wharf, and again we went steaming down the river; and at about one o’clock we were hauled up alongside the wharf at Old Point Comfort. The work of getting the refugees ashore as rapidly as possible was begun. The people were cheerful and happy at the thought of being free and under the protection of the large cannons, many of which were mounted on the ramparts. The people were crowded upon the wharf and along the boardwalks which led to Fort Monroe. The thing which interested Geo. W. Cock Robin Fields was the gun yard in which


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thousands of cannon balls were piled. The yard was inclosed with an iron fence made of old army muskets with fixed bayonets. From the fort the ex-slaves spread themselves out along the strip of land which lay between [Hampton] and Mill Creek, better known as the town of Phoebus. They took possession of the land, which was at that time confiscated, and built thereupon brush huts; many gathered pieces of tin, old boards and almost any thing they could collect to shield them from the weather, which was quite mild – a case in which Providence seemed to have tempered the blast for the shorn sheep. Working for the Bartletts Fortunately for us, on the very day we landed at Old Point, [we met] a Mr. Bartlett, a farmer who owned a farm of many hundred acres about 12 miles from Hampton near the Halfway House, so called because it was halfway between Hampton and Yorktown. Mr. Bartlett, after looking many of the families and people over, came to where our family was seated on the wharf and began to talk to Madison Lewis, who had come with us all the way from slavery to freedom, about going out to his farm. He referred him to mother, she being the spokesman for the family in all matters concerning the welfare of the family. After talking the matter over for some time, an arrangement was perfected seemingly satisfactory to mother. Mother was to be the cook. Madison Lewis, who subsequently married my sister Matilda, was to be the stableman and work on the farm, and Cock Robin and his brother William were to assist him. Betty and Catherine were assigned no work, they being too small to do anything other than to eat. We were then escorted by Mr. Bartlett to a long-bodied wagon, in the bottom of which there was much straw. The wagon was drawn by two fine mules, Mr. Bartlett being the driver, and away we sped en route to our new home. As we drove through Hampton, we found the town in ruins, most of the houses having been burned to the ground and many partly burned [by the Rebels]. There were only three brick structures in the town, one being a private residence the walls of which had fallen in a heap upon the first floor, the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church had also been very much demolished, as was the county courthouse, and most of the records destroyed by fire. A few, however, were recovered when the bricks and other debris were cleared away preparatory to rebuilding, and are still preserved in the vault there under the head of re-recorded deed. These houses had been struck by shells while the town was being bombarded by the Yankee soldiers. All along the route from Hampton to our Bartlett


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farm home, we could see the foundations of large farm houses and barns only as a sign of what was once a beautiful dwelling and barns, surrounded with many hundred of cleared and wood land. We arrived at our new home about eleven o’clock am and were led by Mr. Bartlett to a large barn-looking building, which had been partitioned off into several rooms. Mother was put in charge of the kitchen, which was in this same building. Mrs. Bartlett came out and looked us all over and seemed very much pleased with her husband’s catch, for in it she had a cook, milkmaid, house girl, a stableman and Geo. W. Cock Robin Fields and his brother William as his assistants at the barn and on the farm. She seemed to be profoundly interested in us all, and showed mother where and what she might prepare for dinner. After dinner Mrs. Bartlett took sister Matilda to the dairy and gave her full instructions about her work, and then escorted sister Maria into the great house, the name given by the slaves to the house in which the master with his family lived. She was there told of her duties. Mr. Bartlett of course went with Madison Lewis and the boys to the barn and told him and them what he expected them to do. That afternoon we did nothing more than busy ourselves in unpacking what few things we had, consisting of one large straw bed tick and several old castaway quilts, blankets, straw pillows and so forth. These we spread upon the already constructed bunks in this house, one above the other. We hadn’t many changes in way of clothing. Suffice to say, we made out, but in what way I can’t tell. These conditions were, however, a great improvement on those which existed in the log cabins in the days of slavery, ere we were far removed from a locality where one’s master was applying the lash to his bare back and where the bark of the vicious bloodhound could be heard plainly nearly every day and night when on the trail of some poor runaway slave. The next day, all settled down to work, and things moved off smoothly and in a rather satisfactory manner. Mrs. Bartlett was very [kind?], but Mr. Bartlett would at times get into an ugly, sullen mood and act in such a way that we were made often to think of the days of slavery. Before leaving Old Point, mother and Mr. Bartlett entered into an oral agreement in reference to the pay each of us was to receive per month. We worked on, and month after month passed, but nothing was said about pay. So one night mother, my two sisters and Madison Lewis held a little conference in the quarters, which resulted in a decision that mother would speak to Mr. Bartlett on tomorrow. So Mother did so and called his attention to the agreement he made with her. His reply was, “That’s all right, aunt Martha.” Mother was trustworthy, and no one could make a


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mistake by confiding in her, and she in turn felt that she could confide in everyone else; and relying on that “all right, aunt Martha,” all went to work as usual, feeling assured that in short while we would receive our pay. Weeks and months passed, and still the promised pay was withheld. Another and final conference was again held, at which it was decided to make a positive demand on Mr. Bartlett, and in case of his refusal to pay at once, we would leave. The demand was made the next day with the same answer, “All right, aunt Martha, everything will be all right after a while.” This answer aroused her animus. She said, “Mr. Bartlett, my children and I have worked all of our lives in slavery without pay, and we do not intend to work for you any longer without being paid.” He made no reply, but walked into the house. That afternoon, mother told Madison to go somewhere and get something to take us to Hampton. Madison obeyed, and the next morning brother William and I went as usual to the barn to feed and clean the horses and mules. Mr. Bartlett came and asked for Madison. We told him he had gone to Hampton. He lingered around for a while, then left for the house. All remained at work until Madison was sighted coming up the long lane leading to the house in an ox cart. As soon as he reached the quarters, mother and all the family began to grab up all their belongings and rush for the cart, in which all piled; and as Madison Lewis was bringing the straw mattress, the last and most important piece of our furniture, Mr. Bartlett caught ahold of it and tried to prevent him from putting it on the cart. Madison being a much larger and stronger man easily succeeded in snatching it from his grasp and threw it on the cart, and off we started down the lane for Hampton. Mother and all my sisters and nephew rode, while Madison, my brother William and Geo. W. Cock Robinson Fields walked. Moving to Hampton Twelve miles lay before us, and those who have been accustomed to driving oxen know that they are anything other than race horses. It was in the early spring [?, timing seems off], and the air was warm and balmy. On our way we had to cross a stream over which was a bridge, and as we neared this stream the oxen, having caught sight of the water, swerved from the direction of the bridge and rushed wildly into the stream, where they stood and drank as long as they wanted to. After having gotten sufficiently cooled off they made up their minds to heed the “Whoa there, Buck. Why don’t you come out there, Ranger.” To our great delight they came out, and we again were on our journey. Fortunately, the cart did not


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topple over. It was a little after nightfall when we reached Hampton. We were tired and sleepy and so were the oxen, one of which deliberately laid down opposite a house or shanty in which there was a dim light flickering. Mother told Madison to go and see if the occupant of the house would allow us to bunch in out of the night air. Madison knocked, the man came to the door, and mother told him of our predicament. He bade us come in, but had no idea of the number of these nightly visitors. He made it as comfortable as possible for mother and the girls, but Madison, William, my nephew John Fields and Geo. W. Cock Robbins Fields rooted ourselves under the straw in the cart, and pulled the quilts and blankets over all and, being very tired, slept soundly through the night. Before retiring, Madison loosed the oxen from the cart and tied them to a tree in the yard. The next morning, Mr. Ottoway Washington, upon whose premises we had spent the night, shared with us his scanty supply of food and made us welcome to stay there until we could find some other place to stay. Madison hooked up the oxen, and took or returned them to the person from whom he had hired them. On his return he and mother [went] in search of some place in which to live. They had not been gone very long, however, before they returned; and mother, after thanking Mr. Washington for his kindness, ordered us to get our things and come with her. We obeyed and were conducted to the basement of the only private family brick house in the town. Here she, together with all of us doing something in the way of cleaning, and Madison cleared away the broken bricks and mortar and other debris, which almost completely closed the doorway of the basement. This was soon removed, and all set to sweeping, dusting and scrubbing. This finished, the next question for consideration was the berths, which were soon made out of pieces of boards and boxes. No man can tell how sweetly one can rest on a board but a tired man. Our basement home, because of its dampness especially in rainy weather, proved to be a great detriment to the health of us all, so mother instructed Madison Lewis, our brother-in-law, to patrol or look over what was left of the town to see if better quarters could be located, and a parcel of land if possible upon which there was a well. In the afternoon, he returned and reported that he had found a lot and a good well of water, but no house was there, and he supposed it had been burned down during the bombardment of the town, as he saw nothing but a heap of ashes. But said he, “Mother, William and I can go in the woods and cut down trees and rive them into slabs and build our own house.� This suggestion met


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the approval of mother, the one we regarded as our fountainhead of wisdom, and the next day early in the morning brother William and Madison set out for the woods, accompanied by Cock Robin to see what was going on and what would happen next. On reaching the forest, they began at once to select and mark the kind of pine trees out of which they knew they could make boards, and all day one could hear the axes ringing and trees falling. They worked away with the hope that in a few days or weeks they would be occupants of that beautiful large one-story one-room dirt-floor house which they carried continually pictured upon the retina of their eyes. Their hopes were soon changed into a realization, for more than a sufficient number of slabs had been rived out and hauled to the spot by Madison; and as all the property in the town had been confiscated by the U.S. government, we in turn confiscated this particular spot to ourselves. In a few weeks, our new house was completed, and we hailed with much [anticipation?] the day in which we could move. The work on the house progressed quite rapidly, as they worked steadily all day and as long as they could see how to drive nails and plumb their boards. In about three weeks our mansion was, with the exception of the chimney, completed. Work on this was delayed for a while, until a sufficient number of logs had been

View of Hampton in December 1864


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brought from the woods and cut into certain lengths with which to build the chimney. This was done by cutting notches in the end of each log so as to fit over the bottom one, and so laid until the chimney had reached its desired height, and the spaces between the logs were daubed or filled in with clay. The hearth was elevated a few inches above the level of the dirt floor and was also made of clay, and when all was done, fire was made in it that it might dry out quickly. Our double-slab bunks were made, and several small benches which served as chairs; in the center was built a slab table. There was one window on the north and south side of the building, with a door opening toward the east, both windows and door being made of slabs. Our mansion being thus completed, next came the work of moving. And as we had nothing in way of a vehicle, all got to work under the direction of mother to lug all of our belongings from the basement home or hole in the ground, to which we bade farewell, to our new home on what is now known as Wine Street, then nothing more than a lane or foot path.p Getting Work and Food During the fall of 1863 there were erected six large wards for the sick and wounded soldiers, who were brought here from the battlefields of Virginia, and the cries and shrieks of the wounded and dying could be heard from every ambulance as it carried its cargo from the boats which landed at Hampton wharf. Soon many were convalescent and began to explore the then almost deserted town, which was a scene of destruction. One of these men came or stopped at our house one day and began to tell how he had fought to free the slaves; and of course all of us became very much interested in him, and he in turn seemed to be interested in us. Mother told him that she wanted to find something to do to earn a living for her children, and asked him if he thought she could get a few pieces of clothing to wash for the soldiers. He said he thought she might, continuing, “Auntie, if you will come over to the guardhouse in the

p

Wine Street is a short street, just west of Hampton Creek. The lot was located at the corner of Wine and Lincoln Streets. The house is of course gone, now replaced by commercial development as part of the downtown Hampton revitalization project. The photograph of Hampton in 1864 is from http://irapl.altervista.org/nit/viewpics.php?title =[Hampton,+Va.+View+of+the+town].


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morning, I will give you a few pieces, and I think several of the boys want washing done. You come over, auntie, and I will do all I can for you,” and the next morning mother accompanied by her two sons William and Geo. W. Cock Robin Fields set out for the guardhouse and hospital. When near the guardhouse we saw and recognized the soldier, who beckoned us on. We quickened our pace; mother’s eyes sparkled with joy as the man handed her a bundle of clothes and said, “If you will come on into wards, I think you and your little men can get all you can carry, auntie.” She started in but was stopped by the guard, who said she could not go in unless she had a pass. Mother hesitated for a minute or so, then said, “Mister, will you please tell where I can get a pass.” “No,” said he, “I don’t know.” But the soldier who had given us the clothes said, “Auntie, you go down here,” pointing in the direction of General Wilder’s headquarters. “Ask the general and he will give you a pass, I think, for he is a pretty good man.”q Mother seemed somewhat crestfallen on being refused admission to the camp. We had to pass the general on our way back; we stopped at the general’s place. It was a beautiful day, the sun shined bright, the air was bracing. When we reached the quarters, the general was sitting on the stoop smoking a cigar. Mother said, “Is this General Wilder?” After removing the cigar from his lips, he answered, “Yes, auntie, what do you want and what can I do for you?” She answered, “General, I have a large family and we have scarcely anything to eat, and I went over to the hospital to see if I could get a few clothes to wash, so I can earn a little money with which to buy something to eat. I got one man’s wash, and he said if I could get a pass from you, I could get all I can do.” “How many children have you, auntie?” “Well,” said she, “these two are mine and I have five others at home. Three sons that are still behind the Rebel lines, they were all taken from me and sold, as was also my oldest daughter, Louisa, who was sold down in Georgia.” “Sold down in Georgia!” retorted the general. “Yes, sir,” replied mother and continuing she said, “General,

q

General John T. Wilder seemed to be out in the Western Theater at this time. So, perhaps this was a reference to Captain Charles B. Wilder, the Superintendent of Negro Affairs at Fort Monroe, Virginia.


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won’t you please find my child and get her home so I can see her once more before I die?” “Well, auntie,” said he, “I will see if I can find her for you.” The pathetic story told by mother about the sale of her children seemed to have caused him to become profoundly interested in her, and more than that once while she related the story of separation from her loved ones he used his handkerchief to wipe the tear from his eyes, and the expression on his face foretold a heart that was brimfull of sympathy for the little careworn-faced woman and her two children who stood before him. “Here, auntie,” said he, handing her the pass to the hospitals and camps, “this will take you in, I guess.” “Thank you, General, I know God will bless you.” We returned to the wards, and in a few minutes we had more soiled clothes than we could conveniently lug home. Among the men who gave mother clothing to wash was a man called Mr. Johns, the only name to us known. He was boss of the mess hall, and he too became interested after listening to her story; and he went into the hall and called out to mother to come in and bring the boys. We went in, and pointing to a camp kettle that sat in the corner of the hall he said, “Take that, old lady, and here, boy, take this bag. I hope you will enjoy that dinner as I have.” We were curious to know what was in the large tin kettle. We had satisfied ourselves as to the contents of the bag, and seen the bread. Mr. Johns said, “Auntie, you can send the boys over again tomorrow anytime after two o’clock.” What was in that kettle was the question that concerned us most. Mother, who was an extremely modest woman, wouldn’t think of taking the top off until we reached home. After thanking Mr. Johns, mother took the bag and William and Cock Robin, one on each side of the kettle, hurried on as swiftly as possible home. On arriving there, mother opened the kettle, which contained nearly a gallon of nicely boiled beans and a large hunk of fat meat. Mother at once began to serve dinner, and more than once she filled our tin plates and cups. Dinner being over, our hearts were light, very light, but our stomachs heavy. The next day we went, as Mr. Johns had said, to the mess hall. He saw us before we arrived, and bade us come in and take a seat on the steps. He was one of the most beautiful ugly men one could well behold, but his ugliness physically was completely overcome by a beautiful kind of expression which beamed from his face. He was a man who bent forward slightly as he walked and wore a pair of blue soldier pants, the seat of which appeared to have been made for a man two sizes larger than himself. Cock Robin can never forget how he looked as he marched down the aisle of the mess hall with a camp kettle in each hand, singing the song


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I had never before heard: My days are gliding swiftly by And I, a pilgrim stranger Soon he returned with a kettle, which contained boiled corn beef and hocks of ham and potatoes, and another bag of stale bread. “Take this, sonny,” said he, “and bring the other can tomorrow. I guess I will have something to put in it. Never mind the bags.” From that day on, we visited the camp and were always given food. Reuniting Family In the spring of 1864, the soldiers were transferred from the wards to what is now the National Home at Hampton. C.P. Day, a Northern missionary, was the first one to open a school for the many hundred ex-slave children, on the first and second floor of what was left of the county courthouse after the bombardment of the town in 1863. This building did not accommodate one half of the children. General Butler, who was in charge of Old Point and all the eastern district of Virginia, had rode on an inspection tour among the many ex-slaves, who were sadly in need of food and many thousand children in need of Benjamin Franklin Butler schooling. Through him, an appropriation was made by Congress to establish a commissary at Old Point, and to the heads of all families were given tickets which they could present at the window of this house every Wednesday and Saturday and receive sufficient food to carry them from one week to another. He next turned his attention to the very inadequate condition of the schools and put the soldiers to work pulling down the wards, nine in number, and out of the lumber he caused to be built a large four-room building, with a platform in the center so that the principal could see just what was going on in each section. It was called the Butler School, and it afforded school accommodations for hundreds of children. What remained of the lumber after the Butler School was built,


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the general distributed it among the heads of families. Mother was head of our family and began at once, together with all of the family old enough to carry a board, to bring lumber from over the bridge about three quarters of mile away to Wine Street, upon which was built our slab-house mansion. Day after day, all day, we lugged lumber until we got enough to build a pretty good-sized rough-board house, with rough floor, with brick foundation and an elevation of about eight or ten inches above the ground. When complete, no time was lost in moving our scant supply of furniture from our dirt-floor mansion to what we considered our roughboard palace. Our slab house was used as a kitchen and dining room. A few days after we moved, General Wilder informed mother that he had located sister Louisa in Georgia and that she would be transported soon; and about a week later, sister walked in; and it is hard to describe the scene. Mother with arms clasped around Louisa’s neck was saying, “Thank God. He told me I should see my child again,” and all shedding tears of joy over the return of our sister whom we had not seen for several years. This was indeed a day of great rejoicing. She came in the nick of time, for the wash for the soldiers had increased considerably, and besides the younger children attended school regularly and could not assist as before. In a week or two came father [on June 11, 1864], and from thence on came, one after the other, the children who had been sold, until all had found their way home; and the promise of God that she should see all of her children again was fulfilled. War Ends After the fall of Richmond in 1865, things began to settle down rapidly, and work of almost every description opened up, so that the people could get employment; and in the spring of 1866 the commissary was closed, and the people thrown upon their own resources; and the hope of the forty acres of land and a mule, which the Northern carpetbaggers declared the government was going to give to the head of all colored families, became blasted;r and it was generally understood that the only way to get forty acres and a mule was to work for the land and for the mule with which to work it.

r

“Forty acres and a mule” refers to the policy of providing arable land to former slaves, a policy promulgated by General William Tecumseh Sherman during the last stages of the Civil War but never implemented by the federal government.


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III. WORK AND SCHOOL DOWN SOUTH: 1866-1878 Getting Schooled The family having been again united, the question concerning the education of their children was the one uppermost in the minds of mother and father: henceforth none of their children should grow up in ignorance as they had been compelled to do because of the slavish yoke that bound them. There was no need of the passage of compulsory education laws to force them to send their children to school. They were only too happy to know that the opportunity so to do had at last come, and all who were not too old were hurried off, day after day, to the public schools, which were opened by Northern educators and missionaries who came South to work among the many thousands of ex-slave children as teachers and instructors. The first and most prominent of these were Mr. C.P. Day and his wife, Mrs. Durusa Day, who sacrificed their lives among the people, and both were buried in the Old Saint John’s Episcopal Cemetery. All the slaves mourned their loss. Their grief indeed was intense at the death of those who had brought to new life new inspiration and caused them to realize what irreparable damages slavery had wrought among the defenseless people. Aside from teaching the rudiments, they instituted manual training and domestic science, subjects of which the ex-slave had never heard. They taught them that nothing could be rightly obtained but by honest labor, and if they wished to be healthy, strong men and women, they should keep their little huts clean and sweet. After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Day came other missionaries, and the work of education still went on. Father secured employment as blacksmith at Old Point Comfort in the foundry there. Old Point is two and a half miles from Hampton, and as there was no conveyance plying between these places, he during a rainstorm walked to his work and he was stricken with pneumonia and in a few days died from its effects. After the death of father, in order to assist mother in carrying the burden of the family, my brother William obtained employment as cook on an oyster sloop, which laid in Nansemond Harbor about three miles south of Newport News. Two years later, during an election, a mob of Democrats patrolled the harbor with a view to kill all Negroes, as they were Republicans. They came across his boat; he was in the cabin; they climbed upon the deck and then gave the usual haling yell, Hello, aboard the Pryor; and as he slid back the door to the cabin to answer the call, he was struck a blow on his head with the butt end of an oar, which crushed


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Father’s Gravestone his skull in. News of the tragedy soon reached Hampton, and a band of thirty-five or forty men went to Nansemond, where they found the almost lifeless body of William lying in a skiff alongside the Pryor. The white men had all disappeared. They hurriedly brought him home from the boat on a stretcher. He was beyond medical aid and died in a very few minutes after reaching there. My brother James A. Fields was working at whatever he could get to do during the day, and went to school at night, while G.W. Cock Robin Fields, his sisters Maria and Catherine and his nephew John Fields attended regularly the day school. He was, however, much further advanced in his studies than they. During the Civil War, General Samuel C. Armstrong was placed in command of a regiment of colored soldiers, and more than once declared that men more brave never wore a uniform. He observed the readiness with which they took to the military. They were proud of their uniform, unit and stripes and never had one been told on inspection to fall out of rank. His interest in them became intense. He listened to their expressions around the campfires, and the one expression which attracted his attention more than any other was the following: “There is not one man in our Samuel C. Armstrong company who has an education, for all of us were slaves, and we ought to fight until we all die that our children at home might have an opportunity to go get an education, the thing which was kept from us.� He visited the


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men in their tents, talked freely and frequently with them to find the trend of their anxiety, and soon became convinced that they were starving for an education themselves and anxious about the education of their children. His sympathy was stirred deeply, and he decided or conceived the idea of founding a normal school for all ex-slaves and their children. After the close of the Civil War, the general was put in charge of the commissary and other governmental affairs at Hampton, and my brother James A. Fields was employed by him as a teamster; and Cock Robin, having gone with his brother on the wagon to the commissary, overheard the general talking over the matter of opening a normal school. “What do you think of it, Jim? Do you think the people will send their children?” “Certainly, General, I am sure they will.” “Well,” said the general, “you know most of the people over at Hampton. Will you speak for the school and will you come, Jim, when it is opened?” “Yes, indeed, General.”

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute He then turned away and went into the commissary, but soon returned and said, “Come with me, Jim.” And they walked down near to the mouth of Hampton Creek, where the general suddenly stopped and said, “This is the place to build a school, don’t you think so?” “I do, General,” answered brother. “Anywhere you put it the people will come.” This was in the fall of 1866. Two years later, there had been built, upon the very spot selected, two large barrack-shaped buildings, with chapel, classrooms and girls and boys dormitories, all well-equipped for the work of carrying out the general’s plan of training the head, heart and hands of those who would go forth from this institution to work


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effectively among their people.s Phenomenal indeed was the growth of the Institute, which has succeeded with wonderful rapidity, and thousands have gone out well-trained as teachers and skilled mechanics into every state in the Union to work among their people and other people too. James A. Fields, who was with the general in his selection, was one of the first to graduate from the school [in 1871]. For several years he taught school at Williamsburg, but James Fields resigned there and accepted the position as principal of the Lincoln School at Hampton [a public school on Lincoln Street]. In ’76 he entered Howard University School of Law, from which school he graduated in [’82]. In [’87] he was elected as Commonwealth’s Attorney for the County of Warwick, in which position he served 8 years, being the first colored man ever to fill such a position in the State of Virginia or the South; and in [’89] was elected to the legislature, in which he served two terms. He was nominated by the Republican Party, but because of the stuffing of the ballot box by the Democrats, he was counted James’s House and Office s

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute is pictured as viewed from Hampton around 1890. See http://www.hamptonu.edu/about/ history.cfm. Mansion House is on the left, home of the principal; the school wharf provided a link to downtown Hampton across Hampton Creek; and the school chapel with bell tower is in the center.


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James’s Election Ticket

t

out, and another man was declared elected by a majority of forty. After this he settled down to the practice of law, which was quite lucrative until his death, which occurred on the 20th day of November 1903.t My sister Maria attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute one term, and left to marry a young fellow [Robert Carter] who was employed, along with Geo. W.C.R. Fields, in the fall of 1863 to tear linen bandages for the wounded Union soldiers, hundreds of whom were brought to the wards and hospitals at Hampton from the various battlefields of Virginia. He visited our shanty home and often came over with Cock Robin. It was then that he began to court her, and after the close of the war he went to Andover, Mass., where he secured a position of headwaiter in the Andover Hotel. He came South several years later, and took her to that place.

His photograph is from http://www.nps.gov/fomr/forkids/ upload/FOMR_James_Apostle_Fields.pdf. His pictured home and law office in Newport News from 1897 to 1903, which still stands as a registered historic landmark, is from http://jamesafieldshouse. blogspot.com/. The pictured election ticket is from http:// digitool1.lva.lib.va.us:8881/R/UJ34GX2PY4T5BJUG5HF5NQDJDH6 R29UTMQGG8E6XJV2D32NLMJ-00261.


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Working Years [George got work on an oyster boat.] Brought up by the tongers, skiff-load after skiff-load was shoveled into the hold of the Henry R. Barns, a two-mast schooner for shipment to Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Barns had a capacity of two thousand bushels. On being loaded, she weighed anchor, unfurled sails, and under a stiff breeze sped on her way en route to Baltimore. But on making a tack out of Nansemond Harbor, she struck a sandbar; and for about four hours she was compelled to lay to, until flood tide full. This accident seemed to enrage the captain, who only found relief in pacing the deck like a wild man, giving orders and declaring to the mate that he was going to run her to hell. The wind was blowing a gale, and as blow after blow struck her she would careen so that the water would come halfway up her deck, and all hands would climb high on the starboard. On reaching Hampton Roads, we luffed up, dropped anchor, and two men and George W. Cock Robin were ordered ashore to fill the barrels with fresh water, to supply us for our journey up the Bay to and from Baltimore. Cock Robin had been paid off the day before this incident, and when the barrels were filled, the men boarded the skiff with the water and ordered George Robin to jump, but as he did not care to go to hell with the captain, he left and went home to his mother. Cock Robin had been home only a few days when he got a job as hack driver for Mr. E.G. Darden between Old Point and Hampton, there being no other mode of conveyance between those two points. Railroad trains or electric cars were out of the question then. Since then, however, both trains and electric cars run every fifteen minutes for 10 cents. One day, while soliciting passengers from the boat which plied between Norfolk and Richmond, the mate on the boat asked if I would not like a job on board and said, “We pay fifteen dollars per month.” Continuing, he said, “We are going to put off the boy we have next week, and you can have the job. I have watched your behavior in dealing with passengers on the wharf and think you would make a good saloon boy.”u And I told him I would go on board on the next trip up.

u

A steamboat’s deck above the main deck contained first-class sleeping accommodations on the outside and, down the center, a long saloon that ran the full length of the deck. The saloon served as the dining room. Being the most comfortable area of the steamboat, well lighted and heated, saloons also contained tables, rocking chairs, and sofas for cards, reading, and relaxing.


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Having notified Mr. Darden, Cock Robin got a boy to fill his place with him; and on or about the fifth of April [1873?] George W. Cock Robin Fields, with much delight, entered upon his new job as saloon man on the John Sylvester, a beautiful side-wheel steamer which plied between Norfolk and Richmond, touching at Old Point on her way up and down. She was the swiftest little craft on the river, and Cock Robin enjoyed immensely, at times when she would leave the Port of Norfolk a trifle later than many other crafts, to see her overtake and pass them, and land at the Point and sometimes discharge her cargo and passengers before they arrived. Often when his boat was speeding past the others, he would sing out to them, “Take your anchor off your rudder, fling on a little more coal, steam up and, if you can’t make it, we will throw a line and give you a tow; grease up your wheels, she may be rusty; scrape the mud and grass from her bottom, change her ballast, she is too heavy.” Until they were too far apart, George W. Cock Robin would amuse himself by poking such fun at the crews of the other vessels. Besides being paid fifteen dollars per month, George W. Cock Robin got permission from the barber on the ship to allow him to put a bootblack box in the shop and black boots for passengers at odd times, and in this way he had a chance to pick up extra change by blacking boots, which netted him from one to one seventy five per week. How happy, for never before had he handled so much money in all his life, and how happy was he when he could, after each payday, run home and place in his mother’s lap every dollar of his earnings, knowing as he did that she knew better how to spend it, which she always did for the benefit of her children. If when I gave her the money she thought I needed anything in the way of clothing, she would go to the store and make her selection. It was not always what I wanted, but I was trained to take what she gave without a frown on my face. However I felt like objecting or frowning, the objecting or frowning had better be hidden behind a countenance of complete satisfaction, supplemented with a smile of approval. She did not believe in dressing her children up in fashionable dress and high-priced clothes, but in living within your means and in looking out for a rainy day, a lesson she taught all of her children in our home school of economics (a word with which our dear mother and none of the children were at that time acquainted but unconsciously practiced) and day after day brings to us who are still alive some new lesson in economy. We have spoken of the happy days spent on the John Sylvester, which happiness was of short duration for it was on the steamer the greatest trouble of the life of George occurred. On a moist morning in


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April 1875, some firm in Richmond, through one of its agents, passed a package containing nine hundred dollars to Captain Gifford, who instead of passing it to the purser took it to the wheelhouse on the hurricane deck and placed it on his bed in his room, access to which no one had except the four saloon men or boys, who were Geo. W. Fields, Thomas Jones, Merrit Jones and William Booker. After the boat had passed through Dutch Gap on her down trip to Norfolk, near to City Point, the purser mate, the captain and the deck hands rounded all of the saloon boys up and ordered them below to their sleeping quarters. What the trouble was we could not imagine, for we had not the slightest hint what it was about. When there, we were told that some one of us had taken or stolen nine hundred dollars. Each of us declared our innocence. Nevertheless, they began to search us by going through our pockets, pulling off our shoes, ripping up our beds and going through our trunks and in every hole and corner where it was possible for one to hide a large darning needle. Failing to find anything and in attempt to extort from anyone a confession, they kept us in the hole that was our room until the boat docked at Norfolk. There we were in the hole. “What next?� was our wonder, which was suddenly ended when three uniformed policemen came aboard, one of whom came down to our bedroom and bade us to get ourselves

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Sylvester_02.jpg


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together and come up with him. When once on deck, it seemed to George that all of the officers in Norfolk were on hand to escort us to the jail, the very name of which caused my very soul to tremble within me. Fortunately for George, he had a brother-in-law who was a shoemaker in Norfolk, and on the way to jail the officers had to pass by his shop. Seeing George in custody of the officers, he followed after them until they reached the mayor’s office, adjacent to which was a law office from which my brother-in-law quickly secured an attorney; and through his intervention, George was released on bail for his appearance on the following morning at nine o’clock the next day to face Mayor Whitehead, while his three companions were taken to jail. Leaving the mayor’s office, brother-in-law and George returned to the shoe shop, where he spent the night, his bed being upon one of his brother-in-law’s shoe benches. This was indeed a night of agony for George. Sleep forsook his eyes, and the hours oh how slowly they rolled by, and how anxiously he looked and wished for the break of day and the time for the trial to begin. All that night, George prayed that God would be Judge and cause his innocence to be declared by the Mayor of Norfolk and that Captain Gifford would not be permitted to say one word that would condemn him and his companions. George and his brother-in-law appeared on time at the mayor’s office, a few minutes before the mayor arrived accompanied by the captain and the purser. After taking his seat upon the bench, he ordered the officer to bring Thomas Jones, Merrit Jones and William Booker down. At the request of my attorney, my case was the first to be called. The purser stated, when called to testify, that he knew nothing more about the larceny of the money other than he had been told by the captain, who said he took it to the pilot- or wheelhouse. Said he, “I know that the boys as saloon boys had keys to all rooms on the boat and had access to the rooms.” “Can you say,” asked the mayor, “that either of these boys know anything about the money.” “I can’t say,” answered the purser. The captain was then called to testify. “Now,” said the mayor, “Captain, tell me all about this theft.” The captain’s face flushed up, but he could not speak. The court said again, “Captain, if you believe any one of these boys know about this money, I will hold them all for further investigation.” The captain again failed to answer. “What,” said the mayor, “do you mean?” He again shook his head. The mayor then said, “I certainly can’t hold these boys on this evidence. Boys, you can go.” On being released, I returned to the boat, gathered up all my


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belongings and left Norfolk for Hampton, my home, accompanied by my brother-in-law. Before I left, my mother somehow had heard of my trouble and, when I entered the house, she was so very much griefstricken that for a while she appeared not to recognize me, but suddenly she sprang forward and throwing her arms around me exclaimed, “I knew God would hear my prayer.” I can’t find words to express her apparent happiness. The two Jones boys lived at Lower Brandon on the James River, while William Booker lived at Richmond. They stayed on the boat until they reached their homes, when they left and sought other employment, as I was told by one of the Jones boys when I met him in N.Y. City several years later. It is an old saying that murder will out, and that he who is quick to accuse others of being thieves is himself the biggest thief. This proved true in the case of the captain, for in a few weeks after the money was lost, he was arrested in Richmond while attempting to cash a check taken from the package made payable to a firm in Norfolk, but as he was among the First Families,v he was allowed to go free upon the payment of the money back, since the firms concerned were satisfied. It was George’s good fortune that he never saw the captain anymore after causing him so much trouble, but he is happy to say that in his arrest the stigma was lifted from the shoulders of the four colored boys and placed upon the shoulders of the one who should rightly carry it. Getting More School and Work While at home, my sister Catherine persuaded me to begin again my course of study, a notion I had about dropped. In 1875 my nephew John Fields and Geo. W. Cock Robin Fields, after having attended the public schools, entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and in the following term my sister Catherine, and in 1878 we all graduated therefrom.w In October 1877 my sister Catherine secured a position as teacher in our county, which position she held until a few years ago, when she retired and was placed upon the list of retired teachers with a pension.

v

The First Families of Virginia were those descended from the most socially prominent and wealthy families of colonial Virginia. w

See Twenty-Two Years’ Work of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute at Hampton, Virginia 101, 109-10 (1893).


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Accordingly, on the 15th of June [1875], I went with a bunch of students for whom General Armstrong had obtained employment in the West End Hotel at Long Branch, N.J.x On our arrival at the hotel, we were told by the proprietor that since there were only a few guests in the house, he could give us quarters but could not board us. There we were, with one boy in the party who had as much as three dollars; George W. Cock Robin Fields had only ten cents left after paying his fare. We kept up good hopes, however, and lived in expectancy day by day. We were kept from almost the starving point by chipping in and buying three or four loaves of bread, cheese and molasses. The first chipping took the last cent George had. Many bluefish were being caught at the shore, and seeing a man land one on the beach, Geo. W. picked a conversation with the fisherman, who said they were biting slow that day and began to wind up his lines, when he asked the fisherman if he would let him try his luck. The man consented, and in less than five George had landed the largest bluefish caught on that course this year, said the fisherman. Said he, “My boy, you have got the prize, and if you will take him around to some of the hotels, you might sell him.” One of the other boys and I ran a large stick through the gill of the fish and, after going to several hotels, finally succeeded in disposing of our fish at the Hotel Brandon for the sum of sixty cents. With this, we bought another supply of bread, cheese and molasses. The thing that made us feel wolf-like and our hunger more acute was smelling the delicious food as we passed the hotels. It was Friday, about the 12th of [July], when we returned to our quarters after spending the day looking about the village and in the country for something to do. All of our supply of food had been devoured, and not one penny left. However by jesting and joking with each other and by jollying a fellow along who might appear crestfallen, we managed to keep up good cheer and courage. The next day, Saturday, early in the morning, our days of expectancy ripened into a day of reality accompanied with great joy, when the headwaiter came to the quarters and ordered all of us to report at the office or storeroom to get our uniforms, so as to be ready to wait breakfast. At seven thirty we were conducted into the dining room and given stations or tables, and all being ready at eight o’clock the door to the dining room swung open and the guests came pouring in. Fortunately, for George W. Cock Robin Fields, who was partially

x

Long Branch was a beach resort town, very popular then with show-business people and U.S. presidents.


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a greenhorn at the business, he was assigned to wait on Mayor Slocum and family. On being seated at the table, Mayor Slocum took the bill of fare and gave orders for all, in a large measure being different. As George turned from the dining room to the kitchen, it appeared that all the bees in the universe seemed to be humming in his head. How could he remember all the different things, some of which he had never heard of before? Remembering, however, what he could, he returned to the dining room with about half of the order, which he placed on the table. Mr. Slocum said, “My boy, where is the rest of the order?” George replied, “I am sorry I forgot the other things you ordered, but if you will kindly call off what I have not brought I will hurry right out and bring them in.” Perspiration was pouring from every pore, and perplexity had taken possession of the whole frame of George W.C.R. Fields. The mayor, seeing my predicament, took the bill of fare and marking it said, “Take this with you this time, my boy, and don’t worry. We are in no hurry.” Soon George returned. Mrs. Slocum, who seemingly saw fun in everything, became convulsed with laughter at my predicament, but strove hard to conceal it. Finally she said, “Never mind, my boy, that’s all right. You will make a good waiter after a while. I will recommend to the headwaiter to let you remain at our table as long as we are here.” The son and daughter seemed equally amused, as the family arose from breakfast. A few moments after they left the dining room, the headwaiter called George and said, “Those people want you to wait upon them as long as they remain here. And should you have him next season, book him for our table.” These were words of great encouragement, and no one knows what an impression they made on George and how they aided him in his struggle. Timidity became a thing of the past, and from that day on, George has bravely held his own amid the uncertainties and conflicts occasionally found in the path of anyone striving to make the goal. During the summer months, George applied himself to study and, at the close of the season in September, he returned home to Hampton and, on the first Monday in October, after passing the required examination, entered the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. During the summers, George went North to work with many other


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students in the United States Hotel at Saratoga Springs,y a place secured by General S.C. Armstrong. Geo. W.C.R. Fields for ten or twelve years worked at the United States Hotel.

United States Hotel IV. WORK AND SCHOOL UP NORTH: 1879-1890 Going Up North In the spring of 1879, John and Geo. W.C.R. Fields went North to N.Y. City to seek employment, in order to get money to enable us to take the more advanced studies preparatory to enter college. John soon got a position as valet for a very rich man, with whom he lived for several months, when he suddenly contracted consumption and died. In the meanwhile, Geo. W.C.R. Fields had secured work in the Gresveners’ house as waiter at a salary of 28 dollars per month. What a raise! From $2.50 per month on Bartletts’ farm. Five dollars as culler of oysters on Hampton Bar. Eight per month as hack driver for Darden and Carmine, who dissolved the partnership, and Darden raised the salary to thirteen, so Geo. W.C.R. Fields remained with him for

y

Saratoga Springs, New York, was a premier resort at the time, famous for its mineral springs, racetrack, and gambling. The 1907 postcard of the hotel is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ User:Parkerdr/CHM-NewYork.


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several years, when he was offered a position as saloon man on the John Sylvester, a steamer which plied between Norfolk and Richmond. There were nine other waiters in the Gresvener house, none of whom were very intelligent; and Geo. W.C.R. Fields [proposed] that if they would rent a room, he would open a night school and teach after supper was over and the dining room was closed. They accepted the offer, rented a room in Minetta Street, and for three years during the winter months Geo. W.C.R. Fields conducted a very successful night school. The boys seemed famished for an education and advanced very rapidly. Serving a Brooks Brother During the summer months, the boys got work in the hotels out of town. In the early part of the season of [1880] while at work as waiter, I, Geo. W.C.R. Fields, secured employment as a valet for Mr. Henry Brooks, whose father was awarded the contract for making the uniforms of every description for the Union soldiers during the Civil War [as the clothier Brooks Brothers]. He was subject of delirium tremens, with a childlike disposition and easy to control whenever an extreme thirst for strong drink seized upon his frame. My duty was to see that he did not drink, only a certain beverage which the doctor prescribed. This Geo. W.C.R. Fields was to give him three times a day from a small flask and to keep away from his friends who would insist on him drinking. We would take short trips out of town, and when in the city we would walk from the Buckingham Hotel down to his Bond Street store, being careful to steer clear of any hotel or other place where he would most likely meet his friends who pulled him in to drink. On one occasion, Geo. W.C.R. Fields had quite a thrilling and exciting experience. While passing the Saint James Hotel on our way to the Bond Street store, two men chums of Mr. Brooks ran out and wrested my charge from me and marched him up to the counter in the bar to drink. And when I attempted to wrest him from their grasp, glasses were hurled at my head with such terrific force and in such rapid succession that for a while I was forced to leave my charge and run across the street, where I related the occurrence to Mr. John Brooks, his brother, who ran with me to the hotel. Mr. John, being somewhat of a stalwart lad, in a few minutes succeeded in cleaning up the whole bunch. Following the instructions of his physician, for exercise Mr. Brooks and I had to walk; and again being in possession of my charge, we trudged along Broadway to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. We stopped to take


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a rest, and it was my work to read from the papers (the Times, Herald and Tribune) things which I knew would interest him most. From there we trudged along 5th Avenue until we reached the Buckingham Hotel, our home [at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street], while I had a small room at No. 11 West 33rd Street. Mr. and Mrs. Brooks both spoke French very fluently, and seemed to amuse themselves at my apparent eagerness to understand them or what they were saying. Finally, Mrs. Brooks asked if I would like to talk or speak French. “Of course,” I answered, “yes, madam.” They both laughed, then went on speaking French to each other. What were they saying? That day Mrs. Brooks said I could go off at three o’clock, and I need not return until my usual time next morning. The next morning, on entering their room, she handed me a book called Robinson’s First Step in French and a French grammar the name of which I do not now recall. At three o’clock that afternoon Mrs. Brooks instructed me to take my books and a note, which she gave, down to the Young Men’s Christian Association and pass the note to Professor Fousard. This I did. He took the note, read it, then looked at me, shook his head and turned and wrote quite a lengthy letter to Mrs. Brooks, which I delivered the next morning when I arrived at the hotel. I noticed as she read the letter that her face grew red, and she seemed somewhat excited and called Mr. Brooks in an adjoining room. I could hear her reading the letter over to Mr. Brooks and, in an inaudible way, commenting upon its contents. “It is too mean an idea. Young Men’s Christian Association. All because he is colored. No Christianity in it, Hen,” for this was the short name she used most, his name being Henry, “and if they don’t take him in the French class there, I shall withdraw my name from the list of contributors.” On reentering the room in which I was seated, she began to give instructions as to the course she wanted Mr. Brooks and me to walk for exercise that day. Said she, “Hen, suppose you walk down to 23rd Street and take the car there and go over to the river, take the ferry across to Hoboken and see the Catholic Monastery.z That, I think, will be a nice outing for you, but be sure to be back by one because I shall need Fields to run several errands.” We obeyed her instruction and, on reaching the river, took the ferry across to Hoboken and got the car for the Monastery. We had to ride

z

This would be the Monastery and Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, in what was then West Hoboken and is now Union City, New Jersey. The picture is from a 1910 postcard.


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quite a distance on the street car after leaving the ferry on the Jersey side, and as we journeyed came abruptly to a very steep hill, at the foot of which the car for a moment suddenly stopped, only to be lifted – the car, horses and all – to a level where we could again continue our course towards the Monastery. Arriving at a certain point about a quarter of a mile from the Monastery, the conductor sung out, “All out for the Monastery.” We all alighted and made our way on quite a rugged and unkept path up the mountain until we reached the plain or the monastery grounds, where there were benches on which visitors or sightseers could rest. Mr. Brooks said, “Fields, I guess we had better sit out here and rest awhile before we go in to see Saint Peter, for I may seek an interview with him, and I want to leave a lasting impression. I don’t think I will see him again soon. Certainly not, if I have to climb so steep a hill.”


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After resting awhile, we went in to a beautiful spacious room, all around the walls of which were cutouts or spaces in which stood pictures of saints and martyrs and other biblical characters. At the right was a lifesize figure of the Savior, further along was the Virgin Mary and next in order Saint Peter, the man whom Mr. Brooks wanted to interview but Saint Peter would not talk. After failing in his effort to interview Saint Peter, from whom he said he hoped to glean some idea about the mysteries of heaven, we ascended a pair of broad, winding stairways which lead up to the cupola or tower. These stairs were very steep, with several landings in which were seats upon which one might rest during his ascent should he wish so to do, and this wish occurred to us at every landing. Finally we reached the top of the tower. It was an ideal autumn day. The sky was blue, and the sun shined forth with unusual brilliancy. Nature had begun to do its work of painting the leaves of trees and other shrubbery in variated colors of every description. Looking from the tower, which they say is several thousand feet above sea level, we could get a good view of the city and of the Hudson and North Rivers, with hundreds of large ocean steamers tied to their moorings, and as many more putting out for sea, and thousands of smaller water crafts skipping here and there over the waters and up and down the Sound. Looking down the Bay, we could see the Statue of Liberty, and Fort Washington. Then there were the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, Manhattan Island and so many things that interested us greatly that we will have to leave for the imagination of the readers of this little story. We remained in the tower about an hour, after which time we began to descend the deep, winding steps slowly, until again we reached the beautiful room with the sacred figures hereinbefore described. This time we saw several people come in and walk as silently as possible to a basin set in the wall, into which ran a small stream of water, wash their hands and then kneel before first one and then the other images, cross their breast and count a string of beads to which was attached a small cross. This ceremony we watched with untiring interest until it was all over. Indeed, there seemed to hover over, and around the whole place, all that is divine. In leaving the hall, we had to again pass Saint Peter, who still determined not to divulge the secrets of which he alone is keeper. Secrets which cannot be known, said the preacher, until the earth and sea shall give up their dead. After looking around the grounds a few minutes, we turned our footsteps homeward and reached the Buckingham Hotel and Mrs. Brooks with the usual “Hello, Hen, how did you get along today?” “All right, Louise.” “Now, Fields, I want you to run some errands for me, and when


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you come back I want to go over your French with you.” On my return from errand running, Mrs. Brooks with a long pointer went over the French alphabet with me several times, and two or three sentences in grammar. Then said she, “Fields, we have decided to let you off every day at three o’clock to go to school. Now the French class meets every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night at seven.” This most estimable gift was received with untold delight, as it gave me an opportunity to build upon the foundation so thoroughly laid at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. She then handed me another letter and bade me to go down again to the YMCA at 23rd Street near Madison Avenue. At seven I entered the YMCA and handed Prof. Fousard the letter. After reading it, he said, “All right, my boy, you can take your seat over there. You are a little early. Have you your books?” I answered, “Yes, sir” and handed him the books given me by Mrs. Brooks. “These are all right. Just what you want, and what the beginners class now will use this term.” Soon the boys began to arrive, and I was introduced to several of them by the prof, who requested one of them to take me into the classroom for the beginners class. This he did. It was a few minutes before the bell sounded for quiet and study. During this time I seemed to be the center of attention. The members of the advanced class spoke the language quite fluently, and of course I could not understand what they were saying. All eyes were turned towards me, about whom they were evidently talking. But to me it was as the Tower of Babel. I was the only colored student there, which was probably the cause of some little comment. Mrs. Brooks seemed delighted too when I told her how well I was treated by the members of the class; and every day thereafter, at three on our return from our day’s hike, she would go over my lessons with me two or three times; and she seemed anxious for me to keep abreast with my class. Leaving for my room at 11 West 33rd Street, there I would study until 4:30, then go down to a private school kept by Mr. Jacob Simms, a graduate of Boston University, for my more advanced studies every day. This school closed about an hour before time for French class. I was thus able to keep both French and English underway. This course I pursued for two terms. The winter months were spent in the city, the summer at Saratoga Springs. In June [1881] we went to Saratoga Springs, and Mr. Brooks, having almost completely recovered from his delirium tremens, to my very great sorrow thought it not necessary to keep a valet any


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Serving Governor Cornell So Mrs. Brooks secured employment for me in the U.S. Hotel at Saratoga Springs for the season. About the middle of the season Governor Cornellaa arrived at the hotel, and I was assigned to wait on him and his family. Some time during the last week in August, Mr. Cornell instructed me to go over to the cottage and added that Mrs. Cornell wanted to see me. “All right, Governor,” said I, and as soon as I could clear and set up my table, I hurried over and was escorted into the sitting room where Mrs. Alonzo B. Cornell Cornell and the two boys were seated. Mrs. Cornell asked me how I would like to live in the country, meaning Albany, New York, and continuing said, “We are in need of a good boy, and Mr. Harry and Charley like you and think you would suit us.” I answered, “Anywhere, Mrs. Cornell, as I am trying to earn money to pay my way through school.” After arriving at an agreement as to salary, I asked if I could have an hour or so off every day to study, and stated how Mr. and Mrs. Brooks had made it possible for me to continue my studies. “Well, George,” said she, “I can’t see how we could arrange that, for most of my calls are made

aa

Alonzo Barton Cornell (1832-1904) served as the Governor of New York from 1880 to 1882. He was the eldest son of Ezra Cornell, who founded Cornell University in 1865 with Andrew Dickson White. The pictured New York Executive Mansion in Albany is from http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_State_Executive_Mansion.jpg.


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in the afternoon. We would certainly like to help you along with your education, but can’t say just now. We will think over the matter and see what if anything we can do.” The next day she said she arranged with Mr. Charleybb to teach me every night, and he would see that I would be kept up in all my subjects. I thanked her and felt that the broad smile of good fortune was upon me. I had not been South for several years to visit my mother in Hampton and asked if I could have a furlough of three weeks, which would put me in Albany on October 1, [1881]. I was reluctantly granted the time. But “Be sure” was emphasized. On the first day of October, I arrived at the Executive Mansion in Albany, N.Y., my new field of labor. I was footman and assistant waiter man for the Governor’s family. On the following Monday night after my arrival, Mrs. Cornell came to the basement and announced that she would open a night school for the help, and all who wanted to could come. “George,” she continued, “wants to keep up in all his subjects, and all of you who wish can be taught too. Mr. Charley and myself will be the teachers.” All seemed delighted, and from that night on we were a pretty well-drilled lot on all educational lines.

Governor’s Mansion bb

Born in 1855 to Alonzo B. Cornell and Ellen Augusta Covert, Charles Ezra Cornell married Katherine L. Bouck in 1882.


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There were nine in help in the Mansion, all of which had their daily task to perform. The bill for foodstuff ran high, around five hundred dollars per month. In February [1882] the Governor called me to his office and directed me to take charge of all foodstuff. “I feel,” said he, “that food is being wasted.” I said, “Governor, I can’t do this unless you instruct the head cook to turn it all over to me in the presence of all the help.” “Very well,” said the Governor. That night, while all the help were seated at the table in the dining room in the basement, he came down and instructed the head cook to turn over his order book to George W. Cock Robin. After the Governor’s term of office expired, he returned to N.Y. City and took quarters at 616 Fifth Avenue, about a block going south from the home of Mr. W.H. Vanderbilt, with whom I had become acquainted, as I had often been introduced by the headwaiter at the U.S. Hotel in Saratoga Springs. On a certain day [in 1885], while I was washing windows, Mr. Vanderbilt came down the Avenue, walking in his usual erect and soldierly manner; his face was flushed to almost crimson red. As he passed he said, “Good morning, boy.” “Very well, thank you, Mr. William.” I had never seen him look better. Not more than an hour had passed or gone by, when the whole city was astir. The paper boys were running in every direction with extras announcing the death of the man whom I had seen go past not more than sixty minutes ago, apparently in the very picture of health. Death had, unobserved by his bodyguards in the stock exchange, robbed them of their charge. In the spring of 1884, the Governor rented a cottage at Sherwood, just below the West End neighborhood of Long Branch, New Jersey, opposite the cottage to which President Garfield was brought after being shot, in which cottage he died [in 1881]. I was sent to the city every two weeks to look after the help and house, and to get whatever provisions I thought necessary to last through another two weeks. This was repeated every two weeks until we returned to the city in September. Home again, things began to settle down for the winter; and the Cornells, who were the most excellent and thoughtful people, appeared to be equally interested in my education as I. Studying Law In way of selecting a profession or my life work, my first impulse was to be a doctor and for a short time I studied medicine. But while at


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Albany, Charles Cornell gave me a small book, Robinson’s Elementary Law,cc which as the more I read it, the more distant came the idea of being a doctor, and I decided to take up law as my profession for life. When the Governor’s term of office expired, we went to 616 Fifth Avenue. No sooner had we got settled there, I began to take lectures in law from a colored graduate of Boston University. The more I heard and the more I read, the more anxious I became on the subject. I was let off every night to attend school, and took as a side issue the study of law, a subject in which I soon became profoundly interested: the sublimity of its underlying principles cannot be overestimated. It is, however, often extorted and twisted in an unwarranted and unjustified way by many a jurist in search of selfish gain, to the detriment of the rights of the general populace over whom they may preside. In the fall of 1885 [?], the Governor gave up his Fifth Avenue house and moved to Yonkers. As soon as we were settled, I began to hunt around for someone under whom I might read law.dd At last I found a building in which all the lawyers in the city had offices. I ascended the steps to the second floor and went from door to door. At every door I was bade come in. I related my errand. Told them each one that I had begun the study of the law, and asked if I could, after their busy hours, read and take lectures from him. All, to my great sorrow, said no, they already had office boys. I started away, feeling very much crestfallen, when I noticed on a door the name of Matthew H. Ellisee with the following: “In NY, will be in office at four.” Ten minutes after four I called and found Mr. Ellis there. I knocked on his door. “Come in.” I turned the knob and walked in. “Take a seat,” said the lawyer. “What can I do for you?” I then related my errand. After telling him what I wanted, he like the others said, “I have an office boy. He comes to my house every Tuesday and Friday night. I have him read, and I lecture to him. Now if you really want to read law and will come to the house on these nights, I will help you all I can.”

cc

William C. Robinson, Elementary Law (Boston, Little, Brown & Co. 1882). dd

Reading law, as a tutelage method to become an attorney instead of attending law school, was the norm until the 1890s. ee

Colonel Matthew H. Ellis (1836-1913), of 168 Warburton Avenue, was the City Judge of Yonkers, New York.


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“What will you charge, Judge,” I asked. “Can’t say now, but you can bet it will be enough. How much do you want to pay for my time in making you a lawyer?” I answered, “Anything in reason, Judge.” “Your tuition, my boy, will be regulated by the amount of interest and earnestness you put in your work.” “What book or books must I get, Judge?” “Walker’s American Lawff is the book Mr. Denning is using now, and I will have yours when you come again.” On the following Friday night at eight sharp, I was on hand at the residence of Judge Ellis in Warburton Avenue, Yonkers. I was met at the door by the judge himself, who escorted me into his library. Mr. Denning was there, to whom he introduced me, and then we settled down to listen to the lecture on the underlying principles of the general law, without any allusion to statutory, customary or common law. Lecture over, the judge handed me Walker’s American Law, the excellent textbook to be used, and we were told to read the first four chapters and, “Be ready to tell me all about the law you find in these four chapters Tuesday night.” With a large law book under my arm, my heart was aglow with ambition to its highest pitch. A week passed and I had found no one who would keep me up in my general subjects aside from the law. So one night I stopped a gentleman whom I saw leave the grounds of Leighton’s Latin School and asked him, after telling him what I wanted, if he thought Mr. Leighton would help me. “I am Mr. Leighton, and will be glad to do what I can. There are no colored boys or girls in my school, but you come and I will find a place for you,” which I had not as yet sought. After talking with Mr. Leighton, I returned home and again drew on the generosity of Mrs. Cornell, to whom I told my desire to be let off every afternoon after dinner to take lessons with Mr. Leighton. “Why, certainly, George,” said she, “you may go off from quarter of three to four.” The next day at two forty-five, I showed up at the school, was asked in and was pointed to a desk just inside the door; and he seemed anxious to impress me that my presence was not at all objectionable. I spent two years in this school where no noticeable discrimination was made because of my color, and I can frankly say that wherever an anxious,

ff

Timothy Walker, Introduction to American Law: Designed as a First Book for Students (Boston, Little, Brown & Co. 8th ed. 1882).


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earnest interest is exhibited on the part of anyone who is apparently thirsting for an education, let him be black or white, he will always find someone that will make it possible, through word of encouragement, for him to succeed. Fortunately for me, I have had no one to materially contribute one cent towards aiding me in my struggle for an education, and am convinced that no property is valuable and precious in the sight of its owner as that acquired by the sweat of his own brow. From that time on, I attended Leighton’s Latin School every day, Saturday excepted, for two terms, and law every Tuesday and Friday night. After two years’ study with Judge Ellis, he suggested that he thought I had gone over and understood the general principles of law and that I could successfully pass an examination creditably in law. I had a friend in Yale, to whom I had written telling him of my intention to enter that school.gg I received many letters from him urging me to come, and sometime during the month of July 1887 I notified Mr. Cornell that I wanted to complete my studies and for that cause would leave for Yale. “Well,” said the Governor, “I can’t fault you for that.” Continuing, he said, “Cornell University was founded over twenty years ago, and not a single one of your race has ever been able for some reason to graduate. Why not try Cornell? My father founded that school, and I am one of its trustees. Suppose you think the matter over for a few days. We would be very proud to have you go and pull through. Should you decide to go there, I will give you a letter of introduction to [former] President Andrew D. White, and we think you will get along all right.” After thinking the matter over a few days, and seeing that he was inclined to have me go to Cornell, I concluded that I would go to Cornell, and so on the 23rd of September 1887, I arrived at the school and presented myself for examination, along with several other fellows who had come for the same purpose.hh It was a very cold day. I shivered as I made my way cross Cascadilla Bridge and along the walk to Morrill Hall.

gg

This was perhaps Warner T. McGuinn, Yale Law School ’87, who was born in 1859 a free black in Goochland County, Virginia, which adjoins Hanover County. hh

According to the catalogue, a high school diploma was not a prerequisite for entry to Cornell’s new law department, if one could show a thorough knowledge of “arithmetic, English grammar, geography, orthography, American and English history and English composition.”


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I fell into the hands of Professor Hutchins, who I thought was rather merciless in this exam for he handled me with gloves off. When the professor got at me, the thermometer took a sudden jump, and in a few minutes I was drenched in perspiration. He was seated in a revolving chair, and after asking many questions, he would whirl around for a few minutes and look down into Cayuga Lake many thousand feet below. It was zero weather outside, but midsummer with me, for the perspiration was pouring from every pore in my body. Whirling again in his chair, “Now for problems, go over,” said he, “to that board.” Then he gave three or four problems which I succeeded in working quite readily. For a minute he paused. It occurred to me that the catalogue said one holding a certificate from any reputable institution could enter without examination. Said I, “Prof, I have a certificate from Leighton’s Latin School,” and passed it to him. “This,” said he, “is good to have, but this is not the institution contemplated in the catalogue.” Then he drew himself up as though he meant to make me count all the stars in the heavens, seen and unseen. I began to work a problem in geometry, and felt Harry Burns Hutchins myself becoming balled up quite rapidly at this juncture. I said, “Prof, I have another little diploma here if you desire to see it.” “Oh, yes, hand it here.” “Why,” said he, “did you not hand me this first? This is a diploma of the institution of which this man Armstrong is founder, and it has the reputation of being one of the greatest institutions in this country for thoroughness. You need not be examined further. You can come tomorrow at nine o’clock. I will give you a list of books you must use for the first term and assign you to your section.” The temperature of my body took a certain drop as I hurried down the mountain to the village and to my room in Albany Street. The


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next morning I was on hand. My dear Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cornell: Day after day it has been my intention to write acknowledging the receipt of the pamphlet, together with your picture, which is always in my sight, but for some unforeseen or unexpected reason my intention has been side-tracked. The one outstanding reason for delay was that aside from acknowledging the receipt of such an estimable present, I wanted to write a long, long letter recalling the many happy days and years with you all in Albany, in Saratoga, Yonkers, New Rochelle, New York and at Long Branch. These were indeed the golden days of my life. How I enjoyed doing what I could for those who seemed to be extremely interested in George, as was evidenced by their kindness and every consideration. I shall never forget one incident that causes me to love dear Miss Kate. It was this: One day while we were living in the West 50th Street house, I was taken violently ill in the basement, where Miss Kate came to my rescue and struggled with me, and she got me up to my room. I can hear her beautiful, sympathetic voice, “Be brave, George. You will be all right tomorrow.” And there are so many other things of a pleasant nature that I could recall that I shall not yield to the temptation to mention them all. Suffice to say that the pleasant memories of my stay in the Cornell family will never be forgotten. [He briefly recounts the events leading him to Cornell Law School.] Three years after then, I felt myself highly rewarded when I received my Dip, and now hoping you can consider me as worthy of the Cornell generosity, I am your very sincere friend, George W. Fields V. RETURN TO HAMPTON: 1891-1932 I had just money enough to pay for my ticket to Saratoga Springs, where I had secured employment for the summer as a waiter in the U.S. Hotel. After the close of the season, I returned to Hampton, and for a few months studied and read law in my brother’s office, who was at that time


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Attorney for the Commonwealth in the County of Warwick. In April 1891, I was admitted to the Bar, after being handled with gloves off by two Court of Appeals judges and one Circuit Court judge. On November 28, 1892, I took to myself my partner for life, Miss Sallie Haws Baker, whom I met while in New York; and her constant help, encouragement and inspiration was of inestimable value to me. The issue of our marriage was a girl and a boy. My son died when but an infant. In 1896 I had the great misfortune to lose my sight. This for a time handicapped me and caused me to feel that all for this life was lost. But being spurred by an indomitable spirit and the determination to win at all hazards, after many agonizing hours of prayer, helped by my devoted wife and the memory of my dear mother’s admonition “Come on, children,” I took a new view of life and continued to struggle. The confidence of the people was an incentive.

George and Sallie’s Tombstone from Elmerton Cemetery in Hampton, Virginia


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Index Albany, 108-111, 115 Alpha Phi Alpha, 3, 8 American Missionary Association, 18-20 Andover, 32, 94 Andover Hotel, 32, 94 Armstrong, Samuel Chapman, 19, 20, 42, 91-93, 100, 102, 114 Army of Northern Virginia, 61 Army of the Potomac, 61 Ashland, 67 autobiography, 10-13, 47 Bacon, Alice Mabel, 12, 42, 51, 69 Baker, Frank, 15, 17 Baker, Sarah (Sallie) Haws, 33, 42, 116 Banks, William McKinley, 7 Bartlett family, 80-82, 102 Battle of Hanover Courthouse, 61 Beauregard, P.G.T., 61, 67, 68 Belote, Ida, 38, 40, 41 Berkeley, Catherine Robinson, 13, 50, 62 Berkeley, Nelson, 50 Berkeley, Sarah Nelson, 63, 68 Berkley, Martha Ann, 12, 13, 15, 17, 32, 34, 49, 50 Black Cabinet, 3 Boardman Hall, 22 Booker, William, 97-99 Bouck, Katherine L., 109, 115 Brooks Bothers, 103 Brooks, E.U.A., 7, 8 Brooks, Henry, 103-108 Brooks, John, 103 Brooks, Louise, 104, 106-108 Brown, John Lawrence, 7 Brown, Mary Kennedy, 9 Buckingham Hotel, 103, 104, 106 Burdick, Francis M., 21 Butler School, 88


164 Butler, Benjamin Franklin, 15, 17, 88, 89 Campbell, Lewis Daniel, 26 Caroline County, 50, 51 carpetbaggers, 89 Carter, Robert, 32, 94 census, 6, 32, 43 Christian, Henry, 38, 39 Christian, Virginia, 37-41 Clark, Alexander, Jr., 45 Clover Plain, 49, 51 Collin, Charles A., 21 Colored Troops, 19, 72, 91 contrabands, 16, 17 Cook, Charles Chauveau, 10 Cornell Black Alumni Association, 6 Cornell Law School, 3, 4, 6-9, 20-23, 25, 32, 45, 113, 115 curriculum, 23, 25 prerequisites, 22, 113 tuition, 21 Cornell University, 3-5, 7, 9, 10, 21, 113 Cornell, Alonzo B., 5, 20, 108, 109, 113 Cornell, Charles Ezra, 108, 109, 111, 115 Cornell, Ellen, 108, 109, 112 Cornell, Ezra, 20, 21, 108, 113 Cornell, Harry, 108 Darden, E.G., 95, 96, 102 Datcher, Jane Eleanor, 10 Day, C.P., 88, 90 Day, Durusa, 90 Denning, Mr., 112 Dixie Hospital, 42 Dixie song, 57 Doswell, 49 Downing, Eli, 36, 37 elections, 90, 93, 94 Ellis, Matthew H., 111-113 Emancipation Proclamation, 17 Engst, Elaine D., 10 Essex County, 56 Evans, Hamilton H., 10, 34 Ferguson, William W., 45


165 Fields, Betty, 50, 80 Fields, Catherine, 18, 32, 42, 50, 68, 70, 72, 80, 91, 99 Fields, Chester S., 33 Fields, G.W. bar exam, 32, 116 blindness, 5, 11, 35, 116 family tree, 46 first name, 5 nickname, 56, 72 obituary, 5, 35, 42 Fields, Inez, 33, 43, 44, 116 Fields, James, 7, 32, 50, 63, 65-67, 91-94, 115 Fields, John, 32, 50, 52, 65 Fields, John, nephew, 82, 83, 91, 99, 102 Fields, Louisa, 50, 52, 69, 86, 89 Fields, Maria, 32, 42, 50, 63, 81, 91, 94 Fields, Mary, 50, 51 Fields, Matilda, 50, 72, 80, 81 Fields, Robert, 32, 50, 52 Fields, Washington, 13, 50, 73, 89, 90 Fields, William, 50, 54, 80-84, 86, 87, 90, 91 First Families, 99 Fort Monroe, 15, 17, 61, 77, 78, 86 forty acres and a mule, 89 Fousard, Professor, 104, 107 Freedmen’s Bureau, 19 French studies, 20, 104, 107 Fugitive Slave Act, 16 Gifford, Captain, 97-99 Goochland County, 113 Green, William, 45 Gresvener family, 102, 103 Halfway House, 80 Hall, George, 60 Hampton, 5, 7, 10, 11, 15, 17, 18, 26, 32, 35, 43, 72, 77, 80, 82-85, 90-95, 99, 101, 109, 115, 116 Hampton Association for the Arts and Humanities, 10 Hampton Bar, 102 Hampton Creek, 85, 92, 93 Hampton History Museum, 11, 43 Hampton Institute, 19


166 Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, 12, 18-20, 33, 43, 92-94, 99, 101, 107, 114 Hampton Roads, 95 Hampton University, 7, 19, 44 Hanover County, 13, 15, 17, 49-52, 62, 66, 70, 113 Hanover County Historical Society, 52 Hanover Courthouse, 13, 50, 51, 61, 62, 65, 67, 73 Hanover Junction, 49, 50, 59, 60 Hanover Tavern, 51 Harada Keigo, 8 Hargo, Gabriel Franklin, 45 Henry R. Barns ship, 95 Henry, Patrick, client, 35 Henry, Patrick, patriot, 51 Hotel Brandon, 100 Houchins, Joseph Roosevelt, 7 Howard University, 19, 45, 93 Hutchins, Harry Burns, 21, 24-27, 114 Ithaca, 5, 6, 8, 21, 113, 114 Jackson, Lynne Scott, 33, 35, 44 James River, 99 John Sylvester ship, 96, 97, 103 Johns, Mr., 87, 88 Jones, Edmond, 59, 60 Jones, Eugene Kinckle, 3 Jones, Eugene Kinckle, Jr., 3, 4, 7, 45 Jones, Merrit, 97-99 Jones, Thomas, 97-99 Kammen, Carol, 3, 7, 10 King and Queen County, 52 King William County, 49, 66, 70, 71, 73, 74 Leary, William, 68 Lee, Robert E., 61 Leighton’s Latin School, 112-114 Lewis, Madison, 7, 72, 73, 80-84 Lincoln Street, 85, 93 Lincoln, Abraham, 17 Littlepage’s Bridge, 70, 71 Locust Level, 49 Long Branch, 100, 110, 115 Mallory, Colonel, 16


167 Mallory, Shepard, 15, 17 Mann, William Hodge, 40 Mattaponi River, 74 McClellan, George B., 60, 61 McGuinn, Warner T., 113 medical studies, 20, 110 Mill Creek, 80 Monastery and Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, 104-106 Morrill Hall, 22, 113 Myron Taylor Hall, 22 Nansemond Harbor, 90, 91, 95 Narukawa Gitaro, 8 Naruse Masayasu, 8 National Home at Hampton, 88 National Urban League, 3 New York City, 99, 102, 110, 115, 116 Newport News, 77, 90, 94 Newsome, J. Thomas, 39, 41, 42 Norfolk, 72, 77, 96-99, 103 Nutshell Farm, 52 Old Point Comfort, 77, 78, 80, 81, 88, 90, 95, 96 Old Wren, 56 Olin Library, 22 oystering, 18, 90, 95, 102 Pamunkey River, 66, 70, 74 Peninsula Campaign, 61 Phoebus, 80 plantation songs, 42, 56, 76, 77 Platt, Ida G., 45 Portsmouth, 77 Pryor ship, 90, 91 railroads, 59, 95 Randolph, Edwin Archer, 45 reading law, 20, 22, 32, 111-113, 115 Reconstruction, 18, 19 Rice, Richard Anderson, 7, 9 Richmond, 15, 52, 54, 60-62, 65, 66, 74, 96, 97, 99, 103 Robinson family, 49 Robinson, Lucy, 50 Robinson, Mary, 50 Robinson, William C., 111


168 Ruffin, George Lewis, 45 Sallie Fields Community Center, 42 Saratoga Springs, 102, 107, 108, 110, 115 Scott, Frederick George, 11, 44 Sherman, William Tecumseh, 89 slave culture, 14 slave marriage, 14, 50 slave narratives, 12 slave religion, 15 slavery research, 14 Slocum, Mayor, 101 Spotsylvania County, 72 St. John’s Episcopal Church, 80, 90 steamboat saloon, 95, 103 Takemura Matsugu, 8 Taylorsville, 49, 50, 74 thesis, 4, 26, 27, 29-31, 117 Thomas, James Claus, Jr., 7 Thornton, John, 70-73 Townsend, James, 15, 17 Tuttle, Professor, 21 Tyler, Professor, 21 United States Hotel, 102, 108, 110, 115 University of Michigan, 27, 45 Vanderbilt, William Henry, 110 Virginia Peninsula, 33, 61, 77 Walker, Timothy, 112 Warwick County, 93, 116 Washington, Booker T., 12, 20, 49 Washington, Ottoway, 83 Wells, Frederick Wilson, 7 West End Hotel, 100 White House Landing, 61, 74 White House Plantation, 74, 75 White, Andrew Dickson, 21, 108, 113 Whitehead, Mayor, 98 Wilder, Charles B., 19, 86, 87, 89 Wilder, John T., 86 Williamsburg, 61, 93 Wine Street, 5, 15, 32, 34, 35, 38, 43, 85, 89 Winston, Philip Henry, 13, 50, 54, 62


169 Winston, Philip Overton, 62 Winston, William Overton, 62 Yale University, 20, 113 Yonkers, 111, 112, 115 York River, 74, 75, 77 Yorktown, 61, 77, 80 Young Men’s Christian Association, 104, 107 Zouaves, 67


This book unearths the story of a significant historical figure: George Washington Fields (1854-1932). Born into slavery in Hanover County, Virginia, he started at the bottom. But he managed to escape with his remarkable family to Hampton at the height of the Civil War. He worked to support the family, and still pursued an education at the storied Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Later going North, he worked for nearly a decade, including stints as manservant for various luminaries, before completing his legal studies as Cornell University’s first African-American graduate. He then went home to Hampton where—though blinded in 1896—he continued to overcome, eventually becoming a leading attorney of the region. Most importantly, in his later years, he wrote an autobiography. This book presents in full form that hitherto unpublished work, rediscovered in a museum in Hampton. The autobiography ranks as a major slave narrative. It is an incredible document, telling a riveting tale of escape and triumph, while

The Indomitable George Washington Fields

The Indomitable George Washington Fields

The Indomitable George Washington Fields From Slave to Attorney

conveying a sense of this great and greatly likeable person. He recounts his story with a special blend of humor and wisdom, laying out in no uncertain

Before and after that autobiographical centerpiece, the other parts of this book provide context and fill gaps in the five-act life story: the wrenching antebellum life of a slave family, the dramatic escape during wartime, the rebuilding of family life during the South’s Reconstruction, the necessary

CLERMONT

terms the set of values that guided him through his fascinating times.

move up to the North for more work and schooling, and finally the return to Hampton for a largely happy and very productive life.

KEVIN M. CLERMONT is the Ziff Professor of Law at Cornell University.

Kevin M. Clermont


The Indomitable George Washington Fields