Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Doctor slain.

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March 1968. I was not quite four. I had a baby sister who’d just come through a terrible bout with meningitis. My world was 1400 and 1401 Carolina Street and kindergarten and, at the outer edges, my grandmothers’ houses in Newport News and Philadelphia. In six months, I’d be gazing adoringly at “beautiful singer-actress” Diahann Carroll on a black and white small-screen. Right then, though, if you’d said, “Your great-grandfather died,” I would have looked at you blankly. If you’d said, “Mother Dear’s daddy died,” I might have creased my forehead, sad for her. But I didn’t know my great-grandfather. Didn’t know I had one. And had I picked up this Jet, which was delivered to our house, and been able to read — which I couldn’t just then — this would not have resonated either:

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James Thomas Aldrich (born Aldridge) was killed 10 February 1968. After a funeral service in Saint Louis, his body was returned to North Carolina for a second service and burial in Dudley in the family cemetery he established.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Civil War, Enslaved People, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

Has the old fuss died out yet?

Here’s another account of Joseph Holmes‘ murder, presented as a pivot point in the romanticized life of the author’s father:

When Jim Wilkes rode into Raft River Valley in 1870, he had two pasts behind him though he was barely twenty-one. His real name was Griffin Seth Marshall. He had called himself Jim Wilkes only since a spring evening in 1867 when an incident in a Virginia village had sent him into exile as a fugitive from the law.

I heard the story from Mother — I am the daughter of Kate Parke and Griffin Marshall. Father wouldn’t have considered it suitable for a little girl, but Mother had no such qualms. Mother had a strong sense of drama, and for her the story was the thing.

“Your father changed his name,” she told us, “because he got in trouble back home and had to leave the country. He never done anything. No indictment was ever found” — Mother was careful to insert the formal, exonerating phrase — “but he was in a crowd one night with his brother John and this colored man was killed. He’d been a slave of your grandfather’s before the war, so when he was shot they thought the Marshall boys had something to do with it. There were soldiers there, northern soldiers, but your father and his brother got away. They left the country that same night — without even saying goodbye to their mother. That was when they changed their name. That’s History,” Mother would add, as she usually did when she told us a story about the early days. “Do what you will with it.”

The time came when I visited the Virginia village. And I discovered not only that every word of Mother’s account was true, but that the full story was adorned with details and a couple of postscripts that would have delighted her.

THE NAME of the village is Charlotte Court House and it is the seat of Charlotte County. It’s the courthouse, built in 1823, is a handsome building of red brick, with a white portico and four white columns overarched by venerable trees. Before the courthouse on an evening is the spring of 1867 a crowd had gathered to listen to a speech. The speaker was a Negro, who was able to make a speech only because Federal troops were camped in a grove of trees across the street. His name was Jo Holmes. He had been a slave, the butler of Judge Hunter Marshall whose plantation Roxabel was five miles from the village. Now Jo Holmes was not only a free man but also a member of the Virginia legislature. Jo Holmes’ podium was the slave block that still stands at the point where the walk from the courthouse joins the street. According to the local story, he was advocating mixed marriages. He didn’t get very far with his speech. A shot was fired and Jo Holmes fell dead. The bullet, I was told is buried in the front wall of the courthouse.

In the crowd were my father and his older brother John who were home on vacation from Clifton Academy in Fauquier County. John had been in the Confederate cavalry. (Their oldest brother Hunter had been killed in the Civil War — four days after Appomattox.) Griffin, who was only seventeen, had been too young to go to war. With them was cousin David Morton, actually a second or third cousin, and a friend named Fred Beal.

The shot that killed Jo Holmes came from the part of the crows where the four young men were standing. One of the four did fire the shot — then slipped the gun into the hand of a friend who threw it into the creek that runs through the hollow beside the courthouse. The Federals came running, but before they could get to the scene the four boys had made their escape with the help of relatives and friends. They were hidden for several hours in a house in the village. Before dawn they were driven to Pamplin, the nearest station on the Norfolk and Western Railway, and put on a train headed west.

The four fugitives soon parted. A letter from Griffin to his older sister Mary dated May 29,1867 — I got it from the daughter of Father’s sister — shows that he and John had been commended to the care of people named Taylor in country that might be Texas. There is no mention of the other two boys. The letter is written on a piece of stationery embossed in the upper left-hand corner with the head of an Indian and, beneath it, the legend “N.P. Co.”; but there is no place name on the letter and the envelope is missing. It reads as follows:

May 29, 1867

My Dear Sister: You must really excuse me for not writing to you sooner but I have been sick nearly ever since I have been here and the other part of the part of the time I didn’t feel like writing. I haven’t had anything to do at all- we have been waiting for Mr. Taylor’s son to come down here- but he has been sick and is now worse and probably never will be able to come. The old man said that he (his son) could get better situations than anyone else and advised us to wait for him and of course as we are under his care we took his advice and are now waiting to see what is going to turn up. Mr. T. Sr. went up to see about his son yesterday and we are expecting him back every day. Morgan is well and in pretty good spirits, but I am not in good spirits. I am getting tired of doing nothing and paying board.

This is the hardest country I ever saw; there isn’t a tree of any consequence in two hundred miles of this place. One day it is hot as five hundred (this was a simile my father often used) and the next day you can’t wrap up and keep comfortable-now today it is very hot. I wrote to Ma some two or three days ago; tell her to write to me and that often. Has the old fuss died out yet or not? I am very anxious to know the effect that thing produced. I haven’t got anything to write about and I am going to stop. Give my love to Bee Jim and all at Roxobel and regards to all of my friends and write soon to your affectionate Brother

The handwriting is the same that appears in two letters Griffin had written to his mother a few months before from Clifton Academy, but the writer signs himself not “G. S. M.” or “G. S. Marshall” as in the earlier letters but “J.T. Wilkes.” The “Morgan” he refers to can only be his brother John. “I never understood,” said my cousin Sarah when she handed me the worn sheet, “what a letter with that strange signature was doing in Mother’s papers.”

I once asked my father who killed Jo Holmes. He replied only it was not he.

— An American Memoir, Margaret Marshall, originally published in The Hudson Review, volume 24, number 2 (1971).

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Gawd.

I could pick at the details of this account — starting with the date of the letter, a full two years before Joseph Holmes was actually killed — but what’s the point? It is so obviously unconcerned with Joe Holmes — “delightful postscripts”? — or his life that accuracy is too much to ask.

This photo is found among literary editor Margaret Marshall’s papers in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University:

Roxabel Margaret Marshall papers

It is labeled “Roxabel.”  This is either a photograph of the back of the house, which has been much modified if it is, or is mislabled. It certainly does not match Marshall’s white portico-and-columns description. (That’s a shed roof porch with posts.) Further, Roxabel is still standing, and I’ve been there. It’s used primarily as the background for tasteless plantation-themed weddings these days, but was mercifully still when I drove up with Kathy Liston, a Charlotte County archeologist-cum-genealogical researcher who opened many a door, literal and figurative, for me in my quest for Jasper and Joseph’s roots. With a wing added long after the Marshalls left, here is Roxabel today:

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If Joseph R. Holmes was enslaved here, was his brother Jasper as well? Or had they been separated early, Jasper perhaps sold locally as excess or to settle a debt. I don’t know. But I do know that, emancipated in 1865 and at least free to build a relationship on their terms, the brothers’ bond was sundered forever by a rash pistol shot.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Politics, Virginia

Misinformation Monday, no. 8.

The eighth in a series of posts revealing the fallability of records (or, in this case, secondary sources.)

My great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin told me that her grandfather Jasper Holmes‘ brother, Joseph R. Holmes, a politician, was shot and killed at Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Before I found contemporaneous newspaper articles detailing the murder, I had only a couple of brief mentions in scholarly works to establish his death date. The accounts varied so widely as to be completely irreconcilable.

First, in Luther P. Jackson’s Negro Office-Holders in Virginia 1865-1895, published in 1945:

Joseph R. Holmes, Constitutional Convention, 1867-68, Charlotte and Halifax. SHOEMAKER. Born a slave in Charlotte County. Was hired out by his master to engage in shoemaking by traveling from plantation to plantation. Joseph R. Holmes’ brother Watt was likewise a shoemaker. Joseph learned to read and write and was very intelligent. After the war he received some training in law from his former master. About 1870 he met a tragic death by a gun shot on the grounds of the Charlotte County court house. According to one report his former owner shot him because of an offensive political speech; according to another report he was killed by mistake. During the period of his activity in politics, Holmes bought a farm home consisting of 8 1/2 acres.

Then, in Virginius Dabney’s Virginia: The New Dominion, published in 1971:

… In 1892, Joseph R. Holmes of Charlotte County, a black who had served in the Underwood convention more than two decades before, decided to run for the legislature. He was shot dead by a white man in the audience he was addressing.

Dabney’s account is so far off the mark as to boggle the mind. By 1892, Joseph Holmes had been dead more than 20 years. He never ran for any legislative seat and, while his murderer was certainly a white man, he was not giving a stump speech when he was shot.

Jackson’s version is much closer to the truth, though some the details of Holmes’ life cannot be confirmed and neither of the motives for his assassination are correct.

Here are newspaper accounts of the murder, which themselves vary a bit on the facts. However, based on comparisons with other sources, to be detailed soon, the New York Times‘ 8 May 1869 version of events (reprinted from the Richmond Dispatch, set forth below, seems closest to the truth:

The Recent Homicide at Charlotte Court-House, Virginia

From the Richmond Dispatch, May 5. From persons who were present at Charlotte Court-House on Monday we gather the following particulars of a most lamentable homicide which occurred there on that day, resulting in the death of JOE HOLMES, a colored man, well known to our readers as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention. Early in the morning, Mr. JOHN MARSHALL JR. met a colored man named MINNIL, who was formerly a slave of Captain GILLIAM, and asked him if he was the man who attempted his life some time ago. The negro, without making any reply to the question, immediately raised his bludgeon as if to strike MARSHALL, who drew his pistol. The negro then took to his heels, and was pursued by MARSHALL and some of his friends, and it was rumored during the day that he had been killed by them. Such, however, was not the fact, for he was alive and well and his work yesterday. About 2:30 o’clock on Monday, while the rumor was rife, the question of arresting MARSHALL was agitated, and HOLMES made himself very officious in regard to it. MARSHALL spoke to him about it, and he made some insulting reply, when Mr. BOYD, a friend of young MARSHALL, struck him with a stick. HOLMES then drew, or attempted to draw, his pistol, when he was fired at by some unknown party. HOLMES immediately retreated, and, when near the Court-house door, turned and fired at the young man, when several shots were fired at him, only one, however, taking effect. HOLMES had strength enough left to walk to the Court-house, and fell dead. The deceased was a prominent member of the late Constitutional Convention, prominent rather from the merriment he created on rising to speak rather than from any participation in the serious work of the body. He was good-natured, polite, and a great favourite with the reporters, to whom he was specially courteous, and whose daily appearance he always greeted with a broad laugh. The nearest we ever knew of him to come to a quarrel was a laughable row with Dr. BAYNE over the disputed ownership of a law book. JOE’s death will be regretted by all who knew him in the Convention, and by those who have laughed over him in the Humors of Reconstructions, where he figured as the “great fire-eater.”

To celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 2013, Virginia’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission created a roll call of the African-American men who were elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868 and to the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate during Reconstruction. Unfortunately, it picked up Virginius Dabney’s wildly inaccurate date:

Joseph R. Holmes, a native of Virginia, was a shoemaker and farmer who represented Charlotte and Halifax Counties at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868. He ran for a seat in the Senate of Virginia, but was killed in 1892.

 

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Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Virginia

Tragedy at Charlotte Court House.

I first heard a version of the story of Joseph Holmes’ assassination from my great-aunt, Julia Allen Maclin. Joseph Holmes was brother to her grandfather Jasper Holmes, and she kept a small oval portrait of the slain man in her photo album. I later found a few references to the murder in books about Virginia’s political history, but details conflicted widely. A few years ago, I found these digitized articles, which firmly established the date of the incident and seemed to offer better insight into what actually happened. Last summer I visited Charlotte County and, with the invaluable assistance of archaeologist Kathy Liston, began to explore the landscape of Joseph and Jasper’s lives and shine light on the aftermath of his assassination.

 Tragedy at Charlotte Court House – A Negro Shot by a White Man – Particulars of the Affair – Result of the Inquest – Order for the Arrest of Those Concerned.

Richmond, May 4, 1869.

A tragedy occurred at Charlotte Court House, Va., yesterday, in which Joseph Holmes, a negro member of the late Constitutional Convention, lost his life. A few weeks since John Marshall, a son of Judge Marshall, of that county, was fired at in the night while in his residence by some unknown person. Yesterday being court day, Mr. Marshall was at the village, and there recognized a negro whom he suspected of having attempted to assassinate him. Marshall charged the negro with the crime, and he at once fled into the woods and was pursued without avail. A few hours afterwards, Joseph Holmes, who was formerly body servant of Judge Marshall, encountered young Marshall and threatened to have him arrested. A fight thereupon ensued, and both parties having pistols, firing commenced – Marshall aided by his friends. Holmes was shot through the breast, and staggering to the Court House fell dead. An inquest was hold, the jury returning a verdict that the deceased came to his death from a gunshot wound at the hands of some person unknown. The affair creates the greatest excitement in the county, where Holmes was exceedingly popular among the negroes, having been elected to the convention by a 2,000 majority over a white candidate. An order has been issued for the arrest of Marshall and party, but they have not yet been apprehended. — New York Herald, Wednesday, 5 May 1869.

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THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS IN VIRGINIA. –

Soon after the shooting of Joseph Holmes by young Marshall, in Charlotte county, Virginia, a meeting of the republicans of the county was held, speeches were made by prominent members of the party, and among the speakers were John Watson, George Tucker and Ross Hamilton. These parties were arrested and committed to jail under an indictment which charges that they did, on the 20th May, “feloniously conspire one with another to incite the colored population of Charlotte to make war against the white population by acts of violence,” &c. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was on Monday presented to Judge Morton of the Circuit Court of Henrico, at Richmond, wherein it is alleged that the parties are illegally detained in the custody of the Sheriff of Charlotte county, and they are innocent of the charge brought against them. This writ was granted and made returnable on Tuesday. In accordance therewith the prisoners were brought before Judge Morton on Tuesday afternoon and after discussion of certain points of law the prisoners were hailed for their appearance before the County Court of Charlotte, Va., to answer the indictment. — New York Herald, Friday, 25 June 1869.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina

Witnesses to a homicide.

Harriet Nicholson, then about 16, married Abner Tomlin on November 20, 1877, in Iredell County. Their marriage license lists “L. Nicholson” as Harriet’s mother and leaves blank the space for a father’s name. Harriet’s son Lon Colvert was two years old and remained with his father’s grandparents.

The couple settled in Olin township, likely near Abner’s family. Harriet may have been pregnant when she married; their son Milas (named after Ab’s father) was born about 1877. In subsequent census records, Harriet reported having given birth to as many as nine children by Abner, but my grandmother knew only one, Harvey Golar Tomlin, born about 1891. However, at least one other child, Lena, lived to young adulthood, as the newspaper article below attests:

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HOMICIDE FRIDAY NIGHT.  Jess Shaw, Colored, Shot and Killed in Wallacetown — Bob Owens Charged With Murder — Conflicting Testimony

Jess Shaw, a colored man probably about 19 years old, was shot and killed between 10 and 11 o’clock Friday night in Wallacetown, a colored suburb on the A., T. & O. Railroad, just south of the Statesville depot.  Bob Owens, a young colored man is charged with the killing and was held by the coroner’s jury.

The shooting took place near the house of Emma Rhinehardt.  According to the testimony Shaw had borrowed a guitar from Grace Belk, colored.  She told him he could pick it but not carry it away.  He did carry it away and when the woman saw him, shortly before the killing, she cursed him about the guitar and advanced on him with a knife.  Jess stooped down to pick up a rock, or did pick up one, and just then he was shot.  Three shots were fired, but only one took effect.  It is known that Bob Owens, Grace Belk, Maggie Morrison, Dovey Gray and Emma Rhinehardt were present when the shooting occurred.  Jess ran up the railroad when shot, a distance of 100 or 150 yards, and calling to Ab. Tomlin’s wife told her he had been shot and that Bob Owens had shot him.  Tomlin and his daughter Lena went to him and carried him to their house.  He died in about 15 minutes but before dying told them again that Bob Owens had shot him.

… Dr. Long, who made the post mortem examination, assisted by Dr. Carlton, found that one ball had entered the abdominal wall of Shaw’s body, passed through a large intestine in two places, completely severed a large artery and buried itself in the muscular tissue of the pelvis, from which it was removed by the surgeons.  Death was due to internal hemorrhage produced by the shot.

The testimony as to the shooting is conflicting.  Ab Tomlin and his daughter testified to Shaw’s telling them that Owens shot him. …

Owens is a small black negro and bears a fair reputation among white people, but his reputation is said to be bad among those of his own race.

The locality where the shooting occurred is a colored settlement that is noted for rowdyism. 

— Statesville Semi-Weekly Landmark, 4 October 1898.

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Ab Tomlin apparently died soon after this incident, as his wife Harriet is listed as a widow in the 1900 census. Of their son Harvey Golar, known as “Doc,” more later.

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