Friday, February 02, 2007

Grant was a Slave Owner

I was at work a couple of weeks ago organizing a new collection and found an article that stated Ulysses S. Grant was a slave owner. Of course, this peaked my interest as something you don't often hear about. The article claimed that Grant had owned slaves longer than Lee did. So I decided to do some research.

Julia Dent Grant came from a slave-owning family and was an apologist for slavery throughout her life and the Civil War. The Grants owned slaves that came from Julia's father and Grant himself was responsible for supervising them. These slaves were not freed until 1865 when Missouri officially abolished slavery.

Grant actually owned one slave himself as well:
Grant himself owned a slave named William Jones, acquired from his father-in-law. At a time when he could have desperately used the money from the sale of Jones, Grant signed a document that gave him his freedom.
Grant freed this slave in 1859.

Robert E. Lee came from a slave-owning family, but upon his father-in-law's death, all those slaves were freed (this was 1862 before the Emancipation Proclamation). In a letter to President Pierce, Lee wrote that "There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil."

So what is comes down to is the Grant family owned slaves longer than the Lee as the slaves in question were from Julia's family, not Grant's personal slaves. That being said, of course, in that day and age, that meant Grant was in control of them. It is interesting to see that both of these men - the two opposing Civil War generals - were slave owners at one point or another in their lives.


elektratig said...

I am not entirely sure that Grant had the right to free slaves owned by or through his wife. The law would presumably vary from state to state and over time, but I recall reading somewhere (the Joseph Ellis bio perhaps?) that George Washington could not free the slaves that came under his control through his wife. It is possible that, although Grant had the legal right to control his wife's slaves, he did not have the right to manumit them, at least during her lifetime.

The Tour Marm said...

Grant, like Lee could manumit them because women were not given the power to. That is why Gen. Lee manumitted those slaves who belonged to his father-in-law, George Washington Park Custis, rather than Mrs. Lee. Even the taxes owed on Arlington Plantation could not be accepted from Mrs. Lee, although she inherited the estate from her father.

George Washington was not permitted to manumit his slaves under existing Virginia law. (One of the Carters of Virginia did.) Most Virginia planters had made provisions in their wills to do so after death.

This should have been done for his slaves upon his death, but Mrs. Washington was embittered by a recent 'defection' of a beloved and trusted slave, Oney Judge, and delayed the manumissions of all the Mount Vernon slaves until after her own death two and a half years later.

What galls me is that so many schools etc. are changing their names from those who were Confederates and former slaveowners. Most of those fighting for the Confederacy did not own slaves; many northerners did.

Not one has changed the name from U.S. Grant.

It's a double standard fueled by ignorance.

elektratig said...

tour marm is correct that the Washington situation appears different; but doubt remains whether Julia -- and therefore Ulysses -- actually owned the slaves referred to.

tour marm is correct because Martha received her slaves as part of her first husband's estate. She had only lifetime use of them. At her death, the slaves descended to her children by her first husband.

As for the Grants, it appears that Julia received three or four slaves from her father. But it is apparently not clear whether whether she actually received title to them. If she didn't have title to them, Grant didn't either. I've posted on this here.

Mark Tueting said...

Your quote from Lee seems to imply that Lee was opposed to slavery. Did you actually read the entire document that you linked? Taken in its entirety it is clear that Lee believed that slavery was divinely ordained - a sort of White Man's burden.

Lee did free slaves he inherited - because it was mandated in his father-in-law's will. Mr. Custis instructed that the slaves be manumitted with all dispatch and set an absolute deadline of five years after his death. Lee did not free them with all due dispatch; he freed them only at the absolute deadline.

Cash said...

Grant owned one slave in his life, William Jones, whom he set free in 1859. Julia had the use of four of her father's slaves. These slaves were all free by 1863. In 1864, the Grants hired one of those former slaves, whose name was also Julia, as a paid nurse.


Cash said...

Lee inherited his slaves from his mother's will. His mother owned thirty slaves at her death, and these slaves, along with parcels of land, were divided among her children. The Lee brothers, Carter, Smith, and Robert, sold some of the slaves outright and kept others, hiring them out for profit. They paid the back taxes on the land and thus kept title to it. See Emory M. Thomas, _Robert E. Lee: A Biography._

"Most probably Roert chose to invest his share of proceeds from the sale of his mother's slaves and 'hire out' (rent) the women he owned as a result of the bequest. He never saw his land in southwestern Virginia; Carter later lived on the property and tried in various ways to make a living there." [Emory M. Thomas, _Robert E. Lee: A Biography,_ p. 56]

"For the Lees, the move to more spacious space and independent living entailed the employment of more slaves [this was in 1832]. Robert Lee still owned at least four women, part of his mother's bequest to him." [Ibid., p. 72]

The Shirley Plantation Papers collection has receipts from Robert E. Lee to his cousin, Hill Carter, for the hiring out of Lee's slave Billy Gardner. It's not clear when or if Lee freed all those slaves.

When Lee's father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, died in October of 1857 he made Lee the executor of his will. Lee thus came to control the Custis slaves. The Custis will specified that the slaves had to be freed within five years of Custis' death. Lee executed the manumissions of most of those slaves by the end of 1862, but a few of them remained enslaved into 1863.

If one is to believe William Mack Lee, he remained a slave throughout the war; however, I've found that account to lack reliability when checked against known facts. Lee had two Custis slaves with him, George and Perry Parks, who were brothers. In 1863 he hired George as a cook and Perry as a servant for $8.20 a month. [R. E. Lee to Mary Custis Lee, 8 Feb 1863] Lee had another servant named Meredith with him as well [R. E. Lee to Mary Custis Lee, 2 Dec 1861] for at least part of the war.


Anonymous said...

Grant did own slaves. He didn't, however, treat them very badly. Actually, they were rather lucky to have him as their master. He treated them like human beings, which their neighbor's strongly disagreed with.
Grant, in my opinion, did have the right to free his slaves, as long as Julia somehow agreed with it. Also, if it was their rightful property, they had the right to free them, as master have the right to free the slaves.

jesse noble said...

it is my opinion that whenever a man has the right to cast the shackles of oppression into oblivion he has an obligation to do so.grant as a human being and a christian couldn't by any standard leave a man firmly in the institution of slavery without felling guilt over not seizing the opportunity and righting the wrong of those around him so i say all men have the right but not all man have the courage to do whats right.

Don Meaker said...

Lee also owned slaves personally, not just in his position as executor of his father-in-law's will. The slaves were listed in Lee's will, one Nancy and her children. He did not update his will, which provided that the slaves would be freed upon his death. The father of Nancy's children is not known. He filed his will in a county different from where he and his wife resided.

Seeker said...

The only slaves Lee ever freed were those he had to, and even then, he fought it tooth and nail.

Most of his slaves ran away, he was "the meanest man I ever saw". According to his able biographer Elizabeth Pryor, Lee had an "epidemic" of run away slaves.

This despite the promise of torture, and possible death, to the slaves who ran.

The slaves he was supposed to free, Lee tried to sell, over and over. Lee went into court THREE times during the Civil War, to get persmission to sell the slaves.

Meanwhile, Lee rented those slaves out, and sold their children.

How do we know he sold their children? Because after he got the escaped mothers back, and after he had them tortured, he rented the mother(s) out.

He did not give them the children back. Lee regularly separated the mothers from the child, according to Pryor -- or as she called it "separating the family unit".

Then the infant children are NOT listed in Lee's accounts as assets, where other slaves were listed.

What did he do with those babies?

You tell me.

Lee was obsessed with getting the light skinned babies back. Why? Why did Lee's Hunting list focus on the light skinned infants?

You tell me.

And, where did they go? Did Lee sell those light skinned slave girls to the whore houses? LIght skinned female slaves were OFTEN sold to men who purchased them precisely to work as forced sex slaves.

Lee was no more cruel than many slave owners, but he was more cruel than most slave owners of his "class". He only whipped the girls the number of lashes the law allowed. He was very legal and proper in that way.

See the book "Reading the Man" about Lee. The Author, Elizabeth Pryor, loves Lee, and tries her best to absolve him of all guilt and minimize his cruelty, but she does more than anyone to show the truth of the matter.

ardvarc said...

Lee owned seventy slaves...which he refused to free after his father-in-law died....failing to honor his wishes. Lee had some qualms about the morality of slavery, but he detested abolitionists much more. He had two run-away slaves whipped in his presence. There were 50 lashes for the man, and 20 for the woman...laid on hard, at Lee's insistence. He then sold both of them into slavery in Alabama. They escaped later through confederate lines..and lived to make written statements about their treatment.

Lee has been exalted as a southern saint. He was no such thing. He was disloyal to his country...and even more so...he was disloyal to "the better angels of his (own) nature.". He was a salve owner, and led the insurrection to protect its continuance.

Seeker said...

Ardvarc --- I detest Lee as much as any rational man who knows what he did --- but let's be clear.

He did eventually "free" the slaves, but...

1) Only AFTER he sold all the children born to the slaves.

2) Only AFTER he failed in three separate attempts to sell the slaves

3) Only AFTER Virginia Courts during the Civil War denied his right to sell the slaves.

4) Only AFTER he tortured some of them for running away, including a young girl 14 years old

5) Only AFTER he paid multiple bounty hunters to chase and capture certain slaves, notably the light skinned slave girls who had given birth to white looking infants.