Yes, Page County, you once had slaves…

Posted on January 16, 2011 by


While the audience of this blog is typically from well beyond the boundaries of my home county (and, I’m happy to say, even beyond the confines of this continent), I frequently look back to that place, as I have spent a considerable number of years writing about its history. No doubt, it’s fascinating to me because of my family connections, going back to the early 1700s. Even my remote, non-familial connections to the story of blacks in the county are of interest to me, and take no back seat in my examinations of historical events or personalities.

Currently, the Page News and Courier (Luray, Virginia) has a column running, focused on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War… and yet, every time I read it, I get visions of the Centennial… in which case, the story of African-Americans have been forgotten, or minimized. Sorry to say, but I can’t link to the column, because it isn’t online, but… the column spends time focusing on the broader story of events leading-up to the war (and mostly, it appears to be a deeper South-centric story… I suppose to suggest that the upper South was not so different than the lower South… and we know the error of such suggestions), with no real consideration of people and events in the county. While it may seem that there is incredibly little to write about at this time in relation to the county’s history… no stories of local Confederates being formed in defense of the Southland, no stories of depredations at the hands of the Yankees, no stories about the Peter B. Borst’s glorious stand for the rights of Page County’s citizens in the secession convention… I submit that there are some difficult details to be considered that are being conveniently forgotten… and those details are found in the pre-war stories of slaves and free blacks in the county.

So, what made me pull out this soapbox today? It started with this video…

A moving reenactment indeed, and though this is a reenactment in St. Louis, the story it tells rings true, even for my home county.

Page County’s history, as related to slavery, is a peculiar one, but its a story that needs to be told, all the same… and it only makes sense to tell it in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial… especially as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

If you go to Page County today, you will find but two mentions of slavery in the history of the county, in her historical markers… one being at Catharine’s Furnace, and the other being on a supposed slave block that sets near the restored railroad depot in Luray. Oh, and that link that you see on this page, to the essay… “Is there a slave auction block in Luray, Page County, Virginia… or not”… that’s no longer active, because Geocities closed shop more than a year back. I wrote the essay, because, honestly, from my perspective as a historian, it isn’t a slave auction block, but, I think that may be worth a post by itself. Despite my objections to the stone receiving attention as a slave auction block, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that slave auctions took place in the county. In fact, in the course of my research, I uncovered an account that had been lost for years, of an auction at Marksville, near what is now the town of Stanley. To date, the 1856 slave auction at Marksville is the only slave auction that I know of to have been documented as having taken place in Page County. The author, Jacob R. Seekford, wrote:

In 1856, when the southern slave buyers would come into this county and would buy slaves and would take them to the south in large droves of colored men and women. In 1856, just in front of the door of the house where ‘Skeet’ Good lives at Marksville, was the place where they sold slaves. Mary Williams, then the mother of two little girls belonging to Paschal Graves, was with her little baby girl put on the block and sold to a man who took them away down south, then the other little girl was sold to Daniel Koontz for $400, and Mr. Koontz gave the little girl to Mrs. John P. Foltz, who lived at Newport. Mrs. Foltz being his daughter. This little negro girl grew to womanhood and married William Winston, she is still living in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her name was Martha. Many years ago she asked me if I could find her mother and sister. I told her that it would be impossible, then she broke down and cried. I do not know how it will be in the great beyond, but I would like to be there when Martha meets and clasps hands with her mother and sister. Those were terrible days, and I have often wondered what it might some day bring upon this country.

If that doesn’t tug on the heartstrings, I don’t know what will… and it ties back to the beginning of this post, with that video.

My point today is that, yes… my home county had slaves, and as we are now in the midst of the Sesquicentennial, with local media taking advantage of the opportunity to present the story of the war in a column… why are we still hearing the same story that was so commonly told in the 1960s? Where are the stories… of this auction… of Bethany Veney… of slave resistance (yes, Page County has a few examples of this as well)… of inhumane treatment of slaves… of  the critical role slaves played in the stories of some families… and even of free blacks and their hopes for the freedom of their family members? It can all be found in Page County. I know, because I’ve found much of it… and most in the old editions of the very newspaper where that column about the Sesquicentennial now runs.

And, as for the coming war and Page’s white population… well, at least those who wore gray (saying nothing yet of those who were Southern Unionists)…

Was slavery the motivation for the common soldier serving in the war? Or… was it the motivation for those slave-holding elites who carried the county into war… taking along with them, the common man, convinced by the elites that it was more a matter of states’ rights? Was states’ rights a “masking device” for the deeper cause of slavery? Was the common man ignorant or unaware that, though he owned no slaves, he was still fighting for the preservation of the institution? Or, was he well aware of this, but the institution being something he had been in the midst of, all his life (call it, the status quo), it was only a secondary concern? Granted, motivations for service are complicated enough, but we still can’t deny the fact that slavery is at the core of the discussion.

So, tell us the story of the slaves AND free blacks there, and how all of that plays into what is important for us to consider during the Sesquicentennial… if we don’t tell the story now… then when will it be convenient to do so in our reflections of history?

*For some reflections on the early history of African-Americans in Page County, I encourage you to see one of my info compilation blogs… Too Long Forgotten: Searching for the History of Slaves and Free Blacks in Page County, Virginia.