Baptists and the American Civil War: December 29, 1862

African SlaveryToday the complicated dynamics of African slavery are on vivid display when, three days prior to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln‘s much-anticipated Emancipation Proclamation, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, now devoted to defending human bondage in the Confederacy, is forced by law to free some 200 slaves previously-owned by his wife’s (Mary Anna Custis) father, George Washington Parke Custis.

The elder Custis, the step-grandson of none other than the former President George Washington, was a nineteenth-century American writer, orator, and agricultural reformer who had died in 1857. As a young man, Custis had inherited several large estates, of which the property included a number of slaves. Secure financially, he became especially known for his orations and as a playwright. Although he and his wife Mary Lee Fitzhugh had four children, only one survived: Robert E. Lee’s wife. Custis’ will required that his slaves (owned by Mary and Robert since the death of Mary’s father) were to be freed once all legacies and debts from his estate were paid, but no longer than five years following his death.

The five years have transpired, and today General Robert E. Lee signs emancipation papers for the approximately 200 slaves he had inherited from his father-in-law’s estate. As is the case with Southern slaves at large, many are Christians, and of those, most are likely Baptist, although the religious affiliations of all the slaves emancipated today is uncertain.

While Lee, after fulfilling his legal obligations, returns to the battlefield in defense of slavery, for the following slaves of the Confederate general, today is their long-awaited day of freedom:

From the Arlington Estate, Spottsylvania County, Virginia:

Eleanor Harris, Ephraina Dimicks(?), George Clarke, Charles Syphax, Selina and Thorton Grey and their six children: Emma, Sarah, Harry, Anise, Ada, Thornton; Margaret Taylor and her four children: Dandridge, John, Billy, Quincy; Lawrence Parks and his nine children: Perry, George, Amanda, Martha, Lawrence, James, Magdalena, Leno, William; Julia Ann Check and her three children: Catharine, Louis, Henry and an infant of the said Catharine; Sally Norris [and?] Len Norris and their three children: Mary, Sally and Wesley; Old Shaack Check; Austin Bingham and Louisa Bingham and their twelve children: Harrison, Parks, Reuben, Henry, Edward, Austin, Lucius, Leanthe, Louisa, Caroline, Jem, and an infant; Obadiah Grey; Austin Banham, Michael Merriday, Catharine Burke and her child; Marianne Burke and Agnes Burke.

From the White House Estate, Spottsylvania County, Virginia:

Robert Crider and Desiah his wife; Locky; Zack Young and two other children; Fleming Randolph and child; Maria Meredith and Henry her husband and their three chiildren: Nelson, Henry and Austin; Lorenzo Webb, Old Daniel, Clavert Dandridge, Claiborne Johnson, Mary and John Stewart, Harrison, Jeff, Pat and Gadsby, Dick, Joe, Robert, Anthony, Davy, Bill Crump, Peyton, Dandridge, Old Davy and Eloy his wife; Milly and her two children; Leanthe and her five children; Jasper; Elisha and Rachael his wife; Lavinia and her two children; Major, Phill, Miles; Mike and Scilla his wife and their five children: Lavinia, Israel, Isaiah, Loksey and Delphy; Old Fanny and her husband, Patsy; Little Daniel and Cloe, James Henry, Milly, Ailsey and her two children; Susan Pollard, Armistead and Molly his wife; Airy, Jane Piler, Bob, Polly, Betsy and her child; Molly, Charity, John Reuben, George Crump, Minny, Grace, Martha and Matilda.

From the Romancoke Estate, Spottsylvania County, Virginia:

Louis, Jem, Edward, Kitty and her children; Mary Dandridge and an infant; Nancy, Dolly, Esther, Serica; Macon and Louisa his wife; Walker, Peggy, Ebbee, Fanny; Chloe Custis and her child Julia Ann; Elvey Young and her child Charles; Airy Johnson, Anne Johnson, William and Sarah Johnson and their children Ailey, Crump, Molly, and George; James Henry and Anderson Crump, Major Custis and Lucy Custis; Nelson Meridith and Phoebe his wife and their chidlren Robert, Eliisha, Nat, Rose and Sally; Ebbee Macon, Martha Jones and her children Davy & Austin; Patsey Braxton, Susan Smith and Mildred her child; Anne Brown, Jack Johnson, Marwell Bingham and Henry Baker.

Sources: George Washington Parke Custis biographical sketch (link); List of Slaves Emancipated in the Will of George W. P. Custis, December 29, 1862 (link);