New Research Sheds Light On Slaves Owned By Stonewall Jackson

May 15, 2018

The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington is undergoing a $700,000 renovation and expansion. Part of the work will provide deeper understanding of the six people the Jacksons owned as slaves.
Credit Stonewall Jackson House

Numerous books have been written about the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. But almost nothing was known about the slaves he and his family owned.

New research at Jackson’s home in Lexington that now sheds light on the lives of these six individuals.

Grace Abele is the site director of the Stonewall Jackson House. She carefully opens an old, faded recipe book from the 1870s. It was written in elegant script by Anna Jackson, Stonewall Jackson’s wife. Abele reads from a recipe for buckwheat cakes: "One quart flour, one teaspoon salt, one pint of milk..."

The recipe is credited to one “Aunt Amy.” Aunt Amy was a slave. "Amy was an elderly woman. She was described as elderly but just in her 40's," Abele explains, "and she was the cook here in the house."

Aunt Amy was one of six slaves in the Jackson household. It also included Hetty, George, Cyrus, Albert and Emma. And for most of the museum’s history, these people were relegated more or less to prop status in the house. But anymore, visitors to the museum have a recurring inquiry.  "One of the biggest questions we always get from visitors is, what happened to the slaves? I hear it more and more," Abele says. "People want to know what happened. They want to hear those stories."

We knew virtually nothing about them after the war.

Abele and historian Larry Spurgeon have tracked down documents that reveal a little bit more about the lives of these people.  "We knew virtually nothing about them after the war," Spurgeon admits.

What they uncovered is a document showing that Hetty and her two sons George and Cyrus originally belonged to the family of Mrs. Jackson in North Carolina. The three moved into the Lexington household as part of Anna’s wedding dowry to Jackson. "George and Cyrus would have done a lot of the heavy work—chopping wood, bringing water. Hetty would have been more of a maid in the house," Abele explains.

Emma was an orphaned 4-year old when she was purchased. "She actually was purchased with the intention of being raised and trained as a personal attendant to Anna."

Little is known about Albert after the war except they think Albert earned his freedom, then disappeared.    "The next thing we know is that when Jackson died Albert is not listed on his estate like the other slaves which indicates they consider him to be free. But that’s all we know," Spurgeon says. "We don’t have any record of him after that at all."

Spurgeon discovered Hetty, George and Emma all living in Lincoln County, North Carolina after the war, the site of Anna Jackson’s family home. The three of them took Jackson’s last name, a common practice back then. Spurgeon and Abele visited the cemetery where George was buried.  "It was very moving," Spurgeon remembers. "We’re standing over the grave of a 74 year old man who was a prominent member of his community. We found that George was on a school committee there for an African American school and we knew that Jackson taught them to read which was dicey under Virginia law and we saw the legacy of that."

Spurgeon even tracked down George’s obituary.  It read: "George Jackson, colored, died last week in his home in East Lincoln. He was one of the few remaining ex slaves of this section. He was proud to tell he was the servant of Stonewall Jackson."

Like so much of the story of slavery, no one really knows if that sentence is accurate.  "So much of this is the interpretation of other people who are speaking for them. That’s the closest thing we have in his voice and it’s still filtered," Spurgeon notes.

The museum is currently undergoing a $700,000 expansion. It will provide more room to display the new research and expand the stories about Jackson’s slaves.

Spurgeon will give a talk about Amy, Hetty, George, Cyrus, Albert and Emma during the Jackson House Biennial Symposium June 9.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.