Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Chariton puzzle: A slave named George Connelly

1860 Census entry for Chariton's St. John House hotel.

James Tompkins, whose job during 1860 was federal census-taker, stopped at the St. John House hotel on the south side of Chariton's square on June 2, a Saturday. His job was to record the name of every "free inhabitant" of the hotel and elsewhere in town that day, along with his or her age, gender, color (white, black or mulatto), occupation, values of real estate and personal property, state of birth and, among a few other items, whether the person enumerated could read and write.

James hadn't been bothering to write in the "w" that signified "white" in the race column on the census forms he had been filling out since everyone in Lucas County was --- almost.

At the St. John House, however, he found and enumerated at the end of his list of residents, George Connelly, age 28, a male, native to Tennessee, who could neither read nor write. George was not white, nor was he black exactly, to James selected the third option, mulatto, to describe him. Under occupation, James wrote "slave."

This is a highly unusual entry to find in the Iowa census of 1860 for several reasons. In the first place, persons of color anywhere in the state were exceedingly rare. The only other non-white resident of Lucas County that year was 16-year-old Emma Brown, living with John and Nancy Throckmorton and their large family down near what would become Derby in Warren Township. She apparently had come west, perhaps as a servant, from Pennsylvania with the Throckmortons four years earlier.

Secondly, Iowa was a "free" state. So officially there were no slaves among its permanent residents. Any enslaved person in the south of Iowa during that year most likely had fled Missouri, a slave state, and was being moved north as rapidly as possible by Underground Railroad conductors away from the border to safety elsewhere. Census-takers were unlikely to find them.

So what in the world was George Connelly doing at the St. John House in Chariton on that June day? Chances are, we'll never know for sure. 


The St. John House, during 1860, also was Chariton's stop on the Western Stage Coach Co. route through southern Iowa, midway between Lagrange on the Lucas-Monroe county border and tiny Tallahoma, just west of White Breast Creek northeast of the current town of Lucas. Passengers would alight from coaches here or climb on board to travel elsewhere; fresh horses were stabled nearby.

The landlords were Allan M. Wilson, 30, and his wife Ellenora, age 21. They had a small child, Eddy Gibbon, age 2, who may have been Ellenora's son by a prevous marriage. There also were three "hired girls" living at the hotel --- Mary Relph, age 25; Caroline Lindley, 23; and Clarra Blue, age 17.

At the top of the guest list were stage personnel --- Stephen Clark, 35, stage agent; and drivers Michael Younkin, 30; William Wiles, 23; George Bromen, 25; Charles Trotts, 23; and George Bohan, 23.

Two other guests most likely were permanent boarders, both of whom would go on to become prominent in early Chariton --- attorneys Emmet B. Woodward, age 30; and Theodore M. Stuart, age 23.

The final guest is more of an enigma --- Joseph Connelly, like the slave George Connelly, 28 years old and a native of Tennessee. Unlike George, however, Joseph was white. His occupation was given as "Pattentee." It's not at all clear what this means, but I suspect it indicated that Joseph held federal patents to Iowa land he had bought and paid for, perhaps some in Lucas County.

So here's my highly speculative explanation for why two Connellys, one free and the other a slave, were at the St. John House during June of 1860:

At the time, another Tennessean --- John Branner --- was headquartered in Chariton, having purchased in large part with military land warrants thousands of acres of southern Iowa land. Others from east Tennessee had been drawn to Lucas County as business associates, friends, or investors. Among them were Edwin C. Rankin, in charge of Branner holdings near Tallahoma; and Isaac Fain, who settled down here and became a prominent farmer.

I'm speculating that Joseph Connelly had traveled to Iowa from Tennessee to look after land interests  and had brought along as companion or servant a family slave, George Connelly. In was quite common at the time for slave families to assume the surnames of their owners.

I have no idea what happened to Joseph and George after June 2, 1860 --- there just is no record. But for the time being, that's my explanation of why they might have been here.

If you've got an alternate explanation, feel free to share.

The St. John House is visible to the left in this photo of the 1858 Lucas County Courthouse.

1 comment:

David Connon said...

Hi, Frank.
This is an intriguing story. Thanks for sharing it!