Tuesday, May 04, 2021

George Todd (Part 3): Encounters with the media

This is the third in a series of posts, begun last week, about the life and times of George Todd, who ca. 1867-68 was among the first Lucas Countyans born into slavery to settle at Chariton. The first post was entitled "George Todd (Part 1): From slavery to Chariton" and the second, "George Todd (Part 2): Enslaved in Missouri."

Born ca. 1830-31 in Missouri, George had arrived in Henry County, Iowa --- perhaps via the Underground Railroad --- by 1863 when he enlisted in Co. H, 60th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry. After two years of honorable service, he was discharged at the end of the war and returned to Iowa. He had arrived in Chariton by December 1868, and married Melvina Crowder here on April 3, 1869.

This post is mostly about George's encounters with the Chariton newspapers between 1869 and 1874, when he moved his family to Kansas. At the time, The Chariton Democrat was edited and published by John V. Faith, a Copperhead. After The Democrat folded in 1871, Dan Baker launched its partisan  successor as The Chariton Leader. The Republican newspaper was The Patriot, but no issues of that publication are available until 1873.

I will not use the "n" word here, although the editors used it freely in the 1870s and 1880s. They often referred to George as "N----r Ned." Use of the "n" word declined as the 19th century moved into the 20th, but well into the 1920s a majority of reports in the Chariton newspapers regarding black residents, including obituaries, noted that the subject was "colored."

We don't know what George did for a living, but circumstances suggest that he was a teamster. He owned his own home on lots in southwest Chariton during the years he and his family lived here.


George's first encounter with the media came during December 1869 after he had traded pieces of silverware for a cow and lots owned by John Branner, an East Tennessean transplant who at the time was a major Lucas County entrepreneur. George concluded that Branner had cheated him and took him to court. A jury ruled that the silverware involved in the trade had a value of $260 (Branner had valued it at $80), but the presiding judge decided that was too much and reduced the amount to $160 --- still double the amount Branner and an unspecified jeweler had decided upon initially. 

Here's how John Faith reported the story in his Dec. 14, 1869, edition of The Democrat under a headline that read, "Fruits of the Rebellion."

"George Todd, more familiarly known as N----r Ned, somehow came into possession of several pieces of silverware during the rebellion, and when he came to Chariton he brought them with him. They were old style and somewhat worse for the wear, but Judge Branner offered to buy three of the articles of Ned, for the purpose of having them made up into spoons, the price to be fixed by the jeweler at current rates for old silver. In payment Ned was to take a cow and some town lots, the prices of which were to be fixed by disinterested parties in case the parties to the transaction could not agree.

"The jeweler pronounced the articles to be worth in the neighborhood of eighty dollars, but somebody else put it into Ned's head that the articles were worth a princely sum, whereupon Ned sued the judge for six hundred dollars. The case came up for trial in the Circuit Court last week, and Ned got judgment for one hundred and sixty dollars --- one hundred less than was awarded by the jury --- notwithstanding the value of the articles and the bargain were proven by no less that five good white men. Yet the testimony of one negro had more weight with the jury than all the rest. Judge Dashiel, seeing that the verdict was an unjust one, reduced it, he said, for the sake of a settlement. A motion has been made for a new trial, and the fight will go on, we presume, until it shall have been fairly and satisfactorily settled.

"The supposition is that the silver was formerly the property of some southern gentleman --- in fact a gentleman was in town a few days ago who says he knows the man whose name is marked upon the articles and steps will be taken to find him. Nothing transpired to show how Ned came into possession of so much valuable ware."


The first available back issues of The Patriot are dated 1873 and during the intervening years, a mixed race couple had arrived in Chariton. His name was Jim Martin, identified in print routinely as "N----r Jim." She is never identified by given name. Here's a report from The Patriot of Sept. 3, 1873, regarding a confrontation between Melvina Todd and Mrs. Martin, published under the headline "War in Africa."

"For some time a feud has existed between the wife of Geo. Todd and N----r Jim and wife, which culminated last Wednesday in the former administering to the latter a severe castigation, after which the victor quietly proceeded to the mayor's office, confessed her guilt and paid a fine of $3 and costs."

Now Jim was hardly an angel --- he eventually was sent to prison for stealing cattle --- but the treatment accorded his wife was over the top in several instances, including this report by Dan Baker in his Leader of Sept. 12, 1874:

"A slight row occurred on Saturday night at the Elysian home of N----r Jim. It seems that his angelic wife, who is a white woman, is the object of considerable attraction among several of the white-eyed sons of Ethiopia, and is regarded with considerable interest by several of the demoralized white men of the city, consequently the two different elements colliding together sometimes occasion trouble. On the night above mentioned, Mrs. N----r Jim's Caucasian blood being up, she blazed away with a pistol at someone who she imagined was trying to get in the door without ringing the bell. No one hurt and she still remains the queen of Jim's harem while both of them rejoice in the radical doctrine of civil rights and its natural results."

In 1879, some five years after George and Melvina had moved west to Kansas, Baker published his final report on the Todds, as follows, in The Leader of May 17: "From the Great Bend Register (Kan.) we learn that George Todd, better known as n----r Ned, has been having a lively row with his lovely wench Melvina, and the consequence is that Ned and Melvina are keeping separate houses."

The next news item on this page read as follows: "The n----r exodus from Iowa has begun. A host of them started last week from Fairfield to Kansas, and now the radicals will begin to grow alarmed in this state over the loss of their 'cullud brudders.' "


The Todds left Chariton during 1874, drawn west to Kansas in search of land and opportunity. George's attempt to sell his Chariton property led to an odd exchange in The Patriot during February of that year, focused upon an advertisement placed on his behalf in the edition of Feb. 11: "For Sale --- Geo. Todd's (Negro Ned) dwelling house and lot in the southwest part of town. Apply to Dungan & Lamb."

A week later, the advertisement was published again, although in slightly altered format: "For Sale: Geo. Todd's (colored) dwelling house and lot in southwest part of town. A bargain. Apply to Dungan and Lamb."

In the intervening week, a postcard apparently had arrived at The Patriot offices that communicated a protest about use of the words "Negro Ned" in the first ad. George could neither read nor write, so he could not have written it. And it seems likely that the protest had been more about gratuitous identification of the property owner's race than it did about the precise terminology. But The Patriot editor was offended by this attempt to correct him and climbed aboard his high horse as follows:

"ANGRY --- Geo. Todd (colored) is very much incensed against us because we identified him, in a little notice of his last week, as 'Negro Ned.' He imagines himself very badly treated and we do not wonder as he defines (in a postal card received from him) 'Negro' to mean 'a horse thife and a robar and the low raks of hell.' Who wouldn't get angry if he had such epithets applied to him? We certainly do not blame Ned for taking offense at being called a 'Negro' if he understands the word as above, but then if he will consult his dictionary, he will see that the term does not mean near so badly as he thinks. The trouble is, ''Ned' confounds 'Negro' with 'N----r.' We know the latter is sometimes used derisively, but then we would not think of calling him a 'nigger.' This we admit would be very insulting. Why, Ned, if you will come up to our office we will show you where Elliott, the colored member of Congress, called himself a 'Negro' and this will certainly be satisfactory. We, however, have changed the notice so as to read 'colored' instead of 'Negro Ned' and hope it will now be unobjectionable."


Coming next: "George Todd (Part 4): Forty years in Kansas."

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