70 years of Sherryland

toppy sherry elder cane

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My Grandparents

By Judy (Ran­dall) Garland

When I was lit­tle, I thought every­one had grand­par­ents, but I found out as I got older that not every­one did. In fact some peo­ple had none and some peo­ple had only one set or one grand­par­ent. My fam­ily was very lucky — we had two full sets of won­der­ful grandparents.

Grammie and Grampa Root

Gram­mie and Grampa Root

When I think of Grampa Root, I think of how he made one feel very spe­cial. I can still hear him cheer­ing me on when I was lit­tle in the bike races at the 4th of July in North Danville. He was big and burly, almost a full-blooded Irish­man, and I loved him.

Gram­mie Root was so sweet. I never heard her curse or swear. She had long flow­ing hair that she wore on top of her head. When she would comb it out, we were mes­mer­ized. She would sit in a straight-back chair for hours cro­chet­ing away. Then she would give us her hand­i­work for Christ­mas, which I must say wasn’t very much appre­ci­ated at the time, but now we love her work. I don’t remem­ber her doing any­thing with us but we still loved to go there.

Grampa and Grammie Randall

Grampa and Gram­mie Randall

We always begged my par­ents for a chance to go down to our other grand­par­ents’ home, the Ran­dalls, in St. Johns­bury in the sum­mer. That was our vaca­tion, and we rel­ished it. And besides, we got out of doing dishes! We could swing on the tree swing or walk on the trail that went up through the woods. Our aunts, Betty, Glo­ria and Joanne, Grampa and Grammie’s youngest daugh­ters, were there, too. Joanne espe­cially would walk us to town when we asked her. We would walk on the cement walls at the Fair­banks Museum on our way down. I also remem­ber get­ting caps for the cap guns or buy presents for the rest of the fam­ily. I remem­ber buy­ing Evening of Paris for my Mother. She acted like it was her favorite, but now that I smell it, it stinks!

Grampa Ran­dall was very stoic but never lewd or las­civ­i­ous. In fact, when Jini, my sis­ter, and I were both there, she would go with Gram­mie into another bed­room, and I would sleep with Grampa. We would play a game—whoever goes to sleep first say, “I.” He would always win!

Gram­mie Ran­dall, too, was a sweet­heart. I never heard her use a curse word either. She did so much for my fam­ily. When Paul, my brother, broke both legs, she had him stay at her house. She bought my par­ents an auto­matic washer when the twins were born. She was always bak­ing and mend­ing our things, too. We could go to Grammie’s at any time. Though that was a time that “love” was never spo­ken, there was such a feel­ing of love in that home. I think Grampa said it best after she died, “She was a won­der­ful wife, a won­der­ful Mother, and a won­der­ful Grand­mother.” I only hoped she knew it. We never told her just how won­der­ful she was.

When my cousin Dale called Gram­mie “Gram­mie,” I was so mad! How dare he call my Grand­mother “Gram­mie?” My jeal­ousy was stu­pid. Of course he would call her “Gram­mie.” That’s all he ever heard us call her.

When I think of Gram­mie Ran­dall, I think of her as a mod­ern grand­mother. Sure, she did a lot of things that were a throw­back to her time — like bak­ing bread, mak­ing quilts and can­ning, but she would also go to our bas­ket­ball games and cheer us on. For a while she even worked out­side the home.

We didn’t know just how lucky my fam­ily was to have two full sets of won­der­ful grandparents.


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Danville Post Office Dedication Video, April 18, 2015

A video of the Ded­i­ca­tion of the Danville Post Office, nam­ing it after Thad­deus Stevens, is posted on YouTube at the fol­low­ing link: Danville Post Office Ded­i­ca­tion. It was posted by Ross Het­rick, Pres­i­dent of the Thad­deus Stevens Society.

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David Book presentation was riveting

The Soci­ety hosted David Book on Sun­day, April 26. It was well-attended and worth­while. The Ver­mont Human­i­ties Speaker’s Bureau has a good one here; if you ever have a chance to hear his por­trayal of Abel Mor­rill, a farmer in Cabot, it is worth the time. Liz Sar­gent took pho­tos and we’ll share some of them here.

Photos of Abel Morrill's (David Book) two sons, who were both killed in Civil War in 1864.

Pho­tos of Abel Morrill’s (David Book) two sons, who were both killed in Civil War in 1864.

Abel Morrill (David Book) reading the last words from his son's Bible.

Abel Mor­rill (David Book) read­ing the last words from his son’s Bible.

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Program on Sunday, April 26, 1:00 Choate-Sias House in Danville

We are pleased to host David Book’s por­trayal of Abel Mor­rill. With just a rock­ing chair as a prop, he shares how one fam­ily, the Morrill’s, were affected by the Civil War. He writes, “There is noth­ing that I would like more than to share my his­tor­i­cal mono­logue with the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety, because the peo­ple I por­tray are Danville people.”


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Thaddeus Stevens Post Office renaming program

Click the link below to see the program.

Click the link below to see the program.


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Annual Meeting and Program

This should be an interesting program--Gary Aubin is an expert and wonderful speaker. Join us.

This should be an inter­est­ing program–Gary Aubin is an expert and won­der­ful speaker. Join us.

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Nature trail guide—Greenbank’s Hollow Historic Park

By Dave Houston

A field-use trail guide for the Greenbank’s Hol­low Nature Trail is avail­able at the His­tor­i­cal Park. How­ever, the fol­low­ing descrip­tion con­tains added detail and pho­tos (click on pho­tos and fig­ures to enlarge). Even so, this is a work in progress as more infor­ma­tion will be included as it becomes available.

Exam­ples of things to come:

  • Lists, descrip­tions and pho­tos where appro­pri­ate, of plants and ani­mals found here along the trail or sur­round­ing area, includ­ing birds, mam­mals, amphib­ians and  rep­tiles, and insects, as well as other biota such as fungi and archaea.
  • Detailed descrip­tions and loca­tion (map) of the soils present here, includ­ing their suit­abil­ity for sup­port­ing plants, etc.
  • Infor­ma­tion related to Joe’s Brook includ­ing sea­sonal flow data, water chem­istry, suit­abil­ity for fish habi­tat, and his­tor­i­cal use of water power.
  • Addi­tional geo­log­i­cal details con­cern­ing the ori­gin, for­ma­tion and char­ac­ter­is­tics of the bedrock beneath the Park.
  • The influ­ence of the bedrock and the last glacia­tion on the shape of our land­scape and the soils that blan­ket it.


Joe's Brook as it comes tumbling down just below the bridge.

Joe’s Brook as it comes tum­bling down just below the bridge.


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Bringing the Bank to Danville, Part one

A His­tory of the Bank of Cale­do­nia and Cale­do­nia National  Bank

By Patty Conly, Pres­i­dent of the Danville His­tor­i­cal Society

Early Caledonia National Bank on Bank Street in Danville, ca 1886 to 1925.

Early Cale­do­nia National Bank on Bank Street in Danville, ca 1886 to 1925.

Imag­ine what life must have been like for the early pio­neers fol­low­ing their arrival to this area, a vir­gin wilder­ness that we now call “Danville” in the beau­ti­ful north­east­ern cor­ner of the state. There were hard times with many impor­tant deci­sions to be made under dif­fi­cult con­di­tions while set­tlers began to orga­nize the struc­ture of the town at the very first town meet­ing warned in 1788.  Over the next ten year period, a post office was estab­lished, churches were orga­nized and by 1799 there were twelve schools located in the var­i­ous dis­tricts of the town proper.  Danville was on a fast track to becom­ing one of the most impor­tant towns in north­ern Ver­mont in the early decades of the new cen­tury, but it needed a bank. It did not come into exis­tence for another 26 years.

To be or not to be was the ques­tion of the day fol­low­ing some con­tro­versy between Danville and Peacham over which town should be des­ig­nated the shire town of Cale­do­nia County. E. Tobias Balivet, local lawyer and his­to­rian writes, “…by 1790 Danville had become by far the largest town in the county with 25% of the total of the county pop­u­la­tion.” Chief Jus­tice William Cham­ber­lin sug­gested to his neigh­bors that they sup­port a com­pro­mise by estab­lish­ing a county gram­mar school in Peacham and let Danville have the cour­t­house.  He felt that Danville was the more log­i­cal site because of its geo­graphic loca­tion in the cen­ter of the county, mak­ing it a more con­ve­nient loca­tion for lawyers to travel to the county court.  After review by the leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee, Danville’s bid was accepted and on Novem­ber 8, 1796, Danville was offi­cially des­ig­nated the shire town.

Again quot­ing Balivet, “The Vil­lage of Danville Green did not exist until a four-acre par­cel of land was donated [1797] for a cour­t­house and Green, and Aaron Hartshorn and Thomas Dow [the donors], began sell­ing off build­ing lots around it.  Before that, the clos­est thing to a pop­u­lated vil­lage in the cen­ter of town was Danville Cen­ter, around Dole Hill.  And the major north-south road, pos­si­bly used by the stage­coach between Boston and Mon­treal, was the road that you can still pick out mostly on a map today, start­ing at Green­banks Hol­low, run­ning through the Cen­ter, and on to Whee­lock.  When the site was picked for the Green, peo­ple began sell­ing their house lots around the Cen­ter and buy­ing in the area of the Green.

The jail was built imme­di­ately, near the head of Brain­erd Street, but there was delay for some rea­son in build­ing the cour­t­house.  They started build­ing on the Green a few feet north­west of where the band­stand is now.  But they aban­doned that site, got an exten­sion in time from the Leg­is­la­ture, and ended up build­ing approx­i­mately in the area between the cur­rent town hall and Danville Restau­rant.” The new cour­t­house, a two story ele­gant wooden struc­ture was com­pleted in 1801.  Good roads were estab­lished in every direc­tion from all points of the Green lead­ing from the cour­t­house.  This would serve to greatly improve the mail deliv­ery to the vil­lage as well as the oper­a­tion of the first post office.

Com­mer­cial and indus­trial growth rapidly increased with the estab­lish­ment of sev­eral mills, and by the late 1790s many arti­sans began to open shops on Danville Green.   By 1820, there were at least seven stores in town.   William Good­win opened a hat­ting shop just east of the new cour­t­house, and Dem­ing and Strong had a store on the site which later became the Eagle Hotel.  Buck­min­ster and Kelsey opened their new store on the Green where sev­eral years later, Miss Fran­cis Hand opened a dress-making shop on the sec­ond floor.   In one of the largest stores in town, one could buy every­thing from umbrel­las, walk­ing shoes, vio­lins to Ital­ian writ­ing paper.

Sar­gent and Willard opened their wood­work­ing busi­ness on the Green near the cour­t­house where they made clock cases, sec­re­taries, side­boards, desks, and Wind­sor chairs.  Cap­tain Peter Blan­chard built a tav­ern about 1787, prob­a­bly the first in town. This would also come to be known as the home of William Palmer, a man of legal and polit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion with a long-standing career in pub­lic ser­vice.   He was elected Gov­er­nor of the state in 1831. Balivet writes, “ Gov­er­nor Palmer’s home…was the house at the bend in the road to Greenbank’s Hollow…now owned by Peter and Cam O’Brien.”

In Susan­nah Clifford’s book, Vil­lage in the Hills, a promi­nent New Eng­land states­man trav­el­ling through Danville in May, 1819, recalls the warm and wel­com­ing hos­pi­tal­ity of a local tav­ern owner and the excel­lent food and accom­mo­da­tions.  He described the scene in the vil­lage as “young men brush­ing the streets with long tai­lored sur­coats on their backs and small crowned hats on their heads.”  The first cir­cus arrived in Danville in Sep­tem­ber 1823.  It was a “Grand Car­a­van of Liv­ing Ani­mals” exhib­ited at Wait’s Inn on Danville Green.  Admis­sion was twenty five cents for which one could view up to 34 dif­fer­ent animals!

Danville soon became home to sev­eral well-respected lawyers and judges, many of whom were also local mer­chants and busi­ness own­ers.  By 1820, six lawyers and one judge had offices on the Green.   Mar­maduke Wait, pro­pri­etor of Wait’s Inn on the Green rented rooms to at least two lawyers for their law offices.  Bliss N. Davis, who built one of Danville’s finest Greek Revival style houses in 1845 was the most promi­nent and well-known lawyer in town and had a long and dis­tin­guished career as a state sen­a­tor, state’s attor­ney and judge. Today, this is the home of Sen­a­tor Jane Kitchel and her hus­band, Guil.

Danville’s dis­tinc­tion was again demon­strated in 1804 being cho­sen as host town for the upcom­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion.  Israel Put­nam Dana moved to Danville in early 1800 and built the house on the east side of Hill Street which later became the home of Col. Addi­son Pre­ston and is now owned by James and Sara Stin­son. Dana soon estab­lished him­self as one of the most dis­tin­guished cit­i­zens in town.  In 1805, he opened a store on or near the Green known as the Hav­i­land Store and pur­chased and ren­o­vated the “old red tav­ern stand” to accom­mo­date the legislator’s horses.  Many of the towns­peo­ple opened their homes as board­ing houses to accom­mo­date the 200 leg­is­la­tors who would soon descend on Danville.  The leg­isla­tive ses­sion was held at the cour­t­house while Abel Morrill’s tav­ern hosted the Gov­er­nor and his council.

A Con­necti­cut news­pa­per pub­lisher, Ebenezer Eaton, arrived in Danville in 1807, print­ing press in tow with a plan to start a regional news­pa­per. He met with some of the towns lead­ing cit­i­zens to ask for sug­ges­tions of names for the paper. The name North Star was pro­posed by local mer­chant and store owner, Aaron Porter, and the vote was unan­i­mous. The first issue was pub­lished on Jan­u­ary 15, 1807, on a sin­gle sheet of paper.

The tremen­dous growth and recog­ni­tion of Danville as one of the most impor­tant mar­ket towns and polit­i­cal cen­ters in north­ern Ver­mont hap­pened in a rel­a­tively short period of time fol­low­ing the arrival of the first set­tlers.  Danville was soon becom­ing known and referred to as a “city on a hill” and would enjoy the pres­tige and profit of being the county seat for more than sixty years.

A Connecticut-born lawyer, William Palmer, pre­vi­ously men­tioned, prac­ticed law in St. Johns­bury for sev­eral years and moved to Danville after he was elected Judge of Pro­bate in Cale­do­nia County in 1811.   He was one of the wealth­i­est gen­tle­man farm­ers in town and had a flock of more than 70 sheep.  He went on to be elected Chief Jus­tice of the Supreme Court of Ver­mont and sub­se­quently elected as a Sen­a­tor in the United States Con­gress for the next six years.  He then served as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the leg­is­la­ture for Danville for the fol­low­ing year.   Real­iz­ing the need for the county seat and its grow­ing com­mu­nity to have a strong finan­cial insti­tu­tion, Palmer intro­duced a bill in the leg­is­la­ture to incor­po­rate a bank in Danville.  The bill was orig­i­nally rejected in 1824 but suc­cess­fully passed in the 1825 leg­isla­tive ses­sion.   The Bank of Cale­do­nia, as it was named, was incor­po­rated in 1825 and received its char­ter as a state bank, only the third to be char­tered in the State of Ver­mont.  Israel Dana, at the time a mem­ber of the Governor’s coun­cil, also played an impor­tant role in secur­ing the char­ter of the Bank of Cale­do­nia.  This was yet another mark of com­mer­cial dis­tinc­tion for the town.

Advertisement for the sale of capital stock.  North Star January 24, 1886

Adver­tise­ment for the sale of cap­i­tal stock. North Star Jan­u­ary 24, 1886

A notice solic­it­ing sub­scrip­tions for cap­i­tal stock in the newly char­tered Bank of Cale­do­nia was issued on Jan­u­ary 7, 1826, and the adver­tise­ment ran in the Jan­u­ary 24, 1826, issue of the North Star.  The fol­low­ing were listed as the first com­mis­sion­ers of the Bank of Cale­do­nia:  John W. Chan­dler, Israel P. Dana, Augus­tine Clark, Luther Clark, Samuel Sias, and Ephraim Pad­dock.  The sale of stock was opened on Jan­u­ary 31, 1826 at the Inn of Mar­maduke Wait on Danville Green and con­tin­ued for ten days; $50,000 was raised by the sale of stock for the bank’s start­ing cap­i­tal and the bank offi­cially opened for busi­ness on March 13 of that year.  It is believed that the first board of direc­tors at this time con­sisted of William Palmer, Samuel Sias, Franklin Dem­ing, William Bax­ter, and Dr. Josiah Shedd.  The cashier, who acts as chief exec­u­tive offi­cer, was Zebina Newell.  The board of direc­tors elected William Palmer as pres­i­dent of the bank; how­ever, he resigned after only six months and was suc­ceeded by Augus­tine Clark, a local mer­chant and tav­ern owner.  Clark owned a house at the top of Hill Street, known for many years to be the home of Dr. Mar­tin Paulsen and his wife Louisa, now owned by Dwight and Sharon Lakey.

Phil Rogers, a for­mer direc­tor of the Cale­do­nia National Bank has done exten­sive research on the early his­tory of the bank, and has shared a great deal of the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion. The Bank of Cale­do­nia is believed to have started doing busi­ness in a brick build­ing built by John Kelsey in about 1820.  This build­ing was long known as the John Cur­rier Store.  The build­ing was later owned by the Amer­i­can Legion and is now home to the Open Door on the first floor, while the sec­ond floor is occu­pied by the office of the North Star Monthly. The bank did busi­ness at this loca­tion until its own build­ing was com­pleted on the Green, beside the old Wetherby Hotel, which was in the approx­i­mate loca­tion of the Pope Memo­r­ial Library today. At this time, Samuel Mat­tocks, a prac­tic­ing lawyer in Danville, was appointed cashier of the bank in 1833. He remained in this posi­tion until 1835 when he was appointed clerk of the county court.  In 1848, he resigned this posi­tion and returned as cashier of the bank until 1857.  Gus­tavus A. Bur­bank served the bank in the posi­tion of cashier from 1857 – 1863.   In 1855, a fire destroyed the Bank of Cale­do­nia build­ing as well as the nearby Wetherby Hotel. The bank rebuilt on the Green the same year beside the Methodist Epis­co­pal Church.

At the time of its incor­po­ra­tion, the Bank of Cale­do­nia issued its own paper cur­rency and con­tin­ued to do so until this prac­tice was taxed by the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 1863.  It was thought that the objec­tive was to dis­con­tinue the issuance of paper money by thou­sands of dif­fer­ent banks through­out the coun­try in order that the gov­ern­ment should have more con­trol by bring­ing all banks under the same sys­tem.  In 1865, the direc­tors of the bank voted to give up their state char­ter and become a mem­ber of the National Bank system.

1-scan0003The appli­ca­tion was approved and on Octo­ber 7, 1865, the bank received their new char­ter under the name Cale­do­nia National Bank.  Dur­ing this period, the bank had expe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant growth with an increased cap­i­tal of $100,000.  Orra Crosby was elected pres­i­dent of the newly named Cale­do­nia National Bank at this time and James Mat­tocks, son of Samuel Mat­tocks, had been serv­ing in the posi­tion of cashier since 1863. At that time, The National Bank­ing Act allowed banks that had been granted a national char­ter to issue their own paper cur­rency if this money was secured by United States gov­ern­ment bonds held at the bank. The Cale­do­nia National Bank issued a vari­ety of these notes and they cir­cu­lated widely until the bonds which secured the notes were called in by the Roo­sevelt admin­is­tra­tion in May, 1935.


Bliss N. Davis was elected pres­i­dent of the Cale­do­nia National Bank in 1873 and held that posi­tion until 1879.  Dur­ing this period he was instru­men­tal in bring­ing the rail­road to Danville.  Ground was bro­ken in 1870 and con­struc­tion began the fol­low­ing year.  At about the same time, the town decided to build a rail­road depot to the south of the vil­lage. The build­ing was con­structed by builders William Dole and David Morse. On Sep­tem­ber 29, 1871, the first train cars arrived at the Danville depot greeted by a large cheer­ing crowd.  Just one month after the arrival of the first steam engine to the sta­tion, the first tele­graph mes­sage was suc­cess­fully relayed from Danville. Tele­phone wires were strung from St. Johns­bury to Danville in August of 1884, and the first tele­phone in town was located in the Elm House Hotel.

Fire again rav­aged the newest Cale­do­nia National Bank build­ing and the Methodist Epis­co­pal Church next door in 1886. This is likely the rea­son that many of the early records of the Bank of Cale­do­nia and the early Cale­do­nia National Bank are no longer in exis­tence. The Methodist Church rebuilt that same year and the new loca­tion of the Cale­do­nia National Bank would be a large house on the Green referred to in more recent years as the “Hamil­ton House.”  The bank orig­i­nally occu­pied a back cor­ner room of the house but soon out­grew the space and expanded to two rooms.  Con­tin­ued growth led to the ren­o­va­tion of the entire first floor for the use of the bank.  The orig­i­nal vault is still intact in the house today.

The Cale­do­nia National Bank would expe­ri­ence an extreme stroke of good luck in 1889 when on the after­noon of May 9, a fire broke out in the Bax­ter barn on Hill Street near the Con­gre­ga­tional Church.  The fire spread rapidly as high winds fanned the flames and within an hour most of the busi­ness por­tion of the vil­lage was a mere pile of smol­der­ing ashes, includ­ing the Eagle Hotel, the old cour­t­house and the office of the North Star. The grand Elm House Hotel and Cale­do­nia National Bank were the only two build­ings left stand­ing in the busi­ness dis­trict after the great fire. “The pic­tures show it stopped south of the Con­gre­ga­tional church on Hill Street, trav­eled up Route 2 as far as the Danville Restau­rant, and doesn’t appear to have touched the south side of Route 2,” notes Balivet.

Bank Street. The Caledonia National Bank and the Pope Memorial Library between 1890 and 1925

Bank Street. The Cale­do­nia National Bank and the Pope Memo­r­ial Library between 1890 and 1925

A short time after the Great Fire of 1889, the bank would acquire a new neigh­bor to the north.  Mrs. Charles Pope of Chicago donated funds to con­struct a library in mem­ory of her late hus­band, a Danville native who moved to Chicago and became a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man. This beau­ti­ful build­ing of superb nine­teenth cen­tury neo-classical style was designed by Brook­lyn archi­tect Mar­shall J. Mor­rill. It was com­pleted in 1890 and named the “Pope Memo­r­ial Library.”

After the death of his father in 1893, Charles H. Mat­tocks was called on to assume the respon­si­bil­i­ties of cashier of the bank, con­tin­u­ing the work of his father, James B. Mat­tocks.  He was born in Danville in 1871 and grad­u­ated from St. Johns­bury Acad­emy in 1890.  At 22 years of age, he was likely the youngest bank cashier in the state, and it was a tes­ta­ment to his abil­ity to be cho­sen to fill this impor­tant posi­tion.  He served as cashier until 1900.

Many note­wor­thy and promi­nent busi­ness­men in addi­tion to those pre­vi­ously men­tioned served in the posi­tion of pres­i­dent of the Cale­do­nia National Bank in the early years, some of whom include: Samuel Sias, George W. Chan­dler, Ira Brainard, L .H. Delano, Samuel Ingalls, James W. Simp­son, John Far­ring­ton, Henry S. Tol­man and Peter Wes­son, who served from 1905 – 1920.

As busi­ness con­tin­ued to grow, the Cale­do­nia National Bank would even­tu­ally out­grow their cur­rent space and in 1924, the direc­tors began to pur­sue a new loca­tion on the Green and a favor­able design for the new structure.

This is the first in a series of arti­cles that will focus on early life in the vil­lage of Danville, busi­ness on the Green and the his­tory of the Bank of Cale­do­nia and Cale­do­nia National Bank.

This arti­cle first appeared in the North Star Monthly April, 2014

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April, 1864–“Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me”

The Fort Pil­low Mas­sacre Proves the lie of this child­ish notion

By Gary Far­row, Danville His­tor­i­cal Society

Fort Pillow 1Danville North Star April 23, 1864

The Fort Pil­low Massacre

Wash­ing­ton, April 16 — Yes­ter­day after­noon dis­patches were received from Gen­eral Sher­man regard­ing the sur­ren­der of Fort Pil­low and the bru­tal con­duct of the rebels imme­di­ately after­wards which bids fair to be amply retal­i­ated in that quar­ter in due time.

The Star says accord­ing to Gen­eral Sher­man [that there were] fifty — three white troops killed and one hun­dred wounded, and three hun­dred blacks mur­dered in cold blood after the surrender…..

…It is now believed that For­rest will next appear in the vicin­ity of Mem­phis where they can inflict no more than at Colum­bus and stand a very fair chance of being sur­rounded by over­whelm­ing forces.

The lat­est news from Fort Pil­low is that the enemy, after burn­ing the fort, and destroy­ing every­thing that was not move­able left the place.


How events actu­ally unfolded on April 12 at a Union for­ti­fi­ca­tion nes­tled beside the Mis­sis­sippi River in Hen­ning, Ten­nessee, is a mat­ter of debate and dis­pute.  But the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary events that led up to the mas­sacre are crys­tal clear.

Soon after the war broke out in 1861, three slaves fled their own­ers and made their way to the Union’s Fortress Mon­roe in Hamp­ton, Vir­ginia. Gen­eral Ben­jamin But­ler declared them “con­tra­bands” and refused to return them to the slave own­ers, because the state had declared itself a for­eign power. There­fore, he rea­soned he was under no oblig­a­tion to return them to their owners.

By the late spring of 1862, But­ler had moved on to cap­ture New Orleans and over­see the Union army’s admin­is­tra­tion of the city and sur­round­ing envi­rons.  The Gen­eral effec­tively con­fis­cated sur­round­ing plan­ta­tions and slaves and put them into pro­duc­tion on behalf of the US gov­ern­ment and quite likely his own pockets.

Senator Garrett Davis

Sen­a­tor Gar­rett Davis

As spring turned into sum­mer, Sen­a­tor Gar­rett Davis from Ken­tucky, a bor­der state that remained in the Union, responded to a pro­posal on the floor made by Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans that blacks be recruited into the army. An active slave­holder and weath­er­vane of South­ern sen­ti­ment, he lashed out, ““No! No! We would regard the authors of such a pro­posal as our worst enemies…before we would sub­mit to any such con­di­tion of things…we would meet you in a death strug­gle to over­throw together such oppression…If this Union can­not be pre­served by the white man … there are no con­di­tions upon which it can be saved.”

Then Gar­rett Davis said what was really on his mind, “If you put arms in the hands of the Negroes and make them feel their power and impress them with their for­mer slav­ery, wrongs and injustice….you will whet their fiendish pas­sions, make them the destroy­ing scourge on our cot­ton States, and you will bring upon the coun­try a con­di­tion of things that will ren­der restora­tion hope­less.”  The toxic tem­per­a­ture of fear, hatred and des­per­a­tion over race was red hot and climb­ing. The Davis speech was but a sin­gle tem­per­a­ture read­ing as the mer­cury made its fate­ful climb towards Fort Pillow.

Although the pro­posal by abo­li­tion­ist Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans to recruit blacks into arms was not imme­di­ately suc­cess­ful, they con­tin­ued to push for the imme­di­ate end of slav­ery and equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for blacks. Soon after Gar­rett Davis’ dia­tribe on the Sen­ate floor, new con­fis­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion was passed that stated any slave in rebel ter­ri­tory occu­pied the Union army would be freed through crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against Con­fed­er­ate offi­cials, mil­i­tary or civilians.

By the end of 1862, Jef­fer­son Davis, hav­ing had quite enough of both Gen­eral But­ler and Union con­fis­ca­tion pol­icy, issued Gen­eral Order 111: “The African slaves have not only been excited to insur­rec­tion by every license and encour­age­ment but num­bers of them have actu­ally been armed for a servile war.” Specif­i­cally call­ing out But­ler and his offi­cers, Davis declared that “as rob­bers and crim­i­nals deserv­ing death,” they would be exe­cuted upon cap­ture. Davis also directed that all non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers in the Union army found serv­ing in the com­pany of “armed slaves” be exe­cuted. As for the “servile” blacks, they were deemed to be sent back to the states where they belonged to be tried for insur­rec­tion. The penalty for this crime was death.

On Jan­u­ary 1, Lincoln’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion became law. This raised the stakes even higher. Under the pre­vi­ous Con­fis­ca­tion Act, slaves in rebel held ter­ri­tory occu­pied by Union troops could become free through the pros­e­cu­tion of south­ern­ers in crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings. Now Lincoln’s decree freed all slaves in all rebel ter­ri­tory. There would be no turn­ing back. It was vic­tory or death. Both sides were now engaged in an all or noth­ing propo­si­tion. The new law also kicked the door wide open for the recruit­ment of black soldiers.

In May of 1863, the Con­fed­er­ate Con­gress qui­etly passed the aptly named Retal­ia­tory Act, which main­tained that the Union’s actions brought a “Servile War” into rebel states that vio­lated the rules of “mod­ern war­fare [pre­vail­ing in] civ­i­lized nations” and that those actions may “be prop­erly and law­fully repressed by retal­i­a­tion.” The law autho­rized Jef­fer­son Davis to take any retal­ia­tory mea­sures that he thought proper and affirmed the President’s prior exec­u­tive order that Union offi­cers asso­ci­ated with black troops be put to death. It also declared that all “negroes and mulattoes…engaged in war…against the Con­fed­er­ate States” be sub­ject to the insur­rec­tion laws in the state where they were cap­tured. This overt lan­guage effec­tively said that blacks, from North or South, were not legally mil­i­tary com­bat­ants. The race war was on.

The heat had been turned up; the pot at Fort Pil­low would boil over.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bed­ford Forrest

Enter the Confederacy’s self-taught mil­i­tary genius Nathan Bed­ford For­rest.  A pros­per­ous slave-trader and busi­ness entre­pre­neur, he joined the Con­fed­er­ate army as a pri­vate. Moved by the woe­ful straits his com­rades in arms were in, he pur­chased horses and equip­ment for his Ten­nessee reg­i­ment. This brought him to the atten­tion of Gov­er­nor Isham Har­ris, who promptly com­mis­sioned him a Lieu­tenant General.

For­rest, the cav­alry offi­cer, dis­tin­guished him­self early in the war by orches­trat­ing the escape of Con­fed­er­ate troops from Fort Donel­son, which was sur­rounded by Gen­eral Grant’s forces and ulti­mately taken by the Union. Soon, he com­manded the rear­guard as the rebels retreated from the Bat­tle of Shiloh, which at the time was the largest clash between armies ever seen on the Amer­i­can con­ti­nent. Pro­moted to Brigadier Gen­eral, he took his cav­alry as far north as the banks of the Ohio River in south­west Ken­tucky before return­ing to his base in Mis­sis­sippi. Once again, he become a thorn in Gen­eral Grant’s side, forc­ing to him revise his strat­egy and tac­tics in his quest to take Vicks­burg, the linch­pin to con­trol­ling the Mis­sis­sippi River and split­ting the Con­fed­er­acy in half.

The man was fear­less and con­tin­u­ally bur­nished his leg­end with heroic and crazed acts of per­sonal courage. In 1863, often under­manned and out­gunned, he suc­cess­fully led a guer­rilla cam­paign in north­ern Alabama. For­rest also played a key role in the Con­fed­er­ates’ suc­cess at the Bat­tle of Chicka­mauga, as vic­tory that briefly stemmed the Union tide in Ten­nessee. After Gen­eral Brax­ton Bragg, his supe­rior offi­cer, failed to follow-up the vic­tory and attempt to take back Chat­tanooga, For­rest con­fronted Bragg and threat­ened to kill him. Bragg ban­ished his Cav­alry com­man­der to the Mis­sis­sippi back­wa­ter, but by the spring of 1864, all had been for­given. Bragg pro­moted him to the rank of Major Gen­eral and brought him back to the Kentucky-Tennessee theatre.

On March 26, 1864, Gen­eral For­rest attacked  Gen­eral S.G. Hicks’ Union post of 6,000 troops at Pad­u­cah, Ken­tucky. The ini­tial attacked was repelled. The rebel com­man­der then sent a mes­sage to Hicks demand­ing “uncon­di­tional sur­ren­der.” The mis­sive closed with, “If you sur­ren­der you will be treated as pris­on­ers of war, but if I have to storm your works, you may expect no quar­ter.” Three other assaults by For­rest and oth­ers were to no avail, and they left Pad­u­cah, lick­ing their wounds with over 1,000 men dead and look­ing for revenge.

About two weeks later, the bat­tle of Fort Pil­low took place. A sub­se­quent Con­gres­sional inves­tiga­tive report by the Joint Com­mit­tee on the Con­duct of the War pro­vides a “no quar­ter given” nar­ra­tive of rebel atroc­i­ties. Dom­i­nated by Rad­i­cal Abo­li­tion­ists, the Committee’s report, whether accu­rate or not, served to beat the war drums to will­ing lis­ten­ers in the North.

What tran­spired on that April 12 day is some­what clouded by the fog of war. What were Gen­eral Forrest’s orders to his men? Was Gen­eral For­rest on the imme­di­ate scene? Did black and white Union troops refuse to sur­ren­der? Did rebel troops act on Forrest’s orders? Did Con­fed­er­ate offi­cers lose con­trol of their men and a spon­ta­neous mas­sacre ensue?

Here is one account by Samuel H. Cad­well, a sur­geon in the Con­fed­er­ate Six­teenth Cav­alry Ten­nessee Cav­alry, that he shared in a let­ter to his wife.“ It was gar­risoned by 400 white men and 400 negroes & out of the 800 only 168 are now liv­ing. So you can guess how ter­ri­ble was the slaugh­ter. It was decid­edly the most hor­ri­ble sight that I have ever witnessed.

They refused to surrender—which incensed our men & if Gen­eral For­rest had not run between our men & the Yanks with his pis­tol and sabre drawn not a man would have been spared—We took about a hun­dred & 25 white men & about 45 negroes the rest of the 800 are num­bered with the dead—They sure [lay] heaped upon each other 3 days—….”

Cer­tainly this account con­tra­dicts the over­ar­ch­ing theme of the Con­gres­sional Committee’s report.

Robert S. Critchell

Robert S. Critchell

What­ever the facts, Robert S. Critchell, Acting-Master’s Mate USN, wit­nessed the after­math. His account in the form of a let­ter was pub­lished in the New York Times, “Our boat arrived at the fort about 7 ½ A.M., on Wednes­day, the 13th, the day after the rebels cap­tured the fort…I was sent out with a bur­ial party to bury the dead….

I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evi­dently sought safety; they could not offer any resis­tance from the places where they were, in holes … along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw sev­eral col­ored sol­diers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bay­o­nets; many of them were shot twice and bay­o­neted also. All those along the bank of the river were col­ored. The num­ber of the col­ored near the river was about sev­enty. Going up into the fort, I saw there bod­ies par­tially con­sumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I can­not say, any way there were sev­eral com­pa­nies of rebels in the fort while these bod­ies were burn­ing, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they cho­sen to do so.…

I had some con­ver­sa­tion with rebel offi­cers, and they claim that our men would not sur­ren­der, and in some few cases they could not con­trol their men, who seemed deter­mined to shoot down every negro sol­dier, whether he sur­ren­dered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our col­ored troops had been dri­ven from the fort, and they were sur­rounded by the rebels on all sides, it is appar­ent that they would do what all say they did, throw down their arms and beg for mercy.…”

What­ever Nathan Bed­ford For­rest acts of com­mis­sion or omis­sion were, the weight of com­mand respon­si­bil­ity falls upon his shoul­ders. The seeds of the race war at Fort Pil­low were cul­ti­vated months and years before. By Con­fed­er­ate think­ing, Union offi­cers and black troops were engaged a servile insur­rec­tion against the social fab­ric of the South. Exe­cu­tion was the solution.

Along with the men who were there, the esca­lat­ing words of fear, hatred and des­per­a­tion through the years and the ideas they rep­re­sented pulled the trig­ger and stuck the bay­o­net at Fort Pil­low. Words and thoughts can hurt beyond a mere child’s wildest imag­i­na­tion. Authors of may­hem and mur­der, they too caused the Mis­sis­sippi River to run red that day.

Sources: “Lin­coln and the Bor­der States” by William C Har­ris; Con­fed­er­ate Pres­i­dent Jefferson’s Gen­eral Order 111; The “Retal­ia­tory Act”  passed by the Con­fed­er­ate Con­gress; New York Times May 3 1864 Let­ter to the Edi­tor sub­mit­ted by Con­gress­man Blow from Mis­souri which is the let­ter of Robert S Critchell, Acting-Master’s Mate U.S.N.; Samuel Cadwell’s, Sur­geon for 16th Cav­alry Ten­nessee, let­ter to his wife; Com­mit­tee on the Con­duct of the War’s Report on the Fort Pil­low Mas­sacre pub­lished in the New York Times, May 6,1864



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