Not all Southerners believed in slavery before the Civil War, including many wealthy landowners who owned slaves themselves. One such was a prosperous widow named Hannah Coulter, who acquired the beautiful Chatham plantation, located across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 1850s.
Coulter specified in her will that upon her death her 92 slaves would have the choice of being freed and migrating to Liberia or any other free state or country in which they elected to live, with passage paid for, or they could remain as slaves with any of her family members they might choose.
But an heir to Coulter’s estate and Chatham’s new owner, J. Horace Lacy, challenged the will in court and had it overturned. The court denied Coulter’s slaves their freedom by ruling that the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that slaves were property and not persons with legal ability to make decisions on their freedom, bondage, or place of residence.
One of the slaves at Chatham was a 27 year old laundress named Ellen Mitchell, who had counted on Mrs. Coulter’s promise of freedom. The child of a slave mother and a white father, unlike most slaves, Mitchell was literate, as well as being clearly resourceful.
When the court’s decision denied her that freedom and Mitchell learned that Lacy planned to send slaves south to work on another of his plantations, near Monroe, Louisiana, instead of meekly accepting her fate, Mitchell was irate and complained loud and long. Eventually, Lacy became tired of her tirades, and once she proved that no amount of punishment would stop her, he sold her to a slave trader named James Ayler.
The woman continued to protest the unfairness of her situation to anyone and everyone, and Ayler quickly realized that she was becoming a liability rather than an asset. Not sure what else to do with her, Ayler gave Mitchell a 90-day pass to leave Fredericksburg to go on a tour during which she could try to raise money to buy her freedom. Mitchell promised that if she was unsuccessful, she would return and accept her enslavement. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Traveling to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, Mitchell gave speeches about the unfairness of the court’s decision and raised enough money to return to Fredericksburg and buy not only her freedom, but that of her five children, ages 2 – 12, as well. Ayler was so impressed that he also freed Mitchell’s mother, 58 year old Amelie Keating
The family moved to Cincinnati in the free state of Ohio, where, in the 1860 census, Ellen Mitchell was listed as running a laundry business. Today, many of her descendants still live in that area of Ohio, enjoying the freedom that their brave and determined ancestor risked everything to gain.
And finally, here’s another chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.
Thought For The Day – Self-isolation may be getting to me. For a while there I was talking to myself, but then I got into an argument with me, and I got so fed up with my crap that I haven’t talked to me in two weeks now!