The Slave Narrative
of Uncle Charlie Richmond
Uncle Charlie Richmond (1825-1910), former slave of Judge William Richmond of Wise County, Virginia.
    "We are unable to interview ex-slaves in Floyd County, so far as anyone we are able to contact knows. There are no living slaves in the county. There are several colored people. The majority of them reside at Tram, Kentucky, Floyd County, in a kind of colored colony, having been placed there just after the Civil War. A small number of colored people live in the vicinity of Wayland, Kentucky, the original being the remains of a wealthy farmer of Civil War days, by the name of Martin. The colored people were identified as "Martin's Niggers."
    "The last ex-slave of Floyd County, says Mr. W. S. Wallen of Prestonsburg, was 'Uncle Charlie' Richmond of Prestonsburg. Uncle Charlie was brought to the county by old Judge Richmond, father of Isaac Richmond of the Richmond Department Store of Prestonsburg, about the time of the Civil War. When the war was over, Charlie worked at Richmond's for hire and lived as a member of the family. Sometime before 1910, while working on a Prestonsburg newspaper, Mr. Wallen interviewed this old ex-slave and worked him into a feature story for his paper. These old paper files were destroyed by fire about 1928."
Isaac Richmond and family, late 1880s.
    "Mr. Wallen remembers that Uncle Charlie, as the old ex-slave was called, died in 1910, was buried in Prestonsburg, and that he, W. S. Wallen, wrote up the old darkey's death and funeral for his newspaper. This is the same paper whose files were destroyed by fire and whose papers no longer exist. Old Judge [William] Richmond brought this old slave from Virginia about 1862, along with a number of other slaves. Uncle Charlie was the only slave that remained in the family as a servant after the Emancipation Proclamation."
    "Mr. Wallen is a lawyer in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, a member of the James and Wallen Law Firm, located in the Lane Building on Court Street. He was born at Goodlow, Kentucky in Floyd County on March 15th, 1866. [This is an error; the date on Wallen's tombstone is March 15th, 1886.] He taught school in Floyd County for thirteen years, took his L. L. B. at a law school in Valpariso, Indiana in 1910, and later served as Representative to the Kentucky General Assembly from the 93rd District during the 1922, 1924, and 1926 sessions."
    "The negro dialect of this county is a combination of the dialect white folk use plus that of the negro of the South. The colored population is continually moving back and forth from Alabama, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. They visit a lot. Colored teachers so far have all been from Ohio. Most visiting colored preachers come from Alabama or the Carolinas. The negroes leave out their R's and use expressions like "an't", "han't", "gwin", "su" for "sir", "yea" for "yes", "dah" for "there", and such expressions as "I's Ye!"
    "The wealthiest families of white folks still retain colored servants. In Prestonsburg, Kentucky, one may see on the streets neat-looking colored gals leading or wheeling young white children along. Folks say that this is why so many southerners leave out their R's and hold on to the old superstitions. They've had a colored person for a nurse-maid."
    "Adam Gearhart was a sportsman and used negro jockeys. His best jockey, Dennis, was sold to Morg Clark of Johns Creek. The old race track took in part of the east end of present-day Prestonsburg--from Gearhart's home east in Mayo's Bottom one mile to Kelse Hollow. Jimmie Davidson now lives at the beginning of the old track, near Maple Street. Mike Tartar of Tennessee, Gearhart's son-in-law, brought horses from Tennessee and ran them here. Tartar was a promoter and book-maker also. Penny J. Sizemore and Morg Clark were other sportsmen. This was as early as 1840 up to the Civil War."
Adam Gearhart Slave Receipt, dated January, 1845. During the antebellum period, Adam Gearhart was the county's principal slave dealer.
    "Slaves were traded, bought and sold between owners just as domestic animals are today. If the slave owner owned only a few servants, they lived with him in the big house. Otherwise, they lived in slave quarters, little cabins located nearby."
    "Billy Slone had two female servants. He bought them in Virginia when they were fifteen years old, for $1,000 sound. Many folk went over to Mt. Sterling or Lexington to auctions where they could buy or trade servants. Slave traders came into the county to buy up slaves for the southern plantations and cotton or sugar fields. Slave families were very frequently separated. Mean, thieving, or running-away niggers were the first slaves to be sold down the river. Sometimes good servants were sold for the price, the master being in a financial strait or in dire need of money. Traders handcuffed their purchased servants and took them by boat or horse-back down the river or over in Virginia and Carolina tobacco fields. Good servants were usually well treated and not overworked. Mean or contrary servants were whipped or punished in other ways. Run-aways were hunted--dogs being used to track them at times."
    "The list of people who owned slaves in Floyd County included Sophia Layne, Laynesville; Jim Layne, Laynesville; John Preston Martin, Prestonsburg; Jacob Mayo, Sr., Prestonsburg; William Mayo, Jr., Prestonsburg; Johnny Martin, Wayland; Thomas Johns, Dwale; Isom Slone, Beaver Creek; John Bud Harris, Emma; Billy Slone, Caney Fork of Right Beaver; Penny J. Sizemore, Prestonsburg; Samuel P. Davidson, Prestonsburg; Isaac Richmond, Prestonsburg; Valentine Mayo, Prestonsburg; Adam Gearhart, Prestonsburg. This list is as remembered by the oldest citizens, and one Thomas Jefferson "Uncle Jeff" Sizemore, 94-year-old Civil War veteran and citizen of Prestonsburg. The list was dictated to the writer in just this order."
    "The nearest auction blocks were at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky and Gladesville, Virginia. Most slaves from the present Floyd County Territory were bought and sold through auctions in Southwestern Virginia. Other auction blocks were located at Abington and Bristol, Virginia."
AdamGearhart (1839-1890), son of Joseph Gearhart of Hueysville and nephew of Adam Gearhart, the Floyd County slave dealer.
    "A slave owner in West Virginia bought a thirteen-year-old black girl at an auction. When this girl was taken to his home, she escaped, and after searching everywhere without finding her, he decided that she had been helped to escape and gave her up as lost. About two years after that, while a neighbor on a near-by farm was in the woods feeding his cattle, he saw what he first thought was a bear, running into the thicket from among his cows. Getting help, he rounded up the cattle and began searching the thick woodland. He finally found what he had supposed to be a wild animal. It was the long lost fugitive black girl. She had lived all this time in caves, feeding on nuts, berries, wild apples, and milk from cows, that she could catch and milk. Returned to her master, she was sold to a Mr. Morgan Whitaker, who lived near Prestonsburg, Kentucky."
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Jack May's War
The Oldest House in the Valley
Wheelwright in 1946
Winnie's Trunk
John Graham Cemetery
Jefferson Layne
(b. 1862),
Floyd County negro employed as a laborer by Susan C. Porter of Prestonsburg.
    In the late 1930s, a journalist employed by the Federal Writers Project came to Prestonsburg to collect facts about Floyd County slavery. He was hoping to find some ex-slaves who could provide him with first-hand accounts of Floyd County slave life during the antebellum period.
    He didn't find any ex-slaves, but he did find a Floyd County man who had once interviewed an ex-slave. Sometime around 1905, while working for a Prestonsburg newspaper (probably the short-lived East Kentucky Journal, published by John W. Wallen) Prestonsburg attorney W. S. Wallen had interviewed "Uncle Charlie" Richmond, former slave of Judge William Richmond of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Charlie was about eighty years old when Wallen interviewed him. When the old man died in 1910, Wallen published a feature story about him in the same newspaper.
    Unfortunately, the newspaper's archives were destroyed by fire in 1928, and as a result, when the journalist arrived in Prestonsburg a decade later, copies of the article were no longer available. However, Wallen was able to provide him with the notes which he had taken during the 1905 interview.
    Though his legislative career ended in disappointment, we should be grateful to Mr. Wallen for preserving an important piece of Floyd County history. His account of Charlie Richmond's recollections was subsequently included in Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States, an unpublished collection housed in the Library of Congress. Several months ago, my friend Mack Horn of Huesyville discovered Charlie's narrative while researching the various genealogical databases found at http://www.ancestry.com
    Thanks, Mack, for bringing this document to my attention. Here are Wallen's notes of his interview with Uncle Charlie Richmond, as they were recorded by the unidentified Federal Writers Project journalist:
Madge Spradlin and her maid, whose name was Becky.
Madge was the daughter of Prestonsburg capitalist Sam Spradlin. Photo courtesy of Margaret Mayo Spradlin of Prestonsburg.
    John B. Wells, the Paintsville historian, likes to point out that there were slaves who served alongside their masters in the Confederate Army. For example, two Floyd County slaves served in Colonel Jack May's 10th Kentucky Cavalry. Their names were William Davidson (b. 1840) and Woodson Davidson (b. 1842). Their master was Greenville R. Davidson, 2nd Lieutenant, Company A. Both were captured at Saltville, Virginia on November 2, 1864, probably by a Union scouting party. A Pike County slave by the name of George Honaker served in Company D of the 10th Kentucky. His master was James Honaker, Captain of Company D.
Floyd County Clerk Greenville Davidson and family, circa 1885.
    During his stay in Prestonsburg, the Federal Writers Project journalist interviewed several other local people about Floyd County slavery, in addition to Mr. Wallen. One of those was a local minister, Rev. John R. Cox, who related the following story:
    Not much is known about the East Kentucky Journal beyond two facts: it was edited by J. W. Wallen, father of W. S. Wallen, and it was published in Prestonsburg from January to December, 1905. In 1955 Floyd County historian Henry Scalf discovered a copy of the newspaper dated December 14, 1905. The copy was brittle with age, and as he was reading it, it crumbled in his hands. As a consequence, he was unable to preserve it. Among other things, it carried this announcement: "With this issue the Journal has completed the first round of one year." According to Scalf, Wallen published his newspaper on a press located in the Floyd County Courthouse.
    During the early years of the 20th Century, W. S. Wallen was one of Floyd County's most popular attorneys. Following service with the U. S. Army during World War I, he was elected Floyd County State Representative and served in the Kentucky Legislature from 1922 to 1926. Appointed to the Normal School Commission, Wallen was one of the men who helped choose the site for a new teachers college. Though he lobbied long and hard for Prestonsburg, his fellow commissioners finally decided to locate the college at Morehead, Kentucky. The decision keenly disappointed local voters, and as a result, Wallen became known as "the man who sold his vote and lost us the teachers college," despite the fact that no evidence of his wrongdoing was ever produced.
W. S. Wallen at his desk in the Kentucky House of Representatives. After he failed to win re-election in 1926, Wallen moved his family and his law practice to El Paso, Texas, and, later, Los Angeles, California. He returned to Floyd County in the late 1930s and formed a partnership with Prestonsburg attorney Ballard James. On August 16th, 1947, while crossing the highway at Banner, Kentucky, Wallen was struck by a truck and killed. He is buried in the Jones Cemetery on the old county road between Allen and Banner, next to his wife, Martha Clark Wallen, who died in 1977. Photo courtesy of Brett Davis of Prestonsburg.
    There is no denying the fact that slavery is a huge stain on the American conscience, as this last story so vividly illustrates. However, we need to remember, when discussing the subject, that nothing in life is reducible to easy formulas. As Charlie Richmond's story shows, there were slaves who chose to remain with their masters after the institution was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment.
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