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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Story of a Trooper: Francis Colburn Adams in New Kent VI- At the Toler estate. (Language Warning)



Cumberland Landing, Virginia. Federal encampment on the Pamunkey, LOC



We return to Francis Colburn Adams on expedition in New Kent during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign . . .


"We struck tents on the morning of the 13th, and marched from the cross-roads to Toller's¹ farm, on which Cumberland Landing was located. It was a damp, foggy morning, the roads were slippery, and the marching slow and fatiguing. The weather cleared at about twelve o'clock, and a more imposing and grand sight cannot be imagined than that of the divisions as they debouched down the high hill on which Toller's house stood, and spread over the broad plain stretching nearly as far as the eye could reach to the West and South, and covered with clover a foot deep, and wheat and rye that waved and cavorted with the wind. But all this prospect of an abundant harvest was trampled down by the multitude of soldiers, which poured into the plain for three hours, then formed in three long, glittering lines, with banners flying and bands playing, with batteries of artillery and troops of cavalry galloping into position on the flanks and centre, the whole forming one of those grand and imposing scenes rarely seen, and never forgotten. A dark belt of wood stretched along the horizon just beyond our outer line, giving a more clear and bold outline to the field. Looking to the left, in the direction of New Kent Court-house, the plain was dotted with clumps of trees, under which the white tents began to nestle, in beautiful contrast to the deep green foliage. And, too, the soldiers hung their tents with wild flowers, for the woods were filled with them, and the very air was sweet with their perfumes. On the right we had the beautiful river, which was narrow here, and curved gently for a distance of four miles, its banks, near Toller's house, being covered with fine old trees. As the three gunboats, followed by the fleet of transports, swept round this bend, their tall masts and dark funnels peering above the trees, the effect was magnificent. Cumberland had never seen such a sight before, and the negroes ran out and shouted for joy. 
 I reached Toller's house about 9 o'clock, having passed two divisions on the road, and brought up a company of the provost guard. There was great excitement at the old plantation house which I got there, and the house servants, of which there was a great number, of nearly every variety of color, were in a state of mutiny. Toller, a round-shouldered, lean, and hard-featured specimen of the Southerner, was as craven-hearted a creature as it is possible to find anywhere. He was an arrant rebel; had taken an active part with the men who attempted to carry Virginia, out of the Union, and had voluntarily sent his slaves so work on the fortifications at Yorktown and Williams- burg, where they had been treated with great cruelty. He was now as servile as a whipped cur, and went about offering to do almost anything we wanted, if we would only protect him and his property. Very many of his field hands had left him that morning, and I ascertained that only a few hours before he had been whipping several of them. When rebuked for this, and told that he would be put in irons if he did it again, he thought it very hard that his authority over his property should be interfered with. He said, in a submissive tone, that if he were not master of his slaves, his slaves would soon be master of him. I at once took such measures as made him comprehend that a different order of authority now ruled on his plantation, and that he must respect it if he wanted to save his property from total destruction.
Mrs. Toller was a very different person, and exhibited much more courage and independence of spirit. After selecting a spot for General Franklin's* headquarters, I went to the kitchen to order some break- fast cooked. Here a number of the house servants were holding a sort of indignation meeting, and the sooty cook told me, '' Missus wouldn't let her do nothin for us." I was anxious to know what all this indignation among the colored population meant, and was informed that Mrs. T. had, with her own hands, applied the lash to two or three of her servants for cooking for Union officers that morning. One of the victims was an aged, but very sprightly house servant, the mother of a large number of bright and intelligent children, one of whom, (Miss Jane,) seemed to have the direction of every thing about the house, and had a neat and comfortably furnished cabin of her own. The whole family were indignant at this act of cruelty towards their mother, and I confess it was with some difficulty I could restrain my own feelings, when this old woman showed me her neck and shoulders, yet red with the marks of the lash. While assuring them that the like should not occur again, and endeavoring to quiet their feelings, this Mrs. Toller appeared among them, the lash still in her hand. 
 I rebuked her act of cruelty in severe terms, and warned her not to repeat it, or I would not be answer- able for the consequences. She very coolly informed me that this plantation, and these slaves on it, were her private property, and she would not have her authority interfered with. And this she repeated several times, giving a peculiar emphasis to the declaration that this was her private property; that our army had no right here, and that we must not interfere with her slaves. She also, in a broad nasal twang, peculiar to Virginia, wanted to know if I was in command of the "guard;" if I was, she insisted that "a double guard" be placed on her house and gardens; also that a "guard" be put over the cabins, to keep "what niggers there wus left from runnin' away." She also wanted me to go to General McClellan, and tell him that he must get away with his army as quick as he could, or there would be a heavy bill of damages for destroying her private property. I soon relieved the old lady's mind of the idea that her property was sacred, and finding no other way of getting rid of her, sent her to her house in charge of a guard, who kept her out of harm's way for the rest of the day. 
 The negroes were very thankful for this interposition in their behalf, and evinced their gratitude in various ways. The house servants here formed so strange and grotesque a group, that Brady, the celebrated photographer, had a picture of them taken and placed in his gallery. There was the old African grandmother, of four-score and ten, very black and very taciturn. And there were her two daughters; one very dark, the other the bright, fat, and kindly woman I have described as having undergone the castigation; and her numerous progeny, of every variety of color, from the darkest crispy head to the almost white with flaxen ringlets. Miss Jane was her oldest daughter, and directed the household affairs with rare smartness and energy. Her husband, Henry Armistead ², was a very black, but very intelligent and worthy man, whose master resided in Richmond, and of whom he purchased his time, which he employed fishing and oystering on the York and Pamunky rivers. About midnight, Henry entered my quarters, laboring under great anxiety of mind. He wanted my advice, he said, for he recognized in me a friend of his people. He had upwards of eleven hundred dollars in silver, the fruit of his labor for several years, buried in the cellar. He had been saving up this money, he said, to purchase the freedom of him- self and wife, and now that our army had come, he wanted to place it in my hands for safe keeping, while he took his wife and people and fled North. He said a man had advised him to pack up and leave that night, to take his money and on to New York, where he would be provided for by Mr. Horace Greeley, and live like a prince. Knowing that the country in the rear of our army was full of stragglers, and the very worst species of camp followers, many of whom were robbing the poor colored people, who were making their way to a place of safety, I advised him to do nothing of the kind, but to remain quietly on the plantation, keep the possession of his money a secret, and when we had taken Richmond, he would be at liberty to go with his family and relatives where he pleased. I was of opinion that neither his condition nor his prospects would be improved at the North; that the time would soon come when men of his class could make themselves more useful in the South, where they were born and reared; and so I advised him. I have often thought of this worthy man and his family, and wondered what became of them. 
 There was an air of comfort and plenty about the cabins of these people, which showed that they had been indulged more than is common on Virginia plantations. Indeed, it was astonishing to see the number of turkeys, pigs, chickens, hams, eggs, bacon, and various kinds of vegetables they had to sell us, and how ready they were to exchange them for our gold. (We paid gold for everything during the campaign on the Peninsula.) I noticed also that they were continually bringing out their last, and yet the reserve stock seemed to be without end. In fine, we fared sumptuously every day while at Toller's plantation, and left his enterprising servants quite an amount of our gold. 
 The pride of caste was kept up among these servants in a manner that was quite amusing. They spoke of Toller as a very low bred man, and spoke of him with an air of contempt, because he was once an overseer on the plantation. And the grave offence(sic) of Missus in marrying her overseer they had neither forgotten nor forgiven³. They spoke of their old master with feelings of love and affection; told us what a fine gentleman he was, and where he was buried, and scouted the idea that Toller was to be compared with him. "He is'nt nuffin but a low bred man;" they would say, "Mas'r was a gentleman."

Cumberland Landing, Virginia. Seated: Generals, Andrew A. Humphreys, Henry Slocum, Wm B. Franklin*, Wm F. Barry and John Newton. Officers standing not identified, LOC






1.- The actual spelling is Toler.

2.- More later on Henry Armistead.

3.- Susan Toler held the Cumberland Landing property in her own right.

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