Grant and slavery.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Although CivilWarTalk has had several threads about Grant and slavery I am not sure we have had a detailed discussion on Grants views of the institution of slavery. I am a member of the Ann Arbor Civil War Round Table and our Zoom meeting next month with have Nathan Provost talk to us about Grant and slavery. The subject sounds interesting but I am not familiar with Nathan Provost and might have to research him on line. It might not hurt me to review some of our older threads about Grant and slavery. What would be essential knowledge I would need to have about Grant and slavery that would help me enjoy Nathan Provost's presentation?
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Grant observed slavery in person. As a teenager he saw slavery in Kentucky. As an adult he worked with slaves in Missouri, and was friends with the St. Louis abolitionists. But that was only a prelude to seeing the beating heart of slavery in w. Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Thus whatever his views, they were based on seeing African/Americans as slaves and freedmen.
 
Joined
Jan 28, 2021
I used several sources to put this together last year--Norman Dasinger Jr

Julia Dent Grant’s interactions with slavery are well-documented in her personal memoirs. Her father, Frederick Dent, purchased a plantation in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1820. The plantation, called White Haven, ran using enslaved labor; Dent oversaw a workforce of approximately thirty enslaved individuals on two Missouri properties.


Ulysses S. Grant’s childhood was vastly different from Julia’s. Born in Ohio to Methodist parents, he was not raised with nor surrounded by the institution of slavery. His father, Jesse Root Grant, was an abolitionist who taught his son that slavery was cruel and immoral. Grant received a formal education and later enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he befriended Julia Grant’s brother, Frederick “Fred” Tracy Dent. Fred was Ulysses Grant’s roommate at West Point, and the two became good friends during their time at school. After graduating in 1843, the U.S. Army stationed Brevet Second Lieutenant Grant in St. Louis; while in Missouri, Grant visited his old friend at his plantation, White Haven. There, Ulysses Grant met and fell in love with Julia Dent, and the two became engaged a year later.

After Grant resigned from the U.S. Army in 1854, he faced financial hardship. Having received eighty acres of land as a wedding gift from Julia’s father, the Grants returned to Missouri to live off the land. There, Ulysses Grant became increasingly involved in slavery at White Haven. Grant farmed alongside enslaved field workers daily.






According to historian William S. McFeely, Grant “tried to mold himself into the kind of farmer-planter his father-in-law was."


Between 1857 and 1859, Julia’s father—aging and widowed—granted Ulysses Grant almost complete oversight of White Haven and the enslaved laborers there, truly testing Grant’s newfound knowledge of farming and labor management.

A letter from Grant to his sister, Mary, in 1859 describes the progress he had made at White Haven in the supervision of both crops and enslaved people: “I now have three negro men, two hired by the year and one of Mr. Dents, which, with my own help, I think, will enable me to do my farming pretty well.”


Though impossible to know how Grant felt about these interactions, Julia’s sister, Emma Dent Casey, wrote that “although I know that he [Grant] was opposed to human slavery as an institution I do not think that he was at any time a very rank abolitionist or that he opposed it so violently that the acceptance of Julia’s slaves had to be forced upon him.”

Grant’s involvement in slavery eventually went beyond the “acceptance” and management of the Dent family’s enslaved laborers — Grant himself came into ownership of a man named William Jones from his father-in-law at some point during the 1850s.

While there are no known documents or letters related to a bill of sale, Grant later emancipated Jones in 1859. The motivation behind this is unclear; with a number of enslaved individuals already at his disposal at White Haven and larger financial troubles, it seems unusual that Grant elected to become a slave owner. Whatever the reason, Grant assumed a more personal but short-lived role in the perpetuation of human bondage. On March 29, 1859, U.S. Grant manumitted “my negro man William, sometimes called William Jones, of Mulatto complexion, aged about thirty-five years…being the same slave purchased by me of Frederick Dent.”



In 1859, Grant’s financial problems led him to relocate his wife and four children to St. Louis. At this time, Julia asserted ownership of four enslaved individuals “gifted” to her by her father: Eliza, Dan, Julia (Jules), and John. Her legal proprietorship is unclear due to lack of documentation; it is likely that the enslaved individuals remained under her father’s legal ownership, and that he allowed Julia to utilize their labor as she began to manage her own household. In any case, she presented herself as a slave mistress and brought these individuals with her to St. Louis. Ulysses benefitted from the home they cleaned, the food they cooked, and the care they provided for his children.



As the Grant family’s financial situation worsened, Ulysses Grant decided to move to Galena, Illinois in 1860, to take a job promised to him at his family’s leather shop. To Julia’s disappointment, she had to hire out Jules, Dan, John and Eliza to “persons whom we knew and who promised to be kind to them.”
Though Julia did not want to be separated from them, Illinois was a free state, and should they be emancipated, her father reminded her in a letter that she could not “do without servants.


Colonel Dent was correct; Julia’s dependence upon enslaved people became obvious during their absence. In her memoirs, she describes the revelations she had upon assuming domestic independence in Illinois; namely, Julia realized she did not know how to sew, cook, or care for her ailing children.


Mrs. Grant did not have to survive without Jules for long. Although the fates of Dan, Eliza, and John are unknown, it is clear that upon leaving Illinois Julia reclaimed control of Jules, her most trusted enslaved nurse, when Ulysses Grant became a Colonel in the Union Army at the start of the American Civil War in 1861. As Grant rose through the ranks, ultimately assuming his position as Commanding General, Julia followed Grant through battle-ridden cities across America, with Jules in tow. In fact, Julia wrote in her memoirs that Jules “came very near being captured at Holly Springs.”
Grant Headquarters at Holly Springs, Mississippi

Unsurprisingly, Julia’s use of enslaved labor did not go unnoticed, especially as the wife of a Union officer. In 1862, Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine reported: “Until we can secure pure men in habits and men without secesh [secessionist] wives with their own little slaves to wait upon them, which is a fact here in this camp with Mrs. Grant, our country is lost.”

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to enslaved individuals in Confederate-held territory, but Missouri, a border state during the Civil War, was exempt from this act. As a result, Jules remained in bondage; Missouri would not abolish slavery until January 1865. Rather than languishing in wait for freedom, Jules self-emancipated—running away from the Grant family during a stay in Louisville, Kentucky before 1865 and eventually marrying.

After Grant's presidency, Julia kept in contact with a few of their former enslaved servants, including Mary Henry. Mary, who grew up with Julia, was interviewed by a Boston Globe reporter in 1900. She described her close relationship with Mrs. Grant: “I stood as close to her while she was being married as you are to my bed…when her children were born they were handed to me as they came into the world.”


Grant’s life is perhaps best documented within his personal memoirs. It is important to note that within these memoirs, Grant made no mention of his personal role in the institution of slavery, though he accounted for national sentiment regarding abolition and accounted for the impact of slavery on the Civil War Grant mentioned in passing his time in Missouri but did not write about owning William Jones, farming alongside enslaved individuals at White Haven, or running the plantation in Frederick Dent’s stead.


Though it is impossible to know if Grant purposely or unintentionally omitted his own slave-ownership from these memoirs, his choice was crucial in shaping the way that scholars and historians have discussed Grant’s relationship to slavery and abolition in the years following their publication. For almost a century after the completion of these memoirs, academics relied on Grant’s personal recollections for their own historical biographies; as a result, his legacy was often based off of what key moments he chose to include—and exclude. Though nineteenth century biographers like Hamlin Garland and William Conant Church discussed Grant’s interactions with the enslaved population at White Haven, his personal slave-ownership remained undiscovered for more than half a century; Lloyd Lewis’s Captain Sam Grant, published in 1950, appears to be the first mention of Grant’s ownership of William Jones.

To this day, Grant and his family’s involvement in the practice of slavery is often overlooked and, furthermore, his family's actions and choices serve as an example of the fact that women were key participants in the institution of human bondage, rather than innocent bystanders
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I used several sources to put this together last year--Norman Dasinger Jr

Julia Dent Grant’s interactions with slavery are well-documented in her personal memoirs. Her father, Frederick Dent, purchased a plantation in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1820. The plantation, called White Haven, ran using enslaved labor; Dent oversaw a workforce of approximately thirty enslaved individuals on two Missouri properties.


Ulysses S. Grant’s childhood was vastly different from Julia’s. Born in Ohio to Methodist parents, he was not raised with nor surrounded by the institution of slavery. His father, Jesse Root Grant, was an abolitionist who taught his son that slavery was cruel and immoral. Grant received a formal education and later enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he befriended Julia Grant’s brother, Frederick “Fred” Tracy Dent. Fred was Ulysses Grant’s roommate at West Point, and the two became good friends during their time at school. After graduating in 1843, the U.S. Army stationed Brevet Second Lieutenant Grant in St. Louis; while in Missouri, Grant visited his old friend at his plantation, White Haven. There, Ulysses Grant met and fell in love with Julia Dent, and the two became engaged a year later.

After Grant resigned from the U.S. Army in 1854, he faced financial hardship. Having received eighty acres of land as a wedding gift from Julia’s father, the Grants returned to Missouri to live off the land. There, Ulysses Grant became increasingly involved in slavery at White Haven. Grant farmed alongside enslaved field workers daily.






According to historian William S. McFeely, Grant “tried to mold himself into the kind of farmer-planter his father-in-law was."


Between 1857 and 1859, Julia’s father—aging and widowed—granted Ulysses Grant almost complete oversight of White Haven and the enslaved laborers there, truly testing Grant’s newfound knowledge of farming and labor management.

A letter from Grant to his sister, Mary, in 1859 describes the progress he had made at White Haven in the supervision of both crops and enslaved people: “I now have three negro men, two hired by the year and one of Mr. Dents, which, with my own help, I think, will enable me to do my farming pretty well.”


Though impossible to know how Grant felt about these interactions, Julia’s sister, Emma Dent Casey, wrote that “although I know that he [Grant] was opposed to human slavery as an institution I do not think that he was at any time a very rank abolitionist or that he opposed it so violently that the acceptance of Julia’s slaves had to be forced upon him.”

Grant’s involvement in slavery eventually went beyond the “acceptance” and management of the Dent family’s enslaved laborers — Grant himself came into ownership of a man named William Jones from his father-in-law at some point during the 1850s.

While there are no known documents or letters related to a bill of sale, Grant later emancipated Jones in 1859. The motivation behind this is unclear; with a number of enslaved individuals already at his disposal at White Haven and larger financial troubles, it seems unusual that Grant elected to become a slave owner. Whatever the reason, Grant assumed a more personal but short-lived role in the perpetuation of human bondage. On March 29, 1859, U.S. Grant manumitted “my negro man William, sometimes called William Jones, of Mulatto complexion, aged about thirty-five years…being the same slave purchased by me of Frederick Dent.”



In 1859, Grant’s financial problems led him to relocate his wife and four children to St. Louis. At this time, Julia asserted ownership of four enslaved individuals “gifted” to her by her father: Eliza, Dan, Julia (Jules), and John. Her legal proprietorship is unclear due to lack of documentation; it is likely that the enslaved individuals remained under her father’s legal ownership, and that he allowed Julia to utilize their labor as she began to manage her own household. In any case, she presented herself as a slave mistress and brought these individuals with her to St. Louis. Ulysses benefitted from the home they cleaned, the food they cooked, and the care they provided for his children.



As the Grant family’s financial situation worsened, Ulysses Grant decided to move to Galena, Illinois in 1860, to take a job promised to him at his family’s leather shop. To Julia’s disappointment, she had to hire out Jules, Dan, John and Eliza to “persons whom we knew and who promised to be kind to them.”
Though Julia did not want to be separated from them, Illinois was a free state, and should they be emancipated, her father reminded her in a letter that she could not “do without servants.


Colonel Dent was correct; Julia’s dependence upon enslaved people became obvious during their absence. In her memoirs, she describes the revelations she had upon assuming domestic independence in Illinois; namely, Julia realized she did not know how to sew, cook, or care for her ailing children.


Mrs. Grant did not have to survive without Jules for long. Although the fates of Dan, Eliza, and John are unknown, it is clear that upon leaving Illinois Julia reclaimed control of Jules, her most trusted enslaved nurse, when Ulysses Grant became a Colonel in the Union Army at the start of the American Civil War in 1861. As Grant rose through the ranks, ultimately assuming his position as Commanding General, Julia followed Grant through battle-ridden cities across America, with Jules in tow. In fact, Julia wrote in her memoirs that Jules “came very near being captured at Holly Springs.”
Grant Headquarters at Holly Springs, Mississippi

Unsurprisingly, Julia’s use of enslaved labor did not go unnoticed, especially as the wife of a Union officer. In 1862, Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine reported: “Until we can secure pure men in habits and men without secesh [secessionist] wives with their own little slaves to wait upon them, which is a fact here in this camp with Mrs. Grant, our country is lost.”

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to enslaved individuals in Confederate-held territory, but Missouri, a border state during the Civil War, was exempt from this act. As a result, Jules remained in bondage; Missouri would not abolish slavery until January 1865. Rather than languishing in wait for freedom, Jules self-emancipated—running away from the Grant family during a stay in Louisville, Kentucky before 1865 and eventually marrying.

After Grant's presidency, Julia kept in contact with a few of their former enslaved servants, including Mary Henry. Mary, who grew up with Julia, was interviewed by a Boston Globe reporter in 1900. She described her close relationship with Mrs. Grant: “I stood as close to her while she was being married as you are to my bed…when her children were born they were handed to me as they came into the world.”


Grant’s life is perhaps best documented within his personal memoirs. It is important to note that within these memoirs, Grant made no mention of his personal role in the institution of slavery, though he accounted for national sentiment regarding abolition and accounted for the impact of slavery on the Civil War Grant mentioned in passing his time in Missouri but did not write about owning William Jones, farming alongside enslaved individuals at White Haven, or running the plantation in Frederick Dent’s stead.


Though it is impossible to know if Grant purposely or unintentionally omitted his own slave-ownership from these memoirs, his choice was crucial in shaping the way that scholars and historians have discussed Grant’s relationship to slavery and abolition in the years following their publication. For almost a century after the completion of these memoirs, academics relied on Grant’s personal recollections for their own historical biographies; as a result, his legacy was often based off of what key moments he chose to include—and exclude. Though nineteenth century biographers like Hamlin Garland and William Conant Church discussed Grant’s interactions with the enslaved population at White Haven, his personal slave-ownership remained undiscovered for more than half a century; Lloyd Lewis’s Captain Sam Grant, published in 1950, appears to be the first mention of Grant’s ownership of William Jones.

To this day, Grant and his family’s involvement in the practice of slavery is often overlooked and, furthermore, his family's actions and choices serve as an example of the fact that women were key participants in the institution of human bondage, rather than innocent bystanders
I have no clue what Nathan Provost will have to say about Grant and slavery. It should be an interesting Zoom meeting.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Slavery was the way things were done in the south, and in the central 8 states. The entire population of the US tolerated it, as long as it stayed in the south, and the southerners kept the peace.
Grant was a Douglas Democrat, like most army officers, and thought keeping the peace was worth protecting slavery, though there might have to be modifications to the way it was enforced.
The more he saw of the Confederates, and the more he saw freedmen willing to fight for their freedom, the more his beliefs changed.
I believe Julia Dent Grant believed in the system based on her childhood indoctrination well into the 1870's. At that point she began to read more about the way it was enforced outside of Missouri, and changed her mind.
 

Jantzen64

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
For anyone who can get to St. Louis, I highly recommend the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (formerly part of "Grant's Farm"). It is incredibly well done, and really delves into the complexity and nuances of this issue in particular. I'm not sue there is a clear answer to this question; clearly, his love for Julia and his desire to be a success in her and her father's eyes drew him toward a system that was based on slavery; yet his own father almost disowned him for marrying into the "slave aristocracy." I always wondered why he manumitted Jones when he clearly needed money - that says something, doesn't it? Overall, there is so much at this Site that dives into the complexities of this man and I am not doing it justice in this short post.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
The Ann Arbor Civil War Round Table newsletter tell us that Nathan Provost will tell us:

"So, how did Grant come to fight for civil rights? Grant's transition from a slave-owner to a leading civil rights advocate
took place during the Civil War as he began to first confront the practicality of abolishing slavery and understanding its moral implications."

I guess I will have to attend the AACWRT Zoom meeting on June 14 to see what Mr. Provost will tell us.
 
Top