“Yours For Liberty”

[Thanks to Vicki Betts]

Vicki found this document during her research into the Confederate Citizens and Business File in Footnote.com.  This particular letter struck her as important and decided to pass it on to me, which I greatly appreciate.  The letter was written by John D. Berry, Schuyler County, New York and sent to the governor of South Carolina, probably late 1860 or early 1861.  Berry is listed as a (col) barber in Schuyler County.

Watkins, Schuyler Co. NY

To the Governor of South Carolina.  Sir I hope you will excuse me for ben so forward in droping you a few lines.   Sir I am no a Scoler.  My dear parents Sent me to School & paid $3 per [     ]  And There It would bee imposseble for me to Say more than one leson a day & Some times not that for Pregdise was So Strong in this Country Against the Colored rase that it was imposable for me to Get justice done me in School.  Sir this was on the Acount of Slavery & the arguments that you Southern men are obliged to youse to kepe us back & to Corupt the whites of the norther States & this Sir you have done perty efeculy for Clay to Lead of with Compromise After Compromise & then all you have to do is to buy Dou fases & that you Did be guining with Webster[.] but Sir I respect Mr. Colhoun for we new where to find him & his corse wodent of Dun us as much harm as has ben dun us by Henry Clays Corse for if the South had declared Slavery to be the Eakual of Liberty then as now the blood which is to brake on you now wold of brok then in sted of now & the Crash would have been So great that it wold have cosed you and every other Slave holder to Shake with fear[.]  your proclamation wodent Save you nor all the Governers in the Slave States.  For we Abolitiones have got the North rite & Justice is to be Dun to all men kind north & South & like bfore quiet will come to this Government[.]  this is so & you may as well begin one time as Another for the [        ] is rapidly at werk & your Proclomation is [       ] here at the north your bst [?] laff at it with the exception of Benet of the herald & we have Got him tite for he hasent Got eny Enfleuence[.]  he is used up Sir & this is so[.]  the Crises is upon you & you must Do my People Justice with the rest of mankind & this Sir will save you and your State will flourish & wax with wealth.  I Dow respect  Southern Gentlemen ten times ye one hundred times more than northern doufase for They Deceive Both north & South & you cant Depend on them[.]  all they want is Ofise[.]  Sir the South Dun rong when they Sanctioned the Outrage on Sumner it was Bad for you & it was bad for you when you Sanction the execution of J. Brown and his follower & Sustained Walker as the South and Administration did for you have made thousands of votes & people raise their voises & hart & hand Against you I mean your instituatain.  But Sir the Day has come for the Deliverance of my people & now humane Agency Can prevent it[.]  I thank God I am down on Slavery & in the words of Oconel when he first herd the idea of property in man it Sounded to him as if Some one was Stamping upon the Grave of his mother and so it Seams to me[.]  I am for Liberty Every time & care not how it comes either with or with out blud shed[.] Yours for liberty

John D. Berry Schuyler Co.

26 responses... add one

Thanks Vicki for sharing (as you always do) and Kevin for reposting.

Great letter!

Wow, that is powerful. One wants to know more about this man.

I wonder about this line: “in the words of Oconel when he first herd the idea of property in man it Sounded to him as if Some one was Stamping upon the Grave of his mother and so it Seams to me.”

Who is Oconel?

Wonderful letter. Took me a while to figure out “Dou fases” — doughfaces, who were Northerners willing to compromise with the South on slavery issues.

Somewhere I have read how important black barbers were to their antebellum communities because men, black and white, gather in barber shops, usually with black barbers, and talk politics. Berry was obviously very well informed. And trying to figure out where I read this I just found _Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom_ by Douglas Walter Bristol. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. That’s not where I read it, but it sounds interesting.

John D. Berry, barber, col. was listed in the Schuyler County, NY, Enrollment of Persons Subject to Military Duty, July 1, 1863, but in Class II, “all other persons subject to do military duty” not between the ages of 20 and 35, or unmarried between 35 and 45. At that point he was 41. (see the Schuyler County genweb page)

In Footnote.com, Co. C, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (Col’d), I found a John D. Berry, age 42, 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches, born Cumberland, Pennsylvania, occupation Barber, enlisted January 11, 1864 at Readville, Massachusetts, credited to 6th District, Middlesex. By February 29, 1864 he was promoted to corporal, appointed by Special Order No. 10. In July and August 1864 he was in the hospital at Point Lookout. His September-October muster roll noted that he was “free on or before April 19, 1861.” Discharged December 10, 1864 at Point Lookout, MD, on surgeon’s certificate of disability due to chronic rheumatism. The surgeon stated “which in my opinion existed prior to enlistment and is not controlled or modified by medical treatment.” It doesn’t appear that he ever made it South to fight for Liberty, but not for lack of trying.

I hope I’ve transcribed his handwriting correctly–if others with access would like to make any corrections, please do. I also emailed a transcription to the webmaster of the Schuyler County Genweb page.

Vicki Betts

Vicki,

Thanks again for taking the time to transcribe the letter and for making it available to the rest of us. It would have been easy to read it and move on. The additional information here makes this quite an intriguing story.

According to the 1860 US Census for Schuyler County, John D. Berry, 38, was a mulatto barber, married to Anna A Berry, 35, mulatto, working as a domestic. They had two children: Charles S,, 17, also a barber and Mary, 5. Berry’s real estate was worth $1200 and his personal estate $400. John and Anna were both born in Pennsylvania, so he is probably the same John Barry who joined the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.

Vicki, I also want to thank you for transcribing this wonderful letter! BTW, according to an online history of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry http://www.coax.net/people/lwf/5TH_MASS.HTM, Berry may have made it South. The regiment participated as infantry in the Petersburg Campaign in May and June, 1864. At the end of June they were transferred to Point Lookout to serve as guards at the prison camp there. The comment that he had been free antebellum on the September-October muster was a prerequisite for his receiving full pay.

AND, in The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, by William Cooper Nell, available in Google books, page 156–
“In Watkins, Schuyler county, on the 13th of August, 1855, a colored man (John D. Berry, Esq.) was chosen to sit as a juror in a criminal trial, and the citizens appeared very well satisfied.”

The Congressional Record for the 43d Congress, 1st Session (1874), p. 3042 shows an H.R. no. 2912 for the relief of John D. Berry of New York, referred to the Committee on Invalid Pensions but when you go to the history of the HRs there is no mention that it passed. I suppose the paperwork may still be on file to see if it is the same John D. Berry of New York. I did see him in subsequent Schuyler census records through 1880.

Any experts on pensions for African-American veterans in the house?

Vicki Betts

John D. Berry, 5th Mass. (Col.) Cav., filed for a pension on Dec. 21, 1864. Both he and his widow were pensioners (Invalid certificate no. 131 075; Widow’s certificate no. 524 703). These files, which can be voluminous, can be obtained through the National Archives and Records Administration; they are not currently online, and photocopies through the mail are rather costly. The file can also be examined without cost at the Archives in Washington, DC. Quite often, pension files are the pot of gold at the end of the research rainbow. And this is definitely your letter writer, as his CSR states that the soldier desires to be addressed at Watkins, Schuyler Co., NY.

“For we Abolitiones have got the North rite & Justice is to be Dun to all men kind north & South & like bfore quiet will come to this Government[.] ”

This seems to indicate he considered himself an abolitionist. His rhetoric suggests he might have attended a few lectures?

Well, here’s something interesting. If you try to google O’Connell’s quote about stamping on the grave of his mother, you get Frederick Douglass’ “A Friendly Word to Maryland: An Address Delivered in Baltimore, Maryland, on 17 November 1864″ which is AFTER Berry’s letter. “The very idea of holding property in man is revolting. Property in man; the first time I heard that word, said Daniel O’Connell, it sounded as if some one were stamping upon the grave of my mother….” (see http://american_almanac.tripod.com/dougmary.htm). However, I’m sure that Douglass used that quote before and it may show up in his collected works earlier than 1864.

Luther Cleveland was another resident of Schuyler County. His obit says “At an early period
of the Anti-Slavery agitation he was one of its moat zealous and unflinching advocates, and never hesitated to rank himself an Abolitionist and an earnest friend of the colored race.” And while digging around for Berry I found a historical marker for the Underground Railroad in that area.

I’ll bet Mr. Berry shows up in various archives up in that part of the world. I need to check some of the abolitionist newspapers that have online indices when I get a chance…if I can remember my password.

Vicki Betts

I had a chance this morning to run upstairs and get vol. 3, 1855-1863 of Frederick Douglass’ papers. He does indeed use the O’Connell quote prior to 1864–in a speech at Boston on February 8, 1855, in the eulogy of William Jay in New York, NY on May 12, 1859, and he alludes to it in a speech in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, on February 23, 1860. Berry may have either heard one of the speeches or read an account in a newspaper. (Anyone have a subscription to Accessible Archives that can check the African American newspaper section? I seem to have let my subscription lapse.)

As early as 1845 Douglass said “I cannot proceed without alluding to a man who did much to abolish slavery, I mean Daniel O’Connell. I feel grateful to him, for his voice has made American slavery shake to its centre.–I am determined wherever I go, and whatever position I may fill, to speak with grateful emotions of Mr. O’Connell’s labours. I heard his denunciation of slavery, I heard my master curse him, and therefore I loved him. In London, Mr. O’Connell tore off the mask of hypocrisy from the slave-holders, and branded them as the vilest of the vile, and the most execrable of the execrable, for no man can put words together stronger than Mr. O’Connell.”

Vicki Betts

Absolutely fascinating.

Intriguing to see that Douglass actually visited Newcastle-on-Tyne in Britain (I wasn’t aware he ever did previously). According to his Wikipedia entry (yes, yes, I know- not always reliable!) his freedom was actually purchased by sympathizers living there in the 1840s (technically he was a runaway before that).

My rather distant civil war ancestry is on my mother’s side of the family, but dad was born near Tyneside during WW2 and grew up there. I’ll have to mention this to him- he’s interested in the civil war era, and I think he’d be tickled pink to learn that a bunch of “Geordies” purchased Douglass’ freedom…..

Okay, I got back into Accessible Archives and found:

Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: FREDERICK DOUGLASS’ PAPER
Date: August 24, 1855
Title: For Frederick Douglass’ Paper.PREJUDICE DYING OUT IN WATKINS.
Location: Rochester, New York

For Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

PREJUDICE DYING OUT IN WATKINS.

Mr. DOUGLASS: – I have recently received a letter from John D. Berry , of Watkins, Schuyler County a colored gentleman a warm friend of his race and an old subscriber for your excellent Paper who has for four years past been laboring to convince the aristocracy of that village, that he is their equal in every respect. He writes as follows: -“On the 13th inst., I was chosen as a Juror, on a criminal suit; and all our citizens appear to be well pleased with the circumstance.” This circumstance, connected as it is with the labors of Mr. Barry, proves to my mind, that colored men who claim all of their rights, will obtain more than those who ask for only a part; and also that if we demand equal privileges, and show ourselves worthy of them, that they will not be long withheld from us.

C. BROOKS. GENEVA, August 20th, 1855.

Vicki Betts

And

Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: FREDERICK DOUGLASS’ PAPER
Date: August 24, 1855
Title: For Frederick Douglass’ Paper.A COLORED JUROR.WATKINS
Location: Rochester, New York

For Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

A COLORED JUROR.

WATKINS, August 14th, 1855.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: DEAR SIR: – It affords me much pleasure to communicate to you, that Mr. BERRY , a colored man of this village, was summoned to act as a juror on yesterday, the 13th inst., in a criminal action before Judge Ogden; and what is still more pleasurable to me, he served. Mr. Berry is a freeholder, and considered a true gentleman by all who are acquainted with him. This is one point gained towards breaking down the cruel opinion that a colored man in unfit for any business except for that of the drudge ; and in future years our sons may boast that colored men have served as jurors, and for that reason they may serve. This looks to me as if every day is a day less that slavery will be permitted to stain our Republic America, “The land of the free and home of the brave.” If you deem this worthy of publishing, you are at liberty to do so.

Yours, very respectfully, JASON JEFFREY.

Vicki Betts

At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, we are finding that the Confederate citizens files are a gold mine of new material–a real frontier in primary sources, as this item suggests. Other than the Southern Claims Commission files, which are more widely used, I have not seen anything that exceeds these files for testimony of the impact of the war on civilians. The digging can be hard, but the results worth it. Very nice find, Vicki.

I’m up to about 151,000 annotations, mostly in the Citizens and Business File. I’m focusing on the Trans-Miss, mostly Texas, but I’ve also been annotating medical purveyors, women’s names, wool, and flags, among other things. I hope this leads up to someone working on the quartermasters and commissary officers of Texas.

My best finds are located under my Spotlights, so I can find them again easily. There have been quite a few delightful surprises.

Vicki Betts

One of the things that has impressed me while working in the Citizens and Business file is how massive the “military industrial complex” was, to borrow a later term, within the Confederacy. “Industrial” is probably the wrong word, but it seems that a large percentage of the civilians were invested, willingly or unwillingly, in the Confederacy even without being in the military. Many, many women, now running farms, signed their names or their x to vouchers selling corn, fodder, and meat to quartermasters, or milk and vegetables to hospitals. Others sold completed trousers, shirts, and drawers. I had no idea that so many civilians were employed as teamsters and couriers, or even as “secret service.” Government workshops had to get their tools and supplies from somewhere, and these show up. Payment to employees at nitre works and lead mines are there. I found a slave pass from the Tredegar Iron Works among many payments to slave owners for the use of their slaves in service to the Confederacy.

And then there are all of the letters from young women seeking employment at the Treasury Department, often refugees from western or northern Virginia. Also, affidavits of loss of property by Georgia and South Carolina coastal planters. Really, you just never know what will show up on the next click of the mouse. It’s downright addictive.

Vicki Betts

I would love to see the slave pass document. Looks like I am going to need to spend some time in this collection.

Vicki,

I could not get an image of the pass because I am not a member of the site. Any chance of seeing it in another format or website?

Neil

I am enormously impressed at the O’Connell quote. The Irish “Liberator” led Irish Catholics to achieve the franchise in 1828. O’Connell was world-famous as an activist for Civil and Human Rights. He regularly greeted American abolitionists on their visits to this corner of the world. He once said that he would never venture to shake the hand of an American unless he was assured the man was not an owner of slaves.

Unfortunately, a new and more radical generation of Irish nationalists rejected O’Connell, and, with him, abolitionism. This was the generation of John Mitchel, who spent the war in Richmond, and Thomas Francis Meagher, who was lukewarm on slavery.

Frederick Douglass visited Ireland during the Famine. Last year, the Irish language TV station TG4 made a documentary called “Frederick Douglass agus na Negroes Bana”, or “Frederick Douglass and the White Negroes”, dealing with Douglass’ relationship with the Irish in Ireland and America. I rated it highly, except when they dealt with the New York Draft Riots, which were more anti-Government than purely racist. Unfortunately, I cannot trace a copy of this on youtube or online. Here is a trailer.

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