A Civil War Museum of Facts and Not Beliefs

24804848EAre you tired of the continued attack on American culture by liberal academic and public historians who present history in a way that conflicts with your cherished notions of the Civil War and Southern history?  Well, head on down to Jacksonville, Florida to the Museum of Southern History.  Although it claims to be a museum of Southern history, from the looks of the photographs there is nothing on display beyond the Civil War years.  What you will find, however, are exhibits that just present the facts with no accompanying interpretation.  Incoming board president, Ben Willingham, put it this way: “We’ve been fed political correctness[.]  We’ve dumbed down society. It’s all in the Congressional Record. The facts are there. It’s not about beliefs.”  Although it is not attributed to Willingham, it looks like he also suggested:  “The men said the Civil War was about money, not slavery, and that African-Americans owned slaves. The first slave owner was a black man in Virginia.”

Well, I am pleased to see that some of the most important questions within the fields of Civil War and Southern history have been put to rest.  Given that the Sons of Confederate Veterans hold their meetings in the museum, I have no doubt that other important questions will also be answered.

By the way, is that a little black Confederate doll in the display case next to what appears to be a naked Confederate soldier?  What’s that about?

15 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:08


    Thanks for the follow-up. After reading your JSH essay I definitely want to read Coombs’s forthcoming book.


    Don’t be too hard on them. They know not what they speak.

  • Jarret Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:02

    “The men said the Civil War was about money, not slavery.” What does that even mean? All wars in one way or another are about money, and honestly, from a purely cold monetary stance its easy to understand why much the South’s slaveholding class started the war. They had three billion contemporary dollars worth of slave property possibly hanging in the balance, so its understandable that they didn’t want to take any chances of losing that wealth. That said, the war certainly was about money, money in slaves.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:53

    Thanks for the clarification Kevin, I misread the comments. Sorry. Johnson was evidently the first known *black* to own black slaves (two). As already noted, he also owned white “servants.”

  • Rebecca Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:29

    Anthony Johnson appears in the 1625 muster list as Antonio A Negro and at that point was enslaved. Later he had gained his freedom and did own slaves, but he was certainly not the first slaveowner in Virginia. That honor would go to whoever bought the “20.odd Negroes” brought in 1619 in a Dutch ship (which probably had pirated them from a Spanish vessel in the Caribbean). There might have been enslaved blacks in Virginia earlier than 1619 but there is no firm documentary evidence of their presence. Bermuda had enslaved blacks by 1616 so it is hard to imagine that Virginia was even three years behind Bermuda.

    Black slaveowners are well-documented in the secondary source literature. The place to start is T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes, Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to 1676. Breen and Innes cover not only the Johnson family (and the controversy over John Casor–although I’ll note that wasn’t the first time there was a courtroom battle over slavery and freedom in VA) but also other families of free blacks, including the Drigguses and the Paynes. Many in this comparatively large community of free blacks owned slaves after having won their own freedom. What this shows is that prior to Bacon’s Rebellion the line between slave and free was blurred in interesting ways and that that line solidified after the rebellion (the Johnsons eventually left VA altogether). Forthcoming work from John Coombs suggest that the eastern shore community of free blacks was anomalous even by seventeenth-century standards.

    Incidentally, I find Emanual Driggus to be more interesting than Anthony Johnson. Some of the documents suggest that Driggus, though free by the 1650s and married to an English woman in the early 1660s, was reenslaved by the 1670s. (I wrote the entry for Emanual Driggus for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography and maintain an active research interest in Virginia’s free blacks in the seventeenth century.)

  • Jimmy Price Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:46

    Yes, that appears to be a black Confederate standing next to Nathan Bedford Forrest (holding a large piece of bread?) Perhaps they’re trying to recreate the part of the Fort Pillow massacre where all of the black Confederates executed their misguided Northern counterparts for betraying their homeland (after they stripped them of their clothes, of course)? The many certificates on the wall lead me to believe that much historical scholarship went into this exhibit…

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:18


    I’ve corresponded with Tim Hashaw, himself a descendant of some of the early African-Americans at Jamestown. He’s done quite a bit of research on the subject and I’ve emailed him asking for anything he might be able to add. Your criticisms are noted, but I would add that some of those making comments here might want to spend a little more time studying the specifics of Anthony Johnson before dismissing the claim outright.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:24


      I look forward to the additional information, but no one is dismissing anything here beyond the claim that the first slaveowner was black – unless I’ve missed something. Keep in mind that Rebecca’s area of expertise is early Virginia history.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:00


    Thanks for the links. Although more work needs to be done on this issue, historians have documented and tried to explain the small number of blacks who owned slaves/indentured servants during the early- and mid-17th century before the colonies moved to a slave system that ran along the color line. Even my AP textbook includes a section on this issue.

    I find it funny that a museum claiming only to present facts would get something as fundamental as this dead wrong. Perhaps they should spend some more time reading those elite/liberal/politically-correct academics.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Aug 17, 2009 @ 10:37

    I failed to mention – most who make this claim are referring to Anthony Johnson:

    “In 1655 Anthony Johnson appeared in court again, this time for a much different reason. Johnson’s servant John Casor (also spelled Casar, Cassaugh, Cazara) and his white neighbors, Robert and George Parker, were conspiring to cause Johnson some trouble. The neighbor claimed that Casor was being held beyond his seven year term of indenture. Johnson denied that the two had a contract, arguing instead that he owned Casor for life. Eventually the courts sided with Anthony Johnson, agreeing that Casor should remain in Johnson’s service. Casor would serve the Johnson for another seventeen years before being set free. Additionally, the Parkers were ordered to pay damages to Anthony Johnson. More importantly, this case is the first on record in which the nature of servitude for blacks would be taken up. Ironically the court’s decision weighed on the side of lifetime servitude becoming the standard for people of African descent, marking a turn in colonial law towards instituting slavery.”


  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Aug 17, 2009 @ 10:08

    “Anthony [Johnson] was the master of black and white, male and female servants and at least one black slave.”


    I don’t know if he was the first, but certainly an early owner of slaves.

  • chris meekins Aug 17, 2009 @ 10:07

    Oh, I forgot, History is about the facts. Thankfully blogging saves the day again!

  • Michael Lynch Aug 17, 2009 @ 9:10

    Interesting point in the news story about the curator letting schoolkids shoot blanks from “antique weapons.” Sounds like responsible public history at its finest.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2009 @ 9:25

      You guys are surprised that the first slaveowner was black because you are imposing your own politically correct interpretation onto the past. Focus on the facts and you will come to the truth. 🙂

  • chris meekins Aug 17, 2009 @ 8:29

    Or is that a naked / shirtless Yankee prisoner? News to me about the first slave owner in VA.

  • Rebecca Aug 17, 2009 @ 7:29

    The first slaveowner was a black man? REALLY?

    Good grief…

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