Remembering That People Matter–Victorian Style

As I was reading the book called Women In Atlanta by Staci Catron-Sullivan and Susan Neill, I came across this featured photograph of a 19th Century black woman wearing an embellished Victorian Dress.  Staci and Susan draw the eyes to the young lady’s hand which appears to be covering a necklace charm.  They state, “The sitter appears to shield an object and may be concealing a slave hire badge. . . . If hired-out slaves were found without the proper badge, they were arrested, and their masters were forced to pay fines for their return.”

1848 Free Slave TagAtlanta, Georgia City HallCourtesy: Africanafrican.com

1848 Free Slave Tag
Atlanta, Georgia City Hall
Courtesy: Africanafrican.com

Then I remembered the Labor Behind the Veil tour in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Often slaves were arrested and their legal tags were taken from them by the captors.  As a result, many slaves and free people of color were then taken to the auction block and resold to new slave owners.  Either circumstance, shielding one’s identity was critical to survival during the era of slavery.  If you are following the story of Lavinia Flagg, she and Wilkes were sold back into slavery after leaving the state of Georgia and returning.

Because someone knew that Wilkes and Lavinia mattered as human beings, the Wilkes family freedom was reestablished after $750 in fines were paid. Historians tend to focus on the peculiar institution of slavery.  However, many rarely look at slavery from the slave or free person of color’s perspective.  This is why the masses have lost interest in Civil War history which has become primarily about the Generals, the Battlefields, and the progression of the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t want the Wilkes’ love story and similar Civil War stories to be hidden within hundreds of pages of books.  As the authors of Women in Atlanta point out, these stories are about people, not property; and their life experiences deserve to be shared globally.  Love, Faith, and Hope are relevant in 2013. This is why its important to remember that people will always matter.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt

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Recreating a mid-19th Century Wardrobe–Victorian Style

Civil War Work Dressby Anna KristinePemberley Couture

Civil War Work Dress
by Anna Kristine
Pemberley Couture

Before recreating a Living Historian wardrobe, the first course of action is to better understand the make-up of social classes during the 1800’s. It is a known fact that 75% of citizens in the south did not own slaves. Mark Weitz, author of “A Higher Duty,” states that there were five social classes in the south: (1) planters, (2) wealthy farmers, (3) slaveholding yeoman farmers (4) non-slaveholding yeoman farmers, and (5) field hands, tenant farmers, or city employees. To much dismay, slaves were considered property and not citizens.

In addition, People of Color struggled to be acknowledged within the social structure during the Civil War era. Most during this time period categorized People of Color in the 5th class of citizens. A precursory glimpse into the lives of Wilkes and Lavinia Flagg reveal that they were slaves in the early years of their lives and, as Free People of Color, were servants at the former Georgia (USA) Governor’s Mansion prior to and during the Civil War era.

Jack Cox, author of “The 1850 Census of Georgia Slave Owners” states that less than 10% of the population in Georgia owned slaves.  This means that only 10% of the women in Georgia dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, a character in the classic novel titled “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Far more women wore clothing that was conducive for the practical everyday life of a wife, mother or daughter who was responsible for managing a household.

Stereotypes will be shattered as a 21st Century Civil War Living Historian designs a mid-19th Century wardrobe–Victorian Style.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt

Note: Featured photograph is of an unidentified woman (ca. 1857-1868).  Photograph was taken by the renowned Photographer J. P. Ball.