There are several letters in the Croghan family papers that mention an enslaved man named Alfred. These letters span many years and until recently, it was assumed they were all part of the story of one enslaved man. However, as I started cross referencing the Croghan family letters with documents I had found in other repositories, it quickly became apparent that there were actually two men of different ages being discussed. While untangling the lives of these two men has answered some questions, many more have bubbled to the surface as new, tantalizing details emerge.
This post will share the story of the first of the two men, who was simply known as Alfred. There are no documents that list a last name for him. Upcoming posts in the series will share the story of a man who did take a last name for himself, Alfred Croghan. The stories of both men give us insight into different roles enslaved men played in the Croghan household while also exposing the lack of control they had over their own lives.
Alfred’s story begins abruptly in May of 1825. While it may change in the future, we currently have no information about Alfred’s life before this time. He is first mentioned in a letter from Ann Croghan Jesup, who was living in Washington DC, to her mother Lucy Croghan at Locust Grove, near Louisville, Kentucky. Ann was not the only person from the Croghan household to relocate from Louisville to Washington DC when she married Thomas Sydney Jessup. Leaving behind friends and possibly family, at least three enslaved people owned by the Croghans, including Alfred, also went with Ann to help establish her new household.
Our first reference to Alfred is tantalizingly small, but we can still glean some of his personality from it.
“Old Mrs. Calhoun has been here, no kind of wether stops her, I don’t know which she talked most about her Methodist coachman who has run away and gone she thinks to New York “the cunning fellow to wate until his new cloth were finished & then march off with himself” – or her grand daughter that is a month old today “tis a wonderful fine child” I had a mind to ask as Alfred did, “if she was cutting teeth” the one before this is six weeks younger than Lucy Ann, & is not near so large nor can’t walk one step.” (Ann Croghan Jesup to Lucy Croghan, May 19, 1825, Croghan Family Letters – Filson Historical Society)
Ann, the proud mother of Lucy Ann, seems to enjoy Alfred’s sarcastic response to the doting grandmother proudly expounding upon (and possibly exaggerating) the qualities of her latest grandchild. However, there is always a line that could not be crossed and while it doesn’t seem to be an issue here, this may ultimately play a hand in Alfred’s fate.
A short four months later, we find Alfred back in Louisville and Lucy Croghan is visiting her daughter, Ann, in Washington DC. While she is away, Lucy’s eldest son, Dr. John Croghan is overseeing things at Locust Grove. Ever the dutiful son, Dr. Croghan includes news of how things are going at home in a letter to Ann’s husband, Thomas Sidney Jesup.
“Inform her [Lucy Croghan] that every thing goes on here exceedingly well. The women have dried a great deal of fruit, and are at their houses spinning wool or cotton or something of that kind. Old Nanny officiates for me in the cooking department. Two churns are going daily. Alfred goes to market almost every day & gives the profits to Larriway.” (John Croghan to Thomas Sidney Jesup, Sept. 8, 1825 – Locust Grove Manuscript Collection)
We don’t know why Alfred was back in Kentucky, but it was a common occurance to move enslaved people between Croghan family members. We can glean from this letter that Dr. Croghan trusted Alfred enough to carry goods to be sold in town and transport the profits from selling those goods.
What happens next is still a mystery to be solved and Alfred’s story ends as abruptly as it began. Nine years of his life passes without documentation and what we do have is frustratingly only a small part of the story. The final two letters we have show us that Alfred is back in Washington DC with Ann Croghan Jesup and her family.
“As it respects Alfred I am in hopes that you will that which you deem best.” (John Croghan to Thomas S. Jessup, September 29, 1834 – Library of Congress)
We learn that something has happened with Alfred and that Dr. Croghan trusts his brother-in-law’s ability to handle the situation. Dr. Croghan will quickly send a second letter a few days later, that includes his mother, Lucy’s feelings on the matter.
“…In obedience to your request I send you the enclosed from my Mother in relation to Alfred. He has acted so improperly that he deserves no quarters…
P.S. Dear General,
By your letter to John I find Alfred is unwilling to return to Ken; I, therefore, have no objection as he evinces so little gratitude, and as his conduct has been so improper to dispose of him.
Lucy Croghan ”
(John Croghan to Thomas S. Jessup, October 31, 1834 – Library of Congress)
While I continue to search, we currently have none of the letters or any other records describing what Alfred did that led Lucy Croghan to instruct her son-in-law to “dispose of him.” We also lack Alfred’s version of the events. The earliest letter referencing him hints at a sarcastic wit, but we currently have no way of knowing what it was that the Croghans found so “improper.”
However, this last letter gives us a prime example of a slave owner, in this case, Lucy Croghan, wielding the threat of selling an enslaved person in an attempt to force him to be grateful and follow her orders. We can deduce that the Croghans and Jesups felt Alfred should show gratitude for the opportunity to return to Kentucky and possibly be punished in some way once he was there and that they weren’t pleased when he chose not to return to Locust Grove.
Alfred isn’t mentioned in any of the Croghan family letters that we have past this point in time. While Alfred may have changed his mind about coming back to Kentucky after learning of Lucy Croghan’s willingness to sell him as punishment for his actions, the lack of him being mentioned further hints at the possibility that he was indeed sold.
While this is all I have to share of Alfred’s story for now, research into his life is ongoing. I am currently continuing to search for mentions of him in correspondence from and about the Croghans as well as working with the Library of Congress to research Thomas Sidney Jesup’s financial records in an effort to learn if he was indeed sold by General Jesup. If I do uncover anything new, I will be sure to share an update in another post.