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  • Writer's pictureHistory Revealed

From Enslavement to Freedom: The Life of L'Amour

Enlarged map of the region including Martinique.
From Martinique to Alexandria. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the last three years, History Revealed has worked with the Applied History classes at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia. Each spring semester, up to four students have interned with History Revealed to research locations to be added to a driving tour of sites associated with the store ledgers or to transcribe accounts as part of our Shopping Stories Transcription Project.[1]


In 2023, two students focused on transcribing pages from the Hooe & Harrison 1786/1787 Alexandria Ledger found in our Shopping Stories project on From the Page. In addition to transcribing, they advised on the implementation of a Discord server for transcribers to work collaboratively and ask questions as they work. Daniel Kang created a visual helpful hints presentation which we will be incorporating into a Transcription Tips section of our website; James Reese took an interest in the enslaved found on the pages of this ledger and started to pull on an interesting thread of an enslaved man named L'Amour.


Evidence of Enslavement in the 1786/1786 Ledger


Handwritten account name Jack

This store ledger includes only one individual account held by a person of African descent: Negro Jack Robinson/Robertson (folio 73).[2] We are still trying to confirm if Jack was enslaved, but our current thinking indicates he was most likely hired out to or enslaved by the Alexandria store. We hope to learn more about Jack as we continue to transcribe the store journals and ledgers.


While Jack may be the only enslaved account holder, much can still be found about the enslaved in Alexandria from the ledger(s). In the 1786/1787 ledger, we find many references to the enslaved through purchases made by and on behalf of them. For instance, the store's overhead accounts include mention of several individuals hired out to the store by the store's owners, Robert Townsend Hooe and Richard Harrison. From 1786-1787, Hooe hired to the store Anthony, Moses, Watt, Ben, Hannah, Winney, and Chloe; Joseph Harrison (Richard's brother) hired out Pompey; and Richard Harrison hired out George and L'Amour.[3]


Handwritten description of the enslaved hired out including values of their labor and length of service.
List of enslaved men and women hired out to the Hooe & Harrison store from 1786-1787 (folio 22). Courtesy of the New York Public Library, Manuscripts Division.

Hiring out was a process whereby an enslaver would rent an enslaved individual to someone else for a period of time. By hiring out their enslaved, the financial burden of room, board, and clothing was the responsibility of the "renter" for the specified period while the ultimate ownership was retained by the enslaver thereby ensured and maintained the enslaver's wealth.


A Brief Look at the Store's Enslavers


As cousins growing up in Charles County, Maryland, across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Hooe and Harrison both got their start as merchants in Port Tobacco; Hooe settled in Alexandria, while Harrison became the partner who traveled to foreign ports ensuring the importation process into the Potomac went smoothly.


Prior to his partnership with his cousin, Hooe partnered with Daniel Jenifer. Together, they worked with Harrison who lived in Martinique at the time.[4] Jenifer & Hooe shipped tobacco and flour of various qualities to Harrison in return for British and European goods, enabling the partners to bypass the embargoes on directly importing British goods during the Revolutionary War, but still supplying their customers with their desired supplies.[5]   As found in the Invoice Book (recording all the exportation of raw materials and importation of finished/refined goods), sometime between early February and late March, 1778, Hooe's partnership with Jenifer dissolved and Hooe began partnering directly with, Harrison. By September, Harrison left Martinique and was in St. Eustatia. In October, only tobacco was allowed to be exported out of Alexandria due to an embargo on exporting anything that could by used by the American army or navy.


By February 1779, Hooe & Harrison began importing goods directly from Cadiz, Spain, rather than through the Caribbean. As found in the Invoice Book, Harrison relocated to Cadiz sometime around April that year to manage the store's business in Europe.[6] The shift enabled the partners to sell directly in the local Spanish markets; a year later, Harrison had established a separate mercantile business (Harrison & Company) from his partnership with Hooe to take receipt of exported goods from Virginia and Maryland. Which brings us to the story of L'Amour, an enslaved man hired out to the Alexandria store, and the need to use the ledgers and journals as a springboard to look for context in the lives of enslaved men and women.


L'Amour in Alexandria


The closure of the second chapter of L'Amour's life can be found in a short document at the Fairfax County Courthouse. In 1791, Richard Harrison emancipated L'Amour for behaving "himself as an orderly, honest, and faithful servant...as a reward for his Fidelity and good conduct." Fellow store owner, Robert Townsend Hooe, was a witness for the document.[7] Because of the 1782 Virginia law, Harrison could manumit L'Amour by deed without first making a request to the General Assembly with the caveat that the newly freed man would be responsible for paying levies and taxes.[8]


What precipitated Harrison's decision to manumit L'Amour? We may never know the definitive answer to this question, but we can find hints of L'Amour's life in the preceding years in the Alexandria ledgers and journals of Hooe & Harrison.


Handwritten court document proving the freedom of L'Amour.
Emancipation of L'Amour. Courtesy of the Hon. John T. Frey, Clerk; Fairfax County Historic Records Center.

The manumission tells us that L'Amour was forcibly transported to Alexandria from Martinique in 1778, having been purchased by Harrison there; he had most likely been born there too. The first chapter of L'Amour's life remains a mystery to us as he arrived in Alexandria at around the age of 14. Removed from his family and his french-speaking culture and island home, he was brought to a small, Virginia town on the shores of the fresh water Potomac and its much cooler climate.[9] The store's daily journal corroborates the arrival date of 1778; in December 1778, Harrison paid Ann Sharpe eight shillings for the construction of a bed for "his Boy" - our first hint of L'Amour's arrival at the store.[10] Perhaps prior to moving to Cadiz, Harrison stopped in Alexandria with L'Amour from Martinique? What we do know is at the end of 1779, the store credited Harrison 200 pounds for a year's hiring of L'Amour reinforcing his likely arrival at the end of 1778.[11]


Historic map of town of Alexandria
Alexandria in 1749 with the likely locations of the Hooe & Harrison store during L'Amour's enslavement. Map courtesy of the Library of Congress.

What was life like for L'Amour in Alexandria? As the ledger transcriptions continue for the years between 1778 and 1791, we only have hints so far with no understanding yet of what his daily life or tasks might have been. When L'Amour first arrived, he likely slept in that bed at the store rented by Hooe & Harrison store on Lots 51/52 on King Street (blue circle); eventually, the store relocated to Lots 64/65 on Prince Street (red circle) and L'Amour undoubtedly participated in the move. He received annually two pairs of shoes (one pair each spring and fall); his shoes appear to have needed resoling twice a year too meaning he was on his feet quite a bit, walking and laboring on behalf of the store. Fabric and thread were specifically designated for him and the likely making of his clothing of osnaburg on an annual basis. When the Brig Maryland arrived in September, 1780, L'Amour received a hat and a pre-made jacket - a likely luxury compared to his usual osnaburg clothing. Osnaburg was a coarse, linen fabric frequently used for enslaved clothing - it would have been dull in color and scratchy against L'Amour's skin. He may not have been responsible for laundering his own clothing, as Ann Sharpe was paid for washing it that first year L'Amour spent in Alexandria. In a nod to some personal autonomy, L'Amour had at least one small space of his own asides from his bed as Harrison paid for mending L'Amour's lock in March, 1780.[12]


Account of Richard Harrison indicating value of L'Amour's labor for one year.
Journal of Harrison & Hooe, 1778-1787, 31 December 1780. Courtesy of New York Public Library, Manuscripts Division.

Although not found (yet) in the ledgers, one specific event on November 12, 1787, introduced L'Amour to the future first president of the United States. In a letter to George Washington from Joseph Lewis, Jr., Lewis wrote to describe an incident that had happened to him and Charles Ashton when out hunting the previous day.[13] Lewis and Ashton were both employees of the Hooe & Harrison store; Lewis started in September and Ashton in October, 1786. Based on their low, annual wages, we assume they were young men, likely in their early teens; in their first year, they were paid 15 and 10 pounds, respectively.[14] Their youth may have contributed to the actions described in the letter to Washington.


Handritten note to George Washington from Joseph Lewis.
Letter to George Washington brought by L'Amour. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Gray squirrel

According to Lewis, the two men had been tricked by Washington's enslaved to come on to Mount Vernon to shoot squirrels. By entering upon Washington's land, his enslaved men knew Lewis and Ashton would be considered poachers, and they knew that Washington offered a reward for the intervention and confiscation of the guns used which was exactly what happened to Lewis and Ashton.[15] Joseph Lewis wrote to Washington in hopes of retrieving the seized rifles.


Who was the letter bearer? It was L'Amour who went to Mount Vernon with Lewis's request; it was L'Amour who was entrusted to return to Alexandria with their guns. Although Washington does not note the visit in his diary or in any additional letters, we can only assume L'Amour did as bidden and made it safely back to Alexandria.[16]


Whether L'Amour's action on behalf of Lewis and Ashton was one of many taken "as an orderly, honest and faithful servant" that precipitated his emancipation four years later is as of yet unknown. Other appearances of him in the ledgers await additional transcriptions. What we do know is that in 1791, a 27 year old L'Amour found himself a free man.


Having lived in Alexandria for over 12 years, where did L'Amour go for the next chapters of his life? Did he make family ties along the Potomac and stay in the area or did he return to his family in Martinique? The joy and frustration may be we will never know, but we will continue to look. What we do know is the small thread we found in the ledgers revealed an unexpected story of freedom and the hope for more to come.


Want to help search for L'Amour and discover more stories, consider transcribing with us at From the Page.


 

Notes

  1. At present, the driving tour of sites associated with the shoppers at the Colchester store is still under development. Only 2 locations are presently published focused on individuals: Captain Daniel McCarty and the Reverend Charles Green.

  2. Negro Jack Robinson was listed as part of the inventory of the store as of 31 December 1779, valued at 2000 pounds (inflation during the Revolutionary War accounts for this amount). On 1 January 1782, his value was 100 pounds, and his name was recorded as Jack Robertson.

  3. Account Book of Hooe & Harrison, 1786-1787, folios 22 and 24. Although the store paid for 1 year of Winney's wages, it also paid for the construction of a coffin for her and her child. She perhaps died in childbirth sometime in late 1787.

  4. Harrison was in Martinique as early as June 1776 where he received correspondence from the Secret Committee in Philadelphia. See letter to Harrison dated 3 June 1776: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0269 (accessed 14 February 2024)

  5. Hening's Statutes at Large. Laws of Virginia, Chapter XV "An act to empower the Governour and Council to lay an Embargo for a limited time." https://vagenweb.org/hening/vol09-24.htm#page_530 (accessed 14 February 2024) The Articles of Confederation, approved by the Continental Congress in 1777, provided that the states reserved the right to independently govern their own foreign trade. Virginia held to the Continental Association of 1774 to boycott British goods and merchants. Penalties for importing goods or exporting produce to Britain: https://vagenweb.org/hening/vol09-05.htm#page_103 (accessed 14 February 2024)

  6. The Invoice Book indicates tobacco was shipped and consigned to Richard Harrison on April 2, 1779. The Harrison & Company Account Book at the Library of Congress may shed additional light on Harrison's movements.

  7. Emancipation of L'Amour, 30 December 1790 (recorded 18 January 1791). Fairfax County Deed Book, T-1: 77-78. Robert Townsend Hooe was one of the witnesses for the document. Thank you to Heather Bollinger, Historic Records Manager, for providing access to the original manumission record.

  8. "An act to authorize the manumission of slaves." Encyclopedia Virginia, https://encyclopediavirginia.org/primary-documents/an-act-to-authorize-the-manumission-of-slaves-1782/ (accessed 14 February 2024).

  9. The manumission described L'Amour as around 27 years old making his birth sometime around 1763. To date, L'Amour's passage to Alexandria has not been identified in the Invoice Book. We hope it may be identified in the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts (accessed 14 February 2024) at the Library of Virginia or referenced in one of the contemporaneous journals.

  10. In the same entry, Sharpe paid rent for her house and was credited her account for making, mending, and washing clothes for the white and enslaved workers of the store, as well as making towels, bed clothes, and candles. Journal of Harrison & Hooe, 1778-1787. December 31, 1778.

  11. Although not every year has yet been transcribed, we know the cost of hiring L'Amour for 1779 (Journal of Harrison & Hooe, December 31, 1779); for 1780 at 15 pounds (in gold) (Journal of Harrison & Hooe, December 31, 1780); for 1786-1789 at 20 pounds/year (Account Book of Hooe & Harrison, 1786-1787, folio 65; Account Book of Hooe & Harrison, 1788-1789, folio 32).

  12. New shoes: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, April 5, 1780; December 12, 1780; May 10, 1781; November 15, 1781; April 11, 1787. Soling shoes: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, February 15, 1780; October 3, 1780; February 6, 1781. Fabric and thread: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, July 13, 1780; September 20, 1780; November 2, 1780; September 11, 1781; November 15, 1781. Hat and jacket from the Brig Maryland: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, September 30, 1780. Mending the lock: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, March 3, 1780. Washing clothing: Journal of Harrison & Hooe, December 31, 1779.

  13. “To George Washington from Joseph Lewis, Jr., 12 November 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-05-02-0396. (accessed 14 February 2024) [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 5, 1 February 1787 – 31 December 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997, pp. 431–432.]

  14. Account Book of Hooe & Harrison, 1786-1787, folio 24.

  15. The Papers of George Washington note an advertisement placed in the Virginia Journal, and Alexandria Advertiser on 10 August 1786 specifically prohibiting removing stone, wood, or game from Washington's Property. Less than two weeks before Lewis's and Ashton's foray onto Mount Vernon, Archibald Johnston sent a letter requesting permission to go hunting on the grounds and Washington's response stated "...for my strict, and positive orders to all my people are—if they hear a Gun fired upon my Land to go immediately in pursuit of it...." For additional information, see https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-05-02-0369 (accessed 14 February 2024).

  16. No mentions have been found in the week preceding or succeeding Lewis's letter in Washington's diary entries, letters, or financial papers.

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