by Andy Hall
For my first post this week, I'd like to return to some (to my thinking) unfinished business. Some weeks back, TNC posted a letter from a USCT soldier describing the beating given to a notorious Virginia tidewater slaveholder at the hands of some of his former slaves. There was some question about the authenticity of the letter and, as a result, I and others worked to compile a rough biographical outline of the letter's author, Sgt. George W. Hatton, 1st United States Colored Troops, which I posted in the comments section. TNC was generous enough to kick that comment "upstairs," making it a post of its own, but there were still some substantial gaps in Hatton's life as described. Subsequent comments to that posts led to yet more discoveries in contemporary newspapers, directories and so on. It was actually a running commentary in the comments, putting up each new discovery, that went late into the evening. It was historical/genealogical crowdsourcing, and it was great fun. Many in the Horde probably missed that running discussion, though, and it was disjointed in any case, so I'd like to take this opportunity to put it all together in one post, with some additional material not presented before. The arc of George Hatton's life is a difficult one, but one worth knowing.
Special thanks to regular Golden Horde commenter KewHall, who found and shared critical mentions of Hatton that opened up the research on the latter parts of Hatton's life. Because it's a long story, I'll post it in three parts over the week.
From the Christian Recorder newspaper, May 28, 1864:
Camp of the 1st U.S. Colored Troops,
Wilson's landing, Charles City Co.,
May 10th 1864.
You are aware that Wilson's Landing is on the James river, a few miles above Jamestown, the very spot where the first sons of Africa were landed, in the year 1620, if my memory serves me right, and from that day up to the breaking out of the rebellion, was looked upon as an inferior race by all civilized nations.
But behold what has been revealed in the past three or four years; why the colored men have ascended upon a platform of equality, and the slave can now apply the lash to the tender flesh of his master, for this day I am now an eye witness of the fact. The country being principally inhabited by wealthy farmers, there are a great many men in the regiment who are refugees from this place.
While out on a foraging expedition we captured Mr. Clayton [sic., Clopton], a noted reb in this part of the country, and from his appearance, one of the F.F.V's; on the day before we captured several colored women that belonged to Mr. C., who had given them a most unmerciful whipping previous to their departure.
On the arrival of Mr. C. in camp, the commanding officer determined to let the women have their revenge, and ordered Mr. C. to be tied to a tree in front of headquarters, and William Harris, a soldier in our regiment, and a member of Co. E, who was acquainted with the gentleman, and who used to belong to him, was called upon to undress him, and introduce him to the ladies I mentioned before. Mr. Harris played his part conspicuously, bringing the blood from his loins at every stroke, and not forgetting to remind the gentleman of days gone by.
After giving him some fifteen or twenty well-directed strokes, the ladies, one after another, came up and gave him a like number, to remind him that they were no longer his, but safely housed in Abraham's bosom, and under the protection of the Star Spangled Banner, and guarded by their own patriotic, though once down-trodden race.
Oh, that I had the tongue to express my feelings while standing upon the banks of the James river, on the soil of Virginia, the mother state of slavery, as a witness of such a sudden reverse! The day is clear, the fields of grain are beautiful and the birds are singing sweet melodious songs, while poor Mr. C. is crying to his servants for mercy. Let all who sympathize for the South take this narrative for a mirror.
G.W.H. was George W. Hatton, a 22-year-old soldier from Maryland. He was born in Prince Georges County in about 1842. I think he was born free, although another, second-hand source from decades later describes him as having been a slave at some point.