Toy Soldiers

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Figurines of United States Colored Troops from the American Civil War.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

These are pictures of some very cool figurine displays that were posted to the Facebook page of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association. Unfortunately, the site of these displays is not clearly identified. Too bad; I’d love to see them in person. If anybody knows where these are, please drop me a line.

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Figurines of soldiers from the American Revolutionary War. The figure to the far right is wearing the uniform of the First Rhode Island Regiment, which fought with the Patriots.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

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I suspect this scene is based on the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom by having himself mailed in a wooden crate to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania abolitionists.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

North meets South, Zouave meets boy: Winslow Homer’s Contraband

Contraband Winslow Homer
Contraband, by Winslow Homer. Watercolor, 1875
Source: Wikipedia Commons. Click here for larger size.

The American Civil War made for new and unexpected encounters between North and South. One of those is captured in Winslow Homer’s poignant 1875 watercolor painting Contraband, which features a Union soldier in a Zouave uniform and a runaway slave boy.

What did these two see in each other’s faces? This might be the first time that the white soldier sees a slave in the flesh. Understand that in 1860, less than 2% of the North’s population was of African descent; millions of northerners went their entire lives without ever seeing a negro. Slaves had been much talked about, but hardly seen except for press illustrations which typically represented them as big-lipped, dark-skinned caricatures. But as this soldier gazed upon the boy, he may have seen, not a cartoon image, but rather, the face of humanity. And so he was moved to this act of kindness, of sharing his water with the boy.

And what did the child, whose enslaved family had sought refuge behind Union lines, make of this man with the garish uniform and the funny accent? During the war, thousands of slaves heeded the advice of the grapevine telegraph that the United States army offered them freedom, if they could escape to Union lines. Having survived his family’s sojourn from bondage, the thirsty and exhausted boy with the curious and almost trepidatious look may have tasted not just water, but also, liberation and hope. Perhaps the boy thought that he might be a soldier himself one day. (Many black men who escaped bondage did become soldiers, and maybe even some boys.) Continue reading

Remembering the Emancipation Proclamation

Viewing the Emancipation Proclamation
In 1947, former slave Sally Fickland views the Emancipation Proclamation
The Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863.

Photo Source: National Archives

From the National Archives:

This photograph shows 88-year-old Mrs. Sally Fickland, a former slave, looking at the Emancipation Proclamation in 1947.

She would have been 3 years old when Lincoln signed the proclamation in 1862.

The document was in Philadelphia that day on the first stop on the Freedom Train tour. The Freedom Train carried the Emancipation Proclamation and the Bill of Rights across America. During the 413-day tour, 3.5 million people in 322 cities in 48 states.

Due to its fragile condition—it was printed on both sides of poor-quality 19th-century paper, unlike the Constitution, which is written on more durable parchment—the Emancipation Proclamation can only be displayed for 30 hours each year.

American Esoterica: The Negro Lawn Jockey, George Washington, Christmas, and the Underground Railroad

Negro Lawn Jockey
1935 Christmas card featuring a Lawn Jockey.
Photo Source: History Of the Lawn Jockey, at LawnJock.com

The website LawnJock.com advertisers itself as “The premiere site for hand-painted Lawn Jockey statues and accessories.Estate Quality. Real. Metal. Lawn Jockeys.” The site features a history of the lawn jockey, from which I am re-blogging the following excerpts; follow the link to get the full story:

We get many questions regarding the origins and rich history of the great American Lawn Jockey statue. Many are surprised to learn that the Lawn Jockey is actually an evolution of 3 related statues and was used primarily as a horse hitching post in the 1800’s. The Lawn Jockey makes history come alive with legends of tours of duty in the revolutionary war and civil war. Like a time machine, the cultural significance of this unique sculpture has touched many areas of society in important ways and is still evolving hundreds of years after the statue first appeared.

Above is a page from JW Fiske’s 1910 catalog. Note that there were other jockey versions other than the 3 main versions. Fiske’s “Chinaman” version can be seen in the Charleston, SC photo above(the jockey on the left). There were hundreds of iron foundrys making jockeys in the 19th century but the 3 biggest manufacturers that had catalogs and marked their products were JW Fiske and JL Mott of New York City, and Robert Wood and Company of Philadelphia.

The “big 3″ manufacturers all made the 2 jockey versions as shown below in the 1902 JL Mott catalog. The “caricature” jockey version was not cataloged or manufactured by the “big 3″.

Jockeys were mainly used for residential applications in the 1800’s, but also were used for trades as well. Although they eventually were most closely associated with motels and restaurants as a symbol of “welcome” in the 1900’s, their main location/purpose in the 1800’s were to identify tobacco shop storefronts. Historical documents from manufacturers show zinc statues were made for the trade/tobacco shop applications, while iron statues were made for residences.

Hospitality – Horseracing – History

“Welcome home”, “horseracing”, and “history” are the 3 primary themes of all lawn jockey statues, reflecting charming memories of a bygone era. Many other themes are represented in this uniquely American statue, some of which are described here and on other pages on this website: patriotism, George Washington, the American revolution, slave participation in the revolutionary war, Greek influences in American art and architecture, the Statue of Liberty, Christmas, the Underground Railroad, Black Americana, ironwork and the industrial revolution, 19th century American iron toys, forgotten black jockeys of the 1800’s, the Kentucky Derby, southern hospitality, the American centennial, and the American Red Cross.

Now let’s fast forward to 1776, on the eve of the American revolution, where the Lawn Jockey legend began. Beginning as oral tradition, in the 1960’s and 70’s the source material for this legend was eventually published in book and theater play form by Washington DC insurance agent Earl Koger(see play cover below) and in news articles by Washington Post reporter Chester Hampton. CLICK HERE to read Chester Hampton’s newspaper article on September 27, 1970.

At 3am on December 26, 1776 George Washington’s colonial army in Pennsylvania crossed the Delaware river and attacked the British at Trenton, New Jersey. Legend has it Washington’s groomsman, a 12-year-old slave boy named Jocko Graves, stayed on the Pennsylvania shore taking care of Washington’s horses, holding up a lantern to mark the location. In 1776, a “groomsman” referred to “a man or boy in charge of feeding, conditioning, and stabling of horses.”


Famous painting of Washington’s “Christmas Day” crossing of the Delaware

Recorded history documents two colonial army deaths in the Battle of Trenton, which was a significant victory for the colonials. Both soldiers froze to death on the river crossing, not killed in combat.

But legend tells of one more casualty… Jocko, who was found frozen to death on the Pennsylvania shore while still holding the lantern when Washington returned at noon on December 26, 1776. Legend has it that upon Washington’s return to his Mount Vernon, Virginia home, he was so inspired by Jocko’s heroism, he commissioned a cast iron statue of Jocko holding a lantern and called it the “Faithful Groomsman”. The “welcome/coming home” theme of these statues started here, and with an ironic double meaning: “coming home” being also used as a metaphor for “dying and going to heaven” from Christian theology. The last name “Graves” associated with the statue also offers a cryptic allusion to a cemetery grave – was the original statue a grave marker for Jocko? Taking into account that very few slaves had last names in colonial America, the grave marker explanation seems plausible.

Jockeys and Christmas

Although Christmas was not an elaborate celebration at the time, the “Christmas” theme of the Jockey also started here… making Jockey statues with lanterns the first “Christmas Lights”. Even today, more Jockeys are sold at Christmas than at any other time. Continue reading

Black Boys in Blue: A Gallery of Young African Americans in Union Military Dress

African American Soldier Boy
Nathan Jones, Camp Metcalf, Va.
Photo of an African American boy with Union army cap and belt, probably pants as well. Camp Metcalfe was a fort in northern Virginia, not too far from Washington, DC. Nathan Jones was probably an escaped slave (often called “contraband” by Northerners) who lived near the Camp or did servant duties there.
Photo Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, Reproduction Numbers: LC-DIG-ppmsca-11192, LC-DIG-ppmsca-11193

“With the United States cap on your head, the United States eagle on your belt, the United States musket on your shoulder, not all the powers of darkness can prevent you from becoming American citizens. And not for yourselves alone are you marshaled — you are pioneers — on you depends the destiny of four millions of the colored race in this country . . . If you rise and flourish, we shall rise and flourish. If you win freedom and citizenship, we shall share your freedom and citizenship.”

– Frederick Douglass January 29, 1864, Fair Haven, Connecticut; address to the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry regiment (African descent)

During times of war, it is not uncommon to see boys dressed in the garb of soldiers. And if times are hard enough, boys might even take the role of soldier. In the American Civil War, African American boys had varied experiences which would dress them in the raiments of the armed services, or place them close to, or even into, the Union army and navy. (According to the National Archives, more than 10,000 troops under the age of 18 enlisted in the Union Army. About five percent of the Confederate Army troops were under the age of 18.)

This is a gallery of male youngsters in Union military dress. Some might have put on military dress simply to take an interesting photograph. Some might have been escaped slaves who lived near Union army camps, and did odd jobs or such for the soldiers, and were given uniforms to wear. Some might have been enlisted drummer boys. But all of these pictures indicate that many African descent boys were aware of, or even close to, the military conflict that involved their fathers or brothers or friends. How this affected them cannot be told from these pictures alone. But these photos give us pause to consider the effect of war on children and their families.


Taylor, a drummer boy for the 78th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops
This is an iconic picture in various Civil War texts.
The 78th regiment of the USCT was organized in April 1864 and served primarily in Port Hudson, Louisiana, until mustered out in January 1866.
Photo Source: National Archives

In some texts, the boy in the image is named Jackson. And he is sometimes seen in a photo wearing tattered clothing; refer to the images below:


Before and after images of drummer boy “Jackson”
Photo Source: US Studies Online;
see also here, page 7.

What’s going on here? According to Corbis Images, the boy in the “Portrait of ‘Contraband” Jackson,’ (is) supposed to look like many of the runaway slaves that flocked to the banners of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Used in combination with a photograph of Jackson as a drummer in military uniform, this was circulated to encourage enlistments among African Americans.” Indeed, the photographs make a poignant appeal to the conscience of black men: if a young boy was willing to serve, then why shouldn’t you?

Boy on Mount
Gen. Rawlin’s horse taken at Cold Harbor, Va.
This photo of an African American boy on a horse is described in the first edition of the book “Photographic History Of The Civil War, Volume IV, The Cavalry.” The book, published in 1912 and edited by Theo. F. Rodenbough, states:
“It is a proud little darkey boy who is exercising the horse of a general – John Aaron Rawlins, the Federal brigadier-general of volunteers, who was later promoted to the rank of major-general, U.S.A., for gallant and meritorious services during the campaign terminating with the surrender of the army under General Lee. The noble horse himself is looking around with a mildly inquiring air at the strange new instrument which the photographer is leveling at him.”
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, Reproduction Numbers: LC-USZ62-131082


Robert Walker, a young African-American “First Class Boy” dressed in a sailor’s uniform, has “Our Bob” written on the bottom.
From Trans-Mississippi Photo Archive (ozarkscivilwar.org): “First Class Boys” in the U.S. Navy were generally young men under 17 years of age. They were paid $9 per month and performed various sailor duties, including serving as servants to the ship’s officers, standing watches, helping with work parties and serving on damage control parties.
Photo Source: Trans-Mississippi Photo Archive, from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (WICR 32071-L)

Sailor Boy African Anerican
Full-length portrait of an African American boy in nautical clothing
Photo Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, Reproduction Numbers:LC-DIG-ppmsca-10904, LC-DIG-ppmsca-10905


Unidentified young African American soldier in Union uniform with forage cap
Photo Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, Reproduction Numbers: LC-DIG-ppmsca-37079,LC-DIG-ppmsca-27079
Continue reading

Giving Thanks, by Harry Herman Roseland

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Source: Liveauctioneers.com

This painting, titled Giving Thanks, is the work of Brooklyn, New York artist Harry Herman Roseland (c.1867—1950). He was a noted painter who received many awards for his work in his lifetime. According to Wikipedia, “Roseland was primarily known for paintings centered on poor African-Americans.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

To the Highest Bidder, by Harry Herman Roseland

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Picture source: AskArt.com

This poignant painting, titled To the Highest Bidder, is the work of Brooklyn, New York artist Harry Herman Roseland (c.1867—1950). He was a noted painter who received many awards for his work in his lifetime. According to Wikipedia,

Roseland was primarily known for paintings centered on poor African-Americans… One of his most popular subjects were his paintings of black women fortune tellers who read the palms and tea leaves of white women clients.

Oprah Winfrey has stated that her favorite painting in her personal collection is Roseland’s 1904 work, To the Highest Bidder. This painting, which unlike most of Roseland’s pieces is actually a pre-Civil War scene, depicts a mother and daughter that are about to be separated by a slave auction.

I am taken by the somber desperation in the eyes of the mother. Her gaze seems to both shame and challenge the viewer: how can you look at me, and know what is about to happen, and yet do nothing?