I recently attended a lecture here at Boston University lead by Dr Raul Fernandez. It was an interesting and important discussion about old monuments, streets, and buildings whose existence and names depended on who those in power felt were worth honoring and who should be overlooked.
This monument was a major item up for discussion:
An essay which Raul (I’m friendly with Raul so I’m just callin’ him Raul for the duration) wrote about the monument can be read HERE.
We discussed the monument and what it portrayed. Many felt, and I agree, that it’s basically white privilege at it’s “best”; Lincoln; the man who freed slaves, molded in a heroic manner while also still above the people he freed.
Raul said that there is a replica of this monument in Boston, and that it has come to be known as “Shine, sir?” because it appears that the black man is offering a shoeshine.
What the fresh hell?
As we talked about this statue and how one might view it versus what it stands for, Raul shared its history by starting with a photo of this woman, Charlotte Scott, who played and integral role in having the monument built in honor of Lincoln.
At the sight of her, the skin on the back of my neck began to buzz.
And I am OK with that. I have become familiar with the feeling overt he past nine months.
You see, Charlotte Scott was owned by my ancestors.
I first learned of Charlotte when an article was shared with us during our trip to Virginia back in June, 2019. It was only a few months prior to that that I learned my ancestors owned slaves in VA.
Yeah, it’s been a weird year.
The article said Charlotte worked for Dr William Rucker and his wife, Meg Rucker, and they were her former master and mistress. The article went into great detail about Dr Rucker’s Union sympathizing rabble-rousing, so I didn’t dive into it since Rucker isn’t my ancestor and my obsession was focused on direct ancestors at the time.
Seeing Charlotte’s face again during the BU lecture galvanized me to revisit her and track her life and record it as best I could now that I finished the family history project (for now). So I went back into articles, censuses, and ancestry.com to figure it out.
I used the article linked below with other info I found online to learn about my family’s connection to Charlotte in more detail. I have to credit author Marjorie Huiner, this article’s author, for clarifying so much.
That said, I have no way, as usual, of knowing of any of its accuracy.
When my fourth great-grandfather Capt William Scott died in 1819, he left land, livestock, personal property, and some of his slaves to his surviving seven children. The slaves who remained in addition to 900 acres of land was left to his wife, Ann Scott. After her death, the land and “personal property” was to go to his youngest sons Hugh and Thomas.
In 1831, Ann decided to give them their inheritance early, splitting the land between them, the slaves as well, in exchange for them caring for her for the remainder of her days. The brothers’ properties were joined, as they were initially one plot of land, and the two brothers kept the sixteen inherited slaves on the two abutting farms as their father’s will requested. The slaves were not to be sold or separated.
Two of the slaves listed in Capt William’s will were very young. Hugh inherited a boy named Willis and Thomas inherited a girl named Charlotte. It’s possible that Willis and Charlotte, who later married and had a family together, met while farming on the adjoining properties. Many marriages and families grew from the Scott slaves, but many were separated as slaves were passed and loaned between the family, so it’s interesting that Capt William insisted these slaves not be separated, though there is no known reason why exactly.
When Thomas’ first wife died, his daughter Margaret “Meg” was only two years old. At this point, Charlotte was around the age of Meg’s recently deceased mother, and likely took on the role of caregiver.
When Thomas died in 1861, Meg, who was about 29 at that point, inherited three slaves, one of whom was Charlotte, who Meg had on loan for many years already.
Thomas’ will described Charlotte as a woman valued at $500. For context, today, that would be $15,455.30.
Another account claims Thomas gave Charlotte as a gift for Meg’s marriage to Dr William Rucker in 1852. I have no idea which account is accurate, but I suppose the first is more likely since there is a will somewhere claiming it (along with Charlotte’s worth)
During her time with the Scott family, Charlotte herself had twelve children!
When Charlotte was freed in 1862, she stayed with the Rucker family and served as cook and clothes washer. She was in her late fifties at this point, had adopted the last name of Scott, and moved with the Ruckers to Ohio.
With the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, Charlotte was moved to take action. During the unveiling of the Freedom Monument, pictured at top, in 1876, Mr. James E. Yeatman, President of the Western Sanitary Commission said “…after the war was closed ; after the lamented, honored, and loved Lincoln had been so foully assassinated in this city, five dollars were sent to us—the contribution of Charlotte Scott, a poor slave-woman, who, on hearing of the assassination of President Lincoln, went, in great distress, to her mistress—that had been, for she was then free—and said to her: “The colored people have lost their best friend on earth ! Mr. Lincoln was our best friend, and I will give five dollars of my wages towards erecting a monument to his memory.” This money, this five dollars, this grain of mustard seed, contributed by Charlotte Scott in gratitude to her deliverer, was sent to us by her former master, Mr. P. Rucker, through the hands of General T. C. H. Smith, then in command of the military post of St. Louis, having received it from Mr. Rucker, who was a Union refugee from Virginia, having sought safety for himself and family in Marietta, Ohio, taking along with him Charlotte Scott, and perhaps others belonging to him. It was this five dollars that was the foundation of this beautiful and appropriate memorial which we now see before us. SOURCE
Charlotte attended the 1876 dedication of the monument, and a photo was taken of her, reproduced, and sold to raise money for the monument’s upkeep. I don’t know if it’s the photo at the top of this entry, but I’m guessing it likely is.
Frederick Douglass was in attendance at the dedication. You can read his speech here. He did not herald Lincoln to be a hero to black people from the get-go, stating “He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”
Charlotte returned to Virginia after the war and lived with her husband Willis in a cabin on the Scott plantation. One account says Meg gave her four acres of land around the cabin. She died on January 24, 1891 in her late-eighties. According to Huiner’s article, her death was announced in a Marietta, OH newspaper, where one of her daughters still lived, but not in any Lynchburg, Virginia papers.
With twelve children, I am left so curious about this woman. What were the children’s lives like? What was it like for Charlotte – moving around and having so many children, possibly at the same time. Did Willis move around too? What about their kids? Obviously, in 1891 she had a daughter in Ohio. What was her life like?
As always, left with more questions.
Above is the replica monument in Lincoln Park in Boston, when I photographed them today while on the Common for another shoot.