What does it mean to pay for a free man? There are many answers to this question, two completely different sides to the coinciding story, and the resolutions conflict with one another. The story behind a Claim for Compensation for Enlisted Slave offers some perspective to the root of multi-century racial conflict, which is now especially relevant when we consider modern-day events from across the United States. Worth attributed to black lives began with slavery, and became more complex once African-Americans gained their freedom. The very idea initiating a Claim for Compensation for Enlisted slave is that black lives are value in measurable economic worth—not a measure of humanity. If we understand slavery as the seed of the issue, then in order to understand the scope of this racial relationship we must look at the root—starting with the connection between a former slaveholder and his former slave. These were two men that came from two worlds and two separate sides of an American tragedy: the issue of slavery in the American South.
My examination of this story begins with the relationship of the “protagonists”—Horace Kingsbury, a prominent Missouri slaveholder, and Albert Cavanaugh, one of the seven male slaves Kingsbury lost to the enlistment of black men into the United States Colored Troops. The relationship between master and slave never changed for Kingsbury, just as it remained the same for many former slaveholders. Just two years after Cavanaugh’s departure from his master’s grasp, Kingsbury attempted to lay his legal claim on the former slave once more. On November 8, 1866, in Cooper County, Missouri, Horace Kingsbury filed a Claim for Compensation for Enlisted Slave stating that he was owed financial restitution for Cavanaugh despite his free status. Due to a series of political compromises, Kingsbury’s right to file a claim was not only legal, but common among former pro-slavery unionists in the border states. Starting with Union army general John Schofield’s General Order 135, which “Provided for the enlistment of any able-bodied black man—free or slave—regardless of the loyalty of the slave’s master, granted freedom to slaves who enlisted, and promised compensation to loyal masters” (Berlin, Fields et al. 408).
General Order 135 was just a precursor to the actions and events that would lead to the Claim for Compensation of Enlisted Slave form, and it resonated negatively with the Missouri antislavery radicals. Black recruitment became the charge of army provost marshals, many of whom came from the Missouri slaveholding class. As military recruitment was the one way for border state slaves to gain a valid approach to freedom, many recruiting officers had no interest in supporting the cause. Furthermore, Schofield’s strict regulations in the system “limited the number of slave volunteers and hampered efforts to employ recruitment as a vehicle of wholesale liberation” (Berlin, Fields et al. 410). General Order 135 was a staple in the conflicting ideals of allowing black men to enlist in the army while simultaneously allowing the slaveholding class to continue asserting ownership of newly freed human beings. Seven of Horace Kingsbury’s male slaves left his property for the opportunity to become one of the many black men that would fight for a country that held them captive. Because their loss was felt for Kingsbury economically, he felt the need to capitalize on their desperation to be free. Slaveholders often did not think of blacks as anything other than their property, and their identity as upper-class citizens depended on it. They “cohered as a ruling class on the basis of their ownership of human beings. From an opportunistic reliance upon slaves as the most convenient laborers available during the seventeenth century, they progressed to a commitment to slavery as a social system,” (Fox-Genovese and Genovese 211). The entire social hierarchy that slavery supplied before the Civil War was perpetuated by the actions of the ruling class, and the Claim for Compensation for Enlisted Slave became one more documentation of the enslavement of African-Americans.
Dr. Horace Kingsbury was born on April 7, 1813, in Randolph County, North Carolina. He immigrated with his family to Missouri in 1817. Not much is known about his childhood, but there are records of a marriage to Eliza Ann Brashear in 1832. The two had six children together before she passed away in her sleep in 1857. Kingsbury married again in 1866 to Mary A. Chandler. There is mention of a second wife named Isabina prior to Kingsbury’s marriage to Mary Chandler in the 1883 publication History of Howard and Cooper Counties, Missouri, but I found no legal records of the marriage. Horace Kingsbury became Dr. Horace Kingsbury in 1847, when he graduated from the Eclectic Medical Institution in Cincinnati, Ohio. He purchased 44.1 acres of farmland—now affectionately known by locals as Cedar Grove, in Howard County, Missouri sometime in 1851. This is the same year in which Albert Cavanaugh was purchased from one William H. Griggs. Horace Kingsbury’s home on Cedar Grove, called the Dr. Horace Kingsbury House, was finished in 1856.
Missouri profited from a “well-developed” economy dependent on slavery, and Kingsbury’s personal affluence was no exception (Berlin, Fields et al. 395). According to the 1980 National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination form filed for Cedar Grove, Horace Kingsbury owned twenty-two slaves by the start of the American Civil War, making him one of the largest slave owners in Missouri (Derendinger 9). They resided in the “servant’s quarters, which is now in poor shape,” (Derendinger 4). At least seven of his slaves enlisted in the Union army between 1863 and 1865. One of these men was 30-year-old Albert Cavanaugh, for whom Kingsbury requested financial compensation in 1866. The complete abolishment of slavery in Missouri was a slow moving process that required strategically-planned movements from the government. Missouri’s free labor economy was on the rise, causing panic in slave owners. The election of republican Abraham Lincoln saw the turning point of a state that was already conflicted, as “the sectional crisis turned Missouri into a powder keg, and Abraham Lincoln’s election touched off the explosion” (Berlin, Fields, et al. 395). Both proslavery and antislavery Missourians began to lobby for their respective causes. After the start of the civil war, Lincoln appointed extreme antislavery official General John C. Fremont to Missouri command.
Kingsbury was reportedly known for living a very Christian life. His story, featured in the History of Howard and Cooper Counties, Missouri, describe him as living a “useful and honorable life and died a Christian death. No nobler epitaph can be written for the dead.” Despite his spotless reputation, Kingsbury was one of the biggest slave owners in Missouri. He measured his profits in human capital.
Many Southerners had deep-rooted Christian beliefs, and “true southern men were Christians who exhibited godliness and piety; they displayed devotion to duty and were committed to protecting their families and the Christian community, as well as the institution of slavery” (Steward 72). Southern Christians easily justified the practice of slaveholding after 1820, when Southern social ideals were being formed (Fox-Genovese and Genovese 223). The boom in evangelism in the South contributed to this immense defense of slavery, as many evangelical pastors were slaveholders themselves. “Good Christian” slaveholders did not mistreat their slaves in terms of physical or sexual abuse, but called for the masters that did to be severely punished. Still, throughout the duration of the war Christian slaveholders did not sway their beliefs. Confederate evangelists,
Warned that if a proud and sinful southern people did not repent and reform, it would face the judgment of a God of Wrath. But to the bitter end, they denied that slavery was inherently sinful and argued that all human institutions lay open to abuse and injustice. Slavery as a social relation was ordained of God, who thereby charged the masters with a heavy responsibility toward those in their custody. It would be the fault of a sinful people, not of the social system, if those chosen to rule abused their privileges, failed in their Christian responsibilities, and provoked an angry God to withdraw his sanction. (Fox-Genovese and Genovese 222)
Even with the belief that cruel masters should be punished, the enactment of General Order 135 in Missouri invoked the wrath of the masters, not an angry God. Pro-Union slaveholders went to all lengths to keep their slaves from enlisting in the Union army. From threatening the families of eligible men to locking away clothes and shoes in the dead of winter, masters took great strides just to prevent black men from running off in the night. The hostile environment created by the slave owners in Missouri caused much hardship for the families of men who had enlisted—wives and other family members were often abused harshly, outlaws were hired to kill any free blacks on sight, and the wives of soldiers were often refused work in Missouri’s emerging free labor economy. Many of Missouri’s slave owners would threaten any employers who would dare hire a black person for pay, especially if that person was currently or had been a former slave.
Kingsbury suffered a $25,000 setback after his slaves were emancipated, but his investments and agricultural practices quickly allowed him to gain back the profit lost. No known evidence exists that Kingsbury mistreated his slaves in the way many Missouri owners were known for throughout the war. He did not, at least, sell Cavanaugh’s wife and children, nor does it appear that he locked up the clothes of his slaves, as seven of his men enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. Still, he sought fit to file compensation for a life and labor that never should have been his to claim. Albert Cavanaugh was willing to sacrifice his life to fight for people like Kingsbury in order to gain his independence, and while we have a detailed history of the lives of all the men like Kingsbury, the legacies of the Albert Cavanaughs of the world have suffered.