John Whelan Luke (1815-1896) was a local politician, militia major, and church elder in the town of Berryville in Clarke County, at the northern tip of Virginia. He served in the Virginia legislature in 1852. Numerous letters and documents in his papers relate to enslaved people. A neighbor named E.C. Stephenson requests in 1841 "to look out for some servants for hire, two or three men & if you here of a good woman let us know before the hireing takes place." Several of these hire receipts and agreements are offered here. In 1846, Luke received payment from H.L. Opie for "the price agreed upon for servants Emily & Mary." In 1847, Madison Galloway agreed to pay "for hire of servant Mary for the entire year," and in 1857 James Frazier agreed to pay for "twenty dollars for hire of girl Mary for the ensuing year." Both agreements spell out the clothing which the lessee must provide to Mary for the year. Luke's 1850 tax bill includes fees on "9 slaves." A running account with a local physician includes fees for medicine and vaccination for "Negro girl," "Man Thomas," "Negro man" and "Negro girl" from 1862 to 1864; Luke did not settle the bill until 1867.
A long 1841 inventory of the estate of Jacob Luke includes valuations for "servant Milly & child Lucy, Adaline, Horrace, Violate, and Nestor." The 1846 auction results from the estate of Peter Luke list new owners for "One negrow man Fortune," a boy named Rowley, a woman named Let and her child, and an unnamed "Negrow woman, two children." An account with a local shoemaker shows several shoes made for unnamed servants among the family members in 1862 and 1863. A 7 February 1852 letter from a townsman while Luke served in the state legislature urges him: "If there is any chance for the removal of the free Negroes from the state, and a tax on dogs in Clarke County, do advocate it." A school essay by a young relative named James William Luke is titled "Civilization," and begins "The only people in the world that are civilization are Caucassians. There has been no other that has reached the hight of civilization."
Very few of the papers in this collection are dated after the war. One exception is an 1881 letter to the "Long Marsh District School Board" from George L. D. Harris of Berryville. He explains that "Having taught the colored school in Louisville for successive seasons under your administration, I herein apply for the same this ensuing year." Harris's teaching certificate and examination results are enclosed. Harris appears in the 1900 census as a Black school teacher in Clarke County.
Beyond the slavery-related content, the collection may have some philatelic interest, featuring early manuscript postmarks from Allensville, KY (5 dated 1844-48) and Castleman's Ferry, VA (3 dated 1852-53). Local politics are also a strong point, as well as a few documents from the Berryville and Charleston Turnpike Road.
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