From Slave to Soldier to Long Beach

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From Slave to Soldier to Long Beach

When African American Harry Stubblefield (1842 -1/23/1913) passed away in 1913,  The Long Beach Press noted that he was born the property of a wealthy Kentucky tobacco planter, who had one son, Peter. When this son, a prominent physician, married his father gave him Harry as a wedding gift.  In 1890 Peter Stubblefield died and his widow Catherine (known as Sina) came to Long Beach and, according to the obituary, brought Harry with her. Former slaves often took the surname of their one-time owner, which was the case with Harry.  The obituary also pointed out that Harry was 102 years old, something that could not be substantiated.

            Further research adds more to an interesting story.  Peter was not an only son; he had two brothers and 4 sisters. The family was not from Kentucky but from North Carolina, Peter later moving to Tennessee.  Census records from 1850 reveal that Peter’s father, George Washington Stubblefield, owned 14 slaves in Rockingham, North Carolina, ranging in age from 1-60. There were 11 males (7 listed as black, 4 as mulatto) and 3 females (2 black, 1 mulatto).  The four mulatto males ranged in age from 5-10 years of age. One of these mulattos could have been Harry.  Was Harry related to the Stubblefield family in more ways than name only?

             When he was barely twenty Peter left North Carolina to serve as a private with the North Carolina volunteers in the Mexican-American War (which lasted from the spring of 1846 to the fall of 1847).  Sina later claimed his pension as a war widow.  Perhaps the carnage he saw inspired Peter to become a physician. By the time of the 1860 census Doctor Peter Stubblefield was in Weakley, Tennessee, married to Tennessee native Sina Boyd.  His brother T. L. Stubblefield was also residing with Peter and Sina.  What of Harry? The slave schedule for 1860 lists P. B. Stubblefield owning 12 slaves including three males, ages 17-23, named Stubblefield, one of those was most likely been Harry, living in Weakley, Tennessee.

            Early African Americans came to Tennessee from the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina, including Harry, when he came to Tennessee from North Carolina with Peter and Sina Stubblefield.  An 1826 law prohibited them bring Harry into the state for anything besides the direct use of his labor.  Slaves could not be sold in Tennessee.

            Before July 17, 1862, it was illegal for African Americans to serve in the army. On this date the Confiscation Act allowed African Americans to be employed by the Union military and another law specifically allowed free blacks to be recruited. The first black unit was the First South Carolina (Union) Volunteers, mustered in on August 25, 1862. By the end of the war, there were almost 179,000 African Americans serving in 166 regiments—about 10 percent of the Union army. On August 26, 1862, Harry (listed as Henry) signed up to join the Union cause with the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery (African descent).

            The 4th Regiment U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Descriptive Book (found on describes Harry as being 20 years of age, 5 feet 4 inches tall, black eyes, complexion and hair. Occupation is given as “farmer.”  He was part of Company E and had signed up for a five year term. 

            What of Peter Stubblefield? Tennessee, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865, shows a P. B. Stubblefield serving in the Confederacy as a second lieutenant in the 9th Regiment Tennessee Infantry, Company G. The names of Peter’s two brothers are also listed next to his.

            Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.  Some living in the state were strongly pro-Confederacy, while others were Unionist.  The 26 eastern counties tried to secede from Tennessee, but Confederate troops were sent to prevent it.  However, portions of Tennessee provided many troops for the Union as well as waging guerilla warfare against Confederate interests in the state.  In a correspondence I carried on with the Tennessee Library and Archives I also discovered that when captured by Union forces Confederate soldiers were given the option of being sent to a prisoner of war camp, or they could swear allegiance to the United States and fight on the Union side.  The Tennessee Archives said there were quite a number of soldiers who served on both the Confederate and Union side.

  Perhaps Harry had been helped by those loyal to the Union to escape the Stubblefield farm and enlist. Harry’s unit, the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery (African descent), was designated 3rd Heavy Artillery on March 11, 1864, and 4th Heavy Artillery on April 26, 1864.  United States colored troops fought in all theaters of the war, but mainly served as garrison troops in rear areas. Harry’s unit saw garrison duty at Union City, Tennessee, until September 2, 1864, and then moved to Fort Donelson, Tennessee, until October 11, 1864.  Their next post was Fort Halleck in Columbus, Kentucky, until June 1865.  The unit moved to Arkansas in June 1865, and saw duty at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, until February 1866. The unit was mustered out February 25, 1866. But according to an addendum to the 4th Regimental Descriptive Book added in September 1895, Harry “deserted” on October 3, 1863, returning to live with the Peter Stubblefield family.

  Had Harry really deserted or had he been found by Confederate troops and returned to his owner?  We will never know for sure.  Much information can be gained from pension records, but the pension investigation for Harry in 1895 listed him as a “deserter.” Blacks faced many obstacles in applying for a pension. It was difficult and expensive, and black applicants were often poor and illiterate. Furthermore, the Pension Bureau often appointed special investigators to verify claims. According to researchers, blacks were investigated about twice as often as whites and these investigations were more thorough and took longer. Such was probably the case when Harry applied for a pension in 1895. Also claim agents (who often assisted in the application process) often took advantage of black soldiers by submitting fraudulent claims. Finally, the difficulty blacks had in providing essential dates, including dates of birth, marriage, military service, wounds, and illnesses, led to frustration and suspicion on the part of pension bureaucrats.

            The next information we have about the Stubblefields is the 1870 U. S. Census. Forty-three year-old Dr. Peter Stubblefield was living with his 34-year-old wife Sina, in Weakley, Tennessee, along with 27-year-old Harry (listed as Harvey) and 7-year-old Sallie Stubblefield, both Harry and Sallie are noted as being “black.” Harry’s profession was given as “domestic servant.”  Sallie, most likely was another of the former Stubblefield slaves.  There are two black females, age 1 year, named Stubblefield listed in the 1860 slave schedule for P. B. Stubblefield who could have been Sallie.

            Peter and Sina Stubblefield were still living in Weakley, Tennessee, when the 1880 U.S. Census was conducted.  Harry was working for and living with them.  Sina’s 37-year-old brother John Boyd, and her 30-year-old brother William Boyd were also residing with them.  Sallie seems to have left the family.

            Peter passed away in 1890 and it appears Sina’s brother John convinced her to join John’s  family in Long Beach.  In 1900 Sina was living with her brother John Boyd, a real estate agent and his family in Long Beach, according to the U.S. Census.  However, Harry wasn’t mentioned as being with her, he was still living in Weakley, Tennessee, with the George Knox family. His relation to the head of household was listed as “slave, Old Dave.” His marital status was “single.”

            John Boyd encouraged his sister to invest in Long Beach real estate and in 1905 she was managing the Roselle Apartments (named after her niece Roselle Boyd) at East Seaside Boulevard at the foot of Linden Avenue.  In the 1910 U.S. Census 75-year-old Sina was living at the Roselle Apartments with her widowed 57-year-old niece Willie Gardner, Willie’s 16-year-old son Reece, Sina’s nephews Terrace (age 26) and John (age 21) Boyd and their sister Roselle (17), as well as lodger Harry Stubblefield (66) and Lynne Dillon (21).  Interestingly, Harry’s race is listed as “white.”

            Harry isn’t listed in any of the Long Beach city directories so I can’t say for sure when he joined Sina in Long Beach.  Sina (1/31/1834-12/13/1911) died in 1911.  Her body was taken to Weakley, Tennessee, to be buried next to her husband Peter Stubblefield (3/20/1827-2/28/1890) at the Obion Chapel Cemetery.  What of Harry?  Most likely he continued to reside at the Roselle until his death in 1913. 

            Wouldn’t it have been interesting to ask Harry about his life as a slave? Was he the child of one of the white plantation owners?  How did he come to fight for the Union during the Civil War and why/how did he come back to live with the Stubblefields in 1863? 

            Mysteries remain.  Hopefully I’ll uncover more about Harry before I finish writing my new book on African Americans in Long Beach.