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Charles Russell Lowell “liberates” a Luray slave

March 21, 2009

Charles Russell LowellIt’s not a lengthy letter, but this has to be one of my personal favorites among those written by Union soldiers about their encounters with slaves in Page County. When writing to his wife, Josephine, from Staunton on September 27, 1864, Charles Russell Lowell remarked,

I haven’t told you either that, the day before yesterday at Luray, I organized a small black boy, bright enough and well brought up; his name is James, but as we have already two of that name about here, I call him Luray, which is quite aristocratic. You can teach him to read and to write this winter, if you have time. The Doctor thinks you would find more satisfaction in him than in your pupils of Vienna.

I’ve often wondered what happened to James (aka Luray); if he was actually sent to Boston or remained with Lowell up to the time of Lowell’s death at Cedar Creek. I cannot find a reference to anyone with the first name of Luray in postwar census records in the Boston area, but would truly like to know what happened to James.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2009 4:05 pm

    ISTR that Lowell’s wife joined him in camp for a long period of time. I think she went home when the fall campaign started, but perhaps Lowell was thinking she could begin teaching him when she returned to Northern VA?

    “The Nature of Sacrifice” is a detailed, though deeply flawed, biography of Lowell. I can’t recall if any mention of James/Luray is in the book, but I’ll take a look.

    • March 21, 2009 4:40 pm

      I’ve got Emerson’s Life and Letters of CRL, and I was looking through it last night and noted that Lowell wrote to Josephine and wished she could visit while he was camped so near Winchester, but things were too active and he said a visit would be impossible. That was in October, a few weeks before Cedar Creek. I wish he commented further on “James,” but saw no mention beyond the one letter. Please do let me know if you see something in TNoS.

      I was just in Boston this last summer and could kick myself for not visiting Lowell’s grave at Mt. Auburn… as I was there as well. Rain hampered the whole afternoon however, so I didn’t have a great chance to talk a walk through the cemetery. I did just realized the other day, however, that there is a monument to him near the Wayside Inn at Middletown, Va., near where he fell. As many times as I have been to that Inn to eat an evening dinner (I’m addicted to the peanut soup there) during Cedar Creek weekend, I have never seen it before. Need to make a point of looking this October.

  2. March 21, 2009 4:42 pm

    Couldn’t find any more than a mention of James/Luray in the Bundy book – nothing on what happened to him – and no explanations in the collection of Lowell letters. Note that the Vienna referred to in Lowell’s letter is Vienna, VA – that’s where his camp had been, and where his wife had joined him. His wife Effie, Rob Shaw’s sister, had returned home to Boston, pregnant but probably not barefoot.

    • March 21, 2009 5:02 pm

      Didn’t she continue to run some school for freed slaves in Boston in years after the war? If so, I wonder if there are records of where those slaves were liberated.

      • March 21, 2009 5:27 pm

        Effie was involved in charity work for the rest of her life (she never remairried and never “rejoined society”), most notably as overseer of the New York City Charity Organization. The Bundy book doesn’t say anything about a school.

        • March 21, 2009 5:32 pm

          Oh, that’s right, I forgot that she was connected with NYC. I probably need to see if a “Luray” can be found in postwar census records around there.

  3. Allen McClain permalink
    March 22, 2009 1:48 pm

    I think it would be great to be able to find out the fate of the young boy named James aka Luray. According to Charles Russell Lowell’s letter to his wife dated Sept. 25, 1864, Charles had only met the young boy just two days prior to that letter. It appears to have only been less than one month of meeting the young boy that Charles died in October 20, 1864 in Middletown, Virginia.

    There is a Pandora’s box of questions one can possibly ask in hopes of uncovering the fate of James aka Luray.:

    -Did he remain in Virginia, possibly near the location where Charles Russell Lowell (CRL) last fought? Or did he leave for Boston and or New York as intended by CRL?

    -How old was he? Would he have been old enough to decide what his name would be after the Civil War was over? [For if he was not old enough and remained in Virginia, the fate of his name may have once again remain in the deciding hands of whomever was presiding over him.]

    -Would he have been old enough to seek out his possible family in Page county, Virginia(if in fact that is where he last saw them)? Thereby taking the name James and or Luray and then the surname that his family selected.

    • March 22, 2009 2:01 pm

      Hi Allen,

      My take on this is that James (aka Luray) was literally liberated from slavery by Lowell and was taken in by Lowell on the campaign until the opportunity to pass along the young man to his wife. Regretfully, Lowell says nothing more about James and we are left totally in the dark, but I feel he may have been somewhere between 9-13 (just a guess, but considering what Lowell said about him, it seems to fit). This is a fine example of how difficult it is to trace former slaves. Unless we find another source, we may never know what happened to him. Lowell called him Luray, but did it stick, or did the boy prefer James; it’s hard to say. I hope he stuck with the name “Luray” as that would make it a great deal easier in trying to find in the postwar census records. I’m also guessing he was also Virginia-born, because I rarely find slaves in Page County who were not born in Virginia. This would also help in narrowing the search down. I’m hoping there might also be something else with Josephine’s (Effie’s) papers that might shed a little light as well.

  4. Noel permalink
    March 22, 2009 6:52 pm

    Hi, Robert. Thanks as always for post. Aside from your main emphasis here on events in the Valley and the mystery of “Luray,” this brings back for me nice memories of researching my first-ever Civil War article, published in the mid-80’s in a now-defunct journal, about the long sojourn of the 2nd Massachusetts in my hometown of Vienna. Turns out that research overlooked a lot of really cool aspects of the camp’s story, so it’s great to see it continuing to come into focus, with the implication here that Effie had taught former slaves in Vienna.

    • March 22, 2009 7:56 pm

      Hi Noel, Thanks for commenting. Don’t feel bad… I’m afraid that I’ve realized a few missed opportunities of my own after some of my works were published.

  5. April 12, 2009 10:21 am

    I love this site and I look forward to meeting you cenantua. What a heart you have for people.

    • April 12, 2009 10:50 am

      Hello again Venita! You are too kind. Thanks for visiting so many of my sites. I think the only thing that I am missing is a site focusing on the women of the county in the war. Maybe I’ll have a chance to get to that sometime soon.

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