Hastings: Black families embrace new freedoms, 1870s to 1890s
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles setting the stage for a community forum that area ministers are planning for Feb. 24 at Hastings High School. Find the rest of the series here.
In 1870, 40-year-old Nancy Wallace was living on Fourth Street with husband John and children James, 9, and Louanna, 6. Like most of her neighbors. she was far from her birthplace, living among strangers. What set Nancy apart was her color and recent freedom from slavery.
She had arrived in Minnesota Territory with 2-year-old James sometime in 1863. Traveling was risky for blacks during the Civil War so it is likely her journey was fraught with anxiety.
John had come from Kentucky with Company F, Third Minnesota Regiment in 1862. It is uncertain how John, a slave from Tennessee, came to be serving with the Third Minnesota. After the regiment suffered an embarrassing surrender to Confederate Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest, John accompanied them to Minnesota. What is certain is that he wanted his family in Minnesota instead of him returning to the South.
He hired a "white" man to bring Nancy and their two sons to Minnesota. Only Nancy and James arrived. Their second son was taken away from her in St. Louis. This information was recorded by Blanche Lovejoy, a neighbor of the Wallace family, so whether "taken away" means he died or was stolen is not clear. Within a year of her arrival, she gave birth to daughter Louanna.
John Wallace was one of several black men living in Hastings who served in the Civil War. Abraham Davenport was another. Born as a slave in Raleigh, N.C., he served in Company H 11th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry and came to Hastings in 1869.
At the time of the 1870 census he was single and like John worked as a laborer.
Another laborer was 37-year-old John Foster from South Carolina. His 35-year-old wife, Elizabeth, worked as a washerwoman. They lived in the downtown area near the Overall family.
Living with the Overalls were 30-year-old barber John Mason; Millie Wright, 21; and Lottie Adams, 19 a milliner; bringing their household to nine people.
Lottie and the Overalls were close friends so it was no surprise that A.J. served as a witness when she married Stewart Patterson, a 40-year-old porter from Virginia. The other witness was A.J.'s partner in the barber shop, Wesley Taylor.
The Aug. 24, 1872, Hastings Gazette under the headline "The Colored Troops Fight Nobly" reported that A.J. Overalls, Wesley Taylor, George Daniels, John Wallace, Abraham Davenport, John Foster, James Lewis all signed a printed petition withdrawing their traditional support for Hon. Charles Sumner and pledging themselves to stand by the old Republican party. They would vote and use their influence to secure the election of Grant and Wilson.
This petition was an example of the new citizens following through with their commitment to be "well read."
The 1880 census showed a decrease in the number of colored citizens from 40 to 24. There were no barbers. A.J. Jack Overalls and Robert Burns had moved to St. Paul and Wesley Taylor to Prescott.
Just a year later, Andrew Jackson Overall died. he April 27,1881, issue of the Hastings Union carried his obituary, "One of Hastings' old settlers, A.J.Overalls, has passed to the other side. He died on Tuesday after a long sickness. He was one of the first colored citizens of Hastings, having come to this city in 1857. Jack was one of the boys in his day, but some years ago experienced religion and since then lived according to his lights. He had many friends in this city and all regret his demise."
Overalls was a unique person who stood up for his beliefs. Born a free man, he worked to achieve full citizenship for himself and other males of his race to enjoy all that being a citizen entailed. He was a true civil rights activist. He was buried in Lakeside Cemetery.
George Daniels, wife Chloe and their six children left Hastings in 1879 moving to Medford in Steele County. He was still farming.
Henry St. Clair and his family were still neighbors of the LeDuc family. Their eldest daughter Ella, 16, had married Harrison Cook from Point Douglas. At the time of the census she was living with her parents and Harrison was living in the Aspinwell hotel where he worked as a porter. Harrison Cook was born in 1848, in Huntington, Pa. He enlisted in the Union Army on Sept. 5,1864, company B of the 41st United States Colored Infantry.
Nancy and John Wallace were living alone on Fourth Street. James was living in a boarding house downtown and worked as a yard man at a hotel. Louanna, who would have been 15, does not show up on the census and there is no record or her burial in either of the city cemeteries. A later census shows that Nancy gave birth to three children, with only James still living.
Five years later, the Wallace house was full again when Nancy's niece Ella Curry and her husband, James, and daughters Georgianna and Mary Ellen moved to Hastings from Harrisonburg, Va. James was again living with his parents with Ella and 6-month-old Nellie May. It was a full house.
Currys stayed there only long enough to get established. Jim Curry's first job was working for Charles Mather, the postmaster, helping around his home at West Eighth Street. For a time his pay was 50 cents a day and later it increased to about $1.25.
He took any kind of work from farm laborer to carpenter. For short periods in 1886 and 1894 he slung hash in the Ryan Hotel in St. Paul.
His first investment in Hastings was to buy a lot, where he helped to build a house which he sold. In 1889 he purchased two lots and built a fine nine-room home at 801 W. Fourth St. He later purchased eight adjoining lots and became a real farmer.
In the summer of 1894 he was offered a good job at a summer resort at Prior Lake, owned and managed by William Hull from Hastings. He was the handyman there for 19 seasons. He loved swimming so one of his tasks was teaching young and old to swim.
James and Ella Wallace moved next door to his parents on Fourth Street and eventually had seven children.
The next segment of this series will continue the story of the Wallace and Curry families.
Heidi Langenfeld ia a volunteer researcher at LeDuc and the Pioneer Room.