As published in "The Racine County Militant; an illustrated narrative of war times,
and a soldier's roster; a pioneer publication undertaken in the interest of patriotic Americans
in Racine County, Wisconsin. A Home-made book, about home people, for home people."
by Eugene Walter Leach, Racine, Wis. c1915, pages 132-136.
Logan Davis and Peter D. Thomas, negroes, who are old citizens of Racine, personify the link that binds the present
generation to that of more than fifty years ago, when slavery was recognized and protected by the law of the land. They
both spent their youth in slavery until liberated by the Civil War; they both were soldiers for the Union in that war; both
have lived many years in this city and have achieved better than an average success in a pecuniary way, and are
well known and respected citizens.
We have thought it worth while to include in this war
story, brief biographical sketches of these Racine men, who
typify three million of their race, but for whose presence here
in bondage, there would have been no "War of the Rebellion."
Logan Davis was born, in 1849, a slave on a plantation in
Fulton county, Ky., near the Tennessee line. While a boy he
was kept busy performing certain duties that were less calculated
to develop habits of profitable industry, than to instill
in him that "sense of servitude" that was necessary in slaves
in order that the abominable system might be perpetuated.
Bringing fresh water from the spring, a half mile away, at
the call of any member of the family at the house; fanning
the young ladies while they sat in the hammock and read;
keeping the flies from the dining room table, and the diners,
during, meals with a long-handled fan or duster made from
a pea-fowl's feathers; running, errands, and doing the thousand
and one menial things around the house that a boy could
do, was his job.
His master and owner was Rev. Green Bynom, a presiding
elder in the Methodist church, a man of character and influence
in that region. He had company often at his table, and the
slave boy, through his attendance there in the capacity of
"fly-chaser," heard much discussion in the years just
preceding the war, of all of the social and political problems
agitating the South, even more than the North, at that time,
and he kept his ears open and his mouth shut, as became a
faithful and sensible slave boy.
The master had a son of about the same age as Logan, and
his mother being a frail woman, the black boy's "mammy"
gave the white baby the same nursing and tending as she gave
her own and the boys grew up playmates. The black boy
got no schooling, however, and his chum undertook to teach
him to spell and read, until one day the master discovered a
book in the hands of Logan, and finding that he could spell
a little, he became violently angry, and clouted him across
the face with the book, and threatened to tie him to a tree,
and strip and whip him, if he ever again saw a book
in his hands, or if he ever played with his son again. The sting
of that blow at the hands of the preacher, his master, drove
straight into the heart of the slave boy, a purpose some day to
run away and be free. The master's son had some sympathy
for his playmate, and having gotten the idea from a story
his uncle had told him about Philadelphia, that all the negroes
there were free, he promised Logan confidentially, that some
day he would take him to that city and let him go. But the
war broke out. All of the men enlisted in the army; the boys
and young men of the neighborhood formed a "Home Guard,"
chiefly for protection in event of a possible uprising among
the blacks. They had a camp near the elder's plantation,
around the shoulder of a hill about a mile from the house.
One day as the slave boy was returning from the camp,
where he, had delivered a basket of delicacies, he found the,
house and yard full of Union soldiers,* the first he had ever
seen, who questioned him when he appeared, and learning
about the "Home Guard" camp, formed into line, and, led by
the boy, surprised and captured the whole squad, without
any casualties. The negro boy was invited to go with the
union soldiers, and he determined to start for the North and
freedom. He left home with but ten cents; boarded a train at the
first opportunity and reached Chicago barefooted, with
the same sum in his pocket, conductors permitting him to ride free.
He made friends with members of his own race in the
big city, and in January, 1864. enlisted in Company C, Twenty-ninth
United States Colored Infantry, as a drummer and served
in the Union army almost two years, being mustered out November 30, 1865.
He came to Racine in 1870, and has lived here, ever since,
most of the time being enoaged as a barber, both as employe and proprietor.
For the last sixteen years, however, he has, been janitor of the Post Office,
having been appointed by Jackson I. Case, at the time he was postmaster,
on the first occupation of the present building. Mr. Davis has been
industrious and thrifty, and has accumulated a comfortable property.
He is married and is the father of one son and three
daughters, all of whom are grown and married. His son, Oliver, was a soldier
in the Spanish-American war, and is now employed as an elevator man in the
new capitol building at Madison.
Peter D. Thomas is another old citizen of Racine who was born in
slavery, April 8, 1847 at Tiptonville, Tenn., about one
hundred and fifty miles north of Memphis, on the Mississippi
River, at the border of Kentucky. The plantation on which
he lived consisted of one thousand acres, and was owned
by a widow, who, with four daughters, occupied the "big house."
This woman also owned many slaves, of whom Peter was one.
Peter's was the portion and fate of the average slave boy
ante-bellum days-errand boy, waiting on everybody at the
house; hitching up the riding horses; accompanying the young
ladies when out riding, sometimes with other escorts, on which
occasions he was often as useful in ridding the ladies of
undesirable company, as he was at others in providing
uninterrupted intercourse with favored suitors. Certain signs would
inform him whether the company was agreeable or not; if not,
he stuck around; otherwise he dropped behind.
As he grew older and stronger he was obliged to take his place
in field work, where the slaves were all driven, more, or
less, though on his home plantation they were treated fairly well,
usually. He was fed in those days on common, but
wholesome food- corn bread, clabbered milk and hog fat. His mother
made all of his clothes, which were not "much" -
mostly a pair of pants- out of stiff duck material, which would stand
alone and last until outgrown.
At Lincoln's election, in 1860, every one in Tennessee seemed to think
that "now the slaves will all be freed," and the
whites began to organize to fight the North and issued an ultimatum
to all men to enlist or get out of the state within ten days.
Peter was fourteen years old when the war broke out, and was often at
Island No. 10, in the Mississippi River, which was
only five miles from Tiptonville. Every plantation in the
region sent half of their negroes to work on the fortifications
there, which were being erected to blockade the river. Officers
would compel the slaves to "hurrah for Jeff Davis," but there
was nothing to it but noise. The Yankees took the island in
October, 1862, and shortly thereafter Peter went north.
He became body servant to Lieutenant Charles B. Nelson, of Company G,
Fifteenth Wisconsin Infantry; carried his Sword and
revolver when not in battle; took care of his tent; made his bed,
and was generally useful. In this capacity he was at the
battles of Chickamauga, Dalton, Resaca and New Hope church,
where Lieut. Nelson was wounded. Peter enlisted in August,
1864, in the Eighteenth United States Colored troops, and
participated in the battles of Franklin and of Nashville, and was
mustered out in August, 1865.
After the war, he went to Beloit, Wis., the home of Lieut. Nelson,
and attended school, graduating from the high school,
and taking one year at Beloit, college. He had an idea at that
time that he would like to fit himself to teach the colored
people in the South, but on learning that the Southern whites
would not tolerate teachers for negroes, he discontinued his schooling.
In 1870, Peter went to Chicago, and worked for four years
in a wholesale liquor house, where they wanted a "colored
man who didn't drink." He became an expert as a whiskey
sampler, being able to tell any brand without a label, by tasting.
He never became addicted to the drink habit, however.
He came to Racine in 1883, and has lived here since, doing
janitor work most of the time. He is married, and, through
habits of industry, economy and thrift, has accumulated a competency.
Mr. Thomas was elected, in 1887, as coroner of Racine county, and served
with credit to himself for two years. He is a
member of Governor Harvey Post No. 17, Grand Army of the Republic,
of which he was for one term Junior Vice Commander; he
is now chairman of the headstone committee. He has shown much
interest in Grand Army affairs, has been delegate of his
Post to the State Encampment, and has attended several
meetings of the National organization.
*These soldiers proved to be "Lane's Jayliawker's" from Kansas,
about 500 of them; a rather irresponsible band- avengers of
John Brown- which was soon
disbanded, and the members re-enlisted in regular organizations.