2 January 1863: “…the ladies were under a guard of Federal Soldiers haing spent the night in Jail and part of the time in a Criminals Cell!!

Item Description: Rev. Overton Bernard recounts the changing social conditions brought about by Union occupation and notions of emancipation. A white slave owner’s son, wife, and his wife’s friends were briefly imprisoned after an enslaved or servant woman was slapped for her perceived insolent behavior.

Item Citation: From folder 2 of the Overton and Jesse Bernard Diaries #62-z,  Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Friday 2nd January – This morning in company with my friend Wm. H. Wilson as we were going to Bank we met Doct. Mercer his wife and Miss Manning on their way to the Provost Marshalls Office in Norfolk, the ladies were under a guard of Federal Soldiers having spent the night in Jail and a part of the time in a Criminals Cell!! For what offense it may be asked. Why, on the memorable 1st January 1863 a Servant Girl or slave, belonging to Doctor Mercer having been going at large for some length of time, had been quite impudent under the delusive hope of Freedom, and on that day in the afternoon had been exceedingly impudent to a Son of Doctor Mercer, a youth about sixteen who slapped her Jaws she immediately reported him to the Provost who ordered the Youth to Jail. Mrs. Mercer his mother accompanied by a Young Lady went to the Provost Office to inquire about her Son and propose that he should appear in the morning and stand a trial if need be, recd. a most cold and unfeeling reception. She made a dignified and becoming remonstrance agst such treatment and was ordered herself to Jail. Miss Manning the young lady with her asked the Provost Marshall if she could not do something by which she might be permitted to go and keep her friend company- take these women both to Jail was the gruff reply.

They were released this morning by the Provost in Norfolk, who intimated that Capt. Lock the acting Provost in Portsmouth had gone beyond his Authority.

This afternoon had letters from Mr. Littleton and my daughters Luly and Alice dated 19 Decem. Poor Betty had been very ill so Mr. L had to leave before the adjournment of Conference. She is now better — the Girls were well.


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