Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Durante vita”

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on October 11, 2011

A number of bloggers put up posts in anticipation of tonight’s History Detectives episode on the famous tintype image of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler. I was struck by two things watching the episode. First, this quote from Chandler Battaile, great-great-grandson of Andrew Chandler, on discovering that much of what he’d always understood to be true is contradicted by contemporary evidence:

I think it’s interesting to understand the place of stories in family histories. Obviously, the story that we’ve shared is one that is very comfortable, and comforting to believe. But without documentary evidence, it is a story. Our families’ histories have been, and will always be, deeply intertwined and evolving with the times.

That strikes me as a remarkably self-aware statement. I’ve found in my own family’s history cases where cherished family stories don’t stand up well to close examination in bright sunlight. But I think in the end, one is better for going through that process.

The second thing is the mention by Mary Francis Berry, that Mississippi law did not allow the manumission of slaves at the time of the Civil War. This is significant, because part of the Chandler oral tradition is that Silas had been freed at (or soon before) the beginning of the war, and went off with Andrew into the 44th Mississippi Infantry as a free man. While I wasn’t familiar with the Mississippi law, it’s not in the least surprising that this provision would be so. In my own state, it wasn’t just a law, it was actually written into the 1861 Texas Constitution, adopted immediately after the state’s secession. Under Article VIII, Slaves:

Sec. 1. The Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves.

Sec. 2. No citizen, or other person residing in this State shall have power by deed, or will, to take effect in this State, or out of it, in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, to emancipate his slave or slaves.

Or as Professor Berry put it, referring to Mississippi, the “law made slaves, slaves for life: durante vita.”

Antebellum Texas was not a welcoming or easy place for free African Americans; it’s not surprising that in the decade 1850-1860, while the slave population of Texas more than tripled (58,161 to 182,566), the number of free blacks in the state actually declined, from 397 to 355 — not even enough to fill a typical middle school auditorium.
Image: Andrew Chandler (l.) and Silas Chandler, c. 1861, via the Toledo Blade.


13 Responses

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  1. corkingiron said, on October 12, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I was thinking of you as I watched it last night. Ms. Corkingiron drew a comparison to the arguments used against rape victims – that somehow, by their behaviour, they were indicating at least an informal consent and approval. It was a comparison I’d never considered, and I’m still mulling it over.
    As I’ve learned from you and others, this search for the “Black Confederate” has been going on for some time, with precious little in the way of results. I went looking for black Canadians who served in the USCT a few weeks ago, and was able to identify over a 1000 in a matter of hours. The ease with which we can find black soldiers fighting against slavery – when we compare it with the difficulties of finding black soldiers fighting to defend it – just speaks volumes about the strength of an obsession I think.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

      I don’t want to get into rape analogies, but the folks who promote the BCS narrative do tend to see it through a manichean lens, with everything either all one thing, or all another. There’s no subtlety in their understanding of the past, nor appreciation of the complexities of time and place. There are no shades of grey. If they can show, for example, that there was some positive interaction between the men, then they were lifelong friends. If Silas is shown in a studio portrait with a weapon or in a uniform, he was a soldier. If he didn’t run away at the first opportunity, he was a volunteer for the Southron cause. If he wasn’t literally chained or beaten, he was there of his own, free will.

      But this isn’t limited to BCS; it infuses everything else, too. Folks often know next to nothing about their Civil War ancestors beyond a few names and dates, yet project all sorts of patriotic and noble virtues onto them. Lincoln and Sherman? Evil incarnate. Robert E. Lee? I actually saw where someone wrote, apparently in complete sincerity, that Lee was the most perfect human being that ever lived since Jesus Christ. It’s ridiculous.

  2. bedbugsmithJeff Bell said, on October 12, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I haven’t had a chance to watch the epsode yet but I wonder what Silas Chandler would tell us if he could somehow be interviewed today. In Silas’ lifetime, anything he would have said about the subject would have been hard to believe – not because he was a liar but because of the time and situation he lived in. It would have been foolhardy and perhaps suicidal for him to tell his exact feelings on the matter. I have a hard time believing he would express any sympathy toward the Southern Cause, though he may well tell of a loyalty to his friend (and master) Andrew Chandler. To extrapolate from this relationship that Slias was therefore a soldier would be naiive (at the least) or racist. I say racist because I believe the tipping point of the “Southron Cause” is its inherent belief that negroes were somehow better off under the protection of their beneficiant masters. I also applaude Mr. Battaile for his statement about stories in family history – he’s shown that it’s OK to think for yourself and still be proud of your family history. Many times, what happened in the past will never be truly revealed.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 12, 2011 at 11:44 am

      You can view the episode online at the first link in the post. You wrote:

      “I wonder what Silas Chandler would tell us if he could somehow be interviewed today.”

      Good question. Old issues of the Confederate Veteran magazine are full of “faithful slave” stories like the oral tradition in the Chandler case — the Silas-Chandler-was-a-soldier-too is a much more recent spin on the story. But those stories are always, always, narrated by white Confederate veterans. They might include a quote or two from the men in question, but they never really speak for themselves. Their stories are always filtered through the white veterans, and always reflect the chosen Lost Cause narrative.

      “I also applaude Mr. Battaile for his statement about stories in family history – he’s shown that it’s OK to think for yourself and still be proud of your family history. Many times, what happened in the past will never be truly revealed.”

      It’s a difficult thing, sometimes — both for Battaile and for Mr. Chandler, who have long believed a story that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. That’s a decision, I think, that each person has to make for him- or herself — do you want simply to accept a traditional story that makes you feel good about yourself and your family, or do you want to ask some hard questions, knowing that the answers may not be nearly so pleasant?

  3. BorderRuffian said, on October 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    “Or as Professor Berry put it, referring to Mississippi, the ‘law made slaves, slaves for life: durante vita.’ ”


    I don’t believe this is true. She stated it was a law passed in 1856. I checked the revised statutes for Mississippi for 1856 and it does not have a ban on slave emancipation.

    And there is this-

    “Manumission of Slaves.

    With regard to manumission, it appears from the returns that during the census year, they numbered a little more than 3,000, being more than double the number who were liberated in 1850….Great irregularity, as might naturally be expected, appears to exist for the two periods whereof we have returns on this subject. By the Eighth Census [1860], it appears that manumissions have greatly increased in number in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee…”

    -Introduction to 1860 Census Report, page xv.

    Note that the returns were only for the census year (1860) and not a total for the entire decade.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      BR, thanks for commenting.

      Professor Berry may have gotten the date wrong; I don’t know. But there’s this, in the Revised Code of the Statute Laws of the State of Mississippi (1857, p. 236):

      Art. 9. It shall not be lawful for any person either by will, deed, or other conveyance, directly or in trust, either express or secret, or otherwise, to make any disposition of any slave or slaves for the purpose, or with the intent to emancipate such slave or slaves in this state, or to provide that such slaves be removed to be emancipated elsewhere, or by any evasion or indirection so to provide that the colonization society, or any donee or grantee, can accomplish the act, intent or purpose, designed to be prohibited by this article. Nor shall it be lawful for any executor, trustee, donee, legatee or other person under any pretence whatever to remove any slave or slaves from this State with the intent to emancipate such slave or slaves. But all such wills, deeds, conveyances, dispositions, trusts or other arrangements, made, had or intended to accomplish the emancipation of any slave or slaves after the death of the owner, no matter when made, shall be deemed and held entirely null and void, and the said slave or slaves thereby attempted or intended to be emancipated, shall descend to and be distributed among the heirs at law of the testator, grantor or owner, or otherwise disposed of as though such testator, grantor, or owner had died intestate.

      If this was the law in 1857, I would be very surprised indeed if it were relaxed between then and the beginning of the war; all the political pressure in the South then was pushing toward making slave laws more restrictive, not less.

      • BorderRuffian said, on October 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

        This is from page 36-

        Section 1. The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves, without the consent of their owners, unless where the slave shall have rendered to the State some distinguished service, in which case the owner shall be paid a full equivalent for the slave so emancipated.

        A slave could be emancipated -but however the process was initiated (by the State, the owner)- it had to have a final approval of the State legislature. An owner could not emancipate independent of the State.

        • Andy Hall said, on October 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

          Thanks for following up. As a long-time observer of Texas state government, I am shocked, SHOCKED that a legislature would pass laws that either contradict or complicate other laws on the books. 😉

        • Mike Musick said, on October 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

          Here’s a bit more on antebellum Mississippi manumissions, as found on page 137 (Table No. 4) of “Preliminary Report on the Eighth Census. 1860.” (Washington, 1862), by Joseph C.G. Kennedy, Superintendent. This states that in 1850 there were 309,878 slaves in the state, and 6 manumissions. In 1860 there were 436,631 slaves and 182 manumissions.

          • Andy Hall said, on October 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

            Document here:


            Would the latter number be the aggregate number of manumissions between censuses (10 years), or those in the single census year?

            • Mike Musick said, on October 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

              The text on page 11, under “Manumission of Slaves,” indicates that the 1850 and 1860 numbers represent returns “during the census year,” so that we have only snapshots for the years 1850 and 1860, rather than cumulative numbers for the decade.

    • Bob Huddleston said, on October 14, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Border Ruffian;

      A law passed in 1856 would not be in the RS for that year, but would appear in the next printed volume, where, as Andy pointed out, it was.

      Did Mississippi print a RS in 1861 and was it still there? Given how many states in the late antebellum era were pushing laws to require Free Blacks to either leave or voluntarily return to slavery I would be very surprised if it was repealed.

  4. BorderRuffian said, on October 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    It’s the same book. Laws passed during 1856 published in 1857.

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