1912 Story Mentions Brattleboro’s “Only Living Ex-Slave” – Mr. Jake Cartlidge

I was looking though old Brattleboro newspapers for mentions of slavery. Most of the articles are op-eds on slavery in the South, but I came across this mention of Brattleboro’s “only living ex-slave” – Mr. Jake Cartlidge. He was a Brattleboro resident for over 40 years, and this story is about trying to help him get some extra pension funds. (A warning that the newspaper used the n-word discussing his time as a slave, while quoting a slave buyer.)

From the Vermont Phoenix, Dec 6, 1912

“Town’s Ex-Slave In Need Of Funds

Efforts to Secure More Pension for “Jake” Cartlidge

Born in Slavery, Sold on the Block, Beaten by Cruel Taskmaskers – Served Pennsylvania Regiment

Efforts are bing made in behalf of “Jake” Cartlidge, Brattleboro’s only living ex-slave, that he may secure an increase in pension under a recent act of Congress. As Mr. Cartlidge does not know his exact age the decision of the authorities in Washington is doubtful. He claims to be about 75 years old. He has had an interesting life-story and for the past 40 years has been a familiar figure in town.

According to “Jake’s” own story, he was born in Georgia, the son of a slave. When in a talkative mood he tells interesting stories of his early life and of the beatings that he received at the hand of cruel masters. He remembers being sold on the block at one time and his memory on this point may go far toward getting his pension increased from $12 a month to $20. For some reason not explained he was taken to a town with a number of other slaves one day and they were placed on the block. He says with some degree of pride that he was a “likely” worker and when he was placed on the block the auctioneer of human flesh extolled his qualities in that respect. A man in the crowd about the block asked “How old is that ya nigger?” The auctioneer answered “30 years old.” As that was shortly before Cartlidge enlisted in 1864 it places his age around 75 years, as he claims.

After he was sold he was taken to a town in Georgia where he says he was taken under the hand of a hard task-master. “Jake” says that many nights he was unable to sleep because of the whiplash welts on his body and for lack of food. It was in the latter part of 1863 that he suffered these beatings and harsh treatment, and as the slave-holders of the South were in straightened circumstances because of the war it was no wonder that the slaves felt the effects.

For several months the slave was abused by his master and then, unable to stand the treatment longer, he made a break for liberty. He worked his way north and trudged many weary miles, and he can remember going many days without food and of sleeping in the fields and woods at night. Finally he reached a point in what is thought to be Pennsylvania and obtained work in a gang of colored men who were cutting ties for a new railroad. Cartlidge was at work one day when a man on horseback approached and asked him a few questions and then said, “How would you like to be a soldier?” “Jake” never had any experience with the soldiers and asked “What do I have to do?” The man on horseback told him that all he would have to do would be to carry a gun and wear a handsome uniform. The latter argument was a strong one with the colored man and he agreed to become a soldier. The man on the horse directed him to the union camp and there “Jake” was enlisted under the Stars and Stripes. He became a member of Company D, 43rd Pennsylvania regiment, United States colored infantry, March 23, 1864 and remained in service until October 28, 1865, when he was mustered out in Brownsville, Texas.

He does not remember any very severe engagements with the soldiers of the South, but he was in one of the important coups of the war and which would have been effective had the Union soldiers done what was expected. They were before Petersburg and the Confederates were fortified on a hill. Between the two lines there was a ravine and under it the troops dug a tunnel, mined it and exploded a large quantity of powder. The southerners’ fortifications were blown up and the colored troops charged the enemy. They entered behind the fortification and engaged the Confederates, but the other Union forces did not come to their assistance as had been planned and the 43rd Pennsylvania was forced to retreat. That was the hottest fight in which Mr. Cartlidge was engaged.

After he was mustered out he tramped from Texas to Vermont and arrived in Rutland. he remained there probably not more than a year then came to this town. For about 40 years he has lived here and made a living by doing odd jobs and working on teams. He worked for several years for Leslie Yauvey, the coal dealer, but advancing years have reduced his strength and he is not able to perform much hard labor. He is under the care of a guardian, Bert Thatcher, of Chesterfield, N.H., who advises him on what to do. He has a small sum of money in the bank, but he can not earn much money and the pension he draws barely pays his board and room in the old Putnam house on Prospect street. If he is not granted an increase in pension efforts may be made to get him into the soldiers’s home in Bennington, but as that institution is for Vermont soldiers only he may not be admitted.

At one time Mr. Cartlidge lost a part of one foot while working in a coal mine in Virginia.”

Comments | 4

  • Plug for Vermont's African American Heritage Trail

    The nascent Vermont African American Heritage Trail notably excludes Brattleboro on their map, https://www.vermonthumanities.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/African-American-Heritage-Trail-2017-brochure.pdf. Maybe Jake Cartlidge can earn Bratt a spot.

    The Trail’s only stop in Windham County is in Grafton for the Turner Family. Like Jake Cartlidge, Alec Turner was also an escaped slave who served in the Union Army and ultimately found a welcome in rural Vermont. He also fell on hard times in old age and applied for a Civil War pension. He never got one.

    Alec Turner died in Grafton in 1923. His more famous daughter, Daisy, died at 104 in 1988. The family is still remembered with admiration locally and now has a permanent place on the African American Heritage Trail for statewide recognition.

    • Good idea (the trail addition)

      And I’m guessing there are others since the story says “only living ex-slave….” which implies some others may have died along the way? I’ll do some more poking around in the old papers…

    • a bit more research

      I did another search, this time for “ex-slave” to see what came up. We get a mention of ex-slave Frederick Douglass, who was speaking in the area. We get Jake’s story above. And we see the name O.C. Gilbert a few times as someone giving lectures/performances in this area. For example:

      “Townshend 13 Dec 1895

      O.C. Gilbert, and ex-slave, gave a very interesting talk on his life as a slave and his dash for liberty with fifteen others, at the town hall Monday.”


      “1898, Nov 4 Saxtons River

      There was a crowd at the Congregational church Sunday evening. The people came to listen to the story of an ex-slave strongly and well-told, as well as to hear the thrilling plantation songs beautifully sung by a trio of colored singers. Mr. Gilbert is a fine speaker and rare singer. Tuesday evening the people came again to listen to Mr. Gilbert, and his two able assistants. Both occasions were full of pathetic interest.”

      Mr. Gilbert wasn’t from around here, though. He was from Pennsylvania and was on a tour.

  • Shared with the Vermont Partnership for a Multicultural Future

    Thankful of this historical report!

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