In August 1864, three men named John Allen, James H. Garland, and George W. Lewis enlisted in Company A of the 127th Regiment United States Colored Troops (USCT). They were young—giving their ages as 17, 20, and 26, respectively on their enlistment papers—and all lived in Mercer County in western Pennsylvania. They were from a local community named “Pandenarium,” although all three had actually been born far to the south in Albemarle County, Virginia. Unlike most African Americans who left the state of Virginia as slaves during the antebellum period, Allen, Garland, and Lewis were some of the fortunate few who were manumitted although state law required them to move elsewhere. When they returned to their native state as Union soldiers in the 1860s, they would do so as freemen fighting in an army dedicated to suppressing the slaveholders’ rebellion and ending slavery in the land of their births once and for all. Together with six other regiments of black troops, the 127th would take part in the successful Appomattox campaign of April 1865.
The link between Pandenarium and Albemarle County first emerged in 1854, when the will of an Albemarle doctor named Charles Everett stipulated the emancipation of all slaves from his plantation. An excerpt in Washington, D.C.’s Daily News Intelligencer described what happened next: “Upwards of fifty colored persons passed through Alexandria on Friday last on their way to Pennsylvania, where a tract of land has been purchased for them by their master, Dr. Charles Everett, of Albemarle, by whom they were recently set free.” Allen and Lewis were just two of the 63 people in that group, traveling from Virginia to Pennsylvania and from enslavement to freedom.
On November 12, 1854, the travelers from Albemarle County reached their parcel of land in Mercer County—approximately 100 acres in total, with graded roads, pre-planted orchards, and already-dug wells. Earlier, local abolitionists had overseen the construction of 24 furnished homes, and upon arrival a deed for two acres and a sum of 1,000 dollars awaited each family. Over the next several decades, the residents of Pandenarium worked to make the space their own, from ice skating on the frozen stream to erecting their own buildings.
To understand the unlikely story of Pandenarium, one must first understand its benefactor. Dr. Everett was a bachelor and prominent physician in Albemarle County, who had been educated in the North at the University of Pennsylvania. Everett was well-connected in the local community, having bought four hundred acres of land from Thomas Jefferson in 1821 (which increased his own tract to over 1,000 acres). Five years later he attended Jefferson during his final illness. Everett also served in Virginian politics and public affairs, including a stint in the House of Delegates. He was also James Monroe’s personal secretary during his presidency, a position previously held by another Albemarle County contemporary, Edward Coles, who had come to embrace abolition. (In 1819, Coles set his own slaves free while traveling to Illinois, where he eventually became the state’s second governor.) Living next to and associating with such influences as Coles and Jefferson likely helped Everett refine his views on abolition and the resettlement of former slaves.
After Everett’s death in 1848, his slaves were soon manumitted but continued working on his plantation for pay. His nephew, also named Dr. Charles Everett, inherited his estate and was entrusted with helping to resettle the newly freed slaves outside of Virginia. According to Angela Jaillet, a historic archaeologist and expert on the community, the elder Everett originally intended to fund his former slaves’ resettlement in Liberia. His nephew, however, settled on Pennsylvania as a nearer and more affordable destination in which to create a settlement for freed slaves. Mercer County was a common stopping point in the Underground Railroad, and abolitionists, free African-Americans, and fugitive slaves populated the region. When they finally left Albemarle for Mercer in 1854, some of Everett’s former slaves brought along family members they had bought out of slavery. Describing the buildings already constructed on site and the financial arrangements made in preparation of the freed slaves’ arrival in Pennsylvania, an 1854 article in the National Era lauded Everett’s “commendable interest in [the former slaves’] behalf.”
A year after the families arrived at Pandenarium, the Pennsylvania state senate passed Act No. 324 to “authorize and empower the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County to legitimate certain persons who were emancipated by the last will and testament of Dr. C. D. Everett, late of Albemarle County, Virginia.” Hoping to protect the newly settled black families from the ever present danger of unscrupulous slave catchers, the act explicitly named all of Everett’s former slaves, including John Allen and George W. Lewis. Their army comrade James H. Garland is not listed in the act, although his service record confirms he was from Albemarle as well. In the testimony of his pension application, filed after the war, Garland stated that he moved with his mother from Virginia “several years before the war.” Perhaps Garland and his mother had joined the group of former Everett slaves on their 1854 journey, hitching a ride to new lives in Pennsylvania.
Before their enlistment, Allen, Lewis, and Garland worked as a manual laborer, farmer, and barber respectively. John Allen had traveled to Pandenarium with his parents and two siblings when he was less than ten years old. A teenager by the time the Civil War started, he was the nephew of George W. Lewis, although the latter was only nine years his senior. When Lewis, born in the late 1830s, enlisted in the Union Army, he was a young father, leaving behind a wife, young son, and newborn daughter. James H. Garland hopped around nearby counties, working on a farm, attending school for a few years, and then learning the skills of a barber and setting up shop in 1863. Just two months before he enrolled in his regiment, Garland married a woman named Mary E. Jackson at the home of George Lewis’s parents-in-law. Having left behind their well-defined, connected roots in Mercer County, Allen, Lewis, and Garland traveled to Philadelphia, where they trained to become soldiers in the 127th USCT infantry.
In August 1864, the three men joined their regiment at Camp William Penn—a facility built the previous summer for the training of African American soldiers, the first and largest camp for this purpose. By late 1864, the tides of the war were slowly turning in favor of the Union, but the government needed more regiments like the 127th USCT infantry to aid in defeating the Confederacy. After training, many black Union regiments were often relegated to performing non-combat duties, such as construction and garrison duty. In addition to these tasks, the soldiers of the 127th saw action as part of the Army of the James in Virginia from late 1864 through the subsequent spring. The eventual capture of Petersburg and Richmond in early April was a major Union victory aided by other black regiments with Albemarle-born soldiers, such as Frank and Henry Lee of the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. Led by Colonel Benjamin F. Tracy, who later became secretary of the navy under President Benjamin Harrison, the 127th’s soldiers, including Lewis and Allen (Garland had fallen sick on the march to Hatcher’s Run), took part in the climactic Appomattox campaign. The regiment was one of seven black units that together with their white comrades helped to end the war by forcing the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. As historian Elizabeth Varon has shown, the black soldiers at Appomattox knew that not only had they helped to save the Union, but they had seized their “golden moment” to prove their battlefield courage, destroy slavery, and claim equality for themselves and future generations of black Americans.
After Lee’s surrender, the men were sent south to serve as an occupying force in Texas. Allen, Lewis, and Garland were finally mustered out in September 1865 and returned home to Mercer County. A local history of Mercer County notes that George Lewis lost his hearing because of the war, and census records show that he settled back down in the county, having another child in 1867. By the 1890s and well into his sixties, he and his wife Caroline were raising three grandchildren, named Ollie, Elizabeth, and Joseph. John Allen, still a teenager when the war ended, moved back to Mercer County and soon after married. The 1870 census shows the first addition to his family: an infant named Richard. While Lewis is traceable through census data, little is known about Allen’s life after 1870, and neither he nor Lewis filed for a pension.
Fortunately, James H. Garland’s post-war experiences are preserved in his pension filing. His pension offered him compensation for both his service and the physical debility he incurred. In 1888, 23 years after Garland mustered out of the army, a doctor recorded that he claimed “to have first become sick at Deep Bottom, Va., in 1864 by contracting a cold and that later in the same winter while building a bridge across James River he became very wet which caused his limbs to swell and become painful and that from that time he has never been free from rheumatism.” The doctor further noted that Garland’s condition allowed him to do nothing but light work, concluding that Garland was obviously a “rheumatic subject.”
The process of getting his pension approved was lengthy for James Garland, as it was for many African American veterans. Spanning several decades, Garland’s pension file comprises hundreds of pages, among them letters, doctors’ examinations, and other bureaucratic items. Garland’s old comrade George Lewis made an appearance, giving testimony on Garland’s worsened physical health. Lewis affirmed Garland’s claims, stating that the latter was healthy when he joined the army and became ill after continued exposure to cold temperatures. Moreover, Lewis was someone close to Garland; “I knew claimant from his boyhood,” and “We were bunkmates at the time [during the war],” he testified. Other former soldiers provide testimony in the pension file. One recalled that Garland suffered from rheumatism “fearfully.”
The pension file also describes James Garland’s life after Pandenarium. In 1888, he was the owner of a “small barber shop at the little hamlet of Jackson Center” in Mercer County. He and his wife Mary had three children—a daughter and two sons—born between 1866 and 1870. In 1904, according to a letter written by his youngest son, Charles Garland, James and his wife moved to Cleveland, Ohio, settling in a new house that still stands today. Over a decade prior to her husband’s death, Mary took legal guardianship of him, because his health had so drastically degraded that he could no longer care for himself. James finally passed away from pneumonia on February 2, 1918. His son Charles continued to take care of his widow. Charles owned a life insurance business and was a prominent member of Cleveland’s African American community. In 1909, a local paper praised him for “obtaining for his race the elimination of prejudiced clauses and conditions effecting contracts on their life.”
Several weeks after his father’s death, Charles received notice that for his mother to claim her husband’s pension she must establish legal widowhood because “no further payment can be made to the widow as former guardian.” Despite enlisting the aid of his local Republican congressman, Henry I. Emerson, Charles and his mother ran into considerable red tape trying to prove the validity of her marriage to her husband without a marriage license. “I keenly feel the weight of our interest which we are imposing upon you Re. Mother’s pension,” Charles wrote to Emerson, “but having entered the battle… it seems next to a bit of folly to retreat.” Charles persevered, providing witnesses to his parents’ wedding and eventually securing a widow’s pension for his mother in 1919. When she died in 1923, she was buried in Cleveland’s Woodland Cemetery, where the remains of her husband also lie, both in unmarked graves.
Like other Albemarle-born members of the USCT who filed for pensions, Garland’s long pursuit of recognition for his wartime service left behind a paper trail immensely valuable to historians. The extensiveness of James Garland’s and his widow’s pension file, however, also reflects the considerable difficulty that many aging African American veterans and their families faced in receiving sorely needed financial aid from the federal government.
As for Pandenarium, by the early 20th century only a handful of residents still remained, with most having left for nearby cities. Today the land has been transformed into farms, with only the slightest traces left of its African American settlers and their homes for archaeologists to find.
Jane Diamond is a fourth year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, participating in the Distinguished Majors Program for History. As a summer 2017 intern for the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History, Jane researched the history of Albemarle County and UVA during the war.
Images: (1) Flag of the 127th USCT Infantry Regiment (Library of Congress). (2) A closeup of James H. Garland's combined military service record (U.S. National Archives).
Sources: Compiled Service Records for John Allen, James H. Garland, and George W. Lewis, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., accessed through Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com/browse/273/); Pension records for James H. Garland, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; Angela Jaillet, “The People of Pandenarium: The Living Landscape of a Freed African American Settlement,” Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2011; “Colored Emigrants,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), November 15, 1854; “Emancipated Slaves.” National Era (Washington, D.C.), December 7, 1854; Edgar Woods, History of Albemarle County, Virginia (Harrisonburg: C.J. Carrier Company, 1964); Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 (Harrisburg: B. Singlerly, 1869); Frederick A. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, vol. 3 (New York: T. Yoseloff, 1959); Roland Barksdale-Hall, African Americans in Mercer County, (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Yael A. Sternhell, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 33-35; Elizabeth R. Varon, Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 93-101; Donald Scott, “Camp William Penn,” PA Civil War 150, accessed July 24, 2017, http://pacivilwar150.com/TheWar/CampWilliamPenn.html; Miller Center, “Benjamin F. Tracy,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://millercenter.org/president/bharrison/essays/tracy-1889-secretary-of-the-navy; “Charles F. Garland,” The Ohio Historical Society, accessed July 24, 2017, http://dbs.ohiohistory.org/africanam/html/pagece61.html?ID=5186&Current=01_02B; “Mary E. Jackson Garland,” Findagrave.com, accessed September 11, 2017, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=116566900&ref=acom.