The seventh installment of the Coffee Chronicle highlights slavery and the era of emancipation in Coffee County from 1850 and on. The title is “Slavery and Beyond – Coffee County, Tennessee.”
Publications editor Linda Winters, who wrote two chronicles prior to this, was very passionate about the project.
“It’s just something I’ve always been interested in. Books I have read in the past were mostly civil war, pre-civil war, slavery,” Winters said. “They had asked me to be the publications editor when I retired at the historical society so it gives me a reason to pursue history.”
Winters used census data, Coffee County Historical Society records, census records on micro film, online records and old newspapers to compile the data.
The book begins with a brief history of slavery in Coffee County.
“Compared to many of the other southern states, Coffee was not a really big slave holding area. There were a few families that help a majority of the slaves. Many families had only a couple of slaves,” Winters explained.
In 1860, Coffee County’s total population was 9,689. Of that, 306 were slave owners and 1,546 were slaves. Winters listed all of the slave owners in 1860, which can be searched by name in the book’s index. One slave owner was Charles Hickerson. At the age of 41, he was a farmer, which was a popular occupation for slave owners in Coffee County, and owned seven slaves.
Many of the slave owners owned a small number of slaves for small family farms or domestic matters, Winters explained.
The book also includes mortality rates and the documented lynching that occurred in the area.
In 1850, 130 deaths occurred in Coffee County – 37 of them were slaves, according to Winters’ data. A common cause of death was typhoid fever.
The information on lynching was compiled in a historical quarterly by Jess Lewis, Coffee County Historian.
“Coffee County, Tennessee has had its share, along with surrounding counties. Between 1890 and 1936, there have been at least six documented lynchings in Coffee County,” according to the book.
All six are described in the text, including incidents in surrounding counties.
After the slave owners died, the owners included what would happen to their slaves within their wills, because slaves were seen as property.
“Some of them were very caring slave owners,” Winters said. “They didn’t want the slave families separated and I think there was one in there that talked about sending their slaves to an island if they were freed. One guy in (the book) freed his slaves and sold his property to pay the way for his slaves to go to that island.”
The book contains a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863. After this time, the book’s topic shifts to list the demographics of freed slaves, segregation and how former slaves moved the county forward.
The book features photos of Manchester’s Rosenwald School on Rye Street when it was in operation in 1934. The building has since been moved and converted into apartments, which are still standing today.
There were seven colored schools in total in Coffee County.
The book closes with personal profiles – one of former slave Louis Vannoy who wrote a column in the Manchester Times on July 7, 1944. She outlined her journey from being sold and to becoming a free woman.
The last profiles are more current and include Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman, Edmonia Murray and Lorene Hickerson McReynolds, all of whom grew up during segregation.
“Probably the personal stories and the newspaper articles that bring it more to life than just statistics,” Winters said about what she finds the most interesting about the book.
Winters thanked everyone who helped her research and Norman, Murray and McReynolds for allowing her to publish their stories.
Copies of “Slavery and Beyond – Coffee County, Tennessee” can be found in the Coffee County Historical Society Office, which is located in Manchester’s downtown courthouse. It can be purchased for $20 in the courthouse and on Amazon.