Hidden History: Newspaper ad reunites Uncle Wash with family more than a century later – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Newspaper ad reunites Uncle Wash with family more than a century later

When he was an octogenarian, “Uncle Wash” was observed as being a “pleasant faced appearing old man, whose gray eyes, hair, and beard [gave] him a venerable appearance, not much unlike the typical Uncle Tom”, as was quoted in the June 9, 1892, Osage County Chronicle. Wash’s story, however, was much different than the Uncle Tom of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

George Washington Irving had been held in slavery near Springfield, Missouri, one of about 20 slaves owned by a Mr. Fulbright. Possibly John Fulbright, who with his family, in 1829, brought 30 slaves with them to Greene County, Missouri. Fulbright was “a very hard master” and Wash and the others enslaved by the Fulbright family were submitted “to the lashings of a cruel and capricious owner.”

When General James Lane led a campaign into southwest Missouri in the fall of 1861 with his Kansas Brigade, Wash’s family was one of the hundreds of others the troops freed during their time in the area. Wash would later recount an attempt by the local slaveholders to dissuade their slaves from leaving with the Army, telling them that if they left, they would be sold by the government to pay the debts of the war. However, Wash and others tired of their bonds figured it was worth the gamble and took the soldiers at their word.

These formerly enslaved families became “contrabands” or recently freed individuals taken under the care of the Army. When the refugees became too numerous for the frontier Army to handle, Lane sent many of the contrabands, dubbed “The Black Brigade” to the safety of Kansas under the care of Army chaplains. The refugees took with them all of their earthly possessions, sometimes using their former master’s livestock to transport the loads. The troop traveled day and night on this journey, with little opportunity to rest and limited protection in this pro-slavery area of Missouri.

Wash and other refugees who formed the Black Brigade first arrived in Kansas at Fort Scott. Many then ventured on to Lawrence by the fall of 1861, where some found livelihoods and settled. Wash worked as a teamster in the free-state town during his time there.

In 1863, he weathered the fury of Quantrill’s raiders when they sacked the town. The following year, Wash and his family moved to Burlingame, Kansas. It was there that he found a job performing labor at the Burlingame Cemetery. During his career, he was said to have dug more than 1,000 graves at the cemetery, earning $2 per excavated grave.

George Washington Irving’s obituary as published in the May 1, 1902, Burlingame Enterprise.

The loss of the family that he had been separated from in Missouri during the war weighed on Wash. When he was an older man, he placed an advertisement in the newspaper looking for his brothers Jackson and Elias Fulbright, a method for searching for lost loved ones that was often used by formerly enslaved families. Often times those placing the ad would have to rely on a literate friend in their community to assist them in placing the notice in the paper. Placing an ad required an effort of time and money from people that had already lost so much.

Unbeknown to Wash, his brothers Jackson and Elias had been taken south into Texas by their mistress. As the Union army advanced and freed enslaved people, some slaveholders moved to seceded states in effort to protect what they viewed as a property investment.

For Wash’s family, the move put considerable distance between them which made reunion with each other difficult after the war. But while the time and place wasn’t right back then for Wash’s advertisement to reunite him with his family, it wasn’t fruitless.

Starting in 2012, to better organize my quest for information about the African American families living in Burlingame after the Civil War, and to find and share information with family members of those I had been researching, I created public access trees on Ancestry.com.

In 2018, a great-granddaughter of one of Wash’s brothers contacted me. Her family stories told of an origin in Springfield, Missouri, with relocation to Texas for Jackson and Elias Fulbright. With the information in the articles on Wash and what she already had, she was able to connect the dots and add to her family tree. Wash’s newspaper ad wasn’t successful in his lifetime, but it still helped reconnect him with his family more than 100 years later.

George Washington Irving was 80 years old when he died April 24, 1902, at Burlingame, according to his obituary in the May 1, 1902, Burlingame Enterprise. He is buried in Burlingame Cemetery, surrounded by graves he had dug during the years he lived in Burlingame.

Photo illustration features an advertisement from the Topeka Daily Commonwealth, Aug. 20, 1879, in which someone was searching for possibly a lost family member, Wm P. Grant. Advertisements such as these were used to find family members separated during the Civil War. Also included, George Washington Irving’s obituary from the Burlingame Enterprise, May 1, 1902.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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