Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hobbs Keckley

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hobbs Keckly (c. 1820 - 1907) = Former light-skinned black slave. Teacher. Best known as former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s modiste (dressmaker). Elizabeth was born into slavery near Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia to Agnes, a woman owned by Colonel Armistead Burwell. There is some question as to who Lizzie’s biological father was. Was he her mother’s sweetheart, George Pleasant Hobbs, a slave on a neighboring farm? Or was it, as Agnes confessed on her death bed, Master Burwell?

Several years after Lizzie’s birth, George moved to Tennessee with his owner Grum, eventually losing touch.

In an era when certain civil liberties were forbidden to slaves such as marriage, voting, and going to school, Elizabeth learned to read and write as well as domestic duties. When she was fourteen, Burwell sent her to work in his minister son, Robert’s household. There she was given to Alexander Kirkland, a white man whom she had a son by. The pair, Lizzie and George W.D., then 18 months old, were sent to live with Robert’s sister, Anne, and her husband, Hugh A. Garland when Kirkland died.

Garland, a merchant and later the attorney for the defendant in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case, moved to St. Louis, MO. From his heirs in 1855, she was able to obtain their emancipation papers for $1200. Shortly thereafter, she married James Keckley, then separated from him after eight years. She moved first to Baltimore, Maryland and then to Washington, D.C. to establish her dressmaking business.

In 1859, her son attended Wilberforce University, Xenia, Ohio and in 1861, was killed during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri.

Elizabeth died in her sleep on May 26, 1907. Rev. Dr. Francis Grimke officiated at her funeral and she was buried in the Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Historical Fact: On July 13, 1787, when the Northwest territory (Ordinance) was signed into being (this included the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota), slavery was prohibited in the territory, except for indentured servants, which meant a slaveholder could send a slave from out of the territory to work his land or harvest his crops for a limited length of time in the territory, but this "servant" could not be bought or sold within the territory. There was also a fugitive slave law clause, so any slave who was caught escaping through the territory would be returned to their master, however, in 1848, Illinois passed a law making it a free state.   

More to Read:
1. Behind the Scenes. By Elizabeth Keckley. Edited by Frances Smith Foster. RR. Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago, First published 1868; reprinted 1931; 1998.
3. Hugh A. Garland, of St. Louis, MO. Lawyer and Author Biography
4. St. Louis Courthouse Postcard by Raphael and Tuck
5. Findagrave #7153815 and #106853064

Places to Visit:
1. Old St. Louis Courthouse. 11 N. Fourth St. St. Louis. (Place of Dred and Harriet Scott's Trial. Dred Scott is buried here.)
2. Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, 6424 West Farm Road 182, Republic, MO.