Bolling was born into slavery on January 10, 1819, in Cumberland County, the son of Olive Bolling. The identity of his father, an African American, is not known. The Bollings were owned by the prominent Eppes family. He may have been a body servant of the Buckingham County physician Willie J. Eppes. Bolling also became an able mechanic and frequently supervised the work of other slaves. Such was his skill at building and farm management that Eppes frequently permitted him to hire out to other slaveholders. By 1857 Bolling had reportedly saved enough money that he and his brother were able to purchase their mother's freedom. Bolling is also said to have purchased his own freedom before the Civil War, but his name does not appear in Cumberland County's free population census of 1860.
At an undetermined date Bolling married Ellen Munford, of Halifax County, North Carolina. The eldest of their two sons and four daughters, Phillip S. Bolling, was born about 1849, and the last was born about 1864. Hardworking and thrifty, Bolling began to acquire property after the Civil War. In 1866 he obtained two lots on Madison Street in Farmville from John W. Eppes. Bolling eventually added five other pieces of property in Farmville, and in 1867 he bought a lot in Lynchburg. In 1874 he purchased an interest in 602 acres of farmland in Cumberland County, and by 1878 he had clear rights to the property, where he later raised tobacco. Bolling eventually amassed more than 1,000 acres in Cumberland County.
Bolling's fame as a farmer, builder, and brickmaker spread. His name appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Gazette in an October 23, 1886, article describing the advances of African Americans in business. The article estimated that the value of his brick-making operation and fine country house was $40,000. When Bolling composed his will in 1889 his estate included a house and three lots in Farmville and the 600-acre farm and house in Cumberland County, plus another 100 acres and a dwelling in the county at which one of his sons then resided. Such industry was characteristic of the family. Bolling's brother was reportedly a successful builder in the Lynchburg area during the 1870s and 1880s.
In May 1883 Bolling ran as a Readjuster and won a one-year term on the Cumberland County board of supervisors. His election provoked criticism from the DemocraticFarmville Journal, which complained that he lacked adequate education to manage the financial affairs of the county competently. Nevertheless, the voters reelected Bolling supervisor in May 1884. He also encouraged his sons' political activities. Phillip S. Bolling was elected to the House of Delegates from Buckingham and Cumberland counties in 1883, although he soon lost his seat on a technicality, and in 1883 and 1884 Lewis R. Bolling served as an election judge.
In October 1885 Bolling campaigned for his son's former seat in the House of Delegates from Buckingham and Cumberland counties. Although the Democrats had surged back into power, Bolling narrowly defeated his Democratic opponent by 176 votes. He served on three standing committees: Claims, Manufactures and Mechanic Arts, and Retrenchment and Economy. Although Readjuster power was ebbing, Bolling still enjoyed the support of the party's leader, William Mahone. In 1887 Bolling ran for the state senate seat representing Amelia, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties. In July he wrote to Mahone that he did not think his opponent, Nathaniel M. Griggs, another African American, stood any chance. By August, however, Bolling was complaining that "they are bleeding me on every turn" but that given enough money he could prevail. Mahone unexpectedly threw his support to Griggs, but Bolling stuck it out, campaigning as an Independent Republican. Griggs beat him by a vote of 2,740 to 1,513. Bolling worked in behalf of John Mercer Langston's successful 1888 congressional campaign, but he never again sought public office.
In December 1899 Bolling became ill, and although he experienced little pain he soon became too weak to stand or feed himself. On February 8, 1900, Bolling died at his Cumberland County farm. The funeral service was conducted at the farm, and he was buried there.
January 10, 1819 - Samuel P. Bolling is born enslaved in Cumberland County, the son of Olive Bolling. The identity of his father, an African American, is not known.
1857 - By this year Samuel P. Bolling has reportedly saved enough money that he and his brother are able to purchase the freedom of their mother, Olive Bolling.
1866 - Samuel P. Bolling obtains two lots on Madison Street in Farmville from John W. Eppes.
1867 - Samuel P. Bolling buys a lot in Lynchburg.
1870 - The census identifies Samuel P. Bolling as working as a carpenter in Cumberland County.
1874 - By this year Samuel P. Bolling has established a brickyard in Farmville.
1880 - By this year Samuel P. Bolling and his family have moved to a house on Madison Street in Farmville.
May 1883 - Samuel P. Bolling, a Readjuster, wins a one-year term on the Cumberland County board of supervisors.
May 1884 - Samuel P. Bolling, a Readjuster, is elected to a second, one-year term on the Cumberland County board of supervisors.
October 1885 - Samuel P. Bolling, a Readjuster, wins his son Phillip S. Bolling's former seat in the House of Delegates from Buckingham and Cumberland counties.
October 23, 1886 - Samuel P. Bolling's name appears on the front page of the Cleveland Gazette in an article describing the advances of African Americans in business. He owns a brickyard in Farmville.
1887 - Samuel P. Bolling, a Readjuster, loses his bid for a seat in the Senate of Virginia representing Amelia, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties. Another African American, Nathaniel M. Griggs, wins.
December 1899 - Samuel P. Bolling becomes ill, and although he experiences little pain he soon becomes too weak to stand or feed himself.
February 8, 1900 - Samuel P. Bolling dies at his Cumberland County farm, where he is buried.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Morgan, L. J., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Samuel P. Bolling (1819–1900). (2013, August 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Bolling_Samuel_P_1819-1900.
- MLA Citation:
Morgan, Lynda J. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Samuel P. Bolling (1819–1900)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 14 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 17, 2013 | Last modified: August 14, 2013