Author: Christopher J. Tucker


John E. Ferguson (1810–1859)

John E. Ferguson was a businessman of mixed-race ancestry. He worked as a barber in Richmond and rose to the elite of that city’s free black community, serving prosperous white men and even owning enslaved people. He bought and sold real estate and by 1859 owned more than a dozen properties. In 1853, after arguing he was only one-quarter black, Ferguson received from a Richmond court a certificate that freed him of certain legal restrictions that came with being African American. Nevertheless, when he faced criminal charges three years later, he was treated as black. He was acquitted, but when his son ran afoul of the law, too, he was convicted and fined with evidence that would not have been used against a white man. Ferguson died in 1859.


Richard Eppes (1824–1896)

Richard Eppes was a wealthy planter, slaveholder, Confederate soldier, and wartime surgeon whose detailed diaries have provided historians insights into the lives of elite Virginians of his time. Born at his family’s plantation in Prince George County, Eppes was educated in Petersburg and at the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Pennsylvania, before traveling in the Middle East. It was during that trip that he began his lifelong habit of recording his experiences in a diary. Eppes found high earnings in his plantations where his father had not, and treated the enslaved men, women, and children who labored for him with a strict, sometimes violent paternalism. At the Convention of 1861 he supported remaining in the Union, but when the American Civil War (1861–1865) began he joined a cavalry regiment, serving during the Peninsula Campaign (1862) before hiring a replacement. He later served as a surgeon at a Petersburg hospital while Union general Ulysses S. Grant used his property as his headquarters while laying siege to the city. After the war, Eppes returned to farming and died in 1896. His Appomattox Manor later became a unit of Petersburg National Battlefield, while his diaries were published in twenty-one volumes.