Author: Elizabeth Varon


Joseph T. Wilson (1837–1890)

Joseph T. Wilson served with the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and afterward as a writer, orator, and activist best known for The Black Phalanx; A History of the Negro Soldiers of the United States in the Wars of 1775–1812, 1861–’65 (1887). Born free in Norfolk, Wilson attended school in Massachusetts and worked as a whaler in the South Pacific and on a railroad crew in Chile before coming home to the United States in 1862 to enlist. He returned to Massachusetts after becoming sick, later fighting with the 54th Massachusetts at the Battle of Olustee, in Florida. A wound led to his discharge. After the war, Wilson settled in Norfolk, agitating for Black suffrage and full citizenship through his prodigious output of editorials, poems, speeches, and historical works. A Republican Party stalwart and officeholder, he courted controversy in the 1880s by refusing to align with the reform-minded, biracial Readjuster coalition in Virginia and choosing instead to support the “straight-out” Republicans. The Black Phalanx, meanwhile, was the most comprehensive study of African American military service of its era, commanding for Wilson widespread admiration and respect. He died in 1891 and is buried at Hampton National Cemetery.


Lucy Johnson Barbour (1775–1860)

Lucy Johnson Barbour was the wife of Virginia governor, U.S. senator, secretary of war, and minister to Great Britain James Barbour and, after his death, a women’s leader and Whig Party activist. Born in Orange County, Barbour was her husband’s first cousin. (Her sister married James Barbour’s brother, Philip Pendleton Barbour.) For much of her adult life, Lucy Barbour cared for her family as her husband moved from Richmond, to Washington, D.C., and to London. She took an interest in her husband’s politics and strongly supported female education. Upon his death in 1842, her voice became more public. In 1844 she established a women’s group in Richmond to fund and build a statue in honor of the Whig Party’s leader, Henry Clay, of Kentucky. Such activism from a woman was seen as unusual and provoked opposition. Barbour persisted, however, and the statue was commissioned and, in 1860, finally unveiled. Her son, B. Johnson Barbour, delivered the dedicatory oration at the State Capitol on April 12. Lucy Barbour died a few months later.