Author: Michael B. Chesson


R. H. Dickinson (1811 or 1812–1873)

R. H. Dickinson was a slave trader in Richmond. Born probably on his parents’ Caroline County plantation, he moved to Richmond and went into the slave-trading business there with one or both of his brothers. They purchased slaves in Virginia and Maryland for resale in bigger, Deep South markets, and in 1856 may have earned as much as $200,000. Dickinson was a part owner of the Saint Charles Hotel, where he conducted at least some of his sales and may have had an office. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), he served in the state reserves and sold slaves right up to the fall of Richmond. The end of the Confederacy and the abolition of slavery erased much of Dickinson’s wealth, and little is known of his life after the war. He died in 1873.


Josiah Crump (ca. 1838–1890)

Josiah Crump represented the Jackson Ward neighborhood on Richmond‘s city council for nearly ten years (1876–1884, 1888–1890). While it is unknown if Crump was born enslaved, by 1860 he was free and worked as a teamster. In 1871 he became a postal clerk in Richmond, most likely gaining the post because of his involvement with the Republican Party. He also joined the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers and served as a captain in one the city’s African American militias. Crump won his first election to the city’s board of aldermen in 1876, serving until 1884. He returned to office for two more years in 1888. In spite of increasing racial tensions, both black and white politicians respected Crump. He served on the committee of ordinances, a rarity for African American council members, and ended the practice of medical schools robbing graves for black cadavers. Crump died in 1890, and his funeral drew between 5,000 and 6,000 mourners.


Edinboro Archer (ca. 1849–1907)

Edinboro Archer served on the common council, one of two boards of the Richmond City Council, from 1882 until 1888. Born enslaved, he learned carpentry and eventually became a wheelwright. He settled in Jackson Ward, the famous political district in Richmond created by conservative whites in 1871 to concentrate the African American population in one location. This gerrymandering mitigated blacks’ political strength by reducing the overall impact of their votes in city elections. Between 1871 and 1898 thirty-three African Americans represented Jackson Ward in the city government. In 1882 Archer won the first of three elections to the council. During his tenure he served on important committees and fought to gain needed improvements for Jackson Ward, such as a city park. After leaving office, Archer continued as a wheelwright and then worked at Evergreen Cemetery. He died in 1907.


Joseph Allen (ca. 1836–after 1905)

Joseph Allen was an African American member of the Richmond City Council, serving one term, from 1882 to 1884. Born in Richmond the son of a bricklayer, Allen was raised free and began work in the building trade that prospered after the American Civil War (1861–1865). He resided in Jackson Ward, a Richmond political district created by conservative whites in 1871 to concentrate African Americans in a single ward and so reduce their political strength. After winning election to the council as a Republican, Allen worked on legislation to improve the conditions at the city’s all-black lunatic asylum. His run for reelection was unsuccessful and he died, probably not long after 1905.


John H. Adams (ca. 1848–1934)

John H. Adams served six years in Richmond‘s government representing Jackson Ward, two years on the city council and four years as an alderman. Adams hailed from a successful free black family, and received a bachelor’s degree from a Pennsylvania college in 1873. A plasterer by trade, he became involved with the African American religious and spiritual community. He helped his neighborhood, created as a gerrymandered constituency to limit black political power, improve its schools, streets, and lighting. Adams moved to Danville in the 1890s, but retired about 1930 and returned to Richmond, where he died at the home of a niece in 1934.

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