Edward D. Bland (1848–1927)


Edward D. Bland served three terms in the House of Delegates and played a role in maintaining the volatile coalition between the Republicans and Readjusters. Bland was born a enslaved and eventually settled in Prince George County as a shoemaker. Known for his speaking, he became involved in local Republican politics. He advocated the alliance between his party and the Readjusters, and he ran for the General Assembly in 1879 with nomination of the former and de facto backing of the latter. The unwieldy partnership dominated Virginia politics for four years, and Bland won reelection in 1881 and again in 1883 even though a white supremacy campaign helped cause the Readjusters to collapse. He declined reelection for a fourth term, but remained a Republican organizer in the area. He died on his farm in Prince George County in 1927. In 1954, a housing project in Hopewell was named in his honor.

Early Years

Edward David Bland was born in October 1848, the son of Frederick Bland and Nancy Yates Bland. He was born a slave, probably in Dinwiddie County. After the American Civil War (1861–1865) the family resided in Petersburg, where his father was a shoemaker and a preacher, although apparently never the pastor of his own church. Bland learned the shoemaker’s trade working with his father and probably also attended one of the local night schools organized by northerners for blacks. On December 18, 1872, he married Nancy Jones, of Petersburg. Their nine children included two sons and four daughters who survived him.

Political Career

William Mahone

About 1874 Bland and his wife moved to City Point in Prince George County, where he worked as a shoemaker. Using oratorical skills, Bland became involved in local politics. During the 1870s the issue of how to deal with Virginia’s huge public debt divided the Democratic Party into Funders, who insisted that the debt be paid in full, and Readjusters, led by William Mahone. Bland was one of those African American Republicans who advocated an alliance with the white Readjusters. On October 3, 1879, a mass meeting of Black Republicans in Petersburg divided on that question, and those favoring the Readjusters withdrew to hold their own meeting, at which Bland delivered one of the speeches.

The Readjusters in Prince George organized on October 9 without naming their own candidate to represent Prince George and Surry counties in the House of Delegates. Instead, they threw their support to Bland, the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, the Funders unsuccessfully tried to nominate several men before Robert E. Bland, the white incumbent, finally agreed to run less than a week before the election.

On October 17, 1879, E. D. Bland joined Mahone and others on the speaker’s platform at a Readjuster barbecue in Prince George County. Three days later county Republicans, disgruntled by Bland’s Readjuster apostasy, called for his removal as the party’s nominee. Bland marshaled his supporters for the meeting that ensued at the courthouse on October 29. Amid so much confusion and crowding that a voice vote could not be taken, everyone went outside to line up for or against Bland. So many men went to his side that his opponents did not bother to form ranks.

Bland and the other ten African American Republicans elected to the House of Delegates in 1879 held the balance of power between the Funders and Readjusters. Their votes gave the Readjusters control of the legislature and sent Mahone to the U.S. Senate, but the coalition remained shaky. White Readjusters failed to back measures that the Black legislators introduced, and they, in turn, remained loyal to the national Republican Party. Bland served on the Committees on Executive Expenditures and on Schools and Colleges.

The "Southern Brigadier" as the Balance of Power in a "Loyal" Senate

In 1880 Bland was a delegate to the Republican Party’s state and national conventions and supported the party’s national candidates rather than Mahone’s slate of uncommitted electors. Needing votes from Blacks to carry the next year’s legislative elections, Mahone promised federal patronage positions and support for legislation in return for a coalition. Bland was one of the leaders who met on March 14, 1881, in Petersburg to endorse the Readjusters, and he easily won reelection in November. He served on the Committees on Agriculture and Mining, on Claims, and on Retrenchment and Economy. During the session of 1881–1882, Blacks obtained legislation creating a state-supported college and an insane asylum for African Americans as well as improved funding for their public schools. Conservatives responded in 1883 with a blatant white supremacy campaign through which they regained control of the General Assembly, although Bland won reelection for a third term. He was appointed to the influential Committee on Propositions and Grievances and the less consequential Committees on Enrolled Bills and on Officers and Offices at the Capitol. Bland also benefited from Mahone’s control of federal patronage in Virginia and worked for a time as a gauger, assessing the tax on whiskey and other goods, for the Internal Revenue Service at City Point.

Members of the General Assembly 1887—88

Bland stepped down after the regular legislative session of 1883–1884. Surry County Republicans made known their desire to have one of their own as the party’s next nominee, and he accordingly gave way to William Faulcon. Bland did not retire from politics, however. On September 30, 1885, he complained to William Mahone about the inaction of Republicans in a neighboring district, contrasting it with his own well-organized district, in which he spoke somewhere every night. Bland contemplated another run for the legislature in 1887. On September 6 of that year, he requested Mahone’s support but promised to step aside if Mahone preferred another man. Goodman Brown, of Surry County, became the party’s successful candidate that year. Possibly disenchanted by this snub, Bland supported John Mercer Langston against Mahone’s candidate in the 1888 congressional election. By then white Democrats were intent on eliminating Blacks from Virginia politics, a process that culminated in the disfranchisement measures of the Constitution of 1902.

Later Years

Bland continued to live in Prince George County and moved from City Point to a farm about the turn of the century. He suffered from chronic nephritis during his last years and died on February 13, 1927. Because the local church had recently burned, his large funeral took place at Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, and he was buried at Providence Cemetery, since renamed People’s Memorial Cemetery, in that city. A housing project in Hopewell, opened in December 1954, was named the Edward D. Bland Courts in his memory.

October 1848
Edward D. Bland is born enslaved, probably in Dinwiddie County, the son of Frederick Bland and Nancy Yates Bland.
December 18, 1872
Edward D. Bland and Nancy Jones, of Petersburg, marry.
October 3, 1879
Attendees of a mass meeting of black Republicans in Petersburg divide on whether to ally with the Readjuster Party. Those favoring the Readjusters withdraw to hold their own meeting.
October 9, 1879
The Readjuster Party in Prince George County organizes without naming its candidate to represent Prince George and Surry counties in the House of Delegates. Instead, members support Edward D. Bland, the Republican candidate.
October 17, 1879
Edward D. Bland joins William Mahone and others on the speaker's platform at a Readjuster Party barbecue in Prince George County.
October 20, 1879
Prince George County Republicans, upset that their House of Delegates candidate, Edward D. Bland, appeared at a Readjuster Party barbecue, call for his removal from the ticket.
October 29, 1879
A meeting of Prince George County Republicans ends in support of Edward D. Bland, the party's candidate for House of Delegates. Some members had called for his removal when he appeared at a Readjuster Party barbecue.
November 1879
Edward D. Bland, a Republican, defeats the incumbent, Robert E. Bland, to represent Prince George and Surry counties in the House of Delegates.
Edward D. Bland serves as a delegate to the Virginia Republican Party convention and supports the party's national candidates rather than William Mahone's slate of uncommitted electors.
November 1881
Edward D. Bland wins reelection the House of Delegates representing Prince George and Surry counties. His is part of the Readjuster Party coalition.
November 1883
Edward D. Bland wins election to a third term in the House of Delegates representing Prince George and Surry counties.
September 30, 1885
Edward D. Bland, Republican member of the House of Delegates from Prince George and Surry counties, complains to William Mahone about the inaction of Republicans in a neighboring district, contrasting it with his own well-organized district.
September 6, 1887
Edward D. Bland requests William Mahone's support in his run for a fourth term as a member of the House of Delegates representing Prince George and Surry counties. Mahone prefers another man, Goodman Brown, of Surry County, and Bland does not run.
February 13, 1927
Edward D. Bland dies on his farm in Prince George County. He is buried at Providence Cemetery (later People's Memorial Cemetery).
December 1954
A housing project in Hopewell opens and is named Edward D. Bland Courts in honor of Edward D. Bland, an African American member of the House of Delegates after the Civil War.
  • Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
  • Kneebone, John T. “Bland, Edward David.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 6–7. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
  • Moore, James T. “Black Militancy in Readjuster Virginia.” Journal of Southern History 41 no. 2 (May 1975): 167–186.
APA Citation:
Kneebone, John & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Edward D. Bland (1848–1927). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/bland-edward-d-1848-1927.
MLA Citation:
Kneebone, John, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Edward D. Bland (1848–1927)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 13 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2023, February 14
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