From Slavery To Citizenship
Biographies of Logan Davis and Peter D. Thomas

As published in "The Racine County Militant; an illustrated narrative of war times, and a soldier's roster; a pioneer publication undertaken in the interest of patriotic Americans in Racine County, Wisconsin. A Home-made book, about home people, for home people." by Eugene Walter Leach, Racine, Wis. c1915, pages 132-136.

Logan Davis and Peter D. Thomas, negroes, who are old citizens of Racine, personify the link that binds the present generation to that of more than fifty years ago, when slavery was recognized and protected by the law of the land. They both spent their youth in slavery until liberated by the Civil War; they both were soldiers for the Union in that war; both have lived many years in this city and have achieved better than an average success in a pecuniary way, and are well known and respected citizens.

We have thought it worth while to include in this war story, brief biographical sketches of these Racine men, who typify three million of their race, but for whose presence here

in bondage, there would have been no "War of the Rebellion." Logan Davis was born, in 1849, a slave on a plantation in Fulton county, Ky., near the Tennessee line. While a boy he was kept busy performing certain duties that were less calculated to develop habits of profitable industry, than to instill in him that "sense of servitude" that was necessary in slaves in order that the abominable system might be perpetuated. Bringing fresh water from the spring, a half mile away, at the call of any member of the family at the house; fanning the young ladies while they sat in the hammock and read; keeping the flies from the dining room table, and the diners, during, meals with a long-handled fan or duster made from a pea-fowl's feathers; running, errands, and doing the thousand and one menial things around the house that a boy could do, was his job.

His master and owner was Rev. Green Bynom, a presiding elder in the Methodist church, a man of character and influence in that region. He had company often at his table, and the slave boy, through his attendance there in the capacity of "fly-chaser," heard much discussion in the years just preceding the war, of all of the social and political problems agitating the South, even more than the North, at that time, and he kept his ears open and his mouth shut, as became a faithful and sensible slave boy.

The master had a son of about the same age as Logan, and his mother being a frail woman, the black boy's "mammy" gave the white baby the same nursing and tending as she gave her own and the boys grew up playmates. The black boy got no schooling, however, and his chum undertook to teach him to spell and read, until one day the master discovered a book in the hands of Logan, and finding that he could spell a little, he became violently angry, and clouted him across the face with the book, and threatened to tie him to a tree, and strip and whip him, if he ever again saw a book in his hands, or if he ever played with his son again. The sting of that blow at the hands of the preacher, his master, drove straight into the heart of the slave boy, a purpose some day to run away and be free. The master's son had some sympathy for his playmate, and having gotten the idea from a story his uncle had told him about Philadelphia, that all the negroes there were free, he promised Logan confidentially, that some day he would take him to that city and let him go. But the war broke out. All of the men enlisted in the army; the boys and young men of the neighborhood formed a "Home Guard," chiefly for protection in event of a possible uprising among the blacks. They had a camp near the elder's plantation, around the shoulder of a hill about a mile from the house. One day as the slave boy was returning from the camp, where he, had delivered a basket of delicacies, he found the, house and yard full of Union soldiers,* the first he had ever seen, who questioned him when he appeared, and learning about the "Home Guard" camp, formed into line, and, led by the boy, surprised and captured the whole squad, without any casualties. The negro boy was invited to go with the union soldiers, and he determined to start for the North and freedom. He left home with but ten cents; boarded a train at the first opportunity and reached Chicago barefooted, with the same sum in his pocket, conductors permitting him to ride free. He made friends with members of his own race in the big city, and in January, 1864. enlisted in Company C, Twenty-ninth United States Colored Infantry, as a drummer and served in the Union army almost two years, being mustered out November 30, 1865.

He came to Racine in 1870, and has lived here, ever since, most of the time being enoaged as a barber, both as employe and proprietor. For the last sixteen years, however, he has, been janitor of the Post Office, having been appointed by Jackson I. Case, at the time he was postmaster, on the first occupation of the present building. Mr. Davis has been industrious and thrifty, and has accumulated a comfortable property. He is married and is the father of one son and three daughters, all of whom are grown and married. His son, Oliver, was a soldier in the Spanish-American war, and is now employed as an elevator man in the new capitol building at Madison.

Peter D. Thomas is another old citizen of Racine who was born in slavery, April 8, 1847 at Tiptonville, Tenn., about one hundred and fifty miles north of Memphis, on the Mississippi River, at the border of Kentucky. The plantation on which he lived consisted of one thousand acres, and was owned by a widow, who, with four daughters, occupied the "big house." This woman also owned many slaves, of whom Peter was one.

Peter's was the portion and fate of the average slave boy ante-bellum days-errand boy, waiting on everybody at the house; hitching up the riding horses; accompanying the young ladies when out riding, sometimes with other escorts, on which occasions he was often as useful in ridding the ladies of undesirable company, as he was at others in providing uninterrupted intercourse with favored suitors. Certain signs would inform him whether the company was agreeable or not; if not, he stuck around; otherwise he dropped behind.

As he grew older and stronger he was obliged to take his place in field work, where the slaves were all driven, more, or less, though on his home plantation they were treated fairly well, usually. He was fed in those days on common, but wholesome food- corn bread, clabbered milk and hog fat. His mother made all of his clothes, which were not "much" - mostly a pair of pants- out of stiff duck material, which would stand alone and last until outgrown.

At Lincoln's election, in 1860, every one in Tennessee seemed to think that "now the slaves will all be freed," and the whites began to organize to fight the North and issued an ultimatum to all men to enlist or get out of the state within ten days.

Peter was fourteen years old when the war broke out, and was often at Island No. 10, in the Mississippi River, which was only five miles from Tiptonville. Every plantation in the region sent half of their negroes to work on the fortifications there, which were being erected to blockade the river. Officers would compel the slaves to "hurrah for Jeff Davis," but there was nothing to it but noise. The Yankees took the island in October, 1862, and shortly thereafter Peter went north.

He became body servant to Lieutenant Charles B. Nelson, of Company G, Fifteenth Wisconsin Infantry; carried his Sword and revolver when not in battle; took care of his tent; made his bed, and was generally useful. In this capacity he was at the battles of Chickamauga, Dalton, Resaca and New Hope church, where Lieut. Nelson was wounded. Peter enlisted in August, 1864, in the Eighteenth United States Colored troops, and participated in the battles of Franklin and of Nashville, and was mustered out in August, 1865.

After the war, he went to Beloit, Wis., the home of Lieut. Nelson, and attended school, graduating from the high school, and taking one year at Beloit, college. He had an idea at that time that he would like to fit himself to teach the colored people in the South, but on learning that the Southern whites would not tolerate teachers for negroes, he discontinued his schooling.

In 1870, Peter went to Chicago, and worked for four years in a wholesale liquor house, where they wanted a "colored man who didn't drink." He became an expert as a whiskey sampler, being able to tell any brand without a label, by tasting. He never became addicted to the drink habit, however.

He came to Racine in 1883, and has lived here since, doing janitor work most of the time. He is married, and, through habits of industry, economy and thrift, has accumulated a competency.

Mr. Thomas was elected, in 1887, as coroner of Racine county, and served with credit to himself for two years. He is a member of Governor Harvey Post No. 17, Grand Army of the Republic, of which he was for one term Junior Vice Commander; he is now chairman of the headstone committee. He has shown much interest in Grand Army affairs, has been delegate of his Post to the State Encampment, and has attended several meetings of the National organization. - *These soldiers proved to be "Lane's Jayliawker's" from Kansas, about 500 of them; a rather irresponsible band- avengers of John Brown- which was soon disbanded, and the members re-enlisted in regular organizations.