SUBMITTED BY: Baylor Hicks; article written by Melissa De Witte; excerpt edited by Cheri Todd Molter
A Note from Baylor Hicks: Bill Gould (William Gould IV) was one of my professors at Stanford Law School. I knew that his great-grandfather was a contraband in the Civil War and rose to some prominence in the US Navy, so when I saw this article, I was interested in reading it. From it, I learned that William Gould I was from North Carolina, in fact probably from the Cape Fear River valley! Apparently, when a group of men escaping slavery encountered the Federal Navy blockading Wilmington, some clerk recorded their names and the plantations they were from. I think this would be a great story to have included in the History Center’s collection.
“Stanford law Professor William Gould IV remembers when he first delved into the diaries written by his great-grandfather, who escaped slavery and fought against the Confederacy during the American Civil War. It was 1958 and the journals had recently been discovered by Gould IV’s father in the attic of his late uncle’s home in Dedham, Massachusetts. …William Gould’s diaries include two worn books and other unbound pages that detail his service in the U.S. Navy between 1862, the year he escaped slavery, and 1865.
In addition to describing his life as a sailor, Gould also articulates his displeasure toward race relations of the era and the injustices toward the treatment of Black Americans. For Gould IV, his great-grandfather’s diaries presented as many questions as they did answers.
Despite antebellum-era laws that prohibited teaching people who were enslaved to read and write, Gould’s diaries reveal a man incredibly informed and passionate about issues of the day. There are a few misspellings, however, it was common for formally educated people to misspell words, Gould IV explained.
Gould IV wondered more about his past, especially how his great-grandfather came to be so well read. ‘It was hard for me to believe that he was enslaved,’ Gould IV said.
Gould IV spent over three decades trying to piece his great-grandfather’s story together. It wasn’t until 1989 that he finally caught a break. While combing through the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Gould IV stumbled upon logs for the U.S.S. Cambridge containing a description of eight ‘contrabands’ who came on board after rowing 28 nautical miles down Cape Fear River and into the ship’s blockade of the city of Wilmington, North Carolina. Among the men listed, along with the names of their masters, was his great-grandfather.
As Gould IV came to learn, ‘contrabands’ was a term used by the U.S. government to describe enslaved people who escaped to Union territory during the Civil War. In 1861, the U.S. Congress considered them to be seized property and could be enlisted into the military to support the war effort against the Confederacy. Prior, some officers returned people who escaped slavery back to the slave holder, as had been custom under the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling.
‘So that is what William Gould was on the day he boarded the Cambridge in September of 1862: a contraband,’ Gould IV said.
By coincidence, on the very day that Gould and the seven other men found refuge on the Cambridge – Sept. 22, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Declaration, which stated that as of Jan. 1, 1863, any person who was enslaved in a state rebelling against the Union ‘shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.’ This declaration also meant that Black Americans could serve in the military voluntarily, which is what Gould chose to do.
Gould’s diaries began five days after he boarded the Cambridge, where he served as a paid crew member, and later, on the U.S.S. Niagara.
‘He commences this diary on Sept. 27 and he says, ‘I took a pledge of allegiance to Uncle Samuel.’ He always calls our Uncle Sam ‘Uncle Samuel.’ He has these unusual expressions, and this is one of them that brings a smile to my face when I hear it,’ Gould IV said.
His great-grandfather’s diaries gave Gould IV a new appreciation for the Navy’s contribution to the American Civil War.
‘The Navy has never received the prominence that the Army has for this war, and I began to see the importance of the blockade of the [Southeastern] states which were designed to shut off materiel and food going to Lee’s army in Virginia,’ said Gould IV.
Gould’s diaries also describe how Europe was intertwined with pro-Confederate efforts, a fact that made him indignant. For example, in an entry about the C.S.S. Georgia, a Confederate ship disguised as an English vessel, he writes:
She showed the English Collors … we boarded her and found her to be the Rebel Privateer “Georgia” from Liverpool on her way to refit as A cruiseer, but the next cruise she makes will be for Uncle Samuel … That is one good deed for the “Niagara” and we hope that she will do many more before the cruise is up … We will now take A look around for some of the other cruisers of would-be King Jeff [Jefferson Davis].
Serving aboard the Niagara, Gould traveled from port to port across Europe, in search of cruisers like the Alabama that they could destroy. These entries inspired Gould IV to travel to the places his great-grandfather wrote about. ‘It opened up an entirely new world for me, and it inspired me personally to get the sense of connection to him,’ Gould IV said.
The diaries are as much a testimony to an incredible experience of a Black man during that era as they are a historic record detailing the life of a sailor during the Civil War. Gould frequently showed his despair over race relations of the time. For example, he makes his disgust for slavery quite clear in one entry titled, “The Negro and his Friends and Foes.”
He writes: We will now begin by looking far into the past far beyond the Declarration of Independence of 76 to that memmorable day the 11 of Dec. 1614 when 11 Negro slaves landed at Jamestown Va. And ask you was [it] for any act of friendship that those benighted Affricans were torn from their loved homes on the free plains of Affrica’s shores and transferred to the Wilderness of America. Was it and act of friendship that those Dutch traders exposed those Negros for sale. Was it and act of friendship that caused the F.F.V.’s to buy those misfortunate ones and make them the Hewers of the Wood and the Drawers of Water to clear thair Land, to Build thair Cittys and feed thair Mouths? …And from the doings of that eventful day spring all of the evils of slavery in this country.
Gould IV said his great-grandfather’s patriotism informed his own patriotic duty: ‘I think that people today can learn from the diaries about how much the country, as it developed in the middle of the 19th century, began this gradual road towards progress and equality, which we’re just seeing the new most recent chapter of. We don’t see too much of this discussed these days, that it’s perfectly proper to infuse the struggle for equality with patriotism and to be supportive of the United States of America. That’s the way he was, that’s the way all my forebears were and that’s what I was to believe.’”
Citation for William Gould I’s published diaries: Gould, William Benjamin. Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor, edited by William B. Gould IV. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.
Following is the link to the computer article: https://news.stanford.edu/2021/06/16/finding-fortitude-diaries-escaped-slave/?utm_source=june182021&utm_medium=pg&utm_campaign=law%40stanford&utm_content=Stanford-law-news&mkt_tok=ODg0LUZTQi0zMDcAAAF9v-hQTyJVcwsviwi00K8xf1OMh4Q4dDGDfGmOzDl1QSq9ebzQhGvmfBfxC2p13-YdX0eWpAop01159H9HT0G0Bria1S-HNIG3BqBl1tCP4A