Leigh Street Preliminary Research: A Street of Diverse Uses and Cultures

Perry L.

Leigh Street, spanning a large distance through multiple Richmond neighborhoods, served as the site of a variety of functions for city residents.  A large number of articles in the Daily Dispatch concern two establishments: The Union Wood Yard, at 25th and Leigh, and the Leigh Street Baptist Church.  The Union Wood Yard posted advertisements about wood for sale often, and numerous obituaries listed the Leigh Street Baptist Church for funeral services.  The Daily Dispatch also shows the Baptist Church as a center for community activity, as evidenced by articles directly following the beginning the war.  In April 1861, a group of women in the church offered their services preparing and mending uniforms for soldiers (see article below).  In July of that year, Leigh Street Baptist helped establish a military hospital in the city.  Another church, Leigh Street African, served as the meeting place for military parades after the attack on Fort Sumter.  When the community desired assistance, the churches of Leigh Street offered services and social spaces to the area.

The articles in the Daily Dispatch also illustrate the wealth and social composition of the area.  A number of postings contain requests for slaves in kitchens or dining rooms, and a few reports of lost objects while residents walked along the street on their way to the theater.  However, the apparent affluence on Leigh Street also drew unwanted attention, as multiple articles refer to theft, arson, and disorderly conduct.  What I have not found evidence of yet is the presence of the immigrant community, something Kimball discusses in American City, Southern Place. As I continue my research, I will look out for hints of immigrant activity, because I know that immigrants in the area did not stay silent during the war, based on Kimball’s work[1].

The Daily Dispatch published the following articles within a year of the start of the Civil War.  The first article, which mentions “suspicious personages,” suggests a high level of paranoia in the city, while the second, which comes eight months later, reflects a call to action and a more confident stance on the war (for example, in its request of residents to bring musket rifles).

Excerpt from The Daily Dispatch: April 24, 1861.

Local matters.

Suspicious Personages.

–The City Council have adopted an ordinance which ordains that when any person believes or suspects any one in the city of entertaining, or having expressed, sentiments that render such person suspicious or unsafe to remain in the city, it shall be his duty to inform the Mayor of it.

That it shall be the duty of the Mayor to have such person arrested, by warrant or otherwise, and have him tried, and if found guilty, or there is good reason to believe that such person does entertain such opinions, he shall be dealt with as a vagrant, or person of evil fame.

It shall also be the duty of the Mayor to suppress and put down all committees of vigilance or safety, or other collections of men who, without authority, arrest or threaten any person who may be suspected.

At a meeting of the ladies of Leigh StreetBaptist Church, held yesterday morning, it was resolved that their services be and they are hereby tendered to the Governor of Virginia in fitting out volunteers, either in the manufacture of uniforms, or in preparing bandages, &c. Any orders for their services left at Mr. Thos. J. Starke’s store will be promptly attended to. A meeting of the ladies is requested at Leigh StreetBaptist Church to-day at 9 o’clock.

The Daily Dispatch: January 6, 1862.

Attention.

–The 4th Company of the 2d Battalion19th RegimentVirginia Militia will parade on Tuesday, the 7th of January, 1862, at 10 o’clock, A. M., at Leigh StreetAfrican Church. Each man, if he has one, or can procure one, will bring with him a musket rifle double-barrel or single-barrel gun.

By order ofCol. T. J. Evans. 

D. W. Saunders, Captain.


[1] Kimball, Gregg, D.. American City, Southern Place. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2000.

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