Samuel Samuelson, Jr. was born in 1844 on his father’s tobacco farm near Paris, Kentucky. His daddy, Samuel Samuelson, Sr., was overly proud of his Scotch Irish heritage.
His mother, Sarah, died giving birth to Samuel Jr., and his daddy always slightly resented his son for surviving while his beloved wife died. This happening also caused Samuel Sr. to blame the midwife who delivered his son. He blamed everyone but himself, even though the blame was directly on his shoulders for being too cheap to pay a doctor to attend the birth.
The Samuelson farm was not large, but its 60 acres always produced a bumper crop of tobacco. The high price of this crop nicely supported the family, as well as the 12 slaves owned by Samuelson.
Samuel Jr. was raised by his black nanny he called Mammy. She was a very large house slave who had four children of her own who were older than Samuel Jr. and worked in the fields tending to the tobacco crops.
Although his daddy did not approve of excess education, Samuel Jr. was allowed to attend school to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic so he would not be cheated when buying or selling slaves or dealing with tobacco buyers.
When the weather permitted, Samuel Jr. would walk to the one-room schoolhouse in Paris with his only white friend, Billy Martin. Billy’s dad, Bill Martin, was their neighbor, and the only friend Samuel Sr. admitted to having. Their friendship would never develop into a close one because Samuel Sr. did not completely trust Bill because his heritage was English, and because they held opposite views on slavery. Bill had freed his slaves, then hired back many of them to work for wages tending to his tobacco crop. He later became a strict abolitionist, calling for freedom for all of Kentucky’s slaves. Although Billy was two years younger than Samuel Jr., the two of them often hung out together, after school and on weekends. They played mumbly peg with their pocket knives, pitched horseshoes, or shot marbles together. Samuel Jr.’s only other friend was Rastus, a slave boy, who was the same age as he was.
Even if Samuels Sr. and Bill Martin were not close friends, one Saturday Samuels Sr. accepted Bill’s invitation to take the two boys and go to Lexington to hear a lecture by Cassius Clay. Samuels Sr. knew Clay was an abolitionist, but he was impressed with him because he was a cousin to Henry Clay, whom Samuels greatly admired. Henry Clay served as a representative and later as a senator from Kentucky. His estate, Ashland (named that because the property had an abundance of ash trees), was not too far from the Samuels farm.
As a senator he was called the great negotiator because of his ability to settle grievances between people. It was said of him if he had still been in the senate at the time, the Civil War would never have happened. His stand on slavery was somewhat ambiguous. While he continued to keep slaves on his estate, he opposed legalizing slavery in the newly acquired territories of the rapidly expanding United States.
His cousin Cassius was an attorney, but never went into politics. He was known as “the Lion of Whitehall” (the name of his estate). He was an outspoken advocate of abolition, and was one of the first notable slave owners in Kentucky to free his slaves.
While Cousin Henry used negotiation to solve problems, Cassius preferred the use of violence to settle his. He always carried two ivory-handled Colt pistols and a Bowie knife. In fact, years later, when he served as Ambassador to Russia, he carried an ivory-handled Bowie knife that he referred to as his dress-up Bowie knife. This evening as he prepared to speak in Lexington, he took out a Bible and showed the audience, then placed it on the podium saying, “This is for all of you who believe in God.”
He then produced a copy of the constitution, showed it to the audience, and then also placed it on the podium as he said, “This is for all who believe on the Constitution of this great country we are blessed to live in."
Thirdly, he announced, “And for those of you who believe in neither, I have this,” and he took out a Colt revolver and laid it on the podium.
Then he began to speak: “Welcome to all of you who came here tonight. I realize you think more of my cousin Henry than you do of me, but Cousin Henry still keeps slaves at Ashland, and I freed my slaves at Whitehall years ago.”
Then he delivered a fiery speech against slavery and urged everyone to free their slaves.
Then in closing he said, “And if anyone wants to complain to me about my views, I keep a loaded cannon in my office pointed at the door, and another cannon in my home, also pointed at the door. Now all of you have a pleasant evening, and a safe trip home, and thank you for coming to listen to me.”
The trip home was a quiet one, with neither Martin nor Samuelson anxious to continue the slavery debate in front of their two young boys.
Samuel Jr. had already made up his mind, but kept his thoughts to himself.
He promised himself if war broke out he would enlist in the Union army, but he dared not tell his daddy of his decision.