Violence at Camp Nelson! Part 2

Following my last post I remembered I had a book about African Americans in Kentucky named A History of Blacks in Kentucky – From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891, written by Marion B. Lucas. And yes, that is where I had read the story about the school teacher Reverend Abisha Scofield, of the American Missionary Association, and John Burnside¹. The violence against blacks, particularly black soldiers and their families, is described in detail and left me thinking about what some of my family must have gone through, since I have confirmation that my 3xgrandfather and his brother, Edmund and William Overstreet respectively, both fought in the Civil War and enlisted at Camp Nelson.

Cover of my copy of this book

Cover of my copy of this book

This is the next letter pertaining to the incident in the Freedmen’s Bureau Records, written 2 December, 1866 and signed by J.G. Nain:


I have the honor to request that you send to Camp Nelson a detachment of troops to remain there for ten days, until Mr. Schofield can get his busines setled up. He has a great deal of business there in an unfinished condition, business pertaining to the claims of colored soldiers there widows [?] pay bounty, pensions [?], and he dare not remain there without the protection of the military.    I would suggest that he be protected there until he can get his business straitened out and then withdraw the books, ordering him to leave.   I think it would be much better for the freed men there to have him go, as he inspires them in a great many ways.

I have not seen Susan Luther to obtain any additional evidence in the Hick and Grant case.

I have learned where she is, and have sent for her. As soon as she reports, I will send you all the information I can get from her.

I think it should be immediately sent to Lou-ville, as the friends of the prisoners are there trying to get them released on bonds.

After the troops left Camp Nelson the harassment went on. So much so that the black preacher Gabriel Burdett had to aid the missionaries in escaping to safety.²

Last year I became a member of the Jessamine County Historical Society. I sent a look-up request to them a few weeks ago and received a letter stating that the marriage license of my ancestors Edmund Overtsreet and Josie Washington was special, because they had been married by Gabriel Burdett! Gabriel Burdett helped John G. Fee establish Ariel Academy, one of the early black schools in the county.

This proves to me that I have strong ties to Camp Nelson and makes me even more eager to keep digging into the Freedmen’s Bureau Records and anything else I can get my hands on from this locality. It’s a good thing I ordered that book about Camp Nelson….


Marriage License Edmund Overstreet and Josie Washington, signed by Gabriel Burdett

I would still like to see if there is a connection to the man left for dead after the violent icident at Camp Nelson: John Burnside. I do know that one of Edmund’s sisters married a James Burnside. Fortunately, I have a copy of a family reunion booklet containing the marriages of Ed and his siblings. Further investigation is needed on that lead. So much to do, so little time!

¹ Lucas, Marion B. , (2003). A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891. 2nd ed. U.S.A.: Kentucky Historical Society. p.193

² dto., p.194

Violence at Camp Nelson!

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NARA Microfilm M1904, Roll125, Target 11, Nicholasville (Agent), Letters sent, Volume (168) Nov. 1866-Oct1867

I have started transcribing the Nicholasville portion of the Records of the field offices for the State of Kentucky, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. In my first post Learning Curve: Freedmen’s Bureau Records I mentioned finding this record set for Kentucky on the Internet Archive. On page 675 of the PDF field agent J.G. Nain investigates incidents at Camp Nelson. Camp Nelson was a Civil War recruitment camp, but it was also a refugee camp for the families of Kentucky slaves joining the Union Army to gain their freedom. Page 675 of the PDF is page 1 of a letter from J.G. Nain to his superior concerning violence at Camp Nelson:

Bureau of Refugees Freedmen & Abandoned Lands

B [?]

2nd [ ? ] Lex [?]

Nicholasville Ky [?]

Rice            Brt Lt Col Ja’s H.

Sept 2nd Dist  [?]

Sir in obedience to your notes I preceded to Camp Nelson to investigate [?] outrages committed there upon the freed men of that place on the night of the 20th [?]  and have the honor to report the following. On the night of the 20th [?] a party of from 25 to 50 white men went to the house of Mr Schofield (white) who is the agent of the A[?] Mission and superintendent of freed men school at that place, and after gaining access to the house by smashing out one of the windows took Mr. Schofield and his son out and made preparation to hang them on flog [?] but upon their promising to leave the county immediately they released them. In the mean time they had [?] anything of any value to be found about the house.

They then surrounded the house of a colored man and commenced an indiscriminate fire of muskety through the windows (They all appear to have been armed with muskets.) The House at the time contained two men (colored) one of whom escaped by running off. The other stood his ground and made fight, returning the fire with his revolver, killing one of the [?] and wounding an other. The mob finally succeeded in gaining admission to the house and after

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[first two lines are illegible]

He thinks he recognized several of them. However I do not rely much on his information as his testimony is very contradictory. The only two that he is positive of identifying were to my own knowledge not engaged in the affair, as one of them lives in Cincinnati, now, and the other one has been in Memphis Tenn. for a few months. He recognized the voices of three others, one living in C.N. named Ray Moss. Tilford Fane living near Potts Mill and Peter Merritt living near C.N. As far as I can see I think it will be difficult to identify any of the party as the colored people were as frightened that they could see nothing and those supposed to know anything are afraid to testify. When the party left they promised to return in  a few days, and threaten instant death to any of Mr Schofields family found at that place at that time.

In consequence of the said, the school there has been closed, the teacher being afraid to have any thing more to do with it.

As to sending troops there I don’t think it would amount to any thing unless we could get some information of the time to expect them again. They would certainly not return as long as the troops were there.

If we could keep a detachment there permanently it would ensure protection, but I presume that is at present impracticable.

I am very respectfully your obedient servant

J.G. Nain

This was so interesting to read, especially since I have family that must have lived at Camp Nelson. They at least have their burial sites there and I don’t mean the National Cemetery, although I have relatives there as well. I have heard the name “Burnside” in my tree somewhere and the story with the teacher rings a bell…More to come!

Learning Curve: Freedmen’s Bureau Records

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A few weeks ago, while cleaning, I decided to listen to a podcast (this makes chores so much more enjoyable and I learn something in the process).  I saw Bernice Bennett’s new episode of Research at the National Archives and Beyond with Sharon Batiste Gillins about Freedmen’s Bureau Records or rather Records from the Bureau for Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands .

My first thought was “nah”, since I had looked for this record type on and before and found nothing for my state of research: Kentucky. Then I decided I would give it a chance anyway.

For the next hour I heard Mrs Gillins’ and Bernice’s enthusiasm over these records and the detailed information they have found therein. This peaked my interest, especially after it was mentioned that Kentucky records exist and might be available on the Internet Archive (  Both the host and guest pointed out that the records are not indexed and that the National Archives guide to the record group should be studied to get a grasp of where to look specifically.

So off to the NARA site I went. Downloaded guides: one for Kentucky record set (M1904) and one for Black Family Research. Skimmed them. A lot of info! 133 reels for Kentucky alone! I then searched for “Freedmen’s Bureau Kentucky” on Internet Archive. Bingo! Three pages of hits!

I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know what I was looking at, so I downloaded the first set. I scrolled through and got a feel for the records by reading the description at the beginning of the reel. I wasn’t sure if my locations had offices, but then I saw what I was looking for: Nicholasville, reel 125 & 126.

So I went back to the Internet Archive to look for these two specific reels. The downloadable documents are not in order, so I had to skim through all of the hits to find the reels I was looking for. I found both and downloaded the over 1700 pages of microfilm as PDFs! Now the next step is to go through page by page and hope I find something about my ancestors. Even if I don’t I am sure I will at least find some interesting social history to share!

UPDATE! I actually wrote this before the New Year and have since then started transcribing a letter from November 1866 about incidents at Camp Neslon. More to come!