Isaac Hardesty and the slave “Fanny”

One of the Harrisonburg sites that I recently documented for HMDB has an interesting story of Unionism. As the marker reveals, the Hardesty-Higgins House was the “home of Harrisonburg’s first mayor, Isaac Hardesty, an apothecary. Elected in 1849, Hardesty served until 1860. His Unionist sympathies compelled him to leave for Maryland after the Civil War began.”

However, what may be even more interesting about this site is the story of “Fanny,” a young slave woman who had “grown-up” with the Strayer sisters who resided in this house in 1864. When the Union soldiers occupied Harrisonburg, Fanny cooked for the Union soldiers in return for her share. However, she did not keep this share for herself, but instead took it to wounded Confederates in a nearby hospital. Indeed, this seems quite the humanitarian effort. However, when freedom called, she appears to have eagerly taken it as “At the end of the occupation, Fanny and her elderly parents left for freedom with Sheridan’s army.”

What I find fascinating about this is that, had the second half of the story not been known, would Fanny have been labeled a slave in support of the Confederacy? Likewise, had the part about her providing food to Confederate soldiers remained unknown, would she have been labeled among Southern Unionists? Is she actually neither? I see her support of Confederates as humanitarian and possibly a case of familiarity. Perhaps she knew some of the soldiers, but who can really say any longer. Nonetheless, surely she supported the Union soldiers in the hope that their success or simple presence would see to her freedom (and that of her parents). Yet, because of her support to the Confederate soldiers, had she applied for a Southern Claim, she would not have been approved. I think this raises some interesting questions regarding the service provided by slaves to Confederates as well as the categorization of some slaves among Southern Unionists.


8 Responses to “Isaac Hardesty and the slave “Fanny””

  1. renegadesouth Says:

    This is a great example of the complexities of black/white relations in the Civil War South, the difficulty of ferreting out clear-cut examples of pro-Confederate or pro-Union activities. I suspect, as you speculate, that Fanny’s donations to Confederate soldiers was personal in nature. There are lots of examples of slaves who respected the humanity of their captors (otherwise known as slaveholders), yet still welcomed the freedom enabled by Union forces.

    • Hi Vikki, Yes, this story struck me right off the bat. To be so short, it says a lot about the complexities. I think it also says a lot about the way we look back at history and how many too quickly overlook all that is important and necessary in order to understand the people of the past.

  2. Allen McClain Says:

    Quite an interesting story of the actions of a young slave woman named Fanny. I agree with the comments for this continues to add more dimensions, ‘of the complexities of black/white relations in the Civil War South.’ One question immediately came to mind while reading this story was…..How was this story derived….from letter(s), a diary…? I wonder what untapped sources are available to uncover more stories such as this one.

    • That’s a good question Allen. Regretfully, markers like this don’t provide source material. Nonetheless, if I can figure it out, I’ll put the info up on the Historical Markers Database page for the site.

      I think that there are a lofty number of untapped sources out there that provide us with what would equate to multiple dimensions about the compexities of black/white relations in both the antebellum and Civil War South.

  3. Rosemarie Palmer Says:

    I would definitely like to know the ‘source’ of Fanny the slave story. What reference did Robert Moore use??

    • Fanny is mentioned in the Civil War Trails marker… just wish I knew where they found the info to include on the marker.

      • Rosemarie Palmer Says:

        Who is “they”? Who wrote the script for the Civil War Trails marker??

        • It’s likely that the folks at Civil War Trails either wrote the text or refined it for the final product. The source of facts presented in the text could have been from within the CW Trails History Committee or someone who was involved in the marker process in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County. You could contact CW Trails to see if they have the source documentation for the text.

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