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.