Isaac Dabbs (ca. 1848–after 1910)

Isaac Dabbs served as a member of the House of Delegates from 1875 to 1877. Little is known about Dabbs's early life. He was born enslaved, most likely in Charlotte County, but it is not known how and when he became free. In November 1875 the county's Radical Republicans nominated Dabbs as their candidate for the House of Delegates; he won the November election, receiving more than twice the number of votes as his second-place opponent. After a quiet two-year term, Dabbs missed the party nomination for his former seat by only one vote. Dabbs remained a local political and civic leader, aligning himself with the Readjuster faction of the Republican Party. He had moved to Baltimore by 1910, the year of his last known appearance in the public record. MORE...

 

Dabbs was born into slavery, probably late in the 1840s, on the Charlotte County plantation of John Garnett. George Dabbs and Frankie Dabbs were his parents, but nothing else is known about his childhood, nor is it certain when or under what circumstances he became free. In Charlotte County on December 29, 1869, Dabbs married Sarah Ann Brown. Before her death on an unrecorded date after December 17, 1884, they had at least two sons.

In the census taken in August 1870 Dabbs was described as a twenty-one-year-old farm laborer who could neither read nor write. It is unclear how he first became involved in post–Civil War politics, but in October 1875 Radical Republicans in Charlotte County selected him as the party's candidate for the House of Delegates in what the Charlotte Gazette described as a "somewhat excited and stormy discussion." In the election the following month he received 1,283 votes while the incumbent and a third candidate tallied 630 and 261 ballots, respectively. As a member of the assembly that met in two sessions from December 1875 through March 1876 and then from December 1876 until April 1877, Dabbs served on the Committee on Labor and the Poor. He spoke little, but in January 1877 he introduced a bill to amend a sheep protection law in Charlotte, Clarke, and Frederick counties. Later that month, the resolution was dismissed.

At a meeting in October 1877 the county's Radical Republicans, by one vote, rejected Dabbs in favor of another candidate to seek the House of Delegates seat. He continued to speak at county meetings, however, and to support party candidates. Dabbs aligned himself with the Readjuster faction of the Republican Party, which supported a partial repudiation of the state's antebellum public debt. In November 1882 he dictated a letter to U.S. senator William Mahone affirming his loyalty and service to the Readjusters, while requesting an appointment as a railway postal clerk for a young man in Charlotte County.

Dabbs canvassed Charlotte County in the weeks leading up to the November 1883 election. He stumped in nearly every precinct for the Readjuster candidate for the House of Delegates. Dabbs dictated another letter to Mahone in October informing him that the canvass was going well and predicting that party turnout at the polls would be substantial. Dabbs emphasized that he would continue his work until the election but informed Mahone that the candidate did not have the resources to pay him. He explained that his family required his support and they would suffer while he canvassed unless he could be paid from the campaign fund.

A civic leader in the black community, Dabbs served on the committee of arrangements in April 1896 for a gathering of African Americans discussing issues of citizenship as well as mental, moral, religious, and financial advancement. On March 30, 1898, he married twenty-one-year-old Sarah Catherine Howell in Charlotte County. No children are recorded from the marriage. Although he received little, if any, formal education, Dabbs may have learned to read and write by 1900, as reported by the census enumerator. By 1910 he and his wife had moved to Baltimore, where he worked as a brickyard laborer. Isaac Dabbs died on an unknown date after the census enumeration of his ward on April 27, 1910.

Time Line

  • Late 1840s - Around this time, Isaac Dabbs is born into slavery on the Charlotte County plantation of John Garnett. George Dabbs and Frankie Dabbs are his parents.
  • December 29, 1869 - Isaac Dabbs and Sarah Ann Brown marry in Charlotte County. They will have at least two sons.
  • November 1875 - Isaac Dabbs, the Radical Republican candidate, is elected to the House of Delegates, representing Charlotte County.
  • October 1877 - The Charlotte County Radical Republicans, by one vote, reject Isaac Dabbs in favor of another candidate to seek the House of Delegates seat.
  • November 1882 - Isaac Dabbs dictates a letter to U.S. senator William Mahone affirming his loyalty and service to the Readjusters, while requesting an appointment as a railway postal clerk for a young man in Charlotte County.
  • November 1883 - Isaac Dabbs canvasses Charlotte County on behalf of the Readjusters in the weeks leading up to the election.
  • December 17, 1884 - Sometime after this date Sarah Ann Brown Dabbs, wife of Isaac Dabbs, dies.
  • April 1896 - Isaac Dabbs serves on the committee of arrangements for a gathering of African Americans discussing issues of citizenship as well as mental, moral, religious, and financial advancement.
  • March 30, 1898 - Isaac Dabbs marries Sarah Catherine Howell in Charlotte County.
  • 1900 - Isaac Dabbs may have learned to read and write by this year, as reported by the census enumerator.
  • April 27, 1910 - Sometime after this date, Isaac Dabbs dies.
Further Reading
Deal, John G. "Dabbs, Isaac." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 647. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Deal, J. G., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Isaac Dabbs (ca. 1848–after 1910). (2013, December 9). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Dabbs_Isaac_ca_1848-after_1910.

  • MLA Citation:

    Deal, John G. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Isaac Dabbs (ca. 1848–after 1910)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 9 Dec. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 15, 2013 | Last modified: December 9, 2013


Contributed by John G. Deal and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John G. Deal is assistant editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography at the Library of Virginia.