James F. Lipscomb

James F. Lipscomb (1830–1893)

James F. Lipscomb represented Cumberland County in the House of Delegates from 1869 until 1877. Born free in Cumberland, Lipscomb became a landholder after the American Civil War (1861–1865) and in 1869 he won a seat in the General Assembly, the second election in which African Americans could vote in Virginia. Affiliated with the radical wing of the Republican Party and reelected three times, Lipscomb lost his attempt for a fifth term in 1877. He was likely related to John Robinson, who represented Cumberland County in the Convention of 1867–1868 and in the Senate of Virginia. Lipscomb, primarily a farmer, possessed one of the largest African American–owned houses in the county. He also opened a store that stayed in his family until it closed in 1971. MORE...

 

Early Years

Lipscomb was born free on December 4, 1830, in Cumberland County and was the son of Martha Lipscomb, a free seamstress who owned her own land; the name of his father is not recorded. A dozen or more households of free African Americans named Lipscomb lived in Cumberland and Powhatan counties, and both males and females in each county owned land. He was probably closely related to John Robinson, known early in life as John Lipscomb, who represented Cumberland County in the Convention of 1867–1868 and served four years in the Senate of Virginia.

In 1850 Lipscomb and three other free African American laborers, one of them his younger brother, William, resided in Cumberland County with white farmers Hezekiah Ford and Elizabeth Ford. Late in the decade Lipscomb left the county and by the summer of 1860 was living in Richmond with the household of Robert Edmond, a prosperous white merchant for whom he was the carriage driver. His wife, Judith Lipscomb, resided with him there; her maiden name and the date of their marriage are not known.

It is likely that Lipscomb remained in Richmond during the Civil War, but he moved back to Cumberland County soon afterward. In May 1870 he bought forty-five acres of land in the county for $400, and he purchased two other tracts in September 1871 and April 1873. Together with four additional purchases during the next two decades, he acquired more than 500 acres. In 1892, he paid taxes on about 390 acres of land worth more than $2,500. He was probably one of the most prosperous African Americans in the county. In 1870 the census enumerator listed two teenage boys and two teenage girls living with him and his wife, but it is not certain whether all the children were theirs or whether they had children born earlier or later than any of those four.

Political Career

On July 6, 1869, in the second election in which African Americans voted in Virginia, Lipscomb won election to a two-year term in the House of Delegates representing Cumberland County. Voters that same day ratified a new state constitution, and the votes tallied by race in the referendum closely matched his margin of victory over a white candidate of the Conservative Party, 1,133 to 615. These numbers indicate that all or nearly all of the black voters in the county but few or none of the white men voted for Lipscomb. Lipscomb easily won reelection in 1871, 1873, and 1875, served for eight consecutive years, and was a member of the relatively inconsequential Committee on Executive Expenditures. Newspaper reports of election returns from the county uniformly identified him as a radical, indicating his affiliation early in his career with the radical wing of the state's Republican Party.

During Lipscomb's first term, the assembly created the first statewide system of public schools. He voted to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which Congress required before it would admit senators and representatives from former Confederate states; ratification ended Congressional Reconstruction in the state. Lipscomb voted in March 1871 for the Funding Act, which the assembly passed to pay the antebellum public debt. The law that led to more than a decade of political turmoil.

Lipscomb regularly attended local, district, and state conventions of the Republican Party, but in 1872 the county's Republican Party convention objected to his pending appointment as an assistant assessor of federal taxes in the county. The convention declared that the incumbent assessor had done a good job and should not be replaced. In August 1875, Lipscomb was among the approximately 100 delegates who attended a convention in Richmond that had been called by African American legislators. Delegates discussed the numerous problems faced by African Americans across the state, including the lack of jobs and poor schools. The convention organized a short-lived Laboring Men's Mechanics' Union Association to promote their economic and political interests.

Later Years

In 1877, when Lipscomb ran for a fifth term in the House of Delegates, he lost to a white candidate by a narrow margin, concluding his career in electoral politics. Three years later Lipscomb was recorded in the census as farmer who was then living with a daughter, his wife having evidently died on an unrecorded date after 1870. In addition to his farm, Lipscomb operated a general store out of his residence, which was one of the largest of any African American in that part of the county. He operated the store until his death, at which time his descendants took it over and ran it for several generations. Early in the twentieth century they moved it into a nearby building, and it remained a center of community life until it closed in 1971. The state government recognized the importance of Lipscomb and his store in 1994 when it erected a historic marker at the site of the general store. Lipscomb died, probably at his residence in Cumberland County, on August 10, 1893, and was likely buried on his property there.

Time Line

  • December 4, 1830 - James F. Lipscomb is born free in Cumberland County and is the son of Martha Lipscomb, a free seamstress who owns her own land.
  • 1850 - James F. Lipscomb and three other free African American laborers, including his younger brother William, reside in Cumberland County with white farmers Hezekiah Ford and Elizabeth Ford.
  • 1850s - Late in the decade James F. Lipscomb leaves Cumberland county.
  • Summer 1860 - By this time James F. Lipscomb is living in Richmond with the household of Robert Edmond, a prosperous white merchant, for whom Lipscomb is the carriage driver.
  • 1869–1871 - During his first term in the House of Delegates, James F. Lipscomb votes to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
  • July 6, 1869 - James F. Lipscomb wins election to a two-year term in the House of Delegates representing Cumberland County in the second election in which African Americans voted in Virginia. Lipscomb wins over white candidate of the Conservative Party 1,133 to 615. He will win reelection three more times and will serve for eight consecutive years.
  • July 6, 1869 - Voters ratify the so-called Underwood Constitution, rejecting separate provisions that would have disfranchised men who had held civil or military office under the Confederacy. The new constitution supplants the former one, proclaimed on April 7, 1864.
  • 1870 - The census enumerator for Cumberland County lists two teenage boys and two teenage girls living with James F. Lipscomb and his wife.
  • After 1870 - James F. Lipscomb’s wife dies on an unknown date.
  • May 1870 - James F. Lipscomb buys forty-five acres of land in Cumberland County for $400.
  • March 1871 - James F. Lipscomb, representing Cumberland County in the House of Delegates, votes for the Funding Act that the assembly passes to pay the antebellum public debt. This law will lead to more than a decade of political turmoil.
  • September 1871 - James F. Lipscomb purchases land in Cumberland County.
  • 1872 - Cumberland County’s Republican Party convention objects to James F. Lipscomb’s pending appointment as an assistant assessor of federal taxes, claiming the incumbent assessor should not be replaced.
  • April 1873 - James F. Lipscomb purchases land in Cumberland County.
  • August 1875 - James F. Lipscomb is among the approximately 100 delegates who attend a convention in Richmond that has been called by African American legislators to discuss the numerous problems faced by African Americans across the state, including the lack of jobs and poor schools.
  • 1877 - James F. Lipscomb runs for a fifth term in the House of Delegates and loses to a white candidate by a narrow margin. This concludes his career in electoral politics.
  • 1880 - James F. Lipscomb is recorded in the census as a farmer who is living with a daughter.
  • 1892 - James F. Lipscomb pays taxes on about 390 acres of land worth more than $2,500 and is probably one of the most prosperous African Americans in Cumberland County.
  • August 10, 1893 - James F. Lipscomb dies, probably at his residence in Cumberland County, and is likely buried on his property there.
  • 1971 - A general store, operated by James F. Lipscomb and his descendents, which functioned as a center of community life in Cumberland County, closes.
  • 1994 - A historic marker is erected at the site of the general store in Cumberland County once owned and operated by James F. Lipscomb, member of the House of Delegates.
Further Reading
Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
Lowe, Richard. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Maddex, Jr., Jack P. The Virginia Conservatives, 1867–1879: A Study in Reconstruction Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. James F. Lipscomb (1830–1893). (2014, September 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Lipscomb_James_F_1830-1893.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "James F. Lipscomb (1830–1893)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 11 Sep. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 25, 2014 | Last modified: September 11, 2014


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography