Bequest to Corinna Hinton

Corinna Hinton (1835–1887)

Corinna Hinton was an enslaved woman who bore several children with the Richmond slave trader Silas Omohundro and helped him run his business. Little is known of Hinton's early life. By the time she was thirteen years old, she was owned by Omohundro and had given birth to the first of their seven children. The two never legally married and it is unlikely that, as Omohundro's property, Hinton could have consented to their physical relationship, although historians have varying interpretations. In addition to running the household, Hinton made clothes for slaves about to be sold and helped operate a boardinghouse. Omohundro died in 1864, freeing Hinton and acknowledging himself as the father of her children. She later went into business with a white journalist from Maine, Nathaniel Davidson. It is unclear whether the two married. Hinton died in 1887. MORE...

 

Early Years

Corinna Hinton was born enslaved on August 1, 1835. Her father is unknown, while her mother may have been Patsy Clark, an enslaved woman who lived with Hinton late in the 1850s. A mid-twentieth-century genealogy of the Omohundro family lists Hinton's birthdate as 1823, but census records and her own testimony place her birth in 1835. Little is known about Hinton's early life. At some point she came to be owned by Silas Omohundro, a successful slave trader in Richmond. On June 15, 1849, when she was thirteen years old, Hinton gave birth to a child fathered by Omohundro, Silas Omohundro Jr.

In his account books Omohundro labeled some of the enslaved women he sold as "fancy," a reference to the so-called fancy trade, in which enslaved women were sold for sexual purposes. John Brown, who escaped slavery in Georgia, noted in his 1855 autobiography that "the youngest and handsomest females were set apart as the concubines of the masters … the slave-pen is only another name for a brothel." In addition to selling enslaved women as sexual commodities, many if not most slave traders sexually abused some of the women they enslaved. Moses Roper, who escaped from Florida to New York in 1834, reported in a narrative of his life published in 1838, "The traders … will often sleep with the best looking female slaves among them." Omohundro was far from the only Richmond slave trader to have children with enslaved women. His business associates Robert Lumpkin, William Goodwin, and Bacon Tait kept enslaved concubines, as did his family friend and neighbor, Hector Davis.

Given the prevalence of sexual violence in the slave market, the absence of laws against the rape of enslaved women, and the legal, physical, economic, and social vulnerability of Hinton's position, it is unlikely that her relationship with Omohundro was consensual. However, no direct testimony from Hinton exists, and historians have differing interpretations. She sometimes signed her name "Mrs. Corinna Omohundro," although the examples of this are from court records in which she was attempting to claim title as Omohundro's legal wife in order to avoid an inheritance tax.

Hinton gave birth to six more children with Omohundro, one daughter and five sons. Five of them lived to adulthood. Hinton raised her children in Omohundro's residence on the corner of Seventeenth and Grace streets in Richmond, on the same property as his so-called jail, which was used to confine enslaved people awaiting sale. About 1857, Omohundro sent the eldest children, Silas Omohundro Jr. and Alice Morton Omohundro, first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then to Philadelphia, to be educated. Under the guidance of one of Omohundro's acquaintances, A. W. Rand, the children eventually boarded at the school of M. G. Davis of Philadelphia. The elder Silas Omohundro recorded sending the children money for dancing lessons, schoolbooks, and other gifts. On at least two occasions, Omohundro and Hinton visited them in Pennsylvania, where Omohundro had also purchased real estate. Their neighbors later recalled that Omohundro introduced Hinton as his wife, and they therefore took her to be his white, legal spouse. The younger Omohundro children remained in Richmond. Omohundro paid for a man named W. Cawfield to tutor the children and, at least as early as 1858, to tutor Hinton, as well.

Slave Trading and Freedom

In addition to the household labor of raising children and caring for Silas Omohundro, Hinton also played an important part in Omohundro's business. Many of the enslaved people in Omohundro's jail, and particularly those about to be sold, required new clothes. Traders usually dressed enslaved people in "sale outfits" that made them attractive to potential buyers. From 1856 until his death (the years for which his account book exists) Omohundro paid Hinton large sums annually or semi-annually for "negro" clothes. Whether this money was to compensate Hinton for her labor or for purchasing materials is unclear. Hinton likely had some savings of her own, however; Omohundro lent her money on several occasions, suggesting that she had a means of earning money to repay him. At least once, Omohundro also paid her for unspecified "work" related to the jail. In some cases, Hinton's involvement in procuring clothing for Omohundro's businesses was more specific. Slave traders tended to dress "fancy girls" in more elaborate outfits, often paying extra money for nicer dresses, shoes, and even earrings. Omohundro paid Hinton to "dress" several women in such a manner before he sold them.

In addition to the slave jail, Omohundro ran a boardinghouse for slave traders, and his account book reveals that Hinton helped in its day-to-day operation. She purchased the necessary supplies for nightly meals and presumably also had a role in preparing food or at least overseeing its preparation. Early in the 1860s, Hinton took charge of supplying significant amounts of alcohol to boarders. For an extra fee, she also provided laundry services, ran errands, and even lent money.

Hinton continued in this role until Omohundro's death in 1864. In his will, Omohundro went further than many slave traders in similar circumstances and acknowledged his children with Hinton. He never specifically called Hinton his wife, however, referring to her only as "my woman," and "a kind, faithful, and dutiful woman to me and an affectionate mother." Omohundro freed his children and Hinton in the will, and left Hinton her choice of property in either Richmond or Philadelphia, with the remainder of his estate to be sold and invested for the benefit of his children.

Hinton chose to remain in Richmond, and the executor of Omohundro's estate, Richard Cooper, sold the Pennsylvania property. Though appraisers valued the estate at nearly $150,000, the benefits were slow to reach Hinton and her children. The collapse of the Confederate banking system, along with disputed debts and alleged misdeeds by the executor all delayed the estate's final settlement until the 1880s. As she fought these legal battles, Hinton continued renting rooms to boarders with the assistance of her sister, Eliza Cheatham, who on occasion had acted as governess for the Omohundro children.

Later Years

Sometime after the fall of Richmond at the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865), Hinton began a relationship with a white Maine native named Nathaniel Davidson. Davidson, who had been a major of volunteers in the Union army, resigned to report on the war for the New York Herald, which presumably brought him to Richmond. By 1871, he and Hinton had gone into business together, operating adjoining shops. Davidson sold wood and coal while Hinton ran a bakery and confectionary. She also rented rooms to boarders. It is unclear whether the two married, although Hinton signed her name "Mrs. Corinna Davidson."

The family later moved to Washington, D.C., where Davidson went to work for the National Republican newspaper. By 1878 he was the paper's managing editor. In the 1880s, he received an appointment in the quartermaster general's office and later helped at least one of Hinton's children embark on a career in journalism. During Hinton's years with Davidson, official records consistently described her and her children as being white.

Davidson died in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 1886, and Hinton on January 15, 1887. They are buried in that city's Congressional Cemetery.

Time Line

  • August 1, 1835 - Corinna Hinton is born enslaved. The location of her birth and the names of her parents are unknown.
  • June 15, 1849 - Silas Omohundro Jr. is born in Richmond, the son of the slave-trader Silas Omohundro and his enslaved concubine Corinna Hinton.
  • 1856–1864 - Silas Omohundro pays his enslaved concubine Corinna Hinton once or twice a year for sewing clothing for slaves about to be sold.
  • ca. 1857 - Silas Omohundro sends his eldest two children to Pennsylvania to be educated.
  • July 8, 1864 - The will of Silas Omohundro is executed in Richmond, freeing his enslaved concubine, Corinna Hinton, and their seven children.
  • 1871 - According to the Richmond city directory, Nathaniel Davidson and Corinna Hinton are in business together, running adjoining shops.
  • 1878 - By this year Nathaniel Davidson has become the managing editor of the National Republican newspaper in Washington, D.C.
  • April 29, 1886 - Nathaniel Davidson dies in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.
  • January 15, 1887 - Corinna Hinton dies in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.

References

Further Reading
Baptist, Edward E. "'Cuffy,' 'Fancy Maids,' and 'One-Eyed Men': Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States." The American Historical Review 106, no. 5 (December 2001): 1,619–1,650.
Davis, Adrienne. "'Don't Let Nobody Bother Yo' Principle': The Sexual Economy of American Slavery." In Sister Circle: Black Women and Work, edited by Sharon Harley and The Black Women and Work Collective, 128–145. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Rothman, Joshua D. Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Schermerhorn, Calvin. Money Over Mastery, Family Over Freedom: Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2011.
Stevenson, Brenda E. "What's Love Got to Do With It? Concubinage and Enslaved Women and Girls in the Antebellum South." The Journal of African American History 98, no. 1 (winter 2013): 99–125.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Finley, A. Corinna Hinton (1835–1887). (2017, July 6). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Hinton_Corinna_1835-1887.

  • MLA Citation:

    Finley, Alexandra. "Corinna Hinton (1835–1887)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 6 Jul. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 22, 2017 | Last modified: July 6, 2017


Contributed by Alexandra Finley, assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.