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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Multiple Perspectives of Slavery at White Haven


This is an excerpt from an 1885 newspaper article published by the St. Louis Republican. The speaker is Mary Robinson, who was once a slave who cooked for the Dent family. Her description of life with the Dents and Grants gives us clues about her relationship to the white residents.

I lived with the Dent family from my childhood and remember the first visit Gen. Grant made to the old farmstead on the Gravois road ... At first sight he fell in love with Miss Dent, afterward his wife, continuing his visits to the house with great frequency. Old man Dent was opposed to him, when he found he was courting his daughter, and did everything he could to prevent the match, but Mrs. Dent took great fancy to Grant and encouraged him in his venture. Mrs. Dent used to say to me, ‘I like that young man.' ... Grant was a very kind man to those who worked for him, and he always said he wanted to give his wife’s slaves their freedom as soon as he was able ... I saw him last at the Lindell hotel, after he returned from his trip around the world, and he received me very kindly and it seemed to me that he was mighty glad to see me. 1

This excerpt comes from Julia Grant’s memoirs. It is an account of what her father, Frederick Dent, gave to the slaves at White Haven.

Most of our old colored people were from Virginia and Maryland, and papa used to buy for them great barrels of fish-herring from that part of the country. Molasses, tobacco, and some whiskey (on cold, raw days) were issued regularly to them from the storehouse, and then they had everything the farm produced, such as all vegetables, bacon, beef, and, of course, poultry. I think our people were very happy. At least they were in mamma’s time, though the young ones became somewhat demoralized about the beginning of the Rebellion, when all the comforts of slavery passed away forever. My father was most kind and indulgent to his people, too much so perhaps.2

This excerpt also comes from Julia Grant’s memoirs. In this reading, she recalls childhood experiences with the slaves.

During the next four or five years, my time and sister Nellie’s was passed mostly out-of-doors. I had my nurse, dear old black Kitty, and Nell had Rose, a pretty mulatto. Besides, we always had a dusky train of from eight to ten little colored girls of all hues, and these little colored girls were allowed to accompany us if they were very neat. We would wander by the brookside, catch minnows with pin-hooks -- or try to. I, being of a provident [wise] nature, required these little maids to each carry a bucket to bring home my captives.3

This excerpt comes from Jesse Grant, Ulysses and Julia’s youngest son. Although he was only ten at the time, this recollection given years later provides details about how the white children at White Haven looked at their slaves.

My Grandfather Dent had been a slave-owner. My own nurse was a slave. This did not impress upon me a sense of ownership. All my life I had been accustomed to persons around me who were either slaves or servants. The distinction between these, in my mind, was that I loved the slaves. They belonged to me and I to them. We were of the same family. Those who were but servants were but friends. 4

This excerpt comes from Julia Grant’s memoirs. In this reading, Julia reflects on returning home from a trip to New York City in 1864 to find that the slaves from White Haven had fled to find freedom.

I was happy to be home again, busied myself putting my house in order, and hoped soon to have the pleasure of a visit from my husband. Our colored people had all left, but their places were readily filled by German and French men and women, who were most excellent substitutes ... We had a great deal of company, and then it was we missed the old family servants. That was the first time we felt that there was trouble in entertaining, much as we enjoyed it.5

Questions for Reading 3

1) What type of relationship did Jesse Grant believe he had with the slaves? How does Julia view her family’s treatment of White Haven’s enslaved residents? Give an example.

2) What reason could Frederick Dent have to dislike Ulysses S. Grant? What reasons could Mary Robinson have to like Grant?

3) Do you think Mary Robinson would agree with Julia and Jess’s perspectives on their relationships with the enslaved people at White Haven? Use the Dent children’s recollections to support your answer.

4) What do you think Julia was referring to when she mentions “the Rebellion?” Why might Julia believe the enslaved people were “happy” before the “Rebellion" and “demoralized” after? Do you think she is right?


1 Robinson, Mary. "Auntie Robinson's Recollections." St. Louis Republican, July 24, 1885, p. 7-8.
2Grant, Julia D. The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant. New York City: Putnam, 1975. 34.
3Grant, Julia. 36.
4Grant, Jesse. In the Days of My Father: General Grant. Harper, 1925. 59-60.
5Grant, Julia. 131.

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