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Reading 1: Ulysses & Julia
Ulysses S. Grant was a Union general during the Civil War and the 18th President of the United States. It was Grant who accepted Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, which ended the Civil War, and who oversaw the Reconstruction of the South as president. But twelve years before he signed a Constitutional Amendment that gave black, male citizens the right to vote, he lived and worked alongside enslaved African Americans on a farm near St. Louis, Missouri.
White Haven farm was the childhood home of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent Grant. Julia’s father, Frederick Dent, bought 850 acres of land and named it White Haven in 1820. It was around this time that Missouri became a slave state and Frederick Dent had the enslaved people in his household work the land at White Haven. The Dent children grew up with enslaved people cooking their meals, cleaning their house, and working on the farm. Julia’s father taught her to view slavery as a natural way of life and Julia grew up surrounded by people her father held in bondage.
Grant grew up in an anti-slavery family in Ohio, which was a free state where it was illegal to buy and sell slaves. His father was very outspoken against slavery and taught young Ulysses that it was morally wrong. Grant left Ohio to attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and graduated in 1843. That year, the U.S. Army sent him to Jefferson Barracks, a large military post near St. Louis, Missouri. His former academy roommate, Fred Dent, invited Grant to his family home at White Haven and Grant began to visit the farm regularly. It was during these visits that Grant fell in love with Julia Dent, his former roommate’s sister. Grant asked her to marry him in 1844, before he left to fight in the U.S. - Mexican War. They married in 1848 when Grant returned from the war. Julia’s father gave them 80 acres of White Haven as a wedding gift. After six more years in the Army, when he was sometimes separated from Julia, Grant resigned to be with his wife and two children in Missouri.
The Grant family lived in several houses on the large farm between 1854 and 1859. One house was Hardscrabble: a log cabin with a small farm. Grant and the enslaved men at White Haven built Hardscrabble on the land that Julia’s father gave to Grant. The family lived at Hardscrabble for several months before they moved back into the Main House after Julia’s mother passed away. They also lived for a short time in a house Julia’s brother built, called Wish-ton-Wish. When he wasn’t helping his father-in-law manage the farm, Grant worked hard to take care of his family and struggled to pay his debts. One way he earned money was by cutting timber and selling it for firewood in St. Louis. He owned one slave, purchased from his father-in-law in the late 1850s, a man named William Jones. Grant freed Jones in March 1859.
The Civil War started in April 1861 and Grant immediately reenlisted as a Union officer. He rose through the ranks as the war progressed and was Lieutenant General by the end of the war. In 1868, he ran for president and won. While he was president, the government created many programs to help freed people and laws to protect African American liberty. One of the most-significant ones was the 15th Amendment, which protected the right of black men to vote.
Grant and Julia wanted to return to their life at White Haven after the war. Grant never did, but over the course of the 1860s and 1870s, he purchased portions of White Haven until he owned the entire farm. He lived in the District of Columbia and in New York City, and traveled the world, but visited White Haven about once a year. Grant transferred ownership of his beloved White Haven in 1884 to pay off a loan. In the early 1900s, new owners split up the large property. In 1989, about 10 acres of historic White Haven, including the main house, became a unit of the National Park Service. Today, it is a place where people can visit the home of America’s 18th president and learn about the experiences of all of its 19th century residents.
Questions for Reading 1
2) When did Ulysses and Julia marry? Why did they move to her childhood home?
3) What might be a reason Grant bought William Jones from his father-in-law? Why do you think Grant freed William Jones when he could have sold him?
4) Why do you think someone like Grant, who was against slavery, would own a slave in Missouri during the 1850s?