Cooksville, Howard County, MD: a US Colored Troops Story

Today in Howard County, MD history: the story of what was happening on one Cooksville plantation on or near ”Shipley’s Adventure”. The year was 1861 and the Civil War had started. According to a publication of the Howard County Genealogical Society*, Union recruiting for the local military unit called the Patapsco Guards began in mid-September in Ellicott Mills. Mr. Nathan Shipley reported to authorities to have been enslaving 10 souls in 1860, with the ages you can see on this image.

Courtesy, FamilySearch.org

This is what Nathan Sr’s 1860 household was comprised of, according to the census taker (the older children had households of their own):

On October 14, 1861, Nathan Sr. placed “Elijah” and “Dennis” into the Howard County jail “for safekeeping”, possibly telling authorities that he suspected they were trying to run away from his plantation. Nathan’s birthday would be 2 days later on the 16th (if the FindAGrave.com info is correct on that. I asked them to add one daughter (Eliza Warfield) which they did today, and others are missing).

Courtesy, Maryland State Archives 20,367-24

Nathan had a wife, Maria, and at least 8 children total. They were: Napoleon, Henry, Oliver, Eliza (married to Azel Warfield), Kitty (married to Elijah Hilton) and Mary (married to Jacob Fredericks). Another son, Joshua, was about 33 years old at this point in 1861. And another son, Nathan Shipley, Jr., was a 30 year old school teacher living in the Lisbon area. Both Joshua and Nathan were listed on the 1862 Civil War Enrollment Ledger for Howard County, in what was the 4th District.

On February 12, 1863, Nathan Shipley, Sr. made out his Last Will and Testament. To his wife Maria, he was leaving almost everything he owned, which included the 133 acre plantation where they lived. In addition, he was leaving her ”Matilda and her two children namely, James and Ruth, all slaves for life, to keep or dispose of them as she may see fitt.”  

Nathan knew, of course, what was happening in the country. He leaves behind a window into his thoughts with the following passage in his will: “And whereas in consequence of the vexed question in regard to slave property, has rendered that class of property to be of little value I hereby fully authorize my Executor and Executrix herein after named to exercise their own judgment in regard to my servant-man named Jeremiah to sell or hire-out said Jeremiah which ever they may find it the most advantage to my estate, and my old servant George I desire he shall go at liberty and receive the reward of his own wages, preferring at the same time he shall be kept in the employment of someone member of my family at reasonable wages..”

First 2 pages of Nathan Shipley Sr will. Courtesy, the Beulah Buckner Collection held by Howard County Department Recreation and Parks. Note: highlighting done by Ms. Buckner

In May of 1864, the Sun published the list of men drafted to fight in the war. James Johnson, “slave of Joshua Shipley”, was among them. In what can only be called irony, in September of 1864, the same newspaper published the name of “Joshua Shipley” in the (then) District 4 list of drafted men. Unless there was another Joshua Shipley in D4, he provided a surgeon’s certificate at registration that was supposed to exempt him from being drafted. 

The name “James Johnson” was very common during the Civil War and in the US Colored Troops. It is uncertain if he fought in the war. Joshua Shipley placed James’ name and age of 37 on the list of the enslaved that he wished to be compensated for due to the abolishment of slavery, without noting any enlistment for him. Jeremiah hadn’t been sold and was in the 39th regiment of the USCT, according to Joshua, who reported having received $100 compensation from the government due to the enlistment while enslaved. His full name was Jeremiah Dorsey, and he reported to be 30 when he mustered in to Company E on March 29, 1864. He would get promoted to Sergeant.

“George” from Nathan Sr’s will may have been the 48 year old male that he reported to have been enslaving to the 1860 authorities. Without a last name, it’s nearly impossible to learn what happened to him. The same can be written for Matilda and her 2 children. Same for “Elijah” and “Dennis” who had been jailed to keep from running away. 

Sgt. Jeremiah Dorsey married Charlotte Dorsey. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t make it back home to her because he died October 29, 1864 in the City of Philadelphia. He got buried the next day at Lebanon Cemetery, an African American cemetery. Nathan Shipley, Sr. died March 3, 1865 at the age of 67. He is reportedly buried at the McKendree Cemetery not far from Bushy Park Elementary School as is his wife Maria, who died in 1884.

Interesting note: Summit House Hospital in Philadelphia, PA was a large hospital. Sgt. Dorsey was admitted there on September 9, 1864 after being transferred from City Point Hospital. This photo is also from his service record:

Courtesy, Fold3.com

Someone else local to Howard County was transferred to Summit House Hospital while Jeremiah was there. Pvt. Nicholas Snowden was transferred on September 29 from Satterlee, a month before Jeremiah died. Click the link below to read more about Satterlee, and to see a drawing of it!

Courtesy, Fold3.com

In Jeremiah’s widow’s pension request records, we learn that they got married June 4, 1854 by Reverend Waters at Hood’s Mill, Carroll County. They had 4 children, the youngest (a girl named Georgina), was born in 1862:

Courtesy, Fold3.com
Courtesy, Fold3.com

You have just read some of the life story of Sgt Jeremiah Dorsey, who was 6 foot 2 inches tall, had hazel eyes, and a mulatto complexion. Hopefully, the story will enable you to imagine Jeremiah possibly walking from his enslaver’s place (Cooksville) to that of his wife and children (Sykesville) nearby. Local Howard County Maryland history. Thanks to Wayne Davis, for supplying the Fold3 file on Jeremiah!


For info on Satterlee: click here https://hiddencityphila.org/2020/10/when-philadelphia-became-a-center-of-medicine/

*publication noted above is: Patriots and Pioneers of Howard County, Maryland: The Civil War Enrollment and Draft of 1862 in Howard County, by Joseph Nichols, Jr. and Richard W. Bush (2001, reprinted 2004. Published by The Howard County Genealogical Society, Inc.)

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