12 February 2009

Virginia: Black history with a Jewish twist

Linking the Jewish and black histories of Richmond, Virginia - from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

One of Richmond, Virginia's most prominent post-Civil War residents, Richard Gustavus Forrester was born in 1822, and spotlighted in this story.

He was the son of a city Jewish lawyer, Gustavus Myers, and a free woman of color Nelly Forrester, who lived and worked in the home of Moses Myers, the uncle of Gustavus, Richard married Narcissa Wilson of New Orleans. She was the daughter of Narcissa was the daughter of Judah Touro and a free woman of color, Ellen Wilson.

Richard was sent to live in the Richmond home of his father's aunts, Catharine and Slowey Hays, who began educating him at an early age.

When Richard was 14, his great-aunt Slowey died and left him a large bequest. His father sent him to Canada to continue his education. Narcissa was sent to Canada to live in the same house as Richard. Distant cousins, they fell in love and married in Canada around 1840, producing 20 children and 49 grandchildren.

Their son, Richard Gill Forrester, was the first to raise the Union flag over the Virginia Capitol at the end of the Civil War.

Around 1850, Richard and Narcissa returned to Richmond with their young children. Although they were free persons of color, the entire family was registered as slaves owned by their Jewish relatives so the family could remain together.

In 1855, the couple inherited Catharine Hays' home and, in 1860, the family is listed as free residents in the census.

After the war, Richard prospered as a dairy farmer and contractor and was active in Reconstruction organizations. In 1870, he was grand marshal of a parade celebrating the 15th Amendment's ratification, which gave men the vote regardless of race. In 1871, he was one of the first persons of color elected to Richmond City Council, where he served for 11 years.

A school board member in the early 1880s, he improved schools for blacks and hired black teachers.

Richard opened bank accounts for each of his grandchildren at the Freedman's Savings and Trust Co.

Richard Gustavus Forrester, 69, died in Richmond in 1891.

See the link above for more, including a timeline and photograph.

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