Capt. Ralph Quarles

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Ralph Quarles

Birthdate: (70)
Birthplace: Spotsylvania County, Province of Virginia
Death: April 1834 (70)
Quarles Plantation, Near Louisa Court House, Louisa County, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Quarles and Mary Quarles
Husband of Not wife of Ralph Quarles
Partner of Lucy Jane Langston
Father of Maria Powell; Gideon Langston-Quarles; Charles Henry Langston; Rep. John Mercer Langston (R-VA); Not child of Ralph Quarles and 1 other
Brother of Mary Duke (Quarles); Charles Quarles; Frances Thomson; Roger Quarles; William Quarles and 2 others
Half brother of John Quarles; James Quarles; Jane Quarles; Martha Quarles and Ann Pleasants

Occupation: Plantation Owner- Scottish
Managed by: Stanley Welsh Duke, Jr.
Last Updated:

About Capt. Ralph Quarles

Ralph Quarles, the white owner of a large plantation in Louisa county, Virginia. On an unknown date, Quarles accepted a slave, Lucy Langston, as collateral for an unspecified loan.

Since Quarles's creditor never paid the debt, Lucy became the planter's own slave, and sometime thereafter gave birth to his daughter, Maria. In 1806 Quarles emancipated both mother and child. Lucy subsequently bore him three sons: Gideon (1809), Charles (1817), and John (1829). Because of Virginia's antimiscegenation laws, Quarles's children were given their mother's surname. Nonetheless, Ralph Quarles treated Lucy Langston and his mulatto children with much consideration. As we already noted, he emancipated Lucy and their daughter in 1806. Furthermore, it was Quarles who gave the two oldest boys their early schooling. John recounted how his father, a man with "a love of learning and culture," provided brother Charles with a "thorough English education." In view of Quarles's keen interest in his sons' intellectual development, it is not surprising that after his death they continued with their schooling.

1834 Quarles and Lucy Langston died and, as he requested, were buried next to each other on his Virginia plantation. In his last will and testament, Ralph Quarles recognized Gideon, Charles, and John Langston as his only heirs.


From John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829-65, by William F. and Aimee Lee Cheek:

By 1800, Ralph Quarles, in middle age, was lodged securely among the up-country Virginia gentry. First born in large, well-connected and prosperous Spotsylvania County family (he was named first of 10 children of William and Frances Quarles in William Quarles' will, probabed Nov. 2, 1794 - Will Book E, 1772-1798, Spotsylvania County Courthouse... information about the Quarles family was made available by W.F. Baker of Newport News, Virginia, author of an unpublished genealogical study of the Baker family.. he found 1751 guardianship papers for William Quarles along with his brother Roger and sister Jane, putting them in the care of John Quarles of Caroline County), he had early acquired a better-than-average education, a familiarity with plantation routine, and a head for business. During the War for Independence, according to his sons, the adolescent Quarles had joined the continental forces, served under Lafayette, perhaps in the nearby Yorktown campaign of 1781, and fought until victory came (according to a speech of C.H. Langston before the US District Court for Northern District of Ohio).

In the next years he had established his own plantation in economically undistinguished Louisa County, at the outset purchasing 370 acres between Hickory and Gold Mine creeks, about three miles from the county seat, at a cost of one pound an acre (according to Deed Book F of Louisa County). He had come into his full inheritance upon his father's death in 1794, serving as coexecutor of the will alongside the aristocratic Colonel Garrett Minor, a kinsman of Dabney Carr, into whose family two of the Quarles brothers had married. Ralph's sister Frances had made a similarly good match in the estimable William Thomson, II, who held successively most of the public offices in Louisa County (noted in William Quarles' will, probated Nov. 2, 1794, and in the account of the sales of William Quarles' estate). Apparently a contented bachelor, Quarles concentrated on the management of his estate, the size of which, within a relatively short time, he more than doubled. (The 1800 Federal census lists Ralph Quarles as male in the 26-44 age category, and as owner of 15 slaves, with no other whites listed on his plantation - Louisa County Historical Magazine from June 1972.)

The Gabriel slave revolt in the last summer of 1800, some 40 miles to the south in Henrico County, jolted the even tenor of life for Quarles and his neighbors. They felt their vulnerability in a land that was thickly forested, hilly, and sparsely settled, with a total population in Louisa County of about 12,000 divided fairly evenly between white, mostly poor, farming families and slaves, quite a number of the latter having trades (according to Joseph Martin's "A New Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia and the District of Columbia" of 1835).

(On the 700-1000 farms and plantations, with landholdings ranging from 10-6000 acres and with nearly three-fourths of property owners holding 100-600 acres, slavery predominated in 1800. The heads of more than two-thirds of all households (934) owned slaves. More than half of the owners had six or more slaves, while at least one-third held ten or more. Slavetrader Christopher Smith owned 150 people in 1800, and another 60 whites held 20 or more. Slave artisans included blacksmiths, bootmakers, brickmakers, cabinet makers, carpenters, cartwrights, coopers, hatters, house joiners, housewrights, joiners, masons, saddlers, shoemakers, sulky makers, tailors, tanners, watch repairers, weavers, and wheelwrights. There were 132 free blacks in 1800. Eight-one (36 blacks, 45 mulattoes) of these resided in the western part of the county according to a list compiled in 1801 by that district's commissioner of revenue. Although roughly one fifth resided with whites, predominantly these free blacks lived on a white plantation, meaning they either rented land and lived on it with their own people, or else had their own place. Twelve of the 37 free adults were skilled artisans, three carpenters, three spinners, two shoemakers, a weaver, a blacksmith, a farmer, and a tailoress. The others were predominantly farm laborers of one kind or another.)

Governor James Monroe's own assertion that the huge conspiracy extended into Louisa made defensive measures seem imperative (according to the state's principal black witness, one of the black leaders, in an important organizational meeting, had spoken of having recruited several hundred Negroes from Louisa, Petersburg, and "adjacent counties). Alarmed landowners strengthened the local militia as William Thomson became first captain, and then commander of the first battalion of the 40th Regiment. On Thomson's promotion, five country Gentlemen, a Quarles brother among them, recommended Ralph Quarles to the governor and council "as a fit and proper person to act as Captain" in his stead (according to Order Book 1803-1806 of Louisa County). Given his status and personal attributes, the appointment was assured.

Yet at about the same time, a new, unsettled factor had entered the tidy ledger of Captain Quarles' affairs, introduced in part by his sound financial management. While most local farmers struggled on small holdings to eke out a living from sandy soil impoverished by over-cropping, ignorance of the necessity for contour plowing, inadequate manuring, and the growing of tobacco (accordig to Martin's Gazetteer of Virginia), Quarles raised wheat, corn, other grains, and livestock, as well as the profitable tobacco, on his large acreage of fertile bottom land. With cash on hand, he frequently extended loans, a practice encouraged by absence of banking facilities. As lender, he was entitled to hold as collateral any form of convertible property - grist mill, livestock, or slave (listed in Ralph Quarles' will and inventory of estate in Will Book 9, Deed Book S, and Deed Book T). On Nov. 1, 1803, Quarles made a substantial loan to a hapless neighbor who had already been forced to place much of his property with an executor, and who died shortly thereafter. Perhaps moved by more than pecuniary considerations, Quarles sued for payment of the debt; the court ordered restitution of the dead man's "goods and chattles," or from those of the executor himself. In this transaction or one like it, "in pledge for money borrowed," Ralph Quarles acquired Lucy Jane Langston (the case was Ralph Quarles vs. William G. Poindexter, listed in Order Book on p. 361, Indenture of Warner H. Braoddus of Aug. 19, 1803 in Deed Book J, and Broaddus Will in Will Book 5 for Louisa County... also referred to in Virginia Plantation by Langston and Quintus Massie's The Story of Lucy Langston in the Louisa County Historical Magazine).

She was a rare possession. Her "uncommon beauty and good qualities" made a lasting impression (according to the Washington Star of Nov. 23, 1882). Quite young, still in her teens or early twenties (as listed in the 1830 Federal census as the one free negro female in the 36-55 age range on his Quarles' plantation), she was of small stature but substantial build, with an easy and natural bearing. Partly black, partly Native American, probably by statute she should not have been a slave at all. While one Virginia law specified that the free or bond condition of a child followed that of the mother, another, enacted in 1691, and but little observed, prohibited the enslavement of Indians. Lucy, or Jane as she was often called, took the Langston name from her mother, who, it was claimed, was a full-blooded Indian. Although Lucy Jane could not herself write her name, she may well have been the descendant of an educated man. Two Langstons, John and Gideon, were among the eight Indians who attended the College of William and Mary between 1753 and 1755 - a coincidence of names with those of Lucy Langston's sons that suggests that one of these men was her grandfather (as noted in Langston's Virginia Plantation, James Curtis Ballagh's A History of Slavery in Virginia - Lucy's will is noted as having been signed with an X).

Who her father was, beyond his having been, to some degree, of black African descent, there is no clue. Slave or free, it made no difference to his child's legal status. With "a slight proportion of Negro blood," Lucy would be a slave because her mother was a slave, legally or no; by Virginia statute she and her children would be mulattoes, to be treated in all respects as Negroes because her father had Negro blood (according to Winthrop D. Jordan's White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812 and Langston's Virginia Plantation).

By 1806, Captain Quarles and his beautiful slave were the parents of a daughter named Maria. Although prudence dictated that such affairs be confined to the separate world of the plantation, out of view of the larger society, in that year, he was impelled to take an extraordinary step. Shocked into empathetic recognition of their bondsmen's longing for freedom by the Gabriel uprising and rumors of other slave plots, Virginia's former revolutionaries had become increasingly suspicious of the free Negro, an "obnoxious" and dangerous lot whose numbers had multiplied since passage of the liberal emancipation law of 1782. After spirited debate during the 1804-5 legislative session on the practice and moral consequences of abolishing private manumissions, the General Assembly in 1806 passed an act declaring that all slaves freed after May 1 of that year must leave the state within 12 months, under penalty of being resold into slavery (noted from John H. Russell's The Free Negro in Virginia 1619-1865).

Faced with this ultimatum, Quarles took action. On April 1, 1806, he drafted a careful document: "Be it known to all whom it may concern that I, Ralph Quarles of Louisa County, do hereby manumit and set free my negro slaves Lucy, a woman, and Maria, a girl daughter of said Lucy. And I do hereby declare the said slaves to be henceforward free persons at liberty to go where they please and to exercise and enjoy all the rights of free persons so far as I can authorize or the laws of Virginia will permit." Two weeks later, just before the deadline, the county court approved the manumission (noted in Deed Book K - between 1783 and 1807, 27 Louisa County slave owners manumitted 116 slaves). Lucy Jane Langston had the right to remain in Virginia a free woman.

The next turning of this romance is unexpected and unexplained. The possibility exists that in freeing his bondwoman, the Louisa County slaveholder hoped to disentangle himself, and her, from the emotional cord that bound them in their hopelessly unsanctioned and unsanctified union. In any case, Lucy Langston soon showed that she was not only legally but sexually independent of her former master. Ralph Quarles was not the father (the identity of the man or men is not known), but Lucy Langston was the mother of three children: William, Harriet, and Mary Langston. All were born after her manumission (1806), likely during the first five years (before 1811). According to an 1831 county registry of free Negroes, William Langston was 21, which would make his birth date 1810. The "son of Lucy who was emancipated by Ralph Quarles," William is described as "a dark mulatto," "hair inclined to curl," "good countenance." As for Harriet and Mary, the 1830 federal census noted only that two free colored females between the ages of 10 and 24 lived on the Quarles plantation (Langston characterized these children as "born to Lucy Langston, before she was taken from the plantation into the Great House," giving not dates... when William Langston died in September 1886, his obituary stated his age was 74 years, 11 months).It was to these children that their mother would will her property, including 290 acres of land (according to Will Book 9 of Louisa County).

Despite this interval, the liaison between Ralph Quarles and Lucy Langston resumed, ultimately to become permanent and open. Between 1809 and 1815, the couple gave birth to their first son. A robust and handsome boy, features "all of Anglo-Saxon stamp," who so greatly resembled his father that at age 21, "Quarles" was added to his name, he was called Gideon. In 1817, a second son was born. Charles Henry was like his mother "in blood, mind, and disposition." (Langston wrote that Gideon was born June 15, 1809, but his bond in 1831 describes him as "about 16". Writing in 1892 on the occasion of Charles' death, Langston noted only that Gideon was "much the senior" of his brother.) The boys were cared for by Lucy, who oversaw the keeping of the Great House. She lived in a modest abode at the other end of the garden, where she herself owned the feather beds and bedding,, as well as the wheel and loom on which she spun and wove cloth (according to Langston's Virginia Plantation).

Quarles proved accountable and considerate to his mistress. He brought her mother onto the estate to spend her last years. When his and Lucy's young daughter Maria fell in love with the slave Joseph Powell, Quarles bought the man for her and set the married couple up in housekeeping on a nearby farm. Taught reading, writing, and something of business by her father, Maria and Joseph, whom she cautiously maintained in slavery until her death in 1846, managed the property profitably with the use of slave labor. The Powells had 21 children, one of whom would become an administrator in a Virginia black college. (Mary Powell's will, signed by her, left a sizable estate. Her will directed that her six slaves, valued at $2,328, be sold, but that her husband should he wish to leave the state, be freed. Langston wrote that a number of her children went to Ohio. Charles J. Powell, their son born in 1845, became in 1888 secretary and accountant of Virginia State College, where he lived with his family on campus until his death in 1916. A study of the family was compiled by Luther P. Jackson in The Negro History Bulletin of December 1947.)

When Lucy Jane Langston once again became pregnant, she and Captain Quarles had been lovers for some 25 years. She was surely in her forties, he in his late sixties. "The child of my father's extreme old age," John Mercer Langston would call himself, and in another place, "the child of the advanced years of his parents" (according to the San Francisco Post of April 5, 1877).

Since one of his half-sisters later would tell him the birthdate, Langston, unlike so many of his black contemporaries, would be able to fix his beginnings in place and time (in an interview with Arthur D. Langston in the St. Louis Star-Sayings.. during Langston's boyhood, public records referring to him reflect the century's casual attitude toward age... guardianship papers dated July 14, 1837 put his age at 9 years, while in an affidavit of William Langston with the Court of Common Pleas for Ross County vs. William Gooch, dated April 9, 1839, he is said to be "between 11 and 12 years". To open his autobiography, "From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol," published when he was 64, Langston would commence with an affirmative sense of self: "John Mercer Langston was born upon a plantation located three miles from Louisa Court House in Louisa County, Virginia, on the 14th day of December, 1829"

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Capt. Ralph Quarles's Timeline

Spotsylvania County, Province of Virginia
Age 42
Near Louisa Court House, Louisa County, Virginia, United States
June 15, 1809
Age 45
Near Louisa Court House, Louisa County, Virginia, United States
August 31, 1817
Age 53
Near Louisa Court House, Louisa County, Virginia, United States
December 14, 1829
Age 65
Louisa County, Virginia, United States
April 1834
Age 70
Near Louisa Court House, Louisa County, Virginia, United States