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The Unwinding Trail : Reflections on the Life and Times of William Benjamin Gould

Introduction

 

Towards the end of last March, Tony Daly, Peter Lockwood and myself met William Gould, or to be more precise, William Gould IV, former Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington D.C. and Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, Stanford, California. William Gould had come to England to lecture on American and British labour laws, but had also expressed a wish to meet members of the Roundtable in this country to discuss the civil war as it affected him personally.

 

 


To meet and talk with such a seemingly formidable character was surely a challenge, and I envisaged a hard and tough political personality, ever ready to quote laws, ethics and politics at the drop of a hat and to brook no views to the contrary.

 

It was a pleasant surprise to be proved quite so wrong. Here was a sprightly, engaging and delightfully modest man for all his professional stature, and he soon made us all feel completely at ease. He had a fascinating story to tell.

 

It was William Gould IV's great grandfather, he explained, who had served as a sailor in a Federal warship during the course of the civil war, 1861-65. Alexander, the first of the Gould family in the United States from whom William IV was descended, was actually a Briton born and bred, a young man who had migrated to America some time after the war of 1812, settling in Granville County, North Carolina.

 

It was in this Southern state that Alexander begat a male child by a slave girl, Elizabeth Moore. The infant was named William Benjamin Gould, known to later generations of his family as William Gould I. A slave as a youth on a plantation a little to the north of Washington NC, William gained his release from bondage following the Union occupation there of 1862. Under the Northern Administration he became a contraband or 'seized property' (i.e. property taken from the Confederates), thus enabling him to leave his plantation and move elsewhere to freedom. He subsequently demonstrated his loyalty to the United States by joining the country's Navy on September 22 1862.

 

It was simply done. William and seven other men just took a small boat out from Cape Fear and rowed straight out to the U.S.S. CAMBRIDGE, the very same day in fact that President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Whether or not this was co-incidental, young Gould would serve his country from the time of his enlistment until the end of the war, a Landsman and Steward, serving first on the U.S.S. CAMBRIDGE, then later, from the Autumn of 1863, on the steam frigate U.S.S. NIAGARA until finally mustered out on September 29 1865. Throughout his time in the Navy Gould, a literate former slave, kept a diary. Invaluable historically, it was lost for many years until at length unearthed in William Gould IV's Great Uncle Lawrence's attic after his death. Not all of the diary survived, but enough was left to give readers an absorbing account of Landsman Gould's thoughts and feelings during his years of service, not least his feelings of loneliness so far from home.

 

In 'The Unwinding Trail: The Life and Times of William Benjamin Gould', Landsman Gould's great grandson has written movingly of his researches into his forebear and of the diary he kept. The article is well expressed and historically thought provoking. - ED.

 

The Unwinding Trail : Reflections on the Life and Times of William Benjamin Gould

 

by William B Gould IV

 

As transcribed from ‘Crossfire – The Magazine of the American Civil War Round Table (UK)’ Issue 61 - December 1999.

 

The first William Benjamin Gould was born here in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 18, 1837, the son of Alexander and Elizabeth. (Betsy) Gould, nee Moore. As my life has progressed, my search for William Benjamin Gould has accelerated along a long and winding trail.

 

When my late father, William Benjamin Gould III, and I first began to focus upon this subject, we thought that we would work together on this project. And the pity is that we did not do it when he was alive and when many others were alive who could have told us so much more than we will ever glean from the written page.

 

The first William Benjamin Gould left Wilmington to board the U.S.S. Cambridge on September 22, 1862 the day that President Lincoln proclaimed his intention to promulgate an Emancipation Proclamation, five days after General Lee was stopped at Antietam.

 

The trail really begins in my own family homes in Massachusetts and New Jersey and in the values and lessons provided to me by my father. It begins with the music that I heard as a child and its military cadence, so often sung to us by my father - Marching Through Georgia with my father's descriptions of the bitter reactions of the Southerners to General Sherman’s great march to the sea, and The Battle Hymn of the Republic which always assumed a religious significance in our home. This, of course, was derived from my father’s exposure to William Benjamin Gould whom he knew as a child and young man my father being 21 years old when the first William Benjamin died. And my father sang to us the World War I songs of my great uncles with whom I became acquainted during our visits to Dedham, Massachusetts, my great grandfather's residence from 1871 to 1923, after we moved to New Jersey in 1940.

 

And there are so many other things that I think that my father transmitted to me from that William Benjamin Gould. As a child in New Jersey, I can recall an uneducated black laborer who was working with us, sitting at our table saying grace to himself before his meal - and my father emphasized afterwards how good and important this was, even more fundamental, he seemed to say, than formal education which we were taught to value.

 

William Benjamin Gould's commitment to the Union cause in the War of the Rebellion as a struggle for "Right and Equality", as he called it, and his reference to that struggle as "The holiest of all causes, Liberty and Union" always had immediate relevance to me as a small child and young man. This commitment to equality, particularly as shaped during the civil rights desegregation litigation of this century, as well as an uncompromising support for civil rights legislation in the time of FDR and Truman and beyond, were part of the legacy that my great grandfather provided to the home in which I was raised.

 

And time and time again, at discussions at the dinner table and in our living room, my father's constant refrain was - particularly when he realized that I was moving toward the law - "You wouldn’t have any freedoms in this country if we didn't have a strong military that was willing to defend them". I am sure that this view was derived from both the service of William Benjamin Gould in the War of the Rebellion, William Benjamin Gould, Jr. in the Spanish-American War and the rest of his sons in World War I. As I have said earlier, they were "the backbone of our country”. July 4th was always a great day in our family when my father, even beyond middle age, was prone to set off firecrackers, when the flag was so often flown as it was on Memorial Day and Armistice Day'. And I can still hear my father speak of hundreds of Civil War veterans marching through the streets of Boston and his reminiscences of my great grandfather coming to the public schools on Memorial Day to tell the students of his experiences in, and the lessons of, the Civil War.

 

When my father was a young boy in Hyde Park in Boston just across the line from Dedham, and my grandfather was living next door to my great grandfather, he told me of receiving a call from a gruff old Civil War veteran one day on the telephone: "Bill Gould'?" the caller said. "Yes." my father answered, "Speaking." The caller retorted: "The hell it is." The three Bill Goulds were in close proximity, often fielding one another's calls.

 

One of the stories I remember most vividly was of my great grandfather's work as a tradesman - he was a plasterer or mason and apparently learned his trade here in Wilmington as we see by his work on the Bellamy Mansion. The story focused on his work for the very large Roman Catholic Church in Dedham, St. Mary's. At this point my great grandfather had become a contractor, employing other men. According to my father, some of the workmen fell asleep at a critical time in the process, but their deficiencies could not be observed and could have been easily covered up without the defects becoming apparent until years later. But my great grandfather had all the plaster ripped out of the church and had the work done again at such great expense that he was nearly bankrupted. From this moment on, his stature in Dedham was enriched, as was the name Gould.

 

The most recent page in the story of his work is to be found in a telephone call that I received from the Curator of the Bellamy Mansion, Jonathan Noffke, here in Wilmington just three months ago, informing me of the fact that he had found my great grandfather's initials, along with that of other workmen apparently both slave and free, in the plaster of the mansion itself. The fact that I had been in this very mansion at a reception just eighteen months earlier added to the waves of excitement that ran through me when I heard this news! In a number of major aspects, I feel close to this gentleman whose death preceded my birth by only 13 years.

 

In the 1960's, my great uncle Lawrence Gould died and bequeathed his property to my father. My father traveled to Dedham to discover that many papers and books were being thrown out. My father found a diary kept by the first William Benjamin Gould covering almost his entire service in the United States Navy in the Civil War, the diary commencing on September 27, 1862 and being completed on September 29. 1865 when my great grandfather received his honorable discharge in the Charleston Naval Shipyard in Massachusetts. I well recall seeing my father read the diary in our living room in New Jersey and discussing it with him. My impression was that this written work gave my father a new and more profound appreciation for the greatness of William Benjamin Gould, and his achievements under the most difficult of circumstances.

 

The diary covered his Civil War service in the North Atlantic Blockade on the U.S.S. Cambridge and also his service on the U.S.S. Niagara in '64-'65 as it sought out Confederate cruisers in European waters. There are two gaps, one attributable to the fact that my great grandfather was in the Chelsea, Massachusetts Naval hospital in the summer of '63 with measles and the second, between late '64 and early '65, which my father always believed was thrown out prior to his arrival in Dedham after Lawrence's death.

 

I began to follow the trail of William Benjamin Gould in the fall of 1971 when I commenced a year as Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law. School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The year before I had obtained copies of the pension papers filed with the United States Department of Interior in 1889, 1912 and 1915 by William B. Gould, some of which had been retrieved by my father. My great grandfather had difficulty obtaining a pension, attributable to his rheumatoid condition, because he had no birth certificate, his home was destroyed during the Civil War, and the Bible which recorded his birth was destroyed as well, and had to explain something about his life.

 

In these papers he wrote about his late wife Cornelia Williams Read - she had predeceased him in 1906 and stated that he had known her "since she was a child." though she was born in Charleston, South Carolina. How had they met, given the distance between these two cities particularly if they were slaves and not free?

 

During that time I visited Dedham frequently and obtained documents from the Church of the Good Shepherd and whatever state records I could find. Four William Benjamin Goulds were baptized at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Dedham and the first three were confirmed there. Though discussions with the church's rector in the early '70's led me to believe that William Benjamin was one of its founders in the 1870's and he may have been (this led me to look at St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington and others in this area), it is quite possible that he became an Episcopalian in Dedham inasmuch as he was baptized there and was mated to my great grandmother, Cornelia Gould, nee Cornelia Williams Read, in the African Baptist Church in Nantucket, Massachusetts on November 22, 1865.

 

The Episcopal Church, its liturgy, and the language of its beautiful Book of Common Prayer were very much a part of my upbringing. I count it as part of my heritage and I think that it comes from the first William Benjamin Gould and the Church of the Good Shepherd.

 

While at Harvard, I discovered at the Dedham Library a document taken down by someone else captioned: ‘A Portion of the Cruise of the Steam Frigate Niagara in Foreign Waters’ Compiled from the Journal of Wm. B. Gould.' This summarized portions of the diary and spoke of the history of the period which, undoubtedly, my great grandfather had an opportunity to reflect upon and read more about subsequent to his service. Then, after I began my professorship at Stanford Law School in the fall of '72, almost 3,000 miles from the East Coast, I allowed the trail to go cold and did not pursue him further.

 

But, in the late 80’s I was able to convince Dr. John Hope Franklin of Duke University - for whom I had acted as a chauffeur when he was our commencement speaker at Stanford in '77 - to accept a visiting professorship at Stanford Law School. A fortunate by product of this visit was that Dr. Franklin kindly read the diary and provided a very detailed memo about it. Franklin noted that many of the papers referred to my great grandfather as a “contraband” and he was not sure whether my great grandfather was free or a slave. Franklin was skeptical of the idea that William B. Gould was a slave because the diary showed him to be not only extraordinarily literate but also in correspondence with other members of his family. Was William Benjamin Gould a slave or free?

 

In 1989 when I returned east to visit at Howard Law School in Washington, D.C., I began to find some answers to some of the obvious questions. Officials in the National Archives in Washington found the log of the U.S.S. Cambridge which showed the entry for the day that WBG came onboard. The entry reads as follows:

 

"Saw a sail S W by S and signaled same to other vessels. Stood for strange sail and at 10:30 picked up a boat with eight contrabands from Wilmington, North Carolina... names of contraband and their masters…William B. Gould owned by Nicholas Nixon"

 

The others on this boat were Joseph Hall, George Price and Andrew Hall, all owned by William C. Benticott; John Mackey, owned by John Nash; Charles Giles, owned by Dan Russell; John Mitchell, owned by Killion P. Martin, and William Chance, owned by William Robbins. We have found the deposition of Joseph Hall, executed in September 1902 in Virginia, stating that he "...enlisted in the U.S. Navy at or off Wilmington, North Carolina October 1, 1862 ... went aboard the U.S.S. Cambridge 22 September, 1862," (in his diary WBG states that "we took the Oath of Allegiance to the Government of Uncle Samuel" on Oct. 3)

 

This was very big news and led me to the state archives in Raleigh, North Carolina where I began to look carefully through the records of Nicholas Nixon. The inventory of slaves did not include names of individuals and, though I could find one person whose sex and age seemed to fit that of the first William B. Gould, I could not prove it definitively. In the slave schedule of 1850 which was part of the census for Wilmington (recall that the Constitution gave the slave states three-fifths representation for slaves), it is set forth that Nixon owned 69 slaves, but they are not mentioned by name, though there is a black slave who is male and 12 years old at the time William Benjamin Gould turned 13 in November 1850.

 

Meanwhile, prior to coming to North Carolina, I turned back toward Massachusetts, and looked at church records which showed baptism and confirmation dates for my great grandfather and his wife, Cornelia Williams Read, my great grandmother. Just as a matter of course, I ordered his death certificate and discovered that his father, Alexander Gould, had been born in England. Some of the pension papers had referred to WBG as "mulatto." But no one had ever said anything about this! The 1820 census showed that Alexander lived in Granville County, North Carolina. Now I felt that the trail was unfolding.

 

But I was soon to run up against roadblocks. As I drove back across the country, I made my way through the southeast and stayed one night at the home of Dr. John Hope Franklin before venturing forth to both Raleigh and to Wilmington itself. Said Franklin to me as we had breakfast the morning of December 14: "I wish I could go with you! I wish I could walk the streets of Wilmington with you as you look for him!”

 

And so it was on to Raleigh and the examination of the Nixon records and the Census records for the previous century which turned up no Goulds in Wilmington itself. But I did find Goulds in the 1900 census in North Edenton, Mark's Creek, Hamlet Village, Red Springs, in Chowan, Richmond and Robeson Counties, respectively. Most of these Goulds are black. I also found Goulds in the 1989 telephone book in Hamlet and Rockingham, some of whose first names appear to suggest that they might be black.

 

After Raleigh, I drove over to Wilmington to simply, to use Dr. Franklin's words, walk the streets and reflect upon what my great grandfather must have thought as he walked those same streets as a young man. I attended the Sunday Eucharist at St. James Episcopal Church and wondered whether he had been there.

 

My next chance to return to Wilmington was in early '97 in late February on a beautiful spring-like weekend when I drove down from Washington, D.C. But, again, before coming to North Carolina, I turned to Massachusetts this time to the Island of Nantucket in the fall of '95. Here I met Helen Seager who was actively involved in the restoration of the African Meeting House of Nantucket, which had been the African Baptist Church where my great grandparents were married. We had a mutual interest in retracing the steps of both William B. Gould and Cornelia W. Read.

 

Early on in my visit we went to the Nantucket Library and Ms. Seager, upon opening one of the volumes of old Nantucket newspapers, exclaimed! There were articles reciting the circumstances under which Cornelia Read had been purchased out of slavery from Wilmington in 1858, when she was owned by John N. Maffit. Now we could immediately speculate as to how William and Cornelia had met - it was most probably in Wilmington and not Charleston.

 

The articles described the circumstances of the purchase of both Cornelia Williams Read and her mother, my great great grandmother Diana Williams, by virtue of the intervention of James Crawford, the black minister at the Nantucket African Baptist Church, who was married to Cornelia Read's aunt. Moreover, the articles describe the people who contributed to the purchase price of $1,000 for Cornelia, $700 for Diana, and the involvement of the famous Abolitionist Lewis Tappan, and the perilous journey that Mr. Crawford made from North Carolina back to Nantucket. It was from here that Cornelia Read corresponded with William during the Civil War. When I made the third of three visits during my time in Washington, in May '98, I chronicled the references to their correspondence (we do not have the letters themselves) and their first meeting in Nantucket in 1863.

 

A month prior to my May '98 speech in Nantucket I had traveled from Washington to the Charleston Naval Shipyard in Boston where William Benjamin Gould was discharged from the United States Navy on September 29, 1865. I saw the structure where he received his papers and the dock where his ship in the European part of his service, the U.S.S. Niagara, had come for repairs.

 

Meanwhile, I had made the second of three journeys to Wilmington. One of the first things that I saw as I drove into North Carolina were the signs referring to Weldon. In his diary, William speaks of hearing that Union troops had occupied Weldon, although apparently this was not the case. The objective, of course, was to cut the Wilmington / Richmond railway and to cut off General Lee's supplies.

 

Last year during that second visit, I met here in Wilmington with Beverly Tetterton, George Stevenson and David Cecelski. I was the beneficiary of the generous hospitality of Michael Murchison at whose house I stayed just a few blocks away from the former home of T.C. Worth the only person from Wilmington who contributed to my great grandmother's purchase price. During this visit, I was particularly curious about Rich Inlet from where William wrote in February '63 that he was able to get a good look at the place he came from in '62. It soon became apparent to me that he was looking at the Porter's Neck area where the Nixon Plantation was and, by gaining entry to Double Eight Island, I was able to walk out to nearly the point where his ship was anchored when he made this observation.

 

After Wilmington, I traveled down to Fort Fisher and Fort Caswell, with both of which his ship traded much gunfire, and near to Lockwood's Folly Inlet and then on to other areas described in the diary, New Inlet, New Topsail Inlet and Masonboro Inlet. And then it was on to Beaufort where his ship frequently coaled and where he met General Burnside the first week of his enlistment on the U.S.S. Cambridge.

 

In Beaufort I lunched in a restaurant overlooking the waters where, I was told, the Union ships had arrived and anchored and walked along the shore and visited Fort Macon as well. (A decade ago, I had done the same in Cadiz, Spain where he had docked during his European service in '64-65.) There again as in Wilmington, I felt near this man and the practical problems that his old vessel experienced as it went through its many repairs in that port.

 

What was his life like here in North Carolina? How did he become such a literate man? How did he obtain his religion? (Nixon was a prominent Episcopalian in Wilmington.) His trade? (Perhaps he was contracted out by Nixon to work on the Bellamy Mansion.) What was his contact with his father as well as his mother? His diary records receipt of the "sad news" of his mother's death in '65. Where are the descendants from the family that he left behind when he left Wilmington? Though I do not believe that he ever returned here from New England after the War, Beverly Tetterton has found a news account of him and his sons after World War I in the local newspaper. Someone here must have had some interest in him. These are some of the unanswered questions which I ponder. I have found many answers with many friends both here and in Massachusetts and Washington. I still have much ground to cover. I thank Jonathan Noffke for making this opportunity available for me to come here and to speak to you, and I also am most grateful to Beverly Tetterton for her kind support.

 

I shall do the best that I can consistent with my other duties, to write about the first William Benjamin Gould and the inspiration I have gained from the chronicle, albeit incomplete, of his service to his country and his legacy as my namesake.

 

Delivered by: William B Gould IV, Charles A Beardsley Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, California, December 15, 1998. Wilmington, North Carolina

 

© William B Gould IV

 

Picture appears by kind permission of the author, who commented: "William B. Gould, naval veteran of the War of the Rebellion, is seated. My grandfather, William B. Gould, Jr., vet of The Spanish-American War, stands to his right our left. All others are veterans of World War 1 and are great-uncles: I knew all of them as a child, but the two William B. Goulds died before I was born. The photo was taken in 1919 and was first published in Crisis, the NAACP paper"