In December 2022, historian Peter J. Wosh completed his study of the historical ties between the Medical College of Virginia and slavery. Wosh’s report was commissioned by VCU administrators in accordance with Virginia House Bill 1980, and it is well worth a read. Wosh made use of a great deal of archival evidence, despite the fact that records for the forerunner to VCU’s medical school are quite limited for the nineteenth century.
With descendant Lenora McQueen and my students, I have been researching that story for a number of years. Some of the most exciting archival discoveries we have made, through the expert assistance of Library of Virginia archivist Minor Weisiger, are the set of quarterly interment reports for the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground that survive from February 1862 through January 1865. These are the earliest surviving interment records for African Americans in the city of Richmond, and they document 3,380 total burials in that crowded graveyard across those 3 years.
Even more remarkably, these records document the name, date of burial, age, cause of death, and free or enslaved status of each of the deceased, including the owners of each of the enslaved where known. I illustrated one page from these records in my “Disappearing the Enslaved” article and offered there an overview of the trends they show.
We are still working through how best to present these records in full to the public, but I want to highlight now a feature of those records that add new information to Wosh’s report. Listed in the “owner” column for many of these entries is the “Med[ical] College,” which in this context can only mean the Medical College of Virginia.
The first such instance appears in the 1862 record, where on August 11 “A man” of unknown age was listed as “sent from Med. College” in the owners column.
Was this man the property of the medical school itself, a hired worker from another owner, or a deceased patient of that institution’s infirmary, where the enslaved were known to be treated? The college’s early advertisements for its infirmary explicitly commended itself “to the owners and hirers of Slaves,” where the sick would be nursed “at the smallest possible expense.” The records are not clear, but Wosh’s report and other contextual evidence suggest it is almost certainly the latter. Richmond tax lists for 1862 and 1863 show MCV as owner/enslaver of seven and eight enslaved people, respectively for each of those years. Similarly, the U.S. census records the residence of six enslaved people at MCV in 1860, with three of those individuals were owned by MCV and the others hired from private owners. The numbers of interments attributed to MCV far exceed those numbers. Additionally, other institutions, such as the city jail and the coroner’s office, sent individuals for interment and were listed under the owners column.
After August 11, 1862, the next such entry in the interment records appears on August 28, when “A man” of forty years old was listed after dying of “diarrheoa” with simply “Med. College” listed in the owners column.
On September 4, “A man” of 45 years old was buried after he died of the same ailment with “Med. College” listed in the owners column.
On September 30, “George” of unknown age was listed, sent by the “Med. College” following an unnamed ailment.
On October 14, another man of unknown age named “George” who died of “Diarrheoa” was listed from the “Med. College.”
On October 17, the first “Med. College”-associated female was listed, as “A Girl” twenty years old who had died of “Congestion of brain.”
On November 10, “Lewis,” a youth 13 years of age who died of typhoid fever was listed from the “Med. College.”
Similarly, on December 15, “Bob” of 30 years of age, was listed as dying of “Typhoid Pneumonia” and sent by the “Med.
College.” His record completed eight total individuals associated with MCV for 1862.
The next year, in 1863, on January 3, “Richard” who had died at 40 years old of small pox, was listed from the “Med. College.”
On January 26, 1863, “A negro” of unknown age was listed from the “Med. College.”
On March 12, “Billy” who had died at 30 years old of “Hernia” was listed from the “Med. College.”
On April 16, “John” of unknown age who had died of “Typhoid Pneumonia” was listed from the “Med. College.”
On April 28, “Peter” who had died at 35 years old of “[Infa] Bladder” was listed from the “Med. College.”
Then, the quarterly records stop listing an owner’s column through January 1864. Yet on August 12, 1863, “Ben” was listed after dying from unstated causes at 30 years old, sent by “Med. College.” A few days later, on August 22, “Allace” who died at 45 years old of unstated causes was also sent by “Med. College.” On September 28, the 25 year old “Henry” was listed from the “Med. College,” bringing the total that year to eight individuals.
On January 14, 1864, a 35-year-old woman named “April” who had died of “Typhoid Pneumonia” was listed from the “Med. College.”
That same day, “Anderson” who died of the same disease at 30 years old was listed from the “Med. College.”
On January 20, a “Still Born” infant was listed by the “Med. College.”
On January 21, “Washington” of 19 years who died of “Typhoid Pneumonia” was listed by the “Med. College.”
On January 23, “Henry” of 23 years who died of the same disease was listed by the “Med. College.”
On February 1, “Ben” of 22 years who died of “Pneumonia” was listed by the “Med. College.”
On February 8, “Lewis” of 50 years who died of typhoid fever was listed by the “Med. College.”
On February 23, “Ellen” of 16 years who died of “Dropsey” was listed by the “Med. College.”
On February 26, “Andrew” of 20 years who died of typhoid fever was listed by the “Med. College.”
March 1864 saw a spike in such deaths coming from MCV. On March 1, “Lundon” of unknown age who died of “Pneumonia” was listed from the “Med. College.” On March 3, “Buhair” [?], 55 years old who died of “Spine affection” was listed by the “Med. College.” On March 7 and 8, “Toney” and “Ruth,” both of 16 years who died of typhoid fever or typhoid pneumonia were respectively listed by the “Medical College.” On March 11, “Thomas” of 16 years who died of “typhoid pneumonia” was also listed by the “Med. College.”
The following month, on April 26, “Jane” of 25 years who died of “Dropsy” was listed by the “Med. College.”
On June 25, 15-year-old “Frank” who died of “Diseas Heart” [sic] was listed by the “Med. College.”
Hundreds more interments continued to be listed into 1865, but no more were attributed to the “Med. College.” And the paper trail for interments ended with the war that year.
So we find thirty-two individuals associated with MCV in some way in these records. Most of the deceased listed from MCV were male; almost all those listed died of disease. Whatever their stories, their lives and deaths forged a deep connection between the Medical College of Virginia and the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, a connection only beginning to be acknowledged today beyond the episodes of grave robbing.