John Howe Peyton's Montgomery Hall

James Hamilton

The most abominable act known to have been committed against an African-American at Montgomery Hall was William J. Shumate’s illegal enslavement of James Hamilton.

James Hamilton was born free c. 1833 in Maryland. Before the Civil War Hamilton was living in Hancock, Washington County, Maryland with Thomas Gilleece and his family and working as a domestic servant. Thomas Gilleece was a boatman and later owned and operated an inn in Hancock. In January, 1864 Hamilton was driving a team while working for the Union Army and was captured by Confederate troops. He was taken to Harrisonburg, Virginia and placed in jail for four months. William J. Shumate, aware that Hamilton claimed to be free, purchased him in May, 1864 from the jailer there for $500.00, took him to Staunton and placed him in jail there. Shumate later took James Hamilton in handcuffs to Montgomery Hall and kept him in handcuffs there for days. Hamilton was forced to work as if a slave until May, 1865. The other Union prisoners in the Harrisonburg jail were released by General Hunter.

Shumate was later ordered to pay Hamilton $300.00 ($30.00 per month) in back wages. Shumate claimed that Hamilton was sold by order of the court in Harrisonburg but was unable to produce the paperwork. The jailer later admitted someone had written from Maryland corroborating Hamilton’s free status. Shumate initially refused to comply and retained John Brown Baldwin to represent him in the matter.

James Hamilton returned to Hancock, Maryland, where he had a wife and family.



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