Pryor Slave Master on the Mississippi River

Landscape

I’ve been looking at slave stories for insights into Pryors and where they were living and working. An account of Allen Sidney (born 1805 in NC) gives his account of slavery which entailed a time working on a riverboat for a Captain Pryor.

My master was ambitious. He built a flat-boat, bought a lot of cattle, wild hogs, apples and truck, went to New Orleans and sold at a fair profit. Then he anted more capital to do a bigger business, and borrowed $500 from a planter and negro trader named John Brown, and gave me as security. I was taken to Brown’s place, where he had 400 to 500 slaves. I worked in his cotton field till next spring, when along came a speculator with 200 to 300 slaves all chained together. Brown bought the whole lot, and next morning I was chained with the rest and we were marched to Memphis, Tenn., some 400 miles away, through the Chickasaw nation.** Here Brown sold me with other slaves to a rich man named Capt. Pryor, who lived in Memphis and owned a big farm nine miles out of the city.

In 1825, when I was twenty-one years of age, Capt. Pryor bought a steamboat at Pittsburgh, and brought it down to Memphis. I believe it was the first steamboat on the Lower Mississippi. It was called the Hard Times. I was what is a likely boy, and he thought a good deal of me. He said to me: “Allen, you go to Memphis, go on the steamer and watch her.” So I went there and stayed on her night and day. Then he sent North and got an engineer named Parker, and he ran the boat that winter back and forward between New Orleans. I helped Parker, and by Capt. Pryor’s orders he showed me how to work the engine.

After running on the river that winter Capt. Pryor built a machine shop at Memphis, put Parker in charge of it, and I worked under him there. I was on the boat in winter and in the machine shop in summer for seven years.

No, I can not say that I was very much abused when I was a slave, but I have seen many slaves treated very cruelly. One time two of Capt. Pryor’s slaves ran away. He took bloodhounds and hunted them down. When they were brought back to the plantation they were stripped naked and tied to logs face down. The colored overseer gave them each 100 lashes on the back…

Three months afterward Perry fixed it all up, and came back with papers which he shewed to Capt. Pryor. I went away with him, and found he had moved to a little town called Amsterdam, Tenn.

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, 12 August 1894

It would be interesting to know which Pryor he was talking about. I set about to see if I could find documentation to show what was real in his story.

The article started out identifying Allen as a well-known figure in Detroit, that he was about 90 and that he lived in Windsor since 1856 (just across the river from Detroit in Ontario, Canada). I located a death record for an Allen Sidney aged 95 who died in Essex County, Canada and was born in Kentucky. On the 1891 Census there was an Allen Sidney aged 86, born in the US living in Windsor. Back further, there’s an Allen Sidney age 73, origin African, counted with a Cassey Sidney age 62, living in Windsor. An 1889 death record from Windsor for Cassa Sidney born in the US identifies her as the wife of Allen Sidney. I think this is the subject of the article.

frost-woodenware-detroit

The 1894 article also stated Sidney was employed by Frost’s Woodenware Works  in Detroit for 37 years. I found an 1870 US Census entry in Wayne County, MI for Milton Frost, a wooden ware manufacturer.

There’s a Simeon Perry age 67 born in NC living in Kenton County, KY on the 1850 Census.

Since Allen Sidney claimed to have worked on a boat named Hard Times I looked and found some references to a barge by that name.

For New Orleans: Will leave on Monday, 4th inst., the barge NATCHEZ and HARD TIMES, which offers cheap and desirable conveyance for 100 to 150 horses and cattle. Shippers will find it their interest to call on bard, opposite Pearl st. or to R. BALDWIN Jr. & Co., No 5 Com. row.
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, 4 Mar 1839

FOR SALE. The superior cotton barges “Hard Times” and “Natchez” are offered for sale on accommodating terms having both undergone thoro’ repair last fall’ they draw 24 inches light, and will carry 250 tons or 1200 bales on 4 1/2 feet water; for further particulars apply to GLOVER & BRENHAM, 38 Camp street.
The Times Picayune, New Orleans, 23 Jan 1839

Who do I think was Captain Pryor? I was hoping that the big clue in the article that he lived on a big farm on the outskirts of Memphis would pan-out. There are no Pryors on Census records that seem to match. It could mean that he was missed on the census or perhaps we’re dealing with a location issue. Did Sidney mean Capt. Pryor was 9 miles up or down river? If off by a few miles it could be a location in Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Arkansas, or even Kentucky.

I think Joseph E Pryor of Pope County, IL is an excellent possibility. I know you’re probably thinking that Illinois isn’t Tennessee and it isn’t mentioned in Sidney’s account. This Pryor was recorded as a “pilot” on the 1850 Census.

1850 Census, Pope Co., IL
Page 283A, 513/513 Joseph PRYOR 64 pilot VA, Elizabeth 52 VA, Joseph 26 stone cutter KY, Tabitha Magu 16 KY

It appears that Joseph Pryor of Pope County may have been doing business in Memphis, TN because after his death probate was filed in Shelby County.

1852 Estate – Robert L Smith and B. A. Massey appointed special administrator for estate of Joseph E PRYOR, deceased. Dated 1 December 1852.

There’s also a possibility that Allen Sidney was affiliated with a Kentucky Pryor. The riverboat would stay-over in Covington, KY (Kenton county).  A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891, Volume 1, by Marion Brunson Lucas discusses the activities of Tom Dorum, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Sidney’s own account and this book mentions Dorum’s assistance with Kentucky slaves escaping to freedom in Canada through Pittsburgh, PA.

Well, I’m open to ideas as to the identity of this Captain Pryor.

** Chickasaw Nation – In 1825 the Chickasaw nation was an area in the northern most area of Mississippi (see map and be sure to click on the year 1825).