Submitted Article –
The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society recently received a copy of the 13th Amendment, the first of the three “Reconstruction amendments” and the one that abolished slavery in the United States.
Many think the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery during the Civil War, but it only applied to the states that left the Union, said Luke Kelly, collections manager at ESVHS. The Eastern Shore of Virginia was occupied by the Union for most of the war, so the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t technically affect the Shore. Slavery in Virginia ended in 1865 after the 13th Amendment was passed.
The copy ESVHS has received was printed by Western Bank Note & Engraving Co. of Chicago. It was printed in 1868, three years after the amendment had passed. The three-year gap happened for a few reasons, Kelly said.
“First, there were several copies of the amendment made,” he said. “Some copies have President Lincoln’s signature, some don’t. Some have signatures by Lincoln’s vice president and the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and some don’t.”
In 1868, someone at Western Bank Note located a copy that had Lincoln’s signature and the signatures of his vice president and the leaders of the Senate and the House. The company made copies, this one included, to sell. Nobody knows exactly how many copies Western Bank Note made, but they are very rare.
The other reason this was printed in 1868 instead of 1865 is because the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship of African Americans, was ratified in 1868. So this copy of the 13th Amendment could have been used to help bring awareness to the 14th Amendment’s passing.
This 13th Amendment copy is believed to have hung at the Northampton County Courthouse in Eastville. It may have been displayed with copies of the 14th and 15th amendments to tell enslaved people they were free, that they were guaranteed citizenship of the United States, and that African American men could now vote.
Because this copy was possibly on public display more than 150 years ago and was exposed to the elements, it is not in pristine condition. But appraiser Tim Smith, of Timothy Smith & Sons in Onancock, has worked to preserve it, supporting it with a special archival tape used for documents and framing it under glass to keep it safe.
Now housed at Ker Place for the public to view, it will be kept in a climate-controlled environment and away from dangerous levels of light.