Askew, Adaline (née Harrell)

Ca. 1840 - ????

Blunt got his start as Blunt Poland, carrying the surname of his first enslaver Dick Poland. At some point, Blunt was sold to John O. Askew—a Hertford County farmer who held an astonishing $82,145 in personal wealth and who enslaved one hundred people in 1860—and his surname changed to match that of his new enslaver. On Christmas Eve of that same year Blunt married Adaline Harrell, a enslaved woman then held in bondage by John’s father-in-law Abner Harrell, of Harrellsville in Hertford County. As Blunt was considered a “favorite servant” of John’s, John gave the new couple a wedding, the ceremony being held “in one of the Plantation houses, not in the Master’s dwelling.”

John then formally purchased Adaline from Abner—“solely for the reason that she was married to Blunt” according to John—and built the couple a dwelling house; it was one of at least twenty-four such living quarters constructed on the Askew plantation. The couple went on to have one child, a son named William Blunt Askew (who was named “after and by” Abner Harrell’s son William), born on February 10, 1862.

As part of a group of about eighteen enslaved people, Blunt, Adaline, and their son William left the Askew property one Saturday night in the winter of 1863-1864. Destined for Union lines, the group was piloted by fellow freedom seeker Ross Askew. The course of their escape took them first to a gunboat, which then transported them to Plymouth, North Carolina, where all the men of the group joined the army in March 1864. Blunt was described in military documents as being 5’ 10” tall with black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion. At the time of his enlistment, he was employed as a laborer.

While in Plymouth, Blunt and Adaline were married again, this time by a Chaplain Green (most likely William A. Green, of the 37th USCT) in February 1864. They remarried on the advice of army officers, who told all formerly enslaved couples that their marriages under slave law were not sufficient to guarantee their spouses military pensions in the event of their deaths. Four long months passed between the time of Blunt’s enlistment and his mustering into the 2nd US Colored Cavalry.

The entire party was then sent to Roanoke Island where dependents were eventually left behind as the recruits continued on to Old Point, Virginia. This arrangement didn’t last very long, however, and the women and children, including Adaline and William, eventually joined the recruits at Old Point. Adaline remembered last seeing her husband on a steamer at Hampton Roads, Virginia, as the regiment departed for Texas. Blunt contracted “black scurvy,” or dysentery, and died from the effects in a regimental hospital at White’s Ranch outside of Clarksville, Texas, on August 14, 1865. Adaline learned of his death from a letter penned by Blunt’s captain, John H. Tucker.

In September 1865, she and William were living at 102 Main Street in Hampton, Virginia, and was drawing government rations from nearby Fort Monroe. Following Blunt’s death, she remained principally in Old Point, Virginia, and was residing there up through at least 1876. Their son, William Askew, died circa 1872. About 1874, Adaline took in the five-year-old daughter of Ross Askew, after he lost his wife. Adaline and the girl went to Norfolk and then North Carolina. In 1876, she was residing in Old Point, Virginia.

Adaline is a bit difficult to track in the post-war historical record, and this is likely due to variations in the spelling of her last name (Askie, Askey, etc). She does, however, appear in Freedmen’s Bureau records for pension payments and ration distributions. She also appears in the 1890 veterans census, which tells us that she was living in Phoebus, Virginia (present-day Hampton).

NOTE: Blunt and Adaline’s marriage may have actually taken place on Christmas Eve of 1861. A note by a pension officer reads as follows: “the date of 1861 is fixed because affiant knows her marriage took place before the war[. C]oloured people generally fix the date of the war at the time Federal soldiers first made their appearance among them.”