Magazine highlights Charleston connection to bronze cast
Charleston's connection to the Statue of Freedom, which stands on top of the U.S. Capitol Dome, will be highlighted when a story about the man who played an essential role in its completion is published in the May/June issue of "Ancestry," a genealogy magazine.
Philip Reid, once a Charleston slave, figured out how to perform the delicate job of separating the plaster model of Freedom and supervised casting its sections in bronze. A number of recent articles on the role of blacks in building the Capitol mention Reid.
"In the days leading up to the inauguration, I started getting calls from the media," said Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-founder of Roots television.com and chief family historian for Ancestry.com. The inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, prompted reporters to ask Smolenyak for information they needed to write roots-oriented stories about slaves who helped to build the Capitol.
An Italian artisan was hired to work on the plaster model sculpted by Thomas Crawford. He assembled the plaster model perfectly, then hiked his fee in 1859 when it was time to separate it and cast it in bronze, Smolenyak said in a phone interview. Clark Mills, a sculptor who owned a foundry used for the project, refused to pay more and gave the job of supervising the work to Reid, the slave he purchased in Charleston.
"There was a lot on him, but not a lot about him as a person," said Smolenyak, who searched for information on what became of Reid after his work on Freedom was done.
The search for Reid
When the family historian Googled for information on Reid, she found some information from the National Archives and Library of Congress on the United States Capitol Historical Society Web site, she says. A document showed that Mills petitioned the federal government for compensation because Reid was freed under the D.C. Emancipation Act. All slaves living in Washington, D.C., were freed April 16, 1862.
Mills, who was born near Syracuse, N.Y., in 1810, settled in Charleston by 1837 and worked as an ornamental plasterer here, according to an article by Anna Wells Rutledge found in the South Carolina Historical Society. In the mid-1840s, he sculpted a bust of John C. Calhoun from a "block of native white free stone procured near Columbia." He was listed in the 1852 Charleston City Directory. He went on to sculpt the life-size statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback that sits in New Orleans' Jackson Square.
In petitioning the government, Mills described Reid as a foundry worker who had been employed for his skills by the government and paid $1.25 per day. Mills described Reid as 42, mulatto, short, in good health, smart and a good workman worth $1,500.
Smolenyak said she located related papers not on the Web.
In those papers, Mills said he purchased Reid as a youth in Charleston for $1,200 because he showed a talent for his business. He went on to say that his papers, which had included his title to Reid, had been burned years before. Normal government reimbursement to those whose slaves were freed under the act was limited to around $300, Smolenyak says. However, she found documentation stating that Reid was ultimately valued at $800.
In life and death
On June 3, 1862, he was spelling his name as Reed and marrying a woman named Jane Brown, according to a marriage register, Smolenyak said. On the register where the marriage is recorded and on every record in which he would have provided his own name, it was spelled as Reed.
A few days after his marriage, June 6, 1862, about seven weeks after he was freed and 18 months before the statue was raised, the federal government paid him $41.25 for "keeping up fires under the moulds" on 33 Sundays between July 1860 and May 1861. The work, believed to have been for Freedom's bronze casting, was performed under Mills' approval and the money issued to "Reid."
In the 1870 Census, Reed was listed as a 50-year-old black male plasterer with a wife named Jane Brown and a son named Henry. However, the record states he was born in Scotland, not South Carolina. Smolenyak thinks someone wrote S.C., the abbreviation for South Carolina, and someone else interpreted that as an abbreviation for Scotland.
In the 1880 Census, she found Reed listed as a 55-year-old black male plasterer, born in South Carolina. He also had a different wife named Mary P. Additionally, the genealogist found him listed in assorted city directories, mostly as a Southwest D.C. resident, around that time.
On Feb. 6, 1892, a death certificate Smolenyak located shows that Reed died in Washington Asylum Hospital. He was described as a colored plasterer, about 75 years old, who had lived in the District of Columbia for 35 years. His birthplace was listed as South Carolina, but no father or mother's name was provided. He had been sick for about a week when he died.
Reed was buried in Graceland Cemetery, a little less than two miles from the Capitol two days after he died. But in 1895, his body was moved to Harmony Cemetery (also known as Harmonia Burial Grounds and Columbian Harmony Cemetery) when the government ordered all bodies removed from there. In 1959, bodies in Harmony, a historically black cemetery, were moved to Harmony Memorial Park in Maryland.
Smolenyak says the exact location of Reed's final resting place within Harmony Memorial Park is unknown.