Keeper Bio: White, Exum

Exum White – Photo Courtesy Andre Kearns

Date of Service: 1881-1883

1829:  Exum White is born a free man in Nansemond County, VA. to Meredith & Parma Small White.

1840:  Adaline Reed (Reid) is born in Virginia.

1850:  In the US Census, Exum White (age 20) lives on the property of James & Lucy Norfleet in Nansemond County, VA. and works as a labor.

1858: Exum White marries Adaline Reid in Virginia. They go on to have 11 children.

1859:  On October 10th, Exum White registered with Peter B. Prentis, Clerk of Court, Nansemond County, VA. as a free person.

1860:  In the US Census, Exum White (age 30), lives with his wife Adaline (age 16) and two children in Nansemond County, VA. His real estate is Valued at $400, and his personal property is valued at $50.

1862:  In January, the Magistrate of Nansemond County, VA., sentences Exum White and 100 other colored men to work on the rebel works on the railroad near Manassas for 60 days. He works by compulsion and receives no pay. He later becomes sick and is sent home. He later works on Union fortifications around Suffolk for 2 – 3 months.

1862:  In October, a Lieutenant and 8 privates belonging to the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry confiscate 10 hogs and hundreds of fencing rails from Exum White to take back to their camp.

1867:   On October 22, Exum White and other African American men, vote in Virginia for the first time.

1871:   Exum White lives in Nansemond County, with his wife and children, where he works as a farmer. He is awarded $390 from the US Government for property seized by the Union Army in October 1862.

1875:  Exum White is approved to organize the Colored Mechanics & Laborers Union by the Second District of Virginia.

1880:  In the US Census, Exum White (age 51), lives with his wife Adaline (age 38), along with their 10 children in Nansemond County, VA. His occupation is listed as laborer.

1881-1882: Exum White serves as Assistant Keeper at Nansemond River Lighthouse, VA. His annual salary was $420/year.

1882-1883: Exum White serves as Principal Keeper at Nansemond River Lighthouse, VA. His annual salary was $540/year.

1885: Exum White is elected President of the Republican Club of Suffolk, VA.

1886:  In Suffolk, VA., Exum White is elected as delegate to the county convention, which would then send delegates to the Norfolk convention.

1893:  The town of Suffolk charges Exum White with “allowing a hog to run at large on the streets.” He is charged $1.50 in costs.

1894: Exum White is elected warden of Silver Queen Lodge, No. 1495 Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows (colored men).

1902:  As a member of the Negro Industrial & Agricultural Society, Exum White submits a letter to the state of Virginia contesting the constitutionality of the suffrage clause of the new Virginia Constitution.

1908:  Annual Communication of the Prince Hall Freemasons of Virginia list Exum White as a member (suspended).

1909:  Although no death records have been located, it is very likely Exum White died in 1909, as his name was no longer listed in the annual Freemason communications. He was also not listed in the 1910 US Census.

 Keeper Exum White Anecdotes:

In 1871, Exum White filed a claim to the Commissioners of Claims for The Union Army taking 10 hogs and 3000 pine rails from Exum White, during the Civil War. One of those questions was “Were you ever, in any capacity, in the military or naval service of the so-called Confederate States, or any State or territory subordinate thereto?” The following is an excerpt from a deposition given by Exum White, in his own words in response to that question.

In January 1862, the magistrate of Nansemond County summoned me and about a hundred other colored men to meet them at the Court House. When we got there they enticed us to work on the railroad near Manassas for 60 days. They kept me there at work 70 days, and a good many got sick and they sent us home on sick leave. I never went back and never did another stroke of work for them afterwards. They gave me no pay for the work I did – & it was the first and last time I did for them and that was done only because they drove me to do it. I could not help myself.

In regard to the taking of his property:

I owned a farm, which I worked at the time, near Suffolk. In October 1862, a Lieutenant and eight privates belonging to the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Colonel Shear, came there in a wagon. The Lieutenant was on horseback and the men in the wagon. They said that the soldiers must have something fresh and that they were ordered by their Colonel to come and take my hogs. I said, if you take the hogs how am I to feed my children. They answered the soldiers must be fed anyhow. I made no further comonstance (?). There were ten hogs in a pen. One was way large and weighed over two hundred pounds. The others would average 100 pounds a piece. They were splendid pork all ready for killing. Pork was sold in Suffolk at 30 cents a pound on the hoof. They tied the hogs, put them in the wagon and drove to their camp, and that is the last I ever saw of them. They said nothing about pay, and I did not ask for any receipt. I supposed it was no use. The camp of this regiment was about three or four hundred yards from my place. They were there some twelve months ending in the summer of 1863. During that time they were continually carrying my fencing into camp for fuel and to build quarters. I saw them doing nearly every day, and they kept on at it until they carried off the last piece. They were new pinen rails. I had lately bought them. There was three thousand of them. I gave $20 a thousand for them.  I never made any application before for pay from the Government. I do not know of any other material facts in regard to the taking of them the hogs, or rails.

Exum White was reimbursed by the Federal Government, $330 for the 10 hogs, and $60 for the 3000 pine rails.

 Sources: Chesapeake Chapter Keeper’s Database;;, “Virginia, Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880”, database, FamilySearch ( : 4 May 2020), Exum White, 1871-1880; The Norfolk Landmark, August 26, 1886, The Norfolk Virginian, December 8, 1893, Andre Kearns, g-g-g-grandson of Exum White,, retrieved February 5, 2022


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