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Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 1850-1861


Edited By Michael E. Karpyn

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865, killing nearly 700,000 Americans and costing the country untold millions of dollars. The events of this tragic war are so steeped in the collective memory of the United States and so taken for granted that it is sometimes difficult to take a step back and consider why such a tragic war occurred. To consider the series of events that led to this war are difficult and painful for students and teachers in American history classrooms. Classroom teachers must possess the appropriate pedagogical and historical resources to provide their students with an appropriate and meaningful examination of this challenging time period. Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 18501861 will attempt to provide these resources and teaching strategies to allow for the thoughtful inquiry, evaluation and assessment of this critical, complex and painful time period in American history.

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3. Through the Heart: “Jim Brown” and the Murder of Dr. Walter Alves Norwood in Henderson County, Kentucky (Emily D. Moses)


Emily D. Moses

On April 1, 1860, just south of Henderson, Kentucky, Dr. Walter Alves Norwood lay on the ground of his stable, dead. Moments prior, a runaway slave, known to those in the town as “Jim Brown,” pulled a gun on the doctor and “shot [him] through the left breast,” through the heart (Major, 1861). What pushed Jim Brown to murder a respected white male of the Henderson County community? All evidence points towards one reason: slavery.

Born in North Carolina, Walter Norwood attended the University of North Carolina to study medicine (Dialectic Society, 1890, p. 70). Some years later, Dr. Norwood, moved to Henderson County, Kentucky. He served the city of Henderson with the practice of Dr. Robert P. Letcher; they grew the office to be the largest in the city. By 1856, Dr. Norwood had married Mary Lambert, with whom he later had two children (Mary Lambert, 1856). The new family retreated to the country to raise their children, open a private practice, and cultivate crops. Like most white people in Kentucky, Dr. Norwood owned slaves. At the time of his death in 1860, Norwood was well respected in the county, partly to do with his medical practice. So how did the county physician die at the hands of a runaway slave? It is likely he was at the wrong place at the wrong time; however, his death should not shock historians. Tension over the abolition of slavery meant that any...

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