John Woodford (38th USCT)

John Woodford (Woodfork, Woodfolk) was born into slavery in November 1840 in Albemarle County, Virginia, to Armstead and Lucy Woodfork. Later in life, he recalled having been born on a plantation named Aspen Grove. By the late antebellum era, his owner was Dr. James B. Rogers, whose plantation was called Bleak House and was located near Earlysville, Virginia. In 1860, Rogers owned at least 41 slaves. 

Woodford escaped from slavery at some point during the war, possibly during Union General George Custer's raid through Albemarle County on February 28, 1864. He enlisted in the Union army on March 7, 1865, in Washington, D.C., for a period of one year, and he mustered in as a private in Company E of the 38th USCT Infantry Regiment soon afterward. His enlistment records describe him as 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with black hair, black eyes, and a "copper" complexion. He described himself as a "laborer." He served as a substitute for Frederick Schaffer, an employee at the Washington Navy Yard.

The 38th USCT took part in the Siege of Petersburg and occupied Richmond in April 1865. Woodford, however, served on detached duty from March 7, 1865 until September 21, and it is unclear whether he participated in the campaign. He mustered out at Brazos Santiago, Texas, on March 8, 1866.

Following the war, Woodford returned to Washington, D.C., where he married Harriet Landonia Burke (Burk) on September 25, 1869, with a Reverend Leonard serving as the officiant. The couple had five children: Mary Elizabeth, born October 10, 1870; Augustus, born September 1871; Carolyn S., born June 25, 1873; John Woodford, born December 24, 1875; and Eugene Burke, born June 6, 1876. While living in Washington, Woodford worked as a messenger for the Supreme Court. By the time of his death in 1929, he was believed to be the oldest employee of the Supreme Court, having worked there for 53 years.

He applied for a pension on May 16, 1891, citing his "disease of throat, rheumatism, and disease of heart." By 1894, a physician had added asthma to Woodford's list of ailments. The government awarded him $12 per month in 1891, and the amount increased to $24 per month by November 1919. According to J. M. Wright, a marshal for the Supreme Court, Woodford had heart issues, fainted after lifting heavy objects, and was only able to continue serving by opening and closing doors as a doorkeeper. Woodford died on July 2, 1929, after a prolonged illness that required constant care. His official cause of death was arterio-sclerois, though he also suffered from senility and gangrene. At the time of his death, he was being cared for by his daughter, Elizabeth, who inherited his home.


Testimony of Mr. J. M. Wright on behalf of John Woodford

John Woodford Obituary

Name:Woodford, John
Alternative names:
  • Woodfolk, John (alternative name)
  • Woodfork, John (alternative name)
  • Soldier
  • Substitute
38th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored TroopsE
Branch of service:Army
Enlistment1865-03-08Washington, DCaccepted21Unknown
Muster Out1866-03-08Brazos Santiago, TXMustered Out
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:Private
Rank Out:Private
Highest rank achieved:Private
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Woodford, JohnWoodford, John924591application-invalid
Woodford, JohnWoodford, John676441certificate-invalid
Woodford, Johnnoneapplication-minor
Woodford, Johnnoneapplication-parent
Woodford, Johnnoneapplication-widow
Birth date:1844-11
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Aspen Grove Albemarle County, VA
Death date:1929-07-02
Death place:Washington, DC
Causes of death:disease: senility, disease: arteriosclerosis
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Woodford, Johnparent ofWoodford, Mary Elizabeth
Woodford, Johnparent ofWoodford, John
Woodford, Johnparent ofWoodford, Augustus
Woodford, Johnparent ofWoodford, Carolyn S.
Woodford, Johnparent ofWoodford, Eugene Burke
Woodford, Johnsubstitute forSchaffer, Frederick
Woodford, Harriet Burkewife ofWoodford, John
Rogers, James B.owner ofWoodford, John

We are grateful to Alice Cannon, a member of the Central Virginia History Reachers Group, for sharing her research on John Woodford with us.

Compiled Service Records for John Woodford, RG94, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; Pension Records for John Woodford, RG15, NARA, Washington, D.C.; United States Federal Census Records, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930; Washington, D.C., Wills and Probate Records, 1737-1952 for John L Woodford, accessed through; Frederick A. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, vol. 3; "Bleak House Plantation," African-American Families Database,; "Bleak House Plantation: African American population," African-American Families Database,