"He was an on'ry ole cuss..."

That is the line that caught my eye when I was scanning a file on an antebellum slave-made [gaming] table. This assessment came from his own family; so, James B. Daniel was evidently a “character.”

Known to a very young Bill Downer as “Grandpa Jim”, James B. Daniel was born in Orange County on September 19, 1820. Little is known about his early life, only that early in his marriage, he and his young wife set off on horseback for Kentucky. They didn’t like it there and returned, by horseback with their daughter, to Virginia. The Daniel’s home was next to the Downer's farm and Mr. Daniel ran a general store and post office; named after himself - "Daniel."

James B. Daniel was described in the family letter as "an on'ry old cuss who lived to be [nearly] one-hundred and one years old." Daniel sold his store in his later years, lived with Bill Downer's family, and rode horseback until his 100th birthday. He believed in and practiced fasting one day a month, eating only a couple of soda crackers with a cup of Hot Water or Cambric Tea. Basically, it was a mixture of hot water with a bit of sugar and cream. Whether it was the tea, orneriness or farm-living, Grandpa Jim died peacefully in his sleep on December 30, 1920.

The gaming table (photographs) is carved American Walnut and was likely made by slaves on J. B. Daniel's farm in what was called Daniel, Virginia. It has been passed through that family for several generations.

Bill’s mother used the gaming table in the kitchen until a cousin, Katherine Bond Wood rescued the old table, and refinished the wood. Unfortunately, all traces of the game board were removed as a result. {Note: Before "saving" or "rescuing" antiques, check with an appraiser or respected antiques dealer.] After Katherine and her husband Newman died, the table was passed on to a niece, Ms. Frances Alice. In his letter to the museum (August 10, 1985), Bill claims he “shamed” Frances into giving the table to him.

Since the crafter of the table is known to have been enslaved to Mr. Daniel, the table is exhibited in our Black History Exhibit.