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Buzzard Pete: 1905

Buzzard Pete: 1905

Charlottesville, Virginia, circa 1905. "Buzzard Pete." Evidently a celebrated figure on the University of Virginia campus, fondly recalled decades later in various alumni publications. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


More on Buzzard Pete

The full name of "Buzzard Pete" was probably Peter Briggs (1828–1912), a man born into slavery who worked for a time as a gardener at the University of Virginia. You can read more about him here.

Friends of Buzzard Pete

I've seen nothing yet that would indicate Buzzard Pete was directly associated with the university. Was he was merely a harmless "local character" that lived nearby and wandered the university grounds where he was befriended by the students? Perhaps.

I'm saddened that some are so quick to assume overt racism here. All I've seen so far is a happy, friendly old black gentleman that found a place in the hearts of the students he met on campus.

Maybe there is more to the story I don't yet know, but I decline to assume the worst.

Buzzard Pete

After seeing this photograph, I did a little digging into Buzzard Pete and especially the ways in which he was "fondly recalled."

Poem to Pete

I couldn't find much about Buzzard Pete on Google, but I did find this:

My bad

I completely missed the Rotunda in the trees at upper right. So that means it is Pavilion IX. Wxman1 is right. The photographer is standing down around Cocke Hall looking up the Lawn. I really miss UVA.

His story?

I would love to know about this man's life. He was obviously born a slave, but still pretty young when the Civil War ended. Life was certainly challenging.

It looks like he is either yawning or singing a high note, because his tongue is down. I would vote for singing, and give an awful lot to be able to hear it!


It's Pavilion IX behind him. He's facing the building housing the Music Library. Pretty sure.

Name that building

With the terraced lawn behind him, this would seem to have been taken on the lawn. But that ain't the rotunda in the background, and I'm not sure it's a pavilion. Can anyone identify that building?

Maybe it's catching on campuses

Ann Arbor's University of Michigan campus celebrated a similar interesting local character named "Shakey Jake" for part of four decades, beginning in the 1960s. He was a singer or dancer, not a yawner.


The pose is somewhat reminiscent of Bill the Cat.

I Wonder

If Buzzard Pete is singing or yawning.

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