The New England colonies (and later States) of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, were primarily responsible for perpetuating African slavery in North America as their shipping interests brought slaves from the Gold Coast. Beginning in the early 1800s, Massachusetts mills depended on slave-produced cotton from the South and Manhattan banks provided easy credit for planters, both Southern and Northern, to expand their plantations. For more on the history of slaves in the North, see “North of Slavery” by Leon Litwack (University of Chicago Press, 1861).
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Slavery Up North
“[The North’s] . . . teachers, its preachers, its writers, its orators, its philosophers, its politicians, have with one voice, and that a mighty voice, been for a hundred years instilling into its mind the un-contradicted doctrine that the South brought the Negro here and bound him in slavery; that the South kept the Negro in slavery; that to perpetuate this enormity the South plunged the nation in war and attempted to destroy the Union; that the South still desires the re-establishment of slavery, and that meantime it oppresses the Negro, defies the North, and stands a constant menace to the Union.
The great body of Northern people, bred on this food, never having heard any other relation, believes this implicitly, and all the more dangerously because honestly. If they are wrong and we right, it behooves us to enlighten them.
There are a multitude of men and women at the North who do not know that slavery ever really existed at the North. They may accept it historically in a dim, sort of theoretical way, as we accept the fact that men and women were once hanged for forgery or for stealing a shilling; but they do not take it as a vital fact.
Massachusetts has the honor of being the first community in America to legalize the slave-trade and slavery by legislative act; the first to send out a slave-ship, and the first to secure a fugitive slave law. Slavery having been planted here, not by the South as has been reiterated until it is the generally received doctrine, but by a Dutch ship which in 1619 landed a cargo of [20 Negroes] in a famished condition at Jamestown . . .
Indeed it flourished here and elsewhere, so that in 1636, only sixteen years later, a ship, the Desire, was built and fitted out at Marblehead as a slaver and thus became the first American slave-ship, but by no means the last. In the early period of the institution, it was . . .
Justified to on the ground that the slaves were heathen, conversion to Christianity might operate to emancipate them. In Virginia, the leading Southern colony . . . Negroes are shown by church records, to have been baptized.
In Massachusetts at that time, baptism was expressly prohibited. Many of the good people of Massachusetts, in their zeal and their misapprehension of the facts, have been accustomed to regard their own skirts as free from all taint of the accursed doctrine of property in human beings. In Mr. Sumner’s famous speech in the Senate, June 28, 1854, he boldly asserted that “in all her annals no person was ever born a slave on the soil of Massachusetts . . .”
The fugitive slave law . . . which is generally believed to have been the product of only Southern cupidity and brutality, had its prototype in the Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies of New England (19th May, 1643), in which Massachusetts was the ruling colony.
It was not at the South, but at the North in Connecticut, that Prudence Crandall was, for teaching colored girls, subjected to persecution as barbarous as it was persistent. After being sued and pursued by every process of law which a New England community could devise, she was finally driven forth into exile in Kansas.
She opened her school in Canterbury, Connecticut in April 1833 . . . [and] the town-meeting promptly voted to “petition for a law against the bringing of colored people from other towns and States for any purpose . . .”
In May an act prohibiting private schools for non-resident colored persons and for the expulsion of the latter was procured from the legislature amid great rejoicing in Canterbury, even to the ringing of church bells.”
(The Old South, Essays Social and Political, Thomas Nelson Page, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896, excerpts, pp. 287-298)