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The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

The existence of African slaves in the American South was largely the result of foreign interests and New England slavers importing already-enslaved black people from Africa. With the agricultural expansion of the United States enabled by the Louisiana Purchase, large numbers of laborers were required to work the fields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

“An illicit market in Mobile supported foreign slave trade despite the federal prohibition against it since 1808. Reports appeared occasionally of African natives working in the city. In March 1859, according to the British consul, “twenty wild African Negroes” worked in Mobile. Since these slaves spoke only their native dialect, residents concluded that the slaves were recently imported. Their appearance sparked excitement among the citizens about the foreign slave trade.

Later in 1859 the schooner Clotilde, owned by the Northern-born steamboat builder Timothy Meagher, transported what was reputedly the last cargo of contraband slaves from Africa to the United States. Slavers then transported 116 survivors of this voyage to John Dabney’s plantation on the Alabama River a few miles north of Mobile. Some slave-owners in the area secretly purchased some of the Africans, and the shipowner and captain retained the rest.

Slave ownership remained confined to a small proportion of the free population of Mobile, slightly less than 6 percent in 1830 and 1840. Masters and mistresses came from widely different backgrounds and occupations. In 1860, New Englanders like Thaddeus Sanford, a newspaper publisher turned farmer; Gustavus Horton, a cotton broker; and William, Rix, a merchant, owned slaves. So did foreign-born Mobilians like Israel I. Jones and Jonathan Emanuel, [both] English-born merchants; Ann Yuille, a Scottish baker’s widow; and Albert Stein, a German-born hydraulic engineer.

In 1850, 191 women owned 807 slaves. Women made up nearly 10 percent of large slaveholders, those with 11 or more slaves, in 1850. By renting some of their slaves to local employers, widows received good incomes.

Sarah Barnes, sixth largest slaveowner in Mobile in 1850, presumably rented some of her 52 slaves to others. So did two other women with large slaveholdings in the 1857 city tax book. Eliza Goldthwaite, widow of a former State judge, who claimed 17 slaves, and Sarah Walton, widow of a former mayor of Mobile and mother of Octavia Walton Levert, owned 20 slaves.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, excerpt, pp. 87-89)

 

The Slaves of Connecticut

Fairfield, Connecticut’s black population, both free and enslaved, helped load the ships with Yankee notions, barrel staves, foodstuffs, and rum destined for Africa to trade for yet more slaves. The transatlantic slave trade that New England dominated by 1750 helped the region build and maintain its affluence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Slaves of Connecticut

“Connecticut conducted another census in 1774. With a population of 4863, Fairfield was the eleventh largest town in Connecticut in 1774. The 4863 persons included 4544 whites and 319 blacks, giving Fairfield the highest percentage of black population in the colony.

Fairfield’s growing trade encouraged the growth of its black population. Approximately three out of every four blacks in Fairfield in the 1770’s were slaves. Most of them were men who worked as laborers or household servants; a smaller number of women were household servants; and even a smaller number were children.

Most slaves were denied the pleasure of residing, with or without the benefit of marriage, with a member of the opposite sex. Captain David Judson owned a married couple and their child, but more typical was Hezekiah Gold, who owned four men, “a wench,” a young man, and two boys. Slavery was a luxury that Fairfield came to afford as it became more affluent. Most free blacks in Fairfield worked as laborers, either on the docks or on board ship.”

(Fairfield, The Biography of a Community, Thomas J. Farnham, Fairfield Historical Society, 1988, excerpts, pp. 71-72)

Jefferson’s View of the North’s Slave Trade

Well aware that the perilous “wolf by the ears” predicament facing the United States in his time was greatly the fault of New England’s penchant for slave trading profits, Jefferson saw the North sell its slaves southward and then proclaim themselves “free States” and morally superior to the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Jefferson’s View of the North’s Slave Trade

“Mr. Jefferson’s opposition to slavery was known then, as it is now. Undoubtedly appreciating the fact that slavery, as prevalent then in the South, was extremely expensive to the masters, far more than “slavery” subsequently maintained by the Northern manufacturer, he stated his grievance upon this matter in the original draft of the Declaration [of Independence], but subsequently crossed out this paragraph.

In a courteous, yet Voltaire-like manner, he caustically refers to the slave-trade of the pious Yankee, and, rather than cause a disruption, he omitted that clause from his draft. Thus, while there was chance of earning a few dollars, the North was fully willing to accept the conditions and to continue the [slave] trade. Indeed, when certain Southern States prohibited the importation of slaves, it was New England which arose in defense of that trade.

“Times change and we with them.” After selling their slaves into the South, the same people suddenly changed their minds as to slavery, and, lifting up their hands in horror, described the Southern slave owner as an inhuman brute, a cruel oppressor, etc. The abolition societies and various fanatics, sincere and insincere, voluntary fanatics and paid fanatics, suddenly discovered supposedly crying needs of the “poor, downtrodden black brother,” and by various means and devices, attempted his emancipation. No crime and injustice was omitted in their acts.

And yet, simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, white too, were held in a more inhuman bondage in the North than the black man down South. Living under the most deplorable and miserable conditions, working long hours with hardly enough food to keep body and soul together, that mob of inhumanity was called free!

Truly they were free, free to die!”

(Secession, W.A. Lederer, Philadelphia, Confederate Veteran Magazine, September 1930, excerpt, pg. 338)

Slave Trading and Respected Merchants

Slaver Captain Nathaniel Gordon of Portland, Maine and his ship, the Erie, was captured at the mouth of the Congo River by the USS Mohican in 1860. Loaded with nearly 900 slaves, the Erie was built in Swansea, Massachusetts about 1850, and owned by a New York City business partnership.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Slave Trading and Respected Merchants

“Ironically, an opportunity for strict enforcement of the slave trade laws was available to the United States almost from the beginning, but it meant collaborating with the British. [In 1807] England, the world’s largest slaving nation, outlawed its own slave trade. Britain’s motives were not especially altruistic [and] in reality, the British were trying to protect the commerce of their colonies by denying slave labor to their competitors, chiefly Spain, France, Portugal, Brazil, and the United States.

Had the United States cooperated with Britain at any point, the slave trade would certainly have ended earlier. As it was, the trade flourished throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, as Yankee captains continued to fit out their ships in Providence; New York City; Portland, Maine; Rio; or any of a dozen other sympathetic ports, and sail to the west coast of Africa for slaves. The Brazilian and Cuban markets were strong, the risks low, and the potential for profits enormous.

Meanwhile, the record of convictions in the courts was as poor as that of seizures at sea. In New York City, where most of the prosecutions took place, only one-sixth of those indicted were convicted. The rest were either acquitted, forfeited bail, escaped from custody, or were released because of hung juries or the court’s unwillingness to prosecute.

From 1837 to 1861 (when Captain [Nathaniel] Gordon alone made at least four slaving voyages), around 125 accused slave traders – officers and crewmen – were prosecuted in New York City; only 20 were given prison sentences, averaging two years apiece. Of these men, 10 received presidential pardons, and 3 more – indicted for capital crimes under the piracy act of 1820 – were allowed to plead to lesser charges. One was briefly convicted of piracy, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. Clearly, no one in power wanted to hang a man for trafficking in slaves.

[In 1846, the] USS Boxer seized the Malaga, a ship fitted out with all the obvious goods and accoutrements for slaving and chartered to a known Brazilian slave trader. A New England judge ruled that there was nothing illegal about selling goods to a slaver, the charges were dropped, and the Malaga immediately left port on another slaving voyage.

New York had been a slaving city from its inception as a small Dutch settlement. The West India Company delivered eleven Brazilian slaves to tiny New Amsterdam in 1626 . . . New York saw its first slave revolt in 1712, when an armed group of slaves murdered nine whites. Retribution was swift and savage: the gallows claimed thirteen, while three were burned at the stake, one was broken at the wheel, one was starved to death, and another was cooked over a slow fire for an entire day.

Whether in the Caribbean, West Africa, or Madagascar trade, there were always New York slave ships, financed by New York capital. The slave traders were well known to the city’s business community; some ranked among the city’s most prominent members of society, frequently meeting at such places as the Astor House hotel to plan their voyages. The money behind their expeditions was provided secretly by many of New York’s most respected merchants.’

(Hanging Captain Gordon, The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, Ron Soodalter, Atria Books, 2006, excerpts, pp. 7-9; 43; 70-71)

New York Slaveholding Brought Comfort and Prestige

New York is properly referred to as a former slave State — slaveholding there did not end until the late 1820’s, though the children of slaves remained in bondage for many years after. Rather than lose their investment, New Yorkers sold their chattel to plantations in the South before the deadline. Additionally, the small free-black population which remained in New York found themselves proscribed by Jim Crow laws which erected a minimum property ownership in order to vote, which effectively disenfranchised them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New York Slaveholding Brought Comfort and Prestige

“New York was slow in drawing white settlers until after mid [18th] century, and the shortage of labor led to a considerable use of slaves; indeed it is possible that in the early Dutch days it was slave labor that enabled the colony to survive. Most of the first slaves were not from Africa but were re-imported from Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.

It was a profitable system: in the 1640’s it cost only a little more to buy a slave than to pay a free worker’s wage for a year. After the English took control of New Netherland in 1664, a brisk and highly profitable trade in skilled slaves was carried on. Most slaveholders in the province were flourishing small farmers or small artisans who, in the absence of an adequate supply of free labor, needed moderately skilled help, and were able to pay the rising prices for slaves.

A partial census of 1755 showed a widely diffused slave population, most owners having only one or two slaves, only seven New Yorkers owning ten or more. Among the largest lots held were those of the elder Lewis Morris with 66 slaves on his large estate and the first Frederick Philipse, an affluent landowner, with about 40.

Such men could work gangs of slaves on their manors, but slaves were also sought by other wealthy men for the comfort and prestige a substantial staff of domestic servants would bring. William Smith, for example, was reputed to keep a domestic staff of 12 or more to run his New York City household, and other leading citizens travelled with Negro footmen.

From the first the competition of black labor was resented by whites. Competition in the labor market was intensified by the slave owners’ widespread practice of putting out their slaves for hire, under-cutting white laborers who were paid twice the slaves’ wages.

Slave controls, reflecting persistent nervousness in the white population, were quite rigid. Aside from private punishments that could be administered by masters, such public controls were meant to put sharp limits on the temptations slaves would face. After 1702, flogging was prescribed if three slaves gathered together on their own time . . . nor could they engage in trade without their master’s consent.”

(America at 1750, a Social Portrait, Richard Hofstadter, Vintage Books, 1973, excerpt, pp. 99-101)

New England Rules and Saves!

New England opposed the 1812 war with England by refusing troops and supplying the enemy; their Hartford Convention of 1814 would have led to its secession from the United States. Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans ended that war before New England seceded. One can see in the War Between the States the rematch of Jeffersonian Republicanism versus New England Federalists, with the latter returned to power in Washington in 1861.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Rules and Saves!

“In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President by the combined votes of the middle States, the coastal South and he Southern highlands, against the entrenched opposition of New England which still strongly supported [John] Adams.

This new Jeffersonian coalition of Virginia, Pennsylvania and the backcountry was destined to dominate American politics for a quarter-century (1801-1825). Its ideology was a complex and unstable combination of three different ideas of liberty, which derived not from “classic republicanism” in Europe but from the inherited folkways of British America.

Jeffersonians in the middle and northern States believed in reciprocal liberty; the backcountry thought more in terms of natural liberty; Tidewater Virginians drew upon their heritage of hegemonic liberty. The Republican leaders – Jefferson himself, Madison and Gallatin – had their own highly-developed principles. Together they created a pluralist libertarian movement.

But even as Jefferson espoused different libertarian ideals, they all opposed New England’s idea of ordered liberty, which most Americans believed was a contradiction in terms. The major legislation of the Adams presidency was repealed: the Alien Friends Act, the Sedition Act, the Naturalization Act, the Bankruptcy Act of 1800, the Judiciary Act of 1801, and the new tax measures were all overturned.

Support for [Adam’s] Federal party dwindled everywhere except New England. The purchase of Louisiana (1803) and the annexation of West Florida (1810) vastly enlarged the backcountry, and promised to shift the balance of regional power toward the South and West.

Now it was New England’s turn to think about disunion. In the period from 1804 to 1814, a separatist movement gathered strength in that region . . . [with] sermons and town meetings which talked of God’s Providence for his chosen people. Yankee children were taught to sing (to the tune of Rule Britannia!): “Rule, New England! New England rules and saves!”

The Federalist leader Fisher Ames believed that New England was “of all the colonies that were ever founded, the largest, the most assimilated, and to use the modern jargon, nationalized, the most respectable and prosperous, the most truly interesting to America and humanity, more unlike and more superior to other people (the English excepted).”

New England Republicans shared this nascent sense of Yankee nationalism. James Winthrop, for example, praised the determination of New Englanders to “keep their blood pure.” He added, . . .“the eastern States have, by keeping separate from the foreign mixtures, acquired their present greatness in a century and a half, and have preserved their religion and morals.”

(Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 844-845)

New England Puritans and Slavery

Many Puritans departed New England for the South to avoid the oncoming rush of secular Unitarianism. These New Englanders were no strangers to slavery; they had previously conquered and enslaved the Pequot tribe while appropriating their lands, and sent expeditions to the Cape Fear in the late 1600’s. After befriending local Indians who entrusted their children to Puritan care – the children were sent to West Indian slave markets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Puritans and Slavery

“Into this rich coastal strip came Puritan settlers establishing a remarkable community.  It seemed a strange place for Puritans – one usually thinks of them along New England’s rocky shore or among snow covered valleys – but these Puritans had been wanderers, restlessly seeking the right place for their commonwealth.  Their ancestors had left Dorchester, England, in 1630 for Massachusetts, settling there for five years before moving on to Connecticut where they had remained for sixty years.

In 1695 a colony had left for South Carolina.  There beneath the great oaks and beside the black waters of the Ashley River they had laid out their village and built their meetinghouse.  As with most good Puritans, they had prospered – in spite of a sickly climate – so that within two generations there had been a need for new land.

Commissioners were sent to Georgia and, after some negotiations, a grant of over 31,000 acres had been secured.  In this way a colony of 350 whites accompanied by their 1,500 slaves began in 1752 a southward trek to what would become Liberty County.

These wandering Puritans found the Georgia coast a good place to settle and to at last send down deep roots.  The rich soil and the tidal rivers offered ample opportunity for the cultivation of rice and sea-island cotton.  Yet as God-fearing Calvinists, they were aware of the seductions of such a rich wilderness, and they immediately set about establishing an organized community.

They declared that they had a “greater regard to a compact Settlement and Religious Society than future temporal advantages.”  “We are sensible,” they wrote in the Articles of Incorporation, “to the advantages of good order and social agreement, among any people, both for their Civil and Religious Benefit . . .”

They would not be lonely pioneers facing the wilderness on their own, but members of a well-ordered community.  For these Puritan settlers, the government of such a community would consist of two coordinate branches: the Church and the Society.  The Church would be governed by the male communing members who would administer spiritual affairs; the Society would be composed of all males who would subscribe to the Articles of Incorporation, whether they were communing members of the Church or not, and would administer temporal affairs.

If this were not a “Holy Commonwealth,” it was clearly a Christian Society they wished to establish on the Georgia coast – and not, incidentally, it was just as clearly a society to be governed by white males.”

(“Wrestlin’ Jacob: A Portrait of Religion in Antebellum Georgia and the Carolina Low Country,” Erskine Clarke, University of Alabama Press, 1999, excerpts, pp 4-5)

 

An 1830 View of Slavery in the South

The following extract is from Robert Y. Hayne’s 1830 debate with Daniel Webster of the slave-trading State of Massachusetts, on the nature of the federal union. As is seen below, Hayne distinctly delineates the origin of African slavery in the Southern States, who profited from the nefarious trade, and those who did their Christian best with what they had inherited from the British colonial labor system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An 1830 View of Slavery in the South

“Sir, when arraigned before the bar of public opinion on this charge of slavery, we can stand up with conscious rectitude, plead not guilty, and put ourselves upon God and our country. We deal in no abstractions. We will not look back to inquire whether our fathers were guiltless in introducing slaves to this country.

If an inquiry should ever be instituted in these matters, however, it will be found that the profits of the slave trade were not confined to the South. Southern ships and Southern sailors were not the instruments of bringing slaves to the shores of America, nor did our merchants reap the profits of that “accursed traffic.” But, sir, we will pass over all this.

If slavery, as it now exists in this country be an evil, we of the present found it ready made to our hands. Finding our lot cast among a people, whom God had manifestly committed to our care, we did not sit down to speculate on abstract questions of theoretical liberty. We met it as a practical question of obligation and duty.

We resolved to make the best of the situation in which Providence had placed us, and to fulfill the high trust which had developed upon us as the owners of slaves, in the only way in which such a trust could be fulfilled without spreading misery and ruin throughout the land.

We could not send them back to the shores from whence their fathers had been taken; their numbers forbade the thought, even as we did not know that their condition here is infinitely preferable to what it possibly could be among the barren sands and savage tribes of Africa . . .

[With the false philanthropy of Northern abolitionists and the] shedding of tears over sufferings which had existence only in their own sickly imaginations, these “friends of humanity” set themselves systematically to work to seduce the slaves of the South from their masters.

By means of missionaries and political tracts, the scheme was in great measure successful. Thousands of these deluded victims of fanaticism were seduced into the enjoyment of freedom in our Northern cities. And what has been the consequence?

Go to these cities now, and ask the question. Visit the dark and narrow lanes, and obscure recesses, which have been assigned by common consent as the abodes of those outcasts of the world — free people of color. Sir, there does not exist, on the face of the whole earth, a population so poor, so wretched, so vile, so loathsome, so utterly destitute of all the comforts, conveniences and comforts of life as the unfortunate blacks of Philadelphia, and New York and Boston.

Sir, I have had some opportunities of making comparisons between the condition of the free Negroes of the North and the slaves of the South . . . Sir, I have seen in the neighborhood of one of the most moral, religious and refined cities of the North, a family of free blacks, driven to the caves of the rock, and there obtaining a precarious subsistence from charity and plunder.”

(Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830; The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, excerpts, pp. 44-46.)

 

 

Slaves and the South

Southern uneasiness regarding slavery agitation had its origins in the murderous Haitian and Santo Domingo slave revolts, and Northern abolitionist encouragement of slave insurrection in the South, culminating in Nat Turner’s 1831 terrorism and John Brown’s attack. In contrast to their strenuous efforts to incite violent slave uprisings, the abolitionists never advanced a peaceful and practical solution to the slavery they abhorred.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Slaves and the South

“Abolitionist assertions that the bondsmen were frequently inadequately clothed, underfed and driven to death are economically unreasonable. Masters wished to preserve the health and life of their slaves because a sick Negro was a liability and a dead Negro was worth nothing. A rude plenty prevailed on the average plantation.

“The best preventative of theft is plenty of pork,” was the advice of a Virginian. Kindliness and patience, frequently extended even to a tolerance of slackness in every concern not vital to routine, created a degree of contentment among the slaves to keep them docile. Although Jefferson had declared “the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions,” Harriet Martineau sympathized with the masters.

She wrote: “Nothing struck me more than the patience of the slave-owners . . . with their slaves.” Travelers often wondered who were the actual victims of the slave system.

Despite abolitionist allegations to the contrary, flights and revolts were infrequent. Fear that they should become general led the South to introduce ruthless laws for the apprehension of the absconders and federal legislation to protect their institution.

Actually, however, the thousands of slaves who ran away formed but a slight portion comprising the total slave population. During the several decades of its existence only some 75,000 Negroes used the underground railroad, which was organized to aid them in their attempt to reach Canada.

Flights were prompted by various causes. Some slaves undoubtedly ran away because they were talented or sensitive mulattoes who desired freedom. Others wished to escape from barbarous punishments peculiar to the slave system. Many fled . . . not to escape slavery but to return to their families and former homes. Some strayed for reasons not associated with slavery; they became tramps or vagabonds or fugitives from deserved punishments and crimes. Most slaves, unlike migratory free Negroes of a later generation, did not move from their original homes.”

(The South Old and New, A History, 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 46-47)

May 7, 2017 - Antebellum Realities, Foreign Viewpoints, New England History, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on Sly, Grinding, Selfish and Tricking People

Sly, Grinding, Selfish and Tricking People

This detached foreign opinion of antebellum New Englanders reveals the deep cultural chasm between the sections in antebellum times, and somewhat persistent to this day as the North has nearly accomplished its avowed postwar purpose of repopulating the South with its people, mannerisms and traditions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sly, Grinding, Selfish and Tricking People

“I heard an Englishman, who had been long resident in America, declare that in the following, in meeting, or in overtaking, in the street, on the road, or in the field, at the theatre, the coffee-house, or the home, he had never overheard Americans conversing without the word DOLLAR being pronounced between them. Such unity of purpose, such sympathy of feeling, can, I believe, be found nowhere else, except perhaps in an ant’s nest.

The result is exactly what might be anticipated. This sordid object, forever before their eyes, must inevitably produce a sordid tone of mind, and, worse still, it produces a seared and blunted conscience on all questions of probity. I know not a more striking evidence of the low tone of morality which is generated by this universal pursuit of money than the manner in which the New England States are described by Americans.

All agree in saying that they present a spectacle of industry and prosperity delightful to behold, and this is the district and the population most constantly quoted as the finest specimen of their admirable country; yet I never met a single individual in any part of the Union who did not paint these New Englanders as sly, grinding, selfish, and tricking.

The Yankees (as the New Englanders are called) will avow these qualities themselves with a complacent smile, and boast that no people on earth can match them in over-reaching in a bargain. I have heard them unblushingly relate stories of their cronies and friends, which, if believed among us, would banish the heroes from the fellowship of honest men forever . . . yet the Americans declare that “they are the most moral persons on earth.”

(America Through British Eyes, Allan Nevins, editor, Oxford University Press, 1948, excerpt, pp. 136-137)

 

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