Browsing "Emancipation"

The Party of Slave Insurrections

That John Brown was encouraged, armed and financed by wealthy Northern supporters, and the torrent of Northern sympathy that followed his hanging, convinced Southerners that there was no peaceful future with neighbors who would unleash race war upon them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Party of Slave Insurrections

“Then John Brown, after raising a considerable sum of money in Boston and elsewhere and obtaining a supply of arms, on Sunday, October 16, 1859, started on his mission. With a force of seventeen whites and five negroes, he captured the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, expecting the slaves to rise and begin the massacre of the white slaveholders. The military was able to prevent that, and Brown was tried and executed. Then, throughout the North, John Brown was said to have gone straight to heaven – a saint!

In the Senate, Stephen A. Douglas, pursuant to the Constitution, introduced a bill to punish those people who seek to incite slave insurrections. “Abraham Lincoln, in his speech at New York City, declared it was a seditious speech” – “his press and party hooted at it.” “It received their jeers and jibes.” (See page 663, Stephen’s Pictorial History).

Then came the election of President. The party of negro insurrections swept the Northern States. The people of the South had realized the possible results. With the people and the State governments of the North making a saint of a man who had planned and started to murder the slaveholders – the whites of the South – and the Northern States all going in favor of that party which protected those engaged in such plans, naturally there were in every Southern State those who thought it best to guard against such massacres by separating from those States where John Brown was deified.

When the news came that Lincoln was elected, the South Carolina Legislature, being in session, called a State Convention. When the Convention met, it withdrew from the Union. In its declaration it said: “Those States have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until now it has secured to its aid the power of the common government.”

[In late August 1862] . . . Lincoln thought that by threatening to free the negroes at the South he might help his prospects in the war. There were those [in Chicago] who deemed it a barbarity to start an insurrection of the negroes. The French paper at New York said: “Does the Government at Washington mean to say that, on January 1, it will call for a servile war to aid in the conquest of the South? And after the negroes have killed all the whites, the negroes themselves must be drowned in their own blood.”

Charles Sumner in his speech at Faneuil Hall said of Southern slaveholders: “When they rose against a paternal government, they set an example of insurrection. They cannot complain if their slaves, with better reason, follow it.” And so the North was for the insurrection! It was feared that the Government would not seek to prevent John Brown insurrections, and the better to guard against them, the cotton States withdrew from the Union.”

(A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-65, Captain S.A. Ashes, Raleigh, NC, 1935, pp. 46-47)

Those Yankees!

Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, proposed the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory (belonging to Virginia) though Congress failed to approve the plan by one vote. “Thus,” Jefferson wrote, “we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment.” Seven years later, a Massachusetts man invented the cotton gin that inspired New England mill owners.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Those Yankees!

“If it hadnt been for cotton and Yankee inventiveness, chattel slavery would have died a natural death in the South, as it did in the North, long before the [War Between the States]. In the years following the Revolution, the accent throughout the Colonies was on freedom. More and more leaders in the South were speaking out against slavery and being listened to with respect.

In 1791 William and Mary College conferred the degree of LL.D on Granville Sharp, a noted Abolitionist from England. As late as 1832, a bill to provide for the emancipation of slaves was passed by one House of the Virginia Legislature and defeated in the other by only one vote. Manumission societies were springing up everywhere.

The movement wasn’t exactly a matter of ethics. It was mostly economic. Tobacco and indigo and rice just couldn’t support a wasteful slave economy. There was cotton and the South could grow a lot of it . . . but getting out the pesky seed killed off the profit.

A program of gradual emancipation under which the children of slave parents were to be freed at the age of 25 was gaining momentum when a Yankee school-teacher down in Georgia by the name of Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The year was 1791. Everyone went cotton crazy and slavery, instead of dying out, was tremendously expanded. Many Southern States passed laws forbidding manumission. Those Yankees!

Virginia was our first slave State . . . and the biggest. During the War, forty-eight counties in western Virginia split off from Virginia and remained loyal to the Union with a slave population of 18,371.

All the Negroes were not slaves. There were 260,000 free Negroes in the South owning property valued at more than $25,000,000. About one in every one-hundred of these owned Negro slaves. Most of them owned just two or three but there were some big Negro slave-owners too.  Cypian Ricard, of Macon [Georgia], had a big plantation and 91 slaves. Charles Roges had 47 and Marie Metoyer had 58. The richest man and the biggest slave-owner in Jefferson County. Virginia, was a Negro.

Negroes were in business in the South too, other than farming. Solomon Humphries of Macon, was the town’s leading grocer. Jehu Jones was proprietor of one of Charleston’s best hotels. Thomy Lafon down in New Orleans, was worth half a million dollars. He contributed so much to the city the State legislature ordered a bust to be carved and set up in a public building in his honor.”

(My Old Kentucky Home, Chapter XVI, W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, pp. 38-39)

 

Aug 20, 2016 - America Transformed, Emancipation, Lincoln Revealed, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Race and the South    Comments Off on Lincoln Palming Off Freedmen to the Danish West Indies

Lincoln Palming Off Freedmen to the Danish West Indies

In the official letter below, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin advises his diplomat in Brussels of an agreement between Denmark and the United States, and his suspicion that Lincoln would remove slaves captured in the South to the Danish West Indies. Lincoln was well-known to hold views deporting Africans from the US to other countries.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln Palming Off Freedmen to the Danish West Indies

From:

Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State

No. 4, Department of State, Richmond, August 14, 1862

To:

Honorable Dudley Mann, etc., Brussels, Belgium.

Sir:

We are informed that an arrangement has been recently concluded between the Government of the United States and that of Denmark for transferring to the Dutch colonies in the West Indies, Africans who may be captured from slavers and brought into the United States.

We are not informed of the precise terms of this agreement, and can, of course, have no objection to offer to its execution if confined to the class of persons above designated—that is, to Africans released by the United States from vessels engaged in the slave trade in violation of laws and treaties. It has been, however, suggested to the President that under cover of this agreement the United States may impose upon the good faith of the government of Denmark, and make it the unwitting and innocent participant in the war now waged against us.

The recent legislation of the Congress of the United States and the action of its military authorities, betray the design of converting the war into a campaign of indiscriminate robbing and murder. I inclose herewith a letter of the President to the General-in-Chief commanding our armies, and a general order on the subject of the conduct of Major General Pope now commanding the enemy’s forces in northern Virginia, that you may form some faint idea of the atrocities which are threatened.

The act of Congress of the United States decreeing the confiscation of the property of all persons engaged in what that law terms a rebellion includes, as you are aware, the entire property of all the citizens of the Confederacy. The same law decrees substantially the emancipation of all our slaves, and an executive order of President Lincoln directs the commanders of his armies to employ them as laborers in the military service.

It is well known, however, that notwithstanding the restrictive terms of this order, several of his generals openly employ the slaves to bear arms against their masters, and have thus inaugurated, as far as lies in their power, a servile war, of whose horrors mankind has had a shocking example within the memory of many now living. The perfidy, vindictiveness, and savage cruelty with which the war is waged against us have had but few parallels in the annals of nations.

The Government of the United States, however, finds itself greatly embarrassed in the execution of its schemes by the difficulty of disposing of the slaves seized by its troops and subjected to confiscation by its barbarous laws. The prejudice against the Negro race is, in the Northern States, so intense and deep-rooted that the migration of our slaves into those States would meet with violent opposition both from their people and local authorities.

Already riots are becoming rife in the Northern cities, arising out of conflicts and rivalries between their white laboring population and the slaves who have been carried from Virginia by the Army of the US, yet these slaves are an unappreciable fraction of the Negro population of the South. It is thus perceived that the single obstacle presented by the difficulty of disposing of the slaves seized for confiscation, is of itself sufficient to check, in a very great degree, the execution of the barbarous policy inaugurated by our enemies.

The repeated instances of shameless perfidy exhibited by the Government of the United States during the prosecution of the war justify us in the suspicion that bad faith underlies every act on their part having a bearing, however remote, on the hostilities now pending.

When, therefore, the President received at the same time information on two important facts — one, that the United States was suffering grave embarrassments from the presence within their limits of the slaves seized from our citizens; the other, that the United States had agreed to transfer to Denmark, for transportation to the Danish West Indies, all Africans captured at sea from slave-trading vessels — he felt that there was just reason to suspect an intimate connection between these facts, and that the purpose of our treacherous enemy was to impose on the good faith of a neutral and friendly power by palming off our own slaves, seized for confiscation by the enemy, as Africans rescued at sea from slave-traders.

You are specially instructed to observe that the President entertains no apprehension that the Government of Denmark would for one moment swerve from the observance of strict neutrality in the war now raging on this continent; still less that it would fail disdainfully to reject any possible complicity, however remote, in the system of confiscation, robbery and murder which the United States have recently adopted under the sting of defeat in their unjust attempt to subjugate a free people.

His only fear is that the Cabinet at Copenhagen may (as has happened to ourselves) fail to suspect in others a perfidy of which they themselves are incapable. His only purpose in instructing you, as he now does, to communicate the contents of this dispatch to the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs (and, if deemed advisable, to furnish a copy of it) is to convey the information which has given rise to the suspicions entertained here.

The President hopes thus to prevent the possibility of success in any attempt that may be made to deceive the servants of His Danish Majesty, by delivering to them for conveyance to the West Indies, our slaves seized for confiscation by the enemy instead of Africans rescued on the high seas. You are requested to proceed to Copenhagen by the earliest practicable conveyance, and execute the President’s instructions on this matter without unnecessary delay.

I am, sir, respectfully, etc.

J.P. Benjamin, Secretary of State.”

(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, James D. Richardson, Volume II, US Publishing Company, 1905, pp. 311-313)

 

Harriet the Deliverer

Harriet Tubman was utilized by Northern forces on the South Carolina coast to help in carry away black laborers who were supporting the Southern war effort. With the plantations overrun and crops destroyed, the African workers had lost their homes and livelihood and left with the liberators who promised farms for all.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Harriet the Deliverer

“They came down every road, across every field, just as they had left their work and their cabins; women with children clinging around their necks . . . all making at full speed for “Lincoln’s gun-boats.”  Eight hundred poor wretches at one time crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their deliverers, and they were taken off upon the gun-boats, and carried down to Beaufort [South Carolina].

“I nebber see such a sight,” said Harriet [Tubman]; “we laughed an’ laughed . . . One woman brought two pigs, a white an’ a black one; we took ’em all on board; named the white pig Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis.

And so they came pouring down to the gun-boats. At length Colonel Montgomery shouted from the upper deck, above the clamor of appealing tones, “Moses, you’ll have to give ’em a song.” Then Harriet lifted up her voice and sang:

“Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West,

The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best,

Come along! Come along! Don’t be alarmed,

Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm.”

(Harriet, the Moses of Her People, Sarah Bradford, Citadel Press, 1961, pp. 101-102)

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

The passage below describes the surrender and occupation of Smithville, now Southport, North Carolina in late January 1865 after Fort Fisher had fallen to Northern forces. The town’s public offices were plundered by the troops and those like Uncle Gibb suffered ill-treatment from soldiers who sought buried valuables.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

“Now Smithville [North Carolina] had relapsed into its state of quiet, but not the quiet of former days . . . Negroes however reaped a rich harvest in the shape of clothing from soldiers and blankets of which the forest was strewn.

A large assembly of Negro men, women and children had collected at the boat in order to greet their “saviors,” and to fall upon their necks and kiss them if such liberties should be allowed. [Northern] Captain [William] Cushing then addressed the sable crowd and informed them that they were free, that they were in all respects equal to the whites and would be so treated. In order to make that this was true he directed that they [the Negroes] should form a procession and give three cheers which they did saying, “God bless Massa Lincum, we’re free” and “Massa Lincum is cumin in a day or two to bring each of us a mule and deed for forty acres of land.”

The procession then started to move, and wild cheering for “Massa Lincum.” There were some small United States flags scattered among the crowds which they waved frantically in the air, crying “hallelujah, hallelujah.” The procession then moved through the garrison to Moore Street, a motley crowd dressed in every conceivable style bearing banners of anything that was bright color and they started down Moore Street amid cheering for “Massa Lincum.”

In the procession which had marched around town was “Uncle Gibb,” and in his posterity “Uncle Gibb” had been treated during his entire life as kindly as any white citizen in the town. He had a house to live in, plenty of food and clothes, and a horse and dray; and it was difficult to perceive how he had bettered his condition by freedom; but he soon found out as he was brought a prisoner into the [Northern army] Garrison for some alleged offense.

Here he was tied up by the thumbs to an oak tree which stood there, and hoisted till his toes barely touched the ground. This was done in full view of his own sister who was cooking in an adjoining kitchen, and who fainted and fell at the awful sight. We thus had an opportunity to find out whether the new friends of the colored race were any better than the old friends who had treated him with such kindness.

The ceremony attending the surrender [of Smithville] having been completed, the boat containing the plunder was dispatched back to the [USS] Monticello, and there being apparently nothing to do on shore, the sailors were given liberty and the officers proceeded to enjoy themselves.

The sailors spread themselves over the town, and proceeded first to inspect the public buildings. They broke open the court house and its offices, tore up such papers as they found lying around, among which happened to be the entire record of the Court of Equity and scattered them about the streets. They went to the Academy building in which was a Masonic Hall, and stole the jewels of the Order, and carried them to the ship.”

(Reminiscences, Dr. D.W. Curtis, Special Collections, W.M. Randall Library, UNCW, pp. 33-37)

Undoing the Evils of the Slave Trade

Prior to Lincoln’s intent to colonize the Negro outside of the United States postwar, numerous and serious attempts were made to repatriate and correct the evil caused by Britain’s colonial labor system which imposed African slavery upon both North and South. After assuming the presidency in 1868, Grant considered purchasing Haiti as center for colonized Africans from the US.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Undoing the Evils of the Slave Trade

The idea of the “colonization” of free Negroes was not new, for as far back as 1817, the South and the North, both felt it was best for the whole country that they should be colonized. Before the period of Negro servitude had ended in most of the North Atlantic States, societies for the purpose of colonizing them were organized; and in the South in 1817 this plan had the earnest support of W.H. Crawford, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Marshall, John Tyler, James Madison, James Monroe, and other leading Southern men, who were slave owners.

In 1856, General Tyler wrote: “The citizens of the Southern States since the adoption of the Constitution, have emancipated two hundred fifty thousand Negro slaves. Assuming the average value of these slaves to have been five hundred dollars, the citizens of the Southern States have contributed one hundred and twenty-five million dollars towards emancipation.

“And when we consider that in almost every case of individual emancipation at the South, a sum equal to the value of the slave has been invariably given to him to enable him to purchase a home for himself, and in addition to this the immense sums contributed to the “Colonization Society” by others, we do not exaggerate the sum voluntarily bestowed in this way by the South, when we set it down at two hundred and fifty million.

“This immense sum has been paid not by a rich public treasury, but by private families who lived by labor of slaves they surrendered; not with the slightest hope of pecuniary emolument, but from no other possible motive than quiet and conscientious sentiment.” (DeBow’s Review, December 1856)

(Authentic History Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877, Susan L. Davis, American Library Service, 1924, pp. 292-293)

The Union League of the Republican Party

In the midst of the mostly inflammatory influence of the Republican’s Union League upon the freedmen, the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the immediate postwar. To underscore the Union League’s destructiveness, an 1870 Congressional Committee report provided this indictment of Republican rule over the conquered South: “[The] hatred of the white race was instilled [by the League] into the minds of these ignorant people by every art and vile that bad men could devise; when the Negroes were formed into military organizations and the white people of these States were denied the use of arms; when arson, rape, robbery and murder were things of daily occurrence, . . . and that what little they had saved from the ravages of war was being confiscated by taxation . . . many of them took the law into their own hands and did deeds of violence which we neither justify or excuse. But all history shows that bad government will make bad citizens.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Union League of the Republican Party

“The nocturnal secrecy of the gatherings, the weird initiation ceremonies, the emblems of virtue and religion, the songs, the appeal to such patriotic shibboleths as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Flag, and the Union, the glittering platitudes in the interest of social uplift — all these characteristics of the League had an irresistible appeal to a ceremony-loving, singing, moralistic and loyal race. That the purposes of the order, when reduced to the practical, meant that the Negro had become the emotional and intellectual slaves of the white Radical did not dull the Negro’s enthusiasm, he was accustomed to be a slave to the white man” [South Carolina During Reconstruction, Simkins & Woody, page 7].

The Union League gave the freedmen their first experience in parliamentary law and debating . . . the members were active in the meetings, joining in the debate and prone to heckle the speakers with questions and points of order. Observers frequently reported the presence of rifles at political rallies, usually stacked in a clump of bushes behind the speaker’s platform, sometimes the womenfolk left to guard them.

In the autumn of 1867, a League chapter made up mostly of blacks, but with a white president named Bryce, was holding a meeting with its usual armed sentries on the perimeter. When a poor white named Smith tried to enter the meeting, shots were fired; there followed a general alarm and, subsequently, a melee with a white debating club nearby. The Negroes rushed out; Smith fled, hotly pursued to the schoolhouse; the members of the debating club broke up in a panic and endeavored to escape; a second pistol was fired and a boy of fourteen named Hunnicutt, the son of a respectable [white] citizen, fell dead.

[Carpetbagger John W. De Forest wrote]: “The Negroes, unaware apparently that they had done anything wrong, believing, on the contrary, that they were re-establishing public order and enforcing justice, commenced patrolling the neighborhood, entering every house and arresting numbers of citizens. They marched in double file, pistol in belt and gun at the shoulder, keeping step to the “hup, hup!” of a fellow called Lame Sam, who acted as drill sergeant and commander. By noon of the next day they had the country for miles around in their power, and the majority of the male whites under their guard.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 29-32)

 

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

The victorious North installed a native proconsul in 1865 to rule North Carolina, who acceded to the various constitutional fictions emanating from the radical Northern Congress. That proconsul acted as if no military overthrow of free government had taken place in his own State, and committed treason by adhering to the enemy. North Carolina and the South were ruled by “Vichy” regimes emanating from Washington, as France later be ruled from Berlin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

“In obedience to the proclamation of Provisional Governor [William] Holden, the State Convention met at noon on Monday, the 2nd instant [2 October 1865]. The permanent President is Honorable E.G. Reade, of Person County. He is regarded as one of the best jurists in the State, was a Whig and an opponent of secession and State rights, and is now provisional judge of the eighth circuit by appointment of the Governor.

The Governor’s message came in on the second day. He takes it for granted that the Convention will recognize the abolition of slavery, provide that it shall not be re-established, and submit the amended Constitution to a vote of the people. [Governor Holden stated:]

“North Carolina attempted, in May 1861, to separate herself from the Federal Union. This attempt involved her, with other slaveholding States, in a protracted and disastrous war, the result of which was a vast expenditure of blood and treasure on her part, and the practical abolition of domestic slavery. She entered the Rebellion a slaveholding State, and emerged from it a non-slaveholding State. In other respects, so far as her existence as a State and her rights as a State are concerned, she has undergone no change.

Allow me to congratulate you, gentlemen, upon the favorable circumstances which surround you, while engaged in this great work of restoring the State to her former and natural position. It is my firm belief that the policy of the President in this respect, which is broad, as liberal, and as just as the Constitution itself, will be approved by the great body of the people of the United States . . . our State will enjoy, in common with the other States, the protection of just laws under the Constitution of our fathers.”

(The South Since the War: As Shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas, Sidney Andrews, Ticknor and Fields, 1866, pp. 133-134)

War of Conquest, Not Emancipation

Following the War Between the States, the freedmen were exploited by the infamous Union League to help ensure the election of Northern radical Republicans who exploited and bankrupted the exhausted South.  The emergence of the Ku Klan Klan was a predictable result.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

War of Conquest, Not Emancipation  

“Reconstruction” is a curious name to apply to the period following the war. Indeed, the war had left widespread destruction, but the government in Washington had no policy of reconstruction.  The South was left to its own economic devices, which largely amounted to being exploited by Northern interests who took advantage of cheap land, cheap labor, and readily available natural resources. This exploitation and neglect created an economic morass, the results of which endure into the twenty-first century.

Not surprisingly, governments based on the leadership of carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedmen, groups that represented a minority of the population, met widespread and violent opposition. This attempt to create a government based on racial equality was made even more ludicrous when many of [the] Northern States rejected the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, creating a situation where the States that said they had worked to free the slaves failed to grant equality to people of color.

(Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Escort and Staff, Michael R. Bradley, Pelican Publishing Company,

Searching for Harriet Tubman

Searching for Harriet Tubman

The recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the US twenty-dollar bill with that of Harriet Tubman has generated much discussion regarding her background and true place in American history. Hard evidence of her life and contributions to American history has been elusive and the question has been posed: is this paying homage to a deserving historic figure, or, it this an act of pure political correctness – or what is called cultural Marxism? Only a small amount of open-minded reading and research is required to determine who she was, what she did, and what impact her life and actions had on American history.

There seems to be little to recommend her for a place on US currency amid several who adorn our bills and somehow linked to the financial history of the country. Washington was of course the first president; Hamilton, a proponent of a national banking; Jackson, an opponent of a national bank; Lincoln created national fiat money, the greenback; and Grant was embroiled in schemes of government and corporate financial scandals.

Leader of an  “Underground Railroad”

To begin, a recent news article referred to Tubman as “the leader of the underground railroad” and “Moses of her people,” the title emanating from an 1886 biography by children’s book author Sara Hopkins Bradford  (1818-1912), of New York.  Bradford married prominent New York attorney, and later judge, John M. Hopkins. Their two eldest sons were killed in the War.

In 1869, Bradford penned “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman” after several interviews with the illiterate Tubman and transcribing her recollections. Both the 1869 and 1886 books have been criticized for lack of documentation and thoroughness in historical methods, and both relied heavily on Tubman’s oral history and the reminiscences of anti-slavery leaders rather than traditional and objective sources. No bibliography, footnotes or index are provided.

The “underground railroad” of that era was not a physical entity but a term of exclamation made by a Southern planter of the luring away of slaves from their plantations as well as the aid given to them. It was a useful tool of the imagination by Northern abolitionists which created scenes of liberty and freedom for slaves if they simply left their homes in the South. In reality, the antebellum North offered little in the way of improved conditions for black people and was a far more regimented and segregated society than existed in the South. Bradford’s book does not address this important side of the story.

Importantly, Frederick Douglass was a contemporary of Tubman, born three years before she and in the very same part of eastern Maryland, though he seems not to know of her exploits, nor is she mentioned in his 1892 autobiography, the “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.”

Another book pertaining to Tubman and considered to be a primary source is Wilbur H. Siebert’s “The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom,” published in 1898. This book is also extensively criticized for lack of documentation and credible sources, and in it the author describes Tubman as “Moses” and most likely drawn from Bradford’s 1886 book.

Siebert’s version of prewar events and people depends on recollections and reminiscences of elderly abolitionists, was published in 1898 and 50-plus years after the events it recalls. Neither book can be considered thoughtful, well-researched or scholarly treatises on Tubman or the underground railroad. Many dramatic descriptions of Mrs. Tubman’s heroic exploits fill the pages and appear copied from Bradford’s earlier book.

Appendix D, Bibliography of Siebert’s book states: “The materials upon which in large measure this book is based are reminiscences gathered by correspondence and conversation with more than a thousand persons many of whom were old-time abolitionists, while the remainder included the families and intimate friends of abolitionists, and a number of fugitive slaves.”

Siebert attests that “There are few volumes that supply us with numerous illustrations of the Underground Railroad in operation.” And all, like Siebert’s book itself, are postwar creations with the earliest being Eber M. Pettit’s 1879 “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad.” The others were published in the 1880s and 1890s, and none written in the late antebellum period to describe what was later claimed to be a widespread antislavery effort by the North between 1850 and 1860.

To support Tubman’s oral history, Bradford cites statements from prominent abolitionists like Gerrit Smith who wrote in 1868: “Of the remarkable events of her life I have no personal knowledge, but of the truth of them as she describes them I have no doubt.”

Another, Franklin B. Sanborn of Massachusetts averred that “I never had reason to doubt the truth of what Harriet said in regard to her own career, for I found her singularly truthful.”

Siebert also tells us that Tubman’s travels were mostly in the Border States rather than the Deep South, and her only experiences in the latter were a short time with the Northern army at Hilton Head, South Carolina and briefly at Jacksonville, Florida. More on this later.

Tubman’s Early Life

The current St. Catherine’s, Ontario website notes that the town was “the final terminus of the underground railroad for hundreds of slaves in the 1820s.” If this is true then it may have been others who carried slaves northward rather than Tubman who was born in 1820 or 1821, and we are not made aware of how those slaves arrived there. The city also claims that Tubman resided there for seven years, though in which particular house is not known.

Her birth name was Araminta Ross, and Bradford writes that she was the daughter of Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, and born in Dorchester County, Maryland; she took her mother’s name sometime later. Araminta was one of ten children.

Put to learning the art of weaving as a child to provide clothing for the family and slaves, she resisted learning and developed a hatred for her mistress. Araminta was then hired out in her early teens as a field hand with duties described as “in the rudest labors – driving oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man – sometimes earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master [for her keep], “to buy a pair of steers” worth forty dollars. She also “worked frequently for her father,” a timber inspector.

She was married about 1844 to John Tubman, a free colored man. In 1849 and after the death of her master, she walked away from her Baltimore home and husband to Philadelphia where a white lady took her in. With a little money earned she returned to Maryland in 1850 and found her husband “married to another woman, and no longer caring to live with her.”

The Anti-Slavery Career Begins

Siebert tells us that in December 1850 Tubman “went to Baltimore and abducted her sister and two children.” A few months later she brought away another company of three persons, one of who was her brother. From this time on till the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion her excursions were frequent. She is said to have accomplished nineteen such trips during the 1850s “and emancipated over three hundred slaves.”

To put this number in perspective and compare it to the ongoing voluntary emancipation by Southern slaveholders before the war, Virginians John Randolph and Washington Custis alone freed 400 and 200 slaves in 1833 and 1857, respectively, and this was not uncommon in the South. In the latter instance, Custis’ son-in-law Robert E. Lee, saw to it that those slaves received their freedom.  The question looms: Why are these men and others like them not accorded recognition for their contributions toward emancipation?

Though certainly unfamiliar with places beyond her native Maryland, Tubman is described as having an innate ability to understand astronomy while escaping slave patrols. It is said she was aware of the North Star and others to guide her path north and south.

This is very impressive for an illiterate black woman, a fugitive herself, travelling alone into slave holding country hostile to her mission and unfamiliar to her. Then to return each time with what seems to be 15-20 persons, through the same country. Further, Frederick Douglass states in his autobiography that no white person in the former slave States of the North could be trusted not to turn fugitives in for reward money.

Also, the Bradford book often mentions Tubman’s deep religious belief and faith in God, a devout Christianity certainly taught by her master and family. Her friend Thomas Garret stated that “she [always] ventured where God sent her, and her faith in the Supreme Power was truly great.” This Christianity was tempered by her mysticism and “tales of ghostly visitation, or spiritual manifestation, at a dimly lit séance.”

Friend of John Brown

Tubman left for Boston in the winter of 1858-59 apparently to raise money for her excursions southward, and “she left New England with a handsome sum of money toward the payment of her debt to Mr. [William] Seward.” While there, “she had several interviews with Captain [John] Brown, then in Boston.

He is supposed to have communicated his plans [for the Harper’s Ferry raid] to her, and to have been aided by her in obtaining recruits and money among her people.” Mrs. Tubman is said to have venerated Brown in a religious fashion since “his murder,” as Bradford called his execution for treason against the State of Virginia.

The War

At this point is worth asking a pertinent question: Even if we accept that Tubman did have an important part in taking three hundred slaves northward to what they believed to be freedom, this in no way compares with the voluntary manumission, i.e., emancipation, by Southern slaveholders by will, deed and reward for faithful service. By 1850, the South had a free black population of nearly 435,000, and over 484,000 by 1860 according to the Federal Census — far more than the twenty-five or thirty thousand blacks in Canada by the time of the War. The latter is claimed to be the result of the underground railroad. The figure 75,000 blacks in Canada is often cited, though the rough estimate of abolitionist Dr. Samuel Howe.

In short, Harriet Tubman and perhaps others like her were minor players in an advancing emancipation process, which might have continued had Northern abolitionists left the South to solve the dilemma of slavery on their own as the North did. It is worth noting that the Southern States were ending voluntary manumission after Nat Turner’s bloody 1831 rampage in Southampton, Virginia. A thoughtful observe today might consider what could have been, and how many lives would have been saved between the years 1861-1865 had abolitionists found a peaceful and practical solution to their often well-intended efforts.

Tubman Sent to War

Sarah Bradford credits Tubman with serving as a scout and spy for General David Hunter in occupied coastal areas of South Carolina in 1862, though Tubman would have had little if any knowledge of South Carolina and its people. Tubman readily admitted that she was travelling “through unknown regions” and the South Carolina slave dialect was far different from her own Maryland dialect. This certainly raises questions.

Gov. John Andrew of Massachusetts directed Tubman sent to Hilton Head, according to Bradford, and most likely the intent was to recruit black men for his State’s regiments. His purpose was most likely to add freedmen to Massachusetts regiments and avoid conscripting his own citizens. These new recruits from the South counted against his State’s quota of troops, and Andrew wanted to get the black men before other States did.

As an example of this, Andrew formed the Second Massachusetts Cavalry with one hundred men from California in late 1862, and four hundred more by early 1863. All were paid generous enlistment bounties raised by the State of Massachusetts, as well as towns and cities.

Bradford goes on to state that “This fearless woman was often sent into the rebel lines as a spy, and brought back valuable information as to the position of armies and batteries; she has been in battle when the shot was falling like hail, and the bodies of dead and wounded men were dropping around her like the leaves of autumn . . .”

This is an astonishing claim if Tubman was only employed as a nurse at Hilton Head. It is very likely that this refers to the Olustee raid into Florida in February 1864, with Tubman accompanying the expedition. The primary purpose of that raid was to disrupt Southern food production in Florida by destroying crops and luring slaves away from their homes. Without farm labor, the farms could no longer produce and Southern troops at a loss for food.

Gen. Hunter provided Tubman with papers on February 19, 1863 to “give her free passage at all times, on all government transports. Harriet was sent to me by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, and is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the Government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.” Certainly, with this food she could attract the slaves after Northern troops destroyed their fields and farms.

Tubman’s New York Home

Interestingly, the mortgage for her Auburn, New York home was held by William Seward in the mid-1850s who at that time was a senator from New York. Bradford writes that “to the credit of [Seward] it should be said, that he sold her the property on very favorable terms, and gave her some time for payment.”

In early 1868 Seward as Secretary of State presented a petition to Congress for a government pension for Tubman, and General Rufus Saxon wrote in support of this, “for services rendered in the Union Army during the late war.” Saxon stated that he “can bear witness to the value of her services in South Carolina and Florida. She was employed in the hospitals and as a spy. She made raids inside the enemy lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal and fidelity.”

The government declined Seward’s request and did not see Mrs. Tubman’s actions as worthy of a soldier’s pension.

A Professor Hopkins of the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1886 is quoted in Bradford’s book: “Harriet lives on a farm which the twelve hundred dollars given her by Mrs. Bradford from the proceeds of this little book, enabled her to redeem from a mortgage held by Secretary Seward.”

Seward seems to have threatened foreclosure and was perhaps trying to obtain a government pension for Tubman to pay her mortgage off. Of note, no mention of Tubman or underground railroad occurs in the comprehensive 1991 biography of Seward by John M. Taylor.

In Bradford’s preface, she states that as she was about to embark on a voyage to Europe, “there was pressing need for this book, to save the poor woman’s little home from being sold under a mortgage, and letters and facts [from Tubman’s recollections] were penned down rapidly, as they came in.” She adds: “I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration for every incident related to me by my heroic friend.”

Fact or Fiction?

The National Park Service (NPS) has for some time embarked on a national underground railroad network of locations thought to be “stations.” The boon for towns and cities wanting to join the NPS network for more tourism dollars is that little if any hard evidence is necessary, and old homes claiming to have held fugitive slaves on their trek northward come under scant scrutiny to substantiate their claims.

Author Larry Gara, who in 1961 wrote “The Liberty Line, the Legend of the Underground Railroad,” pointed out that after examining the traditional sources, he concluded that “the legend was a mixture of fact and fiction and mostly based on the memoirs and reminiscences of descendants and friends of abolitionists.” This seems quite evident in both Bradford’s and Siebert’s books. In his 1985 “Partisan Imperative,” Joel H. Silbey stated that “[Larry] Gara demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North.”

Certainly, that slaves and other laborers were leaving their plantations in the prewar period and assisted by sympathetic people along the way, such as Quakers, cannot be denied, but the existence of a formal network of “stations and conductors” cannot be proven.

To underscore the difficulty in finding evidence, Gara’s book related the experience of an Akron archeology graduate student, guided by his professors, who conducted an archeological search of 17 historic Ohio houses said to have been connected with the underground railroad. The student’s conclusion was that none of the homes he examined had tunnels or secret places of concealment. “If such constructions existed at all,” he wrote, “they must be extremely rare.” Gara’s book is highly recommend for anyone seeking a wider view of this question.

Perhaps envious of nearby St. Catherine’s, Ontario for its high visibility as an underground railroad tourist attraction, a Niagara Falls, New York, city official was under fierce criticism in July 2015 for promoting Tubman’s frequent visits to the city and spending a quarter-million dollars “to dedicate a park and erect a statue to a minor historical figure who by all accounts never set foot in Niagara Falls, Harriet Tubman.” Apparently Tubman did travel with a relative by rail across the Niagara gorge in the 1850s, but did not stop.

One city councilman supportive of the measure stated that “the park and statue . . . would draw even more tourists to a city . . . and offers unlimited opportunities for year-round tourism-related enterprises in attracting millions of visitors to Niagara Falls each year.” To further cloud the historical waters is the study by the city’s Underground Railroad Commission in conjunction with Niagara University, was unable to identify a single site anywhere in the city with any indisputable connection to the Underground Railroad . . .”

This criticism of the city’s actions concluded with “Harriet Tubman’s connection to what is now the city of Niagara Falls is tenuous at best . . . There is no corroborating evidence to support her recollection [of being here], which was related to her ghostwriter, children’s book author Sarah Hopkins Bradford [in 1886] (Niagara Falls Reporter, July 21-29, 2015).

In a similar search for more tourism dollars, city officials and local historical organizations in Wilmington, North Carolina, erected a plaque on its Riverwalk in May 2005 commemorating an “underground railroad site” – which was in reality a wartime defection of 22 black men to an enemy ship offshore.

A cursory look into this reveals that white men avoiding conscription as well as deserters were regularly defecting to enemy ships off the North Carolina coast from late 1861 through 1865. This is easily found in the reports of Union naval officer reports of deserters and slaves reaching their blockading ships offshore. This is desertion, defection and aiding the enemy – perhaps expecting compensation for intelligence information — but not an “underground railroad.”

Sadly, this was promoted by local tourism officials eager to be on the NPS UGRR network despite a lack of research and evidence. Today, the plaque stands today as a monument to historical inaccuracy and what is best termed intellectual fraud.

The Freedmen in Canada West

A topic little mentioned when discussing the existence of, or accomplishments of, an underground railroad, is the terminus in Canada and the life they led there. Most went to what was then known as Canada West, or roughly today’s Ontario, and found a difficult life in a strange climate and segregated society – not unlike the northern United States of that time.

Though the abolitionists of Bradford’s book describe a Canada welcoming black folks intent on enjoying liberty, the New York Herald printed an eight column article in its January 5, 1860 issue which described the freedmen settlements in Canada. It stated that “the fugitives go to Canada as beggars and the mass of them commit larceny and lay in jail until they become lowered and debased, and ready for worse crimes.”

That Canadians were not eager to allow unlimited numbers of ex-slaves in their country was underscored by an 1851 Toronto newspaper editorial which called for “restrictive immigration measures to check the influx of Negroes.” Though life for the free black in Canada was little different than the free black in the North or South, freedmen Nelson Moss said that he had suffered more from prejudice during three years in Pennsylvania than a free-black in Virginia.

Somehow black refugees thought Canada held more promise for them – perhaps instilled by Northerners who did not want them tarrying in their towns. Black New York minister Samuel E. Cornish viewed New York City as tainted with “an ever-present, ever-crushing Negro hate.”

Frederick Douglas saw Philadelphia in much the same way. The alternative was to stay in the South and await emancipation or purchase his freedom, and seek a better life in familiar surroundings. As an example of free-blacks persons prospering in the South, those in 1850 New Orleans held $2,354,640 in property while at the same time in Buffalo free-blacks held only $57,610.

Lastly, Canadian “Jim Crow”

Fred Landon wrote in the January 1925 Journal of Negro History about the town of Amherstburg in Canada West, a popular destination of the so-called underground railroad. He stated that “Canadian law drew no distinction between black and white in matters of citizenship,” but he found that white Canadians preferred Negroes having schools of their own – which could be said to be precisely the stance of the American South after the war.

Landon wrote that in 1854 the Negroes had a separate school “having neither blackboard nor chairs. The whole interior was comfortless and repulsive. The teacher was a colored woman, apparently doing the best she could under the discouragement of poor surroundings and frequent absences of her pupils.”

He wrote that the arrival of so many people “of another race and color into southwestern Ontario” was something white Canadians found displeasing: “Deep prejudice manifested itself at times and an occasional outburst in some newspaper reflected the feelings of an element of the population.”

The October 27, 1849 Amherstburg Courier printed “a resolution of the district council passed on October 8 of that year, protesting vigorously against the proposed Elgin settlement which was planned by Reverend William King as a home for fugitives from slavery.” This was about the time of Mrs. Tubman’s final visits to Canada with her abducted brethren.

One resident named Larwill, said “there is but one feeling, and that is of disgust and hatred, that they [the Negroes] should not be allowed to settle in any township where there is a white settlement.” This resolution asked that Negroes not be allowed to buy land, suggested a poll tax on Negroes, “a law against amalgamation and a requirement that Negroes shall furnish good security that they will not become a burden.” An additional question advanced was whether Negroes should be allowed to vote.

When abolitionist and Tubman friend, Dr. Samuel G. Howe, visited Amherstburg in 1863 to investigate conditions of freedmen there, he was told by a Mr. Park of the town that some of the Negroes were “indolent and part industrious. They tended to neglect their own poor and begged more than the whites.” Dr. Howe interviewed a Captain Averill who saw the Negroes as good sailors, “but they were never made mates and none owned ships of their own.” A sad reality rather than a welcoming Canadian population.

To conclude, it is worth rethinking Joel Silbey’s view that author Larry Gara “demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North,” demand more accurate and thoughtful accounting of history from those practicing as historians, and rethink the notion that Tubman was a person worthy of such high recognition.

Upon wider research and deep reflection, and despite what Bradford and Siebert have written, it appears that the well-intentioned Tubman did perhaps bring her relatives and some others away from their condition of slavery – how many others is only a matter of conjecture as there is no hard evidence.

It is also likely that Tubman was selected by abolitionists after the war — with her actions amplified — as suitable moral figures were desperately sought to salve the costly reality of 600,000 war dead and what would become an $8 billion expenditure. That eventual cost of the war would be sufficient to have purchased the freedom of every slave, with the 40 acres, several times over. Certainly something to ponder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sources:

Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People, Sarah Bradford, 1886

The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom, W. H. Siebert, 1898

The Partisan Imperative, Joel H. Silbey, Oxford University Press, 1985

Amherstburg, Fred Landon, Journal of Negro History, Vol. X., No. 1, January 1925, pp. 5-8

Harriet Tubman to Get a Park, Statue, Niagara Falls Reporter, July 12-29, 2015