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A Constitution Inadequate to the Conduct of the War

As General Samuel G. French suggests below, presidential expedients not found in the United States Constitution were invented for initiating war against the South, and for the prosecution of that war. French believed that the New England-armed men in Kansas were responsible for firing the first shot of the war; others have postulated that the war began when the Star of the West left its New York moorings in early January 1861, carrying armed men below decks to South Carolina – when Fort Sumter’s guns were turned against the Americans it was built to protect.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Constitution Inadequate to the Conduct of the War

“Sherman — the fell destroyer — had burned the city of Jackson, Mississippi, and the ruins reminded me of Pompeii. In walking one of the streets I passed a canvas shanty, from which I was hailed by an Israelite with “Good morning General; come in.” He had been in the army and knew me; he had some goods and groceries for sale. When I was leaving, he asked: “General, cant I do something for you? Here are fifty dollars, just take them; maybe you can pay me back sometime.”

I thought the angel of mercy was smiling down on us . . . I thanked him kindly, and the day came when I had the pleasure of repaying the debt. The servants I had in Columbus had been nominally “confiscated” and set free; so they came to me, almost daily, begging me to take them back to the plantation in Mississippi. As I was not able to do this, I applied to some “bureau,” that had charge of the “refugees,” for transportation of these Negroes, and to my surprise it was granted. As soon as possible they were put on the cars and started for the plantation.

When we reached home we found most of the old servants there awaiting our arrival. To feed and clothe about a hundred of these people, and to plant a crop of cotton in the spring, clothing, provisions, mules, wagons, implements, harness, etc., had to be procured. To obtain funds to purchase the articles enumerated — to commence again — I went to Philadelphia and New York (by special permission of the government) in November.

. . . War is the most uncertain of all undertakings of a nation, and, like the tempest, cannot be controlled, and seldom or never ends as predicted. The North proclaimed that this “little rebellion” would end in sixty days!

It lasted four years, and ended as no one had foreseen. It had to suppress rebellions caused by people who entertained Southern opinions in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and other cities; muzzle the press, prohibit free speech, banish prominent individuals, arrest men without warrant, and imprison them without charges made known to them; and violated nearly every resolution and pledge made in the beginning relating to the South; they cast aside constitutional law, and substituted martial law, under which the South became a scene of desolation and starvation.

My own opinion is that the first gun was fired, at the instigation of a number of prominent men North, by John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, and for which he was apotheosized and numbered among the saints.

Mr. Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. Our case is new. We must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save the country.”

These words indicate that the powers of the Constitution were inadequate to the conduct of the war, and henceforth the war must be conducted as occasion deemed expedient. In other words, the executive must be declared greater than the power that made it, or the creature greater than the Creator, and with dictatorial methods the war was conducted. Avaunt, Constitution, avaunt! We are fighting for the Union, for dominion over the Southern territory again, and so the Constitution was folded up, etc.”

(Two Wars, Samuel G. French, Confederate Veteran Press, 1901, excerpts, pp. 320-327)

 

Republicans and the Freedmen’s Role

The North’s Republican Party was solely responsible for the postwar Solid South which opposed their Reconstruction efforts, and the former utilized the newly-enfranchised freedmen to establish a Southern wing to maintain their national hegemony. To hold Northern votes the Republicans waved “the bloody shirt”; at the same time they swayed the black voter with warnings of newly-elected Democrats re-enslaving them.  Below, the home State of Carl Schurz was not Missouri, he was a socialist revolutionary from Erftstadt, Germany, and elevated by Lincoln to attract German immigrant support for his war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Republicans and the Freedmen’s Role

“One of the first [Northerners] to change his mind about the freedmen was Carl Schurz. In 1865, after a Southern tour, he had recommended that the Negro be enfranchised, disregarding the fact that “the [white] masses are strongly opposed to colored suffrage.” But in 1870, when he realized that uneducated Negroes were an easy prey for spoilsmen, Schurz admitted that he had erred.

To his disgust the [Republican] machine politicians in Missouri, his home State, dominated the scene by manipulating ignorant, but enfranchised, Negroes. Henceforth, Schurz steadfastly opposed all legislation designed to aid the colored man. And he assumed that anyone who tried to stir up sectional passions had yielded to the worst elements in the Republican organization.

Although the transition in the thinking of George William Curtis, the editor of Harper’s Weekly, was far different, he eventually reached the same conclusion. Like Schurz, Curtis after the war favored Negro suffrage. He argued that the freedmen had proven their loyalty and deserved the ballot. Admittedly, many of them were ignorant, but so were “great masses of Northern voters. Education,” he wrote, “is a good thing; but it appears some of the staunchest patriots in the land cannot read, and that some of the basest traitors are highly educated.”

During the 1880 campaign Harper’s Weekly vigorously denounced the Solid South. He then said that the Southern question was dead. The federal government could do nothing more to help the Negro. After that, Curtis joined Schurz in resisting all attempts to stir up the race issue.

A third distinct case was Edwin L. Godkin of the Nation. Although he begrudgingly advocated the enfranchisement of the Negro after the Civil War, he never abandoned the conviction that white Anglo-Saxons were inherently superior to “ignorant foreigners” and atavistic colored men. “I do not oppose the admission [to suffrage] of such Negroes as shall prove their fitness,” Godkin wrote in 1865. “. . . What I ask, and meant to ask, was not that the blacks shall be excluded as blacks, but simply that they shall not be admitted to the franchise simply because they are blacks and have been badly treated.”

Godkin recommended the disenfranchisement of all Negroes who could not learn to read or write within two years. Only by developing his intelligence could the colored man distinguish between “statesman and demagogue; between honest public men and knavish public men; between his own real friends and his real enemies.”

Although Godkin originally supported the Radical plan of Reconstruction, which provided for military enforcement of Negro suffrage, he was convinced by 1871 that this adventure had failed.

“We owe it to human nature to say that worse governments have seldom been seen in a civilized country,” the editor admitted. “They have been composed of trashy whites and ignorant blacks.” Control of Southern affairs should be returned to those “who have most influence and knowledge.” The simple truth was that the freedmen were unfit for the role the Republicans desired them to play: “Any party in which the Negro is in the majority, cannot help having its policy, if not shaped, greatly influenced by their political ignorance and incapacity.”

(Farwell to the Bloody Shirt, Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirshson, Indiana University Press, 1962; excerpts pp. 126-128)

Preaching Racial Hatred in the South

Descending upon the prostrate South were the “Carpetbaggers” – Northern adventurers settling in the South and bent upon aiding the Republican Party through organizing the freedmen politically. Many were “astute demagogues who through vague speeches and tricks of mass organization won the confidence of the naïve Negro.” Northern newspaperman Horace Greeley described them as “stealing and plundering, many of them with both arms around Negroes, and their hands in their rear pockets, seeing if they cannot pick a paltry dollar out of them.” The infamous Union League was the destructive instrument of the Republican Party which drove a political wedge between Southern blacks and whites.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Preaching Racial Hatred in the South

“Scalawags were Southerners willing to espouse Republicanism for reasons of opportunism. When the pro-Negro policies of the carpetbaggers caused the scalawags to desert Republicanism, Northern leaders, conscious of the power of numbers, to an ever greater degree relied upon pure Negro support.

The principal agency of the carpetbaggers was the Union or Loyal League. Initially it was composed almost entirely of white unionists with patriotic rather than political aims. As the [radical] plans of Congress unfolded in 1867, its main purpose became the organization of Negro voters [as Republicans]. In every Southern community trusting Negroes were organized into secret lodges of the order which indulged in mummery and high-sounding platitudes. In its heyday the Union League was said to have more than 200,000 members.

Ceremony, talk about freedom and equal rights, sententious references to the Declaration of Independence, accompanied by the clanging of chains, the burning of weird lights, and prayers and songs – all had their compelling effect upon the Negroes’ emotions and thoughts. They were repeatedly reminded that their interests were eternally at war with those of Southern whites, and that their freedom demanded the continued supremacy of the Republican party.

As a consequence of these teachings, the Union League “voted the Negroes like “herds of senseless cattle.” One member described it as the ‘place we learn the law.” When asked why he voted Republican, another member replied “I can’t read, and I can’t write . . . We go by instructions. We don’t’ know nothing much.”

During the presidential campaign of 1868, the Union League of North Carolina declared that if Grant were not elected, the Negroes would be remanded to slavery; if elected, they would have farms, mules, and hold public office.

One fact is of fundamental importance in understanding the course of radical Reconstruction: the Negroes were aroused to political consciousness not of their own accord but by outside forces. This revolution in Southern behavior, unlike the more lasting political revolutions of history, was not a reflection of accomplishments in other fields.

Attainment of political equality by the Negroes, in other words, was not attended by social and economic gains, possibly not even signifying a general demand for these advantages.

Such a lack of support not only meant that the radical political experiment could be destroyed almost as easily as it was created, but that participation of the Negro in politics would be erratic and irresponsible. Even if it had not been that way, it would have been so regarded, because the Negroes did not preface their attempt to win political equality with the attainment of respect in other fields of social endeavor.”

(A History of the South, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1953, excerpts, pp. 272-273)

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha Bulloch (1835-1884), who grew up near today’s Roswell, Georgia on her father’s plantation worked by thirty-one slaves. Her two brothers James and Irvine had illustrious careers serving the Confederacy, and it is said that those patriotic uncles served as exemplary role models for him later in life. When he became president, TR labored in vain to entice Southern Democrats away from their party, as the damage done by the Republican party to the South seemed irreparable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

“When by accident Theodore Roosevelt came to the presidency in 1901, he entered that office with a desire to revise the political map of the country, for he was positive that a change in the traditional Republican attitude toward the Southern white voter would go far to break the Democratic political monopoly of the solid South.

Accordingly, in his early appointments and in his public speeches he attempted to pursue a course of conciliation calculated to entice the white citizen of the South away from the Democratic party.

After his departure from the Republican party in June 1912, however, Roosevelt realized at once that perhaps this was his chance to break the political monopoly of States below the Ohio River by organizing a rival party designed to appeal to Southern whites.

It was upon [growing] discontent [with Democratic leadership in the South] that Theodore Roosevelt proposed to found the new Progressive party in the South, which, freed of the incubus of the Republican label, would be “without one touch of sectional feeling,” and which therefore could offer the first serious opposition to Southern Democracy since the days of the old Whigs.

Yet the leader of the Progressive party was well aware that if a strong, permanent party were to be built in the South it would necessarily have to be organized upon a “lily white” basis.

[Roosevelt defined his position on race with], in the North there were numerous intelligent and honest Negroes who could be incorporated into the party machinery to the mutual good of both the individual and the party. The situation in the South, however, was a different matter. In this opinion, Roosevelt declared, he stood not on theory but upon actual observation.

For forty-five years the Republican party had been trying to build a successful organization there based upon black participation, and the result for a variety of reasons had been “lamentable from every standpoint.”

To repeat the experiment, he felt, would make a Progressive party victory impossible in the South, and would do nothing for the Negro except “to create another impotent little corrupt faction of would-be office holders, of delegates whose expenses had to be paid, and whose votes sometimes had to be bought.”

In conclusion, he maintained that the only man who could help the Negro in the South was his white neighbor; and therefore he hoped the Progressive party would put the leadership of the South into the hands of “intelligent and benevolent” white men who would see to it that the Negro got a measure of justice, something which the Northerner could not obtain for him, and something he could not obtain himself. Thus, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens were publicly disavowed by a former Republican president.”

(The South and the Progressive Lily White Party of 1912, George E. Mowry, Journal of Southern History, VI, May 1940, excerpts, pp. 237-242)

The North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

Once the American States in the South were subdued and martial law instituted, the occupation forces wreaked havoc among the slowly-adjusting population, both white and black. At an 1866 Fourth of July observance in Atlanta, a resident wrote that “the occasion was observed only by the black population. They had a grand procession [though] a lot of drunken Yankee soldiers . . . attacked them, and there was a general row. No one was killed, but more than twenty shots were fired, and many were injured. There is a bitter feeling between the Negroes and the Yankees . . .”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

“On April 30, 1865, news was received in Georgia through a dispatch from General (Joseph E.] Johnston to Governor [Joseph] Brown that hostilities against the United States had ceased. From Savannah and Macon as centers, military occupation was extended over the whole State during April, May and June.

Frequent broils occurred between soldiers and citizens, between Negroes and white soldiers and citizens and between white people and [US] colored troops. Garrisons where colored troops were established were centers for disturbance. And Negro soldiers everywhere, had a bad influence on the freedmen of the neighborhood, encouraging them in idleness and arousing in them a feeling of distrust or hostility to their white employers.

Discontent among the Federal soldiers themselves did not make matters more comfortable. White volunteers were restive, thought they ought to be immediately mustered out, and regular soldiers did not get along with colored troops.

General [Ulysses S.] Grant, after his tour of inspection in the South, reported to President [Andrew] Johnson, December 18, 1865, that the presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralized labor by their advice and by furnishing resorts for freedmen for miles around, whereas white troops generally excited no opposition. Negro troops had to be kept in large enough numbers for their own defense.

Conditions were represented thus by a distinguished Georgian [N.G. Foster] in a letter to General Sherman on May 10:

“ . . . Almost daily our houses are entered and pilfered, and we meet at every turn the air or derision and defiance. Many of the farms were left overcrowded with helpless women and children, with a few old men. Now the [US] commander’s cavalry squads, stationed at various points in the country, permit the Negroes to take the plough stock from the farmer and swarm into their camps, and lounge about, abandoning all labor – Surely, whatever may be the final destiny of this people, they ought to be required to make a support – And the Negro girls for miles and miles are gathered to the [Federal] camps and debauched.

It is surely is not the wish of those persons who aim at an equality of colors to begin the experiment with a whole race of whores . . .

I have not conversed with a [Southern] soldier who had returned, that does not express a prefect willingness to abide the issue. They say they made the fight and were overpowered, and they submit. Nothing will again disturb the people but a sense of injustice . . . [but] No people who descended from Revolutionary fathers can be kept tamely in a state of subjugation. And if it becomes necessary to establish a military despotism [in the] South, any man with half an idea must see that the North must eventually fall under the same rule.”

(Reconstruction in Georgia, Economic, Social, Political, 1865-1872, C. Mildred Thompson, Columbia University, 1915, excerpts, pp. 132; 136-139)

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued his North Carolina Proclamation which made no provision for the extension of the vote to freedmen, and only those who voted before May 20, 1861 and who had taken the amnesty oath to the US government could take part in the constitutional convention. This enraged Radical Republicans and their supporters who saw permanent political hegemony over the South through black voters herded to the polls with Republican ballots in hand. Political opportunists rather than statesmen reigned in the North – led by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner –all who had little if any understanding of the intent of the Framers and their Constitution, or the proper orbits of States and the federal agent of strictly limited powers they had created in 1789.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

“At the time when the North Carolina Proclamation was issued, only six States in the North and West had granted suffrage to Negroes. Even in New York colored voters were required to own $250 worth of property as a condition of being permitted to register [to vote]. Lincoln had recognized provisional governments in Arkansas and Louisiana from which Negroes had been excluded as voters.

Logically, therefore, Johnson’s position [of following Lincoln’s example] was sound, and in conformity with the principle of States’ Rights in which he so ardently believed. His great mistake was in omitting to take into consideration the temper of the people of the North, who feared with some reason that the Southern States would return to Congress the same type of men they had elected before the War.

Such men, and their allies, the Northern and Western Democrats, might form a coalition strong enough to undo what the War had accomplished [for the Republican Party]. The enfranchisement of the Negro, for which they showed little enthusiasm at first, might at least change the balance of power in the South, and enable good Union men to be returned to Congress.

The Constitution of the United States had made no provision for secession . . . Johnson . . . had come to the conclusion that the Union had never been dissolved [and that secession] had been unconstitutional and ineffective. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had repeatedly urged that the South be treated as a conquered nation. Charles Sumner [thought] the seceded States had “committed suicide” and no longer existed as legally organized governments. He had declared that it would be contrary to the Constitution to readmit these States on their prewar basis.

The right of the Negro to suffrage had in his opinion been won in the War, and to exclude them as voters in the South would be a betrayal of their cause and of the principles for which the war had been fought.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 45-47)

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

Robert E. Lee remarked that slavery in the South was an evil and would be better solved by time and benevolent Christian influence, and the story of Reverend Chavis related below was a manifestation of that view. Chavis’s experience taught him that emancipation of the African race in his land must be preceded by education; Lincoln’s violent revolution that set black against white was the very opposite of his understanding of racial harmony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

“John Chavis [1763-1838], a free Negro of unmixed blood, preacher and educator, was born near Oxford in the County of Granville, North Carolina. As a free man he was sent to Princeton to study, privately under President Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey — “according to tradition, to demonstrate whether or not a Negro had the capacity to take a college education.”

That the test was successful appears from the record in the manuscript Order Book of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Court of 1802, which certifies to the freedom and character of Reverend John Chavis, a black man, who, as a student at Washington Academy passed successfully “through a regular course of Academical Studies.”

Through the influence of the Reverend Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian divine, Chavis became connected as a licentiate with the Presbyteries of Lexington and Hanover, Virginia. About 1805 he went to North Carolina, where he joined in 1809 the Orange Presbytery, and ministered to whites and blacks in various churches in at least three counties.

He was distinguished for his dignity of manner, purity of diction, and simplicity and orthodoxy in teaching. Familiar with Latin and Greek, he established a classical school, teaching sometimes at night, and prepared for college the sons of prominent whites in several counties, sometimes even boarding them in his family. Among them were Senator Willie P. Mangum, Governor Manly, the sons of Chief Justice Henderson. And others, who became lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers and politicians. He was respectfully received in the families of his former pupils, whom he visited often.

The letters of Chavis to Senator Mangum show that the Senator treated him as a friend. Curiously, one dated in 1836, was a vigorous protest against the Petition for Emancipation, sent to Congress by the abolitionists, as injurious to the colored race:

April 4, 1836

“I am radically and heartily opposed to the passing of such a Law, a Law which will be fraught with so many mischievous and dangerous consequences. I am already of the opinion that Congress has no more right to pass such a Law than I have to go to your house and take Orange [a slave] and bring him home and keep him as my servant . . . I am clearly of the opinion that immediate emancipation would be to entail the greatest earthly curse upon my brethren according to the flesh that could be conferred upon them especially in a country like ours . . . I believe that there are a part of the abolitionists that have, and do, acting from pure motives but I think they have zeal without knowledge, and are doing more mischief than they expect. There is I think another part that are seeking for loaves and fishes and are an exceedingly dangerous set.”

Chavis died in 1838, aged about seventy-five, a conspicuous example of merit rewarded by slave-holding whites.”

(Universal Education in the South, Volume I, Charles William Dabney, UNC Press, 1936, excerpt, pp. 453-454)

 

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

The South laid down their arms with the understanding that political union with the North would be restored, albeit against their will, but their rights in that political union would be as they were before hostilities commenced. This was not to be — punishment and retribution for seeking independence followed the shooting war – the second phase of the war would continue to 1877 and beyond.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

“Gloom and depression gripped Richmond after the surrender. Thieves, murderers and pickpockets swarmed in the streets. The prevailing feeling of despair was intensified when suspicions were expressed in certain Northern quarters that Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were somehow responsible for Lincoln’s death. This was, of course, absurd, but Northern radicals were looking for an excuse to punish the South to the limit.

Orders were accordingly issued forbidding as many as three former Confederates to stand on any Richmond street corner, lest they engage in further “conspiracies.” No Confederate insignia could be worn, with the result that a former soldier who had only his battered Confederate coat had to cut off the buttons or cover them with cloth. Many citizens talked of emigrating to Canada, Europe or Latin America.

Negroes were flooding into Richmond and other cities from the country districts. An estimated fifteen thousand came to the former Confederate capital, doubling its black population. Many of these newcomers believed vaguely that they would be cared for indefinitely by “Marse Linkum” or his agents.

As one of Emma Mordecai’s former slaves put it: “All de land belongs to de Yankees now, and dey gwine to divide it out ‘mong the colored people . . .” Another ex-slave was heard to say: “Dis what you call freedom! Can’t get no wuck, and got ter feed and clothe yo’sef.”

It was often easier for blacks to get work than whites. Ex-slaves were known to bring their impoverished former masters or mistresses Federal greenbacks and food from the US Commissary. It was clear that there were strong ties of affection between onetime slaves and their erstwhile owners.

Schoolteachers came down from the North to instruct blacks. Those in charge of these activities were idealistic in the extreme, but too frequently were lacking in understanding. Among those in dire need of help were the returning Confederate soldiers who had been confined in Northern prisons. These haggard, weak and often ill men, clad in hardly more than rags, staggered into town after somehow making their slow and tortuous way back to the South.

Fighting between Federal soldiers and Negroes occurred frequently in Richmond. Two soldiers shot a black through the head, leaving him for dead near the old Fair Grounds after robbing him of two watches and five dollars, according to the Dispatch.

The Virginia press was almost unanimous in opposition to Negro suffrage. The Richmond Times, said, for example: The former masters of the Negroes in Virginia have no feeling of unkindness toward them, and they will give them all the encouragement they deserve, but they will not permit them to exercise the right of suffrage, nor will they treat them as anything but “free Negroes.” They are laborers who are to be paid for their services . . . but vote they shall not.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 199-202)

 

Nov 5, 2017 - America Transformed, Antebellum Realities, Carnage, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South, Slave Revolt Fears, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Both colonies, Virginia and North Carolina, feared the growing numbers of Africans working the plantations that enriched far-off England, but pleas to restrict importations of slaves were rebuffed by the King. After the Revolution, sentiment towards solving the slavery problem increased steadily in the South and in 1816 the American Colonization Society was formed with more Virginians active in its affairs than any other State. The object of the group was to colonize Negroes in Liberia and return them to the land from which they were torn.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“[In] August 1831 an event in Southampton County, in the southeastern corner of the State near North Carolina, caused the people of Virginia to forget for a time that there was a controversy between the sections. This was Nat Turner’s bloody slave insurrection.

The white population of Richmond and the entire State was filled with alarm when the slave Nat Turner led some sixty blacks in an orgy of killing that took the lives of nearly sixty whites, most of them women and children. Captain Randolph Harrison of Richmond led his troop of light horse to the scene, but was unable to cover the eighty miles to Jerusalem . . . until the day after the massacre. By that time the Negro uprising had been effectively put down.

The bugler for the light horse troop was a free Negro named Dick Gaines. He is described as tall and black, “a fine rider and striking figure as he appeared on horseback, bugle in hand, in his red jacket, sword and helmet, with its crest of white horse-hair falling over his broad shoulders.”

Unrest among Richmond slaves was feared when word of the Turner massacre was received, but the blacks were said to be altogether docile and “as astonished and indignant was were the whites.” However, the white population not only of Richmond but the entire South was alarmed by the events in Southampton.

Turner had been treated well by his master, and had apparently been satisfied with his lot. Yet he and his cohorts not only murdered his master and mistress and their baby, but scores of others. The memory of Gabriel, and his far more extensive plan for wholesale murder, was also on their minds.

It was in this atmosphere that the General Assembly convened in late 1831. The frankest discussion of slavery that had yet occurred took place in that session. Both the Richmond Enquirer and Whig were arguing for the immediate or eventual elimination of the slave system. But the legislature ended by doing little or nothing . . . The time was not felt to be ripe.

Negroes, both slave and free, made up a vital part of Richmond’s labor force, especially in the tobacco factories, the coal mines and the Tredegar Iron Works. In addition, black mechanics had a virtual monopoly in carpentry, masonry, shoemaking, cooperage and other trades prior to the Civil War. Many white artisans left the State rather than compete with them.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 109-110)

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

The American Revolution stirred the idea of emancipating the Africans brought to America on British and New England slave ships, and Virginia’s early emancipation efforts were second to none. But while the Northern States in the early 1800’s had trouble tolerating the few free black people among them, the very large number of free blacks and slaves in the South being influenced by black revolts in the Caribbean created a smoldering powder keg. Virginia had experienced an enemy inciting blacks to massacre white Virginian’s with Lord Dunmore’s 1775 emancipation proclamation; it was feared that New England’s radical abolitionists would do the same.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

“[An] alarming proportion of black families were “matriarchal,” that is, the husband/father was either absent or . . . present but of negligible influence. [Also] the woman-dominant family was unstable and disorganized, at once the symptom and cause of severe social pathology among black people.

Women were prominent among free blacks; they outnumbered the men three to two, they headed more than half of the town’s free black households, and they constituted almost half of the paid free black labor force. Among those free blacks who managed to accumulate property, a high proportion — 40 to 50 percent — were women.

The [Virginia] manumission law of 1782 empowered the owner to set free any slave under the age of forty-five by the stroke of a pen.

For the first time, a substantial proportion of black Virginians would be free people. Petersburg’s free black population more than tripled in the space of twenty years, its size swelled by the high rate of emancipation in the town itself and by the hundreds of newly-freed migrants from the countryside who came in search of kin, work and community.

By 1810, there were more than a thousand free blacks in Petersburg, and they made up close to a third of the town’s free population (31.2%). Free blacks and slaves together outnumbered the whites four to three.

It was the very success of the manumission law that led to its demise. In 1805, Petersburg’s common council begged the General Assembly for some action to halt the growth of the free black population.

The council feared an uprising, and with seeming good reason. Petersburg had welcomed its share of refugees from Saint-Domingue [Haiti], where dissatisfaction among free blacks had touched off protracted [racial] warfare; in 1803, the whites of Saint-Domingue were ousted altogether.

When Petersburg’s officials looked at their own burgeoning free black population, they imagined it happening all over again . . . “a mine sprung in St. Domingo that totally annihilated the whites. With such a population we are forever on the Watch.”

(The Free Women of Petersburg, Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860; Suzanne Lebsock, W.W. Norton, 1984, excerpts, pp. 89-91)