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The First American Slave Ship at Marblehead

It can be rightly said that the Northern States by 1860 were “former slave States,” rather than all free labor. The Southern States were by then partly slave States, as most of its residents were free labor. Had the North not incited and waged war upon the South, allowed the latter to continue its post-Revolution phase of manumission and emancipation on its own without interference, the South might have ended the relic of British colonialism peacefully and without the animus which continues unabated today.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The First American Slave Ship at Marblehead

“Slavery was . . . historically speaking, a very recent period, as much a Northern institution as it was a Southern one; it existed in full vigor in all the original thirteen colonies, and while it existed it was quite as rigorous a system in the North as at the South.

Every law which formed it code at the South had its counterpart in the North, and with less reason; for while there were at the South not less than 600,000 slaves – Virginia having, by the census of 1790, 293,427 – there were at the North, by the census of 1790, less than 42,000.

Regulations not wholly compatible with absolute freedom of will are necessary concomitants of any system of slavery, especially where the slaves are in large numbers; and it should move the hearts of our brethren at the North to greater patience with us that they, too, are not “without sin.”

Massachusetts has the honor of being the first community in America to legalize the slave trade and slavery by legislative act; the first to send out a slave-ship, and the first to secure a fugitive slave law.

Slavery having been planted on this continent (not by the South, as has been reiterated until it is the generally received doctrine, but by a Dutch ship, which in 1619 landed a cargo of “twenty neggers” in a famished condition at Jamestown) it shortly took general root, and after a time began to flourish.

Indeed, it flourished here and elsewhere, so than in 1636, only seventeen years later, a ship, the Desire, was built and fitted out at Marblehead as a slaver, and thus became the first American slave ship but by no means the last.

The fugitive slave law . . . had its prototype in the Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies of New England (19th May 1643), in which Massachusetts was the ruling colony.”

(The Negro: The Southerners Problem, Thomas Nelson Page, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1904, excerpt, pp. 222-224)

Rhode Island’s Profitable Past

Though the smallest State of the United States, Rhode Island’s contributions toward populating America with enslaved Africans was massive, and they were joined in this endeavor by New York and Massachusetts. It is said that Liverpool shipbuilders complained to Parliament of trained British shipwrights being lured across the Atlantic with higher pay, and which allowed Rhode Island to surpass Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade by 1750.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rhode Island’s Profitable Past

“Soon after its settlement, Bristol [Rhode Island] people began to engage in commerce with the West Indies and the Spanish Main. The first recorded shipment (November 6, 1686) consisting of a number of horses, was consigned to the “Bristol Merchant,” bound for Surinam, British Guiana. [The] Slave trade was introduced in Rhode Island about 1700, and Bristol was not slow in joining Newport and Providence in this highly profitable industry.

It has been estimated that over a fifth of the total number of slaves crossed the Atlantic to British America in Rhode Island vessels, and that of this fifth Bristol slavers carried the largest share. Horses, sheep, pickled fish, onions, carrots, etc. made up the cargo on the outward voyage, and coffee, molasses, sugar, rum and tropical fruits were imported. The outbreak of the Revolution struck hard at the prosperity of this flourishing commercial town.

After the war the people of Bristol rebuilt the town and commerce was soon revived, especially the slave trade with Africa and molasses and rum trade with Cuba.”

(Rhode Island, A Guide to the Smallest State, Louis Cappelli, Houghton Mifflin, 1937, excerpts pp. 184-185)

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

The responsibility for populating its American colonies with enslaved Africans rests with the British, who needed cheap labor for the plantations producing profit for England. Southern colonists, alarmed at the increasing numbers of black slaves arriving in British and New England hulls, repeatedly called for an end to the cruel trade. As Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) suggests below, any and all demands by Virginians and Carolinians to halt the slave-trade were nullified by the British Crown.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

“Massachusetts invalidated the British commercial system, which Virginia resisted from abhorrence of the slave-trade. Never before had England pursued the traffic in Negroes with such eager avarice.

The remonstrances of philanthropy and of the colonies were unheeded, and categorical instructions from the [British] Board of Trade kept every American port open as markets for men.

The Legislature of Virginia had repeatedly showed a disposition to obstruct the commerce; a deeply-seated public opinion began more and more to avow the evils and the injustice of slavery itself; and in 1761, it was proposed to suppress the importation of Africans by a prohibitory duty.

Among those who took part in the long and violent debate was Richard Henry Lee, the representative of Westmoreland. Descended from one of the oldest families in Virginia, he had been educated in England and had returned to his native land familiar with the spirit of Grotius and Cudworth, of Locke and Montesquieu; his first recorded speech was against Negro slavery, in behalf of human freedom.

In the continued importation of slaves, he foreboded danger to the political and moral interests of the Old Dominion; an increase of the free Anglo-Saxons he argued, would foster arts and varied agriculture, while a race doomed to abject bondage was of necessity an enemy to social happiness. He painted from ancient history the horrors of servile insurrections. He deprecated the barbarous atrocity of the trade with Africa, and its violation of the equal rights of men created like ourselves in the image of God.

“Christianity,” thus he spoke in conclusion, “by introducing into Europe the truest principles of universal benevolence and brotherly love, happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty, pay a proper regard to our rue interests and to the dictates of justice and humanity.”

The tax for which Lee raised his voice was carried through the Assembly of Virginia by a majority of one; but from England a negative followed with certainty every colonial act tending to diminish the [British] slave-trade. South Carolina, also appalled by the great increase of its black population, endeavored by its own laws to restrain the importation of slaves, and in like manner came into collision with the same British policy.”

(History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, Volume IV; George Bancroft, Brown, Little and Company, 1856, excerpts, pp. 421-422)

Imagining a Lost Cause

Imagining a Lost Cause

Let us imagine for a moment that the French army and fleet were not present at Yorktown to augment Washington’s army, and that the British prevailed in their war to suppress the rebellion of their subjects populating the American colonies below Canada. As the victorious redcoats swarmed through those colonies they arrested and imprisoned rebel leadership including Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, et al. All were sure they would swing from sturdy tree limbs for their part in a Lost Cause.

Though the outcry from American Loyalists demanded the execution of rebel leaders, the King decided to not create martyrs and mercifully allowed them to lead peaceful lives after taking a new oath of fealty to the Crown. They would be treated as second-class subjects and forever viewed with suspicion as former rebels.

The official history of that civil war was then written which proclaimed that the rebels fought in defense of African slavery — in short, that the American Revolution was fought to perpetuate slavery and the King fought for the freedom of the black race. Willing court historians suppressed Britain’s deep involvement in the slave trade, and later gate keepers of orthodoxy maintained the fiction to avoid official censure and loss of position.

It is remembered that on November 7, 1775, Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore (John Murray), issued his emancipation proclamation in Norfolk announcing that all able-bodied, male slaves in Virginia who abandoned their masters and took up arms for the King would be free . . . “Negroes and others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of duty to His Majesty’s crown and dignity . . .”

A rebel newspaper correspondent wrote: “Hell itself could not have vomited anything more black than this design of emancipating our slaves.” The proclamation deemed anyone opposing the proclamation as “defending slavery.”

Lord Dunmore afterward was hailed throughout the world as the Great Emancipator and savior of the black race, and that had he not freed the bondsmen from the slave holding colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, chattel slavery would have continued forever.

The irony of this official history was not lost on those who had witnessed the populating of the American colonies and how the official Royal African Company (RAC) brought slave ship after slave ship to work the plantations that enriched the British Empire. The RAC was established in 1660 by the Stuart family and London merchants, for the purpose of trading along the west coast of Africa – especially for slaves. It was led by the Duke of York (for whom New York City is named), the brother of Charles II.

Additionally, the maritime colonies of Rhode Island and Massachusetts surreptitiously engaged in slaving, with the former colony surpassing Liverpool in 1750 as the center of the lucrative transatlantic slave trade. Thus New England’s maritime ventures and its competition with England was greatly to blame for sparking the rebellion.

Although the British were certainly responsible (along with the Portuguese, French and Spanish) for the presence of African slaves in North America, they were victorious in that civil war and wrote the official histories of the rebellion. Subsequently, all British universities, newspapers and books were in unison denouncing the American rebels as racist white supremacists who refused the black man equality, and any monuments to their dead were simply evidence of glorifying and romanticizing a Lost Cause. Imagine.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

Charleston’s Colored Masters

Many of antebellum Charleston’s free black population owned slaves, and the Brown Fellowship of that city was organized in 1790 by black commercial slaveowners who saw no need to emancipate their black brethren. In 1796, Samuel Holman, a mulatto slave trader from Rio Pongo, West Africa was admitted to that colored society, which preserved the distinction between free persons of color and slaves.  On the eve of war in Wilmington, North Carolina, the labor utilized in erecting Dr. John D. Bellamy’s mansion included free black carpenter with slave workers who underbid white carpenters. The latter petitioned the legislature in the mid-1850s to increase the tax on slaves so white workers could find work.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Charleston’s Colored Masters

“Many prominent citizens like Christopher Gustavious Memminger, an influential lawyer and politician of Charleston County, believed that the free black community served a useful role and protected the interest of slaveholders.

Since many of the well-to-do colored persons were slave masters and landholders, the whites concluded that the free black elite would join them in support of the institution of slavery. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the lines were drawn by the free black populace and the views of white supporters of the colored community seemed accurate.

On April 12, 1861 . . . the black masters saw the opportunity to affirm their commitment to South Carolina and sided with the white slaveowners. A group of free blacks from Charleston City, including a number of colored slaveowners, issued the following statement:

“. . . [Our] attachments are with you, our hopes and safety and protection from you . . . our allegiance is due to South Carolina and in her defense, we will offer up our lives, and all that is dear to us.”

The sentiments of the Charleston black slaveowners were shared by the black slaveowners of other counties. For example, William Ellison, a cotton planter and the owner of 63 slaves, offered his aid to the Confederate Army in Sumter County.

As the Confederate Army began to make successful advances in the summer of 1862, the black masters continued their farming operations with slave labor. As the war raged on, shortages of meat and other foodstuffs were not the only dilemma faced by the colored masters. Even the wealthiest colored masters could not always purchase clothing for their families and slaves. Quite often the slave masters employed their female slaves to make homespun clothing.

[After 1863, many black masters] sought to liquidate their human chattel . . . before the Union Army forced them to emancipate their slaves. As the war continued to worsen for the Confederacy, other colored masters probably attempted to sell their slave property but could not find a willing buyer because the Union Army was advancing towards South Carolina.

Yet even as the Confederacy was falling into disarray, many of the black masters refused to sell their slaves, while others chose not to grant their servants nominal freedom. As late as 1865, there were 81 colored slave masters who owned 241 slaves in Charleston City. Many of these slaveowners used their slaves as workers and did not intend to emancipate them.

Among the invading troops [at Charleston in early 1865] were the Twenty-first US Colored Troops. When they reached the city, a crowd of jubilant free blacks and slaves greeted the soldiers; but the colored masters of Charleston perceived the invasion as apocalyptic destruction rather than salvation.”

(Black Slaveowners, Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860; Larry Koger, University of South Carolina Press, 1985, excerpts, pp. 189-192)

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)

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.)

 

 

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