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New England’s Black Ivory

The American South could not have become the destination for Africans enslaved by their own people without the ships of the Portuguese, Spaniards, French, British – and New Englanders. The latter had become a notorious smuggling center by 1750 as it surpassed Liverpool in the outfitting of slave ships in the infamous rum triangle.

It can be accurately stated that Britain’s Navigation Acts after the Seven Years’ War were aimed directly at New England smugglers and their African-West Indian trade, which helped bring on the American Revolution.

New England’s Black Ivory

Well-before the American Revolution, New England had engaged in smuggling goods to the other colonies and West Indies in violation of British law. This traffic left little for British merchants to import into the colonies and led Parliament to keep a watchful eye on its New England colonies. Author Reese Wolfe in his 1953 “”Yankee Ships” wrote:

“Shipbuilding, especially for New England’s triangular trade for African slaves, was sufficiently profitable for the shipbuilders of the Thames district to meet in London in the winter of 1724-1725 and formally complain to the Lords of Trade: “. . . the New England trade, by the tender of extraordinary inducements, has drawn over so many working shipwrights that there are not enough left to carry on [our] work.”

Linked inseparably with New England’s ventures south to the West Indies was its brisk trade in rum and what they were in the habit of calling black ivory. For the West Indies trade was a three-cornered affair hinging on rum, slaves and molasses.

Like so many momentous occasions in history, the start of the slave trade had been an offhand sort of occurrence. A Dutch privateer found itself with twenty Negroes taken from a Spanish ship and, not knowing what to do with them, dropped anchor in the river at Jamestown in 1619, a year before Plymouth Rock. The Negroes were offered cheap as laborers, and the Virginia settlers decided to trade tobacco for them. The swap was made and the Dutch sailed away, leaving behind them a cancerous growth that was to bring the parent body close to death before the disease was arrested.

Meanwhile, the Virginians did not call them slaves; as late as 1660 Virgnia court records still referred to Negroes as indentured servants. The New Englanders had Indian slaves as early as 1637, and a more or less formal business developed, with traders nabbing Indians along the banks of the Kennebec River in Maine and selling them into slavery up and down the coast. It was the black ivory from Africa, however, that turned the trick in New England’s West Indies trade and established Southern slavery on a solid and enduring footing.

The mechanics of the all-important trade worked like this: molasses was brought to New England and made into rum; the rum, highly-prized among the native Negroes on the west coast of Africa, brought its own price among the drinkers, a price that included any of their relatives or friends who might have the bad judgement to be lying about, and the resultant human cargoes were disposed of profitably in Boston, Newport and on south. Or most of the way south. Foreign ships for the most part maintained the supply in the deep South.

Not all the West Indies rum was drunk by Negroes. A flourishing local trade in fur was conducted with the Indians by the extremely profitable exchange of a few bottles of cheap rum or whisky for the entire season’s catch of its drunken owner. New England rum, it is generally agreed, had more to do with the destruction of the Indian tribes on the eastern seaboard than all the wars in which they were engaged put together.”

(Yankee Ships: An Informal History of the American Merchant Marine, Reese Wolfe, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953, pp. 42-44)

 

Feb 23, 2022 - From Africa to America, New England History, New England's Slave Trade    Comments Off on Devout Puritan Slave Traders

Devout Puritan Slave Traders

Devout Puritan Slave Traders

“The first American slave ship shown in the records was the Rainbow which sailed from Boston for Africa in 1645. On the Guinea Coast her captain found a shortage of slaves at the trading posts. With the help of the captains of several English ships also waiting in vain for slaves, an expedition was organized to go into the interior. The slave hunters took along a “murderer,” a light cannon also called a swivel gun as it was mounted to be easily swung in any direction. With it they attacked a native village, killed many of its people and managed to capture a few slaves.

The Rainbow’s captain got only two for his share, but with his meager cargo he sailed back to Boston since there was a good market for slaves there. In Boston his troubles continued. The ship’s owner learned that the raid on the African village had taken place on a Sunday.

In the eyes of the stern Puritans this was a shocking crime and the captain was arrested, tried for murder, man-stealing and Sabbath-breaking. He was acquitted however, since the Massachusetts Bay court decided it had no power to punish a man for something that happened outside the colony. The two slaves were seized by the government and sent home to Africa, so this first American slaving voyage on record was a dismal failure.”

(Rum, Slaves and Molasses: The Story of New England’s Triangular Trade, Clifford L. Alderman, Crowell-Collier Press, 1972, pg. 19-20)

 

Slavery and Secession

Though the British discovered a peaceful path to end African slavery in its empire, no practical or peaceful solutions to end slavery in the United States came from New England abolitionists. Rather than look back at their section’s role in the transatlantic slave trade which brought Africans traded for Yankee notions and rum to the West Indies and the South, Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin and New England cotton mills which perpetuated slavery, and New England’s threatened secession since 1804, blaming the South for slavery became popular. They would also have found that New England’s financial basis for its industrial revolution was acquired through its African slave trade, which helped Providence, Rhode Island surpass Liverpool as the center of that transatlantic slave trade by 1750.

Slavery and Secessionists

“Soon after the assassination of President Lincoln, the Rev. Daniel C. Eddy of the Baldwin Place Congregational Church in Boston spoke of the fundamental differences he perceived between the South and the North:

“Argue as we may, our Southern people are a different race. Slavery has given them a different idea of religion . . . Slavery has barbarized them, and made them a people with whom we have little in common. We had an idea of Southern civilization when Judge Hoar was driven out of Charleston . . . when Sumner was bleeding in the Federal Senate . . . when ornaments were made for Southern ladies of the bones of the brave soldiers killed at Bull Run . . . in the atrocities perpetrated upon our poor soldiers . . . And now we have another exhibition of it in the base, wanton, assassination of the President.”

In the antebellum years some Northern clergy looked upon the South as a distasteful part of the Union that they advocated the Garrisonian position whereby the South should separate itself from the South. In 1851 Charles G. Finney, coming to the realization that revivalism was not going to bring an end to slavery, suggested “the dismemberment of our hypocritical union.” Finley detested the thought of living in a nation where slavery existed. It was better to separate from such an evil.

In two sermons delivered in 1854, Eden B. Foster, a Congregationalist minister from Lowell, Massachusetts, proposed the secession of the North from the Union as a last resort to check the spread of slavery. Inherent in the slavery system, said Foster, were such evils as cruelty, ignorance immorality and sin. On April 4, 1861, less than two weeks before the cannons at Charleston began to bombard Fort Sumter, [Boston preacher] . . . Eddy urged the North to free itself from the burden of Union with the South so that the North might more fully “develop all those forces of a high-minded Christian civilization.”

Later that month, on April 28, after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Eddy changed his mind and advocated war to save the Union.”

(God Ordained This War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865, David B. Chesebrough, University of South Carolina Press, 1991, excerpt pp. 58-59)

Virginia’s Effort to Abolish the Slave Trade

In the first Congress under the United States  Constitution, Josiah Parker of Virginia attempted to insert a clause in the Tariff Bill to levy a ten dollar tax on every slave brought into this country on foreign ships, and especially those of New England.  Parker was supported in this by two other Virginians, Theodoric Bland and James Madison.  In a March 1790 Virginia petition to Congress, the slave trade was denounced as “an outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature.”

In an unclean bargain to extend the slave trade until 1808, the commercial interests of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut allied with South Carolina and Georgia rice planters – while Virginia strenuously protested. The slave traders of New England continued their nefarious traffic until the eve of the Civil War.

Virginia’s Efforts to Abolish the Slave Trade

“Despite Virginia’s failure to secure the immediate suppression of the foreign slave trade, her sons were active in their efforts to restrict its growth and at the earliest possible moment to drive the slave ships from the seas.

“ . . . James Madison [declared] . . . By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade it is hoped we may destroy it, and so save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.”

In his message to Congress, at its session 1806-07, Mr. Jefferson, then President, brought to the attention of that body the fact that under the Constitution the time was at hand when the African slave trade could be abolished, and urged a speedy enactment of such a law. He said:

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of a period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have so long been continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”

[Later], In his message to Congress, December 5, 1810, President [James] Madison declares: “Among the commercial abuses still committed under the American flag . . . it appears that American citizens are instrumental in carrying on the traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly Munford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, excerpts pp. 33-35)

 

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

Born at sea while his family sailed from Ireland to America, John Newland Mafffitt was destined for a life on the water. Having just relinquished command of the USS Crusader at New York on March 1, 1861, after several years capturing New England-captained and financed slavers off Cuba, the country he had left had become something different.

Soon to become one of the most famed of blockade runners and privateers, he had, by his account, in the first three of his four captures of slavers, rescued 789 Africans from their cramped holds.

The Wilmington Daily Journal of 25 September 1863 remarked, “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”  

Though describing himself as a “slave holder” due to a modest interest in land he had inherited from his wife’s family, Maffitt found the newly-rediscovered morality of New Englanders disingenuous.

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

“The news of Fort Sumter reached Washington in the early evening of April 13, causing intense excitement within the city. Maffitt now faced his terrible decision of allegiance. He could hear the tramp of soldiers and the roll of artillery wagons day and night outside his house. Southern families departed daily; resignations were announced “in language of gall and bitterness.” Maffitt’s relatives were in the South. His property was partly in the North – his Washington home with its valuable furnishings and fine library; and partly in the South interest in land he inherited . . .

He recoiled against a people who sold slaves to Southerners and then became puritanical in their attitudes:

‘I fancied that New England, with her well-developed secession proclivities, would offer no material objection to the course of the South. In truth it was natural to presume that fanatical abolitionism would hail with joy the departure of the un-Godly, slaveholding section of the country from her unwelcome participation in the Union. But material interest gave zest to patriotism, and her war course would lead the world to suppose that she never contemplated a severance from the Union and forming a Northern Confederation.”

(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 30; 32-33)  

Satisfying the Philanthropists

Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden was a British naval officer who served in the suppression of the slave trade prior to the American Civil War, and then became a blockade runner under the pseudonym “Captain Roberts,” running the blockade successfully twenty-seven times. He authored the postwar book, “Never Caught.”

Hobart-Hampden wrote of delivering the human cargo of a captured slaver to British authorities, who would feed and clothe the Africans, and then serve seven years as apprentices – which he compared to a form of slavery itself – and after which they were free. He added: “I fear they generally used their freedom in a way that made them a public nuisance wherever they were. However, they were free, and that satisfied the philanthropists.”

Satisfying the Philanthropists

It was at the time when philanthropists of Europe were crying aloud for the abolition of the African slave trade, never taking for a moment into consideration the fact that the state of the savage African black population was infinitely bettered by their being conveyed out of the misery and barbarism of their own country, introduced to civilization, given opportunities of embracing religion, and taught that to kill and eat each other was not to be considered as the principal pastime among human beings.

At the period I allude to (from 1841 to 1845) the slave trade was carried out on a large scale between the coast of Africa and South America; and a most lucrative trade it was, if the poor devils of Negroes could be safely conveyed alive from one coast to another.

I say if, because the risk of capture was so great that the poor wretches, men, women and children, were packed like herrings in the holds of the fast little sailing vessels employed, and to such a fearful extent was this packing carried on that, even if the vessels were not captured, more than half the number of blacks embarked died from suffocation or disease before arriving at their destination, yet that half was sufficient to pay handsomely those engaged in the trade.

On this point I propose giving examples and proofs hereafter, merely remarking, en passant, that had the Negroes been brought over in vessels that were not liable to be chased and captured, the owners of such vessels would naturally, considering the great value of their cargo, have taken precautions against overcrowding and disease.

Now, let us inquire as to the origin of these poor wretched Africans becoming slaves, and of their being sold to the white man. It was, briefly speaking, in this wise.

On a war taking place between two tribes in Africa, a thing of daily occurrence, naturally many prisoners were made on both sides. Of these prisoners those who were not tender enough to be made into ragout were taken down to the sea coast and sold to the slave dealers, who had wooden barracks established ready for their reception.

Into these barracks, men, women and children, most of whom were kept in irons to prevent escape, were bundled like cattle, there to await embarkation on board the vessels that would convey them across the sea.

Perhaps while on their way [to Brazil the loaded slaver] was chased by an English cruiser, in which case, so it has often been known to happen, a part of the living cargo would be thrown overboard, trusting that the horror of leaving human beings to be drowned would compel the officers of the English cruiser to slacken their speed while picking the poor wretches up, and thus giving the slaver a better chance of escape.”  

(Hobart Pasha; Blockade-Running, Slaver-Hunting, and War and Sport in Turkey, Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden, Horace Kephart, editor, Outing Publishing, 1915, excerpts pp. 60-68)

A National Institution

The author of the 1928 source below notes that as of that date, “Liberia, the country of free Negroes, there are over two hundred thousand slaves. In Sierra Leone, the other freemen’s colony, slavery was abolished on January 1 of this year, by decree of the Legislative Council.”

A National Institution

“It would be a task of many pages if I attempted to give a full account of the origin and causes of slavery in Africa. As a national institution, it seems to have existed always. Africans have been bondsmen everywhere: and the oldest monuments bear their images linked with menial toils and absolute servitude.

England to-day, with all her philanthropy, sends, under the Cross of St. George, to convenient magazines of lawful commerce on the [African] coast, Birmingham muskets, Manchester cottons, and Liverpool lead, all of which are righteously swapped at Sierra Leone, Acra, and on the Gold Coast, for Spanish or Brazilian bills on London.

Yet what British merchant does not know the traffic on which those bills are founded, and for whose support his wares are purchased?  France . . . dispatches her Rouen cottons, Marseille brandies, flimsy taffetas, and indescribable variety of tinsel geegaws. Germany demands a slice for her looking-glasses and beads; while multitudes of our own worthy [Boston] traders, who would hang a slaver as a pirate when caught, do not hesitate to supply him indirectly with tobacco, powder, cotton, Yankee rum, and New England notions, in order to bait the trap in which he may be caught. It is the temptation of these things, I repeat, which feeds the slave-making wars of Africa, and forms the human basis of those admirable bills of exchange.

Such may be said to be the predominating influence that supports the African slave trade; yet, if commerce of all kinds were forbidden with that continent, the customs and laws of the natives would still encourage slavery as a domestic affair, though of course in a very modified degree.

A slave is a note of hand that may be discounted or pawned; he is still a bill of exchange that carries him to his destination and pays the debt bodily . . . Thus, slavery is not likely to be surrendered by the Negroes themselves as a national institution.”

(Adventures of a Slave Trader: Being an Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot, Trader in Gold, Ivory &Slaves on the Coast of Guinea: His Own Story as Told in the Year 1854 to Brantz Mayer, Garden City Publishing, 1928, excerpts pp. 126-128)

New York’s Forgotten Past

New York City was the antebellum manufacturing, commercial and shipping center of the United States, and many New York firms found their greatest market in the slave-holding States. This was true of those selling the cheap cotton goods for slave clothing, and luxury items earmarked for the planters. The trade with the South was so great that many companies advertised themselves as “exclusively for the Southern trade.” Manhattan bankers had ready-money at low interest for planters, Northern or Southern, wanting to buy more land to plant cotton for which slaves were needed.

New York passed progressive emancipation bills in the early 1800s and many were sold to Southern planters, but slaves still existed within the State in the 1840s. It is noteworthy that the Duke of York, for whom the city was named, governed the Royal African Company until he took the throne as James II

New York’s Forgotten Past

“In colonial times New York State slave owners were legion, and slavery continued there until just twenty years before the beginning of the Civil War. New York had the largest and most important slave system in colonial times north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The State provided an excellent example of urban slavery, where slaves [worked] next to free whites and acquired a variety of special skills.

The Dutch West India Company introduced slaves into New Netherlands in 1626. They were imported to New York to work on the farms, public buildings, and military works for which free workers were not available. It is doubtful whether New Netherlands would have survived without these slaves, for they provided the labor which ultimately transformed the colony from a shaky commercial outpost into a permanent settlement.

When the British captured New Netherlands in 1664, slavery continued and the slave population multiplied. Slaves were concentrated in New York City and surrounding counties. By 1746 Negro slaves accounted for 15 percent of the total New York population.

[The British occupation of southern New York during the Revolution] thoroughly disrupted slave relations. The British offered freedom to slaves who sought asylum with them . . . [which] undermined the slave system in New York.

In 1790 New York had 21,324 slaves, which increased ten years later to 30,343, the highest number of slaves New York ever possessed. By 1820, New York’s slightly more than 10,000 slaves showed a 33 percent decrease since 1810. By 1830, 75 slaves remained in the State, ten years later there were only four.”

(The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States, William C. Wright, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 165-166)

Bringing Down the Vengeance of Heaven

In 1620 a Dutch trading vessel entered Virginia’s James River with twenty Negroes aboard, and sold them to the settlers as laborers. But it was not in Virginia that a legal basis for slave ownership was first created, as Massachusett’s “Body of Liberties” promulgated in 1641, held that “There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, nor captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves, or are sold, unto us.” And from this came New England’s domination of the transatlantic slave trade.

Bringing Down the Vengeance of Heaven

“Taking a hint apparently from the Mahommetans, the clergy had denounced it as a scandalous and outrageous thing for one Christian to hold another in slavery; and their preaching on this point had been so successful, that about the time of the discovery of America it had come to be considered a settled matter, not in England only, but throughout Western Europe, that no Christian ought to be, or lawfully could be, held as a slave.

But with the customary narrowness of that age, this immunity from slavery was not thought to extend to infidels and pagans. While the emancipation of serfs was going on, black slaves, brought by the Portuguese from the coast of Guinea, became common in the south of Europe, and a few found their way to England.

The first Englishman to be engaged in this business was Sir John Hawkins, who, during the reign of Elizabeth, made several voyages to the coast of Guinea for Negroes, whom he disposed of to the Spaniards of the West Indies.

The Queen granted several patents to encourage this traffic; yet she is said to have expressed to Hawkins her hope that the Negroes went voluntarily from Africa, declaring that if any force were used to enslave them, she doubted not it would bring down the vengeance of Heaven upon those guilty of such wickedness.

The newly discovered coasts of America were also visited by kidnappers. Few, if any, of the early voyagers scrupled to seize the natives, and to carry them home as slaves. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, so active and so conspicuous in the early settlement of New England, had a number of these captured natives, whom he claimed as his property, kept under restraint, and employed as guides and pilots. The practice of the early English settlers in America, and their ideas of the English law on the subject, corresponded exactly with . . . Jewish provisions, indeed it would seem to have been regulated by them.

Thus they took with them, or caused to be brought out, a large number of indented Christian servants, whose period of bondage was limited to seven years, and who, till after the Revolution, constituted a distinct class in the community. Indeed, of the white immigrants to America preceding that era, the larger portion would seem to have arrived there under this servile character.

But while the servitude of Christians was thus limited, the colonists supposed themselves justified in holding Negroes and Indians as slaves for life.”

(Despotism in America: An Inquiry into the Nature, Results and Legal Basis of the Slave-Holding System in the United States, Richard Hildreth, John P. Jewett and Company, 1854, excerpts pp. 178-180)

Restless Yankees Infested with Guilt

One of the great conundrums of American history is the “treasury of virtue” claimed by New England as it allegedly struck the chains of slavery off the black man. Though the war was begun by Lincoln as simply one to “save the Union,” with Massachusetts troops conspicuously rushing to his side, New England abolitionists were quick to morph the war into an abolition crusade.

In truth, the ancestors of the crusading abolitionists grew wealthy in the transatlantic slave trade which exchanged Yankee notions and rum for enslaved Africans, then sailed to the West Indies and North America to deposit those that survived the murderous middle passage.  The exploitation of the black man continued with Eli Whitney’s invention, cotton-hungry New England mills, and Manhattan banks which revived a dying and unwanted peculiar institution. It is then fair to state that the original “slave power” was New England.

Restless Yankees Infested with Guilt

During the Victorian Age, an aphorism held that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  In England the adage may have been coined to salve the consciences of plutocrats wallowing in wealth gained at the expense of a wretched factory proletariat, but in the United States, at least, it had broader connotations. 

When times were hard and the struggle to make ends meet the Yankees accepted their lot uncomplainingly, as if that was what God had destined for them.

When times were good and life was easy, they became restless and infested with feelings of guilt. In such circumstances, their tendency was to look around for evil and band together to strike it out.  [The] years after the 1849 gold rush were a period of unprecedented prosperity that lasted almost a decade. Fads and fancies proliferated, but most commonly, Yankees focused their reforming energies upon slavery, or, more properly, upon which they perceived as the slave power.”

(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pg. 165)