Browsing "From Africa to America"

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)

Plantations of the Old World

When Christopher Columbus set sail “on his first expedition across the Atlantic, accumulated imports of Negro slaves into the Old World were probably in excess of twenty-five thousand,” and many white slaves worked the Mediterranean sugar plantations with them.

By the last half of the sixteenth century the center of sugar production shifted across the Atlantic, and by 1600, Brazil had become Europe’s leading sugar supplier. Portuguese ships brought needed labor for Brazilian plantations, slaves readily purchased from the tribes of West Africa.

Plantations of the Old World

“Slavery is not only the most ancient but also one of the most long-lived forms of economic and social organization. It came into being at the dawn of civilization, when mankind passed from hunting and nomadic pastoral life into primitive agriculture. And although legally sanctioned slavery was outlawed in its last bastion – the Arabian peninsula – in 1962, slavery is still practiced covertly in parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

One high-water mark was reached during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire when, according to some estimates, three out of every four residents of the Italian peninsula – twenty- one million people – lived in bondage. Eventually Roman slavery was transformed into serfdom, a form of servitude that mitigated some of the harsher features of the old system.

The Italians were quite active in importing slaves from the area of the Black Sea during the thirteenth century. And the Moors captured during the interminable religious wars were enslaved on the Iberian peninsula, along with Slavs and captives from the Levant [eastern Mediterranean].

Black slaves were imported into Europe during the Middle Ages through the Moslem countries of North Africa. Beginning about the middle of the fifteenth century, the Portuguese established trading posts along the west coast of Africa below the Sahara with the aim of capturing or making relatively large purchases of black slaves. Although Negroes continued to be imported into the Old World until the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was the New World that became the great market for slaves.

It was Europe’s sweet tooth, rather than its addiction to tobacco or its infatuation with cotton cloth that determined the extent of the Atlantic slave trade. Sugar was the greatest of the slave crops. Between 60 and 70 percent of all the Africans who survived the Atlantic voyages ended up in one or the other of Europe’s sugar colonies.

Sugar was introduced into the Levant [eastern Mediterranean] in the seventh century by the Arabs. From the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries [Mediterranean] colonies shipped sugar to all parts of Europe. Moreover, the sugar produced there was grown on plantations which utilized slave labor. While the slaves were primarily white, it was in these islands that Europeans developed the institutional apparatus that was eventually applied to blacks.”

(Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, W. Fogel and S. Engerman, W.W. Norton, 1974, excerpts pp. 13-17)

The Greatest Slave Carriers of America

New England rum and Yankee notions were exchanged for African slaves as Boston and Newport rivaled each other for slave trade prominence in the early 1700s. Annually, about 1800 hogsheads of rum were traded to African tribes for their slaves, and this left little for consumption in the colony.

From this profitable trade in human merchandise, “an opulent and aristocratic society” developed in Newport; Col. Thomas Hazard of Narragansett and Mr. Downs of Bristol “were names that loomed large in the commercial and social registers of that day. Their fortunes were accumulated from the slave trade.”

It is worth noting that had there been no transatlantic slave trade carried on by the British and New Englanders, the American South would have had no peculiar institution.

Greatest Slave Carriers of America

“The growth of Negro slavery in New England was slow during the seventeenth century. In 1680, there were only 20 slaves in Connecticut, two of whom had been christened. In 1676, Massachusetts had 200 slaves . . . in 1700 Governor Dudley placed the number at 550, four hundred of whom were in Boston.

In 1730, New Hampshire boasted of but thirty slaves. The Eighteenth Century, however, saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave-carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slaves as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of a slave was greater than the labor returned, the ingenious Yankee soon found a market in the West Indies for slaves, exchanged for rum, sugar and molasses on the Guinea Coast.

Massachusetts early assumed a commanding position in this trade. The ports of Boston and Salem prospered especially. Their merchants carried on a “brisk trade to Guinea” for many years, marketing most of their slaves in the West Indies.

Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage in held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many comfortable fortunes amassed from the profits of this traffic. The name Jolley Bachelor, which was carried by one of his ships engaged in the slave trade, typifies the spirit of the time in regard to this profitable business.

As opulence increased, the number of slaves grew proportionately. In 1735, there were 2,600 Negroes in Massachusetts; in 1764 the number had increased to 5,779. In 1742, Boston alone had 1,514 slaves and free Negroes, the number having almost quadrupled in about forty years.

[In 1696] the brigantine Sunflower arrived at Newport with forty-five slaves. Most of them were sold there at thirty to thirty-five pounds a head; the rest were taken to Boston for disposal.

Subsequently, however, the slave trade of Rhode Island outstripped that of Massachusetts. Governor Wood, early in the Eighteenth Century, reported that the colony had one hundred and twenty vessels employed in the trade. Newport rivaled Boston as New England’s premier seaport. It had twenty or thirty stills going full blast to supply rum for the African trade.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 4, October 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 495-497)

The Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

Most authorities agree that the first mention of Negro slaves in New England was in John Winthrop’s diary in 1638, stating that “Mr. Pierce in his Salem ship, Desire, has been at Providence [West Indies] and brought some cotton and tobacco and Negroes from there, and salt from Tertugos.”

Negro slaves are found in New Haven, Connecticut as early as 1644, six years after the colony was founded, though it is recorded that “John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1633.”

Slaves are mentioned in New Hampshire in 1646, as well as Rhode Island in 1652. The latter colony became the center of New England’s infamous transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool’s slave trade by 1750.

Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“. . . Negro slavery in New England reflected that institution as it existed in the hey-day of the plantation era in the sugar, cotton and tobacco States. There was the same horror of the slave trade, the same spectacle of gangs of manacled blacks deposited on the wharves of Boston and Newport, and the same selling of human chattel at auction.

Nor was the tearing of wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of the slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable to New England as well; and in some instance, New England even led the way.

The Puritan settlements of New England enjoyed, either contemporaneously or separately, the three forms of servitude common in that day, namely; indentured servants, Indian slaves, and Negro slaves.

Indentured servants date from the founding of Massachusetts; indeed they even preceded the settlement of the Puritans at Salem, having been sent in advance to prepare homes and food against the coming of the settlers in 1630. Unfree labor existed, however, throughout the remainder of the colonial period.

The indentured servants soon proved insufficient in numbers to satisfy the colonists increasing demand for laborers. A new source of supply was soon found, however, for Indian warfare began about 1636, and the captives were promptly sold into slavery. The women and children were usually employed in the colonies; the warriors were carried to th West Indies and there sold as slaves.

The barbarous treatment of the Pequots by the New Englanders in their ruthless war of extermination against them, must ever remain a blot upon New England’s escutcheon. However, the pious Puritans easily dismissed any qualms of conscience which might have arisen, by the simple fact that “a gracious Providence had been pleased to deliver the heathen Indians into their hands.”

Thus the redskin and not the black man, was the first slave in New England. Even the much vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 2, April 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 492-494)

Quaker Masters and their Property

The slave trade of New England increased as its maritime fleet competed with the mother country for the West Indian trade. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade, and populated the West Indies and the American South with slaves purchased from African tribes in exchange for Yankee notions and rum.

Southern colonies tried to restrict the slave imports, and “Resolutions were passed in various Virginia counties against the African trade on the ground that it prevented manufacturers and other useful migrants from settling in the colony and instead increased the colony’s unfavorable balance of trade.”

Additional resistance to stopping the slave trade came from the British Crown, which overrode the Virginia and North Carolina colonial assembly’s.

Quaker Masters and their Property

“At all times the respectable complained that the wages of labor were too high. “Tis the poor that make the rich,” one writer frankly admitted in John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal. [John] Logan complained to [William] Penn in 1705 that Pennsylvania was in depression because England with its cheap labor could undersell Pennsylvania in the provision trade in the West Indies. If only more people could be brought in to “lower the prices of labor,” the colony would prosper.

Penn’s view of indentured servants as property was still retained. The influential Quaker preacher, Thomas Story, exclaimed in 1741 that bought servants are as much “the property of their masters, as their lands, goods, money or clothing.” Without them the masters “could not cultivate their lands or maintain their families.” Therefore the governor is “infringing the just liberty and property of the people” in allowing the servants to enlist in the war emergency.

The assembly and council added that this “unconstitutional” practice injures the masters whose servants have not enlisted, for they “must humor them in everything lest they enlist.” Thus they grow “idle, neglectful, insolent and mutinous.”

The enlightened [Thomas] Mayhew of Massachusetts envied Pennsylvania her mass of German indentured servants. These, he declared in an election sermon in 1754, made Pennsylvania as rich and populous in a few years as the greatest and most opulent of colonies.

Even Washington, endeavoring to people his frontier lands for his own gain and his country’s protection in the cheapest, most effectual manner, thought strongly for a time of obtaining a “parcel of these people.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Volume I, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 117-119)

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

After the British themselves, New Englanders were responsible for populating the colonies with slaves purchased from African tribes, and the invention of Massachusetts tinkerer Eli Whitney in 1793 sent demand for slaves and cotton soaring.

With the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, New England Federalists unhappy with the new political supremacy of Virginia called upon the North “to combine to protect the commercial interests against the vicious slave-holding democrats of the South.” Thus began the descent into war between the sections.

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“Slavery was disappearing from the North. The rector of the Swedish churches in America told the American Philosophical Society that the introduction of “mechanism” in the Southern States would eliminate the need of slaves; but the invention of the cotton gin led to the opposite result.

Defenders of slavery declared it was a necessary evil that would eventually cure itself. The slaveholder could not be held guilty of crime because slavery as a very common thing is due to the state of society, for which the slaveholder is not responsible. Slavery in America is preferable to liberty in Africa because the slave gets better care and acquires the Christian religion.

In fact, the underlying reasons for importing slaves is to further the Christian religion. Respectably opponents, generally in New England, questioned the argument that slavery is a curse of society, not of the individual. It is no more valid, they said, than the notion of drunkenness and adultery are not delinquencies of the individual. The greatest evil is that the slaves will eventually outnumber the whites, and this must lead either to the most horrible event, intermarriage, or the destruction of the whites.

For the most part, the critics looked for remedies in the abolition of the slave trade, the growth of voluntary manumission, and even the growth of trade and commerce with Africa in the manner pictured by [economist James] Swan. It was agreed that pecuniary considerations were the most important barrier to voluntary manumission, but the slaveholder was told to trust to the Lord for his recompense.

The general attitude was best expressed by the Baptist clergyman Samuel Jones of Philadelphia. The slave trade is abominable; the possession of slaves is not profitable except in the newly settled regions where the costs of labor are very high. But the slave owners are innocent inheritors of the institution and not obliged to free their slaves, “at least not until they have been fully reimbursed the full amount of their cost on equitable principles.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 280-282)

Tampering with New England’s Slave Trade

Much of Britain’s difficulty with its American colonies came from New England smuggling and dependence upon French West Indies molasses which it distilled into rum, which in turn fueled its slave trade. In his last years, Boston’s John Adams “saw the Revolution, at least in part, as a struggle over molasses. He said “I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence.

It takes no great imagination to conclude that without British and New England populating the American colonies with African slaves, and perpetuating this into the mid-nineteenth century, the war which destroyed the American republic in 1861 might not have occurred.

Tampering with New England’s Trade in Slaves

“[The Molasses Act of 1733 enacted by the British Parliament] was introduced as a result of complaints from the British islands in the West Indies, whose economy was based on the production of sugar, against the competition of the French sugar islands – St. Dominique, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The British West Indies – Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Monserrat and St. Christopher – were such an immense source of wealth that they were considered at the time to be more important to the empire than the North American colonies.

Molasses, a by-product of the islands’ sugar mills, was turned into rum in New England. There were so many distilleries in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut that they were known as the Rum Coast. Rum, to a degree hard to believe in a later and much different world, was essential to the New England economy.

It was one of the main means of profitable exchange for furs from the Indians and slaves and ivory from Africa. Some of the greatest early New England fortunes were based on the rum trade, most of which was carried on illegally. Boston alone was said to have about fifty distilling houses. Nothing could set off a panic in New England more surely than tampering with this trade.

The trouble arose because the British islands could not supply all the molasses needed by the North American distilleries or supply them as cheaply as the French islands. The French West Indian molasses manufacture and the New England rum production were as if made for each other. By [Sir Robert] Walpole’s time, an immensely important trade had developed between the French islands and the New England colonies. Everyone benefited, except the British sugar islands.

The result was the Molasses Act, which was designed to cut off the [French-New England] trade by putting a 100 percent duty upon non-British sugar. The agent of Massachusetts and Connecticut in London foretold funereally that the act was bound to ruin “many thousand families there.” Richard Partridge, the New York agent in London, brought up the argument of nonrepresentation in Parliament to denounce the act . . .”

By passing the act, [Walpole] legally appeased the British East West Indian planters. By doing little or nothing to enforce it, he appeased New England rum merchants. Smuggling was not a particularly American vice. Even when Secretary at War he had been engaged in smuggling his wines up the Thames.”

(The Struggle for Power: The American Revolution, Theodore Draper, Vintage Books, 1997, excerpts pp. 95-96)