Browsing "From Africa to America"

Canadian Negro Slaves

“In my article on “The Slave in Canada,” printed in The Journal of Negro History for July, 1920, (Vol. V, No. 3), several instances of Negro slavery in Canada were given. The latest is mentioned in Le Bulletin des Recherches Historiques for October, 1927, (Vol. XXXIII, No. 10), at p. 584. I translate it from the French the article referred to. Honorable William Renwick Riddell, Justice of Appeal, Ontario.

A Singular Gift:

“In July, 1748, Jean-Pierre Roma, Commandant for the (French) King at the island of St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence), on his passage to Quebec, made a singular gift to his friend, Fleury de la Gorgendiere, (the younger). He gave him a mulatto girl, five months old and named Marie.

The gift made to Mr. Fleury de la Gorgendiere is explained by the fact that the mother of the child, the slave of Roma, died in giving it birth. Roma not being able to charge himself with raising the orphan, preferred to give it to M. Fleury de la Gorgendiere.

The deed of gift was drawn up by the Notary, Jean-Claude Panet, July 15, 1748; and in it is the stipulation that in case of the death of Fleury and his wife, the mulatto will return Mdll. Roma (her grandmother). If she cannot take her it is stipulated that she will receive her freedom.

Such sales of the creatures of God may seem curious – they were, however, according to the customs of the time and were made almost in every country.”

(Journal of Negro History, Cater G. Woodson, editor, Vol. XIII, No. 2, April, 1928, page 207)

New York's Notorious Slave Ships

In the post-Revolution era, African slavery was waning as cotton production was a laborious task and not worth cultivating on a large scale until Eli Whitney of Massachusetts revolutionized the industry in 1793. Thereafter, New England mills could not live without raw slave-produced cotton, Manhattan lenders ensured plantation owners that money was available for plantation expansion, and New England slavers continued to import the labor supply.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

New York’s Notorious Slave Ships

“In the decade 1850-1860 Great Britain maintained consulates in six Southern ports: Norfolk, — changed to Richmond in 1856 – Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans and Galveston.

[Consul G.P.R.] James [in Norfolk and Richmond] . . . considered that Virginians were very kind to their slaves and that slavery was an injury to masters rather than Negroes. One of the proprietors of the Richmond “slave warehouse” was, wrote his son Charles later, an “unmistakable Yankee,” said to be very humane to his charges, “but the business was regarded as infamous.  I heard a respectable man denounced for accepting his hospitality.”

At Niagara Falls, James saw a runaway Negro belonging to one of his Norfolk neighbors; he had found it difficult to make a living and was cold and he begged the consul to ask his owner to take him back.

[Consul] Henry G. Kuper of Baltimore gave assurance that the slave trade was being extensively carried on by many American citizens, especially in New York . . . with the connivance of Spanish authorities in Cuba where most of the cargoes were conveyed . . . Consul Edward W. Mark wrote from Baltimore that at any moment twenty vessels might be found under construction at that port, admirably adapted for the slave trade. Some were built expressly for the trade by “respectable houses,” which would not enter the trade themselves but merely executed the orders they received.

Mark believed, however, that in Baltimore little countenance was given to the trade. It was carried on rather “from New York and the eastern parts of the Union . . . and generally by New England and foreign firms.”

[In 1858 Consul] Molyneaux of Savannah told the story of a Charleston mercantile house . . . which proposed to send the ship Richard Cobden . . . on a [suspicious] voyage to Africa to bring “free emigrants” to a United States port. The collector of the port appealed to United States Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb who pronounced the proposal illegal.

About the same time the Lydia Gibbs, a vessel of one-hundred and fourteen tons of Northern build, sailed from Charleston under one Watson, a Scotchman naturalized in the United States. He took it to Havana where it was sold to unknown persons for $12,000.  Watson was to receive $6,000 more if he escaped detection, and in addition a certain percentage of the slaves he should succeed in landing in Cuba.

[In July 1858 Charleston Consul Robert Bunch] wrote that the brig Frances Ellen had cleared from Charleston for Africa, supposedly to engage in the slave trade; that the firm of Ponjand and Lalas, two Spaniards, which sent it out, was believed to be regularly engaged in this traffic [and] intended to land five or six cargoes in Texas . . .

In December, 1859, the South Carolina legislature received from the New York assembly a set of resolutions passed by the latter body, condemning the slave trade and urging the Southern States not to connive at or encourage the odious traffic.  South Carolina returned the resolutions to the senders without comment and Bunch, though agreeing with the New York sentiments, dryly noted that the action was not “happily received,” “as it is notorious that, during the present year, at least ten slavers have been fitted out in New York for one in the entire South.”

(The South in the 1850’s as Seen by British Consuls, Laura A. White, The Journal of Southern History, February 1935, excerpts, pp. 29, 31, 36-41)

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Prejudices of the Northern States

Radical Republican Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts petitioned Lincoln to allow his State agents to seize captured South Carolina slaves and count them as Massachusetts soldiers under his State quota – thus avoiding the conscription of white Massachusetts men and keeping captured blacks out of his State.  For the same general purpose Andrew obtained 400 well-paid California men to serve as the Second Massachusetts Cavalry regiment.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

Prejudices of the Northern States

“In the house of them who felt so keenly their mission to call others to repentance, how fared it with the Negro?  In the general laws of Massachusetts (compiled in accordance with a resolution of February 22, 1822) it is provided: “That no person being an African or Negro, other than the subjects of the emperor of Morocco” – (and certified citizens of other States) “shall tarry within the Commonwealth for a longer time than two months.”

In case of such prolonged stay, if after warning and failure to depart, “it shall be made to appear that the said person has thus continued in [Massachusetts] . . . he or she shall be whipped, not exceeding ten stripes, and ordered to depart, and if he shall not so depart, the same process shall be had and inflicted, and so toties quoties.” In March, 1788, this was one of the “perpetual laws of the Commonwealth.”

When war raged for freedom, how was it then?  In September 1862, General [John] Dix proposed to remove a “number of [Negro] contrabands” from Fortress Monroe to Massachusetts.  To this Governor Andrew replied: “I do not concur in any way, or to any degree in the plan proposed” [and that you will be deprived] “of the strength of hundreds of stout arms, which would be nerved with the desperation of men fighting for liberty.”

But the Negro, despite all the invocations to do so, had never offered to fight for liberty; did not then offer.  At that time no Negro had ever sat upon a jury; none trained in the militia; none trained in the militia of Massachusetts.  Why should the Negro be ambitious to die for Massachusetts?

The war governor proceeds: “Contemplating, however, the possibility of such removal, permit me to say that the Northern States are of all places the worst possible to select for an asylum . . . I would take the liberty of suggesting some Union foothold in the South.”

In this same month, the adjutant-general [Dix] inquired of the army of the West: “What is to be done with this unfortunate race . . . You cannot send them North.  You all know the prejudices of the Northern States for receiving large numbers of the colored race.  Some States have passed laws prohibiting them to come within their borders . . . look along this river (the Mississippi) and see the number of deserted plantations on its borders. These are the best places for these freed men.”

Ever, as with the constancy of natural causes, exercised in some other man’s house, on the banks of some far-off, ancient river.  On these terms who would not be an altruist?

“In the State where I live,” said John Sherman, on April 2, 1862, “we do not like Negroes. We do not disguise our dislike.  As my friend from Indiana (Mr. Wright) said yesterday, “The whole people of the Northwestern States, are, for reasons, whether correct or not, opposed to having many Negroes among them, and that principle or prejudice has been engraved in the legislation of nearly all the Northwestern States.”

(Leigh Robinson’s Address, 18 December, 1909, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 36, 1908, pp. 319-321)

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Slaves Freeing Themselves from Freedom

Often mislabeling homeless black refugees in the South as “loyal,” Northerners saw them as easily-acquired and underpaid mercenaries who would help them subjugate the American South. Most of them were not so easily mislead, knew what their new friends had in mind, and simply wanted to go home to be left alone.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

Slaves Freeing Themselves from Freedom

“At Hilton Head, in March 1862, it was proposed to organize out of certain loyal blacks, within easy reach, a patriotic Negro brigade.  But this reinforcement so little appreciated the intended honor that the vigilance of a strong picket of white soldiers was necessary to prevent the escape of the slave to his master.

With their Enfield rifles and other military equipments, one-third of the nucleus did, in fact, decamp. [Northern] General [David] Hunter’s force succeeded in recovering at least five of these refugees from freedom.  “Taken when fleeing toward the mainland, occupied by rebels, they were placed in irons and confined at the Rip Raps [along the shore]”

Fugitives from freedom, encountering every peril to escape therefrom, by some fugitive freedom laws are pursued, overtaken, loaded with irons and threatened with worse if they make further efforts to free themselves from freedom. It may be, in cold iron outline, is imaged something of deeper import – “the name of freedom graven on a heavier chain.”

(Leigh Robinson’s Address, 18 December, 1909, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 36, 1908, pg. 320)

 

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Recognized and Entirely Legal African Business

New England rum was a valuable commodity to trade African kings for slaves – one hundred gallons was sufficient to purchase a male slave in the Guinea trade.  Newport, Rhode Island maintained a merchant fleet of 170 vessels in 1750, half of which were engaged exclusively in the slave trade and formed the basis of that regions financial wealth.  The American South was the recipient, not the originator, of African slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

Recognized and Entirely Legal African Business

“The ports of London, Liverpool, and Bristol were deeply involved in the [transatlantic] slave trade by the early years of the century, and by the 1760’s the prosperity of Liverpool, whose ships carried more than half the English part of the trade, was commonly thought to rest on the slavers.

[The Northern colonies in America] took to it, and early in the century Yankee slavers, chiefly operating out of Newport and Bristol in Rhode Island and in much smaller volume out of Boston, Salem and Providence, with a sprinkling of vessels out of Portsmouth, New London and New York, entered the business. In the main, they supplied the West Indies rather than the mainland; the vast majority of slaves brought to American shores came in British hulls.

Although some white men raided and kidnapped blacks along the African coast, such violence was neither prudent nor necessary. The vast majority of slaves were bought from native African slavers at or near the West African coast.

Whites knew almost nothing about Africa farther than fifty or a hundred miles into the interior, and for the most part the European trading companies were content to operate from coastal forts to which efficiently organized African societies were capable of delivering a steady supply of slaves.

Africa had a system or systems of slavery long before white men came to the Guinea Coast, and had regularly enslaved was captives and criminals.  Once the European trade opened, the profits to be made from a large external slave market provoked more wars and instigated more rigorous punishment of crime by native chiefs.

Other persons sold themselves or their families for food during famine, or were kidnapped by native gangs. Many native kings ran profitable slave businesses, and responded eagerly to opportunities for greater profits.  The slave trade became a recognized and entirely legal form of business in Africa.

Moreover, the Africans took to guns and gunpowder with a rapidity which, while lamentable in many respects, was highly protective in others.  Africans had no more impulse toward racial solidarity than Europeans did toward Christian unity.  [African kings could] charge Europeans substantial rents for permission to build trading forts, yet deny them the power to dominate any more land than the immediate territories around the forts.

[And it] was labor, not territory, that the whites wanted from Africa, and the African kings, through their commission merchants, were usually pleased to sell laborers, accustomed as they were to selling, exchanging, and sometimes giving away their own slaves.  At the beginning they probably did not know what they were selling their slaves into, and in the end apparently did not much care.”

(America at 1750, A Social Portrait, Richard Hofstader, Vintage Books, 1973, pp. 75-77)

 

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