Browsing "From Africa to America"

Barbarous Blot on New England's Escutcheon

African slavery in North America began with a Portuguese ship with slaves to sell, and a Virginia free black man who sued in court to retain a black man as a slave in 1654. Further north, New Englander’s were engaged in enslaving Indians who resisted their settlements, and developing a transatlantic slave trade that surpassed Liverpool’s dominance.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circ1865

 

Barbarous Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“Negro slavery in New England was a peculiar admixture of servitude and bondage. There was the same horror of the [plantation-era] 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 the wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of a slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable in New England as well; and, in some instances, New England 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 . . . [and a] new source of [servants] 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 the 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, not the black man, was the first slave in New England. As such they were eagerly sought by the Puritans for their labor. Even the much-vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. He had just previously written Winthrop (1636), protesting against the cruel treatment of the Indians by the whites, and praying that “they be used kindly and have houses and fields given them.”

Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away. [Most] authorities agree that the mention of Negro slaves by John Winthrop in his diary, in the year 1638 is the earliest authentic testimony of black slaves in New England. There were Negro slaves in New Haven [Connecticut] as early as 1644, six years after the founding of the colony. It is known that John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1653. In New Hampshire [mention of black slaves mentioned in 1646].

The Eighteenth Century . . . saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slave as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of the 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. Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage is held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many possessors of comfortable fortunes amassed from profits of this traffic.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene, Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Vol. XIII, No. 4, October, 1928, pp. 492-496)

 

Northern Recruiting Efforts in Florida

The number of black troops in Northern forces numbered about 186,000 with many attracted by cash bonuses like many Canadian blacks were, conscripted, threatened with bodily harm should they refuse enlistment, or simply impressed. Disease caused the death of some 68,000 black troops; less than 2800 black soldiers died in combat.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Northern Recruiting Efforts in Florida

“[Confederate Brigadier-General Joseph] Finegan’s estimate of the emergency was made clear in a proclamation he circulated throughout East Florida informing the people that:

“ . . . our unscrupulous enemy has landed a large force of Negroes, under command of white officers, at Jacksonville, under cover of gunboats. He is attempting to fortify the place as to make it secure against attacks. The purpose of this movement is obvious and need not be mentioned in direct terms. I therefore call on such of the citizens as can possibly leave their homes to arm and organize themselves into companies without delay and to report to me. Ammunition, subsistence, and transportation will be furnished then while they remain in service.

With the blessing of the Almighty, the zealous support of the people and the government, I doubt not that the detestable foe will soon be driven from their cover.”

On March 16, after fighting an exhausting series of skirmishes with Yankee troops, [Winston] Stephens wrote to warn his wife of the black troops in Jacksonville, and of the grave danger that Yankee raiders might come upriver to Welaka. “Get the slaves ready to run to the woods on a moment’s notice,” he wrote his wife, adding that “the Negroes in arms will promise them fair prospects, but they will suffer the same fate those did in town that we killed, and the Yankees say they will hang them if they don’t fight.”

(Jacksonville’s Ordeal by Fire, Martin & Schafer, Florida Publishing Company, 1984, page 145)

New Masters from New England

The Northern abolitionists and the African slave met for the first time at Beaufort, South Carolina, and the former came face to face with what Jefferson Davis earlier pondered regarding what to do with the emancipated slave. The planters warned their hands “that the Yankees would treat them as slaves and sell them to Cuba,” a prediction that nearly became true.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

New Masters from New England

“The revolution began with considerable destruction of property. The Negroes on many plantations . . . broke the cotton gins [and] in other cases they began looting their master’s houses and furniture, and activity which the federal soldiers took up enthusiastically . . .

The [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase’s] correspondence during the months following the fall of Port Royal showed him that the government would gain the support of an ever-increasing segment of the public through sterner war measures: “Wagons, cattle, Horses, Provisions, Negroes not excepted, in short everything useful to our army ought to be appropriated . . . advised one correspondent, who sharply criticized the government for looking “more to a peace through compromise, than to a . . . . victory of arms.”

Certainly [President Lincoln’s] cautious treatment of the issue in his message to Congress offered little encouragement. He threw the problem of defining the new status of the Negroes at Port Royal and others in their situation into the lap of Congress, and then asked that provisions be made to colonize the liberated Negroes “in a climate congenial to them.” Small wonder it was that Chase turned his first attention to contraband cotton rather than to contraband Negroes.

The rapid change in their status was not working to the advantage of many Sea Island Negroes . . . as the [Northern] army had made free use of plantation food stores, leaving many in the slave communities with little to eat. Commodore DuPont reported than numbers of the nearly ten thousand Negroes on the islands were by late winter “almost starving and some naked or nearly so . . .

Having no place to turn, they flocked to the neighborhood of the army camps [where] they were as often treated badly as offered employment and help. The New York Tribune’s correspondent reported that one enterprising and unscrupulous [Northern] officer was caught in the act of assembling a cargo of Negroes for transportation and sale in Cuba, thus giving one example of to bolster the late slave-masters’ prediction.

Something had to be done. If the land should lie fallow and the Negroes idle for long past the middle of February, there would be no cotton in 1862, and the Negroes would have to be supported by the government or charity, thus giving the opponents of emancipation a very good argument.

[Some saw in the Northern oversight of continued cotton production] arrangements the outlines of a typical graft opportunity, to achieve its classic form in the “company store” of a later day . . . and it was “of the utmost importance” that [the Negroes] should be kept busy “at the work which they have been accustomed to do . . . “

[One Northern agent] reported that the Sea Island Negroes knew all the steps involved in the cotton culture and that the great majority of them were ready to work, “with proper inducements.” They needed the help and protection of white men, however, in [his] opinion, and a good system of management. The Negroes were no longer slaves . . . Although they were “as yet in large numbers unprepared for the full privileges of citizens . . . “

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction, The Port Royal Experiment, Willie Lee Rose, Vintage Books, 1964, excerpts, pp. 16; 18-25; 29)

 

Aristocrats of Color in the NAACP

Early NAACP organizer WEB DuBois was descended from African, Dutch and French ancestry, and an early example of affirmative action as Northern white liberals had paid for his education. Considering himself well-born and disdaining work, he said “I cordially despised the poor Irish and South Germans who slaved in the mills, and annexed the rich and well-to-do as my natural companions.” Booker T. Washington is remembered for encouraging black people to gain respect through work hard and earning it; DuBois counseled racial agitation and confrontation to demand respect from others.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Aristocrats of Color in the NAACP:

“The role of aristocrats of color in the affairs of the NAACP was sufficient to allow some critics, especially some identified with Washington . . . to characterize it as a self-serving, elitist organization. The Bookerite “Atlanta Independent” continually heaped ridicule on WEB DuBois and the NAACP, which it characterized as Dubois’s “exclusive bunch.”

Hubert H. Harrison, a Virgin Islander prominent in Harlem in the 1920’s, was credited with slurring the NAACP as the “National Association for the Advancement of Certain People”; but the idea was present much earlier in criticisms made by other blacks.

Calvin Chase’s “Washington Bee” was for a time a bitter critic of the NAACP and its District branch. “Any attempt,” the Bee warned the local branch in 1914, “to establish a Negro aristocracy to the disadvantage and embarrassment of the common people will be promptly exposed and condemned.” Later the newspaper cited the NAACP as proof of its oft-repeated charge that there was “as much color prejudice among certain classes of colored people” as there was “among certain classes of whites.”

According to the Bee, Negroes who flocked to organizations like the NAACP, whether because of “color prejudice” or “caste of color,” did so primarily because of a desire to remove barriers to their own personal advancement and comfort. Only when personally affected was the upper-“caste” black likely to lodge protests and leads crusades. At least some aristocrats of color viewed admission to the NAACP as by “invitation only,” in much the same way that one gained entry into the Booklovers [clubs].

[The] black leadership of the NAACP tended to be more representative of socially prominent “old families” who viewed themselves as heirs to the Abolitionist tradition and who opposed Washington’s accommodationist approach. [Pan-African Movement] Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica and popular leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association . . . characterized DuBois as a ‘white man Negro” who associated only with whites and “upper ten Negroes” while ignoring the black masses.

DuBois, he thundered, worshipped a “bastard aristocracy” . . . and asked, “where did he get his aristocracy from?” and then proceeded to explain that DuBois “just got it into his head that he should be an aristocrat and ever since that time has been keeping his beard as an aristocrat.” Thunderous applause greeted Garvey’s reference to DuBois as a Negro leader who tried to “be everything else but a Negro.”

(Aristocrats of Color, The Black Elite, Willard C. Gatewood, Indiana University Press, 1993, pp. 317-321)

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island

The aristocratic landholders who were unwilling to share the vote in Rhode Island were among those who made their fortunes in the slave trade of Providence and Bristol, exchanging New England rum for African slaves on the Ivory Coast. They saw their ill-gotten fortunes and all public monies become the target of the newly-enfranchised democrats, both natives and recent immigrants. Neither wealthy or poor-white Rhode Islanders viewed free black citizens as worthy of voting rights.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island:

“[April 17, 1842]:  I was struck with the lively interest he [William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister, of Boston] took in the political affairs of Rhode Island, — a neighboring State, containing about 110,00 inhabitants, and now convulsed by a revolutionary movement [the Dorr Rebellion] in favor of an extension of the suffrage. The sympathies of Dr. Channing appeared to lean strongly to the popular party, which, in his opinion, had grievances to complain of, however much, by their violent proceedings they had put themselves in the wrong.

Although the State has been flourishing, it is entirely free from debt, a large majority of the people have, for the last forty years, called loudly on the privileged landholders to give up their exclusive right to voting, and to extend the suffrage to all adult males, in accordance with the system established in all the neighboring States. Their demands did not differ very materially from those which the legislature was willing to concede, except that the democrats claimed the suffrage, not only for every American-born citizen, but also for the new-comers, or the settlers of a few years standing. Both parties agreed to exclude the free blacks.”

(Sir Charles Lyell, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-1842, (New York, 1845), I, pp. 83-84)

 

Yankee Slave Traders Dividing Arab Families

In their zeal to load human cargo bound for the New World, New England slavers on Africa’s coast often caught competing Arab slave traders in raids on barracoons. Antebellum North Carolina Governor John Owen (see www.cfhi.net) purchased an Arab in Charleston named “Moro” who had been well educated prior to capture, and like S’Quash below, considered himself above Negro slaves. The author was the son of General Rufus Barringer, and nephew of General Daniel Harvey Hill.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Yankee Slave Traders Dividing Arab Families

“The abolition of the slave trade was voted by the United States Congress in 1790, but the importation of slaves was prolonged by the votes of Massachusetts and South Carolina. North Carolina, which was never at heart a slave State, had always carried a tariff on Negroes. However, the law was finally passed in 1804, to become effective January 1, 1808, that no more slaves were to be imported.

[North Carolinian Robert McDowell travelled to Charleston to purchase slaves off a New England slaver, selecting a large black man who] . . . was a commanding figure. His clear-cut, aquiline features were extremely dark, like a Moor, and his straight black hair and beard, matted and foul from neglect, were not kinky. He was obviously not a Negro. “I will take him,” said Mr. McDowell. “What is his nationality?”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know,” answered the captain . . . ”But I’ve always thought some slave dealer was settling an old score.”

The potential truth of this statement has been borne out by history. With the approaching close of the slave trade, far more ships appeared on the Guinea Coast than could possibly be provided with cargo; so the slave traders made raids upon the slave barracks or barracoons. In doing so, they got a number of Arabs, themselves slave traders, and their wives, concubines, and children. At the last minute, it was “The devil take the hindmost.”

To avoid recrimination and to render the captives less dangerous, the Yankee slave traders divided these Arab families up amongst their various ships, and S’Quash fell to this trader. It was a terrible fate, but no more or less than his system had meted out to others. It was in the final settlement a case of “Winner take all.”

Nine miles out on the King’s Highway, the mile post, which should have carried the Roman numeral IX, had been damaged and replaced with a simple 9, an Arabic numeral. The captive stopped the wagon and held out his hands, showing five fingers of one hand and four of the other, a total of nine, thus proving he could read Arabic and understand at least simple arithmetic, no mean achievement for a slave.

To make a long story short, S’Quash, as he was called in a phonetic effort at his real name, was an Arab of a family long engaged in the slave trade; he had the advantages of travel and education of his day and class in that he had been to Cairo and could read Greek as well as Arabic. Whatever his past, he definitely threw in his lot with the ruling class [and] assigned to . . . the “big house” in order to acquire some English and the pattern of living in this strange land.

He held himself completely aloof from the Negro slaves and would neither live nor mate with them, staying in a hut by himself. [He learned a nearby plantation held] a Dinka Negress and asked permission to marry her. The famous tribe of Dinkas . . . came from what is now called Anglo-Egyptian Soudan [and] . . . In their subtle Arabic caste system she was eligible as a wife and was purchased by [the master] at a substantial figure, $3000, which was a top price.

[Many years later after the War], I was questioned by one of [my] cousins about a queer picture in the attic, “not quite white and quite colored” and did I know anything about it? It was the portrait of S’Quash, and since no one else wanted it, I sent for [S’Quash descendant] Harvey and gave it to him, saying, “Harvey, you should have this for I am sure you are the only Negro in the United States who has the portrait of his great-grandfather who was an Arab slave trader.”

(The Natural Bent, The Memoirs of Dr. Paul B. Barringer, UNC Press, 1949, pp. 10-15)

Antebellum Abolition in North Carolina

The British colonial labor system of African slavery was on the wane after the Revolution, and North Carolinians were active in emancipation and colonization efforts.  The latter operation desired a return of Africans to their homeland, from which they were removed by British and New England slavers.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Antebellum Abolition in North Carolina:

“So far as the records show, it was not until 1715 that the General Assembly acknowledged the existence of slavery in the [British] Province [of North Carolina] and gave it a definite legal status. In 1774 . . . the Assembly passed a law which made the willful and malicious killing of slaves punishable upon conviction in the Superior Court by twelve months imprisonment for the first offence, and death without benefit of clergy for the second.

This law was amended in 1791, so as to render one convicted of the willful and malicious killing of a slave guilty of murder for the first offence and subject to the same penalty as for the murder of a free man . . . in 1817, “the offence of killing a slave” was “denominated and considered homicide” [as in] common law.”

Trial by jury was not extended to slaves until 1793 . . . Crimes trivial in their nature, not deserving punishment greater than a whipping, were entrusted to a single magistrate; crimes partaking of a greater degree of turpitude were committed to the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions . . . ”

F.L. Olmsted, perhaps the closest observer of the slave regime in the [1850’s], remarked that slavery in North Carolina had more of a patriarchal character than in any other State. The humanization of the slave code as regards his life and members of slaves may be attributed to numerous causes. In the first place, the increasing monetary value of the slave caused him to be an object of greater solicitude to his master.

In the second place . . . The Quakers [in North Carolina] were almost constantly importuning the legislature to provide more liberal emancipation laws. The American Colonization Society, with several branches in North Carolina, not only worked for the uplift of the free Negro, but after 1825 was equally interested in securing the emancipation of slaves for the purpose of colonizing them in Liberia. The work of the American Colonization Society was ably supplemented by the North Carolina Manumission Society until about 1834, when, as a result of abolition activity in the State this society ceased to exist.

From 1783 to 1830, it was not uncommon for distinguished North Carolinians to condemn slavery as a moral and economic blight and to express the desire of seeing it put in the way of ultimate extinction. James Iredell, speaking in behalf of ratifying the Federal Constitution in 1788, went as far as to say that the entire abolition of slavery would be “an event which must be pleasing to every generous mind and every friend of human nature.”

The editor of the Raleigh Register, in answering the query “Ought slavery to exist?” said: “We presume but few would answer in the affirmative, and still fewer would be found to advocate the practice as being right in itself or to justify it except on the broad plea of necessity. That it would conduce equally to the interest and happiness of the slaveholding States to get rid of this part of our population none will deny.”

Humanizing the Slave Code, R.H. Taylor, North Carolina Historical Review, July, 1925, pp. 323-330)

Nov 23, 2014 - From Africa to America    No Comments

The North's Bloody Shirt of Imperialism

A chief advisor to Theodore Roosevelt regarding federal patronage for black Republicans, Booker T. Washington gained great influence with Negro newspapers by guiding placement of white business advertising to them. He and those he ensconced in federal jobs “wrote Republican propaganda and placed Republican (paid of course) advertisements in the Negro press during election campaigns.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The North’s Bloody Shirt of Imperialism

“Washington believed that Negroes belonged on the land rather than in cities, in the South rather than in the North. Now he called upon Negroes to “cast down your bucket where you are.” Southern whites, he said, would find his people “the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has ever seen.” Thus he seemed to endorse the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The next year the Supreme Court endorsed it too.

For three decades the ardor of the North for rights of Negroes had been waning. The Republicans no longer needed Southern Negro votes to win the Presidency.

And imperialist sentiment helped to swing Northerners into the anti-Negro camp. “If the stronger and cleverer race is free to impose its will upon “new-caught, sullen peoples’ on the other side of the globe, why not in South Carolina and Mississippi,” asked the Atlantic Monthly. Of the Northern reaction to Southern disenfranchisement of Negroes, the New York Times commented on 10 May 1900: “The necessity of it under the supreme law of preservation is candidly recognized.”

“No Republican leader, not even Governor Roosevelt,” exulted Senator Ben Tillman, “will now dare to wave the bloody shirt and preach a crusade against the [South] . . . The North has a bloody shirt of its own. Many thousands of them have been made into shrouds for murdered Filipinos, done to death because they were fighting for liberty.”

(Age of Excess, The United States from 1877 to 1914, Ray Ginger, MacMillan and Company, 1965, pp. 236-237)

Nov 15, 2014 - From Africa to America    No Comments

Segregation in Africa

Langston Hughes visit to Africa in 1923 revealed a “European supremacy” system existing in the land of the black man.  In 1930 Hughes became president of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, established “for purposes of developing a wider race movement and bringing various classes of Negroes under [Communist] Party  direction. He received the NAACP’s Spingarn medal in 1960; the list of medal recipients is a virtual Who’s Who of black Communists.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Segregation in Africa:

“Along the West Coast [of Africa] we visited some thirty-two ports, from Dakar in Senegal to Loanda in the South. The Ivory Coast, the Gold Coast, Lagos, the Niger, the Bight of Benin, and the Slave Coast, Calabar, the Kamerun, Boma up the Congo, where we were moored to a gigantic tree, and our last port, San Paola de Loanda in Portuguese Angola.

Singing boatmen on dark rivers, monkeys and bright birds, Capstan cigarettes in tins, hot beers, quarts of Johnny Walker and stone jugs of gin, barefooted black pilots guiding into reed-hutted ports . . . white men with guns under their belts, inns and taverns with signs up, EUROPEANS ONLY, missionary churches with the Negroes in the back seats and the whites who teach Jesus in the front rows . . . and the ships from the white man’s land anchored with lights aglow offshore in the starry darkness. Africa!”

(The Big Sea, Autobiography of Langston Hughes, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1986 (original 1940), pg. 106)

Nov 14, 2014 - From Africa to America    No Comments

King Mussa's Procession

The African tribes and their kings were known for their dependence on slavery and slave trading. When European’s arrived with goods, the enslaved brethren of the African tribes were offered in exchange.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

King Mussa’s Procession

“The first West African state of which there is any record was called Ghana. The people were farmers and traders and metal-smiths. Their capital city, Kumbi-Kumbi, was an important trading center during the Middle Ages. From the Arab countries came caravans of wheat and fruit and sugar and textiles and brass and salt. They went back loaded down with rubber and ivory and gold and another product the Africans were able to turn out better and in greater quantity than any other people. As a matter of fact, they had monopoly. We refer to Negro slaves.

The next Negro kingdom of any consequence was called Melle and comprised roughly what is now French West Africa. It was ruled during the first thirty years of the 14th century by a free-wheeling fellow by the name of Gonga-Mussa.

A good Moslem, King Mussa made a pilgrimage to Mecca in the year 1324. He travelled in style. There were 60,000 people in his party, including 12,000 slaves. Five hundred men [were] marching at the head of the procession bearing staffs of pure gold. To finance the trip, King Mussa took along eighty camels loaded down with gold valued at more than $5,000,000!

(My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night! W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, page 19)