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Yankee Tinkerer Perpetuates Slavery

Eli Whitney of Massachusetts invented his new labor-saving device at a time when the liberating effects of the new republic were emancipating those who had been enslaved by African tribes, sold to British slave-traders, and shipped to North America on New England slavers.  With cotton cultivation made profitable, slavery would expand. 

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Yankee Tinkerer Perpetuates Slavery 

“The handiwork of a Yankee tinkerer in the summer of 1792 changed everything. Eli Whitney was a genius of a type who would become familiar in the course of the next century, like Robert Fulton, John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Thomas Edison, who fused native mechanical aptitude with the entrepreneurial instincts of the dawning industrial age. It was said that as a boy in Massachusetts during the Revolution, Whitney had set up his own small forge and made nails to sell to his neighbors, and then converted them to hairpins after the war.

After graduating from Yale, he went South to take a position as a tutor. As a guest in the home of the widow of General Nathaniel Greene, in Georgia, Whitney overheard several of her neighbors discussing the problems of cotton cultivation. Planters were well aware that a potentially vast market for American cotton was developing in England, where textile manufacture had been revolutionized by the factory system . . .  

Whitney later wrote, “There were a number of very respectable gentlemen at Mrs. Greene’s who all agreed that if a machine could be invented which would clean cotton with expedition, it would be a great thing both to the inventor and to the country. I involuntarily happened to be thinking on the subject and struck out a plan of a machine in my mind.” It was the cotton gin, which would ultimately transform American slavery, project it into its boom time, and transform it into a pillar of the nineteenth-century American economy.

[Whitney] Established a factory at New Haven, and was soon shipping gins Southward, where they would lead to a spectacular burgeoning of cotton cultivation, which would soon be matched by an exploding demand for slaves. [New England] Slave traders made fortunes buying up “surplus” slaves, and long, grim lines of them chained together in awkward lockstep made a familiar sight on the roads leading westward from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas to the slave markets of the frontier Southeast.”

(Bound For Canaan, Fergus Bordewich, Harper Collins, 2005,   pp. 41-42)

 

 

 

 

New England’s “Kill-Devil”

By 1750 New England dominated the transatlantic slave trade. Slavers constructed there carried Yankee notions and rum to the Gulf of Benin to be traded to African chiefs for his already enslaved brethren, and thence transported in the slavers to the West Indies sugar plantations.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England’s “Kill-Devil”

“In the trade between New England and the [West Indies] island colonies, the main exports of the former were provisions, timber in various shapes and horses. These last, according to the governor of Virginia, were useful in turning the machinery in the sugar mills and carrying the custom officers out of the way when smugglers wished to land their goods.

In return for these commodities, the northern plantations imported rum, sugar and molasses, the latter the basis of the important distilling business of Rhode Island and Massachusetts producing a liquid known among New England’s less ardent contemporary admirers as “Kill-Devil.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pg. 149)

New England’s Merchant Aristocracy

The merchant aristocracy of New England prospered greatly by evading British law, and “It is almost certain that almost no New England merchant carried on his business without indulging in smuggling on a considerable scale . . .” and this included the slave trade. This smuggling and avoidance of British law invited the navigation acts which were aimed solely at New England, and eventually dragged the other colonies into war.  The same merchant aristocracy was no friend of democracy as John Adams relates below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England’s Merchant Aristocracy

“The great bulk of [New Englanders] were poor, the poorest being found in the lower classes in the towns and among the frontiersmen. The strength of New England lay in her farming class of the more settled sections, but even in their case, wealth consisted almost wholly in land.

Many contemporary observers agree moreover in commenting upon their dishonesty, pointing particularly . . . to the Rhode Islanders, though one Southerner admitted that “for rural scenes and pretty frank girls” Newport was the pleasantest place he had found in his travels. Even in such a Massachusetts town as Worcester in 1755, John Adams reported that all the conversation he could find was “dry disputes upon politics and rural obscene wit.”

As a matter of fact, a great gulf had widened between the rich town merchant or other capitalist and the ordinary colonist. The more or less cultured men and women of the socially elect who had servants and fine houses, whose portraits hung on their walls, and both sexes of whom went clothed in “the rich, deep, glaring splendor” of their silks and satins, velvets and brocades, had little in common with the barefoot farmer and his equally barefoot wife, or with the artisan of the towns.

As we are apt to think of New England as thrifty, simple and homespun in contrast with the “cavalier” luxury of the South, it may be illuminating to quote what a North Carolina planter wrote home as to the life of the young girls of fifteen or so in his own social class as he found it in Boston at this time.

“You would not be pleased,” he wrote, “to see the indolent way in which” they “generally live. They do not get up even in this fine Season till 8 or 9 o’clock. Breakfast is over at ten, a little reading or work until 12, dress for dinner until 2, afternoon making or receiving Visits or going about the Shops. Tea, Supper and Chat closes the Day and their Eyes about 11.”

Wealth was increasing, but with even more rapidity it was concentrating. In Boston, in 1758, Charles Apthorp died leaving over 50,000 [pounds], and there were others equally or even more wealthy. Fortunes were fast being built up to enormous figures for that day by the privateering merchants of Rhode Island, while in New Hampshire Benning Wentworth, who had been bankrupt in 1740, had acquired a hundred thousand acres of land and a fortune in money twenty years later, and was living in princely style in a palatial mansion of fifty-two rooms.

Demagogues were not lacking to add fuel to the as yet smoldering fires. “wrote one regarding the Excise tax in Boston, “must Men therefore make them poorer still, to enrich themselves?”

“There is an overweening fondness,” wrote John Adams in 1817, “for representing this country as a scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theatre of parties and feuds for nearly two hundred years.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 252-254)

A Tradition of Trading with the Enemy

During the French and Indian War New England merchants carried on illicit trade with the French West Indies; during the War of 1812 New England merchants did the same with the British, withheld troops from United States forces and threatened secession at its Hartford Convention of 1814.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Tradition of Trading with the Enemy

“As the [French and Indian] war progressed and the price of goods and provisions rose, the temptation [for smuggling] became greater. The routes and methods of forwarding cargoes became as varied and devious as were the dealings with officials, and the wrath of the [British] military and naval authorities increased proportionately as they saw their efforts thwarted and neutralized by the acts of colonial merchants.

In the latter part of 1759 General Crump wrote to Pitt that in the previous eight months not a single vessel had been able to reach the French West Indies from Europe, and that the islands were sustained wholly by the illegal American [New England] trade. Admiral Coates called this trade “iniquitous, and Commodore Moore described those who were engaged in it as “traitors to their country.”

It has been asserted that the commercial supremacy in the West Indies was the central point of Pitt’s policy . . . [though] the fruits of the war he had waged so brilliantly could not be gathered unless the French possessions in the islands were conquered, and what prevented them from falling into his hands was the support they received from the colonists – to a great extent, the New Englanders.

Its only cure seemed to be the enforcement of the act of 1733, and in 1760 he sent a circular letter to the colonial governors stating that the enemy was “principally, if not alone, enabled to sustain, and protract, this long and expensive war” by means of “this dangerous and ignominious trade,” and calling upon them to take every lawful step to bring the offenders to “exemplary and condign punishment.”

Although the trade was notorious, and although at the very time, a few months previously, when Wolfe was battling for Quebec, Boston merchants were ferreting out a new way of trading with the enemy through New Orleans, a committee of the Massachusetts Council reported on Pitt’s dispatch that “they cannot find that there is any illegal trade . . . Governor Fitch of Connecticut wrote that he had been unable to find any evidence of trade with the enemy among his people.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 267-268)

Fomenting the Alleged Boston Massacre

Bostonian John Adams noted in early 1770 that “Endeavors had been systematically pursued for many months by certain busy characters, to excite quarrels, recounters and combats . . . between the inhabitants of the lower class and the soldiers, and at all risks to enkindle an immortal hatred between them.” He and others laid the cause of the fatal confrontation at the feet of the irresponsible press and the mob it inflamed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Fomenting the Alleged Boston Massacre

“There is plenty of evidence that the [New England] radicals set about fomenting trouble between the soldiers and the people in order to bring about a forced withdrawal, and they must share to a very great extent the guilt for the blood soon to be shed.

On the 2nd of March [1770], as a result of provocation by some workmen at a ropewalk, a serious affray occurred between the military and the laborers. On the evening of the 5th, the very day on which the repeal of the Townsend Acts was moved in Parliament, occurred the fatal affray ever since known, quite unfittingly, as the “Boston Massacre.”

During the early hours, groups both of citizens and soldiers wandered about the streets as if anticipating something out of the ordinary. About eight o’clock a bell was rung as the usual signal of fire. At once a crowd assembled near King Street and insulted the sentry posted at the Custom House.

A sergeant and six men were hastily ordered out to protect the sentry, Captain Preston immediately following to prevent rash action.

The mob, however, increased and assaulted the soldiers with sticks and stones, daring them to fore. Nevertheless, they did not do so until one [soldier] who had been knocked down with a club struggled to his feet and at once shot his musket into the crowd. [Captain] Preston had given no order.

The crowd was shouting tauntingly “Fire, fire” and “Why don’t you fire?”

It is impossible to say whether in the confusion the soldiers mistook the cry of someone in the crowd for an order or whether they fired in the mere excitement of self-defense. There is also the question as to whether shots may have been fired from the nearby Custom House.

Three men were killed outright and two mortally wounded. Regrettable as the incident was, it was without intention on the part of the authorities. The mob, led by a half-breed Negro, had been the aggressor. The wisdom of the English government of posting troops in the town may well have been at fault, but the local authorities had unquestionably been unable or unwilling to maintain order and to protect the citizens in their lives and property.

Whatever the larger aspects of the case, the immediate blame for the occurrence must be laid at the door of those radicals who in the newspapers and speeches had been doing their utmost to kindle resentment and ill-feeling against the soldiers and to bring on just such a clash as occurred.

Captain Preston and his little squad at once surrendered themselves to the civil authorities, and some months later, after a very fair trial which reflects credit on the town, and in which they were defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Junior, all of the prisoners were found not guilty with the exception of two who were convicted of homicide and given a comparatively slight penalty.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 375-377)

Rhode Island’s Slave Trade

Like the other New England colonies, Rhode Island was outraged by the British Sugar Acts aimed at curtailing their illicit molasses trade with the West Indies. That molasses was an essential ingredient in making New England rum, which was shipped to Africa along with locally-produced Yankee notions to trade for slaves held by African tribes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rhode Island’s Slave Trade

“[The] early industries in Newport were farming, fishing and shipbuilding. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the trade in rum and molasses brought about an intense local activity; distilling, sugar refining, brewing, and the making of sperm oil and spermaceti candles, created a prosperous Newport.

The one shadow on this happy picture was the African slave trade in which Rhode Island was more concerned than any other Colony, with Newport the chief Rhode Island trade center. In 1708, the British Board of Trade addressed a circular to all the Colonies relative to trade in Negro slaves, which read in part: “It is absolutely necessary that a trade so beneficial to th3e kingdom should be carried to the greatest advantage.”

In 1707-08, the Colony laid an import tax of [3 pounds] on each Negro imported. The proceeds were large; in 1729, some of the money was appropriated for paving the streets of Newport, and some for constructing bridges.

Many fortunes were amassed in the slave trade. Fifty or sixty vessels were engaged in this traffic, and their owners were among the leading merchants of the city. After 1750, many wealthy English planters from the West Indies found their way here for extended visits.

The Newport of that period lingered in the visitors memory as a place of gay entertainment, of scarlet coats and brocade, lace ruffles and powdered hair, high-heeled shoes and gold buckles, delicate fans and jeweled swords, delicately bred women and cultured men. Even in Europe the town was noted for the elegance of its society. Every indication seemed to point to it as a future metropolis of the New World.”

(Rhode Island, A Guide to the Smallest State, WPA Federal Writers’ Project, Louis Cappelli, Chairman, Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1937, pp. 205-206)

New England Town Meeting Superstition

The fabled New England town-meeting was no more than a local debating body of radical commoners who sought “to destroy all privilege, political, economic and social.” While they debated and drank against the aristocracy, the real power brokers of New England made political appointments and decisions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Town Meeting Superstition

“In the year 1764 Boston had a population of about sixteen thousand persons, and it is a popular superstition that its town-meeting was a thoroughly democratic forum where, if ever in this troubled world, the voice of the people might make itself heard.

The fact was, however, that the average number of voters in the decade from that year to the revolution was only about five hundred and fifty-five, or three and one-half percent of the population. Not only so, but of these sturdy citizens who turned out thinking they were freely voting for their rulers, nearly all were unconscious puppets in the hands of political leaders.

That extremely useful machine tool, the caucus, had been deftly used for many years, although the discovery that such was the case seems to have come somewhat as a shock to the young John Adams.

“This day I learned,” he wrote in his diary in February 1763, “that the Caucus Club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Dawes . . . There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose . . . selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, firewards and representatives are regularly chosen in the town.

At this stage, therefore, it is evident that the “people” whose voice was heard consisted of the members of the Caucus and Merchants’ Club harmoniously and unobtrusively working together in the sphere of practical politics, each for the “benefit of his business.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 304-305)

North Illustrates Little Regard for the Union

Northern anti-slavery agitators fomented discord and disunion long before 1861 and did their utmost to cause the South to seek a more perfect union. And that South rightly asked why the North agreed to the Compromise of 1850 when it had no intentions of abiding by it. If the abolition of slavery was indeed their crusade, why did abolitionists not encourage the example of the British with compensated emancipation, thus averting war and wanton destruction?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Illustrates Little Regard for the Union

“In the North, sincere if fanatical abolitionists and opportunists alike used the slavery issue for political advancement. In the South, the voices . . . grew more passionate in their crusades for independence. Northern agitators gave them the ammunition.

When the Southern States had adopted the Compromise of 1850, the Georgia legislature summarized the attitude of them all. Serving notice that the preservation of the Union depended on the Northern States’ faithfully abiding by the terms of the Compromise, the Georgia delegates stressed its particular application to the federal laws regarding fugitive slaves.

This was a very real issue to the planters, and nothing so impressed the individual Southerner with Northern hostility as the protection given runaways in the North and the actual attacks on federal officials trying to enforce the laws on stolen property. On this last point, the Georgians stated, “It is the deliberate opinion of this convention that upon the faithful execution of the fugitive-slave bill depends the preservation of our much-loved Union.”

Yet in the North, many people continued to repudiate and defy the fugitive slave laws, which constituted about the only thing the South got out of the Compromise. To the Southerners trying to promote secession, this breach of faith served to illustrate the little regard in which the North held Union.

Then Northern literature erupted into what amounted to an anti-Southern propaganda mill. In 1851 appeared Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that inflammable work of the imagination, to start the decade in a spirit of recriminations. With the pamphlets and literature which took up where Mrs. Stowe left off, newspapers joined in the denunciations of their fellow Americans. To support the fictional pictures of the benighted Southerners, the New York Tribune stated flatly that plantations were “little else than Negro harems,” and that, of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Tyler (who was still living) “hardly one has failed to leave his mulatto children.”

Even Virginia, which produced these Presidents, had been brought to ruin by “pride and folly and . . . [Negro] concubinage . . . ” while South Carolina, with its “chivalry-ridden inhabitants,” like the other States, “is a full thousand years behind the North in civilization.” Emerson and Longfellow, Lowell and Whittier, the new literary pillars of that civilization, conjured up pictures of the vileness of their Southern neighbors.”

(The Land They Fought For, The Story of the South as the Confederacy, 1832-1865, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday and Company, 1955, pp. 44-45)

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

Southerners reacted to abolitionist tirades with arguments of the civilizing aspects of African slavery, and reminded them that their own fathers had shipped the Africans in chains to the West Indies and North America. The invention of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney along with the hungry cotton mills of that State perpetuated slavery, and new plantation expansion into the Louisiana territory was fueled by Manhattan lenders – all of whom could have helped end African slavery in North America. The following is excerpted from the introduction of “Cotton is King,” E.N. Elliott, editor (1860), and from “Liberty and Slavery,” Albert Taylor Bledsoe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

“Geographical partisan government and legislation . . . had its origin in the Missouri [Compromise] contest, and is now beginning to produce its legitimate fruits: witness the growing distrust with which the people of the North and South begin to regard each other; the diminution of Southern travel, either for business or pleasure, in the Northern States; the efforts of each section to develop its own resources, so as to render it independent of the other; the enactment of “unfriendly legislation,” in several of the States, toward other States of the Union, or their citizens; the contest for the exclusive possession of the territories, the common property of the States; the anarchy and bloodshed in Kansas; the exasperation of parties throughout the Union; the attempt to nullify, by popular clamor, the decision of the supreme tribunal of our country; the existence of . . . a party in the North organized for the express purpose of robbing the citizens of the Southern States of their property; . . . the flooding of the whole country with the most false and malicious misrepresentations of the state of society in the [Southern] States; the attempt to produce division among us, and to array one portion of our citizens in deadly array to the other; and finally, the recent attempt to incite, at Harper’s Ferry, and throughout the South, an insurrection, and a civil and servile war, with all its attendant horrors.

All these facts go to prove that there is a great wrong somewhere, and that a part, or the whole, of the American people are demented, and hurrying down to swift destruction.

The present slave States had little or no agency in the first introduction of Africans into this country; this was achieved by the Northern commercial States and by Great Britain. Wherever the climate suited the Negro constitution, slavery was profitable and flourished; where the climate was unsuitable, slavery was unprofitable, and died out. Most of the slaves in the Northern States were sent southward to a more congenial clime.

Upon the introduction into Congress of the first abolition discussions, by John Quincy Adams, and Joshua Giddings, Southern men altogether refused to engage in debate, or even to receive petitions on the subject. They averred that no good could grow out of it, but only unmitigated evil.”

(The South: A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 265-266)

The North Shifts the Issue

The victor of wars writes the official history, inflates his lofty intentions and controls what is set in the historical record. William Joseph Peele was a simple North Carolinian who is credited with the creation of the Agricultural and Mechanic Arts schools in the State, and support for a State Historical Commission which would set the record straight.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa 1865.com

 

The North Shifts the Issue

“Mr. Peele could not get away from the idea that the cause of the Civil War was commercial jealousy. Henry Adams and Mill say that in ’61 the people of England entertained the same opinion. Peele did give credit to the North for so shifting the issue that it seemed to be a war for freedom.

“The agitation about the Negro, as a counter-irritant to distract attention from the injustice of Federal revenue laws, was [said Peele] more than a success; for the shallow politicians of both sections forgot the real issue; but the beneficiaries never lost sight of it. I will use a homely illustration:

A and B are doing business on the opposite sides of a street; B begins to undersell A; A becomes angry, but cannot afford to tell his customers the cause; he hears that B once cheated a Negro out of a mule; he makes that charge; they fight; the court record of the trial shows that the fight was about the Negro and the mule; but there is not a business man on the street who does not know that the record speaks a lie.”

(William Joseph Peele, by Robert W. Winston, Proceedings of the North Carolina Historical Commission, November, 1919, page 116)