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Canadian Slavery Amnesia

Very few recall that African slavery existed in Canada until 1833, and that between 1787 and 1800 fugitive slaves fled south to New England and the Northwest (Michigan) Territory. Throughout the 1800s Canadians segregated schools and communities, as well as military units.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Canadian Slavery Amnesia

“Canadian comments about American racial problems are further colored by the fact that few Canadians are well informed on Canada’s own Negro record. Cowper, in celebrating Justice Mansfield’s decision, thought that “Slaves cannot breathe in England: if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free.” This was adequate poetry but inaccurate current events, for “Mansfield” decision freed no substantial body of slaves, even in England, and in Imperial Britain they remained enslaved until 1834.

Yet today most Canadians assume that slavery in British North America was struck down unilaterally by colonial assemblies which, in fact, lacked power to move against such Imperial laws. A standard account of Ontario’s history, published in 1898, concluded that because of the passage of Simcoe’s Bill (which prohibited the import of slaves) in 1793, “Canadians can therefore claim the proud distinction for their flag….that it has never floated over legalized slavery.”

An extensive guidebook to Canada credits the entire Negro population of Nova Scotia to men “who came north as slaves from the British West Indian colonies . . ,” ignoring totally the Maroon and Refugee elements. An attempt to plumb the character of Canadians found that the Negroes of the Maritime Provinces – 15,000 in all – were descendants of runaway slaves, when in truth not even half are such.

And one of Canada’s leading students of race relations, in writing specifically of discrimination against the Negro, asserts that slavery did not exist in British North America in the Nineteenth Century, although slavery was in fact legal until 1833. In short, there is no accurate historical memory in Canada of British North America’s own experiences with the Negro, and even a clouded awareness of an earlier Negro presence is slight.

In truth, only Canada West [Ontario] served to any considerable extent as a haven for fugitive slaves, but the whole of the Canadian nation later accepted a mythology arising from but one of its units.”

Canadian Jim Crow

The popular legend of an underground creates the impression that escaped slaves found freedom and social equality in Canada, and standard historical accounts lead Canadians to believe that passage of Simcoe’s Bill in 1793 ended slavery there, but slavery actually remained legal in British North America until 1833. Author Robin Winks of Yale University wrote: “Canadians did give refuge to thousands of fugitives, and the mythology of the underground railway, the North Star, and the lion’s paw naturally fed the later Canadian assumption that Negroes fared better in Canada than elsewhere.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Canadian Jim Crow

“Canadian law drew no distinction between black and white in matters of citizenship, of which education was one. In practice, however, there were not infrequently some distinctions likely to be drawn, the whites preferring that Negroes should have schools of their own. When Benjamin Drew visited [Amherstburg, Ontario] in 1854 he found the Negro separate school having neither blackboard nor chairs. The whole interior was comfortless and repulsive. The teacher was a colored woman, apparently doing the best she could under the discouragement of poor surroundings and frequent absences of her pupils.

The coming of so many people of another race and color into southwestern Ontario was not pleasing to all the white inhabitants. Deep prejudice manifested itself at times and an occasional outburst in some newspaper reflected the feelings of an element of the population. The Amherstburg Courier of October 27, 1849, prints a resolution of the district council passed on October 8 of that year, protesting vigorously against the proposed Elgin settlement which was planned by Reverend William King as a home for fugitives from slavery.

This resolution, which appears to have been instigated by a local politician, Larwill, resident in Chatham, declared that “there is but one feeling, and that is of disgust and hatred, that they (the Negroes) should be allowed to settle in any township where there is a white settlement.”

The resolution proceeded to ask for a disallowance of sale of lands to Negroes, suggested a poll tax on Negroes entering the country, asked for an enactment against amalgamation and a requirement that Negroes shall furnish good security that they will not become a burden. It was also suggested that it would be well to ascertain whether it would be impolitic to allow them the suffrage.

Dr. Samuel G. Howe, who visited [Amherstburg] in 1863 to investigate conditions….[was told by a Mr. Park of the town] that the Negroes were part of them indolent and part industrious. They tended to neglect their own poor and begged more than the whites. A Captain Averill who was interviewed said that the Negroes were satisfactory as sailors, “the very best men we have,” but they were never made mates and none owned ships of their own.”

(Amherstburg, Terminus of the Underground Railroad, Fred Landon, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. X., No. 1, January 1925, pp. 5-8)

 

Major Anderson’s Reluctance at Fort Sumter

In his “Rise and Fall”, Jefferson Davis wrote that it is “undeniably that the ground on which Fort Sumter was built was ceded by South Carolina to the United State IN TRUST for the defense of her own soil and her own chief harbor. No other State or combination of States could have any distinct interest or concern in the maintenance of a fortress at that point, unless as a means of aggression against South Carolina herself.” He added that the North’s claim that it was public property was untenable unless stated from an imperial view of total control over the people of that State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Major Anderson’s Reluctance at Fort Sumter

“The course pursued by the government of the United States with regard to the forts had not passed without earnest remonstrance from the most intelligent and patriotic of its own friends . . . [Senator Stephen] Douglas of Illinois – who was certainly not suspected of sympathy with secession, or lack of devotion to the Union – on March 15th offered a resolution recommending the withdrawal of the garrisons from all forts within the limits of the States that had seceded, except those at Key West and the Dry Tortugas. In support of the resolution he said:

“We certainly cannot justify the holding of forts there, much less the recapturing of those which have been taken, unless we intend to reduce those States themselves into subjection. I take it for granted, no man may deny the proposition, that whoever permanently holds Charleston and South Carolina is entitled to possession of Fort Sumter.

Whoever permanently holds Pensacola and Florida is entitled to the possession of Fort Pickens. Whoever holds the States in whose limits those forts are placed is entitled to the forts themselves. Unless there is something peculiar in the location of some particular fort that makes it important for us to hold it for the general defense of the whole country, its commerce and interests, instead of being useful only for the defense of a particular city or locality.

It is true that Forts Taylor and Jefferson, at Key West and Tortugas, are so situated as to be essentially national, and therefore important to us without reference to the seceded States. Not so with Moultrie, Johnson, Castle Pinckney, and Sumter, in Charleston Harbor; not so with Pulaski, on the Savannah River . . .

We cannot deny that there is a Southern Confederacy, de facto, in existence, with its capital in Montgomery. We may regret it. I regret it most profoundly; but I cannot deny the truth of the fact, painful and mortifying as it is . . . I proclaim boldly the policy of those of with whom I act. We are for peace.”

Mr. Douglas, in urging the maintenance of peace as a motive for the evacuation of the forts, was no doubt aware of the full force of his words. He knew that their continued occupation [by Lincoln] was virtually a declaration of war [on the South].

The general-in-chief of the United States Army, also, it is well-known, urgently advised the evacuation of the forts. But the most striking protest against the coercive measure finally adopted was that of [Fort Sumter commander] Major Anderson himself. The letter in which his views were expressed has been carefully suppressed in the partisan narratives of that period and well-nigh lost sight of, although it does the highest honor to his patriotism and integrity.

It was written on the same day on which the announcement was made to Governor Pickens of the purpose of the United States government to send supplies to the fort, and it is worthy of reproduction here:

“Letter of Major Anderson . . . Protesting Against [Secretary of War] Fox’s Plan for Relieving Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter, April 8, 1861

To Colonel L. Thomas, Adjutant-General, United States Army.

Colonel: . . . I had the honor to receive, by yesterday’s mail, the letter of the Honorable Secretary of War, dated April 4th, and confess that what he states surprises me very greatly – following, as it does, and contradicting so positively, the assurance Mr. Crawford telegraphed he was “authorized” to make.

I trust that this matter will be at once put in a correct light, as a movement made now, when the South has been erroneously informed that none such would be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. It is, of course, now too late for me to give any advice in reference to the proposed scheme of Captain Fox.

We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in this war, which I see is about to be thus commenced. That God will still avert it, and cause us to revert to pacific means to maintain our rights, is my ardent prayer.

Your obedient servant, Robert Anderson, Major, 1st Artillery, commanding.”

This frank and manly letter . . . fully vindicates Major Anderson from all suspicion of complicity or sympathy with the bad faith of the government he was serving. The “relief squadron,” as with unconscious irony it was termed, was already underway for Charleston, consisting, according to their own statement, of eight vessels, carrying twenty-six guns and about fourteen hundred men, including the troops sent for reinforcement of the garrison.

These facts became known to the Confederate government, and it was obvious that no time was to be lost in preparing for, and if possible anticipating the impending assault.”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume I, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton & Company, 1881, pp. 281-284)

When the Yankees Were Rebels

Below, slave-holding and slave-trading rebels of Massachusetts resisted the might of British troops sent to disperse them, and the Southern colonies voluntarily assisted New England in its war to end British rule. Some 86 years later Southern rebels at Manassas resisted the might of New England troops sent to disperse them but had no assistance in its war to end New England rule.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

When the Yankees Were Rebels

“At five o’clock on Wednesday morning, a man on horseback, without cape or coat, galloped into Lexington, shouting that the British were coming up the road. Some called him to stop; but he rushed on in that mad way toward Concord. Then it was that the blood boiled in our veins. We remembered the insults and threats which had been heaped upon us so long, and swore that they should be avenged that day. Some ran through the streets, waving their hats over their heads, and hurrahing for their rights.

The women ran from house to house, gathering muskets for the militia, and carrying ammunition in their aprons. No one was idle, and no one was afraid to face all the British troops — yes, and fight them too, if fighting was to be done. At last the drum beat to arms. We seized our muskets and rushed to the green. Captain Parker drew us up, seventy strong, in double rank; telling us to fight bravely in the cause for freedom.

Then were heard their drums beating, and saw the bayonets peeping out from the dust, and glittering in the sun. But what could seventy men do against a thousand? Their leader galloped up like a madman; cursing, shouting, and ordering us to disperse.

All at once they poured a volley at us . . . they fired again; then the dreadful scene began. The enemy marched to the storehouses, broke them open, and began the work of destruction. The flour was emptied into the river; the ball, which we had gathered with so much care, stolen or sunk in wells, and our two cannon battered and abused till they were unfit for use. Next day they began to break up the bridges; and this was more than we could bear.

And soon the hills and lanes were swarming with the boys from Reading and Roxbury, who had heard of their friends being shot . . . we rushed headlong on the murderers, and drove them and their commander out of the town. O! It was glorious to be in that chase — glorious! Remember boys, how often we were insulted by [General] Gage, and called “rebels,” or “Yankees” by his men! Yes, and cowards, too — cowards! The blood boils at the word! And then our bleeding men behind us! — it was glory, I say lads, to chase the rascals like deer up the road, and make them feel that “rebels” could fight as well as they!”

(Camp-Fires of the Revolution, Henry Clay Watson, Lindsay & Blakiston, 1854, pp. 23-27)

 

Where, Then, Did Jim Crow Come From?

What is known as “Jim Crow” began in the antebellum North and spread southward after Reconstruction. In a region already hostile to black participation in social and political life, New York in the 1820’s proscribed free black votes by raising property requirements and essentially disenfranchising them. They fared no better in Philadelphia which Frederick Douglas referred to as the most racist city in the US.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Where, Then, Did Jim Crow Came From?

“Before the War, Savannah had Negro units in the local militia and Negro volunteer fire departments. Negro ministers preached from the pulpits of city, as well as rural, churches. Frederick Law Olmstead’s concise “Journey in the Seaboard Slave States” reported Negro passengers in the coaches of railroad train across Virginia and “Negro passengers admitted without demur.”

An Englishwoman, the Hon. Miss Murray, touring prewar Alabama, wrote: “From what we hear in England, I imagined Negroes were kept at a distance. That is the case in the Northern States, but in the South they are at your elbow everywhere and always seek conversation.”

Where, then, did “Jim Crow” come from?

Describing a train ride from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote: “There are no first and second class carriages with us; but there is a gentleman’s car and a ladies’ car; the main distinction between which is that, in the first, everybody smokes; and in the second, nobody does. As a black man never travels with a white one, there is also a Negro car, which is a great blundering clumsy chest such as Gulliver put to sea in from the Kingdom of Brobdignag.”

That was thirteen years after Garrison founded the “Liberator,” a few blocks from Boston’s North Station, and eight years before Mrs. Stowe would ride in the same Jim Crow’d trains to Brunswick, Maine, to start work on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Eli Whitney had died in 1825. But the assembly line firearms he perfected “back home” in New Haven would eventually become standard equipment for Federal armies during the War.

Now, in the sordid years of Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” finally migrated from Boston, too, down past [Eli] Whitney’s grave . . . Slave ships – gin — “Uncle Tom” — Whitney & Ames rifles — Jim Crow. The Yankee cycle was complete.”

(King Cotton, George Hubert Aull, This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally, 1959, pp. 145-146)

 

 

The Pens of Our Adversaries

Colonel William Allan spoke of the danger of not writing the history of your people and inculcating this in the hearts and minds of the young. He warned that the South should not allow their late enemies to take up the pen.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Pens of Our Adversaries

“Mr. President:

The work done by the Southern Historical Society has been most important and valuable. For years it testified to the truth amid the prejudice and vituperation which was the lot of the Confederate cause. An immense change in recent years has taken place in the estimates made in Europe, as well as the North itself, in regard to our war. But its work is not yet done. It has really only been begun.

However gratifying the change which has been brought about in Northern sentiment in regards to the events of the war, we must not, we should not, allow the history of our side in this great struggle to be written by those who fought against us.

Future generations should not learn of the motives, the sacrifices, the aims, the deeds of our Southern people, nor of the characters of their illustrious leaders only through the pens of our adversaries. What have not Carthage and Hannibal lost in the portraits — the only ones that remain to us — drawn by Roman historians?

Not one word have I to say in criticism of monuments placed to commemorate the brave deeds of the Union soldiers who died on that [Manassas] field; but if these men be worthy of such honor from their comrades, how much more do we owe to the men who twice won victory at the price of blood on this spot; or to those noble South Carolinians under Gregg, who, on the left of A.P. Hill, on August 29, 1862, held their position with a tenacity not exceeded by the British squares at Waterloo . . .?

The deeds of such men and of many others like them deserve to be kept green for all time. They constitute a priceless legacy to their countrymen — to their descendants.”

(Remarks of Colonel William Allan of Maryland at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Society, 31 October, 1883, Gen. J. A. Early, President)

 

The Former Colony Becomes Colonialist

The American commander in the Philippines in 1898 was Gen. Thomas Anderson, a Northern lieutenant-colonel in the War Between the States, who knew firsthand about invasion and thwarting independence movements. In a twist of irony, Sen. George Hoar of Massachusetts, a radical Republican who was instrumental in subjugating the American South thirty-some years earlier, became outspoken in 1898 regarding US military force creating vassal states.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Former Colony Becomes Colonialist

“At the Paris Peace Conference of December 1898, where the terms of final surrender were fixed, Spain tried to retain Puerto Rico, arguing that the United States had never before challenged its sovereignty there. President McKinley rejected [this] . . . and said he decided that Puerto Rico was “to become the territory of the United States.” The Spanish, defeated and weak, had no choice but to accept.

No American alive in 1898 could have had any doubt about why the United States had gone to war with Spain. The conflict was fought to resolve a single question: Who would control Cuba? [But] as a result of Commodore Dewey’s victory at Manila, the United States suddenly exercised power over [the Philippines].

At first, McKinley seemed to want only enough territory in the Philippines to build a naval base at Manila. Then he considered the idea of granting the islands independence . . . [though] “One night late, it came to me this way.” He said. “there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and educate the Filipinos and uplift them and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could for them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.”

What is certain is that McKinley, in the words of one historian, “knew the Filipinos not at all, and would misjudge their response with tragic persistence.” He himself admitted that when he heard news of Dewey’s victory at Manila, he “could not have told where those darned islands were within two thousand miles.” His fervor to “Christianize” the Filipinos, most of whom were already practicing Catholics, suggested his ignorance of conditions on the islands.

He certainly had no idea that they were in the throes of the first anticolonial revolution in the modern history of Asia. “The episode marked a pivotal point in the American experience,” Stanly Karnow wrote in his history of the Philippines. “For the first time, US soldiers fought overseas. And, for the first time, America was to acquire foreign territory beyond its shores – the former colony itself becoming colonialist.”

On May 1, 1898 . . . Dewey welcomed the Filipino guerilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo aboard his flagship, the Olympia. Their versions of what transpired are contradictory. Aguinaldo said they agreed to fight the Spanish together and then establish an independent Republic of the Philippines. Dewey swore that he made no such commitment. Whatever the truth, when Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippine, on June 12, neither Dewey or any other representative of the United States turned up at the ceremony.

General Thomas Anderson . . . was the first commander of American troops in the Philippines, sought to reassure them “I desire to have amicable relations with you,” he wrote Aguinaldo on July 4, “and to have you and your people cooperate with us in military operations against the Spanish forces.”

On December 21, [1898], McKinley issued an “executive letter” proclaiming American sovereignty over the Philippines. Rebels there were already proceeding along their own path. They had elected a constituent assembly that produced a constitution, and under its provisions the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed on January 23, 1899. Twelve days later, this new nation declared war against the United States forces on the islands.

McKinley took no notice. To him, the Filipinos were what the historian Richard Welch called “a disorganized and helpless people.” Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts warned that [this oppression] would turn the United States into “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and the other classes must forever obey.”

(Overthrow, America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer, Times Books, 2006, pp. 46-49)

The Lincoln-Stowe Propaganda

That England did not officially recognize the American Confederacy had less to do with cotton but more to do with fears of a Northern invasion of Canada, and the two Russian fleets in San Francisco’s and New York’s harbors in 1863-64. France feared the latter as well. While both Lincoln and Alexander I of Russia allegedly emancipated slaves and serfs respectively, both at the same time were ruthlessly crushing independence movements in the South and Poland. Lincoln and Seward always had their eyes on the tariffs coming from Southern ports, and re-establishing Northern control over them; Stowe’s book was a novel from a person who had not visited the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Lincoln-Stowe Propaganda

“In 1859 the South provided nearly 90 percent of the cotton reaching the European market. England alone took over a billion pounds a year; one-fifth of her population was said to be dependent upon cotton manufacture. By January 1861 Southern exports had all but stopped. Production that year reached an all-time high of 4.5 million bales, but only ten thousand bales were exported – down from 3.5 million in 1859 and 0.6 million in 1860.

Realistic Southern diplomats made petitions to Napoleon III in Paris. In return for French help in breaking the blockade, the Confederacy was prepared to give France not less than one hundred thousand bales of American cotton . . . the Emperor [suggested enlisting] the cooperation of the British in the undertaking.

There are Southerners who insist to this day that Anglo-French aid would have materialized except for a personal appeal by Mr. Lincoln “To the Workingmen of Manchester” on the issue of slavery, coupled with the great emotional appeal of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, [a novel] which seems to have become required reading for every spinner and weaver in England after 1860.

So effective was the Lincoln-Stowe propaganda that the London Index was moved to say: “The emancipation of the Negro from the slavery of Mrs. Beecher Stowe’s heroes – has become the one idea of millions of British who know no better and do not care to know.”

Nonetheless, British shipyards were constructing two ironclad men-of-war for the Confederacy. To counteract their potential, [Lincoln’s government] sent strong military and naval expeditions to occupy Southern ports and seize cotton which then be doled out to the British in sufficient quantity to “hold them out of the war.”

So when Port Royal [South Carolina] was taken by the Federals [early in the war], the planters burned their entire harvest rather than let it fall into enemy hands. How much cotton was actually destroyed in this way will probably never be known. However, about this time (July, 1862) US Secretary Seward reported to his Minister [Charles Francis Adams] in London that as many as 3.5 million bales remained in the South, though large quantities of it are yet unginned.”

(King Cotton, George Herbert Aul; This is the South, Hodding Carter, Rand McNally, 1959, pp. 143-144)

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)

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)

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