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Isolationism and America

In his address on the Fourth of July, 1821, President John Adams reiterated the foundation-stone of American foreign policy with: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication . . . [and in doing so] She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Isolationism and America

“[President George Washington said]: Put not your trust in allies, especially those who are stronger than you. At worst they will betray or disappoint you; at best they will make you the pawn in their games. Trust instead in the Lord and yourselves in your dealings with aliens, and cast not away the protection conferred by a generous Providence.

The second great tradition of US foreign policy is habitually dubbed “isolationism.” This, despite dogged efforts by some diplomatic historians to instruct us that no such principle ever informed American government, and that the word came into general use only in the 1930s.

In the post-Civil War decades the word “isolation” up more often, but as an echo of Victorian Britain’s slogan of Splendid Isolation. What brought “isolation” to the consciousness of the American public was the propaganda of navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan, who sought to pin on their anti-imperialist critics a tag that implied they were old-fashioned curmudgeons.

Thus the Washington Post proclaimed at the time of the Spanish-American War that “the policy of isolation is dead,” and the Oxford English Dictionary first made reference to the concept in 1901: “Hence, Isolationist, one who favors or advocates isolation. In US politics, one who thinks the Republic ought to pursue a policy of political isolation.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica never made “isolation” a rubric, and only after World War II did its articles on diplomacy refer to the phenomenon. Most telling of all, not even the “isolationists” of the 1930s had any use for the term, preferring to call themselves neutralists or nationalists. So, our vaunted tradition of “isolationism” is no tradition at all, but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.

Let us dispense with the term altogether and substitute for it a word that really describes the second great tradition in American foreign relations: Unilateralism. It was a natural, even inevitable corollary of the first American tradition, for if the essence of Exceptionalism was liberty at home, the essence of Unilateralism was to be at liberty to make foreign policy independent of the “toils of European ambition.”

Unilateralism never meant that the United States should, or for that matter could, sequester itself or pursue an ostrich-like policy toward all foreign countries. It simply meant, as Hamilton and Jefferson both underscored, that the self-evident course for the United States was to avoid permanent, entangling alliances and to remain neutral in Europe’s wars except when our Liberty – the first hallowed tradition – was at risk.

[And] if the United States became enmeshed in war and imperialism on the European model, it would have to raise large armies and navies, tax and conscript its people, and generally compromise domestic freedom, the [American] Republic’s raison d’etre.

[And if] it became enmeshed in foreign conflicts, the European powers would compete for Americans’ affections, corrupt their politics with propaganda and bribes, and split them into factions. And finally, if the United States joined in Europe’s rivalries, the arenas of battle would surely include America’s own lands and waters, as they had for over a century.”

(Promised Land, Crusader State, Walter A. McDougall, Houghton-Mifflin, 1997, excerpts, pp. 39-40; 42)

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins, belief that more Southerners wearing shoes would spark a consumer tsunami, is on par with New England’s early wartime belief that much good would come from giving former slaves land to cultivate on occupied Hilton Head and the Sea Islands. The logic was that the new-found wealth of the freedmen would be spent on Yankee notions and manufactured goods, and Northern industry would benefit.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

“Some years ago Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins raised the temperature of many Southerners to fever height by suggesting that if the people of that section could be persuaded to wear shoes a veritable “social revolution” would result. The mass-production system of the United States, the secretary told a welfare council in May, 1933, depends upon purchasing power, the proper development of which would lead to prosperity beyond anything we “have ever dared to dream of.”

If the wages of the millworkers of the South could be raised to such a level that they could afford shoes, a great demand for footwear would result. Indeed, said the secretary, when it is realized that “the whole South is an untapped market for shoes” it becomes clear that great “social benefits” and “social good” would inevitably come from the development of our “mass-production system” to meet this latent consuming power.

Southern editors and speakers indignantly denied the canard that Southerners bought no shoes and retorted that such comments were only what might have been expected from a woman, especially one who knew nothing about the South.

It was even suggested that should all the inhabitants of the South suddenly wake to wearing shoes the resultant wear and tear on streets, sidewalks, and hotel carpets might cause grave financial loss to the area.

That was in 1933 . . . [and it was maintained that] Markets can only exist where there is demand; demand comes close upon the heels of knowledge. Knowledge, or education in the ways of the West, has therefore been considered essential if “backward” peoples are to be induced to purchase western goods. [Henry M.] Stanley, the African explorer, in an address before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, published in 1884 [asserted] that if Christian missionaries should clothe naked Negroes of the Congo, even in one dress for use on the Sabbath, “320,000,000 yards of Manchester cotton cloth” would be required . . . Should they become sufficiently educated in the European moral code to feel the necessity for a change of clothing every day, cloth to the value of [26 million pounds] a year would be necessary.

When the natives have been educated they would abandon their idleness and sloth, [John Williams, missionary to Tahiti said in 1817], and become industrious workers. Then, he asserted, they will apply to our merchants for goods . . . “

[When FDR called for a New Deal in the South] He certainly must have been aware of the implications of the thesis that the poorly housed, undernourished, and ill-clad Southerner must be given greatly increased purchasing power to enable him to better his economic condition, thus strengthening the demand for manufacture products and consequently improving the economy of the nation as a whole.

It is also certain that the concern which Secretary Perkins felt for the shoeless Southerner was not without precedent. When the armies of Grant and Sherman liberated the Southern Negro, the economic implications were not lost on the people of the victorious section. Following in the wake of the Union armies a host of teachers and missionaries flocked to the South, determined to Christianize and educate the freed Negro . . . with a decidedly abolitionist tinge, to be sure.

[These] people, their robes of self-righteousness wrapped firmly around them . . . carried with them the New England school, complete with curriculum, texts and method, but they also took with them the attitudes and beliefs of the social reformer and, specifically, the militant abolitionist. Politically, the teachers and missionaries became the tools of the [Republican] Radicals in their program of reconstruction . . .

Sensing in the alphabet and the book the key to the white man’s position of dominance, the open-sesame which would unlock the magic door of equality and wealth, the Negro, like the Polynesian, flocked to the church and the school. As one observer wrote, the “spelling book and primer” seemed to them Alladin’s [sic] lamp, which will command over all the riches and glory of the world. In brief, they believed that education was “the white man’s fetish,” which would guarantee wealth, power, and social position.

Some of the teachers [and missionaries] understood the inevitable result of the extension of freedom, Christianity, and education to the Negro – the development of a vast new market for northern goods, which would result in great profits to northern mills.”

(Northern Interest in the Shoeless Southerner, Henry L. Swint; Journal of Southern History, Volume XVI, Number 4, November 1950, excerpts, pp. 457-462)

Sen. Fulbright on Southern Poverty

Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas advised his fellow congressmen from the North as to why the South lagged behind in economic development and education, and the reason for this. Fulbright was a signatory of the Southern Manifesto of March 12, 1956 that denounced what was viewed as unconstitutional actions of an activist and legislation-enacting Supreme Court, and all advised legal means of resistance.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Senator Fulbright on Southern Poverty

“From 1946 when the Senate first dealt with Harry Truman’s proposed Fair Employment Practices Commission, (FEPC) and on through a series of filibusters and bitter civil rights contests, Fulbright has been prominent among the Southern bloc. He has been a leader in debate and strategy; he has spoken out as strongly and frequently as any other Southerner.

More than most, he has addressed himself to the South’s unique problems — poverty, ignorance, disease, lack of economic opportunities. He has tried to place these problems in historical perspective, and in that sense can he himself best be understood.

The historical facts of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and its bitter aftermath, crippled the South. The South WAS treated like a conquered territory; it WAS exploited; it DID become ever more insulated and removed from the mainstream of American life. Its fears, frustrations and antagonisms are without parallel in the American experience.

In common with other Southern politicians, Fulbright has been frustrated in attempting to effect change. With his own business background and intimate knowledge of financial conditions in Arkansas, he particularly has resented the domination of outside economic interests — Northern economic interests.

Once, when opposing the routine appointment of a Philadelphia banker to the Federal Reserve Board, he gave a revealing glimpse into his own attitudes:

“The people of the North are extremely solicitous of our welfare and progress,” he said. “They assure us that if we furnish better schools and abolish poll taxes and segregation, strife will cease and happiness [will] reign. They are critical of our relative poverty, our industrial and social backwardness, and they are generous in their advice about our conduct.

Their condescension in these matters is not appreciated . . . because these people . . . have for more than a century done everything they could to retard the economic development of the South.

It is no secret that the South was considered like a conquered territory after 1865. Since that time, the tariff policy and freight rate structure were designed by the North to prevent industrial development in the South; to keep that area in the status of a raw material producing colony. Above and beyond these direct restrictions, the most insidious of all, the most difficult to put your finger on, is the all-pervading influence of the great financial institutions and industrial monopolies.

These influences are so subtle and so powerful that they have in many instances been able to dominate the political and economic life of the South and West from within those States as well as from Washington.”

From his first moment in Congress . . . [Fulbright] has fought for passage of a federal aid to education bill . . . [as he believed] that the best hope for amicable race relations lies in improving education.

“It is paradoxical,” he once said, “that Southern educational systems should be expected to produce well-rounded, broad-minded, and wholly dispassionate individuals whose well-developed intellectuals can suddenly reject lifelong patterns of conduct. This is a high standard to expect for schools without adequate facilities — stemming from a tax base incapable of producing sufficient revenue. Southern States — and particularly my own — have made valiant efforts in recent years to devote greater portions of their resources to education, but . . . only since the 1930’s has the South begun to share in the prosperity and affluence of America.”

(Fulbright, The Dissenter, Johnson and Gwertzman, Doubleday & Company, 1968, excerpts, pp. 148-150)

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

Though popular histories portray Lincoln as a simple and self-educated man who rose from a lowly background to become president, he was in reality a shrewd politician and wealthy corporate attorney. His clients before 1860 included the Illinois Central Railroad, then the largest railroad in the world, and an annual income of about $5000, more than triple that of the Illinois governor. After the War, Lincoln’s heavy-handed policy of military might was continued by his generals sent to eradicate the Plains Indians in the way of government-subsidized transcontinental railroads.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

“A year prior to his nomination to the presidency — to be exact, in August, 1859 — he had visited Council Bluffs, Iowa, to look after his real estate holdings there and incidentally see the country.

A contemplated railroad to extend westward from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast was a live, but no new topic. For years such a possibility had been discussed, and in the first national campaign conducted by the Republican Party in 1856, a Pacific railroad was made a rather prominent issue. Shortly before his trip to Council Bluffs, Abraham Lincoln had purchased several town lots from his fellow [Illinois Central] railroad attorney, Norman B. Judd, who had acquired them from the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Council Bluffs at this time was a frontier town, containing about fifteen hundred people.

General [Grenville] Dodge . . . relates that “during Lincoln’s visit, some of the citizens of Council Bluffs took him to a high bluff known as Cemetery Hill, just north of the town. He was greatly impressed with the outlook; and the bluff from that time has been known as Lincoln’s Hill . . .

From here he looked down upon the place, where by his order, four years later, the terminus of the first trans-continental railway was established.”

The platform of the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president in May 1860 at Chicago, declared in the sixteenth plank:  “That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction . . . ”

General Dodge [said]: “There is great competition from all the towns on both sides of the Missouri River for fifty miles above and below Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the distinction of being selected as [the] initial point. President Lincoln, after going over all the facts that could be presented to him, and from his own knowledge, finally fixed the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad where our surveys determined the practical locality — at Council Bluffs, Iowa.”

(Lincoln and the Railroads, John W. Starr, Jr., Arno Press, 1981 (original 1927), excerpts, pp. 196-202)

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad

The “Big Four” of Central Pacific Railroad fame included Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, both of New York. While the War Between the States raged in the East, they made a fortune through generous government subsidies usually obtained by bribery or special treatment for Republican Party donors. While that party claimed to be waging war against the American South to eradicate slavery, the government-supported railroad companies used virtual slave labor for construction crews. The railroad crews used white supervisors of Chinese laborers in the same manner as Northern regiments of colored troops were led by white officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad    

“Early in January 1865 Crocker’s agents scoured Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco for laborers . . . [but many] quit when they had earned enough money to pay stage fare to Virginia City. But children, too, were scarce in the foothills and for months the labor shortage remained acute. In the company’s new San Francisco office [Leland] Stanford . . . petitioned the War Department to send out five thousand Rebel prisoners to be put to work under the guard of a few companies of Union soldiers. But the war ended and the scheme had to be shelved.

A plan of importing, under contract, thousands of peons from Sonora and other Mexican states never got beyond the discussion stage . . . [but another] dubious possibility remained – the lowly Chinese. There were already thousands of them on the Coast . . . crowded into the wretched warrens of a score of “Chinatowns.”

A threatened strike of his white crews proved the deciding point. [Fifty] Chinese were herded on freight cars in the Sacramento yards and hauled to the end of the track. By sunrise they went to work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of their first twelve hours of prodding industry Crocker and his engineers viewed the result with gratified astonishment.

Another gang of fifty was hired at once, then a third. Finally all doubt vanished and the Chinatowns of the state were searched for every able-bodied male who could be tempted by the bait of steady work and forty dollars a month.

Of course the white laborers of the Coast resented the affront. To counteract this injury, railroad spokesmen were presently referring to the Chinese as “the Asiatic contingent of the Grand Army of Civilization,” and Stanford was incorporating into company reports long defense for them . . . To charges that the Chinese were held in a state of virtual serfdom by the labor contractors with whom the company dealt, Stanford stated: “No system similar to slavery . . . prevails . . . Their wages . . . Paid in coin at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents . . . in proportion to the labor done by each . . . These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them with supplies of food, the value of which they deduct monthly . . .”

By the end of 1865 the company was committed to the use of Chinese for most of their labor, and Stanford was hopeful that the force might be increased to fifteen thousand during the coming year. Of course no such supply was available in California . . . [but accordingly] boats from Canton were presently tying up at San Francisco piers, their rails swarming with yellow faces, while labor leaders predicted economic ruin for the Coast and threatened reprisals.

The advent of the Chinese relieved white men of pick and shovel work; many became gang foremen, others were promoted to teamsters, powdermen, or stone-workers. Moreover, the Chinese lived in their own camps, cooked their own meals, and knew their place. Thus the superiority of the Caucasian was undiminished, his dignity enhanced. Harmony reigned in the Sierra canyons and real progress began to be made.”

(The Big Four, The Story of the Building of the Central Pacific, Oscar Lewis, Borzoi Books, 1938, excerpts, pp. 69-72)

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

The existence of African slaves in the American South was largely the result of foreign interests and New England slavers importing already-enslaved black people from Africa. With the agricultural expansion of the United States enabled by the Louisiana Purchase, large numbers of laborers were required to work the fields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

“An illicit market in Mobile supported foreign slave trade despite the federal prohibition against it since 1808. Reports appeared occasionally of African natives working in the city. In March 1859, according to the British consul, “twenty wild African Negroes” worked in Mobile. Since these slaves spoke only their native dialect, residents concluded that the slaves were recently imported. Their appearance sparked excitement among the citizens about the foreign slave trade.

Later in 1859 the schooner Clotilde, owned by the Northern-born steamboat builder Timothy Meagher, transported what was reputedly the last cargo of contraband slaves from Africa to the United States. Slavers then transported 116 survivors of this voyage to John Dabney’s plantation on the Alabama River a few miles north of Mobile. Some slave-owners in the area secretly purchased some of the Africans, and the shipowner and captain retained the rest.

Slave ownership remained confined to a small proportion of the free population of Mobile, slightly less than 6 percent in 1830 and 1840. Masters and mistresses came from widely different backgrounds and occupations. In 1860, New Englanders like Thaddeus Sanford, a newspaper publisher turned farmer; Gustavus Horton, a cotton broker; and William, Rix, a merchant, owned slaves. So did foreign-born Mobilians like Israel I. Jones and Jonathan Emanuel, [both] English-born merchants; Ann Yuille, a Scottish baker’s widow; and Albert Stein, a German-born hydraulic engineer.

In 1850, 191 women owned 807 slaves. Women made up nearly 10 percent of large slaveholders, those with 11 or more slaves, in 1850. By renting some of their slaves to local employers, widows received good incomes.

Sarah Barnes, sixth largest slaveowner in Mobile in 1850, presumably rented some of her 52 slaves to others. So did two other women with large slaveholdings in the 1857 city tax book. Eliza Goldthwaite, widow of a former State judge, who claimed 17 slaves, and Sarah Walton, widow of a former mayor of Mobile and mother of Octavia Walton Levert, owned 20 slaves.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, excerpt, pp. 87-89)

 

The Slaves of Connecticut

Fairfield, Connecticut’s black population, both free and enslaved, helped load the ships with Yankee notions, barrel staves, foodstuffs, and rum destined for Africa to trade for yet more slaves. The transatlantic slave trade that New England dominated by 1750 helped the region build and maintain its affluence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Slaves of Connecticut

“Connecticut conducted another census in 1774. With a population of 4863, Fairfield was the eleventh largest town in Connecticut in 1774. The 4863 persons included 4544 whites and 319 blacks, giving Fairfield the highest percentage of black population in the colony.

Fairfield’s growing trade encouraged the growth of its black population. Approximately three out of every four blacks in Fairfield in the 1770’s were slaves. Most of them were men who worked as laborers or household servants; a smaller number of women were household servants; and even a smaller number were children.

Most slaves were denied the pleasure of residing, with or without the benefit of marriage, with a member of the opposite sex. Captain David Judson owned a married couple and their child, but more typical was Hezekiah Gold, who owned four men, “a wench,” a young man, and two boys. Slavery was a luxury that Fairfield came to afford as it became more affluent. Most free blacks in Fairfield worked as laborers, either on the docks or on board ship.”

(Fairfield, The Biography of a Community, Thomas J. Farnham, Fairfield Historical Society, 1988, excerpts, pp. 71-72)

Jefferson’s View of the North’s Slave Trade

Well aware that the perilous “wolf by the ears” predicament facing the United States in his time was greatly the fault of New England’s penchant for slave trading profits, Jefferson saw the North sell its slaves southward and then proclaim themselves “free States” and morally superior to the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Jefferson’s View of the North’s Slave Trade

“Mr. Jefferson’s opposition to slavery was known then, as it is now. Undoubtedly appreciating the fact that slavery, as prevalent then in the South, was extremely expensive to the masters, far more than “slavery” subsequently maintained by the Northern manufacturer, he stated his grievance upon this matter in the original draft of the Declaration [of Independence], but subsequently crossed out this paragraph.

In a courteous, yet Voltaire-like manner, he caustically refers to the slave-trade of the pious Yankee, and, rather than cause a disruption, he omitted that clause from his draft. Thus, while there was chance of earning a few dollars, the North was fully willing to accept the conditions and to continue the [slave] trade. Indeed, when certain Southern States prohibited the importation of slaves, it was New England which arose in defense of that trade.

“Times change and we with them.” After selling their slaves into the South, the same people suddenly changed their minds as to slavery, and, lifting up their hands in horror, described the Southern slave owner as an inhuman brute, a cruel oppressor, etc. The abolition societies and various fanatics, sincere and insincere, voluntary fanatics and paid fanatics, suddenly discovered supposedly crying needs of the “poor, downtrodden black brother,” and by various means and devices, attempted his emancipation. No crime and injustice was omitted in their acts.

And yet, simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, white too, were held in a more inhuman bondage in the North than the black man down South. Living under the most deplorable and miserable conditions, working long hours with hardly enough food to keep body and soul together, that mob of inhumanity was called free!

Truly they were free, free to die!”

(Secession, W.A. Lederer, Philadelphia, Confederate Veteran Magazine, September 1930, excerpt, pg. 338)

Slave Trading and Respected Merchants

Slaver Captain Nathaniel Gordon of Portland, Maine and his ship, the Erie, was captured at the mouth of the Congo River by the USS Mohican in 1860. Loaded with nearly 900 slaves, the Erie was built in Swansea, Massachusetts about 1850, and owned by a New York City business partnership.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Slave Trading and Respected Merchants

“Ironically, an opportunity for strict enforcement of the slave trade laws was available to the United States almost from the beginning, but it meant collaborating with the British. [In 1807] England, the world’s largest slaving nation, outlawed its own slave trade. Britain’s motives were not especially altruistic [and] in reality, the British were trying to protect the commerce of their colonies by denying slave labor to their competitors, chiefly Spain, France, Portugal, Brazil, and the United States.

Had the United States cooperated with Britain at any point, the slave trade would certainly have ended earlier. As it was, the trade flourished throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, as Yankee captains continued to fit out their ships in Providence; New York City; Portland, Maine; Rio; or any of a dozen other sympathetic ports, and sail to the west coast of Africa for slaves. The Brazilian and Cuban markets were strong, the risks low, and the potential for profits enormous.

Meanwhile, the record of convictions in the courts was as poor as that of seizures at sea. In New York City, where most of the prosecutions took place, only one-sixth of those indicted were convicted. The rest were either acquitted, forfeited bail, escaped from custody, or were released because of hung juries or the court’s unwillingness to prosecute.

From 1837 to 1861 (when Captain [Nathaniel] Gordon alone made at least four slaving voyages), around 125 accused slave traders – officers and crewmen – were prosecuted in New York City; only 20 were given prison sentences, averaging two years apiece. Of these men, 10 received presidential pardons, and 3 more – indicted for capital crimes under the piracy act of 1820 – were allowed to plead to lesser charges. One was briefly convicted of piracy, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. Clearly, no one in power wanted to hang a man for trafficking in slaves.

[In 1846, the] USS Boxer seized the Malaga, a ship fitted out with all the obvious goods and accoutrements for slaving and chartered to a known Brazilian slave trader. A New England judge ruled that there was nothing illegal about selling goods to a slaver, the charges were dropped, and the Malaga immediately left port on another slaving voyage.

New York had been a slaving city from its inception as a small Dutch settlement. The West India Company delivered eleven Brazilian slaves to tiny New Amsterdam in 1626 . . . New York saw its first slave revolt in 1712, when an armed group of slaves murdered nine whites. Retribution was swift and savage: the gallows claimed thirteen, while three were burned at the stake, one was broken at the wheel, one was starved to death, and another was cooked over a slow fire for an entire day.

Whether in the Caribbean, West Africa, or Madagascar trade, there were always New York slave ships, financed by New York capital. The slave traders were well known to the city’s business community; some ranked among the city’s most prominent members of society, frequently meeting at such places as the Astor House hotel to plan their voyages. The money behind their expeditions was provided secretly by many of New York’s most respected merchants.’

(Hanging Captain Gordon, The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, Ron Soodalter, Atria Books, 2006, excerpts, pp. 7-9; 43; 70-71)

New York Slaveholding Brought Comfort and Prestige

New York is properly referred to as a former slave State — slaveholding there did not end until the late 1820’s, though the children of slaves remained in bondage for many years after. Rather than lose their investment, New Yorkers sold their chattel to plantations in the South before the deadline. Additionally, the small free-black population which remained in New York found themselves proscribed by Jim Crow laws which erected a minimum property ownership in order to vote, which effectively disenfranchised them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New York Slaveholding Brought Comfort and Prestige

“New York was slow in drawing white settlers until after mid [18th] century, and the shortage of labor led to a considerable use of slaves; indeed it is possible that in the early Dutch days it was slave labor that enabled the colony to survive. Most of the first slaves were not from Africa but were re-imported from Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.

It was a profitable system: in the 1640’s it cost only a little more to buy a slave than to pay a free worker’s wage for a year. After the English took control of New Netherland in 1664, a brisk and highly profitable trade in skilled slaves was carried on. Most slaveholders in the province were flourishing small farmers or small artisans who, in the absence of an adequate supply of free labor, needed moderately skilled help, and were able to pay the rising prices for slaves.

A partial census of 1755 showed a widely diffused slave population, most owners having only one or two slaves, only seven New Yorkers owning ten or more. Among the largest lots held were those of the elder Lewis Morris with 66 slaves on his large estate and the first Frederick Philipse, an affluent landowner, with about 40.

Such men could work gangs of slaves on their manors, but slaves were also sought by other wealthy men for the comfort and prestige a substantial staff of domestic servants would bring. William Smith, for example, was reputed to keep a domestic staff of 12 or more to run his New York City household, and other leading citizens travelled with Negro footmen.

From the first the competition of black labor was resented by whites. Competition in the labor market was intensified by the slave owners’ widespread practice of putting out their slaves for hire, under-cutting white laborers who were paid twice the slaves’ wages.

Slave controls, reflecting persistent nervousness in the white population, were quite rigid. Aside from private punishments that could be administered by masters, such public controls were meant to put sharp limits on the temptations slaves would face. After 1702, flogging was prescribed if three slaves gathered together on their own time . . . nor could they engage in trade without their master’s consent.”

(America at 1750, a Social Portrait, Richard Hofstadter, Vintage Books, 1973, excerpt, pp. 99-101)

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