Browsing "New England’s Slave Trade"

Southern Abolition Societies

Southern colonists were greatly alarmed at the great influx of African slaves being transported into their midst by British and New England ships by the mid-1700s. Both Virginia and North Carolina taxed the importation of slaves to discourage the practice, only to be overruled by the King who sought productive colonial plantations.

By 1750, Rhode Island was the center of the transatlantic slave trade, which continued to at least 1859. When discussing the antebellum period it is more accurate to speak of all the States as free, and the Northern States properly referred to as former slaveholding States, along with some being former slave trading States.

Southern Abolition Societies

“Slavery continued to be recognized within the South as a grave social problem. Perhaps Southerners were less concerned about it than they had been in the Revolutionary period, but during the course of the Missouri debate, responsible Southern spokesmen openly admitted that slavery was evil; and ten years later there occurred the greatest and most searching discussion of the nature and problem of slavery that was ever held in the South, the debate in the Virginia legislature in 1832.

Several antislavery journals appeared in the slave States: The Emancipator, founded in East Tennessee in 1820; The Genius of Universal Emancipation, which was moved to Tennessee from Ohio in 1821 and was later moved to Baltimore; and the Abolition Intelligencer, founded in Kentucky in 1822.

Benjamin Lundy, editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, estimated in 1827 that there were 106 antislavery societies with 5,150 members in the slave States whereas there were only 24 such societies with 1,475 members in the free States, not counting 10 or 12 in Illinois about which he could get no information.

But these facts by no means indicate that Southerners generally were conscience-stricken over slavery . . . [and] the hostility of some Southerners to slavery was founded on something very different from sympathy for the oppressed. When Governor David Holmes of Mississippi warned that “The evils arising from this odious practice [the slave trade] are constantly . . . increasing,” and there would be serious results “unless the traffic is wholly prohibited,” his concern was for the welfare of the Mississippi white man.

Governor [Thomas Mann] Randolph of Virginia put the matter very bluntly. He deplored the “error of our ancestors in copying a civil institution from savage Africa,” because as he reasoned, “The want of moral motives and a defect of intelligence, the too common absence of settled character, that marks the race [degraded] by slavery, if not by nature,” was injurious to the State of Virginia.

There was much support throughout the South in the 1820s for plans to deport Negroes . . . Haiti, Africa and unsettled parts of the western territories of the United States were suggested as possible places to which Negroes could be sent, but the only serious effort that came out of the discussion was the organization in Washington in 1817, of the American Colonization Society.”

(The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819-1848, Volume V, A History of the South, Charles S. Sydnor, LSU Press, 1948, excerpts pp. 95-96)

The Greatest Slave Carriers of America

New England rum and Yankee notions were exchanged for African slaves as Boston and Newport rivaled each other for slave trade prominence in the early 1700s. Annually, about 1800 hogsheads of rum were traded to African tribes for their slaves, and this left little for consumption in the colony.

From this profitable trade in human merchandise, “an opulent and aristocratic society” developed in Newport; Col. Thomas Hazard of Narragansett and Mr. Downs of Bristol “were names that loomed large in the commercial and social registers of that day. Their fortunes were accumulated from the slave trade.”

It is worth noting that had there been no transatlantic slave trade carried on by the British and New Englanders, the American South would have had no peculiar institution.

Greatest Slave Carriers of America

“The growth of Negro slavery in New England was slow during the seventeenth century. In 1680, there were only 20 slaves in Connecticut, two of whom had been christened. In 1676, Massachusetts had 200 slaves . . . in 1700 Governor Dudley placed the number at 550, four hundred of whom were in Boston.

In 1730, New Hampshire boasted of but thirty slaves. The Eighteenth Century, however, saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave-carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slaves as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of a 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. The ports of Boston and Salem prospered especially. Their merchants carried on a “brisk trade to Guinea” for many years, marketing most of their slaves in the West Indies.

Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage in held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many comfortable fortunes amassed from the profits of this traffic. The name Jolley Bachelor, which was carried by one of his ships engaged in the slave trade, typifies the spirit of the time in regard to this profitable business.

As opulence increased, the number of slaves grew proportionately. In 1735, there were 2,600 Negroes in Massachusetts; in 1764 the number had increased to 5,779. In 1742, Boston alone had 1,514 slaves and free Negroes, the number having almost quadrupled in about forty years.

[In 1696] the brigantine Sunflower arrived at Newport with forty-five slaves. Most of them were sold there at thirty to thirty-five pounds a head; the rest were taken to Boston for disposal.

Subsequently, however, the slave trade of Rhode Island outstripped that of Massachusetts. Governor Wood, early in the Eighteenth Century, reported that the colony had one hundred and twenty vessels employed in the trade. Newport rivaled Boston as New England’s premier seaport. It had twenty or thirty stills going full blast to supply rum for the African trade.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 4, October 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 495-497)

The Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

Most authorities agree that the first mention of Negro slaves in New England was in John Winthrop’s diary in 1638, stating that “Mr. Pierce in his Salem ship, Desire, has been at Providence [West Indies] and brought some cotton and tobacco and Negroes from there, and salt from Tertugos.”

Negro slaves are found in New Haven, Connecticut as early as 1644, six years after the colony was founded, though it is recorded that “John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1633.”

Slaves are mentioned in New Hampshire in 1646, as well as Rhode Island in 1652. The latter colony became the center of New England’s infamous transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool’s slave trade by 1750.

Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“. . . Negro slavery in New England reflected that institution as it existed in the hey-day of the plantation era in the sugar, cotton and tobacco States. There was the same horror of the 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 of wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of the slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable to New England as well; and in some instance, New England even 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; indeed they even preceded the settlement of the Puritans at Salem, having been sent in advance to prepare homes and food against the coming of the settlers in 1630. Unfree labor existed, however, throughout the remainder of the colonial period.

The indentured servants soon proved insufficient in numbers to satisfy the colonists increasing demand for laborers. A new source of supply 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 th 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 and not the black man, was the first slave in New England. Even the much vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 2, April 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 492-494)

Quaker Masters and their Property

The slave trade of New England increased as its maritime fleet competed with the mother country for the West Indian trade. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade, and populated the West Indies and the American South with slaves purchased from African tribes in exchange for Yankee notions and rum.

Southern colonies tried to restrict the slave imports, and “Resolutions were passed in various Virginia counties against the African trade on the ground that it prevented manufacturers and other useful migrants from settling in the colony and instead increased the colony’s unfavorable balance of trade.”

Additional resistance to stopping the slave trade came from the British Crown, which overrode the Virginia and North Carolina colonial assembly’s.

Quaker Masters and their Property

“At all times the respectable complained that the wages of labor were too high. “Tis the poor that make the rich,” one writer frankly admitted in John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal. [John] Logan complained to [William] Penn in 1705 that Pennsylvania was in depression because England with its cheap labor could undersell Pennsylvania in the provision trade in the West Indies. If only more people could be brought in to “lower the prices of labor,” the colony would prosper.

Penn’s view of indentured servants as property was still retained. The influential Quaker preacher, Thomas Story, exclaimed in 1741 that bought servants are as much “the property of their masters, as their lands, goods, money or clothing.” Without them the masters “could not cultivate their lands or maintain their families.” Therefore the governor is “infringing the just liberty and property of the people” in allowing the servants to enlist in the war emergency.

The assembly and council added that this “unconstitutional” practice injures the masters whose servants have not enlisted, for they “must humor them in everything lest they enlist.” Thus they grow “idle, neglectful, insolent and mutinous.”

The enlightened [Thomas] Mayhew of Massachusetts envied Pennsylvania her mass of German indentured servants. These, he declared in an election sermon in 1754, made Pennsylvania as rich and populous in a few years as the greatest and most opulent of colonies.

Even Washington, endeavoring to people his frontier lands for his own gain and his country’s protection in the cheapest, most effectual manner, thought strongly for a time of obtaining a “parcel of these people.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Volume I, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 117-119)

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

After the British themselves, New Englanders were responsible for populating the colonies with slaves purchased from African tribes, and the invention of Massachusetts tinkerer Eli Whitney in 1793 sent demand for slaves and cotton soaring.

With the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, New England Federalists unhappy with the new political supremacy of Virginia called upon the North “to combine to protect the commercial interests against the vicious slave-holding democrats of the South.” Thus began the descent into war between the sections.

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“Slavery was disappearing from the North. The rector of the Swedish churches in America told the American Philosophical Society that the introduction of “mechanism” in the Southern States would eliminate the need of slaves; but the invention of the cotton gin led to the opposite result.

Defenders of slavery declared it was a necessary evil that would eventually cure itself. The slaveholder could not be held guilty of crime because slavery as a very common thing is due to the state of society, for which the slaveholder is not responsible. Slavery in America is preferable to liberty in Africa because the slave gets better care and acquires the Christian religion.

In fact, the underlying reasons for importing slaves is to further the Christian religion. Respectably opponents, generally in New England, questioned the argument that slavery is a curse of society, not of the individual. It is no more valid, they said, than the notion of drunkenness and adultery are not delinquencies of the individual. The greatest evil is that the slaves will eventually outnumber the whites, and this must lead either to the most horrible event, intermarriage, or the destruction of the whites.

For the most part, the critics looked for remedies in the abolition of the slave trade, the growth of voluntary manumission, and even the growth of trade and commerce with Africa in the manner pictured by [economist James] Swan. It was agreed that pecuniary considerations were the most important barrier to voluntary manumission, but the slaveholder was told to trust to the Lord for his recompense.

The general attitude was best expressed by the Baptist clergyman Samuel Jones of Philadelphia. The slave trade is abominable; the possession of slaves is not profitable except in the newly settled regions where the costs of labor are very high. But the slave owners are innocent inheritors of the institution and not obliged to free their slaves, “at least not until they have been fully reimbursed the full amount of their cost on equitable principles.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 280-282)

Sins & Profits of Pilgrims & Puritans

New England settlers, like those in Virginia, were part of a joint stock company organization. Those at Plymouth in 1620 were the first enduring compact settlement, and comprised of John Robinson’s Separatist church of Leyden, Holland. “They complained that economic necessity forced them to be hard not only on their servants, but also on their children, who in Holland fell easy victim to the licentious example of the Dutch youth and to the temptation of the city.”

These settlers eventually found that rum made from West Indian molasses could be traded to the Indians for furs, and later traded to African chieftains in exchange for their slaves.

Sins & Profits of Pilgrims & Puritans

“To extend the fur trade monopoly, a patent was obtained from the New England Council for Kennebec, in what is now Maine. This monopoly was so zealously guarded that bloodshed resulted. Their Puritan brethren in Massachusetts complained, “They have brought us all, and the gospel under common reproach, of cutting one another’s throats for beaver.”

Not a little of the animosity of the Pilgrim fathers and other Puritan settlers toward Thomas Morton, a nearby English trading gentleman lawyer, was aroused by his interference with their profits from the fur trade. “Morton,” wrote [Governor William] Bradford, “has committed many sins. He is licentious and atheistical. He offers a haven to runaway servants, and supplies the Indians with guns.”

All sorts of punishments were visited on this “unscrupulous competitor,” from burning down his settlement to banishment to England. Morton quite gaily explained in his New England Canaan that, while he gave the Indians guns to obtain furs, the Pilgrims gave them more potent rum.

“Commerce has opened new lands for the preaching of the gospel,” promoters wrote. But the godly who live in wealth and prosperity must head the settlements, for a great work requires the best instruments, not a multitude of rude and misgoverned persons, the very scum of the land.

In England there is little hope for the godly. The fountains of learning and religion – the universities – are corrupted by “licentious government of these seminaries where men strain at gnats and swallow camels, use all severity for maintenance of caps” and other ceremonials, but tolerate “ruffian-like fashions and disorder in manners.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 29-34)

Tampering with New England’s Slave Trade

Much of Britain’s difficulty with its American colonies came from New England smuggling and dependence upon French West Indies molasses which it distilled into rum, which in turn fueled its slave trade. In his last years, Boston’s John Adams “saw the Revolution, at least in part, as a struggle over molasses. He said “I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence.

It takes no great imagination to conclude that without British and New England populating the American colonies with African slaves, and perpetuating this into the mid-nineteenth century, the war which destroyed the American republic in 1861 might not have occurred.

Tampering with New England’s Trade in Slaves

“[The Molasses Act of 1733 enacted by the British Parliament] was introduced as a result of complaints from the British islands in the West Indies, whose economy was based on the production of sugar, against the competition of the French sugar islands – St. Dominique, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The British West Indies – Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Monserrat and St. Christopher – were such an immense source of wealth that they were considered at the time to be more important to the empire than the North American colonies.

Molasses, a by-product of the islands’ sugar mills, was turned into rum in New England. There were so many distilleries in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut that they were known as the Rum Coast. Rum, to a degree hard to believe in a later and much different world, was essential to the New England economy.

It was one of the main means of profitable exchange for furs from the Indians and slaves and ivory from Africa. Some of the greatest early New England fortunes were based on the rum trade, most of which was carried on illegally. Boston alone was said to have about fifty distilling houses. Nothing could set off a panic in New England more surely than tampering with this trade.

The trouble arose because the British islands could not supply all the molasses needed by the North American distilleries or supply them as cheaply as the French islands. The French West Indian molasses manufacture and the New England rum production were as if made for each other. By [Sir Robert] Walpole’s time, an immensely important trade had developed between the French islands and the New England colonies. Everyone benefited, except the British sugar islands.

The result was the Molasses Act, which was designed to cut off the [French-New England] trade by putting a 100 percent duty upon non-British sugar. The agent of Massachusetts and Connecticut in London foretold funereally that the act was bound to ruin “many thousand families there.” Richard Partridge, the New York agent in London, brought up the argument of nonrepresentation in Parliament to denounce the act . . .”

By passing the act, [Walpole] legally appeased the British East West Indian planters. By doing little or nothing to enforce it, he appeased New England rum merchants. Smuggling was not a particularly American vice. Even when Secretary at War he had been engaged in smuggling his wines up the Thames.”

(The Struggle for Power: The American Revolution, Theodore Draper, Vintage Books, 1997, excerpts pp. 95-96)

The Slave State of New Jersey

African slavery flourished in New Jersey prior to the Revolution while Rhode Island flourished as the center of the transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool by 1750. It was not until 1804 that the New Jersey Legislature passed an act for gradual emancipation, though like New York’s later act, the law held a hidden subsidy for New Jersey slave owners. The latter could free the slave children and place them under State care, while selling the parents in Southern States. Additionally, free blacks could not vote by an 1807 law limiting the franchise to free, white males.

Read more at: http://slavenorth.com/newjersey.htm

The Slave State of New Jersey

“Slavery had obtained legal sanction in New Jersey under the [English] proprietary regimes of Berkeley and Carteret. In 1702, when New Jersey became a crown colony, Gov. Edward Cornbury was dispatched from London with instructions to keep the settlers provided with “a constant supply of merchantable Negroes at moderate prices.” He likewise was ordered to assist slave traders and “to take especial care that payment be duly made.”

“These instructions became settled policy, and the slave traffic became one of the preferred branches of New Jersey’s commerce. In rejecting a proposed slave tariff in 1744, the Provincial Council declared that nothing would be permitted to interfere with the importation of Negroes. The council observed that slaves had become essential to the colonial economy, since most entrepreneurs could not afford to pay the high was commanded by free workers.”

But while slaves were encouraged, free blacks were not. Free blacks were barred by law from owning land in colonial New Jersey. Slaves were especially numerous around Perth Amboy, which was the colony’s main port of entry.

“By 1690, most of the inhabitants of the region owned one or more Negroes.” From 2,581 in 1726, New Jersey’s slave population grew to nearly 4,000 in 1738. Slaves accounted for about 12 percent of the colony’s population up to the Revolution.

From 1713 (after a violent slave uprising in New York) to 1768, the colony operated a separate court system to deal with slave crimes [and] special punishments for slaves remained on the books until 1788 . . . [and] New Jersey narrowly escaped a violent slave uprising in 1743.

The 1800 census counted 12,422 New Jersey slaves . . . [and] in the same year New Jersey banned importing of slaves it also forbid free blacks from entering the State with intent to settle there.”

Emancipator and Confederate Naval Officer

The Wilmington Journal editorialized on 25 September 1863 that: “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [John Newland Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”

Maffitt, born of Irish parents at sea on the Atlantic on 22 February 1819, was said to be “born to command a ship.” He was “cultivated and gentlemanly,” blessed with a magnetic personality, and his seagoing exploits during the war are legendary.

The slave ship Echo noted below was originally built and registered in Baltimore in 1845 as the Putnam, for the New York City merchants Everett and Brown. The latter sold the ship in 1857 to “New York slave traders.”

New York City at the time “proved to be an ideal port for launching illegal slave voyages at this time: it boasted an abundance of available vessels and seafarers, it was overseen by overstretched and often corrupt port officials, and it even offered a legitimate trade in West African palm oil that could serve as a legitimate cover for illegal human trafficking.”

The newly purchased Putnam was sent on its first slaving voyage in 1857, the first of fifteen to leave New York City docks in that year alone.

Emancipator and Confederate Naval Officer

“Maffitt had captured a beautiful clipper named Echo, originally from Baltimore. It had a crew of eighteen, several of whom were Americans. It carried – stowed in a false lower deck only forty-four inches high – some three hundred African slaves. They were separated by sex and almost entirely naked. Maffitt ordered [two officers with a prize crew] to sail the Echo to Charleston to be turned over to the US marshal for disposition in court.

From orders dated 11 June 1859, he learned his new command was to be the USS Crusader [to be used] again cruising for slavers. (His earlier capture of the Echo had touched off great interest in the enterprise and led to a series of captures by other US naval vessels).

[On May 23rd, 1860] off the northern coast of Cuba [Maffitt stopped and boarded a suspicious square-rigger flying a French flag]. At this moment, hundreds of blacks broke open the hatches and, with a great shout, swarmed on board. When they saw the American flag over the Crusader, they became frantic with joy. The men danced, shouted, and climbed into the rigging. The women’s behavior was quite different. Totally nude, and some with babies in their arms, they withdrew to sit upon the deck, silent tears of appreciation in their eyes.

The crew of the slaver . . . stated their ship had no name, but it subsequently was found to be the bark Bogota out of New York. The cargo master spoke English and “might be taken for a Yankee galvanized into a Frenchman or Spaniard, as circumstances might dictate.”

Maffitt escorted the Bogota to Key West. The blacks, between four and five hundred of them, had been on passage in the Bogota for forty-five days from Ouida, a slave trading base in the People’s Republic of Benin (Kingdom of Dahomey). They, like many others, had been prisoners of war sold by the king.

At Key West, the blacks joined others who had been recaptured by the navy. Buildings had been erected to house them at Whitehead Point. At the time, there were some fourteen hundred Africans in the complex awaiting government disposition.”

(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 26-30)

The Same Principles as the Revolution

Author John Vinson (below) asserts that “The motive for secession was not defending slavery, but defense against an aggressor trampling on States’ rights and local rule – the same principles for which the American Revolution was fought. The South fought not to keep slavery, but for the right to deal with the institution in its own way and time.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote in July 1775 that “In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also.”

Some eighty-seven years later, Jefferson Davis no doubt pondered Jefferson’s letter to John Randolph in August 1775: “I hope the returning wisdom of Great Britain will, ere long, put an end to this unnatural contest.”

Same Principles as the Revolution

“One more point to be made on freedom is to refute, briefly, the charge of professional South-haters that the Old South did not stand for freedom, but slavery. They allege that it was the cause for which the Confederacy went to war.

A few reflections on the past show this to be nonsense. Slavery came about during British rule. Southern colonists admittedly purchased slaves, but shipping and selling them were British and Yankee shippers.

New England grew rich from slave commerce. Africans who enslaved and sold their fellow Africans supplied cargoes for slave shippers. Following the American Revolution, sentiment against slavery grew in the South. Jefferson spoke out against it. By 1830, a majority of anti-slavery societies were in the South. Shortly thereafter, Virginia came within a few votes of abolishing slavery.

In 1833, the British Empire peacefully ended slavery. Certainly this could have happened in America. But it was not to be. Self-righteous fanatics in the North, the abolitionists, called the South wicked and demanded immediate emancipation, regardless of the consequences. As time went on some even encouraged slave revolt and a massacre of Southern whites.

Stunned and put on the defensive, the South dug in its heels, and the movement toward peaceful abolition stopped. No less a Unionist than Daniel Webster conceded that the South might have ended slavery had it not been for the abolitionists fanatic crusade.

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown was tried, convicted, and hanged after trying unsuccessfully to incite a slave revolt in Virginia. He had the backing of powerful Northern interests and a significant body of Northern opinion hailed him as a hero. The next year Abraham Lincoln, a president identified with the abolitionists, came to power in Washington.

At this point, many Southerners questioned allegiance to a Union that seemed indifferent to their rights and even safety. Initially the Upper South States of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas refused to leave the Union.

The Lincoln government could have conciliated these States and perhaps defused the Southern independence movement. Instead, it provoked the Confederacy to fire on Fort Sumter, and then called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South. Rather than participate in the invasion of their sister States, the Upper South withdrew.”

(Southerner, Take Your Stand, John Vinson, Shotwell Publishing, 2016, excerpts pp. 10-11)

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