Browsing "New England’s Slave Trade"

Who First Brought African Slaves to America?

Referred to below is Bartholomew de Las Casas (1474-1566), a chaplain assigned to the Spanish armies invading Cuba. He witnessed the horrible massacre of the native Arawaks of Cuba at the hands of his countrymen and he returned to Spain to present his case to end those atrocities.  Those Spanish ships did not fly any flags of the American Confederacy, though New England slavers did fly the flag of the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Who First Brought African Slaves to America?

”Do you know how it came about that African slavery was first introduced into the New World?

We warrant you not one in ten of the Negro-philists of Europe or this country can properly answer this question. We warrant you also that fully half the enemies of the peculiar institution do not know that Negroes have always in all lands been held as slaves, from times so remote that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary; but firmly believe, that the whole blame of the great oppression rests upon the heads of the slaveholders of the present generation.

To all such allow us to say, the introduction of African slavery into America originated in the humane breast of Las Casas. At that period the aborigines of this country, the poor untutored “savages,” were sorely oppressed by the discoverers and conquerors of the land who used the poor creatures like so many beasts of burden, not even sparing their lives on occasions. Having been accustomed, before the coming of the pale faces, to the utmost freedom, devoting their time to idleness and hunting, they soon proved unequal to the misfortunate change, being incapable of performing the tasks imposed upon them by their new masters, and so perished miserably by the thousands.

To remedy so great an evil, Las Casas bethought him of the experiment of removing the Negroes from Africa to the New World that they might take the place of the poor “savages.” The Negroes were already slaves in their own country — slaves to masters whose authority was absolute — and had been such from time immemorial. Not only were they slaves to men; they were doubly the slaves of every species of degradation as well.

Sunk in the most deplorable barbarism, and guilty of all the wickednesses of the cities of the plain, they also waged incessantly cruel wars amongst themselves, tribe against tribe, and village against village. [African] chiefs built their huts of human skulls, drank the blood of their enemies out of human skulls, and yearly offered up whole hecatombs of human sacrifices; and on the death of every headman of a tribe, hundreds of his slaves were butchered over his grave that they might accompany and serve their dead master in the other world.

Surely, thought the humane Las Casas, there can be no harm in removing such wretches from the thralldom of their heathen masters to the milder sway of civilized men.

And at the time, all humane men every where were of the same opinion. Catholics, churchmen, non-conformists of every persuasion, and infidel philosophers also, all regarded the move as both philanthropic and evangelic.

Certainly good men reprobated on the horrors of the Middle Passage then, as earnestly as they do at the present time; but when they reflected on the horrors left behind — the man-eaters and the bloody human sacrifices — the constant wars between the different tribes — their spiritual degradation and mental darkness — they felt constrained to look upon even the horrors of the Middle Passage as an advance from the darker horrors of the accursed country, whence the poor creatures were being removed.

And so our own New England Puritans became the leading traffickers in slaves, and Boston one of the best slave-marts in the country.”

(Social Relations in Our Southern States, Daniel R. Hundley, 1860, pp.292-294)

New England’s “Kill-Devil”

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England’s “Kill-Devil”

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

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

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

New England’s Merchant Aristocracy

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England’s Merchant Aristocracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tradition of Trading with the Enemy

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Tradition of Trading with the Enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhode Island’s Slave Trade

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rhode Island’s Slave Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers, and the country and constitution they created. Engelhard died in office in 1879.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

Unmatched Eminent Virginians

Senator George F. Hoar seemed unaware of Massachusetts deep involvement in the transatlantic slave trade as he arraigns the South for an absence of morals. Senator John Critcher below served during the war as a lieutenant-colonel of the Fifteenth Virginia cavalry.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Unmatched Eminent Virginians

“In the debate on Education in the House of Representatives, Mr. Hoar, of Massachusetts remarked that slavery in the South was not so observable in the degradation of the slave as in the depravity of the master.

Mr. Critcher, of Virginia replied:

“Reminding the gentleman from Massachusetts that every signer of the Declaration of Independence, except those from his State, and perhaps one or two others, were slave-owners, he would venture to make a bold assertion; he would venture to say that he could name more eminent men from the parish of his residence, than the gentleman could name from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He would proceed to name them, and yield the floor to the gentleman to match them if he could.

On one side of his estate is Wakefield, the birthplace of Washington. On the other side is Stratford, the residence of Light Horse Harry Lee, of glorious Revolutionary memory.

Adjoining Stratford is Chantilly, the residence of Richard Henry Lee, the mover of the Declaration of Independence, and the Cicero of the American Revolution. There lived Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Lee, at one time Washington’s Attorney General; and Arthur Lee, the accomplished negotiator of the treaty of commerce and alliance between the Colonies and France in 1777.

Returning, as said before, you come first to the birthplace of Washington; another hour’s drive will bring you to the birthplace of Monroe; another hour’s drive to the birthplace of Madison, and if the gentleman supposes that the present generation is unworthy of their illustrious ancestors, he has but to stand on the same estate to see the massive chimneys of the baronial mansion that witnessed the birth of Robert E. Lee.

These are some of the eminent men from the parish of his residence, and he yielded the floor that the gentleman might match them, if he could, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

(Southern Historical Society Papers, “Degrading Influence of Slavery,” Volume 12, Barefoot Publishing, page 59)

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

During the colonial period it was common for North Carolina planters needing labor to trade cargoes of tar and pitch to New Englanders for the slaves they imported. On the eve of the Revolution the North Carolina Provincial Congress resolved that “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next [1774].”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

“So far as can be determined, no tax was levied on the importation of slaves into North Carolina prior to the Revolution. On the other hand, the Virginia Assembly made numerous attempts to discourage the importation of slaves by imposing from time to time a tax on all slaves brought in from Maryland, North Carolina, the West Indies, and Africa.

The first impressive protest for any considerable body of citizens of the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record against the African slave trade in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

Due in part to the dearth of labor occasioned by the Revolution, there was a resumption of the slave trade after the war. It was not, in fact, until 1787 that the General Assembly took the initial step in taxing the traffic, basing its action on the general ground that the importation of slaves “into this State is productive of evil consequences and highly impolitic.”

Whatever the motive, a duty of 5 [pounds] was levied on all slaves brought in by water. Slaves between the ages of thirty and forty were made subject to the same duty, while those between the ages of twelve and thirty were subject to a duty of 10 [pounds]. In addition, a general head tax of five pounds was imposed on all slaves imported from the coast of Africa. The act of 1787 did not prohibit, but no doubt discouraged, the slave trade.

Due presumably to the ratification of the Federal Constitution by North Carolina in 1789, the act of 1787 was repealed in 1790, and there was no restriction on the importation of slaves until 1794 . . . and in that year a heavy fine was imposed on the importation of slaves. [Its] passage might have been further delayed had not a terrifying Negro insurrection occurred in San Domingo in 1791. This insurrection thoroughly aroused the people of the State to a realization of the potential danger of a large Negro population.

[In] 1795 the legislature placed a further restriction on the importation of slaves by making it unlawful for any person removing to the State, “with intent to settle or otherwise,” from any of the West Indian or Bahama Islands to bring with him any Negroes or people of color above the age of fifteen years, under penalty of 100 [pounds] for each and every slave or person of color brought in.

To many public men of the time the danger from this source seemed imminent; so much so that, in 1798, Governor Samuel Ashe issued a proclamation calling on the people of the State to prevent the landing of slaves or free persons of color. He stated in his proclamation that several shiploads of San Domingan Negroes had set sail, and that one shipload had arrived in Charleston.

Despite precautions, West Indian Negroes found their way into the State. The landing of a number of emancipated Negroes from the island of Guadaloupe at Wilmington in 1803 so alarmed the inhabitants of the town that they memorialized Congress to take action to prevent the introduction into the United States of any persons of that class.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser Howard Taylor, Negro Universities Press, 1969 (original UNC Press, 1926), pp. 23-26)

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard points out below that the American South did not populate itself with African slaves, this was done by others.  It is true that Providence, Rhode Island was the slave trading capital of North America by 1750, wresting this dubious honor from Liverpool.  Further, the voracious cotton mills of antebellum New England needed slave-produced raw material and Manhattan bankers advanced attractive loans to Southern planters to expend their operations.  Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment 1861-65, was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers and the country and constitution they created.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

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