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Bill Arp on New England History

“Bill Arp” was the nom de plume of Georgia writer and politician Charles Henry Smith (1826-1903), who enjoyed educating Atlanta Constitution readers unfamiliar with the history of New England.  As a Confederate major during the War Between the States, he served on the staff of several generals including Francis Bartow. Below, he answers a letter to the editor from a Northerner castigating Georgians for the sin of slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Bill Arp on New England History

“Now, here is a gentleman of more than ordinary intelligence and education who does not know that the sin of slavery began in New England among his forefathers — not ours — and from there was gradually crowded Southward until it got to Georgia, and that Georgia was the first State to prohibit their importation. See Appleton’s Cyclopedia (Slavery and the Slave Trade.)

He does not know that long after New England and New York had abolished slavery, their merchantmen continued to trade with Africa and sold their cargoes secretly along the coast, and . . . one, the “Wanderer,” was seized and confiscated and its officers arrested. The “Wanderer” was built at Eastport, Maine, was equipped as a slaver in New York and officered there and a crew employed.

He does not know that Judge Story, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, when presiding in Boston in 1834, [stated to a] Grand Jury that although Massachusetts had freed their slaves, yet the slave trade was still going on and Boston merchants and Boston Christians were steeped to their eyebrows in its infamy. He does not know that when our national existence began the feeling against slavery was stronger in the Southern States than in the Northern.

Georgia was the first to prohibit it, but later on the prohibition was repealed. New England carried on the traffic until 1845 — and is doing it yet if they can find a market and can get the rum to pay for them. The last record of a slaver caught in the act was in 1861, off the coast of Madagascar, and it was an Eastport vessel. The slave trade with Africa was for more than a century a favorite and popular venture with our English ancestors.

King James II and King Charles II and Queen Elizabeth all had stock in it, and though Wilberforce and others had laws passed to suppress it, they could not do it. New England and old England secretly carried it on (see Appleton) long after slavery was abolished in the colonies. They could afford to lose half their vessels and still make money. 

It is sad and mortifying that our young and middle-aged men, and our graduates from Southern colleges know so little of our antebellum history. The Northern people are equally ignorant of the origin of slavery and the real causes that precipitated the civil war. Most of them have a vague idea that slavery was born and just grew up in the South — came up out of the ground like the seventeen-year-old locusts—and was our sin and our curse.

Not one in ten-thousand will believe that the South never imported a slave from Africa, but got all we had by purchase from our Northern brethren. I would wager a thousand dollars against ten that not a man under fifty nor a schoolboy who lives North of the line knows or believes that General Grant, their great military hero and idol, was a slaveholder and lived off the hire and their services while he was fighting us about ours.

Lincoln’s proclamation of freedom came in 1863, but General Grant paid no attention to it. He continued to use them as slaves until January, 1865. (See his biography by General James Grant Wilson in Appleton’s Encyclopedia.) General Grant owned these slaves in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lived.

How many of this generation, North or South know, or will believe, that as late as November, 1861, Nathaniel Gordon, master of a New England slave ship called the Erie, was convicted in New York City of carrying on the slave trade? (See Appleton.)

Just think of it! In 1861 our Northern brethren made war upon us because we enslaved the Negroes we had bought from them; but at the same time they kept on bringing more from Africa and begging us to buy them. How many know that England, our mother country, never emancipated her slaves until 1843, when twelve millions were set free in the East Indies and one hundred millions of dollars were paid to their owners by act of Parliament?

It is only within the last half-century that the importation of slaves from Africa has generally ceased. Up to that time every civilized country bought them and enslaved them. English statesmen and clergymen said it was better to bring them away than to have them continue in their barbarism and cannibalism.

(From The Uncivil War to Date, 1865 to 1903, Bill Arp, Hudgins Publishing Company. 1903, pp 347-353)

 

Martin Van Buren and Racialized New York Politics

Free black persons in the antebellum North lived under what could be termed “Jim Crow” laws, with New York machine politician Martin Van Buren leading the way to disenfranchise free blacks by creating discriminatory property holding requirements for their race. Van Buren was the son of Abraham Van Buren of Kinderhook—tavern keeper, Revolutionary War veteran, and New York slaveholder.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Martin Van Buren and Racialized New York Politics

“But some Southern blacks also realized the limits of freedom and equality in New York City. James P. Thomas, an enslaved black barber in Nashville, was more independent than most . . . [operating] his own business [and] returning a set portion of his earnings to his owner. When a white patron in Tennessee offered a generous payment if Thomas would accompany him and his family on a Northern sojourn in the 1840’s, Thomas agreed, hoping to save sufficient funds to secure freedom for himself and for several other family members.

In his post-Reconstruction autobiography, Thomas conveys a sharp sense of the awkward position in which black Southerners found themselves in free New York. He wrote of New York with a mixture of admiration for the vitality of city life and an unexpected sense of anger over the status and treatment of black Northerners. In particular, Thomas was enraged at being ousted from a theater, remembering, “I felt as though I would like to meet another man who would have the affrontry to advise me to run away to live in New York.”

The State’s 1821 constitutional convention — which enfranchised all New York’s adult white men while simultaneously maintaining the property requirements for African American men — racialized New York politics. The new political landscape, which would soon lead to the ascendancy and then dominance of the Democratic party in New York and nationally, rested upon the bedrock of racial exclusion.

Convention delegates, led by future president of the United States Martin Van Buren, justified the removal of property qualifications for most of New York’s property-less men by enacting a $250 property-holding requirement that applied exclusively to New York’s African American men. Van Buren, in particular, argued that “democracy” only made sense with racial exclusion. Thus the coming of mass democracy in New York . . . coincided with the designation of African Americans as a politically subordinate caste.”

(Slavery In New York, Ira Berlin & Leslie Harris, editors, The New Press, 2005, pp. 274-275)

 

 

Liberty No Longer Sacred to Republicans

As the Southern States departed the old union to form a more perfect one, they took with them the old Constitution of the Founders—leaving the North to its own peculiar political revolution. As Prince Napoleon observed in 1861, the North behaved as a European monarchy would, calling its unhappy subjects “rebels,” and brutally suppressing Americans seeking liberty.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Liberty No Longer Sacred to Republicans

“In Washington, the field was left free to the partisans of the Union and also to the men of the Republican party—the party that led Lincoln to the presidency—because of the departure of most of the Senators and Representatives of the seceded States. Therefore, Congress and the Cabinet are in almost complete agreement as to the necessity of waging war to its bitter end. The Confederates are to be treated as rebels—as if they were the subjects of a monarchy instead of the citizens of a republican confederation. In a word, they have to be vanquished by arms, in the style familiar to old Europe.

This great determination, coinciding with the ascension of the Republican party to power, marks the beginning of a new era for American society. It launches her on a road — from which her founders and older statesmen would certainly have withdrawn –filled with dangers, but which might also lead her to supreme greatness. Mr. Lincoln and his friends seem to have decided to go ahead without worrying too much about the somber predictions of the Democratic party, which lost the last election, and which evokes, at every turn, the memories of the past — Washington, Jefferson, Monroe and Jackson.

“What are you doing?” the Democrats inquire. “You trampled down the fundamental principle, basis of our success and power — the principle which recognizes the freedom of each State within the confederation, just as each citizen is free within each State. By riveting the State to the confederation, with an indestructible chain, by denying the State a right to secede, you prepare the way for the enslavement of citizens by society and for the destruction of individualism. No liberty is sacred to you any longer.

In the name of the public good you are changing the American republic into something similar to what the Convention made of the French Republic (the ideal of political and administrative unity). We will become a pale copy of our elders rather than the precursors of a new humanity. The military element responsible for your triumph will be needed to keep you in power. You are going to travel the same road as the French Revolution, and you will be lucky if you can also find, under the scepter of a soldier of genius, order and glory in obedience instead of the degrading catastrophes illustrated before your eyes by the military regimes in Mexico and the South American Republics.”

All these historical prosopopoeias leave Mr. Lincoln’s friends rather cold. I suspect them of being rather ignorant of what is called philosophy of history. Without worrying too much about general principles, they run to where the house is burning and throw onto the fire all that they can lay their hands to in order to put it out. Their financial inventions to raise money would cause laughter even among the most ignorant in economics.”

(Prince Napoleon in America, 1861, Camille Ferri Pisani, Indiana University Press, 1959, pp. 44-46)

Bayonets Secure the Ballot Box

Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 “was closer than either the popular or electoral votes” indicated, and without the soldier vote in six crucial States, Lincoln would have lost to George B. McClellan. The slim margins of Republican victory in most States “were probably due largely to the presence of soldiers as guards and as voters at the polls,” and had Illinois, Indiana Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York’s votes gone to McClellan, “he would have had a majority in the electoral college despite Lincoln’s popular plurality.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Bayonets Secure the Ballot Box

“Throughout the summer [of 1864] the Union prospects were in a decline. Grant’s armies, despite repeated reinforcements, made no headway, and the casualty lists from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor mounted alarmingly. Sherman, maneuvering in the mountains of Georgia, seemed totally useless. July and August saw Republican hopes at rock bottom.

Early in July . . . The [Republican] Pennsylvania Governor [Curtin] was “down on things generally,” and on the War Department in particular. Already Curtin had told Lincoln that he would not consider himself responsible for raising troops or for carrying elections. Pennsylvania was 80,000 men behind [its quota] in troops and the Governor believed the draft would meet general opposition from Republicans as well as from Democrats.

At the same time [Massachusetts Governor] John Andrew was disgusted with the situation and was hoping to find some means of getting both Lincoln and [John] Fremont to withdraw in favor of a third [Republican] candidate. The consensus seemed to be that the war languished and Lincoln would not or could not bring peace. War-weariness and a desire for peace was everywhere.

[New York Times editor Henry J.] Raymond asked [Simon] Cameron’s advice . . . let Lincoln propose to Jeff Davis that both sides disband their armies and stop the war “on the basis of recognizing the supremacy of the constitution” and refer all disputed questions to a convention of all the States! Raymond went to Washington to lay the proposal before the President, but Lincoln did not accept it.

Sherman’s victory before Atlanta reinvigorated the Republican campaign. The President wrote to Sherman to let Indiana’s soldiers, “or any part of them, go home to vote at the State election.” This was, Lincoln explained, in no sense an order. Sherman understood that it was a command. He sent soldiers home, and on election day in October the soldiers gathered at the Indiana polls. The Nineteenth Regiment of Vermont Volunteers voted in Indiana that day, but many a Democrat found his vote challenged. When the votes were counted, [Republican Governor Oliver P.] Morton had been elected by a majority of 22,000.

On that same day the need for Lincoln’s aid was illustrated in Pennsylvania. There it was thought not necessary to send the soldiers home. [Governor] Curtin . . . determined to appoint some Democratic commissioners to collect the soldiers’ votes. As the commissioners passed through Washington, however, the Democrats among them disappeared, under [Secretary of War Edwin M.] Stanton’s orders, into the Old Capitol Prison.

Lincoln conferred with Cameron and [Alexander] McClure and asked [Generals] Meade and Sherman to send 5,000 men to Pennsylvania for the November election. The generals sent 10,000, and Lincoln carried the State by nearly a 6,000 majority, while the soldiers in the field added 14,000 more.

[Illinois Governor Richard Yates] appealed to Lincoln to send troops to vote. It was essential to elect a [Republican] State Senate, three congressional districts depended on the soldiers, and even the Presidential and the State tickets were unsafe without the uniformed voters. Defeat [for the Republicans] in Illinois, added the Governor, would be worse than defeat in the field. Under such pleas the soldiers came, and Lincoln carried his home State by 189,496 to McClellan’s 158,730.

[Many] soldiers voted Democratic in their camps only to have their votes switched in the post offices. Without the soldiers New York would have remained in the Democratic column. Maryland’s vote was clearly the product of federal bayonets. Ohio was safe for Lincoln, and the election clerks at home merely guessed at the distribution of the army’s vote.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 376-382)

Barbarous Blot on New England's Escutcheon

African slavery in North America began with a Portuguese ship with slaves to sell, and a Virginia free black man who sued in court to retain a black man as a slave in 1654. Further north, New Englander’s were engaged in enslaving Indians who resisted their settlements, and developing a transatlantic slave trade that surpassed Liverpool’s dominance.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circ1865

 

Barbarous Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“Negro slavery in New England was a peculiar admixture of servitude and bondage. There was the same horror of the [plantation-era] 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 the wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of a slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable in New England as well; and, in some instances, New England 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 . . . [and a] new source of [servants] 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 the 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, not the black man, was the first slave in New England. As such they were eagerly sought by the Puritans for their labor. Even the much-vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. He had just previously written Winthrop (1636), protesting against the cruel treatment of the Indians by the whites, and praying that “they be used kindly and have houses and fields given them.”

Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away. [Most] authorities agree that the mention of Negro slaves by John Winthrop in his diary, in the year 1638 is the earliest authentic testimony of black slaves in New England. There were Negro slaves in New Haven [Connecticut] as early as 1644, six years after the founding of the colony. It is known that John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1653. In New Hampshire [mention of black slaves mentioned in 1646].

The Eighteenth Century . . . saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slave as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of the 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. Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage is held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many possessors of comfortable fortunes amassed from profits of this traffic.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene, Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Vol. XIII, No. 4, October, 1928, pp. 492-496)

 

New Masters from New England

The Northern abolitionists and the African slave met for the first time at Beaufort, South Carolina, and the former came face to face with what Jefferson Davis earlier pondered regarding what to do with the emancipated slave. The planters warned their hands “that the Yankees would treat them as slaves and sell them to Cuba,” a prediction that nearly became true.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

New Masters from New England

“The revolution began with considerable destruction of property. The Negroes on many plantations . . . broke the cotton gins [and] in other cases they began looting their master’s houses and furniture, and activity which the federal soldiers took up enthusiastically . . .

The [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase’s] correspondence during the months following the fall of Port Royal showed him that the government would gain the support of an ever-increasing segment of the public through sterner war measures: “Wagons, cattle, Horses, Provisions, Negroes not excepted, in short everything useful to our army ought to be appropriated . . . advised one correspondent, who sharply criticized the government for looking “more to a peace through compromise, than to a . . . . victory of arms.”

Certainly [President Lincoln’s] cautious treatment of the issue in his message to Congress offered little encouragement. He threw the problem of defining the new status of the Negroes at Port Royal and others in their situation into the lap of Congress, and then asked that provisions be made to colonize the liberated Negroes “in a climate congenial to them.” Small wonder it was that Chase turned his first attention to contraband cotton rather than to contraband Negroes.

The rapid change in their status was not working to the advantage of many Sea Island Negroes . . . as the [Northern] army had made free use of plantation food stores, leaving many in the slave communities with little to eat. Commodore DuPont reported than numbers of the nearly ten thousand Negroes on the islands were by late winter “almost starving and some naked or nearly so . . .

Having no place to turn, they flocked to the neighborhood of the army camps [where] they were as often treated badly as offered employment and help. The New York Tribune’s correspondent reported that one enterprising and unscrupulous [Northern] officer was caught in the act of assembling a cargo of Negroes for transportation and sale in Cuba, thus giving one example of to bolster the late slave-masters’ prediction.

Something had to be done. If the land should lie fallow and the Negroes idle for long past the middle of February, there would be no cotton in 1862, and the Negroes would have to be supported by the government or charity, thus giving the opponents of emancipation a very good argument.

[Some saw in the Northern oversight of continued cotton production] arrangements the outlines of a typical graft opportunity, to achieve its classic form in the “company store” of a later day . . . and it was “of the utmost importance” that [the Negroes] should be kept busy “at the work which they have been accustomed to do . . . “

[One Northern agent] reported that the Sea Island Negroes knew all the steps involved in the cotton culture and that the great majority of them were ready to work, “with proper inducements.” They needed the help and protection of white men, however, in [his] opinion, and a good system of management. The Negroes were no longer slaves . . . Although they were “as yet in large numbers unprepared for the full privileges of citizens . . . “

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction, The Port Royal Experiment, Willie Lee Rose, Vintage Books, 1964, excerpts, pp. 16; 18-25; 29)

 

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island

The aristocratic landholders who were unwilling to share the vote in Rhode Island were among those who made their fortunes in the slave trade of Providence and Bristol, exchanging New England rum for African slaves on the Ivory Coast. They saw their ill-gotten fortunes and all public monies become the target of the newly-enfranchised democrats, both natives and recent immigrants. Neither wealthy or poor-white Rhode Islanders viewed free black citizens as worthy of voting rights.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island:

“[April 17, 1842]:  I was struck with the lively interest he [William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister, of Boston] took in the political affairs of Rhode Island, — a neighboring State, containing about 110,00 inhabitants, and now convulsed by a revolutionary movement [the Dorr Rebellion] in favor of an extension of the suffrage. The sympathies of Dr. Channing appeared to lean strongly to the popular party, which, in his opinion, had grievances to complain of, however much, by their violent proceedings they had put themselves in the wrong.

Although the State has been flourishing, it is entirely free from debt, a large majority of the people have, for the last forty years, called loudly on the privileged landholders to give up their exclusive right to voting, and to extend the suffrage to all adult males, in accordance with the system established in all the neighboring States. Their demands did not differ very materially from those which the legislature was willing to concede, except that the democrats claimed the suffrage, not only for every American-born citizen, but also for the new-comers, or the settlers of a few years standing. Both parties agreed to exclude the free blacks.”

(Sir Charles Lyell, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-1842, (New York, 1845), I, pp. 83-84)