Browsing "Slave Revolt Fears"

A War of Conquest, Not Philanthropy

Fearing slave rebellion from its highly concentrated black population, the South wanted free access to the Territories to lessen this; the North wanted to restrict black people to the South and open the Territories to white-only immigration. A great irony of history is the blame the American South receives for African slavery: the South did not bring the black man to America, British and New England slave ships did after purchasing their human cargoes from African chieftains.

A War of Conquest, Not Philanthropy

“The initial sympathy of the British people for the North because of the belief that the South had seceded to set up a slave state and that the North stood for freedom of the slave was soon to be destroyed, and a strong conviction arose that the freedom of the slave was not an issue in the war. One can hardly escape the logic of events which forced this conclusion upon the English mind.

During the winter of [early] 1861, it will be recalled, numerous compromises of the American troubles were discussed, the most important of which was the Crittenden compromises conceding a permanent share of the territories to slavery. The Economist upon hearing of such proposals spoke of the measures as iniquitous, and was not willing to believe that Lincoln would yield to them.

But the final disillusionment came when in his inaugural address Lincoln said: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where is exists . . . I believe I have no lawful right to do so and I have no intention to do so. “

This was, in truth, the death knell of British sympathy based upon the moral righteousness of the Northern cause. If freedom was not the cause, then what was it?

The Economist late in the summer of 1861 pronounced a little stronger upon the issue of the war: It was not for freeing the slave on the part of the North or preserving slavery on the part of the South, but was for dominion and power on the part of the one and the right of self-government on the part of the other.

After Lincoln’s message to Congress, which was as tender of the rights of slavery as had been in his inaugural, the Economist was completely convinced, if there had been any doubts, that Lincoln and the North would be more than glad to continue or restore the old Federal union on the basis of slavery and all its abuses if the South would only return.

The inevitable conclusion was that the war was “a war of conquest and not of philanthropy.”

(King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America, Frank L. Owsley, University of Chicago Press, 1931, pp. 187-188)

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

President James Buchanan’s last annual message of December 3, 1860, placed the blame for the country’s sectional divide squarely upon the Republican party and its adherents. Below, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot and Union cited and commented upon the message in its December 6, 1860 issue.

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

“At no previous period of our national history has the message of the President of the United States been looked for with more solicitude than was the last annual message of Mr. Buchanan; for it was felt that upon his recommendation might depend the future of the country, and that the issues of peace or civil war were, to a great extent, in his hands.

If any man in the country has the right to speak with authority to the South it is JAMES BUCHANAN, as President of the United States and head of the Democratic party; for in his official capacity he has ever been faithful to all his constitutional obligations, and as a party leader has endeavored to bring about those just concessions which, had they been granted, would have saved the country from the perils that now environ it.

The President traces our present difficulties to their true source when he attributes them to the persistent agitation of years against the system of Negro slavery as it exists in the Southern States, and to the alarming sense of insecurity growing out of that agitation . . . growing and extending, until it culminated in the formation of a sectional Northern party, thoroughly imbued and entirely controlled by hostility to the institutions of the Southern States.

It is true that the platforms and creeds of the Republican party profess loyalty to the spirit of the Constitution, and disclaim any intention of interfering with the domestic institutions of the Southern States. But professions weigh nothing when contrasted with facts.

Since the organization of the Republican party the Abolitionists have ceased to exist in this latitude as a separate party, because they merged themselves in the Republicans, deeming that the best means of promoting their ultimate objects.

Every form and degree of Abolitionism has flourished and developed under the fostering care of this Republican party, which, when confronted with the fruits of its own teaching, meekly points to its platform, and says, “we mean no harm to the Southern States.”—Turning from fair words to foul deeds, the Southern people find that the consequences of Republicanism are—the encouragement of Abolitionism, which does not hesitate to avow hostility to slavery wherever it exists; the enactment of unconstitutional laws by Republican Legislatures to nullify the fugitive slave law; the circulation of incendiary publications throughout the South, calculated, if not designed, to encourage servile insurrections, and endanger the lives of the Southern people; the promotion of John Brown raids, and the subjection of the Southern States and people to a position of inferiority.

These are unmistakably indicated as the consequences of the existence of the Republican party, which, however moderate its professions, cannot escape direct responsibility for what it promotes or encourages, and is naturally judged by the Southern people from its fruits, and not from its platforms.

The President shows conclusively that secession is not a remedy conferred upon any State by the Constitution against the encroachments of the General Government, but that it would be a revolutionary step, only justifiable “as the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every other constitutional means of conciliation has been exhausted.”

Notwithstanding that the message takes grounds against the constitutional right of any State to secede from the Union, the position is maintained that the Constitution has delegated to Congress no power to coerce a State into submission; and this doctrine is fortified with powerful arguments. We do not see how they can be controverted.

The proceedings of the Convention that framed the Constitution—the very highest authority—show that “Mr. Edmund Randolph’s plan, which was the ground work of the Constitution, contained a clause to authorize the coercion of any delinquent State. But this clause was struck out at the suggestion of Madison, who showed that a State could be coerced only by military force; that the use of military force against a State as such would be in the nature of a declaration of war; and that a state of war might be regarded as operating the abrogation or dissolution of all pre-existing ties between the belligerent parties, and it would be of itself the dissolution of the Union.” Thus it appears that the idea of coercing disobedient States was proposed in the Constitutional Convention and rejected.

But the President advances one step further in the argument. Suppose a State can be coerced, how are we to govern it afterwards? Shall we invite the people to elect Senators and Representatives after they are subdued and conquered? Or shall we hold them as subjects, and not as equals? How can we subdue the unconquerable will? And how can we practically annul the maxim that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Such a process would undermine the foundations of the government and destroy the principles upon which it is reared more certainly than to admit the want of coercive power in the general government.

The President concludes that portion of the message relating to our domestic troubles by suggesting that they may be settled by amending the Constitution, in the way provided by that instrument, so as to secure to the South the rights for which she contends.

Let the South pause before striking the last fatal blow at the Union, and await the time when a returning sense of justice shall induce the North to concede all her just demands . . . Let the North cease its unmanly aggressions—repeal its unconstitutional statutes—stop its reckless agitation against an institution for which it is not responsible and over which it has no control—overthrow any man or party that seeks to perpetuate strife—and the Union may yet be preserved, and even made stronger and more enduring by reason of the shock it has endured.

But without this spirit of concession and mutual forbearance, there is nothing to hope for in the immediate future but contention and disunion.”

(The President’s Message: Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Patriot and Union, December 6, 1860)

 

Filling the South’s Decimated Ranks

The enlistment or outright conscription of black troops by Northern commanders was applauded in the North as they were credited to the State which captured and claimed them. Additionally, the black recruits and their families could not vote so Northern politicians feared no election retribution from constituents who avoided military service.

On the other hand, the South considered black agricultural workers essential to the war effort as Southern armies needed the foodstuffs they produced. But as the Northern armies relentlessly grew from infusions of foreigners and black soldiers, however obtained, the South determined to enlist black men who would fight for their homes and freedom.   

Filling the South’s Decimated Ranks

“[Samuel Clayton of Georgia wrote in January 1865: “We should . . . promptly take hold of all the means God has placed within our reach to help us through this struggle – a bloody war for the right of self-government.  Some say Negroes will not fight. I say they will fight. The enemy fights us with Negroes, and will do very well to fight the Yankees.”

Judah Benjamin stated . . . “It appears to me enough to say that the Negroes will certainly be made to fight us if not armed for our defense . . . I further agree with you that if they are to fight for our freedom, they are entitled to their own.  Public opinion is fast ripening on the subject.”

[Jefferson] Davis in a letter to John Forsythe in February 1865: “It is now becoming daily more evident to all reflecting persons that we are now reduced to choosing whether the Negroes shall fight for us or against us, and that all arguments as to the positive advantage or disadvantage of employing them are beside the question, which is simply one of relative advantage between having their fighting element in our ranks or in those of the enemy.”

The Confederate Congress authorized on March 3rd, 1865, the raising of 300,000 blacks as soldiers. On April the 28th, the major-general commanding in Florida directed ten prominent citizens of Florida each “to proceed at once to raise a company of Negroes to be mustered into the service of the Confederate States for the War.”  But Lee and Johnston had already surrendered. The dissolution of the Confederacy defeated this last desperate measure to recruit the decimated ranks of the Southern army.

The black recruit was sought in Florida assiduously for the Union army after the first year of the war. When the Federal forces quit [Jacksonville’s occupation] in the autumn [of 1862] they carried some Negroes away with them.  Invasion of East Florida by Negro troops under Colonel [T.W.] Higginson quickly followed. “The object of this expedition, “ reported General Saxton, Higginson’s chief, “was to occupy Jacksonville and make it the base of operations for arming the Negroes and securing in this way possession of the entire State of Florida” – in other words, inciting servile insurrection.

The Federal army failed to obtain many black recruits, but Higginson concluded that black troops “were the key to the successful prosecution of the war for the Union.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, William Watson Davis, Columbia University, 1913, excerpts pp. 227-228)

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.”

Early Militia in British America

For most of the eighteenth century, New York was second only to Charleston in slave population. By 1737, one if five New Yorkers were black; “between 1700 and 1774, the British imported between 6800 and 7400 Africans to the colony of New York. It was cheaper for New York slave traders to import directly from Africa . . .” (Slavery in New York, Berlin/Harris, pg. 61).

Slave insurrection was a constant menace as the British continued to import forced labor to work the colony. In late March 1712, New York and Westchester militia swept the Manhattan woods in search of 40 or 50 black men and women who had killed nine white people and wounded six more in an insurrection. “More than seventy enslaved men and women were eventually taken into custody, and forty-three were brought to trial by jury. Twenty-five were convicted, of whom twenty were hanged and three burned at the stake, one roasted in slow torment for eight hours” (pg. 78).

Early Militia in British America

“New England towns were more scattered than Chesapeake farms, but each town had the capacity for armed resistance that was lacking in an individual plantation. A town could bear the burden of a military draft and still hope to maintain itself from attack, while the loss of a man or two from a single, remote household often meant choosing between abandonment and destruction.

New England promised its soldiers plunder in the form of scalp bounties, profits from the sale of Indian slaves, and postwar land grants . . . But there remains an important difference: the clustering of manpower and the cohesive atmosphere in the town community gave New England greater military strength.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the principal threat to the British colonies was changing. Europeans – French and Spanish – became the main danger. Virginia found itself so little troubled by the new threat, and her Indian enemies so weak, that militia virtually ceased to exist there for about half a century, a time when a handful of semi-professional rangers could watch the frontier.

During the same period, the frontier of Massachusetts was under sporadic attack by French-supported Indians. [Carolina] occupied the post of danger against Spain. The Carolina militia came from the country to repulse a Spanish attack on Charleston in 1706, and it rallied – with some help from North Carolina and Virginia – to save the colony during the Yamassee War in 1715 . . . [when] four hundred Negroes helped six hundred white men defeat the Indians.

But as the ratio of slaves to whites rapidly increased, and especially after a serious slave insurrection in 1739, Carolinians no longer dared arm Negroes; in fact, they hardly dared leave their plantations in time of emergency.

The British government tried to fill the gap, first by organizing Georgia as an all-white military buffer, then by sending a regiment of regulars with Oglethorpe in 1740. But increasingly, the South Carolina militia became an agency to control the slaves, and less an effective means of defense.”

(A People Numerous & Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, John Shy, University of Michigan Press, 1990, excerpts pp. 34-37)

Lincoln’s Proclamation

Faced with numerous American farmers in the South opposing his will and defeating his armies, a desperate Lincoln merely copied Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation of November 1775. In mid-1862, Lincoln’s war was going as badly as was Dunmore’s, and the solution was to incite a slave insurrection to teach the independence-minded Americans a stern lesson. The British did this once more in 1814, as Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane issue an emancipation edict to incite a race war, for the same reasons.

Lincoln’s Proclamation

“Official history venerates Abraham Lincoln as an apostle of American democracy who waged war on the South to preserve the Union and free the slaves. Official history is a lie.

Lincoln was a dictator who destroyed the Old Republic and replaced the federal principles of 1789 with the ideological foundations of today’s welfare/warfare state. His administration was characterized by paranoia, a lust for power, and rampant corruption. The magnitude of that paranoia was evidenced by Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, who declared that:

“Every department of the Government was paralyzed by treason.” “Traitors” were to be found “in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, in the Cabinet, in the Federal Courts . . . Treason was flagrant in the revenue and in the post-office service, as well as in the Territorial governments and in the judicial reserves.”

In his bid for absolute power, Lincoln used “treason” as a pretext to unleash war and shred to Constitution. Freedom of the press was curtailed. The Chicago Times was one of 300 Northern newspapers suppressed for expressing “incorrect” views. As late as May 18, 1864, Lincoln ordered his military to “arrest and imprison . . . the editors, proprietors and publishers of the New York World and the New York Journal of Commerce.”

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. He criminalized speech and legalized arbitrary arrests. Twenty thousand prisoners were held incommunicado and denied legal counsel. Maryland’s legislature was overthrown, and New York City was placed under military occupation.

Lincoln’s war against the South was not to preserve the Union from treasonous secessionists. Lincoln himself had championed the right of secession [during the Mexican War] . . . Nor did Lincoln wage war . . . to emancipate black slaves.

In his First Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1861, Lincoln emphatically declared: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery . . . on September 11, 1861, he countermanded General Fremont’s order freeing the slaves in Missouri. And on May 19, 1862, he countermanded General Hunter’s order emancipating the slaves in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

With the demise of the Confederacy nowhere in sight, however, Lincoln changed his position on emancipation. On September 13, 1862, Lincoln explained . . . “I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantage it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.”

The Emancipation Proclamation was an act of military desperation designed to realize two goals . . . to dissuade the British and the French governments from intervening militarily on behalf of the South. Second, Lincoln hoped to incite slaves to murder defenseless white women and children on the farms and in the cities of the Confederacy in the expectation that the Confederate army would disintegrate as soldiers abandoned the field to return home to save the lives of their families.”

(Lincoln and the Death of the Old Republic, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2002, excerpts pp. 43-44 – www.chroniclesmagazine.org) )

John Brown’s Co-Conspirators

In the mid-1850s there appeared the political assassin who murdered the obscure and innocent rather than the mighty, as was often financed by the latter as an instrument for political purposes. The mighty who encouraged and financed John Brown included preacher Theodore Parker, physician Samuel Gridley Howe, manufacturer George Stearns, teacher Franklin Sanborn and millionaire Gerrit Smith. Add to this group Frederick Douglass, who fled to Canada rather than face trial for complicity in Brown’s crime.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

John Brown’s Co-Conspirators

“Meanwhile, John Brown passed on through to Ohio, continuing eastward and arriving in Boston, Massachusetts on January 4, 1857, where he first called on Franklin Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee. Two days later he called on Amos Lawrence . . . who noted him to be, “a calm, temperate and pious man, but when aroused ifs a dreadful foe.”

Lawrence was sizing up Brown to ascertain his future usefulness, for Lawrence was both wealthy and influential.

Charles Howe invited influential activists and newspapermen to meet with John Brown in the offices of his Institute for the Blind . . . [where] Brown outlined his plans for leading a band of 100 Terrorists to “Fight for Exclusion in Kansas [Territory]” and “carry the war into [the homeland of bonded African Americans in the Southern States].”

During these days in Boston, Brown also met with Charles Howe, Thomas Higginson, George Stearns . . . Theodore Parker, but not all together at the same time, and thereby he kept some from knowing about the other’s involvement.

With Stearns sitting as Chairman and Sanborn as Secretary, the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee “voted to give John Brown control over the 200 Sharps rifles stored in the cellar of the minister, John Todd, in Tabor, Iowa, plus 4,000 ball cartridges and 31,000 percussion caps.” That same day, January 7, [reporter] James Redpath’s commendation of Brown appeared in the New York Tribune.

About this time Redpath took Brown to call on Charles Sumner [where] Brown admired the coat Sumner had been wearing during his caning at the hands of Preston Brooks. Then on January 11, Brown was a dinner guest of George Stearns and family at their home in Medford, Massachusetts. During the visit, Brown captivated George, his wife and children with tales of alleged attacks by settlers from the Southern States. From that point forward, George Stearn’s wife would often urge her husband to help finance Brown’s campaign.”

(Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced the American Civil War, Volume Two, the Demagogues; Howard Ray White, excerpts pp. 268-269)

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

The responsibility for populating its American colonies with enslaved Africans rests with the British, who needed cheap labor for the plantations producing profit for England. Southern colonists, alarmed at the increasing numbers of black slaves arriving in British and New England hulls, repeatedly called for an end to the cruel trade. As Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) suggests below, any and all demands by Virginians and Carolinians to halt the slave-trade were nullified by the British Crown.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

“Massachusetts invalidated the British commercial system, which Virginia resisted from abhorrence of the slave-trade. Never before had England pursued the traffic in Negroes with such eager avarice.

The remonstrances of philanthropy and of the colonies were unheeded, and categorical instructions from the [British] Board of Trade kept every American port open as markets for men.

The Legislature of Virginia had repeatedly showed a disposition to obstruct the commerce; a deeply-seated public opinion began more and more to avow the evils and the injustice of slavery itself; and in 1761, it was proposed to suppress the importation of Africans by a prohibitory duty.

Among those who took part in the long and violent debate was Richard Henry Lee, the representative of Westmoreland. Descended from one of the oldest families in Virginia, he had been educated in England and had returned to his native land familiar with the spirit of Grotius and Cudworth, of Locke and Montesquieu; his first recorded speech was against Negro slavery, in behalf of human freedom.

In the continued importation of slaves, he foreboded danger to the political and moral interests of the Old Dominion; an increase of the free Anglo-Saxons he argued, would foster arts and varied agriculture, while a race doomed to abject bondage was of necessity an enemy to social happiness. He painted from ancient history the horrors of servile insurrections. He deprecated the barbarous atrocity of the trade with Africa, and its violation of the equal rights of men created like ourselves in the image of God.

“Christianity,” thus he spoke in conclusion, “by introducing into Europe the truest principles of universal benevolence and brotherly love, happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty, pay a proper regard to our rue interests and to the dictates of justice and humanity.”

The tax for which Lee raised his voice was carried through the Assembly of Virginia by a majority of one; but from England a negative followed with certainty every colonial act tending to diminish the [British] slave-trade. South Carolina, also appalled by the great increase of its black population, endeavored by its own laws to restrain the importation of slaves, and in like manner came into collision with the same British policy.”

(History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, Volume IV; George Bancroft, Brown, Little and Company, 1856, excerpts, pp. 421-422)

Nov 5, 2017 - America Transformed, Antebellum Realities, Carnage, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South, Slave Revolt Fears, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Both colonies, Virginia and North Carolina, feared the growing numbers of Africans working the plantations that enriched far-off England, but pleas to restrict importations of slaves were rebuffed by the King. After the Revolution, sentiment towards solving the slavery problem increased steadily in the South and in 1816 the American Colonization Society was formed with more Virginians active in its affairs than any other State. The object of the group was to colonize Negroes in Liberia and return them to the land from which they were torn.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“[In] August 1831 an event in Southampton County, in the southeastern corner of the State near North Carolina, caused the people of Virginia to forget for a time that there was a controversy between the sections. This was Nat Turner’s bloody slave insurrection.

The white population of Richmond and the entire State was filled with alarm when the slave Nat Turner led some sixty blacks in an orgy of killing that took the lives of nearly sixty whites, most of them women and children. Captain Randolph Harrison of Richmond led his troop of light horse to the scene, but was unable to cover the eighty miles to Jerusalem . . . until the day after the massacre. By that time the Negro uprising had been effectively put down.

The bugler for the light horse troop was a free Negro named Dick Gaines. He is described as tall and black, “a fine rider and striking figure as he appeared on horseback, bugle in hand, in his red jacket, sword and helmet, with its crest of white horse-hair falling over his broad shoulders.”

Unrest among Richmond slaves was feared when word of the Turner massacre was received, but the blacks were said to be altogether docile and “as astonished and indignant was were the whites.” However, the white population not only of Richmond but the entire South was alarmed by the events in Southampton.

Turner had been treated well by his master, and had apparently been satisfied with his lot. Yet he and his cohorts not only murdered his master and mistress and their baby, but scores of others. The memory of Gabriel, and his far more extensive plan for wholesale murder, was also on their minds.

It was in this atmosphere that the General Assembly convened in late 1831. The frankest discussion of slavery that had yet occurred took place in that session. Both the Richmond Enquirer and Whig were arguing for the immediate or eventual elimination of the slave system. But the legislature ended by doing little or nothing . . . The time was not felt to be ripe.

Negroes, both slave and free, made up a vital part of Richmond’s labor force, especially in the tobacco factories, the coal mines and the Tredegar Iron Works. In addition, black mechanics had a virtual monopoly in carpentry, masonry, shoemaking, cooperage and other trades prior to the Civil War. Many white artisans left the State rather than compete with them.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 109-110)

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

The American Revolution stirred the idea of emancipating the Africans brought to America on British and New England slave ships, and Virginia’s early emancipation efforts were second to none. But while the Northern States in the early 1800’s had trouble tolerating the few free black people among them, the very large number of free blacks and slaves in the South being influenced by black revolts in the Caribbean created a smoldering powder keg. Virginia had experienced an enemy inciting blacks to massacre white Virginian’s with Lord Dunmore’s 1775 emancipation proclamation; it was feared that New England’s radical abolitionists would do the same.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

“[An] alarming proportion of black families were “matriarchal,” that is, the husband/father was either absent or . . . present but of negligible influence. [Also] the woman-dominant family was unstable and disorganized, at once the symptom and cause of severe social pathology among black people.

Women were prominent among free blacks; they outnumbered the men three to two, they headed more than half of the town’s free black households, and they constituted almost half of the paid free black labor force. Among those free blacks who managed to accumulate property, a high proportion — 40 to 50 percent — were women.

The [Virginia] manumission law of 1782 empowered the owner to set free any slave under the age of forty-five by the stroke of a pen.

For the first time, a substantial proportion of black Virginians would be free people. Petersburg’s free black population more than tripled in the space of twenty years, its size swelled by the high rate of emancipation in the town itself and by the hundreds of newly-freed migrants from the countryside who came in search of kin, work and community.

By 1810, there were more than a thousand free blacks in Petersburg, and they made up close to a third of the town’s free population (31.2%). Free blacks and slaves together outnumbered the whites four to three.

It was the very success of the manumission law that led to its demise. In 1805, Petersburg’s common council begged the General Assembly for some action to halt the growth of the free black population.

The council feared an uprising, and with seeming good reason. Petersburg had welcomed its share of refugees from Saint-Domingue [Haiti], where dissatisfaction among free blacks had touched off protracted [racial] warfare; in 1803, the whites of Saint-Domingue were ousted altogether.

When Petersburg’s officials looked at their own burgeoning free black population, they imagined it happening all over again . . . “a mine sprung in St. Domingo that totally annihilated the whites. With such a population we are forever on the Watch.”

(The Free Women of Petersburg, Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860; Suzanne Lebsock, W.W. Norton, 1984, excerpts, pp. 89-91)

 

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