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Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

The following is a very graphic and long account Nat Turner’s massacre of innocents in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831, during which he and his followers brutally murdered over sixty white citizens: women, children and old men. This tragic event led to severe restrictions on slaves, free blacks, and the ongoing emancipation of slaves that had been common in the South before 1831.  The South laid blame for the murders on Northern abolitionists who incited the slaves to such actions, and led to the South seriously reconsidering the value of political union with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

“With no large plantations, there were no large slaveholders, and [Southampton] county typified older communities where slavery was passing by personal manumission; the slaves and freed Negroes outnumbered the whites to make a potentially dangerous problem. To 6500 whites, there were 7700 slaves and 1500 freed Negroes. Slave and free, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to the whites, a situation which did not exist on large plantations where overseers came between the masters and field hands. Field hands in that sense scarcely existed in Southampton County.

The most successful plantations were operated avocationally by professional men, doctors and lawyers, since the plantation represented the aspiration of everyone. In the same way, many of the plantation-conscious farmers supplemented their agricultural incomes by working as artisans in small enterprises. Such a man was Joseph Travis, the honest coach-maker.

He had apprenticed to him a sixteen-year-old boy, who shared the bedroom of Mr. Travis’ foster son, Putnam Moore. Mrs. Travis, whose first husband had died, had a baby by Joseph Travis. This small family had no house servants as such. The few colored families of slaves lived in a single cluster of buildings around the farmyard and there was no distinction between house people and field hands. There the whites and blacks, working together and virtually living together, shared an hourly and constant companionship, and knew one another with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. Though everybody worked hard, the slaves were held to a fairly rigid schedule.

Working five days a week from roughly sunup until sundown, they had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. They were encouraged to grow garden crops for themselves on allotted plots of ground, either to fill out their diets according to personal tastes or for use in trade or barter. Skills were taught them and, as in other families like the Travis’ who could not afford to free their lifetime investment, sometimes a Negro worked out his freedom at a trade.

Great attention was given to their religious education. They went to the whites’ churches, where the Methodist and Baptist preachers of the peoples’ religion evoked fiery and wondrous images, and they developed their own preachers, who supplanted the whites’. Such a Negro preacher acted as Joseph Travis’ “overseer.”

The overseer of this little family plantation, bearing not even unintentional similarity to Simon Legree, merely acted for the owner with the few Negroes who worked on the farm. With Joseph Travis busy at his coach-making, somebody had to be in charge of the work, though The Preacher extended his leadership over the total lives of the three families in the Travis farmyard, and exerted considerable influence over other Negroes in the scattered community.

He always said that Mr. Travis was a very kind man, maybe even too indulgent with his people, and Mr. Travis regarded The Preacher as something of a privileged character. He had been born in the county of an African mother and a slave father, who ran away when The Preacher was a child. He had been raised by his grandmother, who worked on his religious education, and by his mother, who was deeply impressed with the child’s gift of second sight.

When the owners’ attention was called to his precociousness, they encouraged him to read and gave him a Bible. He culled the Bible for predictions and prophesies which he used to impose his visions on his fellow slaves. He found portents in the sun and moon, portentous hieroglyphics in leaves and suchlike, and in general created of himself a mysterious figure of supernatural gifts.

The Preacher did not regard himself as a humbug in imposing on his fellows. He actually believed he could read signs in the sky. “Behold me in the heavens,” the Holy Spirit said to him, and he beheld and he knew. He knew the signs were directing him toward a holy mission. In the spring of 1828, he heard a loud noise in the heavens and, he said, “The spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it in and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be free.”

The twenty-first of August was a Sunday, in the season when the white people spent the day away at camp meetings. In The Preacher’s cabin, his wife was fixing Sunday dinner for their child. In the woods below the fields, six of The Preacher’s disciples were gathered in the glen, where to a Sunday feast they added some of the apple brandy which was always handy to acquire. Only one of them belonged to Mr. Travis – Hark Travis, a magnificently and powerfully built black man. Two others, Sam and the ferocious Will Francis, belonged to one of Mrs. Travis’ brothers. As farms were relatively few in the sparsely settled and wooded country, all the Negroes were intimately acquainted.

The Preacher, after his custom of keeping himself aloof, joined the frolic in the middle of the afternoon, when several hours of feasting and drinking had his followers in receptive humor. From then until full night he coached them in the details of his predestined mission in which they were to be allowed to participate.

At ten o’clock they left the woods and silently approached the dark farmyard of the Travis house. All lights were out in the house where the family, tired from their trip to the camp-meeting, were asleep. In the farmyard stood a Negro named Austin, who joined them, and brought The Preacher’s band to eight.

The seven followers went to the unlocked cider press while The Preacher studied the situation. When the silent man returned, The Preacher directed Hark, the Apollo, to set a tall ladder against an upper story window sill. The Preacher climbed the ladder, stepped through the open window, and tiptoed through the familiar house down to the front door. When he opened it, his disciples crept in. The fearsome Will Francis held a broadax and one of the men gave The Preacher a hatchet. Without any other weapons, the eight men crept into the master bedroom, where Mr. & Mrs. Travis were asleep.

When The Preacher stood over them, he paused, looking on the face of the kindly man who had given him so many privileges. The other Negroes told him the leader must strike the first blow. After another pause, The Preacher struck suddenly and awkwardly down at the sleeping man.

The hatchet glanced off, giving a blow to the side of the head. Mr. Travis, startled into wakefulness, struggled out of bed, sleepily calling for his wife. When his bare feet touched the floor, Will Francis, with no confusion of purpose, brought the broadax down on his head in a single long stroke. Without another sound, Mr. Travis fell dead to the floor. Whirling, Will came down with the broadax again, and Mrs. Travis died in her bed without ever coming fully awake.

The sounds had not aroused the two sixteen-year-old boys – Mrs. Travis’ son, Putnam Moore, and the apprentice, Joel Westbrook – asleep in the same bed in a room in another part of the house. They were killed before they were awakened.

Last, The Preacher went into the baby’s room. He had often played with the child and fondled it, and the baby smiled at him when he woke up. The Preacher backed out, unable to touch the child, and sent in Will and another follower to knock the baby’s brains out against the brick fireplace.

With the house theirs, they took four shotguns, several muskets, powder and shot, and exchanged their clothes for garments of the dead men. To give a dash to their new costumes, they got some of the red cloth with which the top of the gig was lined and tore that into sashes to go around their waists and shoulders. The material gave out and they made other strips from sheets, which they dyed in the freely flowing blood. The Preacher felt that this unit was now ready to serve as the nucleus around which all the slaves of the county would rally.

With some of the force mounted on Travis’ horses, they went to the small farm owned by Mrs. Travis’ brother, who was also the brother of the owner of Sam and Will. This younger Mr. Francis, a bachelor who lived with his one slave in a single-room house, came to the door when Will and Sam called to him that they had a message from his brother.

When he opened the door they grabbed him. He was a strong man and he fought, calling to his loyal slave for his gun. One of The Preacher’s men shot Mr. Francis’s slave, Nelson, who managed to stagger to the back door and escape in the darkness to the woods. He started out to give the alarm to his master’s brother, the owner of Will and Sam, but he didn’t make it that far. Mr. Francis was finished off before Nelson had reached the woods, going down under repeated blows from the hatchet.

From there The Preacher’s band walked on through the night to the home of Mrs. Harris, a widow with several children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to themselves as they slept, this family was spared through the agency of their slave, Joe, who joined The Preacher on the condition that his people be spared.

With their first recruit, the band descended on the home of the widow Reese, whose front door was unlocked. They killed her in her sleep, her son as he awakened, caught the white farm manager who tried to escape in the darkness. He got off with his life by feigning death, though he was forever after crippled.

By then other slaves, too frightened to defend the whites but unwilling to join the insurgents, had fled before the band, and nearby plantations were warned. Not willing to risk losing any of his eight followers, The Preacher changed his course.

At sunrise on Monday morning they reached the substantial home of the widow Turner…Mrs. Turner’s manager was already at work at the distillery beside the lane to the house. He was shot and stripped, his clothes going to the last recruit, the Joe who had saved his own people. Mrs. Turner and a kinswoman were awakened by the shot and came downstairs to bolt the door. The fearsome will battered the door down with several strokes of his ax, and the two women were grabbed in the hallway.

While they pleaded for their lives, Will went about his skillful work of execution on Mrs. Turner, and The Preacher pulled Mrs. Newsom, trembling violently, out of the door. He kept striking her over the head with a sword he had acquired. The edge was too blunt to kill the screaming woman and Will, turning from the corpse of Mrs. Turner, methodically finished off The Preacher’s victim with his ax.

They got silver there and more decoration for their costumes, and when they left the silent plantation at full daylight their number had spread to fifteen. They divided, those on foot under The Preacher swinging by the Bryant’s, where they paused to kill the couple, their child, and Mrs. Bryant’s mother, before joining the mounted force at the pleasant establishment of Mrs. Whitehead.

When The Preacher’s force got there, Mrs. Whitehead’s grown son had already been hacked to death in a cotton patch while his own slaves looked on. Inside the house three daughters and a child, being bathed by his grandmother were dead. Will was dragging the mother of the family out into the yard, where he decapitated her, and a young girl who had hidden was running for the woods. The Preacher caught her and, his sword failing him again, beat her to death with a fence rail. Another daughter, the only member of the family to survive, had made it to the woods where she was hidden by a house slave.

When they left the seven dead and mutilated bodies at the Whitehead’s, The Preacher’s band had grown and acquired more weapons and horses. They had also drunk more cider and brandy, and they moved boldly ahead to continue the massacre although they knew that the alarm was out by then. Several of the next small plantations in their line of march were deserted. The band divided again, with Will the executioner leading the mounted force toward the house of his own master, Nathaniel Francis, the brother of The Preacher’s Mrs. Travis and of the bachelor whose slave, Nelson, had been among the first to give the warning.

Though the warning had not reached the Francis plantation, a Negro boy had told Mr. Francis a wild tale of the slaughter of his sister’s family. Having heard nothing of The Preacher’s band, Mr. Francis and his mother were on their way to investigate the grisly scene awaiting them at the Travis household.

Two of Mr. Francis’ nephews, eight- and three year-old boys, were playing in the lane as the Negroes rode silently toward them. The three-year-old, seeing the familiar Will, asked for a ride as he had many times before. Will picked him up on the horse, cut off his head, and dropped the body in the lane. The other boy screamed and tried to hide, but they were too fast for him.

Henry Doyle, the overseer, seeing this, ran to warn Mrs. Francis. He was shot dead in the doorway of the house, but not before he had warned Mrs. Francis. A house slave hid her between the plastering and the roof in one of the “jump” rooms, and kept The Preacher’s band away from her hiding place by pretending to hunt for her. When the Negroes had gone on, the house slave of necessity among them, Mrs. Francis came down to find the other house women dividing her clothes, including her wedding dress. One attacked her with a dirk and another defended her. She escaped to join her husband and be taken to safety.

When the band left the Francis plantation, the alarm by then was general and the Negroes were beginning to get drunk. They headed for the road to the county seat. They found more deserted houses, where faithful slaves had left to hide their masters, and met other slaves who had waited to join the insurrectionists. At young Captain Barrow’s the warning had been received and the overseer had escaped, but Mrs. Barrow, a woman of beauty, had delayed to arrange her toilet before appearing abroad. She tarried so long that the Negroes reached the house before she left. Her husband called to her to run out the back door while he fought from the front.

In leaving, Mrs. Barrow had the same experience with her house slaves as had Mrs. Francis. A younger one tried to hold her for the mob, while an older one freed her and held the young Negro woman while her mistress escaped. In front, Captain Barrow emptied a pistol, a single-shot rifle, and a shotgun, and fought with the butt of the gun across the porch, through the hall, and into the front room. He was holding them off when a Negro on the outside reached through the window sill and, from behind, sliced his throat with a razor.

The Preacher’s men had great respect for Captain Barrow’s bravery. They drank his blood and spared his corpse mutilation. Instead, they laid him out in a bed quilt and placed a plug of tobacco on his breast.

It was ten o’clock Monday morning when they left there, and the two bands soon converged. They then numbered about fifty. The Preacher’s vision of a mass insurrection was coming true. White men were trying to form a force ahead of the band but some of the men, on seeing the bleeding and mutilated bodies of women, hurried back to their farms to hide their own wives and children. Hundreds of women and children were gathering in the county seat at Jerusalem, unaware that the band’s winding course was directed there.

On the way The Preacher’s formidable force passed more deserted places, but got its biggest haul at Walker’s country corner. A children’s boarding school was there and a large distillery, a blacksmith shop, and the wheelwright, and it had taken some time to gather all the people in the neighborhood. Before they could start for Jerusalem, the Negroes were on them. Some escaped to the screams of those being chased and butchered. More than ten were killed there, mostly children.

From the Walker massacre, the band headed directly for Jerusalem. By then eighteen white men had gathered with arms at some distance from the town, where four hundred unarmed people had collected. The Preacher’s band of sixty would have reached the town first except that his lieutenants overruled him when they passed the famous brandy cellar at Parker’s deserted plantation, three miles from town. They tarried there to quench their thirsts.

The eighteen white men came on them in Parker’s field and opened fire. In a short, pitched battle the boldest Negroes, leading a charge, fell, and most of the insurrectionists fled. The Preacher escaped with twenty of his most faithful followers, and headed for the Carolina border.

He was seeking new recruits then. They were slow coming in and victims were getting scarce. Late in the afternoon The Preacher, still supported by the Apollo-like Hark and Will with his broadax, allowed a single armed planter to hold off his band from a lady with two children. That planter’s family had already escaped to safety.

[After camping that night,] . . . at dawn, The Preacher started for the large and handsome home of Dr. Blunt, one of the county’s few plantations of the legend, and on the edge of the district of yesterday’s triumph. Not seeking victims then, The Preacher wanted fresh supplies and recruits to put heart and strength back into the insurrection.

He reached the Blunts’ yard fence just before daylight. A precautionary shot was fired to see if the darkened house was deserted, as expected. Then the powerful Hark broke down the gate, and the group advanced toward the house, looking for salves to join them. The band was within twenty yards of the house when firing broke out from the front porch. Hark Travis, one of the original conspirators . . . fell wounded in the first volley. When The Preacher, shaken but grown desperate, tried to rally his force for an attack, another volley dropped two more. His men broke. At that moment, Dr. Blunt’s slaves came swarming out of hiding places, armed with grub hoes, and rushed the insurrectionists. The Preacher fled with his men, Dr. Blunt’s slaves rounded up several prisoners, including the wounded Hark, crawling toward a cotton patch.

Dr. Blunt, his fifteen-year-old son, and his manager had done the firing, while the women loaded single-shot rifles and shotguns. Before The Preacher’s men arrived, Dr. Blunt had given his own slaves the choice of fighting with his family or leaving. They chose unanimously to fight.

More in desperation than purpose [The Preacher] led the dozen remaining followers to retrace their triumphant steps of the day before. At the first plantation the Greenville County cavalry militia rode them down. They killed will, the ax-executioner, and killed or captured all except The Preacher and two others. The insurrection was over then, though the alarmed neighbors did not know it.

Following the Greenville cavalry, other militia units poured into the county during the next two days, and US Marines from Norfolk. The two men who had escaped with The Preacher were captured. Many who had followed the leader during the successful stages of Monday had returned to their homes. They were hunted down, some killed and others taken to jail. But The Preacher eluded them until the beginning of October.

While changing hiding places on another Sunday, he encountered a poor farmer in some woods. Like his neighbors, this Mr. Phipps was carrying a gun when he came upon the ragged, emaciated, and wretched-looking Preacher, who immediately surrendered.

No demonstration was made against The Preacher when he was brought to jail or when he and fifty-two others were brought to trial. Of these, seventeen were hanged and twelve transported. Of five free Negroes among them, one was acquitted, the others went to Superior Court, where one more was acquitted and three convicted. The Preacher confessed fully to his leadership and to the details of the murder of more than fifty white people.

With The Preacher’s execution, the case was closed and entered the record books as Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

In history, the unelaborated reference to “Nat Turner’s Rebellion” has been made so casually for so long that the tag has no association with the terror and horror of mass murder. Also, to the population of the United States today the slave insurrection in Haiti is a remote thing, part of the inevitable and the just march of events. But to the South, where white refugees had fled – at least one to Southampton County – the Haiti massacre was the dread reminder of what could happen to them. With Nat Turner, it had happened. The deep fear of the blacks’ uprising against them had been implemented. It was never to leave.”

(The Land they Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, excerpts, pp. 14-22)

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

History records that the first colony to legally establish slavery was Massachusetts, the Puritans of New England enslaved the Pequot Indians [including children] who resisted their invasions; by 1750 Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade; Yankee notions and rum were traded in Africa for those already enslaved; Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin transformed cotton production in 1793; Manhattan banks supplied easy credit after the Louisiana Purchase opened the western lands to slave-produced cotton; and cotton-hungry New England mills were fed from that new land. It is then easy to see the source of slavery’s perpetuation and it clearly points to those who could have easily ended that relic of the British colonial system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

“The superabundance of land to which the English colonists, from Adam Smith downwards, attribute the prosperity of new colonies, has never led to great prosperity without some kind of slavery. The States of New England, in which Negro slavery [was permitted], form no exception to the general rule.

[Though] the Puritans and followers of [William] Penn, who founded to colonies of New England, flourished with superabundance of land and without [a great number of] Negro slaves, they did not flourish without slavery . . . [though] they were led to carry on an extensive traffic in white men and children, who, kidnapped in Europe, were virtually sold to these fastidious colonists, and treated by them as slaves.

Even so lately as the last twenty years, and especially during the last war between England and America . . . vast numbers of poor Germans were decoyed to those States which forbid slavery, and there sold for long terms of years to the highest bidder at public auction. Though white and free in name, they were really not free to become independent landowners, and therefore it was possible to employ their labor constantly and in combination.

A black man never was, nor is he now, treated as a man by the white men of New England. There, where the most complete equality subsists among white men, and every white man is taught to respect himself as well as other white men, black men are treated as it they were horses or dogs . . .

In another way, the States which [abolished] slavery have gained by it immensely without any corresponding evil. The great fishing establishments of the [New England] colonies were set up for the purpose of supplying the slaves of the West Indies, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, commodities which have never been raised on any large scale in America except by the combined labor of slaves.

A great part of the commerce . . . of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, has always consisted of a carrying trade for the Southern States . . .

At the present time, which is the great market for the surplus of farmers in the non-slaveholding States on the western rivers? New Orleans. And how could that market exist without slavery? Capitalists again, natives of the States which forbid slavery, reside during part of every year in the slave States, and reap large profits by dealing in rice, sugar and cotton, exchangeable commodities, which, it must be repeated, have never been raised to any extent in America except by the labor of slaves.

The States, therefore, which [abolished] slavery, having reaped the economic benefits of slavery, without incurring the chief of its moral evils, seem to be more indebted to it than the slave States.

If those who [abolished] slavery within their own legal jurisdiction should also resolve to have no intercourse or concern with slave-owners, to do nothing for them, and to exchange nothing with them, we should see an economical revolution in America . . .

It is evident that the most Southern States of the Union cannot abolish slavery without incurring great dangers, which the North had no reason to apprehend when it emancipated its black population . . . [and were] gradually introduced into the society . . .

The Northern States had nothing to fear [as the] blacks were few in number . . . But if the faint dawn of freedom were to show two millions of men their true position, the oppressors had reason to tremble.

And as soon as it is admitted that the whites and the emancipated blacks are placed upon the same territory in the situation of two foreign communities, it will be readily understood that there are but two chances for the future: the Negroes and the whites must either wholly part, or wholly mingle.”

(Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860, Guy Stevens Callender, (original 1909) Reprints of Economic Classics, 1965, excerpts, pp. 793-799)

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

Foremost in the minds of Southerners by 1860 was the incessant abolitionist agitation that had wrought Nat Turner’s murderous rampage in 1831, and most recently then, John Brown’s in 1859. The memory of brutal slave uprisings and massacres in Santo Domingo and what may lay ahead for them had much to do with separating the South from the North. Rather than work toward a practical and peaceful compromise to end the labor system inherited from Britain, the abolitionists and Lincoln himself allowed the drift to war and the end of the republic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

“What mighty force lay back of this Southern movement, which by the beginning of February, 1861, had swept seven States out of the Union?

An explanation early accepted and long held by the North made it simply the South’s desire to protect slavery. Forty years of wrangling over this subject, fortified by many statements Southerners had made about it . . . [and] South Carolina in her secession declaration had made the North’s interference with slavery her greatest grievance, and the subject appeared equally large in other seceding States.

Yet simple answers are never very satisfying, and in this case it was too simple to say that Southerners seceded and fought a four-year war for the surface reason of merely protecting their property in slaves. Had not the South spurned the Corwin Amendment, which guaranteed slavery in the States against all interference by Congress? And what happened to the subject of slavery in the territories, which had loomed so big in the 1850’s? Now it was forgotten by both the North and the South.

Slavery was undoubtedly a potent cause; but more powerful than slavery was the Negro himself. It was the fear of what would ultimately happen to the South if the Negro should be freed by the North, as the abolitionists seemed so intent on doing – and Southerners considered Republicans and abolitionists the same.

This fear had worried [John C.] Calhoun when he wrote in 1849 “The Address of Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents.” It was not the loss of property in slaves that the South feared so much as the danger of the South becoming another Santo Domingo, should a Republican regime free the slaves.

And it is no argument to say that Lincoln would never have tried to do this. The South believed his party would force him to it if he did not do so of his own volition. If he were not himself an abolitionist, he had got his position by abolition votes. A friend of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, told him that the South’s knowledge of what happened in Santo Domingo and “Self-preservation had compelled secession.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 8-10)

Slaves and the South

Southern uneasiness regarding slavery agitation had its origins in the murderous Haitian and Santo Domingo slave revolts, and Northern abolitionist encouragement of slave insurrection in the South, culminating in Nat Turner’s 1831 terrorism and John Brown’s attack. In contrast to their strenuous efforts to incite violent slave uprisings, the abolitionists never advanced a peaceful and practical solution to the slavery they abhorred.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Slaves and the South

“Abolitionist assertions that the bondsmen were frequently inadequately clothed, underfed and driven to death are economically unreasonable. Masters wished to preserve the health and life of their slaves because a sick Negro was a liability and a dead Negro was worth nothing. A rude plenty prevailed on the average plantation.

“The best preventative of theft is plenty of pork,” was the advice of a Virginian. Kindliness and patience, frequently extended even to a tolerance of slackness in every concern not vital to routine, created a degree of contentment among the slaves to keep them docile. Although Jefferson had declared “the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions,” Harriet Martineau sympathized with the masters.

She wrote: “Nothing struck me more than the patience of the slave-owners . . . with their slaves.” Travelers often wondered who were the actual victims of the slave system.

Despite abolitionist allegations to the contrary, flights and revolts were infrequent. Fear that they should become general led the South to introduce ruthless laws for the apprehension of the absconders and federal legislation to protect their institution.

Actually, however, the thousands of slaves who ran away formed but a slight portion comprising the total slave population. During the several decades of its existence only some 75,000 Negroes used the underground railroad, which was organized to aid them in their attempt to reach Canada.

Flights were prompted by various causes. Some slaves undoubtedly ran away because they were talented or sensitive mulattoes who desired freedom. Others wished to escape from barbarous punishments peculiar to the slave system. Many fled . . . not to escape slavery but to return to their families and former homes. Some strayed for reasons not associated with slavery; they became tramps or vagabonds or fugitives from deserved punishments and crimes. Most slaves, unlike migratory free Negroes of a later generation, did not move from their original homes.”

(The South Old and New, A History, 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 46-47)

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

Though John Laurens intention to emancipate and arm African slaves was intended to blunt the actions of Lord Dunmore’s Virginia emancipation proclamation of 1775 which fomented race war, which Lincoln later copied, South Carolina had earlier considered arming slaves for community defense. This shows too that using slaves as armed combatants with freedom as a reward predates the War Between the States, and an inevitable strategy, both offensive and defensive, given the great numbers of Africans brought to North America by British and New England slave ships.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.com

 

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

[Laurens] fought in the Battle of Brandywine, was wounded at Germantown, and spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge on Washington’s staff. At Monmouth the following summer he escaped unscathed when his horse was shot from under him . . . during the late summer of 1778 he had served as liaison officer between the French and American commands during the joint attack on Rhode Island. His linguistic ability made him popular with the French officers and useful to Washington who spoke no French at all.

Nevertheless, Laurens was able to prevail upon his commander to send him back to South Carolina where he hoped to raise and lead a regiment of blacks against the British in the South. Early in 1778 John Laurens broached the matter to his father, who was then president of the Continental Congress. “I would solicit you to cede me a number of your able-bodied men slaves, instead of leaving me a fortune,” he wrote.

Formed into a unit and trained, they might render important service during the next campaign, he argued. What is amazing about his plan, though, is not merely that he was willing to surrender a large part of his inheritance in order to augment the Continental Army — practically everything he did during the Revolution testifies to his willingness to sacrifice his own private interest in favor of the general welfare. Nor is it even that he was willing to arm the slaves — South Carolinians had considered that step during earlier emergencies.

Rather, the astonishing aspects of his proposal are its candor, its boldness and its lager purpose. Service in the revolutionary army would be a stepping-stone to freedom — “a proper gradation between abject slavery and perfect liberty,” which would not only prepare a slave to take his place in free society but also establish his claim to it. In short, his was a clever and far-reaching plan for the gradual abolition of slavery.

A year later, after the fall of Savannah, however, the obvious need for additional manpower led Congress to urge the Southern States to enlist three thousand blacks, who would be freed at the end of the war.”

(The Last of American Freemen, Robert M. Weir, Mercer University Press, 1986, excerpts, pp. 90-94)

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

It was “English merchants and factors” and New Englanders who traded their goods for Africans near the coast of West Africa; as few white men could survive entering the interior, Europeans depended upon African tribes to sell them their already-enslaved brethren.  At the feet of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French can also be laid the introduction and perpetuation of slavery here. Both the Virginia and North Carolina colonial legislatures pleaded in vain to the British Crown to cease the importation of Negroes to their shores.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

“On account of the dangers of navigation off the coast of North Carolina . . . ships engaged in the African slave trade seldom, if ever, brought their cargoes direct to the colony. Relative to these conditions, [Royal] Governor Burrington said:

“Great is the loss this country has in not being supplied by vessels from Guinea with Negroes. In any part of the province the people are able to pay for a shipload; but as none come directly from Africa, we are under necessity to buy the refuse, refractory, and distempered Negroes brought in from other governments.”

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that that on occasion the early planters sent cargoes of tar and pitch to New England to be sold and the proceeds to be invested in young Negroes. English merchants and factors from about 1770 to 1776 did not hesitate to sell Negroes to South Carolina planters on liberal terms, and during those years the colony prospered…”

On the eve of the Revolution an attempt was made to prohibit the slave trade. The Provincial Congress in session at New Bern [North Carolina], August 27, 1774, resolved, “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. This resolution was passed in conformity with a resolve of the Continental Congress, and its enforcement was designed to strike a blow at British [slavetrading] commerce.

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

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser H. Taylor, UNC Press, 1926, excerpt, pp. 21-22)

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

Longtime-Democrat and early critic of Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, was appointed attorney general during the cabinet crisis by President James Buchanan in December 1860, though at the same time hobnobbing with Charles Sumner and other influential radical Republicans. As noted below, Stanton saw Negro emancipation as a weapon of war rather than a humanitarian policy — in truth a copy of British Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation of 1775, and British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s similar edict in 1814. All were aimed at inciting race war, denying the South its agricultural workers, and attracting black soldiers to be military laborers or cannon fodder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

“Crusades, like politics, sometimes make strange bedfellows. Few antislavery Radicals in 1860 would have guessed that a member of Buchanan’s cabinet, an outspoken critic of Lincoln and the Republican Party, would become, by 1862, a valuable and enthusiastic ally. But then, few men ever were ingenious enough to predict the course Edwin M. Stanton might follow from one day to the next. Even today it is difficult to assess the degree of Stanton’s Radical Republicanism.

Although he had been a Democrat since his college days and had served in a Democratic cabinet . . . He was in complete sympathy the Radical’s demands for a vigorous prosecution of the war and for the emancipation and military employment of Negro slaves. Yet, he never committed himself clearly to the economic program of the Republican Party: the high tariff, the Homestead Act, national banking, and a sound currency.

Though he used the considerable power of the War Department to aid Republican candidates in wartime elections, he used it also to benefit War Democrats, many of whom could never quite believe that he had really deserted the old party.

Stanton, then, was a true Union man, a partisan of any politician who believed, as he did, that the Southern Confederacy was a conspiracy of traitors and that total war was necessary to destroy it. In his hands, emancipation and the military use of Negroes became weapons of war.

Seldom did he consider the long-term implications of the war; his concern centered on the immediate task of defeating the Confederacy with every means at hand. But he had the prescience enough to realize that emancipation, though it would eliminate the problem of slavery, would at the same time create the problem of the freed Negroes. Impetuous and forceful, Stanton could not sympathize with Lincoln’s cautious approach to the problem.

[Horace Greely prophetically predicted that under Stanton], “no General or other officer of the army will more than once return a fugitive slave.” [Stanton’s predecessor, Simon Cameron in his final report stated:] “Can we afford to send them forward to their masters to be by them armed against us, or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion?”

Stanton recognized in the Radicals the strongest single bloc in Congress, a group to be cultivated and respected [as they had] worked hard to put him in the War Department.

It was [then] easy for the Radicals to demand publicly a war policy which would include emancipation and the military use of freed Negroes. [General David Hunter was rebuked by Lincoln for arming Negroes and Stanton publicly denied any responsibility, but] General Hunter’s subordinates charged later that Stanton had expressly authorized the action and that he had furnished guns and uniforms for the troops.

In spite of the Hunter affair, and without the President’s consent, he had tolerated isolated instances of using Negroes as soldiers . . . and few obstacles impeded the secretary’s policy of enlisting and arming the fugitives. The entire structure of slavery, he believed, could be transformed from a bulwark of the South agricultural economy into a weapon on which to impale its defenders.

“The power of the rebels rests upon their peculiar system of labor,” he insisted, and it was the duty of the Union to strike down that system, to “turn against the rebels the productive power that upholds the insurrection.” Next to the armed might of the Union, he considered the Emancipation Proclamation, with its military implications, the strongest weapon in the Northern arsenal.”

(Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction, John G. Sproat, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXIII, Number 1, February 1957, excerpts, pp. 25-29, 31-33)

 

The Party of Slave Insurrections

That John Brown was encouraged, armed and financed by wealthy Northern supporters, and the torrent of Northern sympathy that followed his hanging, convinced Southerners that there was no peaceful future with neighbors who would unleash race war upon them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Party of Slave Insurrections

“Then John Brown, after raising a considerable sum of money in Boston and elsewhere and obtaining a supply of arms, on Sunday, October 16, 1859, started on his mission. With a force of seventeen whites and five negroes, he captured the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, expecting the slaves to rise and begin the massacre of the white slaveholders. The military was able to prevent that, and Brown was tried and executed. Then, throughout the North, John Brown was said to have gone straight to heaven – a saint!

In the Senate, Stephen A. Douglas, pursuant to the Constitution, introduced a bill to punish those people who seek to incite slave insurrections. “Abraham Lincoln, in his speech at New York City, declared it was a seditious speech” – “his press and party hooted at it.” “It received their jeers and jibes.” (See page 663, Stephen’s Pictorial History).

Then came the election of President. The party of negro insurrections swept the Northern States. The people of the South had realized the possible results. With the people and the State governments of the North making a saint of a man who had planned and started to murder the slaveholders – the whites of the South – and the Northern States all going in favor of that party which protected those engaged in such plans, naturally there were in every Southern State those who thought it best to guard against such massacres by separating from those States where John Brown was deified.

When the news came that Lincoln was elected, the South Carolina Legislature, being in session, called a State Convention. When the Convention met, it withdrew from the Union. In its declaration it said: “Those States have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until now it has secured to its aid the power of the common government.”

[In late August 1862] . . . Lincoln thought that by threatening to free the negroes at the South he might help his prospects in the war. There were those [in Chicago] who deemed it a barbarity to start an insurrection of the negroes. The French paper at New York said: “Does the Government at Washington mean to say that, on January 1, it will call for a servile war to aid in the conquest of the South? And after the negroes have killed all the whites, the negroes themselves must be drowned in their own blood.”

Charles Sumner in his speech at Faneuil Hall said of Southern slaveholders: “When they rose against a paternal government, they set an example of insurrection. They cannot complain if their slaves, with better reason, follow it.” And so the North was for the insurrection! It was feared that the Government would not seek to prevent John Brown insurrections, and the better to guard against them, the cotton States withdrew from the Union.”

(A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-65, Captain S.A. Ashes, Raleigh, NC, 1935, pp. 46-47)

Weakening the Forces of the Rebellion

Lincoln’s followers emulated Virginia’s Royal Governor Dunmore’s rationale for emancipating slaves in 1775, that is, to fight against an independence movement by colonists and deprive them of agricultural labor. Northern radical Republicans such as Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, wanted to liberate slaves in Southern States where they could not reach them, but did not free the property of slave holders loyal to Lincoln.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Weakening the Forces of the Rebellion

“When the Rebellion culminated in active hostilities, it was seen that thousands of slaves were used for military purposes by the rebel forces. To weaken the forces of the Rebellion, the Thirty-seventh Congress decreed that such slaves should be free forever.

As the Union armies advanced into the rebel States, slaves, inspired by the hope of personal freedom, flocked to their encampments, claiming protection against rebel masters, and offering to work and fight for the flag whose stars for the first time gleamed upon their vision with the radiance of liberty.

To weaken the power of the insurgents, to strengthen the loyal forces, and assert the claims of humanity, the Thirty-seventh Congress enacted an article of war, dismissing from the service officers guilty of surrendering these fugitives [to rebel masters].

The hoe and spade of the rebel slave were hardly less potent for the Rebellion than the rifle and bayonet of the rebel soldier. Slaves sowed and reaped for the rebels, enabling the rebel leaders to fill the wasting ranks of their armies, and feed them.

To weaken the military forces and power of the Rebellion, the Thirty-seventh Congress decreed that all slaves of persons giving aid and comfort to the Rebellion, escaping from such persons, or deserted by them; all slaves of such persons, being within any place occupied by the forces of the United States, — shall be captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

The progress of the Rebellion demonstrated its power, and the needs of the imperiled nation. To strengthen the physical forces of the United States, the Thirty-seventh Congress authorized the president to receive into military service persons of African descent; and every such person mustered into the service, his mother, his wife and children, owing service or labor to any person who should give aid and comfort to the Rebellion, was made forever free.

The African slave trade had been carried on by slave pirates under the protection of the flag of the United States. To extirpate from the seas that inhuman traffic, and to vindicate the sullied honor of the nation . . . the administration entered early into treaty stipulations with the British Government . . .”

(Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson, Rev. Elias Nason and Thomas Russell, B.B. Russell, 1876, pp. 346-349)

Abolitionists Growing More Warlike

The crisis of the Union in the 1850s was caused by an increasing willingness of radicalized Northerners to use force, especially fomenting slave insurrection in the South, to end the African slavery inherited from the British. Rather than seek a practical and peaceful means of ending the institution — from which their own section had profited greatly through the slave trade and cotton milling — abolitionists preached fire, sword and anarchy. On the latter, anarchist Ralph Waldo Emerson admitted “I own I have little esteem for governments.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Abolitionists Growing More Warlike

“Emerson welcomed the fact of anarchy as a confirmation of his belief that men could live without institutions. “I am glad,” he said, “to see that the terror at disunion and anarchy is disappearing.” John Brown’s raid raised even more extravagant hopes for the triumph of transcendental anarchism. “ . . . John Brown was an idealist. He believed in his ideas to that extent that he existed to put them all into action . . .” said Emerson at a John Brown meeting . . . The example of Brown was just what the country needed [and Henry David] Thoreau’s sentiments were almost identical.

Emersonian transcendentalism [had] . . . changed from a contemplative philosophy into an activist creed. The “American Scholar” was no longer a withdrawn and harmless figure, reading the eternal truths of “Nature.” He was John Brown, an idealist whose inner voice commanded him to shed blood. Emerson had always hoped that he would one day see “the transformation of genius into practical power.”

During the Kansas conflict, [William Lloyd] Garrison remained true to his [pacifist] principles by having no truck with those who were enlisting in the free-State forces or sending arms to help them. Yet a curious note crept into his 1856 criticisms of the Kansas effort. If someone had to be armed, he protested, it should be the slaves in the South rather than the northern whites in the territories. If the resort to force had to be made, he seemed to be saying, it should be on such a scale as to bring down the whole slaveholding structure.

Wendell Phillips compromised himself more directly by donating money to a Kansas rifle fund in 1855 [and the] nonviolent [abolitionist] ranks were thinning. By 1858, Garrison was bemoaning the fact that abolitionists were “growing more and more warlike, and more disposed to repudiate the principles of peace, more and more disposed to talk about “finding a joint in the neck of the tyrant, and breaking that neck, “cleaving tyrants down from the crown to the groin,” with a sword which is carnal, and so inflaming one another with the spirit of violence and for a bloody work.” He feared that this thirst for violence would destroy “the moral power” of the abolitionists.

At a meeting for the observance of Brown’s martyrdom, Garrison endorsed Brown in a way that seemed amazingly inconsistent: “As a peace man – an “ultra” peace man – I am prepared to say” “Success to every slave insurrection at the South.” God, it seems, had decided that slavery must come to a violent end. A slave rebellion was not something Garrison was advocating, it was simply “God’s method of dealing retribution upon the head of the tyrant.” The implication was that although John Brown had violated holy commandments, he was nevertheless an instrument of divine judgment – like fire or pestilence. No responsibility rested with the abolitionists; it was the slaveholders themselves who had invited the wrath of God by refusing to heed the moral appeals of thirty years of antislavery agitation.”

(The Inner Civil War, Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Frederickson, Harper & Row, 1965, pp. 39-42)

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