Browsing "Slavery and Cotton"

The Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

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

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

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

Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“. . . Negro slavery in New England reflected that institution as it existed in the hey-day of the plantation era in the sugar, cotton and tobacco States. There was the same horror of the slave trade, the same spectacle of gangs of manacled blacks deposited on the wharves of Boston and Newport, and the same selling of human chattel at auction.

Nor was the tearing of wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of the slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable to New England as well; and in some instance, New England even led the way.

The Puritan settlements of New England enjoyed, either contemporaneously or separately, the three forms of servitude common in that day, namely; indentured servants, Indian slaves, and Negro slaves.

Indentured servants date from the founding of Massachusetts; indeed they even preceded the settlement of the Puritans at Salem, having been sent in advance to prepare homes and food against the coming of the settlers in 1630. Unfree labor existed, however, throughout the remainder of the colonial period.

The indentured servants soon proved insufficient in numbers to satisfy the colonists increasing demand for laborers. A new source of supply was soon found, however, for Indian warfare began about 1636, and the captives were promptly sold into slavery. The women and children were usually employed in the colonies; the warriors were carried to th West Indies and there sold as slaves.

The barbarous treatment of the Pequots by the New Englanders in their ruthless war of extermination against them, must ever remain a blot upon New England’s escutcheon. However, the pious Puritans easily dismissed any qualms of conscience which might have arisen, by the simple fact that “a gracious Providence had been pleased to deliver the heathen Indians into their hands.”

Thus the redskin and not the black man, was the first slave in New England. Even the much vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away.”

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

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

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

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

Inheritors of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An American Business”

In 1821, after sailing to the proposed site of the colony at Cape Mesurado, present-day Monrovia, Lt. Robert Stockton and Reverend Eli Ayers journeyed twenty miles inland to “convince the most powerful of the native leaders, “King Peter,” to discuss terms to sell the land.

The Africans objected to the intruders and accused them of “kidnapping Africans,” and “destroying the slave trade” – the first was the African tribe’s primary business, the second the African tribe did not want to happen.

Americans were trying to eliminate the slave trade from Africa and provide repatriation for Africans freed in the US – but working against these humanitarian efforts were an increasingly complex slave trade, New England-built slave ships and cotton mills (the latter made profitable by Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s invention), and New York merchants and banks hungry for profits. It is noteworthy that none of the slave ships sailed under the Confederate Battle Flag.

“An American Business”

“[In] mid-1799 Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott wrote the customs collector at Boston that “Captain Decatur of the Navy during his late cruise . . . near Cuba, met with the brig Dolphin of Boston, William White [the] Master, with 140 to 150 slaves for sale [and] procured on the coast of Africa.”

Wolcott directed the collector to “take requisite measures to enforce the law.”

And, in April 1800, the Secretary of the Navy passed along to the treasury secretary a short list, sent along by Captain Bainbridge of the USS Norfolk, of suspected slavers who recently returned from Cuban waters to Philadelphia.

With the enactment of the 1800 statute, the Navy immediately began seizing suspected slavers and sending them in for adjudication. The first three were captured in the space of a month. The sloop Betsey of Boston takes the honor of being the first slave-trading vessel captured by the US Navy.

Meanwhile, other factors encouraged the trade, among them the wide use of the cotton gin and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The former vastly increased production, and the latter moved the slave economy westward to new lands.

[After the war of 1812] the slave trade became logistically complex. The selected American-registered vessel was chartered in Cuba or Brazil by a slave dealer and sailed to Britain or elsewhere to load a cargo particularly suited for the African coast trade: cheap muskets, rum, etc.

[Often] the vessel needed to hover off the coast while the agents ashore gathered the human cargo . . . And once the Africans were gathered and the night was dark, canoes were loaded with the slaves and rowed from shore to ship. Then the ship was “sold” on the spot and became Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian . . . [and] made passage back to the Western Hemisphere with the slave cargo.

Thus, given fast, American-built vessels; immunity from search; and growing profits, the trade was becoming an “American business.” Though it should be kept in mind that the major markets in this era were Brazil and Cuba, and rarely were slave cargoes brought directly to the United States.

By all accounts the last half of the 1830s marked a quickening of the slave trade, particularly to Cuba, fed by high prices and minimum interference from American cruisers.

The British Mixed Commission at Havana reported the arrival of 240 illegal slavers during the years 1836 through 1839, fifty-eight of which were under American colors. And it was reported that a New York mercantile house had taken in $240,000 in profits on the trade in the space of fourteen months, and that slaves had brought ten times their purchase price at Havana in the same period.”

(African Squadron: The US Navy and the Slave Trade, 1842-1861, Donald L. Canney, Potomac Books, 2006, excerpts pp. 2-4; 21-23)

African Slavery in America

Nearly always missing in a discussion of slavery in North America is the question of how Africans arrived and who conveyed them – and it was not slave ships flying the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The responsibility for African slavery begins with the African tribes themselves who enslaved each other, then the Portuguese, Spanish, French and British who needed labor for their New World colonies, and the New England slavers who ruled the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-1700s. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of slave-ship construction, with the latter departing for Africa’s west coast laden with rum and Yankee notions, trading these for already-enslaved men, women and children, transporting them to the West Indies to be traded for molasses, and then returning to New England to distill more rum from the molasses. Add to this New England’s textile mills of the early 1800s whose fortunes depended upon slave-produced cotton.

African Slavery in America

“There are three important points to keep in mind in the study of the African-American population of the 1850s. First, we should avoid presentism. Attitudes toward working people of all races were different at that time than those we find acceptable today.

The Dutch did keelhauling of sailors as late as 1853 and the British did no ban the flogging of soldiers until 1860. The working classes in industrialized areas such as Manchester, England, worked under conditions that left many crippled and maimed from injuries of breathing dust from textile mills and mines. This left most unfit for work at 40 years of age and almost none at 50. Children as young as 7 or 8 worked up to 12 hours [a day], some “seized naked in bed by the overlookers, and driven with blows and kicks to the factory.”

Second, regardless of good treatment, being a slave has many costs which few of us would be willing to pay. Third, trying to have a realistic understanding of slavery is not an apology. It is a mistake to oversimplify slavery to chains, whips, and division of families; it is likewise a mistake to say that they were better off as slaves. The objective should be to understand as best we can.

A difficulty is finding objective writings at a time when Northern writers emphasized the horrors of slavery in a continuing regional attack, Southern writers emphasized slavery’s benefit to the African, and the bonded people themselves left few written records. The slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s offer the best testimony we have by the slaves themselves, although, of course, memories of 70 years ago have problems of certainty.

Many Americans, including Abolitionists, advocated that Africans be sent to Africa or some place in the New World where they would be removed from American society. Toward this goal, the American Colonization Society, to which many prominent Northern and Southern Americans belonged to, established the western African nation of Liberia.

The attitude of most Americans of the time was summed up by Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

It would not be until January of 1863 that the North would allow black men to serve in the Union army, and then in segregated units at lower pay and with white officers. U.S. “Colored Troops” were often used as labor or in “forlorn hopes,” such as fighting at the Crater and Battery Wagner.”

(Characteristics of the African-American People During the 1850s: American History for Home Schools, 1607-1885, with a Focus on the Civil War, Leslie R. Tucker, Society of Independent Southern Historians, 2018, excerpts Chapter 10)

Negro Minstrel Origins in the North

The Northern army adopted a Southern song” “Say, brothers will you meet us, On Canaan’s happy shore?” – with the refrain “Glory, glory hallelujah, Forever, evermore.” This was written by a Charlestonian, used at many Southern camp meetings and no doubt had it origins in Negro congregations. It made its way north and was corrupted into “John Brown’s Body.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Negro Minstrel Origins in the North

“In 1842 Negro minstrelsy had its birth in a northern theater in a mixed performance made up largely of songs and dances typical of Negro life and character; as a scientific presentation of plantation folk lore (as was never intended) it was faulty, still it served to introduce some phases of Negro folk-lore to the attention of a public ready to find amusement in it; and this prepared the way for the work of Stephen C. Foster, who is justly considered the folk song genius of America; and it also prepared the way for a later popular appreciation of Uncle Remus when his time should come.

Foster, although born in the North was the son of a Virginian, and he trained himself for the production of his peculiar style of song by attending Negro camp-meetings. He wrote in all about one hundred and sixty songs including “Old Susannah,” “Old Uncle Ned,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground,” and “De ‘Ol Folks at Home,” or “Suwanee Ribber,” the latter being a Negro corruption of San Juan, the Spanish name for the St. John’s River in Florida.

These are not folk-lore, excepting as they have received folk-adoption, so to speak, but it would be impossible to complete this survey of the subject of folk-lore in the South without mentioning this phase, the approximately good imitation of the best folk song of the country. Nor should another folk song by adoption be overlooked.

On the Fourth of July, 1861, while the Confederate army in Virginia was drawn up within hearing distance of the Federal army, General Kirby Smith wrote that the booming of the Federal guns had been ringing a national salute. Powder was too scarce in the Confederate army . . . to be wasted in salutes, “but,” wrote the general, “our bands have played “Dixie” from one end of the line to the other.”

“Dixie” would appear to have all the characteristics of a folk song. The name is undoubtedly a Negro corruption of Mason and Dixon’s Line, and it is thoroughly a Negro conception of the land south of that line as a “land of cotton” with cinnamon seas and sandy bottoms.” But the truth is that the senseless words were written by a white man in the North, Dan Emmett, the son of a Virginian, for the use of the Negro minstrels of which he was one of the founders; and the tune was probably appropriated from an old Negro air.

The people and the soldiers of the South liked it. It outlived the Southern Confederacy and now bids fair to become national.”

(Folklore, Arthur Howard Noll; History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States, Volume VII, Southern Publication Society, 1909, excerpts pp. 68-70)

Disruptive and Inharmonious Boston Abolitionists

The aristocratic cotton manufacturers who supported Henry Clay’s “American System” organized the Massachusetts Whig party out of the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s reelection in 1832. They and their allies saw high tariffs as job insurance, and resented Jackson’s appeal to immigrant labor, farmers and urban workers. These Massachusetts Whigs had grown wealthy from Eli Whitney’s invention and slave-produced cotton from the South, and considered abolitionists as enemies of the Constitution and peace. Both Whitney and the mill owners were responsible for perpetuating slavery in the South as they made cotton production highly profitable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Disruptive and Inharmonious Boston Abolitionists

“The leaders of the Whig party, for a number of reasons, were particularly responsive to the abolitionist threat. Several members of their class, including Sewall, Edmund Quincy, Ellis Gray Loring, Francis Jackson, James Russell Lowell, William Ellery Channing, and Wendell Phillips, had entered abolitionist ranks and so threatened the newly-restored [upper Boston] class unity.

Although the aristocrats were engaged in a great many reforms, abolitionism never became fashionable or even acceptable to the social elite as a whole, and aristocrats who associated with the abolitionists were quickly ostracized. Consequently, many of the leading abolitionists came from less socially-distinguished families and were most successful in their appeals to the middle class.

The Whig leaders, who regarded abolitionism as a disruptive influence in American society and deplored the abolitionists’ opposition to harmony with the South and the maintenance of the Union, seldom distinguished the moderate abolitionists from the Garrisonian extremists.

Worst of all, from the Whig point of view, the abolitionists, in their demand for immediate, uncompensated emancipation, had attacked property right which the conservative Whigs regarded as fundamental to every other right.

The Whig leaders opposed all denunciations of slavery and slaveholders, many of whom were personal friends, business associates, and political allies. They considered slavery a redundant issue in Massachusetts politics and anti-slavery propaganda worse than meaningless in the North. Although most of them, to be sure, considered slavery an evil, they emphasized that it was an institution wholly controlled by the States, and as such was protected by the Constitution, which was no to be tampered with.

Anti-slavery agitation in the North would only bring about sectional disharmony and, in addition, worsen the condition of the slave in the South. Abbott Lawrence summed up the conservative Whig position when he wrote:

“I am in favor of maintaining the compact as established by our fathers. I am for the Union as it is. I have no sympathy with the abolition party of the North and East. I believe they have done mischief to the cause of freedom in several States of the Union. The abolition of slavery in the States is exclusively a State question and one with which I do not feel that I should meddle or interfere in any shape or form.”

(Cotton Versus Conscience: Massachusetts Whig Politics and Southwestern Expansion, 1843-1848, Kinley J. Brauer, University of Kentucky Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 22-24)

The Genius of Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney was a mechanically-talented Massachusetts farm boy who graduated from Yale and ventured South in 1792 to teach school in South Carolina. As he watched plantation slaves working laboriously to pick “the fuzzy, stubborn seeds from “vegetable wool,” at an average rate of two pounds per day,” he quit his teaching position to concentrate on the invention to speed the chore. Cotton production soared from 10,000 bales in 1793 to double that in 1796, and 180,000 by 1810 – Whitney can be said to have single-handedly perpetuated slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Genius of Eli Whitney

“The Agricultural Society of South Carolina, second of its kind in the United States, came into being in 1785 “for promoting and improving agriculture and other rural concerns.” Its high-minded purposes were defined by Thomas Heyward, Jr., its first president, who expounded: “After having gloriously succeeded . . . in terminating a war . . . it is incumbent upon us equally to endeavor to promote and enjoy the blessings of peace. Agriculture was one of the first employments of mankind . . . [and] one of the most innocent and at the same time the most pleasing and beneficial of any . . .”

This interest in diversified agriculture was further evidence that the institution of slavery – a national rather than sectional cancer – was well on its way to extinction before the American Revolution. Jefferson was strongly opposed to it; his original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a denunciation of it. Early attempts along these lines were thwarted by the British crown.

To Virginia goes the honor and distinction of being the first American State to prohibit the importation of slaves, having passed a law to this effect during the very first session of its existence under the republican government (1778). Maryland followed suit in 1783.

The tobacco planters, slavery’s principal eighteenth-century exponents, were learning slavery’s folly and coupling it with old guilts of moral shame.

So firm was the resolve and so positive was the action that there can be no doubt as to the demise of the slave during the early years of the nineteenth century, had it not been for the “sudden apparition of the great cotton crop, conjured by the genius of Eli Whitney” and dwarfing all other Southern resources by the “instant employment of the half-idle slaves, whose presence had begun to be felt as a burden.”

Without an economical means to separate the lint from the seed, cotton could not have become the ruthless king that it was. Without King Cotton, slavery would have withered and died. Without the emotionally packed issue of slavery, the newly-formed States would have arrived at a peaceable solution to their differences, because their quarrels centered around cotton and the tariff.”

(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally & Company, 1959, excerpts pp. 136-138)

The Disappearance of Wealth from the South

Add to the sectional tariff issues below the irony of Northern abolitionist agitators, many of whom were the sons and grandsons of those who had grown wealthy through New England’s slave trade which populated the South with laborers, who fomented race war in the South. It was New England slave ships which brought slaves from Africa; New England mills were busy consuming slave-produced cotton; and Manhattan banks were eager to lend Southern plantation owners money at low interest to buy more land to produce more cotton.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Disappearance of Wealth from the South

“The South maintained that the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1833 were unconstitutional, since Congress had the power to levy taxes only for revenue and the taxes have to be uniform. The act then passed was sectional, since by it, the South, while she had only one-third of the votes, paid two-thirds of the custom duties . . .

[And] as our government was a compact, the government could not be superior to the States – so Congress was overstepping its powers, and [the South] contended that a tax on one part of the country could not be laid to protect the industries of another part. (United States Constitution – Section VIII., Clause 1)

What had the North to say to this?

When Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri, in referring to the Tariff Acts, said:

“Under Federal legislation the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenues – everything goes out and nothing is returned to them in the shape of Federal expenditures. The expenditures flow North. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. No tariff has yet included Georgia, Virginia or the two Carolinas [in its largesse], except to increase the burdens imposed upon them.

The political economists of the North, Carey, Elliott, Kettel and others who have studied the source of National wealth in America, said: “Mr. Benton is right in the explanation given of the sudden disappearance of wealth from the South.”

Then the editor of “Southern Wealth and Northern Profits,” a Northern man, said:

“It is a gross injustice, if not hypocrisy, to be always growing rich on the profits of slave labor; and at the same time to be eternally taunting and insulting the South on account of slavery. Though you bitterly denounce slavery as the “sum of all villainies,” it is nevertheless the principal factor (by high tariff) of your Northern wealth, and you know it.”

(Truths of History, Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Southern Lion Books, 1998 (originally published 1920), excerpts pp. 84-85)

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)

Charleston’s Colored Masters

Many of antebellum Charleston’s free black population owned slaves, and the Brown Fellowship of that city was organized in 1790 by black commercial slaveowners who saw no need to emancipate their black brethren. In 1796, Samuel Holman, a mulatto slave trader from Rio Pongo, West Africa was admitted to that colored society, which preserved the distinction between free persons of color and slaves.  On the eve of war in Wilmington, North Carolina, the labor utilized in erecting Dr. John D. Bellamy’s mansion included free black carpenter with slave workers who underbid white carpenters. The latter petitioned the legislature in the mid-1850s to increase the tax on slaves so white workers could find work.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Charleston’s Colored Masters

“Many prominent citizens like Christopher Gustavious Memminger, an influential lawyer and politician of Charleston County, believed that the free black community served a useful role and protected the interest of slaveholders.

Since many of the well-to-do colored persons were slave masters and landholders, the whites concluded that the free black elite would join them in support of the institution of slavery. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the lines were drawn by the free black populace and the views of white supporters of the colored community seemed accurate.

On April 12, 1861 . . . the black masters saw the opportunity to affirm their commitment to South Carolina and sided with the white slaveowners. A group of free blacks from Charleston City, including a number of colored slaveowners, issued the following statement:

“. . . [Our] attachments are with you, our hopes and safety and protection from you . . . our allegiance is due to South Carolina and in her defense, we will offer up our lives, and all that is dear to us.”

The sentiments of the Charleston black slaveowners were shared by the black slaveowners of other counties. For example, William Ellison, a cotton planter and the owner of 63 slaves, offered his aid to the Confederate Army in Sumter County.

As the Confederate Army began to make successful advances in the summer of 1862, the black masters continued their farming operations with slave labor. As the war raged on, shortages of meat and other foodstuffs were not the only dilemma faced by the colored masters. Even the wealthiest colored masters could not always purchase clothing for their families and slaves. Quite often the slave masters employed their female slaves to make homespun clothing.

[After 1863, many black masters] sought to liquidate their human chattel . . . before the Union Army forced them to emancipate their slaves. As the war continued to worsen for the Confederacy, other colored masters probably attempted to sell their slave property but could not find a willing buyer because the Union Army was advancing towards South Carolina.

Yet even as the Confederacy was falling into disarray, many of the black masters refused to sell their slaves, while others chose not to grant their servants nominal freedom. As late as 1865, there were 81 colored slave masters who owned 241 slaves in Charleston City. Many of these slaveowners used their slaves as workers and did not intend to emancipate them.

Among the invading troops [at Charleston in early 1865] were the Twenty-first US Colored Troops. When they reached the city, a crowd of jubilant free blacks and slaves greeted the soldiers; but the colored masters of Charleston perceived the invasion as apocalyptic destruction rather than salvation.”

(Black Slaveowners, Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860; Larry Koger, University of South Carolina Press, 1985, excerpts, pp. 189-192)

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