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New England’s Black Ivory

The American South could not have become the destination for Africans enslaved by their own people without the ships of the Portuguese, Spaniards, French, British – and New Englanders. The latter had become a notorious smuggling center by 1750 as it surpassed Liverpool in the outfitting of slave ships in the infamous rum triangle.

It can be accurately stated that Britain’s Navigation Acts after the Seven Years’ War were aimed directly at New England smugglers and their African-West Indian trade, which helped bring on the American Revolution.

New England’s Black Ivory

Well-before the American Revolution, New England had engaged in smuggling goods to the other colonies and West Indies in violation of British law. This traffic left little for British merchants to import into the colonies and led Parliament to keep a watchful eye on its New England colonies. Author Reese Wolfe in his 1953 “”Yankee Ships” wrote:

“Shipbuilding, especially for New England’s triangular trade for African slaves, was sufficiently profitable for the shipbuilders of the Thames district to meet in London in the winter of 1724-1725 and formally complain to the Lords of Trade: “. . . the New England trade, by the tender of extraordinary inducements, has drawn over so many working shipwrights that there are not enough left to carry on [our] work.”

Linked inseparably with New England’s ventures south to the West Indies was its brisk trade in rum and what they were in the habit of calling black ivory. For the West Indies trade was a three-cornered affair hinging on rum, slaves and molasses.

Like so many momentous occasions in history, the start of the slave trade had been an offhand sort of occurrence. A Dutch privateer found itself with twenty Negroes taken from a Spanish ship and, not knowing what to do with them, dropped anchor in the river at Jamestown in 1619, a year before Plymouth Rock. The Negroes were offered cheap as laborers, and the Virginia settlers decided to trade tobacco for them. The swap was made and the Dutch sailed away, leaving behind them a cancerous growth that was to bring the parent body close to death before the disease was arrested.

Meanwhile, the Virginians did not call them slaves; as late as 1660 Virgnia court records still referred to Negroes as indentured servants. The New Englanders had Indian slaves as early as 1637, and a more or less formal business developed, with traders nabbing Indians along the banks of the Kennebec River in Maine and selling them into slavery up and down the coast. It was the black ivory from Africa, however, that turned the trick in New England’s West Indies trade and established Southern slavery on a solid and enduring footing.

The mechanics of the all-important trade worked like this: molasses was brought to New England and made into rum; the rum, highly-prized among the native Negroes on the west coast of Africa, brought its own price among the drinkers, a price that included any of their relatives or friends who might have the bad judgement to be lying about, and the resultant human cargoes were disposed of profitably in Boston, Newport and on south. Or most of the way south. Foreign ships for the most part maintained the supply in the deep South.

Not all the West Indies rum was drunk by Negroes. A flourishing local trade in fur was conducted with the Indians by the extremely profitable exchange of a few bottles of cheap rum or whisky for the entire season’s catch of its drunken owner. New England rum, it is generally agreed, had more to do with the destruction of the Indian tribes on the eastern seaboard than all the wars in which they were engaged put together.”

(Yankee Ships: An Informal History of the American Merchant Marine, Reese Wolfe, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953, pp. 42-44)

 

The Triumph of Industrialism

Prior to 1861 the American union was a federation of member States which jealously guarded their own territory and sovereignty to decide upon their own internal affairs. This also included determining whether or not to continue membership in that federation and departing it for another as was done in 1789. Also, by 1861 the North had become a far different region that the American South through industrialization and the relentless immigration of foreigners lacking an understanding of American republicanism.

The Triumph of Industrialism

“The ordeal which beset the United States in 1861 was related to the upheaval on the continent in 1848, and to the spasm which shook England in 1832. In a veiled and confused yet crucial way it, too, was a test of strength between the industrial way of life and the agrarian.

When the Machine first reached this country it took root in the North, and there alone it was able to make even slow headway. The ruling elements in the South were inclined to despise the innovation, for they had black slaves to do their hard labor. In this they were merely repeating history.

The slave owners in ancient Greece had had a similar attitude toward machinery; so had the slave owners in ancient Rome and China and Mexico. These, it must be realized had not lacked the cunning to invent mechanical devices. A Greek mathematician named Hero who lived in the First Century actually built a working steam engine. But did it occur to him to put the contraption to practical use? It did not.  Instead, he installed it in a temple to amaze the worshippers by the way it worked the doors.

That was typical. The clock and the compass, gunpowder and the printing press – these were all invented in relatively ancient times. Yet until relatively modern times they were kept as mere playthings. Ingenious patricians with time on their hands were continually thinking up cunning devices; but never with the idea of applying them to save toil. They themselves did not toil, neither did any of their friends. They had slaves for that. So why bother? And that was precisely the attitude of the white gentry of the South and in their eyes an interest in machinery was vulgar.

In the North, however, the very opposite held true. Bondage had long since been outlawed in that section in part for climatic and other reasons it had too obviously failed to pay. Having no slave labor, the Northerners had naturally been forced to try to save labor. Since this could be done more easily in industry than agriculture, there had been an equally natural compulsion to favor the factory over the farm. The great boom of the 1850s was almost entirely confined to the North and it equipped that region with so much new machinery that it was able to manufacture six times as much merchandise as the South. As a result, the interests of the North, especially New England, became increasingly wrapped up in the fortunes of industrialism.

But as the collapse of that boom had revealed, those fortunes were increasingly insecure. When the Panic of 1857 finally waned and the Yankee industrialists began to pick themselves up from the dust, there was blood in their eyes.

They felt they had been betrayed. For years the industrialists had been complaining that their foreign rivals had them at a disadvantage and pleaded with Congress to come to their aid. They demanded these things: higher tariff walls to keep out cheap foreign merchandise; lowered immigration standards to admit cheap foreign labor; increase subsidies to shippers carrying Northern merchandise overseas; advance more generous loans to railroad companies; create one currency to replace the various State bank notes; and lastly, change the African slave into a free consumer who would spend his money buying Northern products.

But the Southerners had opposed that program to a man. Moreover, being superior politicians, they had always been able to make Congress vote their way. Now, however, the Northerners had their dander up and forged a political alliance with the radical farmers of the West and elected a cagey frontier lawyer named Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. Whereupon, there was war.

The South decided to secede from the 1789 Union. They decided they would rather have half a continent of their own than a whole one run by damn Yankees. Like agrarians everywhere else, their outlook on life had remained essentially provincial. They believed that a citizen’s first loyalty belonged not so much to his country as to his immediate countryside.

Rather than let the South gain independence, the North was ready to lay it to waste. With the Government furnishing the capital, and patriotism the incentive, they rushed to lay hold of more and more machinery. At the time it was called the “Civil War,” and later this somewhat sinister name was softened to the “War Between the States.” In effect, however, it was the “Second American Revolution.” The first had secured the triumph of republicanism on these shores; the second insured the triumph of industrialism.”

(Something Went Wrong: A Summation of Modern History, Lewis Browne, MacMillan Company, 1942, excerpts pp. 113-116)

Feb 23, 2022 - From Africa to America, New England History, New England's Slave Trade    Comments Off on Devout Puritan Slave Traders

Devout Puritan Slave Traders

Devout Puritan Slave Traders

“The first American slave ship shown in the records was the Rainbow which sailed from Boston for Africa in 1645. On the Guinea Coast her captain found a shortage of slaves at the trading posts. With the help of the captains of several English ships also waiting in vain for slaves, an expedition was organized to go into the interior. The slave hunters took along a “murderer,” a light cannon also called a swivel gun as it was mounted to be easily swung in any direction. With it they attacked a native village, killed many of its people and managed to capture a few slaves.

The Rainbow’s captain got only two for his share, but with his meager cargo he sailed back to Boston since there was a good market for slaves there. In Boston his troubles continued. The ship’s owner learned that the raid on the African village had taken place on a Sunday.

In the eyes of the stern Puritans this was a shocking crime and the captain was arrested, tried for murder, man-stealing and Sabbath-breaking. He was acquitted however, since the Massachusetts Bay court decided it had no power to punish a man for something that happened outside the colony. The two slaves were seized by the government and sent home to Africa, so this first American slaving voyage on record was a dismal failure.”

(Rum, Slaves and Molasses: The Story of New England’s Triangular Trade, Clifford L. Alderman, Crowell-Collier Press, 1972, pg. 19-20)

 

A Civil War in the North?

Connecticut’s Hartford Times of November 7, 1860, after referring to the danger that the Southern States would “form a separate confederacy, and retire peaceably from the Union,” proceeds to say “If they do decide and act, it will be useless to attempt any coercive measures to keep them within the voluntary co-partnership of States . . . We can never force sovereign States to remain in the Union when they desire to go out, without bringing upon our country the shocking evils of civil war, under which the Republic could not, of course, long exist.”

The misunderstanding of “treason” is noted in the text below, but its actual definition is found in Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is clear then, whoever waged war upon the several seceding States (them) was guilty of treason. Outgoing President James Buchanan understood this and admitted no authority to wage war against a State, as did his Attorney-General.

A Civil War in the North?

“Prominent supporters of Mr. Lincoln asserted that “secession is treason, and must be treated by the government as treason,” and that “the government has the right and the power to compel obedience.” A considerable number of Republicans, while they emphatically denied the right of secession, questioned the policy of forcibly preventing it. They held, that, if an undoubted majority of the adult population of any State deliberately pronounced for separation, the rest of the States, though they might legally compel that State to remain, would do better to assemble in national convention, and acquiesce in her departure from the Union. Withdrawal under these sanctions is the only secession ever deemed valid or permissible by any number of the supporters of Mr. Lincoln. Many who had voted against him also concurred in this view.

Some of the opponents of the President-elect denied the right of secession, but claimed there was no constitutional remedy against it. The greater part held that the recusant States were theoretically if not practically right; that the United States was simply a confederation of sovereign States, any one of which possessed a constitutional right to withdraw whenever it should consider the arrangement no longer profitable. They deemed an attempt to coerce a State, in order to vindicate the supreme authority of the Federal Government and to preserve the territorial integrity of the Union, to be both illegal and useless.

The opponents of Mr. Lincoln . . . asserted that the Southern people had abundant provocation for their . . . conduct. They . . . declared that the conservatives of the North would never consent to coercion; adding the not infrequent menace, that, “if war is to be waged, that war will be fought in the North.”

(History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865; W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill Publisher, 1869, pp. 30-32)

Attracting Volunteer Mercenaries

The North’s war-weariness in late 1863, despite the capture of Vicksburg and stand-off at Gettysburg, had increased after the well-publicized greed of manufacturers supplying shoddy equipment to the army, and speculators overcharging the government “for everything from spoiled food to broken-down horses . . . was everyone out to feather his own nest? Was it fair for some men to go out and put their lives on the line while others stayed home and made big profits?” Bostonian aristocrat John Murray Forbes insisted that Lincoln now frame the war as a struggle by “the People against the Aristocrats” of the South.

Attracting Volunteer Mercenaries

“In mid-October [1863], though the election campaign was on, the Lincoln administration felt obliged to call for an additional 300,000 volunteer troops for a three-year tour of duty. This time the Massachusetts quota was set at 15,126 men.  Governor [John] Andrew realized more than ever that if he was not allowed to raise the State bounty, enlistments would surely falter.

Only 6,353 volunteers enlisted and mustered between January 1 and October 17, 1863, including black regiments, according to the governor’s report to the General Court on January 8, 1864. This was a poor showing indeed, but symptomatic of the war-weariness that had crept into almost every aspect of Northern life during the fall of 1863.

Where would 15,000 more men come from? Andrew decided to call a special session of the legislature, which convened on November 11, 1863. By this time, Congress had raised the US bounty to $402 for those who had already served not less than nine months, and to $302 for new recruits. The Massachusetts legislature now offered an additional $325 for new recruits, as well as for any veteran who might reenlist for 3 years of the duration of the war.

Penalties were assessed against Massachusetts men enlisting in units sponsored by another State. Massachusetts, however, welcomed enlistees from other States. Several unsavory developments, however, came out of this increase in bounties for new enlistments. The number of bounty-jumpers increased greatly – men who would enlist, receive their bounties, and then skip town to try the same scheme in another State.

But perhaps the greatest evil was a private enlistment company, headquartered in Boston, set up to bring immigrants from Europe to serve in the Union army.  It originated in the fall of 1863 when John Murray Forbes spoke with associates about encouraging foreign immigration as a way to increase the State’s manpower quota.

Several investors were attracted by the speculative possibilities in Forbes’s plan, and organized their own company. The company made contacts with European immigrants and paid for their transportation to America in return for signing an agreement to serve in a Massachusetts regiment. After paying for the emigrants passage, the Boston company would then extract a percentage from the bounty as a profit.

Some of the foreign emigrants later claimed that Massachusetts agents had either forced them into service against their will, or deceived them with false promises and misrepresentations. The colonels in the regiments to which these men were assigned were equally unhappy. Most of the new recruits could not speak English or understand orders, and many were massacred in the Wilderness campaign only a few months later.”

(Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield, Thomas O’Connor, Northeastern University Press, 1997, pg. 185-187)

 

Catholics and Know-Nothings

Though Massachusetts created the first statutes in America establishing African slavery, Catholics were found to be far worse and unwanted strangers prior to the Civil War. A power-base for the nativist Know-Nothing party of the mid-1800s, the Massachusetts legislature desegregated its public schools in order to exclude Catholics, with one observer commenting that “the legislature might appear to have acted inconsistently, opening Massachusetts schools to one minority group while proposing discriminatory statutes against another. However, blacks were Protestants and native-born, and posed no threat to the Protestant curriculum that Know-Nothings found so important.” By 1856, the Know-Nothing party was absorbed by the new Republican party.

Catholics and Know-Nothings

“As Irish Catholic immigration to New York City and other northeastern cities skyrocketed during the Irish potato famine (1846-1850), and prelates like [Archbishop of New York, John] Hughes began to succeed in obtaining State funds for Catholic schools, nativist political resolve increased. Another factor that increased nativist hostility was the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to condemn slavery and its [later] apparent support for the Confederacy. In his recent book “Catholicism and American Freedom,” John T. McGreevy . . . argues that the acceptance of slavery among Catholic intellectuals “rested upon the pervasive fear of liberal individualism and social order that so shaped Catholic thought during the nineteenth century, along with the anti-Catholicism of many abolitionists.”

By 1854 the earlier political manifestations of the nativist movement had matured into a full-fledged political party. The American, or Know-Nothing,” party enjoyed short-lived success in the 1854 election, when it won six governorships and achieved majorities in the State legislatures of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. Despite the low concentration of immigrants in western Pennsylvania, the Know-Nothings did well there . . . attributed to the high percentage of Anglo-Saxon residents in that area combined with “the belief that the Know-Nothings would advance the temperance and anti-slavery movements.”

The main object of Know-Nothing State legislatures was to introduce legislation that would prevent Catholic immigrants from voting. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine passed laws prohibiting State judges from naturalizing immigrants . . . [and] including the first literacy tests for voting, were passed in order to disenfranchise the Irish.

The party’s platform focused on voting rights . . . and requiring the exclusion of foreigners and Catholics from public office. In Massachusetts, where Know-Nothings were strongest, they passed legislation which prohibited the disbursement of public funds to private schools, required that all public school children, including Catholics, read daily from the Protestant King James Version of the Bible, and desegregated the public school system.”

(Breach of Faith: American Churches and the Immigration Crisis, James C. Russell, Representative Government Education Press, 2004, excerpt pp. 26-27)

Slavery and Secession

Though the British discovered a peaceful path to end African slavery in its empire, no practical or peaceful solutions to end slavery in the United States came from New England abolitionists. Rather than look back at their section’s role in the transatlantic slave trade which brought Africans traded for Yankee notions and rum to the West Indies and the South, Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin and New England cotton mills which perpetuated slavery, and New England’s threatened secession since 1804, blaming the South for slavery became popular. They would also have found that New England’s financial basis for its industrial revolution was acquired through its African slave trade, which helped Providence, Rhode Island surpass Liverpool as the center of that transatlantic slave trade by 1750.

Slavery and Secessionists

“Soon after the assassination of President Lincoln, the Rev. Daniel C. Eddy of the Baldwin Place Congregational Church in Boston spoke of the fundamental differences he perceived between the South and the North:

“Argue as we may, our Southern people are a different race. Slavery has given them a different idea of religion . . . Slavery has barbarized them, and made them a people with whom we have little in common. We had an idea of Southern civilization when Judge Hoar was driven out of Charleston . . . when Sumner was bleeding in the Federal Senate . . . when ornaments were made for Southern ladies of the bones of the brave soldiers killed at Bull Run . . . in the atrocities perpetrated upon our poor soldiers . . . And now we have another exhibition of it in the base, wanton, assassination of the President.”

In the antebellum years some Northern clergy looked upon the South as a distasteful part of the Union that they advocated the Garrisonian position whereby the South should separate itself from the South. In 1851 Charles G. Finney, coming to the realization that revivalism was not going to bring an end to slavery, suggested “the dismemberment of our hypocritical union.” Finley detested the thought of living in a nation where slavery existed. It was better to separate from such an evil.

In two sermons delivered in 1854, Eden B. Foster, a Congregationalist minister from Lowell, Massachusetts, proposed the secession of the North from the Union as a last resort to check the spread of slavery. Inherent in the slavery system, said Foster, were such evils as cruelty, ignorance immorality and sin. On April 4, 1861, less than two weeks before the cannons at Charleston began to bombard Fort Sumter, [Boston preacher] . . . Eddy urged the North to free itself from the burden of Union with the South so that the North might more fully “develop all those forces of a high-minded Christian civilization.”

Later that month, on April 28, after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Eddy changed his mind and advocated war to save the Union.”

(God Ordained This War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865, David B. Chesebrough, University of South Carolina Press, 1991, excerpt pp. 58-59)

Paying Tribute to the North

The prewar national dominance of the North eventually gave rise to those who thought that economic and political measures were not sufficient to put the South on a par with the North. They saw that the only way the South could rid itself of subservience to the North was to leave the Union, and do so with the Founders’ Constitution.  The South’s attempts to reduce tariffs had been increased in 1842, and in 1846 with the help of a Southern president and secretary of the treasury, forced through Congress the Walker Tariff which was so low as to be practically revenue only.  Additionally, President John Tyler’s vetoes of a national bank were upheld by Southern votes in Congress.

Northern commercial interests were determined to reclaim their government subsidies and establish national banking, with Lincoln and his new party a convenient vehicle to permanent national dominance.

Paying Tribute to the North

“There were other methods by which the profits from the cotton crop found their way into Northern pockets. Since two-thirds of the cotton crop went to England, the freight charges on its transportation across the sea amounted to a large sum.  Although the river boats of the South were generally Southern-owned and Southern- built, the South never engaged in the building or operating of ocean-going ships, principally because capital could more profitably employed in agriculture.

Most of the cotton sold was carried on coastwise ships to New York, and the great part transshipped from that place to England. All the coastwise ships and most of the ocean-going shipping was Northern-owned and consequently the freight charges went into Northern pockets. In 1843 this amounted to nearly a million dollars. In addition the insurance costs while the cotton was in transit were generally paid to Northern firms.

Not only did the cotton growers pay “tribute” to the North through their exports, but through their imports as well. The imports to the South came through Northern ports; the exports of the South amounted to two-thirds the total of the United States but her direct imports were less than one-tenth. The freight charges to New York and Boston, the tariff duties, and the cost of transportation on coastwise vessels to the South all added to the cost of merchandise.

In the hard times of the forties, Southern economists were prone to find the explanation for their distress in the “tribute” paid to the North. They came to believe that the economic progress of the North depended on this “tribute,” and epitomized their opinion in the phrase “Southern wealth and Northern profits.”

By the phrase “operation of the federal government” the South meant bounties to New England fisheries, internal improvements in the North such as harbors, roads, canals, and public buildings, tariff duties, and deposits of government funds.”

(The Old South: The Geographic, Economic, Social, Political and Cultural Expansion, Institutions and Nationalism of the Antebellum South, R.S. Cotterill, Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939, excerpts pp. 192-199)

Virginia’s Effort to Abolish the Slave Trade

In the first Congress under the United States  Constitution, Josiah Parker of Virginia attempted to insert a clause in the Tariff Bill to levy a ten dollar tax on every slave brought into this country on foreign ships, and especially those of New England.  Parker was supported in this by two other Virginians, Theodoric Bland and James Madison.  In a March 1790 Virginia petition to Congress, the slave trade was denounced as “an outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature.”

In an unclean bargain to extend the slave trade until 1808, the commercial interests of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut allied with South Carolina and Georgia rice planters – while Virginia strenuously protested. The slave traders of New England continued their nefarious traffic until the eve of the Civil War.

Virginia’s Efforts to Abolish the Slave Trade

“Despite Virginia’s failure to secure the immediate suppression of the foreign slave trade, her sons were active in their efforts to restrict its growth and at the earliest possible moment to drive the slave ships from the seas.

“ . . . James Madison [declared] . . . By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade it is hoped we may destroy it, and so save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.”

In his message to Congress, at its session 1806-07, Mr. Jefferson, then President, brought to the attention of that body the fact that under the Constitution the time was at hand when the African slave trade could be abolished, and urged a speedy enactment of such a law. He said:

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of a period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have so long been continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”

[Later], In his message to Congress, December 5, 1810, President [James] Madison declares: “Among the commercial abuses still committed under the American flag . . . it appears that American citizens are instrumental in carrying on the traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly Munford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, excerpts pp. 33-35)

 

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)

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