The South Not Responsible for Slavery
Neither the Introduction of Slaves into America nor their
continued Importation can be charge to the South.
Undoubtedly England, Spain and the Dutch were primarily and largely responsible for the introduction and the earlier importation of slaves to this country.
As Bancroft says, “The sovereigns of England and Spain were the greatest slave merchants in the world.”
Later on, this county came into prominence in the traffic in human bodies and DuBois, the black historical writer says, “The American slave trade came to be carried on principally by United States capital, in United States ships, officered by United State citizens and under the United States flag.” Supporting this, Dr. Phillips of Tulane University in his section of “The South in the Building of the Nation,” states, “The great volume of the slave traffic from the earlier 17th century onward was carried on by English and Yankee vessels, with some competition from the French and the Dutch.”
The responsibility for this home, or American, participation in the slave importing business rests primarily and principally upon New England and likewise, very largely, upon New York. It was a boast and a taut of pre-war days with pro-slavery orators that, “The North imported slaves, the South only bought them” and historians assert that “there is some truth in the assertion.”
Indeed, it has been widely claimed that “No Southern man or Southern ship ever brought a slave to the United States,” and while this statement is disputed and is perhaps not strictly true according to the letter, it is undoubtedly true in spirit, for the cases where a Southern an or Southern ship could be charged with importing slaves are few indeed, while New England, as well as New York. Were openly and boldly engaged in the traffic, employing hundreds of ships in the nefarious business.
“Slavery,” says Henry Patterson, in the Louisville Courier Journal, “existed in the beginning North and South. But the North finding slave labor unsuited to its needs and therefore, unprofitable, sold its slaves to the South, not forgetting to pocket the money it got for them, having indeed at great profit brought them over from Africa in the ships”.
Mr. Cecil Chesterman, a distinguished English historian, in his “History of the United States” says on this point, “The North had been the original slave traders. The African slave trade had been their particular industry. Boston itself had risen to prosperity on the profits of the abominable traffic.”
The Marquis of Lothian, in his “Confederate Secession” makes the statement that “out of 1500 American slave traders, only five were from the South,” but apparently this statement is contradicted later in his volume when he says, “out of 202 slavers entering the port of Charleston, S. C., in four years, 1796 to 1799 inclusive 91 were English, 88 Yankees, 10 were French and 13 South. * * * “
Many indeed are the authorities that support the statement that the south did not import slaves. “Slavery,” says Senator John W. Daniel of Virginia,” was thrust on the South an uninvited, aye, a forbidden guest” and Dr. Charles Morris, in his “History of Civilization” says “The institution of slavery was not of their making: it had been thrust upon their fathers against their violent opposition.”
Mrs. Sea, in her book, “The Synoptical Review of Slavery,” says “I have heard the statement made, and gentlemen of the highest standing for scholarly attainment given as authority, that no southern man ever owned a slave ship and that no slave ship handled by a southern man ever brought a cargo of slaves from Africa.”
Dr. Lyon Gl Tyler, the scholarly President of William and Mary College, Virginia, and an authority, says regarding this statement, “I am sure it can be said that no souther man or southern ship, as far as is know, engaged in the slave trade.”
References to southern ships or Southern men as engaged in the slave importing business are at best vague. The famous case of the “Wanderer,” one of the most noted of slave trading vessels, is often mentioned and her ownership is credited to men of Charleston and Savannah, but even if this be true she was built in New York, her captain was a New York man, and a member of the New York Yacht Club and the “Wanderer” sailed under the proud flag of the club when she went to the Congo after slaves. Her captain was later expelled from the club for this offense.
The fact that there was domestic traffic in slaves, some of this domestic traffic being carried on through coastwise trading, seems to have confused some and induced them to believe the South engaged in the slave importing business. On the other hand, the responsibility of New England and New York for the almost exclusive monopoly of domestic participation in the slave importing business is most clearly established. Massachusetts looms largely to the front when investigation into this gruesome subject is pursued. The first slave ship of this country, the “Desire,” was fitted out in Massachusetts, and set sail for the coast of Africa from Marblehead. Massachusetts was the first of all the colonies to authorize the establishment of slavery by statute law, doing this some decades before her example was fooled by any of the Southern colonies. The first statute establishing slavery in America is embodied in the Code of Massachusetts colony in New England, adopted in 1641, and it should be realized that slave trading in Massachusetts was not a private enterprise but was carried on by authority of the Plymouth Rock colony.
The Puritans early evinced a tendency to enslave Indian captives and sell them out of the country, and from that early day down to a period practically after the War Between the States had begun (for the last slave ship, the Nightingale, sailing from Boston and fitted out there, with 900 slaves on board was captured at the mouth of Congo River after the war had started) New England with Massachusetts leading, stood preeminent in the slave trade.
Much of the prominence and wealth of these states was derived from the slave trade and the commercial importance of such towns as Newport, Rhode Island, was based entirely upon the traffic. It is stated that Faneuil Hall, the famous “Cradle of Liberty” were so many abolition speeches, denunciatory of the South were made, was built with money earned in the slave traffic, as Perter Faneuil was actively engaged in it. “It was a traffic,” says Dr. Phillips, in “The South in Building of the Nation,’ “in whier highly honorable men like Peter Faneuil engaged and which the Puritans did not condemn in the Colonial period.” Stephen Girard is another prominent philanthropist of the North who made money is slaves, working large numbers of them on a Louisiana super plantation which he owned, and it is asserted that Girard College was built with money earned by the labors of these slaves.
In fact, DuBois asserts that the New England conscience which would not allow slavery to flourish on the sacred soil of Massachusetts did not hesitate to seize the profits resulting from the rape of slaves from their African homes and their sale to Southern planters. But, according to John Adams, it was not a tender conscience but an economic reason upon which the forbidding of slaves in Massachusetts was based, for he is quoted as saying, “Argument might have had some weight in the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts, but the real cause was the multiplication of laboring white people who no longer would suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals so much to their injury.” Thomas Jefferson, who had introduced a scathing denunciation of, and protest against, the slave trade in the Declaration of Independence, withdrew it upon the insistence of John Adams and other New Englanders, and he indulges in the following little bit of sarcasm at their expense, “our Northern friends who were tender under these censures, for though their people have very few slaves, yet they had been considerable carriers of them to others.”
Economic reasons were the base of abolition of slavery in New England. There is abundance of record to show dissatisfaction with African labor, who were stated to be “eye servants, great thieves, much addicted to lying and stealing,” and the superiority of white labor was brought prominently forward. Furthermore, the mortality of the africans in the cold New England climate was great and figures were brought forward to show how their importation into the section was not “profitable.” Governor Dudley in a formal report in 1708 stated “negroes have been found unprofitable investments, the planters preferring white servants.”
Boston was all along prominent in the slave trade, the “Continental Monthly” of New York, as late as January, 1862, being quoted as saying, “The city of New York has been until late (1862) the principal port of the world for this infamous traffic, the cities of Portland and Boston being only second to her in that distinction.” “Slave dealers,” it continues, “added much to the wealth of our metropolis.”
Vessels from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were early and largely engaged in the slave trade, and it is a very significant fact that while duties, more or less heavy, were imposed upon the imported slaves in southern harbors, and other harbors of the country, the ports of New England were offered as a free exchange mart for slavers.
New England citizens were traders by instinct and profession, and with the birth of commerce in the New World they eagerly turned to the high profits of the African slave trade and made it a regular business. The “Hartford Courant” in an issue of July, 1916, said, “Northern rum had much to do with the extension of slavery in the South. Many people in this state (Connecticut) as well as I Boston, made snug fortunes for themselves by sending rum to Africa to be exchanged for slaves and then selling the slaves to the planters of Southern states.”
Rhode Island at an early date had 150 vessels engaged in the slave trade, while at a later date, when New York had loomed to the front of the trade, the New York “Journal of commerce: is quoted as saying, “Few of our readers are aware of the extent to which this infernal traffic is carried on by vessels clearing from New York and down town merchants of wealth and respectability are engaged extensively in buying and selling African and have been for an indefinite number of years.”
As early as 1711 a slave market was established in New York City in the neighborhood of Wall Street were slave from Africa were brought to supply the Southern market. There was another prominent slave market in Boston. The slaves were hurried into the south as fast as possible as hundreds died from cold and exposure and the sudden change from a tropic African climate to a bleak Northern temperature. The United States Dept. Marshall for that New York district reported in 1856 that “the business of fitting out slavers was never prosecuted with greater energy than at present.” In a year and a half preceding the War Between the States eight five slave trading vessels are reported as fitting out in New York harbor and DuBois writes that, “from 1850 to 1860 the fitting out of slavers became a flourishing business in the United States and centered in New York City.”
Although Massachusetts and New York were thus prominent in the business of enslaving and importing Africans and selling them to South America and the Southern colonies, and later the southern states in the Union, other parts of New England took most prominent part in the slave trade. Indeed, in the “of Samuel Hopkins,” rhode Islands said to have been
more deeply interested in the slave trade than any other colony in New England and has enslaved more Africans.”
Thus beginning with that first slave ship of this country, the “Desire” of Marblehead, Massachusetts, the slave trade flourished in New England and New York. The favorite method was to exchange rum for africans and to sell the africans to the Southern plantations. Federal laws were powerless to hold in check the keenness for this profitable traffic in human flesh. As late as 1850, the noted slave smuggler, Drake, who flourished and operated along the Gulf Coast, is reported to have said, “Slave trading is growing more profitable every year, and if you should hang all the Yankee merchants engaged in it, hundreds more would take their places.”
The outlawing of the traffic seemed but to stimulate it. From the very inception of the institution of slavery in this country there was protest and action against it throughout the Southern colonies. The vigorous action of Virginia and her protests to the royal government to prohibit the further importation of slaves to her territory are well known. We have seen how Thomas Jefferson introduce into the Declaration of Independence a protest against the slave trade which he withdrew at the behest of New England. Every prominent man in Virginia at this period was in favor of gradual emancipation and there were more than five times as many members of abolition societies in the South than in the North. Only with the rise of the rabid abolitionists of New England and their fierce denunciations of the south idid the south abandon hope of gradual emancipation. Touching this, Mr. Cecil Chesterman, quoted above, states very pointedly in his “History of the United States,” what could exceed the effrontery of men,” asked the Southerner, “who reproach us with grave personal sin in owning property which they themselves sold us and the price of which is at this moment in their pockets?” Virginia legislated against slavery over a score of times; South Carolina protested against it as early as 1727, and in Georgia there was absolute prohibition of it by law. Let it be remembered that when the National Government took action and the slavery prohibition laws of Congress went into effect in 1808, every southern state had prohibited it.
But, as stated, the outlawing of the traffic seemed but to stimulate it. In the earlier years of the 19th century thousands of slaves were imported into this country. In the year 1819, General James Talmadge, speaking in the House of Representatives, declared: “It our country this year.” And Sergeant, of Pennsylvania, said: “It is notorious that in spite of the utmost vigilance that can be employed, Africans are clandestinely brought in and sold as slaves.”
This “vigilance” he speaks of however, was much ridiculed by others, and it was openly hinted that the efforts of the Federal authorities to suppress the trade, even the look out for slavers along the African coast as conducted by vessels of the United States Navy, were merely perfunctory, Blake in his “History of Slavery and the Slave Trade,” published in 1857, says:
“It is stated upon good authority that in 1844 more slaves were carried away from Africa in ships than in 1744 when the trade was legal and in full vigor;” while in the year immediately preceding the opening of the War Between the States, John C. Underwood is quoted as writing to the New York Tribune: “I have ample evidence of the fact that the reopening of the African slave trade is an accomplished fact and the traffic is brisk.” Not only was the traffic brisk with the United Sates but thousands of slaves were being smuggled in Brazil.
Southern members of Congress complained of the violations of the law and the illegal importation of slaves Ito their territory. Smith, of South Carolina, said on the floor of congress in 1819: “Our Northern friends are not afraid to furnish the southern States with africans;” and in 1819, Middleton, of South Carolina and Wright, of Virginia estimated the illicit introduction of slaves at from 1300 to 1500 respectively.
There is interest in the striking fact that one year before the outbreak of the War Between the States, and at the time when the rabid abolitionists of New England and the North were most vigorous in their denunciations of the south and the slave holders, there were in Massachusetts only 9000 free africans, while in Virginia there were 53,000 of these africans, free, and able to go where they pleased; and it is significant that about as many free africans chose to live in Southern slave holding states as dwelt in Northern states; and many of these free africans tuned slaves themselves and were well to do citizens. In the city of Charleston, S. C., some three hundred free africans owned slaves themselves.
In closing this article the following letter, which appeared in the columns of the New Orleans Picayune years ago, may be of interest:
“My father, Captain John Julius Guthrie, then of the United States Navy, while executive officer of the sloop of war “Saratoga” on April 21st, 1861, captured at the mouth of the Congo River, on the west coast of Africa, the slave ship ‘Nightingale’ with 900 slaves aboard. The slaver was owned, manned and equipped in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, and in reference to the date it will appear that her capture was after the assault on fort Sumter and the Baltimore riot consequent upon the passage of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment through the city. This was the last slaver captured by an American war ship and as my father soon after resigned and went in to the confederate service, her captain and ones were never brought to trial. All this is a matter of record on file at the Navy Department in Washington D. C.. Thus it will be seen that the last capture of a slaver war by a Southern officer and the good people of Massachusetts were engaged in this nefarious business at the beginning of our unhappy war.”
(Signed) J. Julius Guthrie
Too long has the South had the odium of slavery forced upon her. With the institution thrust upon her against her protest, the slaves flourished in her boundaries on account of climate, and economic conditions favored the spread of the institution itself. The facts set forth above indicate the innocence of the South in posting this feature upon our national life, as well as her freedom from guilt in the continued importation of slaves into this country. While no claim is made for special virtue in that the south did not engage in the slave importing business as the North did, yet the facts as they exist are to her credit. With the facts in her favor, the South its still under the false indictments constantly made against her by the section of our country most responsible for the whole trouble. Willing to abide by the verdict of posterity, if the verdict is based upon the truth, and not upon the false statements of Northern historians, writers and speakers, and willing to accept her share, her full share of due responsibility, this section, in justice to her dead who died gloriously in a maligned cause, and to her unborn children, inheritors of a glorious heritage, must set forth to the world the fact as they are, neither tainted with injustice to others nor burdened with hypocritical claims of righteousness for herself; and these facts will establish her in the proud position to which she has all along been entitled among the people of the earth.