Slavery in the North
March 11, 2008 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Slavery in the North is a website covering the 200-year history of slavery in the northern colonies in what would become the United States.
posted by Kattullus (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
In looking around the site I found that on the about author page, the author seems to formulate some sort of higher ed/google conspiracy to keep his page ranking low... it sort of set off my crank alert, but I may just be overly cynical.
posted by boubelium at 6:13 AM on March 11, 2008


Ain't no difference between shoveling coal and picking cotton.

Well, there's the multiplication factor. One man shoveling coal can feed a steam engine doing the work of 100 men. Whereas one man picking cotton is one man picking cotton.

Why pay a man to guard a slave shoveler when you can just pay a shoveler?
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on March 11, 2008


Not to derail from the slavery in the North issue, but here are the same author's mini-sites on the civil war in general.

Causes of the Civil War

The Confederate War
posted by boubelium at 6:22 AM on March 11, 2008


boubelium: it sort of set off my crank alert, but I may just be overly cynical.

I almost didn't post the site because of that. But then, even otherwise level-headed people can get all paranoid about Google. The information on the site appears to be good and solid. This opinion is based on my admittedly limited knowledge of New England history.
posted by Kattullus at 6:25 AM on March 11, 2008


Free labor is free labor. The industrial North had far more to gain economically from slavery than the feudal South.

The thing is, the South did not realize until it was too late that slavery was actually holding back economic development. There is no incentive to develop machinery that will help pick and process cotton if you have free slave labor available to do it. Meanwhile in the north, where they had to pay for labor, the industrial revolution took hold, because innovation had a return on investment in labor savings.
posted by beagle at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2008


Kattullus: I agree completely. I think squabbling over search engine rankings is something that happens to most who have their own site. Definitely not a reason to hold back a post to the blue.
posted by boubelium at 6:45 AM on March 11, 2008


boubelium: it sort of set off my crank alert, but I may just be overly cynical.

I don't think you're being overly cynical. This guy is trotting out many of the tired old tropes of confederate apologists: mainly that the war wasn't about slavery. His arguments and presentations are a lot more reasoned and not being accompanied by animated .gifs of confederate flags and midi files playing "Dixie" makes this a cut above the usual web sites of this type.

Yes, their were slaves in the north and much of the country benefited from the institution even after emancipation in the north. But that doesn't make slavery in the south right, or justify them trying to secede to try and keep their slaves. Slavery truly was a national sin, but that don't make the Confederacy right.
posted by marxchivist at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by caddis at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2008


Seem to me you either have cheap energy or you have slavery.

I sure hope we keep having cheap energy.
posted by sourwookie at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2008


Oh poop... I've now read more of Douglas Harper's sites and I'm somewhat embarrassed now. His article about race in America is misguided at best, racist at worst.
posted by Kattullus at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2008


Right now, I'm sitting about half a mile from this person's grave:
In 1779, Prince Whipple, a slave of a New Hampshire Continental Army officer, and 18 other blacks sent a petition to the legislature seeking emancipation. They used Revolutionary rhetoric, and wrote that slavery was incompatible with "justice, humanity, and the rights of mankind," but the petition was ignored.

As the the manufacturing point, manufacturing came much later to New England than slavery did. Small cottage industries, work on ships and wharves, and small hardscrabble farms were the norm in New England until at least around 1840, by which time insututionalized slavery was disappearing from the region. The work of non-property-owning white people and enslaved black people was very much the same, though social status was not equivalent. Slaves tended to live in houses with the families they owned, and the number of slaves per household was far smaller than in the South, simply because most households lacked the abundant food, space, and financial resources for the kinds of armies of enslaved people you could build in an agriculturally rich and productive South.

The museum where I work preserves several sites where enslaved Africans lived and worked in the early days of the New England colonies. Much of the scholarship on Northern slavery is recent, and we continually find that people are surprised to learn that slavery existed in the North at all. The differences between Northern and Southern slavery are many, but none of this differences can excuse the system. This is an excellent site, and a resource I've bookmarked and will probably use a lot in the future. Thanks so much.
posted by Miko at 7:08 AM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


He has a whole page devoted to slavery in Massachusetts without mentioning that Massachusetts had no slaves 50 years before the Civil War.


A co-worker of mine had an amazing idea. Someone needs to develop a Northern Serpentor-- DNA from President Lincoln, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Joshua Chamberlain and especially General Sherman to go down and destroy Confederate Apologists once and for all. It's 2008 and we still don't have Serpentor!
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:11 AM on March 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, and having looked at the other linked sites, I agree that Confederate apologias are lousy, and that his tone in the bio is somewhat shady. But these are the facts of Northern slavery, at least inasmuch as they agree with my understandings built from reading in many other sources to craft interpretation. The difference between confederate apologists and fair historians isn't one of facts (much of the evidence, however distasteful, is surprisingly defensible), but of interpretation.

The uses of history are many, and like others it's worth casting a skeptical eye when there is a hint of a political agenda. But I appreciate that in these pages (though I have not read all in detail) the facts are reliable and clearly laid out, the citations well selected.
posted by Miko at 7:19 AM on March 11, 2008


Mayor Curley: That is too brilliant and all too necessary. Cobra Commander just can't get the job done.

Miko: Yeah, some of the pages on Northern race issues seem to be rather legit to me (and understandably to Kattullus when posting). It would seem that if we were to lay out this guy's site on a continuum of sane <> confederate crazy, this northern slavery part is closer to sane. It is a shame that the rest of his web presence is so awful.


Oh and wow, this guy is crazy. Here are some choice quotes:

"The American Civil War was "about" slavery like the Boston Tea Party was "about" tea."

"The American union was like a marriage, and the South wanted a divorce. She got herself together and left the jealous spouse who abused her and took her money. But she was dragged back."
posted by boubelium at 7:22 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


He has a whole page devoted to slavery in Massachusetts without mentioning that Massachusetts had no slaves 50 years before the Civil War.

True, and it points up some important omissions: he cuts off the story early and doesn't document the rise of abolitionism, migration in the black population, and eventual emanicipation and criminalization. He generally confines his observations to the 18th and very early 19th centuries, which gives a specific and selective view of the picture of changes in the public tolerance for slavery.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on March 11, 2008


bobelium: those quotes - gak!

sigh.

Well, in any case, if anyone doesn't like the feel of reading this guy, you can read the Joanne Pope Melish he cites for the same story told with an academic perspective.

I wonder how long we'll be fighting this war?
posted by Miko at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2008


The first rule of slavery is to dehumanize the potential slave population. Republicans are greedy hypocrites beneath contempt. How can they claim to be human. I would like several to tend to my fields please.
posted by caddis at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just realized that Douglas Harper is also responsible for the Online Etymology Dictionary which I've used plenty of times through the years and first found through MetaFilter.
posted by Kattullus at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2008


I wonder how long we'll be fighting this war?

Hopefully we'll have Civil War II soon, which will be fought in Congress and the Courts and will result in two new nations that can go their separate ways and govern the way they want. Then this will all end and we have grade school textbooks that don't have to present a "balanced" view of a war that was fought to end the most revolting practice in the history of mankind.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:58 AM on March 11, 2008


I wonder how long we'll be fighting this war?

For as long as there's a United States of America, at the very least. Unless Da Mayor jumps on that Serpentor thing with alacrity.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:08 AM on March 11, 2008


Ain't no difference between shoveling coal and picking cotton.

If your principal interest was in profit, then free labor in the 19th century context is much more profitable than slavery in an industrial setting. Why purchase human chattel that you must pay for meals, health, and lodging, when you can just pay someone a small daily wage and let them worry about the rest of the requirements of life. Of course, this is predicated on the fact of abundant workers. If you're only means to have workers is to buy them, that changes the equation. However, throw in the increasing presence of poor, European immigrants, and slavery is an absurd expense. Your slave gets burned shoveling coal, you have to pay for his medical treatment because when you purchased the slave, you paid for a certain duration of usage (generally lifetime). Your cheap day worker gets burned, fire him and hire someone to take his place. No change in cost, no extra expenses.
posted by Atreides at 8:19 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mayor Curley, why do you ascribe to the view that the Civil War was fought to end slavery? That was certainly one cause, but most historians seem to agree that alone, it would not have been sufficient cause.

For as long as there's a United States of America

Yeah, I really like Tony Horwitz's view in his interesting and entertaining book Confederates in the Attic that the Civil War will live in American consciousness for as long as we are plagued with the basic question Are we one nation? The tensions between federalism and local control, individual power to act and collective moral responsibility, lay at the heart of the Civil War and also at the heart of most things about which Americans disagree.
posted by Miko at 8:19 AM on March 11, 2008


you have to pay for his medical treatment because when you purchased the slave, you paid for a certain duration of usage (generally lifetime)

Absolutely, and also, in these peices the author notes that laws requiring owners to feed, clothe, and house slaves for the duration of their lifetimes had to be created in the New England colonies, because there was a common practice of "turning out" slaves when their useful working life was done, or if the family fell on hard times in one of the many economic downturns. This was needed to prevent turned-out slaves becoming wards of the town or state. Conditions that required New Englanders to force lifelong ownership on slaveholders are an interesting contrast to the Southern conditions that led to agressive and energetic efforts to prevent slaves' escape. In New England, slaves could quickly become a financial liability, whereas in the South, the infrastructure was so pervasive that they were almost always a financial asset.
posted by Miko at 8:25 AM on March 11, 2008


Your cheap day worker gets burned, fire him and hire someone to take his place. No change in cost, no extra expenses.

Wouldn't the same math apply to the cotton farmer? Why maintain a stable of slaves when you could hire day workers at a lower cost?
posted by three blind mice at 8:40 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Essential reading: Civil War Memory Reflections of a high school history teacher and Civil War historian.
posted by LarryC at 8:43 AM on March 11, 2008


"why do you ascribe to the view that the Civil War was fought to end slavery? That was certainly one cause, but most historians seem to agree that alone, it would not have been sufficient cause."

A better way to put it might be "The Civil War was fought to preserve slavery". One can come up with a list of reasons why the war was fought, but when you go back to the articles of succession written by the various southern states, most of them state explicitly that they are leaving the union because the northern states desire to end slavery. For many of them, it's the sole stated reason.
posted by ewagoner at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2008


A better way to put it might be "The Civil War was fought to preserve slavery".
posted by ewagoner


That is a better way to put it. The Civil War may have been fought (from the North's point of view) to prevent the Confederate states from seceding, but the Confederate states seceded mainly to preserve slavery, as is prominently mentioned in many of the secession ordinances. Many of the southern soldiers may have fought for the reasons people have gone off to war for thousands of years: adventure, don't want to look like a coward, impress the girls, get off the farm, etc. But the nation they were fighting for was created to preserve slavery. I think that is part of the reason this argument is still going on. People don't want to admit their ancestors, who may have fought bravely, endured privations, and did not personally own slaves, fought in defense of such a heinous institution.

Interesting reading on this is Charles Dew's Apostles of Disunion. He shows that commissioners from the deep south states that seceded first (SC, AL, MS) went around to other southern states and said "Join us, they're going to take your slaves away if you don't!). I also can't pass up a chance to recommend David Blight's Race and Reunion. This book is a well-researched and accessible narrative of how the emancipationist story of the war was subsumed by the Lost Cause myth.
posted by marxchivist at 9:54 AM on March 11, 2008


Why maintain a stable of slaves when you could hire day workers at a lower cost?

I think it's because the earliest Southern colonists began cultivating labor-intensive crops on enormous swatches of fertile land and needed huge numbers of workers who were just not arriving from Europe to volunteer. Early attempts to enslave Native Americans mostly failed. So huge numbers of slaves were imported, and once the infrastructure and enormous slave population were in place, the liquid capital to transition to a day-laborer economy was unavailable. Slaves were investments worth tens of thousands in today's economy, and there would be no way to realize a cash gain after manumission in order to employ large numbers of paid laborers. In other words, to stay solvent, Southern slaveowners would have needed a buyout that was not forthcoming.

This links to the post-Emancipation creation of the prison system in the South to do the work slaves had previously done - I made a post about that transition here. It came eventually, but was indeed painful, and would not have been a willing choice.
posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Got it, good explanations, Marxchivist and ewagoner. Thanks.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on March 11, 2008


To expand on what Miko said, the South developed on an economic principle that demanded excess manpower than available. The initial supply of Europeans coming into the Southern colonies was not enough to meet the demand, so the colonists began to purchase that manpower in the form of slavery. Once this system became set into the economic framework of the region, it was extremely hard to remove. Furthermore, immigration into the South was simply not the same scale as in the North due to the lack of economic opportunities due to the agrarian industry. Most jobs that did not require skilled knowledge were populated with slaves, leaving little to no room for the poor, uneducated and untrained immigrants who would end up working in factories. It was a system that was a trap. Slavery was required because there wasn't a cheaper alternative, and the cheaper alternative was prevented from occurring due to the presence of slavery.
posted by Atreides at 10:12 AM on March 11, 2008


As Jefferson's life attests, slavery was also sex-slavery (Sally Hemings was his wife's half-sister).

Perhaps slavery had a more precarious hold in the North partly because of the Puritan legacy of sexual repression.
posted by jamjam at 10:18 AM on March 11, 2008


Blame Eli Whitney. If he hadn't invented the cotton gin and made cotton so darn valuable as a crop then slavery would probably have disappeared long before the mid-1800's.
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2008


With regard to the cause of the war, anytime anyone espouses that the South fought for state rights, just remind them it was the states' right to preserve slavery. A broader perspective on the problem could be focused on the divergent economies of the North and South, where the government's control and policy of the access to the international market was fought contentiously between the two regions for upwards of thirty years prior to 1861.

A war could have occurred as early as the 1830's, during the Nullification Crisis, if Andrew Jackson had not threatened to crush South Carolina under the federal boot hill if it didn't comply with the controversial national tariff. Regardless, it boils down to the Industrial economy of the north and the agrarian economy of the South in ultimate violent conflict with each other. At the base of the southern economy was slavery, which without, could not be sustained.

The fact that the South remained primarily in poverty for nearly a half a century after the war, was the fact that it attempted to still retain the same system of agrarian production, this time based on tenant farming (as well to a smaller degree, the prison-slave work that Miko mentioned). The New South didn't arise until the South began to seriously undertake industrialization, as well exploit its natural resources to the benefit of the rest of the country.

...and I'll shut up now.
posted by Atreides at 10:22 AM on March 11, 2008


Blame Eli Whitney. If he hadn't invented the cotton gin and made cotton so darn valuable as a crop then slavery would probably have disappeared long before the mid-1800's.

Slavery would have been less established in the South, but I think we also need to remember that slavery was common throughout the New World. Even if Eli had never invented a thing, there would have been millions of slaves farming and working the mines of Brazil. So, even without the cotton gin, I would imagine the South would still have tapped into the New Word slave labour pool to some degree.

On a side note, I have always felt bad for Mr. Whitney. His gin bankrupted him and gave him a sour reputation, even though he was a Northerner and a man of great industrial/mechanical genius.
posted by boubelium at 11:30 AM on March 11, 2008


Gary Nash makes a fascinating argument about abolition in his recent book about blacks in the revolutionary era, The Forgotten Fifth. He argues that the new nation was far closer to abolition in the 1790s than modern historians usually realize, and that the fledgling abolition movement just lacked a few, high-profile leaders to break into the mainstream. He describes a meeting between George Washington and two anti-slavery clergy men at Mount Vernon near the end of the president's life. Washington apparently promised the two that he would write a public letter and lend his moral weight to their cause. He never followed through. Similarly, people like Jefferson were writing privately to their contemporaries about the "evil" of slavery, but doing nothing about it. Nash suggests that a spark of leadership might have changed everything.
posted by LarryC at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nash is a wonderful historian (I highly recommend his The Urban Crucible); I'll have to read the book you mention.
posted by languagehat at 12:01 PM on March 11, 2008


He has a whole page devoted to slavery in Massachusetts without mentioning that Massachusetts had no slaves 50 years before the Civil War.

Yes, and Massachusetts derived economic benefit from slavery—legally—until either the beginning or the end of the Civil War.
posted by oaf at 12:34 PM on March 11, 2008


Yes, and Massachusetts derived economic benefit from slavery—legally—until either the beginning or the end of the Civil War.

Well, yes. Because the cotton it used in its mills was largely picked by slaves. Just like you benefit from slavery when you buy sneakers or clothes. And despite that, the people of Massachusetts were the most active in the nation towards ending slavery and stopping that flow of slave-subsidized cotton. Go figure!
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:52 PM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Remembering Frederick Douglass
posted by homunculus at 2:00 PM on March 11, 2008


Peopel who really think war is waged for freeing the oppressed from bondage should go thank G.W. Bush. If you think the war between the states was as simple as moral obligation vs slavery you just don't care to know much about the war at all. Rhetoric politicians feed the people belies their political motives and their avarice.
posted by nola at 3:52 PM on March 11, 2008


And despite that, the people of Massachusetts were the most active in the nation towards ending slavery and stopping that flow of slave-subsidized cotton.

If that were true, they would have boycotted cotton produced by slaves.
posted by oaf at 4:13 PM on March 11, 2008


Actually, I'd be willing to bet that most Confederate soldiers went to war listening to the politicians telling them about state sovereignty, protect your home and loved ones, etc. When you glance over the resignations and stories of the American officers who resigned from the U.S. Army to join the new Confederate military, you hardly hear anyone talking about slavery. But, when you look at documents, like the South Carolina declaration of secession, slavery is expressly stated. It was the state right that was being fought over. It was what the wealthy men in power wanted to retain. Essentially, the banner of state rights is the gilded mask laid over the smoldering filth pile of slavery, more true today than in the time of the war.

Its arguable what the individual soldier went and fought for, but what is not arguable is that if there had been no slavery, there probably would not have been a war. Slavery as the economic linchpin of the southern agricultural system was what lead to the war. Without it, the South would have been forced to adopt a different economic system, one more in line with the North, and the economic struggle for supremacy in the Federal government would never have happened.
posted by Atreides at 4:13 PM on March 11, 2008


people like Jefferson were writing privately to their contemporaries about the "evil" of slavery

And he had a large chunk of his first draft of "Declaration of Independence" struck where he blamed the slave trade primarily on the British. Myopia and all that.

Obviously many northerners weren't fighting and dying directly to free blacks in the south. But this doesn't invalidate the worthiness of the cause, even if it took Lincoln longer to come around than we modern folk would like to admit.
posted by bardic at 4:24 PM on March 11, 2008


Eek. Meant to include this (from Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration):

He [George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
link

And to state the glaringly obvious, Jefferson owned many slaves and most likely slept with more than a few of them. When he died, he had the opportunity to free them, and he didn't.

IMO, this is where any high school or college level American history class should begin and end. It's the defining contradiction of our national story. But as a former high school history teacher, I guess I'm kind of biased. And I'm a huge fan of Jefferson's, fwiw, in many other respects, but his views on race and slavery are just too outrageous and frustrating to know where to begin.
posted by bardic at 4:31 PM on March 11, 2008


If that were true, they would have boycotted cotton produced by slaves.

And many of them did. The American Anti-Slavery Society and a constellation of related organizations and individuals actively organized consumer boycotts of cotton, cane sugar, rice, and other products of slavery. Linen and maple sugar were touted as "fair trade" goods, and were sold across the North in "Free Labor" stores wherever abolitionists were active.

To argue that there was no serious opposition to slavery in the North requires willful blindness to an enormous body of evidence .
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a great thread.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:03 PM on March 11, 2008


It amazes me that people who have lived through the Bush administration couldn't imagine that governments might justify a war to people for reasons that have nothing to do with why they wage said war.

The average Southerner may not have been fighting specifically for slavery. The average northerner almost certainly wasn't fighting for abolition, and the US government may or may not have been fighting for abolition. But the Confederate government?

Look at the US Constitution, then look at the Confederate Constitution. One of the few differences between them is that the Confederacy specifically forbade states from outlawing slavery.

So much for States' Rights.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:20 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


dirigibleman, the Confederate assumption was that every state wished to retain slavery as their state right, which was threatened by the Federal government.

One of the great failings of the Confederate government was its inability to draw successfully on the multiple states to help the greater good of the CSA. Especially near the end of the war, states were refusing to send X or supply Y. Rather than support the government, the states were concerned about supporting themselves (and ultimately dooming themselves). A lot of the debates in the Confederate government involved how much control that government had over the member states. State rights was a real and still important issue, even after confederation.
posted by Atreides at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


To argue that there was no serious opposition to slavery in the North requires willful blindness to an enormous body of evidence.

You're not talking to me, are you?
posted by oaf at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2008


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