Abolition in the Old South
What the South feared most with its ever-increasing black population from 1750 onward was slave revolt and massacre. Despite colonial legislature attempts in Virginia and North Carolina to control or stop the British and New England transatlantic slave trade which brought blacks to the South, the Crown forbid interference with their colonial labor supply.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Abolition in the Old South:
"The American Revolution swelled the ranks of the tiny Southern free black population. In the years following the Revolution, the number of free Negroes increased manyfold, so that by the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century there were over 100,000 free Negroes in the Southern States . . . The free Negro caste had grown from a fragment of the colonial population to a sizable minority throughout the South.
[In] the North, abolition met stiff opposition. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, which had the largest proportion of Negroes in New England, antislavery forces could enact only gradual-emancipation laws. Pennsylvania enacted a gradual-emancipation act in 1780, but, despite of its many Quakers, never legislated immediate abolition. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey, where the ratio of blacks to whites was three times that of Pennsylvania, repeatedly rebuffed antislavery forces and refused to enact even gradual emancipation for another twenty years. Significantly, emancipation laws in both New York and New Jersey compensated slaveholders for their property. Only after property rights were satisfied were human rights secured.
In 1782, Virginia repealed its fifty-nine year-old prohibition on private acts of manumission. Slaveholders were now free to manumit any adult slave under forty-five by deed or will. North Carolina slaveholders could free their slaves…for meritorious service and with the permission of the county court. Liberalized provisions for manumissions were extended to the new States and territories of the South. Kentucky adopted the Virginia law in 1792, and the Missouri Territory accepted a similar rule in 1804. Almost immediately slaveholders took advantage of the greatly liberalized laws. Throughout the South, but especially in the upper South, hundreds of masters freed their slaves. Although manumission at times had nothing to do with anti-slavery principles, equalitarian ideals motivated most manumitters in the years following the Revolution.
Beginning in 1792, the revolt on Saint-Domingue sent thousands of refugees fleeing toward American shores. Most were white, but among them were many light-skinned free people of color who had been caught on the wrong side of the ever-changing lines of battle . . . [though Southerners] feared the influx of brown émigrés. The States of the lower South, ever edgy about slave rebellions, quickly barred West Indian free people of color from entering their boundaries, and other States later followed their lead. A mass meeting in Charleston urged the expulsion of "the French Negroes" . . . In Savannah, nervous official barred any ship that had touched Saint-Domingue from entering the harbor."
(Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, Ira Berlin, The New Press, 1974, excerpts pp. 15-36)
Abolition In The Old South
Abolition in the Old South