All Slavery Wasn’t In the Land of Cotton

By Al Benson Jr.

As we move into the first year of the sesquicentennial of the War of Northern Aggression don’t be surprised at some of the rank propaganda you will hear about that conflict and the reasons for it. Everyone knows, they will tell you, that the war was fought over slavery, that all Southerners owned slaves on big plantations which they all whipped promptly at 7 a.m. every morning, after which they herded them out to the cotton fields for a twenty-hour workday. How do they know all this? Well, they saw “Roots” on television or they read some “news” article written by someone in the NAACP that said it was so. With unassailable sources like these you surely can’t doubt it, can you?

Should you mention slavery in the North these instant experts will inform you that no such thing ever existed in this country. It was all the “peculiar institution” of the South and only the South. Anyone swallowing this cultural fertilizer deserves to be hoodwinked, or at least to get cultural indigestion, which is all this stuff is capable of passing along.

Lorenzo Johnston Greene wrote a book called “The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776” and on page 319 he wrote: “The effects of the New England slave trade were momentous. It was one of the foundations of New England’s economic structure; it created a wealthy class of slave-trading merchants, while the profits derived from this commerce stimulated cultural development and philanthropy.” Mind you, he is here talking about slave-trading merchants in New England, not in South Carolina.

Writer Douglas Harper, writing on http://www.earlyamerica.com back in 2004 noted quite forthrightly that: “Boston and Newport were the chief slave ports. But nearly all the New England towns–Salem, Providence, Middletown, New London–had a hand in it. In 1740 slaving interests in Newport owned or managed 150 vessels engaged in all manner of trading. In Rhode Island colony, as much as two-thirds of the merchant fleet and a similar fraction of sailors were engaged in slave traffic.” And Mr. Harper observed, further into his article that: “On the eve of the Revolution, the slave trade ‘formed the very basis of the economic life of New England.’ It wove itself into the entire regional economy of New England. The Massachusetts slave trade gave work to coopers, tanners, sail-makers, and rope makers.. Countless agents, insurers, lawyers, clerks, and scriveners handled the paperwork for slave merchants.” Harper commented that, even to this day, “it’s difficult to find an old North institution of any antiquity that isn’t tainted by slavery.”  He noted that Ezra Stiles was importing slaves while president of Yale and that Brown University’s founders had their hands in the slave trade also.  I could go on and on. There is lots of material out there about all this, but you get the idea. How much of this have you ever read about in your “history” books? Not much, I’ll wager. If it is ever dealt with it is usually done with a cursory sentence or two at most and then you move onto now bad Southern slavery was–and there’s lots more than a sentence or two about that.

Back in 2004 there was a story in the “Daily Herald” from Arlington Heights, Illinois about an old black man, Uncle Bob Wilson, who died at the age of 112 back in 1948. Columnist Tom O’Konowitz has written: “Slipping away, too, is memory of the most storied part of Uncle Bob’s life–a major part that didn’t make it into his obituary. A lamentable part that one downstate historian wants to ensure no longer is absent from Illinois history…In an upcoming book, historian Jon Musgrave of downstate Marion will advance the theory that Uncle Bob was a ‘stud slave’ who was forced by his masters to impregnate slaves at plantations in several states, including Illinois. It’s a story out of sync with the Land of Lincoln, home of the Great Emancipator.”

Naturally, some historians remain skeptical of this account but Musgrave has insisted that “historic accounts passed down over the years and interviews with some who knew Uncle Bob convince him its true. Musgrave said that “In terms of Illinois, in terms of Springfield, this is one of the stories they don’t want told–this is slavery in the Land of Lincoln.” Musgrave feels we need to learn from our history “the good and the bad.” I agree. Don’t expect the spin doctors that today call themselves historians, however, to agree for the most part.

Historian, journalist, and lecturer Douglas Harper made the revealing comment that: “I had written one book on Pennsylvania history and was starting a second before I learned that William Penn had been a slave owner. The historian Joanne Pope Melish, who has written a perceptive book on race relations in ante-bellum New England, recalls how it was possible to read American history textbooks at the high school level and never know that there was such a thing as a slave north of the Mason-Dixon Line:”

Although, in the next generation after the War for Independence, slavery started to disappear in most areas of the North, it did not disappear completely. In regard to the state of New Jersey, slavery managed to keep a toe-hold there until the War of Northern Aggression. New Jersey reported 236 slaves in that state as of 1850 and there were still 18 there as late as 1860. Now, admittedly, that may not be all that many, but the thing is you still had at least token slavery in the North until 1860 and how many history books will ever report that? It seems to me that if the North really went to war to emancipate slaves, they should have taken care of their own states first–and where were John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison and all the rest of those fiery Northern abolitionists when the slaves in New Jersey needed them?

It seems to me that if the Northern spin doctors  who fashion themselves as “historians” are going to start to ram the slavery question down our throats even more starting this year, we should take the trouble to learn how to rebut their specious arguments with facts. If we are going to be realistic then let’s spread the blame for slavery into every corner of the country where it belongs and not just the South. If we are going to deal with this, then let’s start telling the whole truth, not just the part that the Yankee/Marxists want us to believe.

Content ©2011 Al Benson Jr.

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