Race Riot in Providence, Rhode Island

From: Bernhard1848@att.net

Richard Arnold was a descendant of a Quaker family who married a Georgia woman in 1823, and whose dowry included 68 slaves and White Hall—1300 acres of rice and cotton land. He was an all too common example of the businessman who could maintain a home in the slavetrading North surrounded by a growing abolitionism, as well as run a successful plantation in Georgia. Like many Yankee slave merchants who traded New England rum for African slaves, Arnold "from the beginning…viewed the slaves as a type of property with a fluctuating cash value," and saw only the financial aspect of the institution. Even Rhode Island General Nathaniel Greene saw no dilemma with slave ownership in Georgia; his own Quaker principles were overwhelmed by the potential profit margins. The invention of New England schoolteacher Eli Whitney (at Greene’s plantation in Georgia) cemented the slave into the cotton kingdom in the name of Northern ingenuity.

To underscore the rapacity with which the Rhode Islander’s practiced their craft of slave trading, the Quakers organized the Providence Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1789, but found little success as the slave trade profits were so enormous. Two of Arnold’s sons, Thomas and William, who considered themselves Georgians first, fought for the American Confederacy and his wife of Georgian birth was a staunch secessionist and stood by her native country.

The final paragraph below seems to exonerate Southerners who inherited slaves, who were also doing the Lord’s work in Christianizing the African.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Race Riot In Providence, Rhode Island:

"In September 1831 racial tensions in the city exploded into four days of rioting with great loss of life and property. (The day after a white sailor was killed by blacks) the mob, incensed that a white man had been killed by a black man, went on a rampage making no distinction between the residents, destroying property indiscriminately, and eventually threatening to loot banks and businesses in the area. But on Saturday, September 24, "a great crowd" assembled and again sought to invade the black ghetto. The troops…fired into the crowd. Four white men were killed and many others wounded.

(The composition of the committee to investigate the riot were Providence) mill owners who did not hire blacks…and (they) became members of the Providence Anti-Abolition Society four years later. One of them, Richard Arnold, counted black human beings as part of his wealth and property, $38,225 in 1834. The white power structure in Providence (consisted) of old families, wealthy (from slaves and opium) merchants, bankers, landowners, textile manufacturers, and professional men who retained political as well as social and economic control in Rhode Island throughout the antebellum period. (And) The merchants of Rhode Island had found the slave trade and the distilling of rum too profitable to be ardent abolitionists, and their heirs who invested that money in cotton textile mills were not eager to disturb the status quo in the Southern States.

Captain Nightengale, for example, who had made his fortune in the slave trade and later in the China (opium) trade, built his mansion of wood on the hill in 1782. It was purchased in 1814 by Nicholas Brown, Jr. whose father and uncle had likewise made their fortunes in the slave and China trades. As Leonard L. Richards has pointed out, "Northern anti-abolitionism was both a pervasive and intense component of Northern life." The wealthy merchant families (who made their money from the slave and drug trade) of Providence…considered the abolitionists dangerous radicals and troublemakers who in their way were no more respectful of private property than the mob. In 1835…the Providence Anti-Abolition Society addressed itself to the more general proposition that antislavery statements tended to incite the slaves to rebellion and at best tended to "exasperate their passions, to agitate their minds with fallacious hopes." The existence of anti-abolition societies in the State and their attempts to organize opposition to the antislavery movement in Rhode Island tended to polarize and radicalize the abolitionists.

(Northern friends) accepted the image of Arnold as a humane master who had been forced into that (slave master) role by circumstances, having married Louisa Caroline Gindrat, who herself had been forced to become a slave owner by reason of inheritance. Arnold was viewed as a benevolent, kind, Christian who treated his servants well and humanely and who was doing the Lord’s work by Christianizing and civilizing the slaves on his plantations."

(North By South; The Two Lives of Richard James Arnold, Charles & Tess Hoffman, UGA Press, 1988. pp 87-94)