By Bill Ward
Posted: Monday May 29, 2006
American History’s taboo subject seldom if ever gets mentioned in most high school or college textbooks. Few teachers talk about it, because most teachers lack knowledge of it. The subject is black slave owners.
Slavery is one of the worst conditions that humankind has inflicted upon itself. But a complete history of slavery takes note that millions of white Europeans, as well as blacks, have been enslaved throughout the centuries. Over an equal span of time, as many blacks as whites have owned slaves, many of which have been white.
Comparing "white American slavery" to the Holocaust, as some have done, is absurd for two reasons. There is no comparison of how well the average slave in America lived to what happened to the Jews in concentration camps in the 1940s. To even try is ridiculous and shows a pathetic level of history literacy – or history illiteracy.
When the first Englishmen landed at Jamestown, Va., in the early 1600s, landing with them was a group of people called indentured servants. These were black and white individuals, who, not being able to afford passage from England, agreed to have their passage paid by a benefactor. After working for their benefactor, or sponsor, for five to seven years to repay the debt, the indentured servants received their freedom and usually 50 acres of land to settle on.
One of those indentured servants was Anthony Johnson. He was an industrious man and, upon being released from his indenture, used his 50 acres to his best advantage. By the mid-1600s, Anthony Johnson owned an additional 200 acres of land and had an indentured servant named John Casor working for him. At least John Casor thought he was indentured, and eventually would be granted his freedom.
But somehow, Casor’s papers got lost. So, when time came to seek his freedom, he left Anthony Johnson’s farm and sought refuge on another nearby farm with two Parker brothers, who were white. The Parkers attempted to shield him, but Anthony Johnson was determined to permanently own John Casor. Johnson filed papers with the court, and, as a man of substance in the community, prevailed in court and was awarded the lifetime service of John Casor.
This sounds like a routine case in history of one man wanting to enslave another. But the catch here is that both Anthony Johnson and John Casor were black. The case remains on record in Northhampton County, Va., with Anthony Johnson having been the first man in U.S. history to use the courts to gain lifetime services of another human being. Many historians believe that since this is the first case in the history of American slavery to have been settled in the American judicial system, Anthony Johnson should be known as the "Father of American Slavery."
In 1860, before The War Between the States, 25,000 free blacks living in the South were slave owners. In North Carolina, 69 free blacks owned slaves. In New Bern, John Carruthers Stanly was a slave who gained his freedom and became one of the wealthiest men in Craven County. In the book, "Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation," authors (professor emeritus) John Hope Franklin, the country’s leading black historian at Duke University, and Loren Schweninger describe Stanly as one of the largest slaveholders in the South. He also was known as a harsh, profit-minded taskmaster with 163 slaves to work on his three turpentine plantations in Eastern North Carolina.
In South Carolina, a slave named April was trained by his white master in several trades. The slave’s master went to court and freed him when April was a young man. The former slave took his master’s name, William Ellison. Ex-slave Ellison eventually had several thriving businesses, owning considerable land holdings and more than 60 slaves. In 1860, Ellison was counted among the top 10 percent of wealthiest men in South Carolina. He, too, was known as a cruel taskmaster.
William Ellison had three sons whom he sent to Canada for their education. When the War Between the States began, the three sons became uniformed Confederate soldiers, and their father supplied the Confederate Army with various war materials.
In a 1997 issue of The Barnes Review, Robert M. Grooms in his essay, "Dixie’s Censored Subject: Black Slaveowners," noted the 1860 census that determined fewer than 385,000 individuals owned slaves. Had all of them been white, only 1.4 percent of whites in the country or 4.8 percent of Southern whites would have owned one or more slaves.
Federal census reports of June 1, 1860 showed nearly 4.5 million Negroes in the United States, with fewer than four million of them living in the southern slaveholding states. Of the blacks residing in the South, 261,988 were free. In the Deep South, 10,689 lived in New Orleans. John Hope Franklin again records that in New Orleans over 3,000 free Negroes owned slaves, or 28 percent of the free Negroes in that city.
To return to the census figures quoted above, this 28 percent is impressive when compared to less than 1.4 percent of all American whites and less than 4.8 percent of southern whites. Statistics show that free blacks became slave holders in numbers disproportionate to their representation in society.
In 1860, at least six Negroes in Louisiana owned 65 or more slaves. The largest number, 152 slaves, were owned by the widow C. Richards and her son P.C. Richards, who owned a large sugar cane plantation. But possibly the largest Negro slave magnate in Louisiana, with over 100 slaves, was Antoine Dubuclet, a sugar planter whose estate was valued (in 1860 dollars) at $264,000. That year, the mean wealth of southern white men was $3,978.
Contrary to what has been promoted in the U.S. as popular belief for more than a century, the profitability of slave owning knew no racial or ethnic lines.
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