Perpetuating Slavery in the American South


Antebellum Massachusetts mills in Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Fall River, Taunton and Chicopee needed raw cotton provided by slave labor in the American South; New York and international bankers provided the credit for planters and exchange that kept vast plantations in business and producing cotton. Ending the profitability of Northern factories and banking houses dependent on African slave labor might well have saved a million American lives 1861-1865.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Perpetuating Slavery in the American South:

“Private bankers conducted much of the exchange business in Mobile as in other Southern cities that lacked sufficient local banking facilities.  These exchange brokers competed with each other and with banks for the
fees earned from buying and selling notes drawn on foreign and domestic banks and mercantile houses.

St. John, Powers and Company, the oldest and strongest local private banking firm, handled the bulk of local financial business not conducted by banks. The senior partner, Newton St. John, a native New Yorker who
moved to Mobile in the 1830’s, maintained banking ties with Duncan Sherman and Company, and August Belmont in New York. St. John faced competition in the exchange business from the Bank of Mobile and two
local agencies of major international banking houses. After the Panic of 1837 Brown Brothers and Company

[of New York City] opened permanent branches in Mobile and New Orleans to compete for the extensive exchange
business conducted in the Gulf cotton ports.

By the 1850’s Charles Dickey, the manager of the Brown agency, and Archibald Gracie, the local agent of the international [London] banking firm of Baring Brothers, contested the market for sterling bills with St. John and the Bank of Mobile. Attempting to increase their volume of business, St. John, Powers and Company and Brown Brothers and Company lowered their rate of profit on transactions.  Charles Dickey…indeed handled some transactions in 1852 without a commission to stop his customers from going to his competitors. Yet he declined to accept bills from firms that were judged unable to pay their debts.

Besides banking, Mobile’s commercial activities required insurance services. Nonlocal firms, often with very large assets, maintained agencies in Mobile…[and] by 1833 companies from Augusta, New Orleans and
Hartford [Connecticut] operated offices in Mobile. By 1845 three companies from New York and one each from Hartford, Boston, and Augusta employed local agents. Sometimes there were as many or more such
agencies as there were local companies.

As an aid to commerce…prominent businessmen eventually persuaded the aldermen to enact an ordinance requiring the systematic numbering of buildings within the city. In 1858 Robert S. Bunker, a New York-born
insurance agent and former president of the common council, presented the aldermen with a petition for building numbers signed by sixty merchants.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, pp. 38-43)