Rhode Island and the Slave Trade: Buying and Selling the Human Species

 
March 13, 2006 11:42 AM

Buying and Selling the Human Species:
Newport and the Slave Trade
Sunday, Mar. 12, 2006

For more than 75 years, Rhode Island ruled the American slave trade.

On sloops and ships called Endeavor, Success and Wheel of Fortune, slave captains made more than 1,000 voyages to Africa from 1725 to 1807. They chained their human cargo and forced more than 100,000 men, women and children into slavery in the West Indies, Havana and the American colonies.

The traffic was so lucrative that nearly half the ships that sailed to Africa did so after 1787 -- the year Rhode Island outlawed the trade.

Rum fueled the business. The colony had nearly 30 distilleries where molasses was boiled into rum. Rhode Island ships carried barrels of it to buy African slaves, who were then traded for more molasses in the West Indies which was returned to Rhode Island.

By the mid-18th century, 114 years after Roger Williams founded the tiny Colony of Rhode Island, slaves lived in every port and village. In 1755, 11.5 percent of all Rhode Islanders, or about 4,700 people, were black, nearly all of them slaves.

In Newport, Bristol and Providence, the slave economy provided thousands of jobs for captains, seamen, coopers, sail makers, dock workers, and shop owners, and helped merchants build banks, wharves and mansions. But it was only a small part of a much larger international trade, which historians call the first global economy.

* * *

Pollipus Hammond was dying.

As a young man in Newport he had sailed wooden sloops and brigs across the roiling Atlantic. Now, at 72, he was curled up in agony.

The Rev. Ezra Stiles was surprised. He had heard that dying men often stretched out. Shortly before midnight in the winter of 1773, Hammond died.

Stiles, a pastor for nearly 20 years at the Second Congregational Church on Clarke Street, closed the dead man's eyes.

Physically, Hammond was short and thin. But spiritually, he had been a pillar in the congregation, a sober churchgoer for nearly 34 years. A boat builder, mechanic and father of five, Hammond could have turned "his hand to any Thing," Stiles wrote in his daily journal.

For a quarter of century, Hammond had turned his hand to the slave trade.

Sailing from Newport's crowded harbor, he purchased hundreds of slaves from the west coast of Africa and chained them aboard ships owned by some of the town's wealthiest merchants.

Hammond belonged to a group of captains who depended on the slave trade for a living.

He quit the business in the 1750s, when he was in his mid-50s.

He became a devout Congregationalist; he even offered his home for monthly meetings. But he never stopped telling stories about danger, even exaggerating what he had seen and heard on his African voyages along what slavers called the Guinea Coast. It was, Stiles wrote, the only "blemish in his character."

"He was many years a Guinea Captain; he had then no doubt of the Slave Trade," Stiles wrote. "But I have reason to think that if he had his Life to live over again, he would not choose to spend it in buying and selling the human species."

If Hammond regretted his life as a slave captain, he left no record of it.

The DeWolf family cemetery

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
One of the richest men in the United States in the early 1800s, James DeWolf, of Bristol, and his brothers amassed a fortune in the slave trade. A U.S. senator, he was known for his hard demeanor and disregard for laws prohibiting the trade. At the DeWolf family cemetery, off Woodlawn Avenue in Bristol, his neglected grave is a testament to what has become of his place in Rhode Island history.

* * *

When Hammond died on Feb. 5, 1773, Newport's slave trade was booming.

Nearly 30 captains had sailed to Africa the year before, ferrying away nearly 3,500 Africans to slave ports in the Americas and the Caribbean.

"Our orders to you are, that you Embrace the first fair wind and make the best of your way to the coast of Africa," wrote merchant Aaron Lopez to Capt. William English. "When please God you arrive there . . . Convert your cargo into good Slaves" and sell them "on the best terms you can," ordered Lopez, who outfitted four slave ships that year.

The first recorded departure of a Newport slave ship was in 1709, and regular voyages from Newport to Africa were recorded beginning in 1725.

"There's no Newport without slavery," says James Garman, a professor of historic preservation at Salve Regina University in Newport. "The sheer accumulation of wealth is astonishing and it has everything to do with the African trade. . . . "

* * *

It's unclear when Pollipus Hammond, born in 1701, boarded his first slave ship, but Hammond and the trade matured together.

By the time Hammond turned 21, more than 600 ships a year passed through Rhode Island's busy ports. Many carried New England goods -- mackerel, pork, beef, cider, beer, onions, flour, butter, candles, apples, cheese and staves -- to other colonies along the Atlantic Coast.

Others carried goods directly to the slave plantations in the Caribbean or in South America. These ships returned to Newport with sugar and barrels of molasses, which distillers turned into rum.

Some of it was sold in New England. But Rhode Islanders soon discovered a new market for their rum: tribal leaders and European traders along the African coast, in regions known as the Slave, Gold and Windward Coasts. In all, Rhode Island ships carried nearly 11 million gallons of rum to Africa during the l8th and early 19th centuries.

Tribal leaders were willing to dicker with Newport captains, turning over prisoners from rival tribes and other natives in exchange for Rhode Island rum. The African captives were then sold in the Caribbean or in the southern colonies for cash or for more sugar and molasses, creating what was known as the Triangular Trade.

Rhode Islanders distilled an especially potent liquor that was referred to as Guinea rum, spirits which quickly displaced French brandy in the slave trade.

As a result, slavers from Rhode Island were often called "rum men."

By his mid-30s, Hammond was a rum man.

In 1733, he sailed the Dispatch, owned by merchant Godfrey Malbone, to Africa. Six years later Malbone, who owned a house in Newport, a country estate and several slaves, hired Hammond again, this time to take 55 slaves to the West Indies aboard the sloop Diamond.

Rev. Ezra Stiles

Redwood Library and Athenaeum
Rev. Ezra Stiles

Already, the slave trade was competitive.

In 1736, Capt. John Cahoone told Newport merchant Stephen Ayrault that seven Rhode Island captains and 12 other slavers were anchored off the coast of Africa, "ready to devour one another for the chance to trade" for slaves being held at a handful of British ports. Never "was so much rum on the Coast at one time before. . . . "

Four years later, the colony's fleet of 120 ships was "constantly employed in trade, some on the coast of Africa, others in the neighboring colonies, many in the West Indies and a few in Europe," Gov. Richard Ward told the Board of Trade in 1740.

The sugar and slave plantations especially benefited from Rhode Island's exports.

Plantation owners -- too busy growing sugar cane to grow their own food -- "reaped great advantage from our trade, by being supplied with lumber of all sorts, suitable for building houses, sugar works and making casks," Governor Ward noted. The West Indies slave owners dined on beef, port, flour and other provisions "we are daily carrying to them." Rhode Island horses hauled their cane and turned their sugar mills. And "our African trade often furnishes 'em with slaves for their plantations."

* * *

For Pollipus Hammond and other slave captains, African voyages posed many risks. The voyages were filthy, laborious and dangerous. "Few men are fit for those voyages but them that are bred up to it," Dalby Thomas, an agent for the Royal African Company, told his superiors in London in the early 1700s.

These captains must be ready to "do the meanest office," he wrote.

Africa teemed with killers -- river blindness, yellow fever, malaria. One or two captains died each year from disease, violent storms or slave uprisings. Capt. George Scott barely escaped a slave revolt in 1730, when several Africans aboard the Little George murdered three of his men in their sleep. Caleb Godfrey jumped into a longboat after lightning struck his ship, and he once was mauled by a leopard.

If a captain survived -- and many did not -- he "had nothing to lose and a great deal to gain from a slaving venture," says historian Sarah Deutsch.

In addition to a monthly wage, captains received a 5 percent commission on every slave sold. Many also received a bonus, or "privilege," of four or more slaves per 104 Africans aboard. The captains were free to sell them or keep them.

Some made enough to invest in later trips to Africa. Many joined the Fellowship Club, a mutual aid society, established in Newport in 1752. When the club received a charter from the Rhode Island legislature, 17 of the 88 members had made at least one voyage to Africa. By the time Hammond died, slaving captains formed a third of the society.

While some captains made enough money to quit the trade and move up socially, Hammond "never left the wheel," says Jay Coughtry in The Notorious Triangle.

"Lack of capital, ambition, or, perhaps, the lure of the sea" prevented men like Hammond "from rising into the ranks of the merchant class," he says.

* * *

The Rev. Ezra Stiles arrived in Newport to assume the pulpit of the Second Congregational Church in 1755, about the time Pollipus Hammond quit the slave trade.

A bookish man who studied Latin and physics at Yale, Stiles declared Newport "an agreeable Town," a place of "leisure and books," and a choice spot to continue "my Love of preaching."

He drank cider, tea and claret, and planned future books, including a history of the world. In 1761, six years after he arrived in Newport, the minister paced off its streets to map the town.

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
When slave ship Capt. Pollipus Hammond died in 1773, the Rev. Ezra Stiles was at his side. Reverend Stiles, pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Clarke Street in Newport, invested in a slave trading voyage in 1756 that rewarded him with a 10-year-old boy. Stiles freed his slave after he was named president of Yale College in 1777.

Evidence of the town's booming sea and slave trade was everywhere. He counted 888 houses, 16 rum distilleries and 61 shops near the waterfront.

Some of the town's biggest slave traders belonged to Stiles' Clarke Street church. Eleven members were either slave traders or captains, including Caleb Gardner, William Ellery and William and Samuel Vernon.

Newport was a far cry from New Haven, where Stiles grew up and attended Yale. While New Haven had been settled by strict religious leaders, Newport had been settled by "men who chafed at the economic, as well as religious, restrictions of Puritan society," says historian Lynne Withey.

They "wanted to build prosperous towns and personal fortunes out of the wilderness."

Those attracted to Newport included the Quaker merchant Thomas Richardson, who had moved from Boston in 1712; Daniel Ayrault, a French Huguenot, who arrived around 1700, and Godfrey Malbone, who moved from Virginia at about the same time. William and John Wanton, shipbuilders from Massachusetts, arrived a few years later.

These entrepreneurs -- or their sons or in-laws -- added slave trading to their business ventures. Yet another group of investors arrived between 1746 and 1757, among them Ellery, the Champlins and Lopez.

Stiles read the Bible in the morning and visited some of the slave traders as their pastor in the afternoon.

He socialized with them, too.

He dined often with William Vernon, who bought a mansion three doors down on Clarke Street. An ardent gardener, Stiles wrote his name on an aloe leaf on Abraham Redwood's country estate. Eventually, the pastor was named librarian of the new Redwood Library.

While he talked philosophy with Newport's slave merchants, he also ministered to the town's slaves.

By the mid-1770s, he was preaching to dozens of slaves. Often, he preached to them in small groups in his home. "I directed the Negroes to come to me this Evening," he wrote in 1771. "I discoursed with them on the great Things of the divine Life and eternal Salvation. . . . "

* * *

Three days after Pollipus Hammond died, the temperature plunged to 5 degrees.

Ice clogged the harbor. That winter, the spindly trees above the waterfront were "full of crystals or frozen sleet or icy horror," noted Stiles. It was so cold his window had frozen shut. "I can not come at my thermometer which is usually left abroad all night," he complained.

Head down, his long nose poking forward, Stiles trudged through Newport's icy streets to attend Hammond's burial in the Common Burying Ground, on a hill near the edge of town.

A prominent stone mason had carved a final thought for the slave captain. His headstone, topped with an angel, said, "Here Lieth the Body of the Ingenious Capt. Pollipus Hammond."

It was Stiles' habit to visit his church members and their families at least four times a year. Stiles had visited Hammond 10 times before his death.

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
The gravestone of slave ship Capt. Pollipus Hammond still stands in the Common Burying Ground in Newport. The stone reads: "Here lieth the body of the ingenious Capt. Pollipus Hammond who died February 5, 1773. The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness."

If the two men discussed slavery, Stiles did not note it in his diary.

Then again, the pastor had written little about his own ties to the slave trade.

His father, Isaac, had purchased an African couple to work in the fields of the family's 100-acre farm in North Haven.

And a year after he became pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Stiles put a hogshead of rum -- 106 gallons -- aboard a ship bound for the coast of Africa.

The captain, William Pinnegar, returned with a 10-year-old African boy.

Stiles kept the slave for 22 years, and freed him only after he accepted a job as president of Yale in 1777.

In 1756, Stiles gave the boy a name.

He called him Newport.

 
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March 13, 2006 11:57 AM

Plantations in the North:
The Narragansett Planters
 

Monday, Mar. 13, 2006

While Newport merchants profited by trafficking in slaves, colonists across Narragansett Bay found another way to grow rich. They used slaves to grow crops and raise livestock on small plantations throughout South County.

For 50 years, Newport's merchants loaded the surplus farm products onto ships bound for slave plantations in the West Indies where they were traded mostly for sugar and molasses.

By 1730, the southern part of Rhode Island was one-third black, nearly all of them slaves.

The Narragansett Planters thrived from the early 1700s to just before the American Revolution, which brought trade to a standstill.

* * *

From his counting house above Newport harbor, Aaron Lopez fretted about the future.

The Portuguese immigrant had sold soap in New York, candles in Philadelphia and whale oil in Boston. But a plan to trade goods with England failed because the market was glutted. Now, heavily in debt to an English creditor, Lopez sought a new market.

He chose Capt. Benjamin Wright, a savvy New England trader, as his agent in Jamaica. From the tropics, Wright acted as a middleman between Lopez and his new buyers -- slave owners too busy making sugar to grow their own food.

Don't worry, Wright told Lopez in 1768. "Yankey Dodle will do verry well here."

Yankee Doodle did.

His chief suppliers were just across the Bay.

There, amid the rolling hills and fertile fields, hundreds of enslaved Africans worked for a group of wealthy farmers in South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Narragansett, Westerly, Exeter and Charlestown.

Relying on slave labor, the so-called Narragansett Planters raised livestock and produced surplus crops and cheese for Newport's growing sea trade.

The DeWolf family cemetery

Newport Historical Society
As the Newport slave merchants prospered in the early 1700s, the Narragansett Planters had success selling their crops and horses to slave plantations in the West Indies. The painting above, made around 1740, depicts the Potter family, of Matunuck, being served tea by a black slave. Below, a painting attributed to Gilbert Stuart shows Sarah Rivera Lopez and Joshua, the wife and son of Newport merchant Aaron Lopez, who profited on both ends of the slave trade.

The slaves, brought by Newport merchants from the West Indies and later Africa, cut wheat, picked peas, milked cows, husked corn, cleaned homes and built the waist-high walls that bisected the fields and hemmed them in.

So many blacks worked along the coast that, by the mid-1700s, southern Rhode Island boasted the densest slave population in New England after Boston and Newport.

While most New England communities were organized in compact villages with small farms, southern Rhode Island evolved into a plantation society.

"South County was unique in New England," says author Christian M. McBurney.

Cheap land made it possible, he says.

The Narragansett Indians had once ruled the region, but Colonial wars and disease had greatly reduced their number, leaving huge tracts of vacant land up for grabs. A territory dispute between Connecticut and Rhode Island scared off some timid settlers.

Investors, many of them from Newport and Portsmouth, "scrambled to the top," says McBurney. They bought land on credit, sold the unwanted lots to generate cash and started farms.

By 1730, the most successful planters -- including the Robinson, Hazard, Gardiner, Potter, Niles, Watson, Perry, Brown and Babcock families -- owned thousands of acres. In Westerly, Col. Joseph Stanton owned a 5,760-acre estate that stretched more than four miles long.

A typical farm had 300 sheep, 100 bulls and cows and 20 horses.

"The most considerable farms are in the Narragansett Country," concluded William Douglas who, in 1753, surveyed the English settlements in North America for the Mother Country. The region's rich grazing and farm lands benefited from warm winters and "a sea vapour which fertilizeth the soil," he wrote.

The owners sometimes relied on family members and indentured Indians for help, but slaves did most of the work. The largest planters -- families like the Robinsons, Updikes and Hazards -- owned between 5 and 20 slaves.

Although their plantations were much smaller than those in the southern Colonies, an early historian described the area as "a bit of Virginia set down in New England."

Made rich from their exports, the planters built big homes, sent their children to private schools and carved the hillsides into apple orchards and gardens.

North Kingstown planter Daniel Updike kept peacocks on his 3,000-acre farm. Framed by deep blue feathers, the exotic peafowl screeched and strutted in their New World home.

* * *

Rowland Robinson, a third-generation planter and slave holder, was one of the region's most successful planters.

In 1700, his grandfather purchased 700 acres on Boston Neck, "east by the salt water." By the time he died, the elder Robinson owned 629 sheep, 131 cows and bulls, 64 horses and eight slaves.

His son, William, the colony's lieutenant governor, increased the family fortune by acquiring more land. William, who owned 19 slaves, died in 1751, and Rowland, one of six sons, settled on the family estate.

Tall and handsome, with "an imperious carriage," the younger Robinson rode a black horse and owned more than 1,000 acres and a private wharf. His farm, a mile from the Bay, gave him easy access to the Newport market. During a two-year period in the 1760s, he delivered more than 6,000 pounds of cheese, 100 sheep, 72 bundles of hay, 51 bushels of oats, 30 horses and 10 barrels of skim milk to Aaron Lopez who then shipped them to the West Indies and other markets.

Most planters relied on public ferries. They hauled their cheese, beef, sheep and grains along muddy Post Road to South Ferry, the public port that was a vital link between Newport and the Narragansett country, also called King's County.

In 1748, Boston Neck planter John Gardiner urged legislators to expand the busy port at South Ferry. The current boats, he complained, are "crowded with men, women, children" along with "horses, hogs, sheep and cattle to the intolerable inconvenience, annoyance and delay of men and business."

* * *

According to one account, Rowland Robinson owned 28 slaves. Tradition says he abandoned the slave trade after a boatload of dejected Africans arrived at his dock.

But the region's planters bought slaves until the American Revolution.

Even small farmers, like the Rev. James MacSparran, owned field hands and domestic servants. "My two Negroes are threshing rye," wrote MacSparran, who owned 100 acres, on July 29, 1751.

Their work had a profound effect on the economy, says historian Joanne Pope Melish.

Freed from domestic chores, white masters were able to pursue other opportunities, jobs or training. Some learned new trades, became lawyers or judges, or sought public office.

In the end, slave labor helped Rhode Island move from a household-based economy to a market-based economy, says Melish. "Slaves contributed to the expansion and diversification of the New England economy," she says.

Plantation owners, merchants, importers and retailiers prospered on both sides of the Bay.

From his home on Thames Street, Aaron Lopez could walk to his private pier and a warehouse next to the town wharf. In a loft above his office, sail makers stitched sheets of canvas. His Thames Street shop supplied Newport's residents with everything from Bibles and bottled beer to looking glasses and violins.

Lopez, one of the founders of Touro Synagogue, and his father-in-law, Jacob Rivera, owned more than a dozen slaves between them, and sometimes rented them to other merchants.

Lopez became Newport's top taxpayer. He owned or had interest in 30 ships, which sailed to a dozen ports.

He wasn't alone. By 1772, nearly half of Newport's richest residents had an interest in the slave trade.

"The stratification of wealth was astonishing," says James Garman, a professor at Salve Regina University. "And it had everything to do with the African trade."

Although the Narragansett Planters weren't as well off as their monied counterparts across the Bay, they took their cues from Newport's merchants and the English gentry.

Their large houses -- Hopewell Lodge in Kingston, Fodderring Place at Pt. Judith -- often stood more than a mile apart.

John Potter's "Greate House" in Matunuck included elegant woodwork and a carved open arch. Rowland Robinson's house featured gouged flower designs, classical pilasters and built-in cupboards adorned with the heads of cherubs.

The Reverend MacSparran described a typical day of socializing: "I visited George Hazard's wife, crossed ye Narrow River, went to see Sister Robinson, called at Esq. Mumford's, got home by moon light and found Billy Gibbs here." So much company, he confessed, "fatigues me."

Their wealth "brought social pretensions and political influence . . . all without parallel in rural Rhode Island and New England," says McBurney.

The elegant lifestyle did not last.

During the Revolutionary War, the British burned Newport's waterfront. Many merchants fled, and trade stalled. Lopez moved to Leicester, Mass. In 1782, he drowned when his horse plunged into a pond.

The Narragansett Planters did not recover from the loss of the Newport market. The sons of the big planters chopped the plantations into small farms. Some freed their slaves.

But before the Revolution, they lived a carefree life.

In the spring, they traveled to Hartford to "luxuriate on bloated salmon." In the summer, they raced horses on the beach and roasted shellfish, says Wilkins Updike in a history of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett.

During corn-husking festivals, men and women gathered for "expensive entertainments" in the large halls of "spacious mansions," says Updike.

The men wore silk stockings, shoes with shiny buckles and "scarlet coats and swords, with laced ruffles over their hands." Their hair was "turned back from the forehead and curled and frizzled" and "highly powdered."

The women, dressed in brocade and high-heeled shoes, "performed the formal minuet with its thirty-six different positions and changes. These festivities would sometimes continue for days . . . These seasons of hilarity and festivity were as gratifying to the slaves as to their masters," Updike says.

In the 18th century, Yankee Doodle did all right.

On the farms and on the wharfs he made money -- sometimes as a slave owner, sometimes as a slave trader, sometimes as both.

 
 
 
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March 14, 2006 10:07 AM

Strangers in a Strange Land:
Newport's Slaves
 Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2006
Newport was the hub of New England's slave trade, and at its height, slaves made up one-third of its population. Yet little is known about their day-to-day lives.

Ledger documents traced to Caesar Lyndon, a slave for one of the Colony's early governors, provide one rare glimpse into the private life of an 18th-century slave. But, overall, the slaves left few, if any, journals or diaries to illuminate what they thought or how they felt.

The absence of written material forces historians to rely on tombstones, newspaper accounts, wills, court records and the documents of slave owners and abolitionists to piece together an account of their lives.

On a cold day in 1768, Pompe Stevens told his brother's story on a piece of slate.

Both men were slaves.

A gravestone polisher and carver, Pompe worked for John Stevens Jr., who ran a well-known masonry shop on Thames Street in Newport.

Carefully gouging the stone, Pompe reduced his brother's life to a single sentence:

This stone was

cut by Pompe

Stevens in Memo

ry of his Brother

Cuffe Gibbs, who

died Dec. 27th, 1768

Little else is known about Gibbs.

Experts say he probably came from Ghana, on the west coast of Africa. His surname, Cuffe, is an Anglicized version of Kofi, a traditional name given to Ghanaian boys born on Friday.

But it's uncertain who owned Gibbs or what he did in Newport, the hub of New England's slave trade.

More is known about his brother.

Pompe Stevens outlived three wives and eventually won his freedom.

Theresa Guzman Stokes, at work on a book on Newport's slave cemetery, says Cuffe's gravestone tells us even more.

African families "were torn apart by slavery" -- Cuffe and Pompe served different masters and lived apart -- and Pompe wanted others to understand that they were human, not unfeeling pieces of property, she says.

"He was trying to make it clear. He was saying, 'This is who I am and this is my brother.' "

* * *

A gravedigger buried Cuffe Gibbs in the northwest corner of the Common Burying Ground, on a slope reserved for Newport's slaves.

Already, many headstones dotted the hill.

Newporters had been importing slaves from the West Indies and Africa since the 1690s. By 1755, a fifth of the population was black. Only two other colonial cities -- New York and Charleston, S.C. -- had a greater percentage of slaves.

The DeWolf family cemetery

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
Few, if any, accounts survive of the lives of slaves in Newport, but the Common Burying Ground, one of the largest and oldest slave cemeteries in the country, offers some clues. The gravestones mark the lives of Susannah, daughter of Kirby and Rachel Rodman, who died in 1831, and Thomas, servant of Samuel Fowler Esq., who died in 1786.

Twenty years later, a third of the families in Newport would own at least one slave. Traders, captains and merchants would own even more. The wealthy Francis Malbone, a rum distiller, employed 10 slaves; Capt. John Mawdsley owned 20.

On Newport's noisy waterfront, enslaved Africans cut sails, knotted ropes, shaped barrels, unloaded ships, molded candles and distilled rum. On Thames Street, master grinder Prince Updike -- a slave owned by the wealthy trader Aaron Lopez -- churned cocoa and sugar into sweet-smelling chocolate.

Elsewhere, Newport's slaves worked as farmers, hatters, cooks, painters, bakers, barbers and servants. Godfrey Malbone's slave carried a lantern so that the snuff-loving merchant could find his way home after a midnight dinner of meat and ale.

"Anyone who was a merchant or a craftsman owned a slave," says Keith Stokes, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. "By the mid-18th century, Africans are the entire work force."

* * *

Some of the earliest slaves were from the sugar plantations in the West Indies where they "seasoned," developing a resistance to European diseases and learning some English.

Later, slaves were brought directly from from slave forts and castles along the African coast. Newporters preferred younger slaves so they could train them in specific trades.

The merchants often sought captives from areas in Africa where tribes already possessed building or husbandry skills that would be useful to their New World owners, Stokes says.

Newly arrived slaves were sometimes held in waterfront pens until they were sold at public auction. Others were sold from private wharves. On June 23, 1761, Capt. Samuel Holmes advertised the sale of "Slaves, just imported from the coast of Africa, consisting of very healthy likely Men, Women, Boys, Girls" at his wharf on Newport harbor.

In the early 1700s, lawyer Augustus Lucas offered buyers a "pre-auction" look at a group of slaves housed in his clapboard home on Division Street.

Many more were sold through private agreements.

The slaves were given nicknames like Peg or Dick, or names from antiquity, like Neptune, Cato or Caesar. Pompe Stevens was named after the Roman general, Pompey the Great.

* * *

The slaves were thrust into a world of successful merchants like William and Samuel Vernon, who hawked their goods from the docks and stores that rimmed the waterfront. From their store on John Bannister's wharf, they hawked London Bohea Tea, Irish Linens and Old Barbados Rum "TO BE SOLD VERY CHEAP, For Cash only."

On Brenton's Row, Jacob Richardson offered a "large assortment of goods" from London, including sword blades, knee buckles, pens, Dutch twine, broadcloths, buff-colored breeches, gloves and ribbons.

As property, slaves could be sold as easily as the goods hawked from Newport's wharves. In December, 1762, Capt. Jeb Easton listed the following items for sale: sugar, coffee, indigo -- "also four NEGROES."

Although Newport was growing -- in 1761 the town boasted 888 houses -- it was a densely packed community. Most homes, crowded on the land above the harbor, were small.

Slaves slept in the homes of their masters, in attics, kitchens or cellars. In some instances, African children even slept in the same room or bed as their masters.

The DeWolf family cemetery

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
William and Samuel Vernon made their fortunes in the slave trade and from sales at their store on Bannister's Wharf. William's house still stands on Clarke Street in Newport.

The opportunity for slaves to establish families or maintain kinship ties was almost impossible in colonial Newport, says Edward Andrews, a University of New Hampshire history student studying Rhode Island slavery.

His theory is that slaves and servants were discouraged from marrying or starting families to curb urban crowding. Also, some indentured servants had to sign contracts forbidding fornication or matrimony, he says, because Newporters wanted to restrict the growth of the destitute and homeless.

Many slaves had to adopt their master's religion. Slaves owned by Quakers worshipped at Newport's Meeting House. Slaves owned by Congregationalists heard sermons from the Rev. Ezra Stiles. The slave Cato Thurston, a dock worker, was a "worthy member of the Baptist Church" who died "in the faith" while under the care of the Rev. Gardner Thurston.

But even in religion, Africans could only participate partially; most sat in balconies or in the rear of Newport's churches.

Increasingly restrictive laws were passed to control the slaves' lives.

Under one early law, slaves could not be out after 9 p.m. unless they had permission from their master. Offenders were imprisoned in a cage and, if their master failed to fetch them, whipped.

Another law, passed in 1750, forbade Newporters to entertain "Indian, Negro, or Mulatto Servants or Slaves" without permission from their masters, and also outlawed the sale of liquor to Indians and slaves. A 1757 law made it illegal for shipmasters to transport slaves outside the colony.

Some fought back by running away. In 1767, a slave named James ran away from the merchants Joseph and William Wanton. It wasn't unusual.

From 1760 to 1766, slave owners paid for 77 advertisements in the Newport Mercury, offering rewards for runaway slaves and servants.

"People sometimes think slaves were better off here because they weren't picking cotton, but on the other hand, psychologically and socially, they were very much dominated by European life," says Stokes.

While oppressed, Newport's slaves still emerged better equipped to understand and navigate the world of their masters.

They learned skills, went to church and became part of the social fabric of the town, achieving a kind of status unknown elsewhere, Stokes says.

"You can't compare Newport to the antebellum South," he says. "These are not beasts of the field."

In fact, many in Newport found ways to forge new lives despite their status as chattel. Some married, earned money, bought their freedom and preserved pieces of their culture.

Caesar Lyndon, an educated slave owned by Governor Josiah Lyndon, worked as a purchasing agent and secretary. With money he managed to earn on the side, he bought good clothes and belt buckles.

In the summer of 1766, Caesar and several friends, including Pompe Stevens, went on a "pleasant outing" to Portsmouth. Caesar provided a sumptuous feast for the celebrants: a roasted pig, corn, bread, wine, rum, coffee and butter.

Two months later, Caesar married his picnic companion, Sarah Searing and a year later, Stevens married his date, Phillis Lyndon, another of the governor's slaves.

Slaves often socialized on Sunday, their day off.

The DeWolf family cemetery

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
On Walnut Street in Newport, is the home of a former African slave Newport "Neptune" Thurston, who was a cooper, or barrelmaker, by trade. He may have learned the craft from Baptist minister Gardner Thurston, a cooper and member of the slave-trading Thurston family.

And many slaves worked on trade ships, even some bound for Africa. At sea, they found a new kind of freedom, says Andrews. "They were mobile in a time of immobility."

Slaves and freed blacks preserved their culture through funeral practices, bright clothing and reviving their African names.

Beginning in the 1750s, Newport's Africans held their own elections. The ceremony, scholars say, echoed African harvest celebrations.

During the annual event, slaves ran for office, dressed in their best clothes, marched in parades and elected "governors" and other officials.

White masters, who loaned their slaves horses and fine clothes for the event, considered it a coup if their slaves won office.

Historians disagree on the meaning of the elections. Some historians say those elected actually held power over their peers. Others say it was merely ceremonial.

"Election ceremonies are common in all controlled societies," says James Garman at Salve Regina University. "They act as a release valve. But no matter whose purpose they serve, they don't address the social inequities."

* * *

On Aug. 26, 1765, a mob of club-carrying Newporters marched through the streets and burned the homes and gardens of a British lawyer and his friend. A day earlier, merchants William Ellery and Samuel Vernon burned an Englishman in effigy. The Colonists were angry about the English Parliament's proposed Stamp Act, which would place a tax on Colonial documents, almanacs and newspapers.

Eventually Parliament backed off, and a group of Newporters again hit the streets, this time to celebrate by staging a spectacle in which "Liberty" was rescued from "Lawless Tyranny and Oppression."

As historian Jill Lepore notes in her recent book on New York slavery, New England's Colonists championed liberty and condemned slavery. But, in their political rhetoric, slavery meant rule by a despot.

When they talked about freedom, Newport's elite were not including freedom for the 1,200 African men, women and children who lived and worked in the busy seaport. Many liberty-loving merchants -- Ellery and Vernon included -- owned or traded slaves.

"I call it the American irony," says Stokes of the days leading up to the American Revolution. "We're fighting for political and religious freedom, but we're still enslaving people."

Some did not miss the irony.

In January 1768, the Newport Mercury stated, "If Newport has the right to enslave Negroes, then Great Britain has the right to enslave the Colonists."

By the end of the decade, a handful of Quakers and Congregationalists began to question Newport's heavy role in the slave trade. The Quakers -- often referred to as Friends -- asked their members to free their slaves.

And, a few years later, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins, pastor of the First Congregational Church, angered some of his congregation when he started preaching against slavery from the pulpit, calling it unchristian.

Nearby, white school teacher Sarah Osborn provided religious services for slaves. At one point, 300 Africans and African-Americans attended her class.

By 1776, the year the Colonies declared their independence from English rule, more than 100 free blacks lived in Newport. Some moved to Pope Street and other areas on the edge of town, or to Division Street, where white sympathizers like Pastor Hopkins, lived.

In 1784, the General Assembly passed the Negro Emancipation Act, which freed all children of slaves born after March 1, 1784. All slaves born before that date were to remain slaves for life. Even the emancipated children did not get freedom immediately. Girls remained slaves until they turned 18; boys were slaves until they were 21.

That same year, Pastor Hopkins told a Providence Quaker that Newport "is the most guilty respecting the slave trade, of any on the continent." The town, he said, was built "by the blood of the poor Africans; and that the only way to escape the effects of divine displeasure, is to be sensible of the sin, repent, and reform."

After the American Revolution, Newport's free blacks formed their own religious organizations, including the African Union Society, the nation's first self-help group for African-Americans.

Pompe Stevens was among them.

No longer a slave, he embraced his African name, Zingo.

The society helped members pay for burials and other items, and considered various plans to return to Africa. In time, other groups were formed, including Newport's Free African Union Society.

In 1789, the society's president, Anthony Taylor, described Newport's black residents as "strangers and outcasts in a strange land, attended with many disadvantages and evils . . . which are like to continue on us and on our children while we and they live in this Country."

 
 
 
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March 21, 2006 1:01 PM

1 Boye Slave Dyed
The Terrible Voyage of the Sally
 

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The first ship to leave Providence for Africa was sent by James Brown in 1735, but only a smattering of ships departed from that port before the Revolutionary War. Providence never became a busy slave center, like Newport and Bristol.

Newport dominated the state's slave trade for the first 50 years. All trade came to a halt during the seven years the colonies fought for independence from Great Britain. When the war ended, Rhode Island ships again cleared for Africa.

Newport continued to send dozens of ships to Africa, but Providence and Warren, and especially Bristol, became bigger players.

Between 1784 and 1807, 402 ships sailed from Rhode Island for Africa. Providence, which sent 55 of those ships, accounted for only 14 percent of the state's slave trade.

* * *

Capt. Esek Hopkins had just cleared the African coast when one of his captives died.

The young girl wasn't the first.

For nine long months, Hopkins had bartered with slave traders on behalf of the Brown brothers of Providence - Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses. By late August 1765, he had finally purchased enough slaves, 167, so he could leave. Tarrying on the malarial coast - sailors called it the White Man's Grave - Hopkins had already lost 20 slaves and two members of his crew.

Capt. Esek Hopkins

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
On his first -- and last -- slave trade voyage on the Sally in 1765, Capt. Esek Hopkins lost 109 slaves to uprisings and disease. The failed attempt marked a turning point for the Brown family of Providence as Moses Brown turned his back on the slave trade. The statue of Hopkins, above, stands on Hopkins Square, in Providence, the former site of the Hopkins family burial ground.

Now, on board the 120-ton brig Sally, the deaths continued.

1 boye slave Dyed, Hopkins wrote on Aug. 25. He kept a tally of the slave deaths in his trade book. The young boy was number 22.

The Browns had instructed Hopkins to sell his slaves in the West Indies for "hard cash" or "good bills of exchange."

"Dispatch," they reminded him, "is the life of Business."

Esek Hopkins, 46, had spent years at sea, but, until now, he had never helmed a slave ship.

At 20, he left the family farm in Scituate to board a ship bound for Surinam, a South American port favored by Newport captains and slave dealers. Two older brothers also sailed. John died at sea; Samuel died at Hispaniola, a Caribbean slave and sugar center, now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Stephen, a third brother, rose through the ranks of colonial politics and became governor of Rhode Island.

Esek married in 1741, bought a farm in Providence and also dabbled in civic affairs. But he preferred the sea. Aggressive and outspoken, he worked for more than three decades as a privateer and merchant-adventurer, sometimes for the Browns. During the Seven Years' War between England and France, he captured a French ship loaded with oil and other goods.

But commanding a slave ship required knowledge of African tribal customs and negotiating skills; he possessed neither. He wasn't even the Browns' first choice; many Rhode Island captains were already on the African coast.

Stocked with handcuffs, leg irons, chains and padlocks, the Sally was a floating prison.

The women, mostly naked, lived unchained on the quarterdeck. Crew members believed there was little chance they would stage a rebellion.

The males, chained together in pairs, were kept below deck, where they struggled for air in the dark humid hold. Their spaces were so cramped they struggled to sit up.

In good weather, Hopkins and his crew exercised the more than 100 African slaves on deck, and scrubbed their filthy quarters with water and vinegar.

On Aug. 28, just eight days after leaving the coast of Africa, Hopkins freed some of the slaves to help with the chores. Instead, they freed other slaves and turned on what was left of his crew. " . . . the whole rose upon the People, and endeavored to get Possession of the vessel," the Newport Mercury reported later.

Outnumbered, the sailors grabbed some of the weapons aboard the Sally: 4 pistols, 7 swivel guns, 13 cutlasses, 2 blunderbusses and a keg of gunpowder. The curved cutlass blades and short-barreled blunderbusses - favored by pirates and highwaymen - were ideal weapons for killing enemies in close quarters.

"Destroyed 8 and several more wounded," Hopkins wrote. One slave suffered broken ribs, another a cracked thigh bone. Both later died.

At sea, the Sally creaked and rolled as the crew kept careful watch on the remaining males shackled on the decks below.

Above deck, Hopkins revised the death count in his trade book.

32, he wrote.

* * *

Back in Providence, the Browns had high hopes for the Sally.

Among the city's richest men, they operated under the name Nicholas Brown and Company. They owned all or partial interest in a number of ships; a candle factory at Fox Point; a rope factory, sugar house and chocolate mill and two rum distilleries.

Just before the Sally sailed, they invested in an iron foundry on the Pawtuxet River, the Hope Furnace in Scituate. Esek's brother, Stephen, was a partner.

To help raise cash for the new foundry and their candle business, the Browns invested in the Sally and two non-slave ships that carried horses and other goods to the Caribbean.

Sending the Sally to Africa marked the first time the four brothers, as a group, had ventured into the slave trade.

Their great-great grandfather, Chad Brown, had been an early religious leader of the colony along with founder Roger Williams. The brothers' grandfather, James, a pious Baptist church elder, was openly critical of Providence's rising merchant class.

Yet, his son, Capt. James Brown, rejected the pulpit for the counting house. He sailed to the West Indies, ran a slaughter house, opened a shop and ran two distilleries. Unlike the earlier Browns, James recorded his children's births in his business ledger, rather than the family Bible.

And in 1735, he sent Providence's first slave ship to Africa.

"Gett Molases if you can" and "leave no debts behind," James wrote to his brother, Obadiah. The market was poor; still, Obadiah traded the Mary's human cargo in the West Indies for coffee, cordage, duck and salt. He brought three slaves, valued at 120 English pounds, back to Providence.

When James died three years later, Obadiah helped raise his brother's sons: Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses.

In 1759, John and Nicholas joined Obadiah and other merchants in outfitting another slave ship, the Wheel of Fortune. It was captured by a French privateer. "Taken" wrote Obadiah in his insurance book.

The sons were not deterred.

Redwood St. in Newport

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
Abraham Redwood was one of the principal contributors to The Redwood Library and Athenaeum when it was opened in 1750. Although he made his fortune from his Caribbean plantations and the slave trade, Redwood was remembered at the time of his death as a philanthropist and benefactor of the poor.

Although the local economy had suffered during the war between France and Britain, the slave trade surged in 1763.

In Virginia, plantation owner Carter Braxton urged the Browns to send him slaves. I understand, he said, there is a "great Traid carried on from Rhode Island to Guinea for Negroes."

The Browns did not act on Braxton's offer. But in the summer of 1754, three of the brothers helped stock the Sally with 17,274 gallons of rum, the main currency of the Rhode Island slave trade, 1,800 bunches of onions, 90 pounds of coffee, 40 barrels of flour, 30 boxes of candles, 25 casks of rice, 10 hogsheads of tobacco, 6 barrels of tar, and bread, molasses, beef and pork.

The Sally's crew included a first and second mate, Hopkins' personal slave and a cooper to make barrels for the molasses the Sally would receive in trade for slaves.

The Browns agreed to pay Esek Hopkins 50 pounds a month for the voyage. Although it was slightly less than the wages paid the first and second mates, Hopkins was also promised a fat bonus, or "privilege," including 10 barrels of rum and 10 slaves. Most Rhode Island captains received a bonus of 4 slaves per 104 sold at market.

Because hard money was scarce in Rhode Island, the first and second mates were also offered slaves as commissions.

For the Browns, the stakes were high. For 50 years, Newport had been the colony's major shipping port. The Browns, along with Gov. Stephen Hopkins and a few other merchants, wanted to make Providence the political and commercial center of Rhode Island.

"The Browns knew that the trade posed risks, but they also knew it could result in tremendous profits," says James Campbell, a Brown University professor.

"They clearly anticipated a very profitable voyage."

* * *

Hopkins, however, fared poorly in Africa.

With the end of the Seven Years' War, transatlantic trade resumed; British and New England ships jammed Africa's slave castles, trade forts and river mouths.

"Demand was great and prices were high," Campbell says. "The seller had the upper hand."

Hopkins had no choice but to sail a 100-mile stretch of coast, looking for deals. Worse, he didn't understand local customs, which depended on gifts, tributes and bribes.

The trade, which dragged on for months, "involved an exchange of courtesies, gifts and negotiations," says Campbell. "You had to establish your credentials and character before trade actually began."

By mid-December, Hopkins had purchased 23 slaves. But the trading went slowly.

Hopkins gave King Fodolgo Talko and his officers two barrels of rum and a keg of snuff. It wasn't enough. The next day, he gave another leader and his men two casks of rum.

On Dec. 23, he met with the king beneath a tree. He gave him 75 gallons of rum and received a cow as a present. The next day trading resumed, and Hopkins offered another 112 gallons of rum. He got one slave.

Later that day, the king demanded more rum, tobacco, iron and sugar for himself, his son and other officials.

Rhode Island captains spent an average of four months on the African coast; it took Hopkins nine.

"Hopkins was inexperienced as a slaver," says Campbell. "You wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. As long as a slave ship was close to land, there was a danger of insurrection. Moreover, you die when you're on the West African coast. You're being exposed to diseases like malaria and yellow fever. Your slaves and crews start to die."

On June 8, Hopkins logged his most successful day of trading - 12 slaves.

That same day, one of his earlier captives hanged herself between the decks of the Sally.

* * *

Now, as Hopkins crossed a cruel stretch of ocean called the Middle Passage, death came almost daily.

3 women Slaves Dyed, Hopkins wrote in his trade book on Oct. 1.

The ink had hardly dried when, a day later, he wrote: 3 men Slaves and 2 women Slaves - Dyed.

On Oct. 3, 1 garle Slave Dyed.

The family clock of Adm. Esek Hopkins

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
The family clock of Adm. Esek Hopkins sits today in an office in University Hall at Brown University, which was Rhode Island College at the time. The first building on campus, it was built using slave labor. The clock was presented by his granddaughter Elizabeth Angell in 1855.

In a letter to the Browns, Hopkins blamed the deaths on the failed slave revolt. The survivors were "so dispirited," he wrote, that "some drowned themselves, some starved and others sickened and died."

But the rate at which the Africans died "suggests an epidemic disease," probably smallpox or dysentery, says Campbell.

Amoebic dysentery, carried through fecal-tainted water, was spread by the filthy conditions below slave ship decks. It caused violent diarrhea, dehydration and death. Traders called it the "bloody flux."

The remaining Africans aboard the Sally were in a "very sickly and disordered manner," Hopkins wrote to the Browns when he arrived in Antigua. The emaciated slaves, fed a gruel made of rice, fetched poor prices; some sold for as little as 4 to 6 English pounds.

By the time Hopkins returned to Newport, he had lost 109 Africans. For most investors, a 15 percent loss of life was an acceptable risk; Hopkins lost more than half of his human cargo.

And, the Browns lost the equivalent of $10,000 on the voyage, says Campbell.

"The debacle represented a turning point for three of the brothers - Nicholas, Joseph and Moses - who thereafter left the trade for good," says Campbell.

"It would be nice to say that they quit because of moral qualms, but there isn't much evidence to support that, at least initially. More likely, they simply concluded that slavery was too risky an investment."

John invested in additional slave voyages - between four and eight more - and became a defender of the trade.

His younger brother, Moses, took another path.

Depressed, unable to sleep, he avoided the family counting house. In 1773 - eight years after the Sally's voyage - he freed his six slaves. He was sure his wife's death was the result of his role in the trade.

Joining other Quakers, Moses declared war on New England's slavers.

One of his first targets was his older brother, John.

 
 
 
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March 21, 2006 1:04 PM

Brown vs. Brown:
Brothers Go Head to Head
 

Thursday, March 16, 2006

 

In 1770, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins preached his first sermon against slavery and the slave trade, calling them terrible sins. His message surprised church members, some of them slave traders. One family left the church.

The notion that slavery was immoral was slow to take hold.

The Quakers were among the first to question the practice and, in 1773, they asked members to free their slaves. Not everyone agreed. Wealthy businessman Abraham Redwood and even a long-term Rhode Island governor refused to free their slaves and were disowned by the group.

Although the Quakers would help federal officials prosecute slave traders in the 1790s, they were seen as a quirky fringe group. A century earlier, the Puritans in Boston hanged Quakers and Roger Williams called them heretics.

* * *

By 1797, John Brown had burned the British ship Gaspee, co-founded Providence's first bank, sent a trade ship to China and laid the cornerstone of Brown University's administration building.

He was, says a biographer, one of America's leading merchants.

But the federal government had other words for him: illegal slave trader.

Agents seized his ship, the Hope, for violating the U.S. Slave Trade Act of 1794. Brown was the first Rhode Islander -- possibly the first citizen in the new nation -- to be tried under the law which forbid the trading of slaves in foreign ports.

On Aug. 5, in District Court in Newport, Judge Benjamin Bourn outlined the reasons for seizing the Hope. Brown and others had "fitted, equipped, loaded, and prepared" the ship that sailed from Providence to Africa and on to Havana "for the purpose of carrying on a trade and traffic in Slaves" which was contrary to the Statute of the United States, Judge Bourn wrote.

Federal authorities learned of John Brown's activities from his own brother Moses and other anti-slavery radicals.

John and Moses had been at odds over the slave trade for more than a decade. Moses, in fact, had helped push for the federal law after an earlier state law to stop the trade was not enforced.

Now, in the late 1790s, the Providence Abolition Society was suing merchants for breaking the federal law. The group's strategy was a simple one: if the slavers agreed to quit the trade, they would drop their suits.

Moses and John Brown

Portrait of Moses Brown courtesy of Moses Brown School
Portrait of John Brown courtesy of Edward Malbone. New York Historical Society
John Brown, one of America's leading merchants in the late 1700s, vigorously fought government efforts to end the slave trade. Moses Brown, a devout Quaker after quitting the slave trade, was an abolitionist who pressed the government to end slavery.

One of Providence's biggest slave traders, Cyprian Sterry, buckled under the group's pressure, and agreed to stop selling Africans.

But John wouldn't.

After months of out-of-court wrangling, the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

In court, John lost one round but won another.

The judge decreed that the Hope , along with "her tackle, furniture, apparel and other appurtances" be sold at an India Point auction on Aug. 26.

But, in a second court appearance, John triumphed over the abolitionists.

In Newport, the center of the state slave trade, jurors were reluctant to convict a vocal defender of the African trade.

In a 1798 letter to his son James, John Brown said he had won a verdict for costs against his prosecutors whom he called a "Wicked and abominable Combination."

The state's anti-slavery foes, he said, were "Running Round in the Rain . . . I tell them they had better be Contented to Stop ware they are, as the Further they go the wors they will fail."

It wasn't the first time John Brown clashed with his brother and Rhode Island's other slavery foes.

And it wouldn't be the last.

* * *

The two brothers did not always quarrel.

As young men, they learned the sea trade and manufacturing from their uncle Obadiah. With their brothers Joseph and Nicholas, they formed a family firm, Nicholas Brown and Company in 1762. The brothers shipped goods to the West Indies, made candles from the oil of sperm whales and later produced pig iron at Hope Furnace in Scituate.

Each man brought a different skill to the partnership. Nicholas was methodical and plodding, John was bold and reckless, Joseph was a good technician and Moses was erudite, says Brown family biographer James B. Hedges.

In 1764, the four brothers invested in their first slave voyage. It was a financial disaster; more than half of the slaves died before they could be sold in the West Indies. The Browns never financed another slave trip together.

But John, anxious to expand his business interests, struck out on his own. In 1769, he outfitted another slave ship to Africa.

The family dynamic changed forever.

* * *

After the death of his wife and a daughter, Moses embraced the spiritual beliefs of the Quakers. In 1773, following their example, he freed the six slaves he owned and relinquished his interest in four others who worked at the family's candle works.

He invited his family and several Quakers to hear his explanation. "Whereas I am clearly convinced that the buying and selling of men of what color soever as slaves is contrary to the Divine Mind," he began, "I do therefore . . . set free the following negroes being all I am possessed of or any ways interested in."

Moses promised to oversee the education of the youngest slaves and he gave each of the men the use of an acre of land from his farm. Consider me a friend, he told them.

For generations, the Browns had been Baptist ministers and churchmen. But a year after he freed his slaves, Moses officially converted to Quakerism. He was sure his wife Anna's death in 1773 was God's way of punishing him for his role in the slave trade.

Almost immediately, he and other Quakers began prodding local and federal lawmakers to ban both slavery and the slave trade.

In 1774, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting the importation of slaves into Rhode Island, an amended version of a bill advanced by Moses Brown that would have ended the slave trade altogether. In fact, it included a loophole that allowed slaves who could not be sold elsewhere to be brought into Rhode Island for one year. In addition, the proposed fines for importing slaves were omitted.

The "law proved totally ineffectual," says historian Christy Millard Nadalin.

Brown St. in Providence

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
The Brown family's influence is still evident on Providence's East Side from the stately family mansions to the university that bears their name. The intstitution's first building was built by slaves.

The first act calling for the freeing of slaves in Rhode Island came in 1784. But the General Assembly did not want it done quickly. Under the act, children born to slave mothers after March 1, 1784 would be free when they became adults. The law, says Nadalin, "required no real sacrifice on the part of the slave owners, and it did nothing to curb the actual trade in slaves."

In 1787, the General Assembly made it illegal for any Rhode Islander to be involved in the African slave trade -- the first such law in America. But, again, it was ignored; in the next three years, 25 ships sailed to Africa.

Two years later, Moses Brown, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins of Newport, and about 180 others organized the Abolition Society. Its mission, according to J. Stanley Lemons, history professor at Rhode Island College, was to enforce the laws against the slave trade.

* * *

Just as the abolitionists were organizing, a bitter attack against them erupted in the Providence Gazette.

The society, a critic wrote, was "created not to ruin only one good citizen but to ruin many hundreds within the United States" who have all or part of their property in slaves and the slave trade.

These people you are calling "Negro-dealers" and "kidnappers" are some of the "very best men" in Rhode Island, he wrote.

"This traffic, strange as it appears to the conscientious Friend or Quaker, is right, just and lawful, and consequently practiced every day."

The diatribe was signed "A Citizen."

It was John Brown.

Brother Moses and other abolitionists responded, accusing John and other defenders of slavery as selfish, ignorant and pitiful.

Moses publicly refuted a number of the "Citizen's" arguments, including the assertion that Africans were better off as slaves in America because they would have been killed back home.

The "Citizen" had his facts wrong, Moses countered. But if his argument were right, wouldn't it be an even greater act of humanity to grant the captives their freedom after arriving in America?

The battle was the "most bitter and unrestrained controversy" in the state's early history, says Moses Brown biographer Mack Thompson. What started as a discussion about the pros and cons of the slave trade "soon degenerated into an acrimonious debate in which politics and personalities became the main subject."

Moses eventually withdrew from the public debate.

But, privately, he continued to plead for an end to the state's slave trade.

"Confronted with public apathy, inefficient state officials, and the power of the slave traders," Moses and his fellow abolitionists had little impact, says biographer Thompson.

Moses couldn't even convince his own brother that slave trading was evil.

So he and others turned to U.S. Attorney Ray Greene, who dragged John and other slave traders into court.

John lost his ship but never publicly apologized.

* * *

In 1800, two years after he was elected to Congress, John Brown was one of only five congressmen to vote against a bill to strengthen the 1794 law under which he had been prosecuted.

Speaking against the measure, he offered three familiar arguments. First, he said, it was wrong to deny to American citizens the benefits of a trade that was open to Europeans. Second, the trade was not immoral because the condition of those enslaved was "much bettered." Finally, he argued that the trade would bring much-desired revenue to the nation's treasury.

"Why should a heavy fine and imprisonment be made the penalty for carrying on a trade so advantageous?" he asked.

The abolitionist Moses, meanwhile, joined Samuel Slater and made cloth in a mill in Pawtucket. They made clothes from cotton picked by slaves on plantations in the South.

* * *

John Brown never changed his mind about profits and slavery, says Joaquina Bela Teixeira, executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society in Providence. "His sense of morality never shifted." He tried to fix tobacco prices and filed false insurance claims, she says, "yet he's touted as one of Providence's patriots."

But the Browns "aren't big slave traders," says James Campbell, history professor at Brown University.

They play a big role in the state's slave trading history, in part, because they are major historical figures, kept meticulous records and have a name linked to a major university.

"Slavery was a fact of life. Yet, what is compelling about that late 18th-century moment is that you get this new moral sensibility. At some point, people acted against the slave trade. Not everyone did, and not everyone acted at the same time. But through the Browns you can see these deep historical currents" that ran through the era, Campbell says.

It's also important to understand that, despite their public arguments, the two brothers cared about each other, Campbell says.

"In private correspondence, they are very frank with one another. My sense is that they loved one another. In one letter, Moses says, 'John, I'm doing this for you.' "

 
 
 
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March 21, 2006 1:07 PM

Living Off the Trade:
Bristol and the DeWolfs
 

Friday, March 17, 2006

Rhode Island outlawed slave trading in 1787, but it didn't stop the trafficking. Almost half of all of Rhode Island's slave voyages occurred after trading was outlawed. By the end of the 18th century, Bristol surpassed Newport as the busiest slave port in Rhode Island.

In 1807, the United States Congress, after a bitter debate, banished the slave trade and Rhode Island's 75-year reign sputtered to an end.

Rhode Island's rum mills were gradually replaced by cotton mills. Bristol was broke, Newport was struggling and Providence merchants turned to manufacturing.

* * *

Samuel Bosworth was scared.

He was ordered to buy a ship at auction to keep it out of the hands of its owner, Charles DeWolf, one of Bristol's biggest slave traders.

Federal officials had just seized the Lucy, which they were sure DeWolf planned to send to Africa on a slave voyage -- a clear violation of a 1794 law that prohibited Americans from fitting out vessels "for the purpose of carrying on any trade or traffic in slaves, to any foreign country."

U.S. Treasury officials wanted to send a message to Rhode Island's slavers so they instructed Bosworth, a government port surveyor, to outbid competitors. In the past, slave traders caught violating the law simply repurchased their ships at auction, often at a fraction of their value.

Keeping the Lucy from DeWolf would not be popular.

Charles and his brothers had prospered from trafficking in human cargo since the 1780s and the town's residents depended on them for their livelihood. Bristol's craftsmen made iron chains, sails and rope for the slave ships; farmers grew onions and distillers made rum -- all items needed to support the trade.

The night before the auction, three of Rhode Island's wealthiest men appeared at Bosworth's home. Charles and James DeWolf and John Brown, a Providence merchant who had just been elected to Congress, warned Bosworth not to go, saying it was not part of his job as a surveyor. But Bosworth had little choice. He had been pressured by William Ellery, Newport's zealous customs collector, a "straight-gazing patriot" who had signed the Declaration of Independence 23 years earlier. Although his father had been a slave trader, Ellery regarded smuggling slaves as "nothing short of treason," writes George Howe, a DeWolf descendant.

On the morning of the auction, July 25, 1799, Charles DeWolf approached Bosworth a second time. If he tried to buy the Lucy, he would likely be "insulted if not thrown off the wharf by some of the sailors," DeWolf warned.

Bosworth continued on his way. But he never reached the town wharf.

As he neared the Lucy, eight men in Indian garb and painted faces grabbed him and pushed him into a sailboat. The black-faced men sailed Bosworth around Ferry Point and dumped him at the foot of Mount Hope, two miles from the auction site.

With Bosworth out of the way, a DeWolf captain bought the Lucy for $738.

"The government had found the slave traders more than a match on their home turf, and never tried the tactic again," says historian Jay Coughtry.

The DeWolfs were just getting started.

* * *

Already, the clan owned a piece of Bristol's waterfront.

The brothers William and James DeWolf operated from a wharf and a three-story brick counting house on Thames Street, overlooking the harbor.

At the turn of the century, the family founded the Bank of Bristol, chartered with $50,000 in capital. Among the chief stockholders in 1803 were two generations of DeWolfs -- John, Charles, James, William, George and Levi.

The clan also started the Mount-Hope Insurance Co., which insured their own slave ships.

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
When slave merchant James DeWolf traveled to Washington as a senator, he rode in the ornate carriage that is kept at Linden Place, in Bristol, the George DeWolf family mansion.

Business was good.

Before the American Revolution, Newport merchants dominated the slave trade. But from 1789 to 1793, nearly a third of Rhode Island's slave ships sailed from Bristol. By 1800, Bristol surpassed Newport as the busiest slave port.

The DeWolfs financed 88 slaving voyages from 1784 to 1807 -- roughly a quarter of all Rhode Island slave trips during that period. Alone, or with other investors, the family was responsible for nearly 60 percent of all African voyages that began in Bristol.

"This will inform you of my arrival in this port safe, with seventy-eight well slaves," wrote Jeremiah Diman to James DeWolf on April 1, 1796. Writing from St. Thomas, Diman said he'd lost two slaves on the voyage from Africa, and promised to leave soon for Havana to sell the others. "I shall do the best I can, and without other orders, load with molasses and return to Bristol."

The DeWolfs owned five plantations in Cuba -- among them the Mary Ann, the New Hope and the Esperenza -- where their slaves grew sugar cane and coffee.

The DeWolfs also brought some slaves back to Bristol, where they were "sold to some of the best families in the state," says historian Charles O.F. Thompson.

In 1803, James DeWolf gave his wife an African boy and girl for Christmas.

* * *

They were self-made men.

The DeWolf family crest
Journal photo / Frieda Squires
The DeWolf family crest, shown here as painted on the door of the carriage, above.

Too poor to stay in school, they took jobs on ships.

Their father, Mark Anthony DeWolf, was a slaver and a seaman, too. But he never made any money from it.

He married the daughter of wealthy privateer Simeon Potter, moved from Guadaloupe to Bristol and sailed on Potter's ships. After years of scrambling to make a living, he died, broke, of a "nervous fever" in 1793.

Between voyages he sired 15 children. Three of his sons died at sea. But five -- James, John, Charles, William and Levi -- survived. The "Quakerish" Levi quit the slave trade after a single voyage, but the others prospered from the trade, privateering, whaling and other ventures.

Each son worked a different part of the family business. Charles, the oldest, acted as the family's financial consultant.

William ran the Mount-Hope Insurance Company, which insured ships and their cargoes against "the dangers of the seas, of fire, enemies, pirates, assailing thieves, restraints and detainments of kings . . . and all other losses and misfortunes." Ships and their cargoes were insured at up to $7,000.

In 1804, Henry DeWolf moved to South Carolina to handle the family's slave sales in Charleston. The move was typical; the family placed relatives or in-laws in every part of their slaving enterprise from Bristol to Cuba.

At the urging of the DeWolfs, Congressman John Brown helped establish Bristol and Warren as a separate customs district where slave traders could operate away from "the prying eyes" of William Ellery in Newport, says Coughtry. A few years later, the family successfully lobbied President Thomas Jefferson to name Charles Collins, a slave trader and DeWolf cousin, as head of the new district.

Collins had been captain of the seized ship, the Lucy.

The family's hold was now complete.

From 1804 to 1807, the prosecution of slave traders ceased, and the number of Africa-bound ships from Bristol soared.

"The DeWolf family monopolized the slave trade," says Kevin E. Jordan, a retired professor at Roger Williams University.

To keep an eye on their trade, the DeWolfs built huge homes near the harbor.

Charles hired ship carpenters to build the Mansion House on Thames Street before 1785. It had four entrances, with broad halls running north to south and east to west. Wallpaper in the drawing room featured exotic birds with brilliant plumage.

Two decades later, James hired architect Russell Warren to build The Mount, a white three-story home with five chimneys, a deer park and a glass-enclosed cupola. Each day, his wife's slave washed the teak floors with tea leaves.

In 1810, George hired Warren to design a $60,000 mansion with fluted Corinthian columns, a three-story spiral staircase and a skylight. The estate is now referred to as Linden Place.

* * *

James DeWolf was the most extraordinary of the brothers. His life, says historian Wilfred H. Munro, resembled "the wildest chapters of a romance."

Born in Bristol in 1764, he boarded Revolutionary War ships as a boy, and was held prisoner by the British in Bermuda. The cruelty and hardship he experienced as a young prisoner "made him a man of force and indomitable energy with no nice ethical distinctions," says one biographer.

In his early 20s, he sailed aboard the slave ship Providence, owned by John Brown; he bought his own slave ship, a 40-ton schooner, in 1788.

Tall, with gray-blue eyes, he had big sailor's hands -- and a Midas touch, says Munro.

While his fellow merchants "were cautiously weighing the possible chances of success in ventures in untried fields, he was accustomed to rush boldly in, sweep away the rich prizes that so often await a pioneer, and leave for those who followed him only the moderate gains that ordinary business affords," writes Munro.

Some called his boldness cruel.

In 1791, a grand jury charged James with murdering a slave aboard a bark the year before. The woman, who had smallpox, had to be jettisoned before she contaminated the other slaves and crew, some sailors testified in his defense.

But jurors said the slave ship captain did not have "the fear of God before his eyes." Instead, he was "moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil" when he threw the woman from his ship. She "instantly sank, drowned and died . . . " the jury said.

Although an arrest warrant was issued, the federal marshal from Newport reported twice annually that he couldn't find James. After four years, the charge was dropped. Whether James was in Bristol during these years or, as one historian writes, hiding out in the Danish West Indies, is unclear.

It wasn't the only time James flouted the law. After it became illegal to sell slaves in foreign lands, he and his captains disguised their mission by equipping their ships with slave quarters after they left Rhode Island waters. Others simply sailed past Newport in the dark.

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
A waterfront store ledger of James DeWolf, preserved by the Bristol Preservation and Historical Society, details the sale of 13 slaves in Havana.

The DeWolf brothers

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
James DeWolf, left, served as a senator while he profited from the trade; William, center, ran the Mount-Hope Insurance Company that insured the slave traders' ships and Charles, right, the oldest son, was the family's financial consultant.

Before he turned 25, James had accumulated considerable wealth. His 1790 marriage to Nancy, the daughter of Deputy Gov. William Bradford, brought him more money. During the War of 1812, he sent out his own 18-gun brig with the government's blessing and captured 40 British vessels worth more than $5 million, says Ray Battcher III, curator of the Bristol Historical & Preservation Society.

He emerged, according to Battcher, as one of the richest men in the United States.

When the federal government ran low on credit, James DeWolf loaned the nation money.

He built the Arkwright Mills in Coventry, where workers made cloth from cotton grown by southern slaves. He also converted some of his ships into whalers, took up farming and traded with China.

In his late 30s, he entered politics. In 1802, he won a seat in the state legislature and later became speaker of the House. Locally, he was town moderator. In 1821, he went to Washington to serve in the Senate.

DeWolf's reputation as a slave trader followed him.

During a Senate debate over whether Missouri should be admitted as a slave state, a senator from South Carolina noted that some Rhode Islanders opposed the move and were bitter toward slaveholders.

But such a sentiment could not be widespread, he said with sarcasm.

After all, Rhode Island voters elected James DeWolf to represent them -- a man who "had accumulated an immense fortune by the slave trade."

The southern senator noted that of the 202 vessels that carried slaves to South Carolina from 1804 to 1807, 59 were from Rhode Island -- and 10 belonged to DeWolf. DeWolf left the Senate before his term was up -- one biographer said he was bored.

* * *

After 1807, a much stronger federal law ending the slave trade was passed, and the DeWolfs' hold on Bristol began to unravel. They moved their slaving operation to their Cuban plantations.

In 1825, when George DeWolf's sugar cane crop failed, he defaulted on a business bank loan, bringing three banks to near collapse. The reverberations hit the other DeWolfs and much of Bristol. "The family went bankrupt. They couldn't pay the farmers" or other suppliers "so the people all went bankrupt," says Jordan.

Among them was slave ship Capt. Isaac Manchester, who lost $80,000 and turned to clamming to earn a living.

According to one account, women wept and even churches closed their doors.

"General DeWolf has failed utterly!" wrote Joel Mann to his father on Dec. 12, 1825.

"All night and yesterday officers and men were flying in all directions, attacking and securing property of every description. All classes of men, even clergymen and servants, are sufferers. Many among us are stripped of everything. Honest merchants and shopkeepers have lost all or nearly all," the pastor of the Bristol Congregational Church wrote.

DeWolf Ave. in Bristol

Journal photo / Frieda Squires
Although the DeWolf family was responsible for much of the early wealth of Bristol, modest homes line the street that bears their name.

"The banks are in equal distress. A director has just told me that the General is on paper in some way or other at all the banks . . . The Union Bank is thought to be ruined -- perhaps others."

Six months later, the directors of the Bristol Union Bank, Eagle Bank and Bank of Bristol asked the General Assembly for tax relief because DeWolf's failure had cost them more than $130,000 in capital.

James lost money, too, but died, in 1837, a millionaire. His estate included property in Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, New York and Bristol.

To avoid Bristol's creditors, George DeWolf left his Bristol mansion at night, just before Christmas. Eight years earlier, he had entertained President James Monroe there.

"All the creditors stormed the place and looted it," says Jordan. "They pulled out everything that wasn't nailed to the walls. They took the chandeliers from the ceilings."

 
 
 
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March 21, 2006 1:12 PM

Teaching the truth
 

Sunday, March 19, 2006

When Kristin Hayes teaches slavery, she shows her students a colorful mural depicting a white man on a horse overseeing bare-chested slaves toiling in a field.

"Where is this?" she asks her high school students.

Few recognize it to be a slave plantation on Narragansett Bay.

"It's a real eye opener for kids," says Hayes, a Narragansett High School teacher. "This isn't the Southern slavery they're used to."

About two years ago, Hayes started teaching the true story about Rhode Island's role in the slave trade.

A native Rhode Islander who grew up in East Providence and has been teaching American history for five years, Hayes knew little about the topic until she attended an American history program for teachers at Brown University in 2004.

Her lack of knowledge doesn't surpise historians.

Rhode Islanders celebrate the burning of the Gaspee, the American Revolution and even the state's early nickname, Rogue's Island, but slavery and slave trading -- rarely.

For some, the topic remains a sensitive one.

A year ago, The Journal set out to tell the history of the Rhode Island slave trade. The six-part series, "Unrighteous Traffick," was published last week.

Not everyone wanted to talk about slavery, or help the Journal illustrate the subject.

A caretaker of Casey Farm, the site of a former slave plantation in South County, refused a request from Journal photographer Frieda Squires to take a picture from inside the farmhouse -- even though it's open to the public.

A Newport librarian told her colleague The Journal reporter was here to do more "furtive" research on the slave trade. And one patron at the Newport Historical Society said she was worried that an article about Newport's heavy role in the slave trade could hurt tourism.

And when the Journal asked to photograph paintings of two DeWolf brothers who had been in the slave trade, the owner wanted to know if the stories would be "sensational."

"THE ISSUE OF SLAVERY in Rhode Island is a smoldering volcano that for years has been denied, submerged, lied about and misrepresented," says Richard Lobban, an African studies and anthropology professor at Rhode Island College.

About three years ago, Lobban and others pushed successfully for a plaque on the John Brown House in Providence which acknowledges his role as a slave trader.

Last week, Lobban's wife, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, also an anthropology professor at RIC, and Joaquina Bela Teixeira, executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, met with Bernard P. Fishman, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Society to ask for more.

The meeting was a "chilly one," says Fluehr-Lobban. "Our interests have definitely been sidelined. They've opted for the minimalist slave story."

Fishman disagrees. He says society workers are creating a new program for the John Brown House, one that includes more social history.

In addition, the house will include an exhibit detailing the disastrous voyage of the Sally, a slave voyage underwritten by John Brown and his brothers.

"Slave trading was certainly a part of John Brown's activities and that is made very clear in the house and on the tour," says Fishman. But the tour also covers a 150-year history, some of it after Brown's death. "In a 50-minute tour we can only devote a certain portion to the slave trade."

BETWEEN 1725 and 1807, Rhode Island merchants sent more than 1,000 ships to Africa and carried more than 100,000 Africans to slave plantations in the West Indies, Havana and some of the American Colonies. Rum fueled the business. Barrels of it, made in Rhode Island, were used to buy slaves who were then traded for more molasses in the West Indies so Rhode Island distilleries could make more rum.

Rhode Island accounted for as much as 60 to 90 percent of the American slave trade. And, at its peak, tiny Rhode Island had a larger percentage of slaves -- 11.5 percent -- than either Massachusetts or Connecticut.

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the history of Northern slavery and the slave trade. A handful of scholars have published books and articles about the topic, including Brown graduate Rachel Chernos Lin, now finishing a 10-year study of the Rhode Island slave trade.

New research, says Lin, will change the way Rhode Islanders think about their history.

In the past, scholars reported that only rich merchants invested in the slave trade, she says. But merchants often sought small investors to help share the cost of a slave voyage. Local artisans, shopkeepers -- even a woman who owned a boarding house -- invested in slave voyages, she says.

And, the trade was much more pervasive than scholars originally throught. "It was part of the day-to-day life of Rhode Island. You can't separate it from the economy or society."

BUT OVER the centuries, Rhode Island developed a different picture of its past. Instead of being known for its dominance in slave trading, Rhode Island became better known as an abolitionist stronghold bent on ridding the new nation of slavery, says Joanne Pope Melish, a University of Kentucky professor and the author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860.

That story has persisted, she says. Today, many school teachers rely on an outdated story of great white men -- and more recently, women -- who were some of America's first revolutionaries, Melish says.

That story ignores the North's heavy role in the slave trade, she says.

It also ignores the contribution of blacks and Indians to early American culture and the economy. And it reinforces the idea that, during the Civil War, New Englanders "marched South and shaped up those bad Southerners who had slaves," she says.

Rhode Islanders will hear more about the slave trade soon.

The Choices for the 21st Century Education Program has produced two booklets designed to help educators.

The program, called "A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England," sells for $18 -- or $15 if teachers download it. It was designed with help from the Watson Institute at Brown University and a number of scholars, including Melish.

The Institute already has sold about 200 copies of the booklet to Rhode Island teachers, who will reach about 5,000 students with the slavery program, says Susan Graseck, director of the Choices for the 21st Century Education Program, which produced the booklet.

"It's a significant number. We expect it to build further."

In addition, Brown University is finishing a two-year investigation into the school's ties to slavery. A report by the university's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, due soon, will include a history of the Browns and a series of recommendations on how the university should deal with its past.

At a conference on historical injustice last March, Brown President Ruth J. Simmons -- a great granddaughter of slaves -- told an audience that some people felt her probe was risky.

"One of my friends -- a distinguished professor -- called me and said, 'Girl, are you out of your mind?' " Simmons said.

"People feared for my safety and some were absolutely opposed to any discussion. But history still exerts a powerful influence on us . . . I welcome any discomfort this process causes as necessary. It's there on the edge we learn."

pdavis@projo.com / (401) 277-7093

 
 
 
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March 21, 2006 1:15 PM

Multimedia experience including these articles go to

http://www.projo.com/extra/2006/slavery/

You might need to register and have Macromedia Flash installed.
 
 
 
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March 24, 2006 11:25 PM

Ok we know this is true already. Any comments?

My comment:

Slavery was the driving force behind early Geo-Economic Agrarian societies, here in America, and abroad.

What's new? Did we "miss something"? Certainly not, we were the "Be ALL, End ALL" between the plating season & harvest, whether it be cotton, sugar.

As an aside, does anyone have information on blacks and the early american coal mines? Notice how blacks were *rarely allowed employment in rigorous manual labor during early america METAL Boom.

In agriculture cases, the conditions were harsh, but white's simply had no interest in "working" field, but by all means had every intention to "work" the mine because of the huge profit potential. Same case with "hick" lumber families, who literally "followed" thier corporation through the Pennsylvania forests, building homes with scrap wood left behind by their traveling "company". Yes, company, a term rarely, if *ever used by early black americans.

I would pose the following question to any serious historian/economist, "Where were blacks, and what are their contributions if any to America Early RUSH into strategic commodities?"

GOLD, SILVER, OIL, and COAL vs COTTON, SUGUAR.

Get my point? NO: "Skilled" labor isn't the answer. Because we all know, white children were even sent to the mines. So SERIOUSLY, why didn't blacks have a part to play here whether slave/no slave? Or did they? Why didn't "AMERICAN" corporations exploit African American Labor in the case of extracting vast wealth from early american rich natural resources?

On the other hand, did you know, present day blacks in Africa are voluntarily working for Gold exploration Multi National corporations, who own mines in West/South Africa? This isn't slavery. These individuals have a choice to work, or have a choice not to work.

Now, why couldn't early African American receive similar treatment? Answer: Yet to be determined.
 
 
 
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March 26, 2006 9:07 AM

I would pose the following question to any serious historian/economist, "Where were blacks, and what are their contributions if any to America Early RUSH into strategic commodities?"

GOLD, SILVER, OIL, and COAL vs COTTON, SUGUAR.

Get my point? NO: "Skilled" labor isn't the answer. Because we all know, white children were even sent to the mines. So SERIOUSLY, why didn't blacks have a part to play here whether slave/no slave? Or did they? Why didn't "AMERICAN" corporations exploit African American Labor in the case of extracting vast wealth from early american rich natural resources?---blackblogger

I am sure I 'get' all of your point, but here are some thoughts on the issue.

The 'rush' for precious metals in the United States began during slavery.

The 'rush' was in non-slavery States, typically in the western States, meaning West of The Great Plains. The years 1848 and '49 come to mind.

It is notable that the State of Oregon passed a law prohibiting African American-American immigrants in 1849.

That's one reason.

This is in a time when most African American-Americans were enslaved. There could be little threat of an African infusion, as it were.

As for steel and coal:

The Industrial Revolution began in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

Iron was the original product in the Iron & Steel Industry. Mass labor did not become an issue until after the introduction of the Bessemer Process into the United States in the late 19th century.

Coal was not a big deal until steel production furnaces became a big deal.

The surge of Irish immigration came in the late 1840s. The Irish were angry contestants for the work was being sought by the newly-free African Americans in the last third of the 19th century.

The Riots in New York City were a part of that conflict for work.

I have always been of the position that the reason Andrew Carnegie supported Booker T. Washington's 'Tuskegee Experiment' so strongly was that it promised legions of low-cost labor for the burgeoning steel industry, and its necessary coal mines.

The Coal Industry and The Steel Industry reached deep into the the South, notably in Alabama.

African American-Americans were key to the success of both industries.

Check out the history of the northern cities of Chicago, IL, Gary, IN, Buffalo, NY, Pittsburgh, PA, Harrisburg, PA, Philadelphia, PA, Wheeling, WV, etc.

You will find 'us' wherever there is coal and steel.


PEACE

Jim Chester
 
 
 
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