The North and the South – Treatment of Slaves Before the War

With all the hullabuloo surrounding the “Confederate” flag and the outcry to ban it, I’m astounded by the number of people who are ignorant of what it truly is or even means. The flag they’re calling the Confederate Flag, or even the Stars and Bars is neither. It is the battle flag of a regiment out of Virginia. The actual Confederate Flag, also known as the Stars and Bars is this:


But, that’s not what I want to address, in depth, today…

There seems to be a belief that the South was fighting the war over slavery. This is not so. I know what you’re thinking “Oh, I know it’s state’s rights, but the rights they were fighting for was being able to keep their slaves – at a state level.”

Yeah, even then… Not so much.

Slavery is not mentioned at all, or only in passing, in the actual secession documents. In fact, Section 9 of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America states “The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden.” So, slavery was on its way out at the time of the war, not because the North was (supposedly) forcing it, but by choice.

However, African Americans were slaves in both the North and the South and they remained in both after the war – so, let’s talk about that…

Going by the North’s own written records, slaveholders in northern states were far crueler than its Southern counterparts. The most of the south treated imported African Americans as indentured servants. Slavery was legalized in Massachusetts in 1641. Followed by other northern states. It did not first become legal in the South until 1661. Twenty years after it was first legalized in the North.

While the South was importing black indentured servants from Africa, the northern colonies were capturing Pequot Indians, shipping them to Barbados and trading them for black slaves. The North rid itself of the Indians and gained free slave labor at the same time. Rhode Island was the most profitable of all the states in the slave trade. Although the smallest colony, it was the biggest slave trader. There were about 1000 trips, leaving from RI, bringing 20% of the slaves imported to the states.

Records show some of the slave trade coming through Charleston SC in the early 1800s. About 110 slave ships were recorded as docking there. Eighty Eight of the 110 were from Rhode Island. The remaining ships were from France and businessmen who moved to Charleston from Newport Rhode Island to get closer to their market. (And no one finds the anchor on the Rhode Island state flag offensive??)

Of course, there were slave rebellions in both the North and the South (first in 1712 in New York, not until 20 years later in the South.) The rebellion in New York resulted in the deaths of some white residents and 18 blacks were sentenced to death. Records show that some were hanged, some were drawn and quartered and some were slow-roasted over a pit for hours. The slaves who were sentenced to death in the south were done so by hanging. The same way all criminals in the south were put to death.

The slave trade was run by the north. Every slave ship that brought slaves to the states did so under the US flag. Even after slavery was outlawed in the north, Rhode Island, New York and other northern states still traded slaves and sold them to the southern states.

In 1991, workers in New York uncovered bones while digging the foundation for an office building. Researchers were brought in and it was determined to be an African Burial ground – a place that eighteenth century slaves buried their fellow slaves. A study was done of the bones and found that most of the dead were men and women in the 20s. Their arms and legs were misshapen, indicating they’d been worked to death. The study also revealed that many died from malnutrition and some of the children buried there died from starvation at a rate higher than they did in Africa at the time.

When looking at the treatment of the slaves in the south, it’s quite the contrast.

First of all, it is only about 10% or a little less, of the southern states that even had slaves. (This is why it is beyond ludicrous to say it’s why the southern states fought in the war. It wasn’t about the slaves, it was about the north bossing the south around…) Of those who did, very few beat them. There is one picture of a slave that escaped with whip marks on his back – no other evidence at all – and then there’s Harriet Beecher Stowe’s account of slavery on southern plantations that convinced the entire north that there were atrocities taking place in the south – she failed to mention she’d never been south of the Ohio state line – never setting foot one time in the south.

The (overwhelming) majority of slave owners in the south saw the slaves as an investment and thought it rather pointless to beat and or kill something they’d invested in. Aside from that, records taken at the time show the average height and nutrition of a black slave in the south was virtually identical to that of a white man at the time. The mortality rate of the slaves in the South was much lower than those living in the Caribbean.

Contrary to popular belief, the slaves were allowed to marry (census records show that 50% of the marriages performed were between slaves) and marriages weren’t broken up by selling one partner away from the other.  Research has also found that cotton plantation slaves worked an average of 58 hours per week, compared to the 72 hours per week of British textile workers and sixty hours per week that the Northern “freed” slaves worked. (And worked for pennies on the dollar)

Not all slaves were field hands. Many were skilled in some trade or other, blacksmiths, carpenters, etc. One man, Thomas Day of Milton NC, became so renowned for the furniture he made that he was hired to make the furniture for the governor’s mansion. Day’s list of requests was so long that he purchased 14 slaves to expand his trade.

Many of the slaves and their masters lived side by side in the south. Cabins for the slaves were built just yards from the owner’s house and they were also free to move about the countryside – hunting (with firearms), visiting neighboring farms, and working for pay in their free time.

This is shown as such in a statement by Frederick Law Olmstead, a Connecticut landscape architect (who designed Central Park in NY) upon touring the south’s landscape. He remarked “I am struck with the close cohabitation and association of blacks and whites.” He even spoke of a two women, one black and one white, and their daughters, stating he witnessed them saying they  “talked and laughed together and the girls munched confectionery out of the same paper with a familiarity and closeness of intimacy that would have been noticed with astonishment, if not with manifest displeasure, in almost any chance company in the North.”

In the North, not only would that not have been seen, northern owned slaves were punished severely if found on the streets at night or tried to buy products in the market. Northern law forbade female slaves from having sex because pregnancy would make them less productive. These limitations were not put on slaves in the south.

Plus, there were many slave owners that were black themselves. Anthony Johnson, the first legal slave owner (and reportedly the most cruel) and William Ellison were two of the most remarkable. Ellison began growing food for the Confederate army, stopping the more productive crop – cotton, during the war.

So, things aren’t always what they seem.

Next I’ll be addressing the war, why the south seceded, why the north claimed it was for slavery and the treatment of the slaves during that time.




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Posted in Government/Politics, In the Headlines


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