Archive | slavery

Acknowledging Northern Slavery: How We Did It in Royalston

Isaac Royall Jr. was the largest slaveholder in Massachusetts.  At least 60 slaves served on his three estates in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and hundreds more on the sugar plantation in Antigua that was the source of his family’s fortune. Before the American Revolution, he was a member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council.  A bequest […]

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Hate Speech and Expulsion: Arkansas’ Free People of Color

The legal disadvantages imposed on free African-Americans, beginning in the late 17th century in the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion, spread south and west from Virginia.  As a stable, stratified society put down roots on each new frontier, it brought with it new laws designed to strengthen the division between the races, and to keep free […]

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Rivers and Freedom: A Child’s Escape

When Patsie Bettis was freed in 1837, a year after the death of her father Elijah Bettis III, she was the mother of two young sons, Drew, age 7, and Martin, age 2.  Drew was the son of Thomas Stevenson Drew, who was married to Patsie’s white cousin Cinderella Bettis.  Martin’s father is unknown, although […]

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The South’s Railroad Problem

In 1851, when Albert Pike visited a number of the Northern states, he reported that Ohio at that time had 29 railroads and 830 miles of track in operation;  Pennsylvania, 52 railroads and 1,224 miles; and Michigan, which had entered the Union at the same time as Arkansas, 4 railroads and 447 miles.  In Arkansas, […]

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Fantasies of a Slave Empire

The mid-19th century in America was a time of exuberant optimism.  We had defeated Mexico, and annexed half of its land.  We were the masters of half a continent, who had driven its original inhabitants off their ancestral territories and confined them in ever-shrinking enclaves of poverty and insignificance. There seemed to be no limit […]

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The Limits of Human Decency

We may never know how Thomas Stevenson Drew lost his fortune, after rising to the position of Governor of Arkansas, but the available sources seem to show that he was a genuinely decent man.  He spent his life in efforts at conciliation and compromise; there is no record of his being involved in any of […]

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Childhood on the Plantation

If you want an up-close look at the horrors of slavery, the volumes of interviews with former slaves conducted by the WPA in the 1930’s are a good place to start.  Voices from Slavery, edited by Norman Yetman, is a carefully curated collection of 100 of these interviews, revealing the extraordinary range of experiences reported […]

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Women and Slaves in the French Towns of the Mississippi

Land use, political structure and fondness for dancing may have been the most visible differences between the French towns of the Mississippi valley and the settlements of the arriving Americans.  Other aspects of French society, however, may have had more enduring effects. One of these aspects involved the roles and status of women.  French women […]

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An Interactive Map: The Spread of the Plantation Economy

Several posts in this series have discussed the gradual loss of rights and dignity by free people of color, as each new frontier became “civilized.”  This fascinating link, shared by Rebecca Krause-Hardie, allows us to see something of what was driving that process.  If you hover over the link for each decade in succession, and […]

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What do you mean, they owned slaves?

In the previous post, I mentioned one thing that made the members of the mixed-race Gibson family “not Negroes” in the eyes of South Carolina’s Governor: the fact that they owned slaves.   Friends to whom I mention this fact sometimes react with shock and disbelief.  How could people whose ancestors had been subject to […]

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