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Vol. 24 No. 6- June 2011


Volume 24, No. 6
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 Assembly

Bill McEachern will reprise a speech given by Professor James I. Robertson at Florida Atlantic University earlier this year. The speech, entitled "Reflections of the Civil War", dealt with the concept that life in the modern United States was shaped by the Civil War. To illustrate his point, Professor Robertson detailed 20 things that the Civil War changed which Americans take for granted as essential features of modern life. One of the most distinguished names in Civil War history, Dr. Robertson is the author or editor of more than 20 books that include such award-winning studies as Civil War!, America Becomes One Nation, General A.P. Hill, and Soldiers Blue and Gray. His massive biography of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson won eight national awards and was used as the base for the Ted Turner/Warner Bros. megamovie, Gods and Generals. Robertson was chief historical consultant for the film.

President’s Message

If you would like to present a program, please talk to me at the meeting or call 967-8911. We are scheduling programs for the coming year. Cleaning out a closet or a bookcase? Please remember that the Round Table is in need of books for the monthly raffle. Round Table member Jack Travis has published a new book Rebel Gunner, General E. Porter Alexander. The book is available at Jack's website is

I am making vinegar pies that everyone can taste. I will also answer the question that is on everyone's mind: "Why pies are round and not square"

Gerridine LaRovere

May 11, 2011 Assembly

Camille Granda gave an impassioned presentation. She said she was moved to talk about the subject by her compassion for the slaves. The source of her talk was Julius Lester’s To Be A Slave, first published in 1968 and republished in 1998. Lester’s book is miscataloged in the library as a “child’s book” and should be read by every adult. Figures in [xx] refer to the pages of the 1998 soft cover edition.

“To the slaves it was clear that slavery existed for two reasons: free labor, and the money that was gotten from the fruits of that free labor and from the selling of slaves. ‘A lick of labor and . . . . a red penny.’ Black men, black women, and black children were enslaved because it was profitable to other men. . . . The institution of slavery had no redeeming virtues for the enslaved. Not even that of stability, or at least being kept on one plantation, in one place all of one's life. The rule, more than the exception was that before his life was over he would live on at least two and many times more plantations. “ [38-39]

“Slave owners sold their slaves for various reasons.” Often he would sell some of his slaves to clear a debt. “An unmanageable slave who fought back or ran away was either killed or sold.” Breeding slaves (which was particularly true in Virginia) guaranteed the owner his work force for the next generation or he would sell the children either as infants or older and make a reasonable amount of money. "I don't know how old I was when I found myself standing on a high stump with a lot of white folks walking around looking at the little scared boy that was me.” [40]

One mother had seven children. When her baby got to be a year or two, the baby would be sold. When her fourth baby was born and she realized she would have to give it up also, she gave it a bottle and pretty soon it was dead. She had decided that master was not going to sell this baby. You could have been sold and never even knew it. “You wasn't even permitted to say goodbye to your husband or your children - - you were just told by your new owner ‘I bought you this morning,’ and that was that.” [40]

Slaves could be sold informally one owner to another or through slave traders. “Nathan Bedford Forrest was the largest slave trader in Memphis, Tennessee during the 1850's and in one year made a profit of $96,000.” The largest slave trading firm was that of Franklin and Armfield. Their main office was in Alexandria, Virginia and they had representatives in New Orleans, Natchez, Mississippi, Richmond and Warrenton, Virginia and Frederick, Baltimore and Easton, Maryland. By the time they retired each of them had accumulated over half a million dollars. The slave market was like the stock market. Prices fluctuated according to the economic climate and what was happening in the world.” The election of Lincoln touched off the biggest rash of selling. [43-44]

“I was a boy then big enough to work. I had a brother named John and a cousin named Brutus. Both were sold and three weeks later it was my turn. My mother and father prayed over me and told me how to get along in the world. I took my little bundle of clothes, a pair of slips, a shirt and a pair of jeans pants, and went to my mama to give her my last farewell. I did not see her again until after the war.” [45]

“The slave trader's job was to sell to the highest bidder, not to see that each slave was sold to a kind master.” [45] When the trader “was going to sell a slave, he fed that one good for a few days and when he was put on the block he took a meat skin and greases all around the slave’s mouth so it would appear as if he has been eating plenty of meat and such like and was good and strong for work. Sometimes babies were sold from a woman's breast while on the auction block, or the mothers from the husbands and so on. If they hollered they would be threatened to be whipped. The slave trader and his wife sure love their six children though. They wouldn't want anyone buying them.” [48]

“In the slave-holding South, the more slaves a man owned the more respected he was. In 1860 there were 384,884 slave owners in the South. Of that number less than three thousand owned more than one hundred slaves. The overwhelming majority held less than twenty slaves. Even if a man only had one or two slaves he was held in higher status in southern society than a man without any slaves.” [60]

Slave family“The houses of the slaves were generally more fit for animals than humans. One of the notable exceptions were the slaves at Monticello. More typical were the houses George Washington built for his slaves, "Julian Niemcewicz, a Polish poet spent time at Mont Vernon and describes the conditions there. ‘We entered some negroe's huts, for their habitations cannot be called houses. They are far more miserable than the poorest of the cottages of our peasants. Husband and wife slept on a miserable bed, children on the floor. a very poor chimney, a little kitchen furniture amid this misery. Five or six hens, each with ten or fifteen chickens, walked there. This is the only pleasure allowed to negroes. They are not permitted to keep either ducks or geese or pigs. They sell the chickens in Alexandria and buy with the money some furniture. They receive a peck of Indian corn every week, and half of it is for the children, beside twenty herrings in a month. The General possesses 300 negroes, excepting women and children, of which a part belongs to Mrs. Washington.” [63]

Whipping“From the slave’s point of view, the picture was even more grim. ‘The softest couches are not to be found in the log mansion of the slaves. The one wherein I reclined year after year was a plank twelve inches wide and ten feet long. My pillow was a stick of wood. The bedding was a coarse blanket and not a rag or shred beside. Moss might be used, were it not that it directly breed swarms of fleas. The cabin is made of logs, without floor or window. The latter is altogether unnecessary, the crevices between logs admit sufficient light. ...Rain drives through them rendering it comfortless and similar to a pigsty. In a single room huddled like cattle were ten or a dozen persons, men, women and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were out of the question.

In ordinary times we had two regular meals in a day, breakfast at twelve o'clock, after laboring from daylight, and supper when the work of the remainder of the day was over. In harvest season we had three.” The slaves' principal occupation was work and cotton was the product. “Some crops could be planted, hoed and left to grow until harvest. Not cotton.” [64-65]

“I think about the one hundred and sixty eight of us assembled in the morning at the sound of the horn.... More than half of the gang was entirely naked. There was not an entire garment among us. With the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given us at noon so I can swallow my allowance of cold bacon, we are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see, and when the moon is full, we often labor til the middle of the night. Each slave had a quota to be picked and if he was short -- a whipping would result. The number of lashes is graduated according to the nature of the case. Twenty Five are deemed a mere brush, inflicted for instance when a dry leaf or a piece of boll is found in the cotton, or when a branch is broken in the field. Once the slaves left the field our work was far from finished. Each had their respective chores of feeding the animals, getting the wood and so on.” [71-73]

The slave never had a name of his own but always went by the name of his current master.  “Without a name of his own, his ability to set himself apart from his owners was lessened.  He was never asked, ‘Who are you,’ but ‘Whose nigger are you?’ [77]

“Another instrument used to control the minds of the slaves was religion. No slave owner allowed his slaves to attend church by themselves. The slave owner either did the preaching himself or hired a white preacher, or let a trusted slave preach. The whole essence of the preaching was to let the Meadowsslave know how happy he was to be a slave.  In Missouri, the religious teaching consisted of teaching the slave he must never strike a white man: that God made him for a slave, and when whipped must not find fault, for the Bible says, ‘He that knoweth his master’s will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Slaveholders found such religion very profitable to them.” [77-78]

Slaves that had been brought from Africa had a different mindset than a slave born into slavery for they had previously experienced lives that had shown them they were not inferior. The slave born into slavery never knew anything else. All their ideas had been ingrained into them from white people whose intentions were to keep them believing they were inferior and to be grateful for what they did have. [87] There was also a difference between the house slaves and the field slaves. The field slaves were able to create their own world within the plantation. To be dumb served their purpose. When one is dumb one can't be expected to do anything and the slaves devised ways to utilize this belief of the slave owners. “You only had to perform at the level of a person considered incapable of performing any better. Thus the slave took advantage of his alleged inferiority!” [98-99]

For ten years after slavery ended, during Reconstruction, many black persons born into slavery rose to land ownership and went into politics. But, after the Union army was withdrawn in 1876, white reaction to the rise of black folks created another form of slavery and what the black folks had achieved would be stripped from them for more than a century.

A good round of questions (with many answers coming from the members present) followed this fine presentation.

Your editor has come upon an interesting and unexpected resource on the subject of slavery: the website “SCIWAY” of the South Carolina Information Highway:

South Carolina – African-Americans – Buying and Selling Human Beings
Written by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation
Black Ivory – Africa's Export

As with Native Americans, Africans were often sold into slavery by enemy tribes. However, as Christopher C. Boyle points out in his essay Rise of the Georgetown Rice Culture,

“The most common reasons for selling tribal members to the Europeans were for offenses against society, such as murder or theft, offenses against the king, or even personal or tribal misfortunes such as indebtedness or tribal famine.”

But whatever the reason, he says, "the sale of human lives was profitable for African tribal kings and the European traders as well as the colonial planters." Most of the slaves brought to South Carolina came from the West Coast of Africa – and more specifically from a region called the Gold Coast. As Johann Martin Bolzius noted in his An Account of Life in the Carolinas in 1750, "The best Negroes come from the Gold Coast in Africa, namely Gambia and Angolo." However, as Boyle explains, "some slaves, mostly prisoners of intertribal warfare, came from as far as 700 miles into the interior of the Africa." One of the reasons South Carolina planters wanted slaves from the coastal regions of Africa was that they already knew how to grow rice. In fact, Boyle notes that "rice growing had been a dominant part of [coastal] African culture since 1500 BC.”

The Auction Block – How Slaves Were Sold

Poster“I see 'em sell plenty colored peoples away in them days, 'cause that the way white folks made heap of their money. Course, they ain't never tell us how much they sell 'em for. Just stand 'em up on a block about three feet high and a speculator bid 'em off just like they was horses. Them what was bid off didn't never say nothing neither. Don't know who bought my brothers, George and Earl. I see 'em sell some slaves twice before I was sold, and I see the slaves when they be traveling like hogs to Darlington. Some of them be women folks looking like they going to get down, they so heavy. “

The slave auctioneers spoke of their business as though they were, in fact, buying and selling hogs. The callousness is clear in this July 10, 1856 letter from slave trader A. J. McElveen to Charleston slave merchant Z.B. Oakes:

“I offered Richardson $1350 [equal to $27,000 in 1998] for his two negros. He Refused to take it. The fellow is Rather light. He weighs 121 lbs., but Good teeth & not whipped. The little Girl he was offrd $475 [$9,500 in 1998]. I thought the boy worth about $850 [$17,000, 1998] and at that price they would not Sell for cost, but I Supposed the fellow would bring $900 to $950 [$18,000 to $19,000 in 1998] &c and the little Girl $500 [$8,300, 1998] at best.”

Edmund L. Drago's book, Broke by the War: Letters of a Slave Trader, includes additional letters describing the nonchalance of those dealing in "the bodies and souls of men." (University of South Carolina Press, 1991)

The Price of a Human Being

And what was the value of these human beings that South Carolina planters and merchants traded in? Prices can be calculated from bills of sale, inventories, and other historic documents. . . the price of a slave was variable. Slaves were often divided into classes. An 1857 account reveals these values:


The Separation of Families

Southern dealers and plantation owners defended their practices, claiming that separations of families were rare and that when they did occur, there was little hardship. South Carolinian Chancellor Harper argued that blacks lacked any capability for domestic affection and showed, "insensibility to ties of kindred." In other words, African-Americans really didn't mind being bought and sold since they were naturally promiscuous and lacked the ability to achieve stable family life. This, of course, was simply paternalistic racism.

As an old former slave, Jennie Hill, explained

“Some people think that slaves had no feeling – that they bore their children as animals bear their young and that there was no heart-break when the children were torn from their parents or the mother taken from her brood to toil for a master in another state. But that isn't so. The slaves loved their families even as the Negroes love their own today and the happiest time of their lives was when they could sit at their cabin doors when the day's work was done and sang the old slave songs, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground, " and "Nobody Know What Trouble I've Seen." Children learned these songs and sang them only as a Negro child could. That was the slave's only happiness, a happiness that for many of them did not last.”

And another ex-slave, Savilla Burrell, remembered the heartache this way:

“They sell one of Mother's chillun once, and when she take on and cry about it, Marster say, ‘Stop that sniffing there if you don't want to get a whipping.’ She grieve and cry at night about it.”

How many slaves were sold away from their families? One study, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South by Michael Tadman, suggests that one out of every five marriages was prematurely terminated by sale and that if other interventions are added, the number rises to one in three. In addition, slave trading tore away one in every two slave children under the age of 14.

Whipping of Slaves

The law provided slaves with virtually no protection from their masters. On large plantations this power was delegated to overseers. These men were under considerable pressure from the plantation owners to maximize profits. They did this by bullying the slaves into increasing productivity.

The main method used to control the behavior of slaves was the threat of having them whipped. The number of lashes depended on the seriousness of the offence. Austin Steward wrote that on his plantation 39 lashes was the number for most offences. Francis Fredric ran away and was free for nine weeks. After he was captured he was given 107 lashes. Moses Roper, received 200 lashes and this was only brought to an end when the master's wife pleaded for his life to be spared.

WhippingAs they knew that as blacks were unable to give testimony against white people in court, overseers knew that they were fairly safe in handing out these whippings. In September, 1844, the St. Louis Republican reported that a eight year old black girl had been whipped to death. However, the master of the girl was acquitted. Women as well as men were whipped. This was one of the reasons why slaves preferred to marry women from other plantations. Moses Grandy argued that: "no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused without daring to say a word in her defense." Henry Bibb agreed pointing out: "If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to witness the sight."

In her autobiography Elizabeth Keckley reported how she enjoyed a good relationship with her master who was a church minister. However, he arranged for her to be whipped in order to subdue what he called her "stubborn pride".


Last changed:  06/23/11

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