Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ex-slave Mary Ann Patterson, Texas, Remembers weaving, bear meat, & honey in 19C America

Mary Ann remembered, "I helped wid de work in de 'loom room.' I had to do 'five cuts a day', but I was fast enough to make eight cuts a day. I made five cuts fo' de white folks and three fo' myself...Now, let me tell you about de cooks. Mawster Burleson had a cook fo' de big house and he had a cook fo' de slaves. Dah was a kitchen in de big house fo' de white folks, and dah was a kitchen and long table fo' de hands. We had putty good vittles. I remembah we had so much hog meat dat we'd throw de hogs' head and feet away. Mawster Burleson raised his own hogs. Everythin' dat ole mawster et, we had it too. Sometimes we et deer meat and dah was times when we had bear meat and honey. Mawster Burleson had his own bees."

Photos and quotes of former slaves used in these blog posts come from the Slave Narratives. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Born a Slave - Clara Brown (1800-1885) Colorado

Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia in 1800. At 9, she & her mother were sold into Kentucky. By 18, she married & then gave birth to 4 children. At 35, she was sold at auction & separated from her husband & children. Freed by her 3rd owner in 1859, she traveled to Denver by working as a cook on a wagon train in exchange for her transportation. Brown is said to be the first black woman to cross the plains during the Gold Rush.

In Central City, Colorado, she set up shop as a laundress, worked hard, & saved money. After Emancipation, she returned to Kentucky to search for her lost children in 1866 with no luck. On this trip, she helped ex-slaves relocate to Colorado & later took in needy ex-slaves. In 1879, when she was nearly 80, she traveled to Kansas to help poor freedmen "exodusters" relocated on Kansas farms from the South. In 1882, she finally found her daugher Eliza Jane, who had been sold into slavery as a girl & helped her relocate to Iowa with her grandaughter Cindy. She died in 1885.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Male & Female Slaves & the North Carolina Fishing Industry

In North Carolina & other coastal colonies, slaves served as fishermen & fish processors for their owners.  Usually males fished, & females prepared the catch for market or export.  Between 1800 & the Civil War, African Americans composed approximately 45 percent of the total population in North Carolina's 19 tidewater counties. They made up nearly 60 percent of the total population in its largest seaports. Along the Albemarle Sound, prodigious gangs of black fishermen wielded mile-and-a-half-long seines in what was the largest herring fishery in North America.  Slaves at Shell Castle Island, a shoal at Ocracoke Inlet, ranged up & down the Outer Banks with their nets in pursuit of jumping mullet & bottlenosed dolphins.  The shad & herring fishery along the Albemarle Sound had only one comparable cousin, off the Chesapeake Bay, and the commercial mullet fishery between Bear Inlet & Ocracoke Inlet was unique. But slave fishing and boating were a deeply imbedded and important part of plantation life throughout the southern seacoast.  During this period, the slave plantations of the West Indies became the largest market for American fish.
Sein Fishing in North Carolina, Harper's Weekly (Sept. 28, 1861), p. 620.

Night Fishing in North Carolina 1861.Harper's Weekly (Sept. 28, 1861), p. 621

Fish Processing in North Carolina 1861, Harper's Weekly (Sept. 28, 1861), p.621

See: David S. Cecelski.  The Waterman's Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina.  University of North Carolina Press. 2001

Vickers, Daniel. Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850. Chapel Hill and London: Published for the Institute of Early American history and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia by the University of North Carolina Press, 1994., compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The role of slaves in the 18C & 19C American economy

Male & female Africans were captured & transported to the Western Hemisphere to work.  Most European colonial economies in the Americas from the 16th - 19th century were dependent on enslaved African labor for their survival.  The rationale of European colonial officials was that the abundant land they had "discovered" in the Americas was useless without sufficient labor to exploit it.  Only some 450,000 of the nearly 10 million Africans who survived the Middle Passage across the Atlantic to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade settled in the continental United States. Nevertheless, these 450,000 had grown to more than 4 million people of African descent by 1860, the dawn of the Civil War.
South Carolina

Slavery was not limited to the Western Hemisphere.  The trans-Saharan slave trade had long supplied enslaved African labor to work on sugar plantations in the Mediterranean alongside white slaves from Russia & the Balkans. This same trade also sent as many as 10,000 slaves a year to serve owners in North Africa, the Middle East, & the Iberian Peninsula.
Cartouche Shipping Hogsheads of Tobacco from Frye-Jefferson map of Virginia, 1755

Of the millions of immigrants who survived the crossing of the Atlantic & settled in the Western Hemisphere between 1492 -1776, only about 1 million were Europeans. The remaining were African. An average of 80 % of these enslaved Africans—men, women, & children—were employed, mostly as field-workers. Women as well as children worked in some capacity.

More than half of the enslaved African captives in the Americas were employed on sugar plantations. Sugar developed into the leading slave-produced commodity in the Americas.  During the 16th & 17th centuries, Brazil dominated the production of sugarcane. One of the earliest large-scale manufacturing industries was established to convert the juice from the sugarcane into sugar, molasses, & eventually rum, the alcoholic beverage of choice of the triangular trade.  The profits made from the sale of these goods in Europe, as well as the trade in these commodities in Africa, were used to purchase more slaves.
Tobacco Advertisement Card, Newman’s Best Virginia, 1700s

By 1750, both free & enslaved black people in the British American colonies, despite the hardships of their lives, manifested a deepening attachment to America. The majority of blacks by now had been born in America, rather than in Africa. While a collective cultural memory of Africa was maintained, personal & direct memories had waned. Slave parents began to give their children biblical rather than African names. 
Tobacco Label, Ford’s Virginia

During the British American colonial period in the United States, tobacco was the dominant slave-produced commodity.  During the colonial era, 61% of all American slaves -- nearly 145,000 -- lived in Virginia & Maryland, working the tobacco fields in small to medium-sized gangs. Planters who owned hundreds of slaves often divided them among several plantations. In the North & the Upper South, masters & bondpeople lived close to each other.  Rice & indigo plantations in South Carolina also employed enslaved African labor.  The South Carolina & Georgia coastal rice belt had a slave population of 40,000. Because rice requires precise irrigation & a large, coordinated labor force, enslaved people lived & worked in larger groups. Plantation owners lived in towns like Charleston or Savannah & employed white overseers to manage their far-flung estates. Overseers assigned a task in the morning, & slaves tended to their own needs, when the assigned work was completed. The region was atypical, because of its more flexible work schedules and more isolated and independent slave culture.
Indigo Production South Carolina. William DeBrahm, A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia  London, published by Thomas Jeffreys, 1757.

Exhausted land caused a decline in tobacco production, & the American Revolution cost Virginia & Maryland their principal European tobacco markets, & for a brief period of time after the Revolution. The future of slavery in the United States was in jeopardy. Most of the northern states abolished it, & even Virginia debated abolition in the Virginia Assembly.
Slave Auction. New York Illustrated News; January 26, 1861

The invention of the cotton gin in 1793, gave slavery a new life in the United States. Between 1800 -  1860, slave-produced cotton expanded from South Carolina & Georgia to newly colonized lands west of the Mississippi. This shift of the slave economy from the upper South (Virginia & Maryland) to the lower South was accompanied by a comparable shift of the enslaved African population to the lower South & West.
Hauling Cotton US South. Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853-54)

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, the principal source of the expansion of slavery into the lower South was the domestic slave trade from the upper South.  By 1850, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million enslaved Africans employed in agriculture in the United States were working on cotton plantations.
Picking Cotton. Ballou's Pictorial (Boston, Jan. 23, 1858)

The vast majority of enslaved Africans employed in plantation agriculture were field hands. Some coastal owners used slaves as fishermen.  Even on plantations, however, they worked in many other capacities. Some were domestics & worked as butlers, waiters, maids, seamstresses, & launderers. Others were assigned as carriage drivers, hostlers, & stable boys. Artisans—carpenters, stonemasons, blacksmiths, millers, coopers, spinners, & weavers—were also employed as part of plantation labor forces.
Slave Auction. The Illustrated London News; February 16, 1861

Enslaved Africans also worked in urban areas. Upward of 10% of the enslaved African population in the United States lived in cities. Charleston, Richmond, Savannah, Mobile, New York, Philadelphia, & New Orleans all had sizable slave populations. In the southern cities, they totaled approximately a third of the population.
Edwin Forbes (1839-1895) Stacking Wheat in Culpepper, Virginia 1863

The range of slave occupations in cities was vast. Domestic servants dominated, but there were carpenters, fishermen, coopers, draymen, sailors, masons, bricklayers, blacksmiths, bakers, tailors, peddlers, painters, & porters. Although most worked directly for their owners, others were hired out to work as skilled laborers on plantations, on public works projects, & in industrial enterprises. A small percentage hired themselves out & paid their owners a percentage of their earnings.
Picking Cotton US South Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853-54)

Each plantation economy was part of a larger national & international political economy. The cotton plantation economy, for instance, is generally seen as part of the regional economy of the American South. By the 1830s, "cotton was king" indeed in the South. It was also king in the United States, which was competing for economic leadership in the global political economy. Plantation-grown cotton was the foundation of the antebellum southern economy.
 Ginning Cotton US South Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853-54)

The American financial & shipping industries were also dependent on slave-produced cotton, as was the British textile industry. Cotton was not shipped directly to Europe from the South. Rather, it was shipped to New York & then transshipped to England & other centers of cotton manufacturing in the United States & Europe.  As the cotton plantation economy expanded throughout the southern region, banks & financial houses in New York supplied the loan capital &/or investment capital to purchase land & slaves.
Harvesting Sugar Cane, Louisiana Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853)

As an inexpensive source of labor, enslaved Africans in the United States also became important economic & political capital in the American political economy. Enslaved Africans were legally a form of property—a commodity. Individually & collectively, they were frequently used as collateral in all kinds of business transactions. They were also traded for other kinds of goods & services.
Slave Market. Harper's Weekly, January 24, 1863

The value of the investments slaveholders held in their slaves was often used to secure loans to purchase additional land or slaves. Slaves were also used to pay off outstanding debts. When calculating the value of estates, the estimated value of each slave was included. This became the source of tax revenue for local & state governments. Taxes were also levied on slave transactions.
Planting Rice US South. Harper's Monthly Magazine (1859)

Politically, the U.S. Constitution incorporated a feature that made enslaved Africans political capital—to the benefit of southern states. The so-called three-fifths compromise allowed the southern states to count their slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of calculating states' representation in the U.S. Congress. Thus the balance of power between slaveholding & non-slaveholding states turned, in part, on the three-fifths presence of enslaved Africans in the census.  Slaveholders were taxed on the same three-fifths principle, & no taxes paid on slaves supported the national treasury. In sum, the slavery system in the United States was a national system that touched the very core of its economic & political life.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  

Jubilee: The Emergence of African-American Culture, ed. Howard Dodson. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society.  2003, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Despite slavery, 19C African Americans continued to sing & dance

Dance, Lynchburg, Virginia, 1853 Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867. Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867.

In the African cultures from which the slaves had come, everyday conversations, storytelling, & oral histories during sacred rituals & other celebrations, were filled with energy & dynamism.  Indigenous musics permeated all aspects of traditional African social life. They were used to establish & maintain the rhythms of work. Almost no African festival or life-cycle celebration seemed complete without the presence of music.
Harper's Weekly (April 13, 1861), p 232

Dancing to these rhythms was equally pervasive & usually involved all members of society regardless of age, sex, or social status.  When combined with the spiritual forces invoked by the singing, drumming, & dancing, the African dancers themselves seemed to become the embodiment of the rhythms & the spirits.
 Henry Bibb, Narrative of the life and adventures of Henry Bibb, an American slave (New York, 1849), facing p 23

Africans from a number of different ethnicities & nationalities created new music & dances out of the cultural & material resources found in their new environment in the Western Hemisphere drawing on their traditional African heritage.
Master Juba from American Notes by Charles Dickens 1842

America's Africans built their religious & secular rituals, festivals, & social gatherings on the foundations of song, dances, & rhythms which they invented to cope with the restrictions of their New World realities.
Plantation Dance, South Carolina, ca. 1785-1795  in Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

This music prevailed despite the fact that drums, the rhythmic foundation of African music & dance, were outlawed in many slave communities in the United States.  When slave owners in the United States discovered that drums could be used as a secret means of communication, many banned the use of drums.  In the place of drums, enslaved Africans in the United States substituted hand clapping, "pattin' juba," & tapping the feet in cadences to reproduce the complex rhythms of African drumming.
Jumping the Broom 1850s Emily Clemens Pearson [pseudo. Pocahontas], Cousin Franck’s Household, or, Scenes in the Old Dominion (Boston, 1853), facing p. 169.

Vernacular dances such as jigs, shuffles, breakdowns, shake-downs, & backsteps, as well as the strut, the ring shout, & other religious expressions, were danced to the accompaniment of these drum-less rhythms & to the fiddle, the banjo, bows, gourds, bells, & other hand or feet instruments—all New World African inventions by enslaved Africans.
 Robert Criswell, Uncle Tom's Cabin (New York, 1852), facing p 113

During the slavery era, enslaved Africans became the musicians of choice for white & black celebrations & festivities, because they were recognized by whites & blacks as the best musicians in their locales.
Singing & Corn Shucking in South Carolina 1852. Robert Criswell, Uncle Tom's Cabin (New York, 1852), facing p. 65.

Two indigenous African-American musical forms—the spiritual & the blues—were created by enslaved Africans during the slavery era.
Slave Quarters, Louisiana, 1861-65  Adolf Carlsson Warberg, Skizzer fran Nord-Amerikanska
Kriget, 1861-1865

Negro Firemen's Ball, Sabbatry Hall, Charleston, S.C. Sketched by William Waud, See page 67, New York Illustrated News, December 6, 1862, 77

Contraband Children Dancing the Breakdown. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. January 31, 1863.

Some of the images on this posting are from, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.