DC antislavery petition ignites NC congressman

“Public opinion! What class of men have an immense preponderance over the
rest of the community, in their power of representing public opinion in the
legislature? The slave­ owners. They send from their 12 States 100 members,
while the 14 free States, with a free population nearly double, return but
142. Before whom do the presidential candidates bow down the most humbly,
on whom do they fawn the most fondly, and for whose tastes do they cater
the most assiduously in their servile protestations? The slave­owners

“Public opinion! Hear the public opinion of the free South, as expressed by
its own members in the House of Representatives at Washington. ‘I have a
great respect for the chair,’ quoth North Carolina, ‘I have a great
respect for the chair as an officer of the House, and a great respect for
him personally; nothing but that respect prevents me from rushing to the
table and tearing that petition which has just been presented for the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, to pieces.’­ ”

— From “American Notes for General Circulation” by Charles Dickens (lightly edited)

North Carolina had 13 representatives during Dickens’s 1842 visit — I’m not finding which of them so respectfully restrained himself. 


Slaves built South’s railroads — when it didn’t kill them

“At the outbreak of the war in 1861, 15,000 slaves were working for Southern railroads….

“Housing often consisted of little more than a tent, and diseases such as scarlet fever, cholera and malaria were rife. [Theodore Kornweibel Jr.] cites a particularly egregious case where a contractor on the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad kept slaves ‘in a square pen, made of pine poles, through which one might thrust his double fists, [with] no shutter on the door…. no chimney and no floor, no bed clothing and no cooking utensils.’

“Conditions were routinely so bad that many owners refused to hire out their slaves to railroad companies, knowing that they might lose their valuable asset.”

— From The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America” by Christian Wolmar (2012)


Insurance ‘to protect their most precious commodity’

“In Richmond, Va., an enterprising New York Life agent sold more than 30 policies in a single day in February 1846. Soon, advertisements began appearing in newspapers from Wilmington, N.C., to Louisville as the New York-based company encouraged Southerners to buy insurance to protect their most precious commodity: their slaves….

“Policy No. 1150 covered Anthony, who labored amid the whirling blades of a sawmill in North Carolina….”

“Insurance Policies on Slaves: New York Life’s Complicated Past” by Rachel L. Swarns in the New York Times (Dec. 18) 


Penalty for blacks worshiping together: 39 lashes

“[In reaction to Nat Turner’s rebellion in Virginia in 1831] a wave of legislation passed over the South….In North Carolina slaves and free Negroes were forbidden to preach, exhort, or teach ‘in any prayer meeting or other association for worship where slaves of different families are collected together’ on penalty of not more than thirty-nine lashes.”

— From “The Negro” by W.E.B. Du Bois (1915)


Work in progress: Statewide index of slave deeds

Shayda Vance grew up not thinking much of her last name. She had never lived in Western North Carolina, and although she knew some of her family hailed from Weaverville, her bloodlines were a bit of a mystery.

“Like many of the 42 million African-Americans living in the United States, part of her lineage is a web of unknown trades and transactions that started on the shores of West Africa and ended in 1870, when more than 240 years after their arrival in the American South, slaves were listed by name in a U.S. Census for the first time.

“Now researchers in North Carolina are working to add to those records by amassing a statewide index of slave deeds, inspired in part by Buncombe County’s work in unearthing records of sale in Western North Carolina….”

— From “Buncombe records unearth slave data, expansion planned” by Beth Walton in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Oct. 14)



In legalizing ex-slave marriages, timing was crucial

“…In North Carolina the legal status of slave unions was among the first issues on the agenda of the 1865 constitutional convention. The final act declared all unions of ex-slaves who ‘now cohabit together in relation of husband and wife’ to be lawful marriages from ‘the time of commencement of such cohabitation.’

“As [Duke] historian Laura Edwards argues, the date of commencement was important: ‘If the date had been set at either emancipation or the ratification of the act, then all children born in slavery would have been illegitimate and their maintenance could have fallen to the state.’ ”

— From American Marriage: A Political Institution” by Priscilla Yamin (2012)


Then and now, fearing ‘evils arising’ from free assembly

“During the antebellum era, citizens in Southern states recognized the significance of assembly and routinely sought to prohibit its exercise among slaves and free blacks…. In 1818, citizens in North Carolina petitioned for restrictions against ‘the Numerous quantity of Negroes which generally assemble,’ and 40 years later sought ‘to relieve the people of the State from the evils arising from numbers of free negroes in our midst’….

“By the end of the 1960s, the right of assembly had largely disappeared from American constitutional law. The Supreme Court, in fact, has not addressed an assembly case in 30 years. But Ferguson — and the history toward which it points — shows us why assembly cannot be forgotten….”

— From “The Right of Assembly Violently Wrested” by John Inazu in the Hedgehog Review (Sept. 11, 2014)


Slaves could die from ‘moderate correction’

“Black codes and slave courts in the North American colonies, like those in the Caribbean, focused intensely on protecting the bodies of slaves while masking the extremities of mutilation….

“In John Haywood’s A Manual of the Laws of North Carolina (1808), a person would be judged ‘guilty of willfully and maliciously killing a slave’ except when the slave died resisting his master or when ‘dying under moderate correction.’

“To style the ‘correction’ of a slave that causes death ‘moderate’ is to assure that old abuses and arbitrary acts would continue to be masked by vague standards and apparent legitimacy.”

— From “Cruel and Unusual: The end of the Eighth Amendment” by Joan Dayan at Boston Review (Oct. 7, 2004)


White woman’s lament: Slaves ‘need constant driving’

“Some white Southern women evince more frustration at their own position, or at the position of all white Southern women, than any real feeling for the oppression of slaves. Fanny Moore Webb Bumpas, for instance, of Pittsboro, North Carolina, complains in her journal [1844]:
” ‘We contemplate of late removing to a free state. There we hope to be relieved of many unpleasant things but particularly of the evils of slavery, for slaves are a continual source of trouble. They need constant driving, [and] they are a source of more trouble to house keepers than all other things, vexing them, and causing much sin.'”

“– From “Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Nineteenth-Century Women Novelists Respond to Stowe”  by Joy Jordan-Lake (2005)


How plantation owner corresponded with his slaves

“Illiteracy… compromised but did not preclude participation in America’s [antebellum] postal network.

“A fascinating correspondence between absentee slaveholder William S. Pettigrew and the enslaved foremen on his two North Carolina plantations illustrates this crucial point nicely. During an an extended convalescence at Healing Springs in Virginia, Pettigrew sought to manage his business affairs by corresponding with Moses and Henry, the two illiterate overseers, relying upon a white intermediary.

” ‘Thinking you would be glad to hear from me,’ Pettigrew wrote to Moses in 1856, ”I have concluded to write you a few lines and will enclose them to Mr. White who will read them to you.’ Though Malica J. White’s own skills were quite rough, he dutifully transcribed the replies of three different slaves, and a detailed correspondence ensued, dealing with countless details of crop production, workplace discipline, and plantation life. Pettigrew always addressed Moses and Henry directly, and they responded in kind. Upon receiving their replies, Pettigrew offered paternalistic congratulations to Moses for his ‘succe[ss] as a letter-writer,’ proudly showed the letter to a friend, and instructed Moses to ‘writ[e] more frequently,’ de-emphasizing White’s mediation’ ….”

— From “The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America” by David M. Henkin (2008)