We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting to give you the inside scoop on what you may have missed at Wilson Library last week.
The Southern Historical Collection had the privilege of hosting Edward E. Baptist as he presented findings from his new book The Half Has Never Been Told: The Making of American Capitalism. The book received media attention when The Economist published a now-redacted review criticizing his argument that the slave system in the pre-Civil War south is largely responsible for the capitalist system in America. Due to his book’s attention (and its increasingly positive reviews), we couldn’t wait to hear what evidence for this argument he found in our archives!
Dr. Baptist opened by explaining how he began trying to find accounts of slave survival and endurance during the migration of slaves deeper south to meet the growing demand for cotton. He explained that what he uncovered during the process was the systematic torture of slaves, to increase the amount of cotton that was picked. Not many personal accounts of slaves from that time period exist, what he was able to find though was ledgers, receipts, and bank notes revealing how slaves provided collateral on bank loans, how foreign investors provided the funds for new plantation owner’s to buy slaves, and how slave owner’s systematically exploited slaves to increase the amount of cotton they picked.
The ledgers he found here at the Southern Historical Collection reveal that the growing world demand for cotton drove plantation owners to push slaves into picking greater and greater amounts of cotton. The ledgers reveal the weight of cotton picked by a slave, at three points during a single day. They forced slaves to exceed their past weights through systematic torture; they would be beaten if they fell under their quota, and exceeding their past performance resulted in the owners setting a higher quota for them. This widespread system of torture made the slaves valuable, and was the only way to meet the economic demand for cotton at the time. During the lecture, Dr. Baptist expressed how troubling this is to the American conception of capitalism, which is often associated with freedom and equality.
This is only a small portion of what Dr. Baptist found in his book, and we highly recommend that you check it out! It expands on slavery as an economic system, while also illuminating the resilience of slaves from their own personal accounts.
See you on Wednesday, when you can expect to find another staff profile! We hope you’re getting to know us a little better. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know what you think of Edward E. Baptist’s book!
The SHC has several wonderful projects available online that provide samples or portions of our collections, including: online exhibits, digitized historical images, maps, bound volumes, and other interesting online content. Today we wanted to share one such project with you. It’s called the Manigault Plantation Journal. It’s found by visiting the UNC Library homepage, then clicking on Digital Collections. Or you can go directly there by visiting this link:
The Manigault Plantation Journal, compiled by Louis Manigault between 1856 and 1879, includes information on plantation life, slaves and slavery, rice cultivation, market conditions, accounts, and other topics. Notes and memoranda kept by Charles Manigault regarding the plantations during the 1830s and 1840s were pasted into the journal. Pages of particular interest include:
A narrative of plantation life during the Civil War (pages 22-39)
A hand-drawn and colored illustration of Gowrie House (page 41)
A hand-drawn and colored illustration of the kitchen house at Gowrie Plantation (page 45)
A narrative of a post-Civil War visit to the plantations (pages 55-71)
A list of slaves, including their names and ages, who were sold at auction in Charleston, 13 January 1859 (page 140)
A photograph of “Dolly,” a runaway slave, and an accompanying description (page 179)
The image shown in this post is that photograph of “Dolly.” The accompanying description and the offer of a $50.00 reward for her return are real and heartbreaking reminders of the cruelties of slavery.
The Manigault Plantation Journal is part of the Manigault Family Papers (#484). An full inventory of the materials in this collection is available here.
The U.S. Senate approved a resolution on Thursday calling on Congress to officially apologize for slavery and segregation of African-Americans. The House is set to take up the resolution as early as next week.
If approved, the resolution would be the first time Congress has ever formally apologized on behalf of the United States for slavery. Six state legislatures — in Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina — have adopted their own resolutions apologizing for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled. In fact, a similar resolution was put forth one year ago by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). That bill passed the House but then died in the Senate.
The 2009 resolution differs from Rep. Cohen’s 2008 resolution in that it includes a disclaimer: “Nothing in this resolution — A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concerns about the disclaimer, saying that it seemed to be an attempt to prevent any future claims to the U.S. government to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves.
On Friday, in a statement recognizing Juneteenth (a day sometimes referred to as “Emancipation Day”), President Barack Obama praised the Senate-backed resolution: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them,” Obama said, “In light of the historic unanimous vote in the United States Senate this week supporting the call for an apology for slavery and segregation, the occasion carries even more significance.”
This collection, including the photo album of tintypes, was received by the SHC in 1954. Very little is known about the album’s origins. Actually, not much is known about the album’s connection with the greater Lester-Gray collection. The album holds 17 tintypes and one carte-de-visite picturing African Americans — women, men, and children — well-dressed and formally posed. The album arrived with this curious label: “Negroes, born and Bred on Gen. Lee’s Land, 1862.”
Over the years, many people have inquired about the accuracy of this description and date on the album. More importantly people have often asked us about the identity of the individuals portrayed in these photographs. Could these individuals really have lived at Arlington House (the historic home of the Lee and Custis families of Virginia, and home to the Robert E. Lee Memorial)?
In fact, it was one of our researchers who helped us more accurately date these photographs. Several years ago a researcher, who is a maker of historically accurate dolls, agreed to give us her expert opinion of the dress and hairstyles. Her assessment dated the majority of these images to the time period between 1880 and 1900. Following additional research and consideration, our staff then updated our description to include the following statement: “Despite the label on the album, most of the images appear to date from 1880-1900, and there is no direct evidence of connection with Robert E. Lee.”
We have long believed that someone else out there might have additional knowledge that could help to identify some or all of these individuals. Or, perhaps, with some work between the archives at the Arlington House and these materials here in the SHC, more could be unearthed.