Undeniable Truths <br> As I see it: July 2010


Slaveholding for Comfort and Prestige

New York’s experience in slaveholding did not end until the late 1820’s and many citizens would sell their chattel to plantations in the South before the deadline rather than lose their investment. The small free-black population which remained found themselves proscribed by Jim Crow laws which erected a minimum $250 property ownership in order to vote, and pertaining only to black New Yorkers.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

Slaveholding for Comfort and Prestige:

“New York was slow in drawing white settlers until after mid [18th] century, and the shortage of labor led to a considerable use of slaves; indeed it is possible that in the early Dutch days it was slave labor that enabled the colony to survive. Most of the first slaves were not from Africa but were re-imported from Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.

It was a profitable system: in the 1640’s it cost only a little more to buy a slave than to pay a free worker’s wage for a year. After the English took control of New Netherland in 1664, a brick and highly profitable trade in skilled slaves was carried on. Most slaveholders in the province were flourishing small farmers or small artisans who, in the absence of an adequate supply of free labor, needed moderately skilled help, and were able to pay the rising prices for slaves.

A partial census of 1755 showed a widely diffused slave population, most owners having only one or two slaves, only seven New Yorkers owning ten or more. Among the largest lots held were those of the elder Lewis Morris with 66 slaves on his large estate and the first Frederick Philipse, an affluent landowner, with about 40. Such men could work gangs of slaves on their manors, but slaves were also sought by other wealthy men for the comfort and prestige a substantial staff of domestic servants would bring. William Smith, for example, was reputed to keep a domestic staff of 12 or more to run his New York City household, and other leading citizens travelled with Negro footmen.

From the first the competition of black labor was resented by whites. Competition in the labor market was intensified by the slave owners’ widespread practice of putting out their slaves for hire, under-cutting white laborers who were paid twice the slaves’ wages.

Slave controls, reflecting persistent nervousness in the white population, were quite rigid. Aside from private punishments that could be administered by masters, such public controls were meant to put sharp limits on the temptations slaves would face. After 1702, flogging was prescribed if three slaves gathered together on their own time….nor could they engage in trade without their master’s consent.”

(America at 1750, a Social Portrait, Richard Hofstadter, Vintage Books, 1973, pp. 99-101)


A Victory of Superior Numbers

Prior to his election as Governor in 1862, New York’s Horatio Seymour warned his electorate of the true cause of the war, and that the North’s triumph would be the result of superior numbers and munitions of war.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

A Victory of Superior Numbers:

“It was [Seymour’s] belief, he declared, that if people asked themselves why the United States had split asunder in civil war, they had only to read Washington’s Farewell Address for their answer and find out how completely they had neglected the warning of their first President. Men who were loyal to nothing less than the whole Union both North and South would have to fight the spirit of both North and South alike, for people who made their prejudices and passions “higher” laws than the laws of the land were by no means confined to the eleven States which had arrogated to themselves the dangerous right to secede.

A majority of the American people, he reminded his hearers, had not preferred Lincoln for President, and a large part of the voters had deplored his election as a calamity, but Lincoln had been chosen constitutionally and deserved a “just and generous support” – as long as he kept himself within the limits of that very Constitution by which he was entitled to his office.

What would it profit the North to conquer the South if it destroyed the compact of government in the process? Alexander Stephens, though he disapproved of secession, had followed his Georgia out of the Union; Seymour, though he disapproved of abolition and did not vote for Lincoln, stayed in the Union with New York.

Yet the war was a fact, and because the decision of it would depend on might, the men of the North would be most unwise to call the victory they fought for “right.” “We are to triumph,” Seymour warned his hearers, “only by virtue of superior numbers, of greater resources, and a juster cause.” The arrangement of his words is significant.

Slavery, he insisted, was not the cause of the Civil War, for slavery had always existed in the land; it was present when the Union was formed, and the people had prospered before it became a matter of dispute. Causes and subjects were frequently distinct: the main cause of the war was the agitation and arguments over slavery. [Seymour stated] “If it is true that slavery must be abolished to save this Union then the people of the South should be allowed to withdraw themselves from that government which cannot give them the protection guaranteed by its terms.” To grant immediate freedom to four million uneducated Africans would disorganize, even if it did not destroy, the Southern States.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 238-239)


Treatment of Prisoners During the War

VICE-PRESIDENT ALEX. H. STEVENS, in his "War Between the States," declared that the efforts which have been made to "fix the odium of cruelty and barbarity" upon Mr. Davis and the Confederate authorities "constitute one of the boldest and baldest attempted outrages upon the truth of history which has ever been essayed." After briefly, but most conclusively, discussing the general question, Mr. Stevens continues as follows in reference to the Federal prisoners sent South:

Large numbers of them were taken to Southwestern Georgia in 1864, because it was a section most remote and secure from the invading Federal armies, and because, too, it was a country of all others then within the Confederate limits, not thus threatened with an invasion, most abundant with food, and all resources at command for the health and comfort of prisoners.They were put in one stockade for the want of men to guard more than one. The section of country, moreover, was not regarded as more unhealthy, or more subject to malarious influences, than any in the central part of the State. The official order for the erection of the stockade enjoined that it should be in "a healthy locality, plenty of pure water, a running stream, and, if possible, shade tress, and in the immediate neighborhood of grist and saw mills." The very selection of the locality, so far from being, as you suppose, made with cruel designs against the prisoners, was governed by the most humane considerations.

Your question might, with much more point, be retorted by asking, why were Southern prisoners taken in the dead of winter with their thin clothing to Camp Douglas, Rock Island and Johnson's Island - icy regions of the North - where it is a notorious fact that many of them actually froze to death?

As far as mortuary returns afford evidence of the general treatment of prisoners on both sides, the figures show nothing to the disadvantage of the Confederates, notwithstanding their limited supplies of all kinds, and notwithstanding all that has been said of the horrible sacrifice of life at Andersonville.

It now appears that a larger number of Confederates died in Northern than of Federals in Southern prisons or stockades. The report of Mr. Stanton, as Secretary of War, on the 19th of July, 1866, exhibits the fact that, of the Federal prisoners in Confederate hands during the war, only 22,576 died; while of Confederate prisoners in Federal hands 26,436 died. This report does not set forth the exact number of prisoners held by each side respectively. These facts were given more in detail in a subsequent report by Surgeon General Barnes, of the United States Army. His report I have not seen, but according to a statement editorially, in the National Intelligencer - very high authority - it appears from the Surgeon General's report, that the whole number of Federal prisoners captured by the Confederates and held in Southern prisons, from first to last during the war, was, in round numbers, 270,000; while the whole number of Confederates captured and held in prisons by the Federals was, in like round numbers, only 220,000. From these two reports it appears that, with 50,000 more prisoners in Southern stockades, or other modes of confinement, the deaths were nearly 4,000 less! According to these figures, the per centum of Federal deaths in Southern prisons was under nine! while the per centum of Confederate deaths in Northern prisons was over twelve! These mortality statistics are of no small weight in determining on which side was the most neglect, cruelty
and inhumanity!

But the question in this matter is, upon whom does this tremendous responsibility rest of all this sacrifice of human life, with all its indescribable miseries and sufferings? The facts, beyond question or doubt, show that it rests entirely upon the authorities at Washington! It is now well understood to have been a part of their settled policy in conducting the war not to exchange prisoners. The grounds upon which this extraordinary course was adopted were that it was humanity to the men in the field, on their side, to let their captured comrades perish in prison, rather than to let an equal number of Confederate soldiers be released on exchange to meet them in battle! Upon the Federal authorities, and upon them only, with this policy as their excuse, rests the whole of this responsibility. To avert the indignation which the open avowal of this policy by them only, with this policy as their excuse, rests the whole of this responsibility. To avert the indignation which the open avowal of this policy by them at the time would have excited throughout the North, and throughout the civilized world, the false cry of cruelty towards prisoners was raised against the Confederates. This was but a pretext to cover their own violation of the usages of war in this respect among civilized world, the false cry of cruelty towards prisoners was raised against the Confederates. This was but a pretext to cover their own violation of the usages of war in this respect among civilized nations.

Other monstrous violations of like usages were not attempted to be palliated by them, or even covered by a pretext. These were, as you must admit, open, avowed and notorious! I refer only to the general sacking of private houses - the pillaging of money, plate, jewels and other light articles of value, with the destruction of books, works of art, paintings, pictures, private manuscripts and family relics; but I allude, besides these things, especially to the hostile acts directly against property of all kinds, as well as outrages upon non-combatants - to the laying waste of whole sections of country; the attempted annihilation of all the necessaries of life; to the wanton killing, in many instances, of farm stock and domestic animals; the burning of mills, factories and barns, with their contents of grain and forage, not sparing orchards or growing crops, or the implements of husbandry; the mutilation of county and municipal records of great value; the extraordinary efforts made to stir up servile insurrections, involving the wide spread slaughter of women and children; the impious profanation of temples of worship, and even the brutish desecration of the sanctuaries of the dead!

All these enormities of a savage character against the very existence of civilized society, and so revolting to the natural sentiments of mankind, when not thoroughly infuriated by the worst of passions, and in open violation of modern usages in war - were perpetrated by the Federal armies in many places throughout the conflict, as legitimate means in putting down the rebellion, so-called! - War Between the States, vol. 2, pp. 507-510.

Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.3. March - Pages 123 -125


Spirit of Hate in Rochester

The vigilante justice of lynching was not confined to the South as it is common to believe, and race relations in the North, before and after the war, were not as harmonious as abolitionists and advocates of the mythical underground railroad pronounced. Frederick Douglass was no stranger to hate: he was one of those who encouraged the hate-enraged John Brown toward Harpers Ferry in 1859, afterward hiding in Canada to avoid extradition to Virginia for punishment. The blood of a million Americans stained Douglass’s hands.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

Spirit of Hate in Rochester:

“After his Rochester, New York, home was burned to the ground by incendiary on June 1, 1872, Frederick Douglass expressed his anger in his weekly New National Era: “Was it for plunder, or was it for spite? One thing I do know and that is, while Rochester is among the most liberal of Northern cities, and its people are among the most humane and highly civilized, it nevertheless has its full share of the Ku-Klux spirit…It is the spirit of hate, the spirit of murder.”

Race relations were often contentious in Rochester due in part to Douglass’s strong civil rights voice. By 1870, although Rochester’s African-American population was minute – just 427 out of a total population of 62,386 – racial tension, especially over employment, prompted concern by whites.

On Saturday, December 30, 1871, the [Rochester Daily] Union’s third edition published the city’s first report of the rape of an eight-year-old German girl by a black man after she had returned from a church event. News of the crime “spread like wild fire” after the child was returned to her parents. She had been brutally beaten but described her attacker to the police who began a frantic search for him.

Early Monday morning officers arrested William Edward Howard, and he was identified as the rapist by the girl at her home. Her father later “apologized to [a] reporter for not having killed the Negro when he was in the house.” Howard was not a stranger to the city’s police. In early 1871, he was arrested for voting illegally, and he served six months in jail. At the time of his arrest for rape, there was a warrant for his arrest for stealing from a local German woman.

Douglass’s son, Charles, who worked with his father on New National Era, wrote to his father on January 20: “That Howard boy was in my company in the 5th Cavalry. He came to the regiment as a [paid] substitute, and asked to be in my Co. I had to tie him up by the thumbs quite often. His offence was stealing.”

Outside the jail an agitated mob assembled….composed mainly of Germans, was intent on taking the law into its own hands, and the jail became Howard’s fortress. The [Rochester Daily] Union’s reportage was most descriptive: “Threats were made to lynch him and matters looked serious…four or five hundred people in the assemblage…[and cries of] “kill the nigger, give us the nigger” were loud and frequent.” [Judge R. Darwin Smith pronounced] “The sentence of the Court is that you be confined to Auburn State Prison for the period of twenty years at hard labor. The law formerly punished your crime with death.”

At the prison entrance, Howard turned toward [an angry crowd of several hundred men] and with his free hand placed his thumb on his nose and waved his fingers to mock them. Once in jail, Howard renounced his guilty plea, and professed his innocence.”

(“The Spirit of Hate” and Frederick Douglass, Richard H. White, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2000, pp. 41-47)

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