Desperate


“…but I did not want to go and I jumped out the window…”
Source: “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States,” by Jesse Torrey, 1817 (Page 43)

When most people think of the “horrors” of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is physical abuse, and perhaps second, the sexual exploitation of slave women by their male masters. But for the slaves, nothing was more devastating than the loss of family.

Slaves had no marriage or family rights. Slave owners could, and did, split up families as necessary to meet their needs or interests. It didn’t happen “all the time”; but if it happened once in a slave’s lifetime – that would be horrible enough, and something a slave would not forget or forgive.

So devastating was the loss of family that some slaves… just lost it. Or at least, that is the story told by New Yorker Jesse Torrey, Jr (or Jesse Torrey “Jun” in some places) in his book “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States,” which was published in 1817. {The full title of the book is “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States: with reflections on the practicability of restoring the moral rights of the Slave, without impairing the legal privileges of the possessor; and a Project of a Colonial Asylum for Free Persons of Colour: including Memoirs of Facts on the interior Traffic in Slaves, and on Kidnapping. Illustrated with Engravings.” Folks in the 19th century were sometimes given to long-winded oratory and long-winded book or pamphlet titles.}

As noted here (page xv),

Torrey did not seek or anticipate immediate abolition of slavery. For the present he desired humane treatment of the bondmen, and urged their owners to be “guardians, patrons, benefactors and neighbours” to them; in the future he advocated gradual redemption by governmental purchase. He was especially moved by the wrongs suffered by slaves who had been freed and afterwards kidnapped into slavery again, brought legal suits himself to secure the restitution of their liberty and aided in raising subscriptions to defray the legal expenses of the trials. In recognition of his efforts, the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes unlawfully held in bondage, voted him a formal letter of thanks in August, 1816.

In his book, Torrey recounts the story of a slave woman who, so distraught over losing her husband when she and her children were sold, throws herself out a window, shattering her back in the process. Torrey captures the event in the engraving at the top of this blog entry. In that image, the slave woman seems to float in the air, almost frozen in time; the viewer is struck by the surreal sight of this black woman in white, surrounded by dark and suspended over the street below. In Torrey’s book, the caption beneath the picture foretells the woman’s fate, once time unfreezes: “…but I did not want to go and I jumped out the window…”
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Three Children with Nanny


Children on Lawn at Brook Hill [Nanny hiding behind the children] (circa 1905); for detailed information, go here.
Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries Digital Collections » Through the Lens of Time Collection
Copyright is held by the Valentine Richmond History Center.

This is from a digital collection of photographs titled Through the Lens of Time: Images of African Americans from the Cook Collection. The online collection has over 250 images of African Americans dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, selected from the George and Huestis Cook Photograph Collection at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The digitally scanned images on this site are of prints from glass plate negatives or film negatives taken by George S. Cook (1819-1902) and his son Huestis P. Cook (1868-1951), primarily in the Richmond and Central Virginia area. The physical Collection consists of over 10,000 negatives taken from the 1860s to the 1930s in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Although George and Huestis Cook were white, much of the photo content in the collection includes images of African Americans. Huestis Cook is credited as being one of the earliest Southern photographers to picture African Americans in realistic settings.

This image from the collection has a probably unintended symbolism that is inescapable today.

Black Zoaves in Barbados


Black Soldiers of the West India Regiment, 1850s
Source: Print by R. Sinkin, held by the Barbados Museum; for more details, go here.
From the website The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Image Reference NW0268

Some folks can’t get enough of the Zoave look. None of the black troops who fought in the Civil War wore Zoave-type uniforms, but we can get a vicarious feel for that by reference to the West Indian Zoaves.

This image is from the website The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. As noted there

[This] colored print [shows] troops in their dress uniforms with white turbans, red coats, blue serge trousers, etc.; and white officers. These “Zoave” uniforms were adopted for the West India Regiments on the suggestion of Queen Victoria; they were based on the uniform worn by light infantry recruited for the French army in Algeria. In an early period, many of the black soldiers in the West India Regiments (first formed in the mid-1790s) were purchased or captured slaves, many African-born; later they included free people of color.

Black troops initially stationed in Barbados in the 1790s were purchased or captured slaves who primarily came from the French Caribbean territories; later, the British Army recruited these people in Barbados and by the early 1820s, free people of color in Barbados were also recruited to the 1st West India regiment.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the Big Stage

We commonly think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a literary phenomenon. But it was on the big stage that this story had some of its greatest impact.


Uncle Tom at the whipping post
Scene from the stage production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
All photos in this post are by Joseph Byron, N.Y., c1901
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

In 1860, at the eve of the Civil War, there were 18 free states, where slavery was prohibited. Those states had roughly 18.5 million whites, and 225,000 free blacks. So, only 1% of the free state population was African American. 168,000 of those free blacks lived in just four states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. Millions of northern whites saw ‘real live’ black people only a handful of times in their entire lives, if at all. And as unlikely as it was for them to see a black person, it was even less likely that they would ever see a slave.

There was, of course, no radio, television, telephones or Internet. The kind of immediate, in your face journalism that’s enabled by today’s technology did not exist. Slavery was certainly not an uncommon subject for the press, or other forms of paper communication. But for many northerners, the horrors of slavery were out of sight, and would have been out of mind – if not for people like Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The isolation of northern whites from slavery helps to explain the interest in Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly. The book was published in 1852, following a serialized version in an antislavery newspaper. It opened a window to a world, hidden by distance, that many northern whites never saw or knew.

The book’s negative portrayal of slavery was filled with melodrama and overt religious symbolism and appeals. It was not just a story about the grace and love of little Eva; the abuse of the devout Uncle Tom; the salvation by love of the slave girl Topsy; and the preservation of Eliza’s family. It was, as historian David Goldfield put, “a book about family, God, and redemption-surefire topics to attract a broad audience in mid-nineteenth century America.”


The Auction Scene
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

For several years, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a huge best-seller, second in popularity only to the Bible. It would become an international best-seller as well. Historian James McPherson noted that “within a decade [of its 1852 release] it sold more than two million copies in the United States, making it the best seller of all time in relation to population.”

But Uncle Tom’s Cabin was more than just a literary phenomenon. As mentioned in Wiki,

“Given the lax copyright laws of the time, stage plays based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin—”Tom shows”—began to appear while the story itself was still being serialized… Even though Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, far more Americans of that time saw the story as a stage play or musical than read the book. Eric Lott, in his book Uncle Tomitudes: Racial Melodrama and Modes of Production, estimates that at least three million people saw these plays, ten times the book’s first-year sales… The many stage variants of Uncle Tom’s Cabin “dominated northern popular culture… for several years” during the 19th century and the plays were still being performed in the early 20th century.”

These stage productions allowed the book to be visualized and dramatized, and touched theater patrons in a way that the written word could not. Now the horrors of slavery had a human face that northern people could see. The resulting ire led Abraham Lincoln to tell Stowe in 1863 – apocryphally, it turns out – “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”


Little Eva’s death scene
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

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United Colors of the Union Army


Soldier Group, circa Civil War
Source: Library of Congress

I wish there was more to tell about this diverse group of Union “men.” The picture, from a Library of Congress collection, is simply titled “Soldier group.” Details on the photo, such as its Library of Congress reporduction number, are here.

If any one can share any information or insights on the photo, I’d be much obliged.

The African American Soldier Memorial in Vicksburg, MS; and an Old(?) ‘Grey Curtain’/NPS Controversy


African American Monument in Vicksburg National Military Park
The inscription reads, “Commemorating the Service of the 1st and 3d Mississippi Infantry, African Descent and All Mississippians of African Descent Who Participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.”
Source: from Flickr

There are many dozen, perhaps several hundred, Confederate memorials and monuments throughout the South and the country. A partial list of them is here on Wiki; that list is certainly not complete, failing to include, for example, the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving, or the Confederate Memorial at Courthouse Square in Oxford, Mississippi.

By contrast, there may not even be a dozen memorials or monuments to United States Colored Troopers in the South or in the nation. {UPDATE: A list of monuments to USCT is here.} I have found a couple of monuments to faithful slaves, such as this one and this one. I’ve also found that there are almost half a dozen memorials to Buffalo Soldiers throughout the country.

One of the small number of memorials to US Colored Troops is the African American Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1999, former Vicksburg Mayor Robert M. Walker, who is black, proposed placement of a monument in Vicksburg National Military Park recognizing the contributions of African American soldiers during the Vicksburg campaign. With funding that included $25,000 from the city of Vicksburg, which is 60% black, groundbreaking for the monument was held on September 20, 2003, with dedication of the memorial on February 14, 2004.

(Mississippi provided 17,869 men to the United States Colored Troops. Only Louisiana (24,502), Kentucky (23,703), and Tennessee (20,133) had more men of African descent in the USCT. All told, just under 179,000 black men enlisted in the USCT, according to Wiki.)

A National Park Service (NPS) brochure for the monument notes that “of the more than 1,300 monuments in the park, this memorial is the first to honor black troops, and the first tribute of its type honoring African American soldiers placed on any of the Civil War battlefields administered by the National Park Service.” The brochure describes the monument:

The nine-foot tall sculpture depicts three figures – two Union soldiers representing the 1st and 3d Mississippi Infantry, African Descent, that participated in the Vicksburg campaign, and the third a civilian laborer. The soldier on the left looks toward the future that he helped secure through force of arms. The civilian looks to the past and the institution of slavery that he has left behind. Between them they support a wounded comrade, representing the sacrifice in blood made by African American soldiers on the field of battle.

The placement of the monument in Vicksburg National Military Park was not without controversy, and helps explain why African Americans have not shown the kind of interest in creating these types of monuments as one might think; the obstacles that get in the way can be very discouraging. These are excerpts from a 2004 article titled “Battle of Vicksburg being fought again over recognition of black Civil War troops” by Earnest McBride in the Jackson Advocate newspaper, from around the time the monument was being completed and dedicated:

Ironically, The First Mississippi USCT unit headed by Sgt. Major Norman Fisher of Jackson, the only group of black Civil War re-enactors connected to the Vicksburg campaign, is left out of nearly all [monument dedication] events staged by the National Park Service or other local sponsors. “Nobody’s notified me about going there and saying anything,” Fisher said in exasperation Monday evening.

Having met with Park officials in mid-August about Saturday’s groundbreaking, Fisher said he felt that park superintendent Bill Nichols and park historian Terry Winschel deliberately misled him regarding park responsibility for recognizing the black contribution to the Civil War. “They told me that the State of Mississippi was responsible for placing any monuments in the battlefield,” Fisher said. “I don’t like the idea of a state telling the federal government what to do in our national parks. I also suggested that instead of placing the proposed monument along the obscure location on Grant’s Avenue they should put it near the 7000 gravesites of the black troops buried in the cemetery. They said it would not be possible to place any statuary there. They also turned down my idea to rename the boulevard for the USCT soldiers.”

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An Irish American View of the Colored Soldier


    Union enlistment posters for Irish Americans in New York and coloreds in Pennsylvania

    During the antebellum and Civil War eras, free negroes and Irish immigrants often had a strained relationship. Both were subject to racial or ethnic bias by the white Protestant majority (anti-immigrant bigots were called “Nativists”), and were considered the “bottom rungs” of American society. (Blacks were on the very bottom.) Given their lowly status, blacks and Irish often competed for low-wage jobs, and the stress of that competition led to outright hostility… or worse.

    Tensions between the two groups were further inflamed by heated and hateful rhetoric from the Copperhead faction of the Democratic Party, to which most Irish Americans were aligned. These Democrats argued that the emancipationist policies of President Lincoln and the Republican Party would cause a “stampede” of freed blacks to the North that would undercut and devalue white labor.

    The Democrats also argued that it was unacceptable for whites to fight and die to free black slaves. That argument was echoed even by the Irish religious leader New York Archbishop John Hughes. As noted by historian James McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom, Hughes stated that “we Catholics, and a vast majority of our brave troops in the field, have not the slightest idea of carrying on a war that costs so much blood and treasure just to gratify a clique of Abolitionists.”

    The economic, political and social stresses between blacks and Irish erupted in violence as the War continued. Again from McPherson:

    With this kind of [racist] rhetoric from their leaders, it was little wonder that some white workingmen took their prejudices into the streets. In a half-dozen or more cities, anti-black riots broke out during the summer of 1862. Some of the worst violence occurred in Cincinnati, where the replacement of striking Irish dockworkers by Negroes set off a wave of attacks on black neighborhoods. In Brooklyn a mob of Irish-Americans tried to burn down a tobacco factory where two dozen black women and children were working.

    The nightmare vision of blacks invading the North seemed to be coming true in southern Illinois, where the War Department transported several cars of contrabands to help with the harvest. Despite the desperate need to gather crops, riots forced the government to return most of the blacks to contraband camps south of the Ohio River.

    And then things got worse. In March 1863, new conscription (draft) laws were implemented. More men would be eligible for the draft, but service could be avoided by paying a $300 fee or hiring a substitute. Most Irish men could not afford the fee or a substitute. Meanwhile, African Americans, who were not citizens, were exempt from the draft.

    That set the stage for the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863.

    The draft lottery in New York began on Saturday, July 11, 1863. On Monday, July 13, the Draft Riots began. It was an extended period of mob violence, mostly Irish mobs, against mostly African American victims. The riots lasted five days, and resulted in perhaps 500 deaths, including rioters who were killed, and several thousand injuries; some estimates place the death and injury toll as even higher. Property damage was in a range of $1-5 million, including the destruction of a black orphanage. (The casualty and property damage estimates are from Barry Schecter’s book The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America.)

    Even the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who spoke of friendships with Irish Americans, and lived in Ireland for half a year in the 1840s, came to wonder how “a people who so nobly loved and cherished the thought of liberty at home in Ireland [have] become, willingly, the oppressors of another race here.”
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