Saturday, June 21, 2014

USA Slave Ports: Baltimore City Inner Harbor

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, "A bitter Inner Harbor legacy: the slave trade: City Diary," by Ralph Clayton on 12 July 2000 -- THOUSANDS of NAACP members descended on Baltimore for their convention this week, prompting visits to the major tourist attractions that line the Pratt Street corridor.

What most of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the Inner Harbor each year don't realize is that they are walking on sacred ground, where countless thousands of men, women, and children suffered during Baltimore's darkest hour.

Between 1815 and 1860, traders in Baltimore made the port one of the leading disembarkation points for ships carrying slaves to New Orleans and other ports in the deep South. Interstate traders in the domestic coast slave trade found Baltimore's excellent harbor, central location and position in the midst of a developing "selling market" attractive incentives in which to build their slave pens and base their operations near the bustling port.

The major slave dealers, who came from Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee built their slave pens near Pratt Street, the major east-west connection to the wharves in the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

One of the first major pens was built behind a white frame house near the corner of Cove and Pratt streets, near the intersection of what is today Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The pen belonged to Tennessee native Austin Woolfolk, whose reign in Baltimore ran from 1818 to 1841.

Georgia native Hope Hull Slatter constructed his pen in 1838, several doors east of Howard and Pratt streets. During his 14-year stay, Slatter was ably assisted by his male slave, a jail steward.

By the late 1850s, Joseph Donovan, who had used pens on Pratt Street and Camden Street near Light Street, had a new pen constructed on the southwest corner of Camden and Eutaw streets, near where the Babe Ruth statue now stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Many other traders made their mark in Baltimore during the height of the slave trade: James Franklin Purvis, whose pen was on Harford Road near Aisquith; Bernard M. and Walter L. Campbell, whose pen was on the south side of Conway Street, near Hanover Street. (He would later buy Slatter's pen after Slatter's departure for Mobile, Ala., in 1848); William Harker, several doors south of Baltimore Street, on the west side of Calvert Street; and John Denning, on Frederick Street, several hundred feet behind the current site of the Holocaust memorial.

The "travelling traders" like George Kephart of Maryland, David Anderson of Kentucky, and Barthalomew Accinelly of Virginia came to town, gathered purchased slaves, and shipped them on packets that regularly made the run from Baltimore to New Orleans.

Although numerous wharves at Fells Point were used by the packet ships, so were the Pratt Street wharves that lined the north side of the Inner Harbor. The site of the current Pratt Street Pavilion, once underwater, was the home to numerous such packets as well as the docks that housed their agents' offices.

The methods for moving the slaves down Pratt Street differed, depending on the trader. Woolfolk preferred to march his slaves in the middle of the night, chained together and on foot. Slatter often used carriages and omnibuses to convey his slaves to the packet ships.

Ships with names like Agent, Architect, Hyperion, General Pinckney, Intelligence, Kirkwood, Tippecanoe and Victorine made their runs from wharves along the Inner Harbor as well as Fells Point.

Greed made for strange bedfellows. Many of Baltimore's slave dealers shipped together on the same brigs, barks, ships and schooners making their cyclical runs to New Orleans. In October 1845, Campbell, Donovan and Slatter shipped 117 souls aboard the Kirkwood from the Frederick Street dock. The Tippecanoe sailed from Chase's wharf in January 1842 with 114 souls shipped by Purvis, Slatter and others.

For 45 years, thousands of families and individuals were sent south on their final passage. For most on board, this meant a death that came when families and loved ones were separated and "sold South" -- a separation from which few returned. It also signified almost certain separation from one another in New Orleans; large families were rarely sold to the same buyer.


Tourists who go to the attractions of the harbor area this summer should take time to remember the price that so many paid in blood and broken hearts on Pratt Street.

Remember the young woman who took her and her child's life in Woolfolk's pen in the spring of 1826, rather than go south; the man who, in 1821, upon learning that he had been sold to a trader, slit his own throat at one of Baltimore's wharves; or the unsuccessful attempt in1846 of a female slave to drown herself at the Light Street dock rather than live another day in slavery.


Friday, June 6, 2014

"The First Decoration Day" or Memorial Day

For the Newark Star Ledger, "The First Decoration Day" by David W. Blight of Yale University -- Americans understand that Memorial Day, or "Decoration Day," as my parents called it, has something to do with honoring the nation's war dead. It is also a day devoted to picnics, road races, commencements, and double-headers. But where did it begin, who created it, and why?

As a nation we are at war now, but for most Americans the scale of death and suffering in this seemingly endless wartime belongs to other people far away, or to people in other neighborhoods. Collectively, we are not even allowed to see our war dead today. That was not the case in 1865.

At the end of the Civil War the dead were everywhere, some in half buried coffins and some visible only as unidentified bones strewn on the killing fields of Virginia or Georgia. Americans, north and south, faced an enormous spiritual and logistical challenge of memorialization. The dead were visible by their massive absence. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war. American deaths in all other wars combined through the Korean conflict totaled 606,000. If the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, 4 million names would be on the Vietnam Memorial. The most immediate legacy of the Civil War was its slaughter and how remember it.

War kills people and destroys human creation; but as though mocking war's devastation, flowers inevitably bloom through its ruins. After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course."

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before."

At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing "John Brown's Body." The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens' choir sang "We'll Rally around the Flag," the "Star-Spangled Banner," and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: "for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you… in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession."

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders' republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers' valor and sacrifice.

According to a reminiscence written long after the fact, "several slight disturbances" occurred during the ceremonies on this first Decoration Day, as well as "much harsh talk about the event locally afterward." But a measure of how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding in favor of their own creation of the practice later came fifty-one years afterward, when the president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry about the May 1, 1865 parade. A United Daughters of the Confederacy official from New Orleans wanted to know if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith responded tersely: "I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this." In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream dominance.

Officially, as a national holiday, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, called on all former northern soldiers and their communities to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves of their dead comrades. On May 30, 1868, when flowers were plentiful, funereal ceremonies were attended by thousands of people in 183 cemeteries in twenty-seven states. The following year, some 336 cities and towns in thirty-one states, including the South, arranged parades and orations. The observance grew manifold with time. In the South Confederate Memorial Day took shape on three different dates: on April 26 in many deep South states, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston's final surrender to General William T. Sherman; on May 10 in South and North Carolina, the birthday of Stonewall Jackson; and on June 3 in Virginia, the birthday of Jefferson Davis.

Over time several American towns, north and south, claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. But all of them commemorate cemetery decoration events from 1866. Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners' race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.

The old race track is still there — an oval roadway in Hampton Park in Charleston, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the white supremacist Redeemer governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The lovely park sits adjacent to the Citadel, the military academy of South Carolina, and cadets can be seen jogging on the old track any day of the week. The old gravesite dedicated to the "Martyrs of the Race Course" is gone; those Union dead were reinterred in the 1880s to a national cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina. Some stories endure, some disappear, some are rediscovered in dusty archives, the pages of old newspapers, and in oral history. All such stories as the First Decoration Day are but prelude to future reckonings. All memory is prelude. (source: David

David W. Blight teaches American History at Yale University where he is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the author of the Bancroft prize-winning Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, and the forthcoming A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation.

"The First Decoration Day"

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Life of A Slave Girl

From North Carolina History Project -- The “best-known, nineteenth-century African-American woman’s autobiography” is how historian Nell Irvin Painter describes Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1861). The Tar Heel’s work is also noteworthy because Jacobs penned the words, unlike other slave autobiographies, including Sojourner Truth’s, which were dictated. The book’s cumbersome title makes this point evident.

The slave autobiography describes the cruelty of slavery, debunks the myth of the content or happy slave, and argues that a slave’s behavior must be judged by different standards than those applied to free people. Harriet Jacobs’s slave experiences in Edenton, North Carolina influenced her themes and rationalizations for her behavior. (Her judgmental grandmother denounced Jacob’s physical relationship with an unmarried white lawyer and held her grandaughter to moral standards that wavered not in trying times.)
Harriet Jacob's owner placed an advertisement in newspapers offering a $100 reward for Jacob's capture. Image courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Harriet Jacob's owner placed an advertisement in newspapers offering a $100 reward for Jacob's capture. Image courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
After she fled to the North, Jacobs was encouraged by friends to write her story. She started writing her story (in secret) during the 1850s, and it was ready for publication in 1861. Using a pseudonym, Linda Brent, Jacobs described the horrors of slavery and discussed topics, including rape and prostitution, theretofore unmentionable in print. After searching in vain for a publisher, Jacobs found a Boston firm willing to publish her work. The company experienced financial difficulties in late 1860, so one of Jacobs’s friends provided a subvention so that the book might be published in 1861.

The secession of the Southern states and the formation of the Confederacy understandably distracted editors from Incidents publication. A few abolitionist journals, including National Anti-Slavery Standard and Anglo-African, praised the book for shedding light on how the peculiar institution fostered moral and sexual turpitude. Overall, however, editors ignored the book, and it went into obscurity until the Civil Rights Movement.  (source: North Carolina History Project)


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