Wednesday, July 23, 2014

University Slavery: The University of Maryland

From the Washington Post, "Students Trace University of Maryland's Slavery Ties," by Jenna Johnson a Washington Post Staff Writer, on 10 October 2009 -- When the University of Maryland elaborately celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2006, there were only fleeting mentions of its early ties to slavery. The next year, black faculty members urged President C.D. Mote Jr. to follow the lead of Maryland lawmakers and issue an apology for the university's historic use of slave labor.

Mote refused to do so, but he asked a group of students to research the topic. As they presented him with a final report Friday, the students recommended the university "issue a statement of regret," honor African Americans who assisted with its creation by naming them founders, add classes focused on slavery, continue research and ensure that the university is not benefiting from current international "coercive labor practices."

Mote said Friday that he will review the recommendations but that he has no plans for a statement because all institutions at that time were influenced by slavery.

"It's a little difficult for a university to retrospectively change its founders," he said. "It's like changing the signers of the Declaration of Independence."

The report does not contain a "smoking gun" or examples of how slaves were forced to construct parts of the campus beginning in 1856, just before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, said history professor Ira Berlin, who led the class. But at least 16 of the university's original 24 trustees owned slaves, and it would have been nearly impossible then to "undertake this type of enterprise in Maryland and not use slaves," he said.

"If slaves didn't lay the bricks, they made the bricks. If they didn't make the bricks, they drove the wagon that brought the bricks. If they didn't drive the wagon, they built the wagon wheels," Berlin is quoted as saying in the report.

The report tells the story of three men who were instrumental in opening the Maryland Agriculture College, as the university was then known, at a time when farmers were forced to plan how they would operate in a post-slavery economy.

The three "founders" profiled are remarkably different: Charles B. Calvert, a principal founder and wealthy backer of the school, came from a prominent Maryland family that had owned dozens of slaves for decades. Benjamin Hallowell, the school's first president who resigned after one month, was a Quaker who adamantly opposed slavery and requested that slave labor not be used. Adam Plummer was one of Calvert's slaves, whose labor "created the wealth that funded the college," the students wrote in the report.

Plummer's great-great-grandson, the Rev. L. Jerome Fowler, said he received a copy of the report this week and opened to the table of contents. Tears came to his eyes.

"I saw my ancestor, Adam Francis Plummer, listed as a founder," Fowler said at a reception Friday. "You don't know what that did for me."


In the past decade, several other universities have researched the role of slavery in their construction and early days of operation. But in many instances, these research projects are conducted by professors and historians, not undergraduates, Berlin said. During the first semester, the class studied the history of slavery. The next semester, they began researching and writing.

"To be able to rummage through archives and decipher old handwriting -- undergraduates never get to do that," said Jessica Dwyer-Moss, a senior majoring in government, politics and history. Unlike class reports that are graded and forgotten, Dwyer-Moss says, she hopes this report is read throughout the campus so that it "might do some good in the world."  (source: Washington Post)

Slavery and the University of Maryland (Fortune's Bones, February 24, 2012) from The Clarice on Vimeo.

Oregon Slavery

From The Portland Tribune"Nokes' book breaks the chains of history," by Lori Hall on 16 May 2013 --  When Greg Nokes of West Linn found out that one of his Oregon ancestors was a slave owner he was surprised to say the least.

His relative, Robert Shipley, took his slave, Ruben Shipley, with him, moving from Missouri to Oregon with the promise of releasing Ruben after he helped settle a farm back in 1853.

First, Nokes was not pleased to learn about that component of his family’s history. Second, he was interested to learn there were slaves in Oregon, what was known as a state closed to slavery.

Intrigued, Nokes started researching and writing. The result is his latest book, “Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory,” which launches May 19.

Research and writing are in Nokes’ blood. His father was an editor for The Oregonian when he was growing up and passed on the love of the written word to Nokes.

“Writing became natural to me,” he said.

After graduating from Willamette University, Nokes started working for the Medford Mail Tribune. From there he went on to 43 years of journalism, working 25 years with The Associated Press and 15 years with The Oregonian.

As a young man, not only did Nokes want to write, but he also wanted to see the world.

“I’ve been fortunate to do both,” said Nokes, who recently turned 76.

Nokes was stationed in New York, San Juan, Buenos Aires and Washington, D.C., while working for the AP. In D.C. he was an economics and diplomatic correspondent. Over the course of his career Nokes visited more than 50 countries before retiring in 2003.

Not one to settle down, Nokes launched a second career by researching and writing his first book, “Massacred for Gold.” It took him 14 years from start to finish to write this nonfiction story about a covered-up 1887 massacre of 34 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon. This book resulted in a memorial at Chinese Massacre Cove last year and shined a light on perhaps the largest massacre of Chinese people on American soil.
After finishing that book, Nokes sat down to coffee with his brother, Bill, to discuss book ideas. Bill suggested writing about Ruben Shipley, an element of family history Nokes did not know about.

“In researching his life, I came across other slaves in Oregon,” Nokes said. “This was all new to me.”

In all, Nokes could find 35 names of slaves in Oregon, though he said there were probably up to 100, and “hardly anyone in Oregon knew of this history.”

One family that struck a particular chord with Nokes was the Holmes clan. Slaves Robin and Polly Holmes and their children moved from Missouri to Oregon with their master, Nathaniel Ford, in 1844. They had expected to be freed upon moving to the state closed to slavery.

Like many other settlers, Ford ignored the territory’s laws and forced the Holmeses to work his land. Robin and Polly were finally freed in 1850, but Ford refused to free their three children.

Despite being illiterate and an obvious underdog, Robin Holmes fought back for his children by taking his former master to court.

“He managed to get the ear of some sympathetic attorneys and sued Ford,” Nokes said.

The court battle lasted 15 months, but a judge finally ruled in Holmes’ favor, granting the return of his children.

According to Nokes, Holmes vs. Ford, decided in 1853, is a landmark case in Oregon and the only slavery case ever brought in Oregon courts.

“It’s just another story people in Oregon didn’t know about,” Nokes said.

“Breaking Chains,” however, is more than just the Holmeses’ story. The book explores slavery in general in Oregon and the territory’s questionable laws, including its 1857 Constitution that banned African Americans from moving into the state. That law wasn’t repealed until 1926.

Though Nokes may not be proud of his ancestor, he was happy to learn Ruben Shipley became a successful farmer. And because of his ancestry, Nokes had the opportunity to write “Breaking Chains” in the hopes that Oregonians can learn the complete picture and history of this region and how it formed.

“I hope it will get into schools. I think it will be useful,” Nokes said of the book. “I like to think I contributed to the knowledge of this region’s history. ... The book is more about the history of slave issues in Oregon than just individual slaves.” (source: The Portland Tribune)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Washington and Lee University Will Remove Confederate Flag

As reported by the Washington Post, in an article entitled, "U.S. colleges have worked to address ties to slavery, Confederacy," by Karen Chen, on 8 July 2014 -- With Washington and Lee University’s announcement Tuesday that it will remove historic Confederate battle flags from the main chamber of Lee Chapel and its acknowledgement of regret for the school’s ties to slavery, the college in Lexington, Va., joined numerous other U.S. colleges that have worked to address their ties to slavery and the Confederacy. Here is a list of prominent schools that are among those that have publicly addressed the issue during the past decade, in chronological order.

University of Alabama — 2004. The university apologized to descendants of slaves who had connections to campus in the years prior to the Civil War, according to the Associated Press. The move, among the first ever by a U.S. school, came shortly after the school decided to put a marker near the graves of two slaves on campus and to put others on buildings where slaves had worked and lived.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — 2005. The school installed the Unsung Founders Memorial to recognize the people of color who helped build the university, both free and enslaved statewide.

University of Virginia — 2007. The Board of Visitors unanimously passed a resolution expressing regret for the use of slaves at the school. The resolution recognized that the vision of the school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, was carried out by slaves who helped build the Rotunda and the buildings on the Lawn, the historic heart of the school that Jefferson designed.

Brown University — 2007. The Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., commissioned a three-year report examining the institution’s history with slavery, which culminated in a recommendation to acknowledge the past, spread the report’s findings and a promise to create a hefty endowment for Providence urban public schools. A dedicated memorial is scheduled to be completed this year, in time for Brown’s 250th anniversary.

College of William and Mary — 2009. The historic Williamsburg, Va. school — which graduated four signers of the Declaration of Independence — opened “The Lemon Project,” an investigation into its slavery ties.

Harvard University — 2011. A Harvard history professor and more than 30 students created a booklet called “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History”, according to the Harvard Gazette. It reported that three Harvard presidents owned slaves and that slaves worked on campus as early as 1639.

Emory University — 2011. The university in Georgia apologized for its connections to slavery on the day before the school’s 175th anniversary. In a resolution, the school acknowledged its “entwinement with the institution of slavery throughout the College’s early history” and “regrets both this undeniable wrong and the University’s decades of delay in acknowledging slavery’s harmful legacy.”

Princeton University — 2013. History professor Martha Sandweiss led a seminar that began digging into the New Jersey Ivy League school’s history with slavery.

Washington and Lee University — 2014. After a protest from a group of black students, the university announced that it will remove Confederate battle flags from the main chamber of Lee Chapel, which honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who served as the university’s president after the Civil War. The school also said it regrets its connection to slavery and acknowledges that it owned as many as 80 slaves in its early years. (source: The Washington Post)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Slave Ship Called "Diligent"

From the London Review of Books, "Tricky Business," Megan Vaughan reviews The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade by Robert Harms, Perseus, 466 pp, £17.99, February 2002, ISBN 1 903985 18 8 -- On 1 June 1731, the Billy brothers, Guillaume and François, waved goodbye to their ship, the Diligent, as it set sail from Brittany. It was weighed down with Indian cloth, cowry shells from the Maldives, white linen from Hamburg, guns, ammunition and smoking pipes from Holland, kegs of brandy from the Loire Valley, and with the all-important supplies for the crew: firewood and flour, dry biscuits, fava beans, hams, salt beef, cheese, white wine and water. There was one other item to be loaded: 150 slave irons with their locks and keys, manufactured by the Taquet brothers in Nantes. Each iron could restrain two slaves. The Diligent was setting off on its first slave-trading voyage.

The Africans who would wear these irons were destined for the French West Indian island of Martinique. French development of this and other islands had lagged behind the English. In 1700 there were about thirty thousand African slaves in the French colonies, compared with around a hundred thousand in the English ones, and sugar exports were correspondingly smaller, but the first decades of the 18th century would see a rapid growth in French involvement in the slave trade and in the development of their colonies. The activities of the Billy brothers were part of a more general trend, as the usually dirigiste French Crown gave a greater degree of freedom to merchants and entrepreneurs.

The 1731 voyage was the Billy brothers’ first involvement in the slave trade. It demanded a very significant investment: the cost of sending a ship on the African slave run was two or three times that of other branches of commerce. Outfitting the Diligent, including food, loading costs and two months’ salary for the crew, came to 80,000 livres – more than four times the price of the ship itself, and this before insurance. The Billy brothers were expecting big profits from the sale of Africans they would never see.

Robert Harms has based his riveting account of the ‘worlds of the slave trade’ on a journal kept by a young lieutenant on the Diligent, Robert Durand, a document sold in the 1980s to the Beinecke Library at Yale, where Harms teaches. Historians have uncovered records of more than seventeen thousand slaving voyages in the 18th century, but, as Harms points out, only a handful give us any insight into the daily life of the ship, the crew and its human cargo. Most are careful records of the ship’s passage, prices, rates of exchange, slaves’ vital statistics and deaths. As Robin Blackburn has argued, the slave trade and the slave plantation were run with an instrumental rationality, according to business principles that were ahead of their time, and produced an abundance of statistics. Durand’s journal is one of the handful of records that provides more than this, but even so it is characterised as much by its silences as by its evocative descriptions and jaunty drawings. ‘Curiously,’ Harms writes, ‘Robert Durand mentioned the African captives only twice during the entire 66 days of the middle passage, and then only to record deaths.’

Harms uses the voyage of the Diligent to take us through the ‘worlds’ of the Atlantic slave trade in the early 18th century. There are three of them in this case: France, West Africa and Martinique, with a few offshore islands thrown in. Harms’s argument is that these worlds are distinct, with their own histories and dynamics, but that during this period the slave trade was beginning to link their fates. Perhaps his most original contribution to the ever increasing scholarship on slavery, however, is his account of the French slave traders and the political and social context of early 18th-century French colonial commerce.

The ships that sailed from Brittany had their backs turned to the impoverished rural economy of the hinterland. The big players in colonial trade were Nantes and later Lorient, and though government-chartered companies had previously exercised near complete monopolies, by this time the merchants of Nantes were proving successful advocates of private enterprise. The development of the French colonies may have been dirigiste in comparison to the English, but the French King could not afford to ignore an increasingly vociferous group of private merchants pressing for reform of the now discredited system of corporate mercantilism. Still, French colonial trade, as Harms makes clear, was relatively unintegrated into the larger economy, which was still predominantly agricultural. In the 18th century, commercial cities like Nantes were a bit like the ‘free trade zones’ of the ‘Third World’ today – disconnected from the rest of the country, importing and exporting goods that most people would never own, and perhaps never see. Arriving in Nantes, with its grand merchants’ mansions and its opera house, the English traveller Arthur Young found himself in a strikingly different world from the one he had been journeying through: ‘Mon Dieu! I cried to myself, do all the wastes, the deserts, the heath, ling, furz, broom and bog that I have passed for three hundred miles lead to this spectacle? What a miracle, that all this splendour and wealth of the cities of France should be so unconnected with the country!’ (source: The London Review of Books: Vol. 24 No. 24 · 12 December 2002, pages 23-24 | 3741 words)


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