Tag Archives: White Slaves

The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue by Lawrence R. Tenzer

Introduction to Lawrence R. Tenzer’s
The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue

Preface by A.D. PowellDefinition of “White Slavery” – in the antebellum South, the enslavement of people who were physically “white.” “White slaves” were presumed to be descended from a “black” female slave according to the maternal descent rule of inherited slave status. There was no way to really determine who was descended from a female African slave and who was “pure” white. If the slave descent was broken by manumission, “white” slaves could often become legally “white.” Northerners, who were told by the Southern slaveholding elite that slavery was justified by the “inferiority” of the “black race,” were horrified to discover that people as white as themselves were being held as slaves. Southern political power and the federal Fugitive Slave Law allowed slave catchers to seize alleged fugitives from bondage with no due process. “White slavery” meant that one’s physical appearance was no protection from legal kidnapping. The political ramifications of this fact, unacknowledged by most American historians, are that anti-slavery politics increasingly emphasized the threat of slavery to Northern whites. The fear and hatred of slavery was usually not, as commonly believed, an altruistic response to the sufferings of “blacks” by liberal “whites.” Racial intermixture and mixed-race “whites” were, therefore, important factors in increasing the tensions that ultimately led to the American Civil War, and not just marginal characters in bad melodramas.To Interracial Voice Readers from A.D. Powell:

This is a crusade for justice.

The issue of “white slavery” in the antebellum South has FINALLY received some recognition in academic circles.

“White Slavery: An American Paradox” by Carol Wilson and Calvin D Wilson in Slavery and Abolition, 19:1.

“The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and the Politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s” by Walter Johnson in Journal of American History, (June 2000)

However…

The definitive work on “white” chattel slavery and its political ramifications – Lawrence R. Tenzer’s The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue (Manahawkin, NJ: Scholars’ Publishing House, 1997) – has not been reviewed in any academic journal or even cited in a scholarly bibliography. Any idiot who wants to write fairy tales about mythological “black” Confederate soldiers bravely defending their Southern homeland from the marauding Yankees can find a publisher, but Dr. Tenzer’s 21 years of research in PRIMARY documents has been rejected by publishers. Why? Consider these possible reasons:

** The Forgotten Cause answers a question that American historians are always asking but don’t really want answered: Why was slavery the great moral and political issue of the antebellum period if it affected only “blacks,” a people who were deemed an “inferior race”? If slavery was a threat to “whites” in general, and “white slaves” were recognized as fellow “whites” by Northerners, historians must admit that there was no clear dividing line between the “races.” They must acknowledge that Southern slavery was a threat to Americans in general. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” historians want to admit that.

** Neo-Confederate historians constantly argue in the popular press that the Confederacy fought, not for slavery, but for “states’ rights” and against some kind of federal tyranny. Tenzer shows that it was Northern states who exercised their “states’ rights” by passing personal liberty laws to nullify the effects of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. This law gave the accused slave, who could be “white,” no right to bring witnesses, have a jury, or any other forms of due process. The judge was authorized by the law to receive a larger fee if he ruled against the accused slave than if he ruled in his or her favor. Why do “liberal” historians refuse to publicize these facts when they totally devastate the Neo-Confederate nonsense about an abstract devotion to “states’ rights”?

** Other academics, such as Werner Sollors, have noted that abolitionist literature constantly emphasized white slavery. It’s hard to find an abolitionist novel that doesn’t feature quadroons, octoroons, etc. If slavery was justified by “race,” shouldn’t a “white” slave be free? Tenzer unearths the pro-slavery apologists who seriously argued that SLAVERY WHITE OR BLACK was justified and the institution didn’t need an “inferior race” to justify its existence. If historians acknowledge that the South’s intellectual defenders were willing to promote slavery as superior to free society and openly suggest that poor Northern laborers would be better off as property, what happens to the South’s glorious “Lost Cause”? What happens to the useless arguments about how much Northern “whites” liked or disliked “blacks,” or the Neo-Confederate nonsense that the presence of “black” (actually, wealthy mulatto) slaveholders “proves” that slavery was not the cause of the war?

** Finally, Tenzer researched antebellum Republican political literature to show that the threat of “white slavery” was used by Abraham Lincoln’s party to galvanize voters. The Republican Party activists, Lincoln included, knew that Northerners had good reason to fear the South and its insatiable need for more and more slaves. Southern pro-slavery apologists constantly stated that their slaves were better off than free white laborers in the North. More than that, the pro-slavery intellectuals defended slavery as a good in and of itself, regardless of “race” or “color.” While the current fashion is to argue that Southern states were merely resisting the tyranny of a federal government, we forget that The South effectively controlled Congress and the Presidency for most of the antebellum period. Northern whites had seen the Fugitive Slave Act shoved down their throats, the mails censored, and the expansion of slavery into new territories. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only one who knew that the nation couldn’t exist half slave and half free – it would become ALL SLAVE or all free. If slave society had triumphed over free society, who is naive enough to think that greedy slave owners wouldn’t have used their power to add many poor whites and Indians to their human property? Once we acknowledge these facts, what happens to the cherished myths of both liberal and Neo-Confederate historians?

IV readers, if you have ANY contacts in publishing, the history profession, the media, etc., please promote The Forgotten Cause. University students, introduce the book to your professors and fellow students. People who are NOT “gatekeepers” of information seem to have no trouble understanding Dr. Tenzer’s thesis. Only those with POWER suddenly lose their reading comprehension. If only ONE of them breaks ranks, it could make all the difference in the world.

The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue (Introduction)

Open-mindedness. That is what is required for reading all of the pages which follow. When one thinks of slavery in America, images of black and brown people come to mind. As this text will document through a considerable number of unmistakable primary sources, white people were also slaves. When talking to students, teachers, and others about white slaves, inevitably, the first question asked is, “If there really were white slaves in the South prior to the Civil War, where did they come from?” The common understanding of slavery in America pictures black slaves from Africa being brought over on slave ships. That, of course, is true, but rather than ending there, the story just begins. Several generations of interracial sexual relations with white plantation masters and other white men produced a population of white slaves, so-called white mulattoes. Darkness was taken to be prima facie evidence of slave status, and black and brown slaves greatly outnumbered white slaves. Although white slavery was merely the by-product of a black slavery system, there were, nevertheless, white slaves as well. Even after all visual characteristics of the African had long since disappeared, many generations of white people continued to be held in slavery because any child born of a slave mother automatically assumed slave status. It is to be understood that slavery was transmitted from generation to generation through the maternal line. Having a remote black female ancestor permitted people to be classified as black even though they were physiologically white, so slavery in the South in this ultimate sense was not based on color. Indeed, many travelers throughout the Southern states noted that they saw slaves who were as white as any white person. Since the subject of white slavery has gone and continues to go virtually unaddressed, slaves being black and brown endure in our common thinking. The image of a black person picking cotton standing next to a white person also picking cotton seems unbelievable and almost surreal, but that actually occurred in reality. It was that reality–the reality of white slaves–which played an important role in the pre-Civil War politics of the nation.

As the political power of the antebellum South increased, the fact that Southerners owned white slaves became a threat to many white Northerners. The enslavement of white mulattoes, actually white people, was quite a different matter than the enslavement of brown and black people, and white slavery became a controversial political issue. As the epigraph to this book indicates and Chapter 5 explains, these whites being enslaved gave rise to the fear that under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, free whites in the North could be mistaken for white runaway slaves and be literally enslaved as well. Moreover, as Chapter 6 will show, this fear expanded into a widely held belief that freeborn white laborers in the North were also susceptible to literal enslavement if the South ever succeeded in nationalizing slavery. The bibliography to this work and several of the plates reproduced herein attest to the fact that many publications between 1850 and 1860 addressed the threat of white slavery in both of these literal manifestations. The existence of this body of literature is proof that white slavery was a threat to many white Northerners, and that threat was the fundamental aspect of this forgotten cause of the Civil War. It is important to note, however, that not everyone in the North wanted to end slavery or felt threatened by white slavery. Merchants had investments in Southern mines and railroads, sold manufactured goods to the South, and were purchasers of Southern cotton. The South owed $200,000,000 to Northern business interests, and this business community called for concessions to avoid a conflict between North and South. In addition to those in the business community, there were certainly others in the North who did not fear slavery. Many in the Democratic party and those who participated in the New York City draft riots in July of 1863 are good examples. As the abolitionists were establishing themselves and their movement in the 1830s, many Northerners looked on them as troublemakers. In his memoirs, the abolitionist Samuel J. May recalled what a New York merchant had told him in 1835.

Mr. May, we are not such fools as not to know that slavery is a great evil, a great wrong. But it was consented to by the founders of our Republic. It was provided for in the Constitution of our Union. A great portion of the property of the Southerners is invested under its sanction; and the business of the North, as well as the South, has become adjusted to it. There are millions upon millions of dollars due from Southerners to the merchants and mechanics of this city alone, the payment of which would be jeopardized by any rupture between the North and the South. We cannot afford, sir, to let you and your associates succeed in your endeavor to overthrow slavery. It is not a matter of principle with us. It is a matter of business necessity. We cannot afford to let you succeed….We mean, sir, to put you Abolitionists down,–by fair means if we can, by foul means if we must.From 1835 to 1860 is a very short span of time, a mere twenty-five years. What could possibly have accounted for the drastic change in attitude toward the abolitionists, their extreme increase in number, and a widespread change in the sentiment against slavery in general? Worth noting is that at the peak of the antislavery movement, there were people numbering in the hundreds of thousands who were, to varying degrees, empathetic to the cause, but many cared little if anything for the plight of people of color. In fact, it is known that a good number of whites who participated in the formal antislavery movement were prejudiced against blacks, even to the extent of using the word “nigger.” With the reality of slavery in all of its manifestations ever-present, what was cared about was the looming threat of slavery being imposed on white people. By working to abolish the institution of slavery, slavery in general, the threat of white slavery was directly being addressed. The last two chapters of this book clearly demonstrate that white enslavement was a real issue on the minds of many in the North.

The potential for being mistaken for a white runaway slave certainly explains one aspect of the fear engendered by white slavery. Where did the threat regarding the literal enslavement of Northern white laborers come from? The answer to this question is to be found in the vast unsettled territories of the nation and, with their slave or free status, the potential for a nationalization of slavery. With westward expansion into the free territories, the issue arose as to whether slavery should be allowed there. The politics of the matter heated up during the mid and latter 1850s. In 1858 Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech in which he stated,

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free…. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.In 1860, exactly one year to the day before Fort Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War commenced, an editorial published four years earlier in the renowned Richmond Enquirer was read into the congressional record as being typical of the South’s point of view, casting aspersions on free society and extolling the virtues of slave society.If slavery be not the right, the healthful form of society, it will not endure long. But it has endured already for countless ages, and now covers nine tenths of the world…. Two opposing and conflicting forms of society cannot, among civilized men, coexist and endure. The onemust give way, and cease to exist; the other become universal. If free society be unnatural, immoral, unchristian, it must fall, and give way to a social system old as the world, universal as man.In both quotations, the nation is spoken of as being either all free or all slave, but not both. In the decade leading up to the Civil War, both sections of the country had to acknowledge that in reality, freedom and slavery could not coexist. Lincoln and the Republicans, of course, wanted the nation all free. By keeping slavery from expanding into the territories, all new states to come from those territories would be free states. The slave states would lose political power, and in time, the institution of slavery would become nonexistent. The South, on the other hand, wanted the nation all slave. Slavery would first be established in the territories and then expanded into the free states. Lincoln believed that the nation could become “all slave,” otherwise he never would have said so.

What would it mean for the nation to be all slave? Could it be possible for Southern political power to expand into a national proslavery political power and literally enslave free white Northerners? Free labor earned upwards of a dollar a day; slave labor was valued at 10¢ to 25¢. If slavery were made national, the very real threat existed that many white laborers already living in the territories would be unable to compete with the price of slave labor and would fall into poverty and be sold for debt. Since white laborers unable to make a living would not migrate there, every state to come from the territories would be a new slave state. This being so, proslavery congressional power would greatly increase along with the votes necessary to ultimately allow slavery into the free states, where free labor would again have to compete with slave labor. With the mentality of the country being all free or all slave, it is no wonder that people in the North, particularly the laboring class, felt vulnerable to the idea of slavery being nationalized into an “all slave” nation.

Many in the North held the belief that if slavery were nationalized, at first there would be figurative slavery in the free states, where omnipotent proslavery political power would usurp civil rights and the Northern political establishment. Once done, this in turn would likely evolve into literal slavery, where white people could be enslaved for life. Many contemporary references express the belief, either implicitly or explicitly, that the enslavement of white laborers in the North would ultimately be literal enslavement. The North would negate slavery in the South, by stopping its expansion, or the South would impose slavery on the North. Everything hinged on preventing slavery from expanding into the territories. Plank number 8 in the Republican Party Platform of 1860 stated, “That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom…. We deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.” In Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862, he stated, “My paramount object in this struggleis to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Lincoln was content to leave slavery alone where it already was, but that “the sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ ” That, of course, was a Union with free territories, where free labor would not have to compete with slave labor. The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union, “the Union as it was.”

“Fighting For What?” was one of the subheadings in the first volume of Philip S. Foner’s 5-volume set entitled History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Foner believes and this author agrees that hundreds of thousands of free laborers in the North went to war to abolish slavery; not out of altruism, but in order to ensure freedom for themselves and their loved ones. As Foner’s research on this subject indicates,

The Iron Platform, a New York workingman’s paper, gave in November, 1862, the reason that had compelled it to call for the freedom of the slaves: “There is one truth which should be clearly understood by every workingman in the Union. The slavery of the black man leads to the slavery of the white man…. If the doctrine of treason is true, that ‘Capital should own labor,’ then their logical conclusion is correct, and all laborers, white or black, are and ought to be slaves.”Upon examination of this passage, it becomes apparent that what is being spoken of is not figurative slavery. “Capital should own labor” was a phrase utilized during the presidential campaign of 1860 to denote the distinction between free labor which was hired, and slave labor which was owned. Ownership is literal slavery, chattel slavery. There were many white men in the North who risked their lives during the Civil War because they feared that if the South won and slavery were to be nationalized, slavery could be imposed on them. The foundations for this belief will be explained in detail. Suffice to say here, winning the war would abolish black slavery and the threat of white slavery as well.

David Thelen has said that “the challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” To this end, thousands of pieces of literature were perused in the preparation of this volume. Primary sources have been cited wherever possible, and note that many are obscure, having never appeared in any other history book. Such being the case, this bibliography will prove to be a valuable research tool for others who desire to explore the little-known aspects of pre-Civil War history which have been addressed herein. Other explanations for the Civil War have been acknowledged, but the issue of white slavery was also a cause. In an effort “to recover the past and introduce it to the present,” it may be said that the volume now in your hands is a contribution toward filling the void which currently exists regarding this forgotten cause of the Civil War.

White Slaves – from Lawrence R. Tenzer’s The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War

White Slaves – from Lawrence R. Tenzer’s The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War

PublicFriendsFriends except AcquaintancesOnly MeCustomClose Friendsgifts1See all lists…friendsBrooklyn, New York AreaAcquaintancesGo Back

Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children–and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think.

–Mary Chesnut

 

Regardless of the legal criteria established for being a white person, it is a fact that many white people remained enslaved under the partus rule. A most telling observation is that of Mary Boykin Chesnut, a South ern aristocrat and wife of James Chesnut, Jr., U. S. Senator from South Carolina. An entry in her diary for March, 1861 reads, “Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children–and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think.” Particularly noteworthy is her choice of the word “exactly.” Imagine how it must have been for plantation mistresses to see day in and day out white slave children who looked the same as their own white children. Worth noting here is that when Ben Ames Williams edited Chesnut’s diary for publication in 1905, he changed the word “exactly” to the word “partly.”From the wording of the original quotation, one may infer that it was quite common in antebellum households to have white children and white slave children who all looked like each other.

 

Other accounts of white slaves were published during or after the Civil War. Reverend John H. Aughey lived in the South for eleven years and had both white and black congregations. He told of preaching to slaves, some with red hair and blue eyes, a third of whom were just as white as he was. Dr. Alexander Milton Ross attended a slave auction in New Orleans where many of the slaves were “much whiter” than the white people who were there. In Lexington, Kentucky, Reverend Calvin Fairbank described a woman who was going to be sold at a slave auction as “one of the most beautiful and exquisite young girls one could expect to find in freedom or slavery….being only one sixty-fourth African.” After the Union had won the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina in 1862, Major General Burnside assigned Vincent Coyler to be superintendent of the poor. Coyler expressed disbelief at the complexions he saw. “The light color of many of the refugees is a marked peculiarity of the colored people of Newbern. I have had men and women apply for work who were so white that I could not believe they had a particle of negro blood in their veins.”

 

The memoirs of Chesnut, Aughey, Ross, Fairbank, and Coyler were published during orafter the Civil War. Many other accounts were published all through the period before the Civil War in which travelers and visitors to the South made note of the white slaves they saw on plantations and at slave auctions. Their expectation, of course, was to see slaves who were black or brown. On seeing white slaves for the first time, they often expressed surprise at how white those slaves really were. All of the accounts which follow were readily available to antebellum readers in the North.

 

John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth was an Englishman who visited America during the early 1770s and had his memoirs published in 1784. While in Maryland, he took notice of “female slaves, who are now become white by their mixture. There are at this time numbers of beautiful girls, many of them as fair as any living, who are absolutely slaves in every sense.” Another eighteenth-century traveler was Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville, a Frenchman who came to America in 1788. While visiting a school for Negro children in Philadelphia, he saw “an octoroon, whom it was impossible to tell from a white boy.”

 

Dr. Jesse Torrey mused on his interesting first experience with white slavery. His book, published in 1817, contains the following account: “While at a public house, in Fredericktown [Maryland], there came…a decently dressed white man, of quite a light complexion, in company with one who was totally black. After they went away, the landlord observed that the white man was a slave. I asked him, with some surprise, how that could be possible? To which he replied, that he was a descendant, by female ancestry, of an African slave. He also stated, that not far from Fredericktown, there was a slave estate, on which there were several white females of as fair and elegant appearance as white ladies in general, held in legal bondage as slaves.” Several years later, an English traveler in the South named Isaac Holmes spoke of the promiscuous sexual intercourse white men had with slave women which ultimately produced white slaves. Holmes made the observation but did not pass judgment. “To an Englishman, it may appear strange, that a white man, of any feeling, should be willing to become the father of slaves; but he does not look through American spectacles; for in the United States there are many, who, by education and association, are gentlemen, that are guilty of this shameful practice; and the consequence is, that in some instances there are slaves who are perfectly white.”

 

Captain Frederick Marryat was a British naval officer and novelist who traveled throughout the South in 1837 and 1838. His account at Louisville, Kentucky, is noteworthy. “I saw a girl, about twelve years old, carrying a child; and, aware that in a slave State the circumstance of white people hiring themselves out to service is almost unknown, I inquired of her if she were a slave. To my astonishment, she replied in the affirmative. She was as fair as snow, and it was impossible to detect any admixture of blood from her appearance.” In another experience with white slavery, Marryat came across an advertisement for a local runaway slave which read in part, “Said boy is in a manner white, would be passed by and taken for a white man. His hair is long and straight, like that of a white person.” Being a foreigner and not understanding the concept of a “one drop” mulatto, Marryat commented, “The expression of, ‘in a manner white,’ would imply that there was some shame felt in holding a white man in bondage.” The expression in the ad was a description, not a value judgment.

 

Reverend Francis Hawley of Connecticut resided in North and South Carolina for fourteen years. His thought-provoking account from 1839 offers this telling observation: “It is so common for the female slaves to have white children, that little or nothing is ever said about it. Very few inquiries are made as to who the father is.”

That same year, Lydia Maria Child wrote,

 

A Missouri newspaper proves that a white man may, without a mistake, be adjudged a slave. “A case of a slave sueing for his freedom, was tried a few days since in Lincoln county, of which the following is a brief statement of particulars: A youth of about ten years of age sued for his freedom on the ground that he was a free white person…. Upon his trial before the jury, he was examined by the jury and two learned physicians, all of whom concurred in the opinion that very little, if any, trace of negro blood could be discovered by any of the external appearances. All the physiological marks of distinction, which characterize the African descent, had disappeared. His skin was fair, his hair soft, straight, fine and white, his eyes blue, but rather disposed to the hazel-nut color; nose prominent, the lips small, his head round and well formed, forehead high and prominent, ears large, the tibia of the leg straight, and feet hollow. Notwithstanding these evidences of his claims, he was proved to be the descendant of a mulatto woman, and that his progenitors on the mother’s side had been and still were slaves: consequently he was found to be a slave.”

 

The narrative of the fugitive slave William W. Brown was published in 1847. Brown related how slaves in Hannibal, Missouri were boarded on a vessel bound for the New Orleans slave market. One among them was “a beautiful girl, apparently about twenty years of age, perfectly white, with straight light hair and blue eyes. But it was not the whiteness of her skin that created such a sensation among those who gazed upon her–it was her almost unparalleled beauty. She had been on the boat but a short time, before the attention of all the passengers, including the ladies, had been called to her, and the common topic of conversation was about the beautiful slave-girl.”

 

Fredrika Bremer was a Swedish novelist and humanitarian who visited the United States from 1849 to 1851. During a trip to Georgia, she attended a slave market in Augusta and commented on a number of children she saw there. “Many of these children were fair mulattoes, and some of them very pretty. One young girl of twelve was so white, that I should have supposed her to belong to the white race; her features, too, were also those of the whites. The slave-keeper told us that the day before, another girl, still fairer and handsomer, had been sold for fifteen hundred dollars.” Elsewhere she observed “a pretty little white boy of about seven years of age sitting among some tall negro girls. The child had light hair, the most lovely light brown eyes, and cheeks as red as roses; he was, nevertheless, the child of a slave mother, and was to be sold as a slave. His price was three hundred and fifty dollars.” Also seen were “the so-called ‘fancy girls,’ for fancy purchasers. They were handsome fair mulattoes, some of them almost white girls.” Traveling the United States about the same time as Bremer was an Englishman named Edward Sullivan. As a foreign visitor in the South, Sullivan was uncomfortable with slavery not being based on color. “I have seen slaves, men and women, sold at New Orleans, who were very nearly as white as myself…. Although it is not actually worse to buy or sell a man or woman who is nearly white, than it is to sell one some shades darker, yet there is something in it more revolting to one’s feelings.”

 

Other accounts from the 1850s also tell of experiences at slave auctions. While in Richmond, an English barrister named Charles Richard Weld observed a woman and her two little children being offered for sale. The three were to be sold together. “She was a remarkably handsome mulatto,” Weld wrote, “and her children were nearly, if not fully, as white as the fairest Americans….but as no eloquence on the part of the auctioneer could raise them above 1100 dollars, the lot was withdrawn. I was informed the woman alone would have realised more than this amount, but there is a strong aversion against purchasing white children.” (This aversion was not universal as illustrated by the Bremer account above and others.) During his visit to New Orleans, Reverend Philo Tower attended a slave auction and observed a young woman who was “one of the most beautiful, I think, I ever saw, aged from sixteen to twenty. Though thinly and cheaply dressed, none could be insensible to her beauty. She was much whiter than many, nay, than most of the Anglo-Saxon ladies; of medium size, well developed, beautiful black hair, black and sparkling eyes that pierced wherever they darted….rudely drawing the covering from her neck and shoulders, [the auctioneer] exhibited a bust as plump and purely white as the snow-tinged image of Venus.” She was sold for two thousand dollars.

 

Charles Mackay, a Scottish journalist, visited a slave auction where he had the following memorable encounter:

 

“One man–who to my inexperienced eyes seemed as white as myself, and whom I at once put down in my own mind as an Irishman, of the purest quality of the county of Cork–got up from his seat as I passed, and asked me to buy him.”

“I am a good gardener, your honour,” said he, with an unmistakable brogue. “I am also a bit of a carpenter, and can look after the horses, and do any sort of odd job about the house.”

 

“But you are joking,” said I; “you are an Irishman?”

 

“My father was an Irishman,” he said. At this moment the slave-dealer and owner of the depot came up. “Is there not a mistake here?” I inquired. “This is a white man.” “His mother was a nigger,” he replied. “We have sometimes much whiter men for sale than he is. Look at his hair and lips. There is no mistake about him.”

 

 

Mackay was a Scotsman who had experienced a virtually white, brogue-speaking Irishman as a slave. Feeling disgusted, he related that he “longed to get into the open air to breathe the purer atmosphere.” A similar reaction to that of Mackay was had by a Mr. C. (identified only by this first initial) who visited a slave auction in Georgia with his friend, New England physician Charles G. Parsons. The following is their particularly eloquent and telling account:

 

“We saw a handbill in the bar-room in which forty-four female slaves were advertised for sale. Stepping out into the street, we found those girls sitting on the sidewalks. At the farther end of the row was a very beautiful girl, apparently perfectly white, and neatly dressed. The moment Mr. C. looked at her, he exclaimed, ‘What do you think that white girl is sitting there with those negroes for?’ “

 

“I presume she is a slave, sir,” said I.

 

“That can’t be!” replied Mr. C.,– “just look at her! Why I never saw a prettier girl in my life.”

Now Mr. C. had heard that likely quadroons are held as slaves and sold in the market; but he had never believed that a young lady, so entirely American, so elegant in form and feature, so intellectual in appearance, with pure blue eyes, and the perfect red and white Caucasian complexion, was in the same degraded condition as the African girl….he was unprepared to believe it, when I said to him, “she is a slave, sir!”…Still incredulous, Mr. C. stepped up to the drover and asked, “Is that white girl a slave, sir?”

 

“That’s not a white girl; she is a nigger, sir,” replied the drover…

 

“What do you ask for her?” inquired Mr. C.

 

“I was offered 1800 dollars for her last night. I want 2000 for her.”…

 

“Why can that white girl–“

 

“That isn’t a white girl; that’s a nigger, sir, I tell you,” interrupted the drover, contemptuously. At the same time he removed a woolen cap from her head, which exposed the light brown hair, and added, “you see her hair is waved.”

This is regarded as evidence that African blood is mingled with the white. Mr. C. had now become excited, and he exclaimed– “Well, then, can that white nigger do more work than one of your black niggers, that you ask so much more for her?”

 

“Oh no;” replied the drover,–and perceiving that Mr. C. did not comprehend the superior value of female beauty to physical ability in a slave, he added– “but you know she is a high priced fancy girl.”

 

“By heavens!” vociferated Mr. C., “‘t is too bad!” and turning to me with his clinched hands raised towards the heavens, he added, “I will never say another word against the abolitionists, so long as God lets me live!”

 

With so many white slaves throughout the South, it is not surprising that curiosity would exist as to their ability to escape North and there pass into white society. Such an inquiry was made by Frederick Law Olmsted, a reporter for the New York Times who traveled extensively throughout the slave states. During a visit to a plantation in the spring of 1854, he recorded a dialogue he had with two overseers. One of them pointed out a slave while she was working in the field and said,

 

“That one is pure white; you see her hair?” (It was straight and sandy.) … It was not uncommon, he said, to see slaves so white that they could not be easily distinguished from pure-blooded whites.

“Now,” said I, “if that girl should dress herself well, and run away, would she be suspected of being a slave? (I could see nothing myself by which to distinguish her, as she passed, from an ordinary poor white girl.)”

“Oh, yes; you might not know her if she got to the North, but any of us would know her.”

 

“How?”

 

“By her language and manners.”

 

“But if she had been brought up as [a] house-servant?”

 

“Perhaps not in that case.”

 

“The other thought there would be no difficulty; you could always see a slave girl quail when you looked in her eyes.”

Olmsted also took note of white slaves in a group of people of color he saw in Richmond who were dressed in Sunday finery. “Nearly a fourth part seemed to me to have lost all African peculiarity of feature…. There was no indication of their belonging to a subject race, except that they invariably gave way to the white people they met.”

 

As explained earlier, the term mulatto could be used to denote a person who looked white in appearance. The term quadroon (or quatroon), even though literally one who was three-fourths white, when used in New Orleans could mean the same thing. Visitors to that city commented on the virtual whiteness of many of the so-called quadroons. Isaac Holmes, an Englishman who traveled in America for four years, recollected that “although the term quatroon would infer a person of three-fourths white extraction, yet all between the colour of a mulatto and a white acquire in New Orleans this appellation. Some, indeed, are to all appearance perfectly white.” George William Featherstonhaugh left from Maryland and toured throughout the slave states. He also saw the New Orleans quadroons. “A woman may be as fair as any European, and have no symptom of negro blood in her,” Featherstonhaugh stated, “but if it can be proved that she has one drop of negro blood in her vein s, the laws do not permit her to contract a marriage with a white man; and as her children would be illegitimate, the men do not contract marriages with them.” Reverend Philo Tower from New England wrote of “the life of a mulatto girl, or a quadroon, as they are called” with some having “clear, beautiful white skin, with rosy cheeks, making the very perfection of loveliness and beauty…forbidden by the rules of society to hold rank above the lowest, blackest slave.” The actor George Vandenhoff said of the New Orleans quadroon, “Some of them showed no tinge of their descent at all; but could boast complexions–notblondes, certainly, but–of Anglo-American whiteness. Yet, all these girls had in their blood the fatal taint of Africa’s sun; though, in some, it was diluted, by admixture, to an infinitesimal point, that required the nicest eye to detect it–if, indeed, it could be detected at all.”

Although the first-person eyewitness accounts of white slaves throughout the South have an element of redundancy running through them, it is imperative to keep in mind that they were all contained in books which were readily available to antebellum readers in the North. Travel accounts made for popular reading, and these books, many of them by famous writers of the day, were no doubt read to a great extent. White slaves as seen through the eyes of others brought the issue of white slavery to the awareness of many Northerners who would not have been conscious of it otherwise.

Return to top 

 

In addition to travel accounts of white slaves, newspaper advertisements for white runaway slaves made the issue of white slavery that much more real. Although originally appearing in newspapers in the South, they were also collected and published in abolitionist and other literature in the North, literature that was particularly geared toward people interested in ending slavery. Lydia Maria Child published The Patriarchal Institution in 1860 in which she included four pages of advertisements for white runaway slaves (PLATE 1) William Jay proclaimed that “people at the North are disposed to be incredulous when they hear of whiteslaves at the South; and yet a little reflection would convince them not only that there must be such slaves under the present system, but that in process of time a large proportion of the slaves must be as white as their masters. Were there no other sources of information respecting the complexions of the southern slaves, the newspaper notices of runaways would most abundantly confirm our assertions.” The advertisements cited by Jay include the words “white man,””white boy,” quite white,” and “clear white.” Reverend Charles Elliott included similar advertisements in his book, Sinfulness of American Slavery. During 1855 and 1856 the American Anti-Slavery Society published a series of pamphlets, one of which was entitled White Slavery in the United States. Three of its eight pages list newspaper notices for white runaway slaves. The Suppressed Book About Slavery! written by George Washington Carleton in 1857 also contains many such advertisements.

 

White slavery was read about in the accounts of travelers who visited the South and in Southern newspaper advertisements for white runaway slaves. Another source of information concerning white slavery was articles in newspapers. A notable piece entitled “White Slaves,” concerning a white woman and her two children who were offered for sale at a slave auction, appeared in 1821 in a Maryland newspaper, the Niles’ Weekly Register. “This woman and children were as white as any of our citizens, indeed we scarcely ever saw a child with a fairer or clearer complexion than the younger one….there was something so revolting to the feelings, at the sight of this woman and children…it brought to recollection so forcibly the morality of slave-holding states–that not a person was found to make an offer for them.” Even though many in the South expressed an aversion to buying white slave children, the feeling was certainly not universal. In fact, for some, the pretense of a white mulatto child was unnecessary and children known to be completely white were bought and sold outright. William Chambers traveled in Kentucky and Virginia in 1853 and noted that “it is understood that numbers of purely Anglo-American children pass into slavery….many of them are carried to the markets of the south, where a good price for them can be readily obtained.” The “White Slaves” article is interesting from another standpoint because it questioned the partus rule. In referring to the white children no one wanted to purchase because of their white color, the article stated, “The legal maxim of par. seq. vent. has made them slaves for life, and the same maxim will make the offspring of these children slaves. Who can think of this and not shudder? Can there not be, ought there not to be, some limitation, some bounds fixed to this principle? We trust we shall not see a second attempt to sell them in this town.” An editorial comment followed. “White is the fashion in the United States, and surely some measure should be adopted to cause the color to be respected, seeing that we depend so much upon it!” What makes this article so unusual is that it was originally published in Kentucky and was reprinted in Maryland–both slave states. Of course, back in 1821 the organized abolitionist movement had yet to really be established and things were relatively calm between North and South. Such an editorial was no doubt dismissed as harmless dissent. As tension mounted in the decades which followed, however, publishing an article which questioned slavery being based on the partus rule, the immutable legal principle held universally throughout the South, would have been unthinkable. The Chicago Daily Tribune, a popular newspaper, had an interesting article entitled “A White Slave” in an 1856 issue. A white female slave had escaped from Missouri and was given refuge by two Germans in Illinois. Slave catchers captured the girl and arrested the Germans despite their claim that they thought her to be free because she was white. One German escaped, the other was jailed. Quoting from the Quincy Republican, the newspaper which first reported the story, the Tribune declared, “You see the legitimate, the unavoidable fruits of the Slave system in our sister State….Do you wish to incur for yourselves or your friends in the Territory the penalty of five years imprisonment in the Penitentiary, for the extraordinary crime of being unable to distinguish between a white free woman and a white slave?”

 

Antislavery newspapers published and read in the North contained articles and accounts of white slavery gleaned from Southern newspapers as well as other references. One interesting item which consistently appeared during the mid and latter 1850s in the newspaper the Anti-Slavery Bugle was an advertisement display-ing a list of American Anti-Slavery Society pamphlets, each dealing with a particular aspect of the slavery issue. White Slavery in the United States (PLATE 2), the second title on this list, was concerned exclusively with the enslavement of white people in the South. The constant repetition of seeing the words “white slavery in the United States” week after week after week no doubt had a subliminal effect on readers. Items concerning white slaves and white slavery were often printed on the front page. A sampling of such articles includes “A White Girl Kidnapped and Sold as a Slave” which involved being lured to New Orleans under false pretenses; “White Woman Sold as a Slave” where Violet Ludlow was sold several times despite her legitimate claim that she was white; “A White Girl Nearly Sold Into Slavery” which related how an orphan named Madeline, “aged about nine years…a lovely girl, delicately formed, white as the purest of Caucasian race,” was to be sold at auction but was reprieved with the intention “that a Jury shall pass upon her blood.” “The Sally Miller Case” told readers about how eleven jurors found the defendant to be a white German girl, “while one insisted on believing her to be a colored woman, a slave by birth, and rightfully the property of the demandants.” An untitled piece related the story of how a young white boy was kidnapped and was about to be auctioned off when his father appeared on the scene, grabbed him, and exclaimed, “My child a slave? a slave? Have you dared to seize and sell awhite child?”

 

There were other interesting accounts as well. An article entitled “Curious Case of White Slavery” appeared in the National Era, wherein a teenage girl with white parents was sold as a Negro slave by her father and was rescued by her mother. In speaking of Georgia where the event had occurred, the newspaper said, “This fact proves that white slavery in Georgia is not so uncommon that a case of it is likely to excite any remark….Slavery has no ‘prejudice against color.’ ” Another piece was entitled “Woman, Apparently White, Surrendered to Slavery” and had to do with a woman named Pelasgie who was claimed as a fugitive slave even though she had been living as a free person for more than twelve years. In “An Arkansas White Girl Sold as a Slave,” Alexina Morrison’s lawyer argued that she “had not claimed her freedom because she had brown hair, or fair skin, or blue eyes, but because she had been born free, and was kidnapped.” Likewise, in “White Slavery in Alabama,” readers were told of a white girl from Georgia named Patience Hicks who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Three different accounts were presented in an article entitled “White Slavery.” In the first, a seven-year-old white boy named Washington was placed in the care of a Negro woman when his mother became ill. He was subsequently kidnapped and sold into slavery. In the second, an aristocratic Virginia couple had an illegitimate love-child named Eliza who was placed in Negro quarters and raised there from infancy. She was subsequently sold as a slave. In the third, a white girl was purchased out of slavery for $400 and then freed.

Ellwood Harvey, a Pennsylvanian, attended a slave auction in Virginia with some friends and wrote of his visit in a letter which was printed in the Pennsylvania Freeman. The Anti-Slavery Bugle republished the letter, a part of which read, “A white boy, about 12 years old, was placed upon the stand. His hair was brown and straight; his skin exactly the same hue as other white persons, and no discoverable trace of negro feature in his countenance. Some coarse and vulgar jests were passed on his color, and $5.00 was bid for him, but the auctioneer said ‘that is not enough to begin on for such a likely young nigger!’–Several remarked they ‘would not have him as a gift.’ Some said a white nigger was more trouble than he was worth. One man said it was wrong to sell white people…. He was sold for about $250.” Earlier in the letter, Harvey wrote that “my friends were not abolitionists before, and pitied my credulity when I told them the horrors of slavery; but one week in the Old Dominion has added two staunch adherents to our cause. I wish every proslavery man and woman in the North could witness one slave auction.”

 

The preceding accounts of white slavery from the abolitionist press were only concerned with examples of white people being white slaves. As documented in the last two chapters, however, this issue became more and more of a threat to the white populace in the North as Southern power grew, and many publications, abolitionist and otherwise, which addressed white slavery started to include political commentaries as well. This additional aspect notwithstanding, the abolitionist press was a powerful force and had impact because of the size of the abolitionist movement. In 1838 James G. Birney who was the corresponding secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society observed that the organization had 1,300 chapters with about 109,000 members. Henry Wilson, a politician and author who detailed the rise and fall of Southern political power, stated that in 1840 at the height of the abolitionist movement there were some 2,000 organizations with a membership of about 200,000. That of course was 200,000 formal members, those who paid dues and participated actively. Many others, perhaps in the many hundreds of thousands, were to various degrees empathetic to the abolitionist cause but did not formally join. Both formal and informal antislavery advocates read the abolitionist press. The abolitionist newspapers in which accounts of white slavery appeared were widely read.

If anyone had doubt about the existence of white slaves, the picture “EMANCIPATED SLAVES, WHITE AND COLORED” in an 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly would have been proof (Frontispiece). The article in Harper’s was entitled “White and Colored Slaves.” All of these slaves were set free by General Benjamin F. Butler in New Orleans and were attending a school for emancipated slaves when this picture was taken. The article went on to name and describe each individual. The descriptions of the white slaves were as follows: “Rebecca Huger is eleven years old…. To all appearance she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood….Rosina Downs is not quite seven years old. She is a fair child, with blonde complexion and silky hair…. She has one sister as white as herself…. Charles Taylor is eight years old. His complexion is very fair, his hair light and silky….this white boy…has been twice sold as a slave…. These three children, to all appearance of unmixed white race, came to Philadelphia last December.”Harper’s Weekly was very popular, having a circulation of around 200,000 before the Civil War.

 

 

Why was the character of Archy Moore depicted as a white slave? Why was the title changed from The Slave in 1836 to The White Slave in 1852? Art imitates life. Hildreth’s choices were in accord with public concern over white slavery. White readers could readily identify with the trials and tribulations of a slave who was as white as they were. Before the first word in the book was read, the impression of the title alone enabled empathetic readers to emotionally experience the words, “The White Slave” (PLATE 4).

 

 

 

 

There were two distinctly different ways of looking at white mulattoes–socially and physiologically. Socially, a white partus slave looked as white as any white person but was considered a black person because he or she had “one drop” of black blood from a distant black female ancestor who was a slave. Such was the case when Mr. C. was told, “That’s not a white girl; she is a nigger, sir.” Physiologically speaking, however, white partus slaves were white people because all traits of their remote black ancestry had disappeared. The Northsaw these white slaves as whites. The South saw these white slaves as blacks. An 1857 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune commented on racial classification in the South. “The southern census takers, it is notorious, returned all persons as blacks who, were not morethan half white. Those who possessed straight hair and Anglo-Saxon features they set down as mulattoes, many of whom were as white-skinned as their owners.” The actual number of white mulatto slaves is unknowable because all shades from “one drop” to those showing some discernible degree of black admixture were classed together as mulattoes without any distinction as to color.