Slavery: Not Just Something For The South

Slavery: Not Just Something For The South

Part VII

Several years ago an article ran on a front page of a newspaper, The Hartford Courant: "Aetna ‘Regrets’ Insuring Slaves"; it concerned an overdue admission and apology from one of Connecticut’s oldest, most prestigious companies.

The next day reporters began to investigate the newspaper’s own role in slavery. After giving such prominence to the Aetna story, it seemed only fair to see what this newspaper, The Hartford Courant which dates from 1764 had known and was culpable for.

Four months later this title across the front page: "Courant Complicity in an Old Wrong—Newspaper’s Founder Published Ads in Support of the Sale and Capture of Slaves."

Within a year, in partial response to a lawsuit seeking reparations that had been filed against Aetna and several other companies (though not against The Courant) people across the US were trying to find the identity of a slave, any slave, who’d been insured, and to write of his/her life.

It became clear that Connecticut’s role in slavery was not only huge, it was key to the success of the entire institution. Finding an insured slave suddenly became secondary. They were now looking at nothing less than altered reality.

Thoughts came: Northerners were the good guys in the War, the South was to blame for slavery. Southerners had plantations, the North had the Underground Railroad.

But with a closer look people found unshakeable proof of Connecticut’s complicity in slavery. What’s more, it quickly became obvious that the economic links to slavery were deeply entwined with religious, political, and educational institutions. Slavery was part of the social contract in Connecticut. And there was more. The year before the American Revolution, more than 5,000 Africans were enslaved in Connecticut. The federal census clearly showed it. But why wasn’t it generally known that in 1790 most prosperous merchants owned at least one slave, as did 50 percent of the ministers? Clearly that’s nothing in comparison to, say, Virginia, but why wasn’t it common knowledge?

Also, some Connecticut slaves actually lived on farms as large as many in the South, and another word for farm could be "plantation".

The story got bigger and more damning. The Triangle Trade between the Americas, Europe and Africa is a staple of the high school curriculum. But as was written in the original "Complicity" issue of this newspaper, The Hartford Courant:

"….somehow in popular perception, slavery has been cut out of the trade triangle and transferred forward to the Civil War, where it became a moral problem confined to the South. Just as Connecticut was thought not to have "had slavery" because it did not have as many slaves or Southern-style plantations, it was thought not to profit from slavery as much as the South did."

"The truth, however, which ought to have been plain, is that Connecticut derived a great part, maybe the greatest part, of its early surplus wealth from slavery."

What was true of Connecticut turned out to be overwhelmingly true of the entire North.

American staples such as corn, wheat, and tobacco have importance in this country’s history, as do whale oil, coal, and gold. They were the main characters in defining chapters of American history, but it’s true: cotton was king.

Right before the War, the 10 major cotton states were producing 66 percent of the world’s cotton; raw cotton accounted for more than half of all U.S. exports.

The numbers are extraordinary: in the season ending August 31, 1860, the U.S. produced close to 5 million bales of cotton, or roughly 2.3 billion pounds. Of that amount, about half (1 billion pounds) was exported to Great Britain’s 2,650 cotton factories.

The Industrial Revolution had spread through Europe and, although small compared with G. Britain’s, France’s textile industry ( centered in Lille) was also fed almost entirely by U.S. cotton, 200 million pounds’ worth in 1858. And Southern cotton was important to other countries: the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, Spain, and Belgium.

However, most of the cotton went through Liverpool, a port nearest Manchester in Lancashire, the heart of textile manufacturing. Up until 1770 Great Britain got most of its cotton elsewhere, but with the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney the world changed. "The gin", Whitney wrote Thomas Jefferson, allowed "one negro to clean fifty weight (I mean 50 lbs. after separation from the seed) of the green seed cotton per day."  Jefferson was one of the first plantation owners to order a gin. Suddenly cotton became hugely profitable.

The South switched over to cotton, and within only about 15 years they were supplying more than half of Great Britain’s demand. By the eve of the Civil War Great Britain was largely clothing the Western world, using Southern-grown cotton, since well before 1860 the relationship between Great Britain and the South had become ironclad.

In 1848, Solon Robinson, a farmer and writer from Connecticut who became agriculture editor for the New York Tribune visited the nation’s largest cotton port, New Orleans. "It must be seen to be believed. Boats are arriving, so piled up with cotton, that the lower tier of bales on deck are in the water; and as the boat is approaching, it looks like a huge raft of cotton bales, with the chimneys and steam pipe of an engine sticking up out of the centre."

From New Orleans and the other major cotton ports–Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina’ and Mobile, Alabama–most of the cotton was shipped to Liverpool. If it didn’t go directly there, it went North: to Boston for use in the domestic textile industry, or to New York City. From New York, it generally went to Liverpool, or elsewhere in Europe.

This only gives the slightest hint of the role of New York City and the rest of the North played in the cotton trade, or of the lengths the New York business community would go to protect its franchise.

The Union Committee of Fifteen called a meeting at the offices of Richard Lathers, a prominent cotton merchant. The organizers had planned to invite 200 people, by written invitation only, but the group that thronged outside of Lather’s offices at 33 Pine Street, one block over from Wall Street, surpassed 2,000. In fact, offices across the street had to be quickly commandeered to accomodate the crowd, and even then the bankers, merchants, others spilled into the street.

The worried business community had met to discuss strategies before to smooth relations between North and South, but the Pine Street meeting on 12-15-60 may have represented the group at its most panicky. South Carolina’s probable secession vote was expected days away, with talk of Alabama soon to follow. After that, who knew?

The very spine of 19th century money and power attended that meeting. These "merchant princes" included:

A.T. Stewart: cotton merchant (thought to be the wealthiest man in New York) who opened the nation’s first department store, called "the marble palace" on Broadway.

Moses Taylor: sugar importer, banker, coal and railroad magnate, whose extensive enterprises made him, for nearly half a century, one of the most influential businessmen in N.Y.City.

Abiel Abbot Low: whose A.A. Low & Brothers was the most important firm in the new and booming China trade.

William B. Astor: son of fur and real estate mogul John Jacob Astor, the nation’s first millionaire.

Wall Street banker August Belmont ( whose passion for horse breeding led to the creation of the Belmont Stakes) : American agent for the Rothchilds of Germany, who married the daughter of Commodore Perry .

Also invited were William H. Aspinwall and his partners Robert Minturn and Henry Grinnell; editors of the Journal of Commerce and the New York Herald; and several politicians, including two former and future mayors: future presidential candidate Samuel J.Tilden, and former president Millard Fillmore.

Richard Lathers directed his opening comments to Southern planters, urging them "to consider their duties to that part of their Northern brethren whose sympathies have always been with Southern rights and against Northern aggression."

Charles O’Conor: lawyer and longtime defender of slavery, argued that in considering whether to leave the Union, the South was just struggling "to keep its head above the rapidly advancing waters of this black sea of abolitionism, which threatens to drown it."

O’Conor paused, interrupted by applause, and continued, "There is no source of evil whatever in the North except the honest, conscientious people of the North, who have drank into their bosoms this dreadful error–that it is their crush out and trample upon the system of Slavery upon which the prosperity of the South and the permanency of this Union in its present form depend."

As the afternoon lengthened entreaties to the South became more emotional and John Dix, New Hampshire native, former N.Y. senator and future N.Y. governor, seemed to sum up the sentiments of the day: "We will not review the dark history of the aggression and insult visited upon you by Abolitionists and their abettors during the last thirty-five years. Our detestation of these acts of hostility is not inferior to your own."

By Allen (Piewacket1861) He is member in the forum

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