Even When It Wasn’t About Slavery, It Was About Slavery

courtesy Library of Congress

courtesy Library of Congress

I often hear people say that the Civil War in the US wasn’t about slavery (you may wonder where I am to often hear people go on about slavery), but the more I read history the harder it is to believe. Take the transcontinental railroad, for instance. One of the reasons it took so long in getting started is that everyone (most everyone) had settled on the idea that the federal government should help pay for it. Problem was that the slave state politicians wanted the route through slave country which meant purchasing land from Mexico (would this land be free or slave?). The free state politicians knew their anti-slavery constituents wouldn’t go for that. Everyone was SO TIRED of fighting over slavery every day in Washington for years! So the railroad stood still.

And then there was this sticky situation in Cuba . . . there was a time when Manifest Destiny wasn’t tinged with corruption. It was a brief time, yet most Americans supported the idea of spreading liberty . . . enter the slave states. Some (not all) saw Central and South America as the last beacon of hope for keeping slavery alive. Spain controlled Cuba and Cuba had slaves.

Filibuster William Walker launched several expeditions into Latin America. For a time he ruled Nicaragua, although he was eventually forced to return to the United States. In 1860, he was captured and executed in Honduras. Wikipedia

Filibuster William Walker launched several expeditions into Latin America. For a time he ruled Nicaragua, although he was eventually forced to return to the United States. In 1860, he was captured and executed in Honduras. Wikipedia

Back long ago some men (private citizens) took it upon themselves to gain territory for their country. They spent their days organizing grand and semi-grand plans to capture places. The Americans who did this were called FILLIBUSTERERS.

A Venezuelan-born resident of Cuba, Narciso López, who, like some wealthy Cuban slave-owners, was wary of shaky Spanish rule over the island, and thus sought to have it annexed by the United States in order to ensure slavery’s preservation in Cuba. Cuban property owners were concerned that Spain would give in to British pressure to abolish slavery in Cuba. López organized several failed expeditions to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule, the last resulting in his capture and execution in Havana in 1851. The American public condemned Spanish actions, especially López’s execution without trial, but U.S. President Millard Fillmore did not issue a denunciation. Public anger against Fillmore’s seemingly lukewarm support for expansion contributed to a Whig defeat in 1852.

In an attempt to mollify the Democratic Party’s staunch proslavery wing, the new President, Franklin Pierce, appointed the proslavery politician Pierre Soulé as Minister to Spain in 1853. However, Soulé did not possess a personality well-suited to tactful diplomacy. During his appointment, Soulé disregarded his instructions to preserve Spanish sovereignty and delivered an unauthorized ultimatum to the Spanish Government regarding a seized U.S. merchant ship. Soulé also wounded the French Ambassador in a duel and began to associate with Spanish revolutionaries planning to overthrow the government. In 1854, Soulé met with other U.S. Ministers to draft a document known as the Ostend Manifesto, which outlined U.S. reasons for attempting to purchase Cuba from Spain. Once the documents were publicly released, they proved embarrassing for the Pierce Administration, and U.S. Secretary of State William Marcy implied that Soulé had instigated the meeting. In the meantime, the Spanish Government began to take countermeasures against U.S. interest in Cuba. The Spanish Minister to the United States, Angel Calderón de la Barca, gathered intelligence on planned filibustering expeditions to Cuba. In Cuba, officials took steps to free slaves who had arrived on the island after 1835 and planned to organize a free black militia that would oppose any proslavery invaders. Growing antislavery sentiment in the northern United States and Spanish determination to hold on to Cuba eventually forced U.S. leaders to end attempts to acquire the island.” READ MORE

So was slavery the only reason for war? We could say there were other contributing factors but behind most of them was the country’s wrestling with this core issue. If people took slavery lightly or didn’t find the institution morally repugnant the politicians may not have had so many long and heated battles in the 1850’s.

Brazil says, “Come down here, you rebels. We’ve got cotton to pick and slaves to pick it.”

Joseph Whithaker and wife were among the first Confederates to emigrate to Brazil where slavery was still legal.

Joseph Whithaker and wife were among the first Confederates to emigrate to Brazil where slavery was still legal.

“When the war (US Civil) ended in 1865, many former Confederates were unwilling to live under the rule of the Union. They were unhappy with the destruction of their pre-war lifestyle that included slavery. So when Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil sent recruiters to the Southern States of Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas to pick up experienced cotton farmers, many disgruntled Southerners jumped at the opportunity.

Slavery was still in existence in Brazil at the time, which greatly attracted the Southerners. Combined with their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Union, many felt that moving out of America was the only option available to them. Dom Pedro, who wanted to encourage the cultivation of cotton, made an offer they could not refuse – he offered them a package of tax breaks and grants, as well as a section of the Brazilian forest that they could call home. It was more than they could ever ask for – a chance to start over and create a new community with Southern values.” MORE at OddityCentral.com

AMAZINGLY some former slaves traveled to Brazil with their former masters: “A few newly freed slaves in the United States emigrated alongside their Confederate counterparts and in some cases with their previous owners. One such former slave, Steve Watson, became the administrator of the sawmill of his former owner, Judge Dyer of Texas. Upon returning to the USA (due to homesickness and financial failure) Dyer deeded his remaining property, the sawmill and 12 acres, to Watson. In the area of the Juquia valley there are many Brazilian families with the surname Vassão, the Portuguese pronunciation of Watson.Wikipedia

 THE LOST CONFEDERADOS  still celebrate in Brazil!

"My, y'all look just like some folks at home." (Courtesy of NotEventhePast.org)

“My, y’all look just like some folks at home.”
(Courtesy of NotEventhePast.org)

The Sorrow of Grey Areas

Beautiful Innocent

Beautiful Innocent

In the absence of God we all want perfect heroes, don’t we? We build them up and hate them as we drag them down to earth. I can’t write about characters who don’t get dragged into pits and stomped on. It doesn’t seem real to me. I can’t relate and feel the whole hero thing is a sham.

On the other hand when people struggle with an evil reality, get caught on their feelings of inadequacy and do nothing to address the evil I feel sympathetic. Some people are militant enough to watch PETA videos and give up meat (but we all know you can’t escape the grey areas even as a vegan).

And so it was with American slavery. There were no perfect heroes, but it’s wrong to say that there weren’t plenty of people who hated slavery. Here’s how a lot of Northerners handled it in their heads:

1. We are a loose confederacy of states. I’m not my brother’s keeper.

2. I know slavery is evil and we just had this Great Awakening religious revival thing and as a Christian I feel guilty.

3. Yet, the Constitution is a masterpiece, almost sacred, even. Hmm.

4. I don’t own slaves and no one in my state does. It’s not my problem and I can’t fix it.

5. Then why do I still feel guilty?

6. And why do I hate the Abolitionists?

7. I hate them because without them I can pretend that I’m innocent (since I don’t keep slaves). I just want to live my life in peace–and I have relatives down south. They don’t have slaves either.

8. I don’t hate abolitionists because I hate black people and want them enslaved. I hate them because they pick at that sore, they addle my conscience and I know they’re right . . .

9. But what’s to be done? I don’t want my son fighting a war . . . he’s so young and innocent.

10. I won’t read the papers, I won’t listen to the sermons–oh, slaves and slavery and grey areas! Damn them all to hell!

What Is Your Aural History?

What have you heard?

What have you heard?

For Northerners in Antebellum America the shouts of commerce rang out everywhere in their big cities; police whistles, horse hooves over cobblestone, workers yelling after hours at taverns and children–hoards of them hawking papers while calling out the latest headlines. Progress and wealth had a booming noise to it and with it a sense that things were getting done.

Southerners had their bells and their quietude.* When the slaves ran away the owners stayed in bed waiting for the morning bells that never came. But before that they heard the cicadas and the quiet (though not silent) sounds of servitude. Silence was stark and worrisome–were the dark-eyed fieldworkers readying themselves for rebellion? Quietude was different–a hum of rural bliss, a fairytale of peace and plenty.

When the noisy Union forces tramped into this fairytale of quietude the slaves listened hard. The sounds of big guns and wagon-wheels thrilled their hearts to bursting though they must remain in waiting, lips tightly closed around their excitement, for the right moment to escape to enemy lines.

Church bells were some of the first things to go. Some were melted down into cannons and some were hidden from the locust-like Union men. Bells held memories; the celebrations and mourning services of the Southern people were called out with bells. The heady air of  early war was crowded with the ringing. And then came the mournful bells of death before the bells went away.

No declaring, no owning of sounds any longer. Silence, waiting and defeat. Crass Northern noise moving in jolted Southern sensibilities. Many planters and slaves remembered the intonation of the words spoken from the front yards of lush plantations: “You are free to leave us now.”

And some went and some stayed and all wondered at the changing sounds of life.

As a child I remember the freight trains at 3 am rumbling through the next town. I’d lie awake wondering about cargo and places I’d never been. On sunny afternoons in late summer I’d be carried away by the sound of small plane engines overhead as I swung high on my swing. My father’s laughter and the screen door banging endlessly–these are some of my first aural memories. I live in a quiet place now and sometimes miss those screen doors.

What are some of your aural memories and how have they changed over the years?

*Thoughts inspired by: The War Was You and Me

“The acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed”


John Quincy Adams. Shall we bow our heads for an early nap before discussing a white dead president? It’s kind of superficial to judge a person because they’re white and dead, don’t you think? John Quincy was pretty cute (okay that’s superficial) as a young guy, but he was much more than that.

You know how we always love to trash kids who have famous parents? We say they got where they got because their father knew, say, George Washington, but a meeting with a president doesn’t always assure you a brilliant career. John Quincy started his brilliant career at the age of 14. Yes, fourteen. He accompanied Francis Dana as a secretary on a mission to Saint Petersburg. (WIKI)

Do you know any fourteen-year-olds? How many impress foreign diplomats and presidents? Well, maybe Justin Beiber did in his prime, but if you check out John Quincy’s love poems to his wife you might be surprised at Mr. Adam’s sensuous side. So young Adams did have the advantage of being born into a brainy family (funny they lived in Braintree, Massachusetts), but John Quincy’s younger brother with all the same advantages died young of alcoholism.

How many kids today know Greek, Latin, French, German and Dutch? How many consider it a fine hobby to translate Virgil, Horace, Plutarch and Aristotle? Anybody for one more opinion about deflated footballs?

Lest we think young Johnnie had it easy, let me mention his parents. John and Abigail groomed him for moral and intellectual greatness. This was no soft curry-comb grooming. Lovingly and beseechingly–daily, weekly, monthly and yearly–John and Abigail  bombarded John Q with “advice.” When excelling at language, Abigail bemoaned his sloppy handwriting. When dancing with the girls in Europe, John Adams Sr. worried he might bring home a horrible Euro-trash girl.

Johnnie could have bolted under the pressure. He could have whined. Instead he wrote volumes in his journals, he translated volumes, he married well and became a great husband and father. These things were done in his spare time!

Here are some of his other accomplishments:

Graduated Harvard and became a lawyer (he thought this terribly dull). Later taught at Harvard.

Became a respected foreign minister to the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany,  Prussia and later Russia.

Became Secretary of State

Was elected President

And then for 18 years decided to hang out in Congress refusing all the while to descend into party politics. This guy had tons of courage. At one time or another everyone hated him. He stood for what was morally right and best for the country he loved. This meant that he vehemently opposed slavery before it was cool. He was a hard-working trail-blazer!

“The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim it, and cast it all upon the shoulder of…Great Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee’s manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?” (Journal entry Wiki)

John Quincy Adams also sat for one of the first presidential photographs:

So he didn't age that well--but there's more to a man than his looks.

So he didn’t age that well–but there’s more to a man than his looks.

Short, good C-SPAN Video

A taste of John Quincy’s life under his mother’s watchful eye

Knocked Up

Preggers Pinterest


Knocking” began as a term for serious flirting circa 1800. Originally it was because you were knocking on the maiden’s “door” trying to “get in”. Understandably, this reference quickly changed to the actual act of “getting in” because beds knock against walls. If you leave your boots on, literally done at that time, you are “knocking boots“- a Southern U.S. term. Around 1813, the term “knocking up her boots” was common. A reference to the “missionary” position. By 1830, “knocked up” began as a reference to what we now know it as today. Sadly, it was a reference to a slave woman who became pregnant. {This can be verified via “Bing” search, and through searches of various history sources for; African-American History, Southern & Western U.S. History, Women’s History, etc:}www.answers.com

“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” CS Lewis

Slave market Khartoum Sudan 19th century 1876

Slave market Khartoum Sudan 19th century 1876


Muslim vs Western Slave Trade


Slave Tags

Slaves of Every Color

Slaves in Charleston


Slave Tags

Slave Tags

Betty The Slave In New Jersey


“Betty of New Bridge, New Jersey, was born as a slave in the Paulison family near Hackensack, and lived there until she was emancipated in 1840. After that she lived in the family of James Paulson. Betty “retained a vigorous mind until near her death, and her recollections of Revolutionary times.  were very vivid. She died in 1871 at the age of 98.”

Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society

Betty was from my home town.

“Bergen County developed as the largest slave holding county in the state. After the Revolutionary War, many northern states rapidly passed laws to abolish slavery, but New Jersey did not pass abolish it until 1804, and then in a process of gradual emancipation similar to that of New York. But, in New Jersey, some slaves were held as late as 1865. (In New York, they were all freed by 1827.) The law made African Americans free at birth, but required children born to slave mothers to serve lengthy apprenticeships as a type of indentured servant until early adulthood for the masters of their slave mothers. New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery completely. The last 16 slaves in New Jersey were freed in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment.” Wikipedia

Most New Jersey residents,(Bergen County in particular) were unsympathetic to the union cause and tried to remain neutral. Of predominantly Dutch heritage, they valued peace and tranquility above all things and felt they were good to their slaves who they often worked side by side with. Many slaves like Betty chose to remain in the families of their Dutch former masters.