I’ve spent years studying the history of slavery in the American South, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Lately, I have resumed studying my favorite hobby horse and have bought dozens of new books about the subject which I plan on reviewing on this website. By the time I am finished with this series, my readers will all be slavery buffs.
The following excerpts comes from James Benson Sellers classic book Slavery In Alabama:
“Examination of these census reports gives the student of slavery and history a profound impression that slavery must have seemed to the pioneer of Alabama as much a necessity of life as the eating of bread or the drinking of water. The pioneers who settled Alabama had to hack out their homes and farms from a wilderness. They could not have done it alone, with their own hands. They had to have the help of abundant, cheap labor. Slave labor was the quickest, cheapest, and sometimes the only help available. To the pioneer, there was nothing immoral, indecent, or unethical in slave-owning. The most respected people of the early South were slave owners or pro-slavery in their sentiments. Slavery was accepted as a matter of course. Investment in slave property had the sanction of law and public opinion. As we look at the early beginnings of Alabama, master and slave stand out as necessary co-partners in the great task of winning a new region from the wilderness and building there the foundation of a great state.“
This is an interesting passage.
The founding settlers of Alabama did not share our contemporary moral values. They saw nothing wrong with racism, slavery or white supremacy. Similarly, they didn’t see anything wrong with other things like “patriarchy,” “white privilege” or “settler-colonialism.” It never occurred to them to question the oppression of the “gender binary.” Human inequality was taken for granted. They believed that they were carving a civilization out of the wilderness for their descendants.
As the disease of classical liberalism has advanced through American history, it has steadily indicted new things the morality of which had been taken for granted. After the British monarchy was repudiated, the conservatives of the Federalist Party were tossed into the ash heap of history. After the Second Great Awakening, the cause became abolition, women’s suffrage, free love, temperance, opposition to Indian Removal, Mormonism and End Times prophecies. After the War Between the States, the cause became civil rights for free blacks. After the Second World War, it became anti-racism, feminism and gay rights. In the aftermath of the Great Awokening, we have seen it become gay marriage, transgenderism, gender fluidity and destruction of monuments and symbols of “white supremacy.”
The ticking time bomb in our country wasn’t slavery. It was the neverending social revolution unleashed by classical liberalism. Slavery hasn’t existed for 150 years and was the primary obstacle that stood in the way of this “transition.” The “legacy of slavery” is a cultural revulsion in the South against these people who are the descendants of the antebellum abolitionists.
“This is not to say that all wealthy planters lived in unpretentious or lowly cabins. Some of their homes, especially during the late ‘forties or ‘fifties, were palatial structures as compared with the homes of the yeomanry, but few of them attained the glory popular imagination has wrapt around them. The planter’s home was typically a large, two-story building, often of brick made by the slaves on a plantation. Some were frame houses, usually painted white, well supplied with large windows and wide porches. The plantation house was almost always set on a point of prominence so that it could command a view. Greek architecture was frequently copied and the large masonry columns against a background of perfectly landscaped gardens and fertile fields of corn and cotton made an imposing picture. Many of these homes were lavishly furnished, affording all the comforts of their day. They were staffed by well-trained chamber-maids, butlers, chefs, and house boys. The large planter’s family had means and leisure to live a life of ease and merriment.
Grouped to the rear, and in inconspicuous places, so as not to mar the beauty of the planter’s home, were the Negro quarters and the out-houses, saw and grist mills, smoke houses, barns, gen houses typical of Alabama plantations.”
Who were these people?
They were nothing like our modern day True Conservatives. In those days, the Southern elite saw itself as a conquering race of planters, military leaders, statesmen and orators. They admired the Greeks and Romans and tutored their children in the classics in their neoclassical mansions. They were insulted by the idea that their slaves were their equals. Their religion wasn’t “Judeo-Christianity” either.
Issac Croom was an elite Canebrake planter:
“An “appraisement” of the property of Issac Croom, in the Marengo County Census Records of 1860, indicates the development, by that time, of giant plantations. Croom’s real estate consisted of 2,300 acres of improved land and 1,700 acres of unimproved land. It was valued at $180,000. His personal property was valued at an additional $246,810. His farm machinery was estimated to be worth $4,000, and his livestock, consisting of eighteen horses, seventy mules, thirty-five milk cows, ten other cows, ten oxen, forty sheep, and 500 hogs, was appraised at $23,810. The yield of his plantation on the year 1860 was as follows: corn, 20,000 bushels; oats, 1,200 bushels; cotton, 1,250 bales; wool, 250 pounds; peas and beans, fifty-one bushels; sweet potatoes, 311 bushels; butter, 315 pounds; hay, fifteen tons. At the current price of fifty cents per bushel, Croom’s corn crop alone was worth $10,000. At 11 1/2 cents per pound for the average bale of 400 pounds, Croom’s cotton crop was worth $57,500. The value of his home-manufactured goods was $211 and that of animals slaughtered, $928. The labor which this large-scale operation required was supplied by a working force of 276 slaves. Croom used his slaves, not only in the production of crops, but also for the construction of the buildings on his plantation. His magnificent home, Magnolia Grove, at Greensboro, stands as evidence of the carpentering skill and ability of some of those slaves.
Croom was an outstanding planter, and he was an important citizen. A North Carolinian by birth, he was graduated from the university of that state in 1815. For a time, he was a successful planter in his native state. Then, in 1830, he moved, with his slaves, to Alabama, where he settled in Greene County, though his main plantations were in nearby Marengo County. He found time in his busy life as a planter to write and publish frequent articles on agricultural subjects. For many years he was the president of the State Agricultural Society and took an active part in organizing state fairs. He was once president of the State Historical Society. A Whig in politics, he represented Greene County in the House of Representatives in 1844. He was, in addition, a philanthropist, who donated $100,000 to the endowment of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.
Croom was but one of the many able, industrious, and versatile young men attracted to Alabama by the opportunities latent in her rich soil. These young migrants, growing older with the young state, helped develop the resources of Alabama and to set the pattern for the Southern gentleman planter.”
Sounds to me like the Devil himself! I’ve seen his home Magnolia Grove in Greensboro before which is now owned by the Alabama Historical Commission.
If you dig into this subject and spend a great deal of time immersed in the world of these people, you will find a regimented labor force on the plantations that was producing dizzying amounts of wealth on these dynamic little agricultural units. Everyone worked including the planter who was the manager of his estate and was responsible as a patriarch for wife, children, employees and slaves.
“On the plantation, the house servant stood at the top of the slave hierarchy. His life was pleasanter and his tasks more agreeable than those of the field hand. House servants had the same food as the white masters; their clothes were of the latest style and were of good material. DuBose thought that the domestics in the Canebrake were surpassed in accomplishment by no servants, free or bond. They spoke correct English and were intelligent. They listened in silence, but profited by all they heard. They were fed from the master’s table and were clothed after the taste of the mistress. The house servants took extraordinary pride in their master’s high rank and wealth. When company came, they rose to the occasion. Of one such unexpected visit, DuBose wrote:
“The main prop and stay of the occasion is the hereditary servant in his place, knowing his place. To these servants, in their place and plenitude of numbers, it was ‘our’ company that had come, ‘our’ house that must maintain itself well under the tests. So ‘our’ mistress and ‘our’ master, confiding with unfailing faith in the busy workers in the rear, were ever free to welcome without restraint the visitors who came at any season and in any numbers … The servants of the Canebrake household had no dialect of their own. Tone of voice and use of words with them was in imitation of their Masters and Mistresses and successful imitation.”
The Canebrake is a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt in West Alabama between Selma and Demopolis where a native form of bamboo used to grow:
“For slaves who worked and lived on a well-run plantation whether their jobs were in field or shop or in the master’s house, life had its rewards and satisfactions. A wise and humane master, and efficient and temperate overseer, and an industrious group of workers could together make of the plantation community a place of happiness and contentment. In some ways, the Negro had the best of it. His master furnished all the necessities of life and shouldered all the worries. But genuine pride in the plantation, in its products, and in its people, could be shared by slave and master. J.W. DuBose, describing the attitude of the Canebrake Negro, probably describes also the feeling of many other slaves on many other Alabama plantations.
He was proud of the beautiful cotton growing under his toil, proud of the majestic corn he cultivated, proud of the colts he broke to the bridle, of the fat hogs he slaughtered for ‘our’ people … It was, to him, all ‘ours’.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
It wasn’t “free” and “equal” enough for classical liberalism. After the War Between the States, the Canebrake went from being one of the richest regions in the United States to one of the poorest, which it remains to this day. The blacks who live there today are “free” to be poor and forgotten. They are finally all “equal” in that sense. After the Canebrake was liberated again during the Civil Rights Movement (this time from segregation), it was left to revert to the wilderness.
It has come full circle and is returning to the natural state before our ancestors settled it.
“It has come full circle and is returning to the natural state before our ancestors settled it.”
Thanks to those geniuses of Civilisation, and our “fellow countrymen,” the New England Yankees.
In the first passage you quote it is stated that the pioneers in Alabama would not have been able to build their houses and farms themselves. For this reason slavery was a necessity. However, isn’t it the case that pioneers in the North, or Canada, did exactly those things without slaves? What is it that made the Southern situation different?
“What is it that made the Southern situation different?”
1.Overall shortage of manpower.
2. Vulnerability of Europeans to heat related and semi-tropical/tropical illnesses. Which caused #1.There are still several deaths a year, due to heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
Unlike the North, we build our lives around coping with extreme heat, not cold. Summer is the dominant season. Texas just came off of a 361 day growing season a couple of years back, for example. Our houses don’t have basements. They’re desighed to take advantage of breezes, or in the case of modern houses, air-conditioning. Towns and cities have places where people, especially old folks, can go to spend the day out of the heat.
As an aside, unrelated to Slavery, we also have to deal with extreme dry land farming conditions, or gumbo soil.
3. The sheer size of the area involved. See #1, again.
The South is huge, compared to the North. Especially the coastal plains. It’s not like Pennsylvania, New York and New England. When those people set out to tame the wilds of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, etc, they still thought in limited, Northeastern terms. In terms of small farms, not square miles.
On the Dixie Frontier, they thought in terms of “hundreds” which is twelve square miles.1 square mile is a section, which is 644 acres.
In many parts of the South, especially in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, land is reckoned in sections, rather than in acres. In comparison, the average farm in Massachusetts is 67 Acres, in Michigan, 197 Acres. In Central and East Texas, 567 Acres.
Plantations were virtual, free standing communities. It took large numbers of people to clear the land and build them. There were often towns within their boundaries. However, unlike the North, the South, and the West, don’t have “Townships.”
Three to four thousand acres isn’t easy for a single family to clear and develop in a reasonable amount of time, or even in a lifetime.
Remember, the average size of a farm in Michigan is 197 Acres, something a plantation would set aside for production of food for the household, or for forage crops for the animals. This is why many Southrons customarily still have vegetable gardens. My parents had them, my wife an I and our neighbours all do, too.
“The yield of his plantation on the year 1860 was as follows: corn, 20,000 bushels; oats, 1,200 bushels; cotton, 1,250 bales; wool, 250 pounds; peas and beans, fifty-one bushels; sweet potatoes, 311 bushels; butter, 315 pounds; hay, fifteen tons.”
In other words, the plantation was totally self sufficient in food, or purchased whatever extra they needed, from the local yeomanry. To whom they were related by blood and marriage, in an extended family and community.
Which is contrary to the belief that the plantations only grew one crop, and were entirely dependent on the North for food.
Good article. My first long academic paper was on a cluster of canebrake plantations.
Man you should just write a damn book this SH series is high quality.
I second Mr. Skipwith’s recommendation for writing a book on this important subject, and for the same reasons. Although I like the way you’ve done this and fancy myself that I also understand, at least in part, why you’ve done it this way. I hope you have future plans of combining all of these articles – the completed series once complete – into book form. I’ll definitely purchase a copy. Several, more probably.
I’ve plugged away at the subject and most of the articles in the series are old posts from the archives which I have edited, organized and republished. I’m also adding a lot of new material.
>>He was proud of the beautiful cotton growing under his toil, proud of the majestic corn he cultivated, proud of the colts he broke to the bridle, of the fat hogs he slaughtered for ‘our’ people … It was, to him, all ‘ours’.”
What’s wrong with this picture??\<<
Here's what's wrong. It is a picture of racial harmony. The more you poke around in Ante-bellum thought, the more racial harmony you will find and less racial hatred. The attitude of the Southern elite was one of concern for Southern Negroes' welfare. I think you know this quite well, but some of your readership thinks that because there has been so much racial hatred after the war, then it must have been there before the war.
The badly constructed argument goes something like…. "People like Bedford Forrest must have hated blacks because Gov. Vardaman did."
No, that is a lie. A Glenn Beck sized lie.
The War soured most people's attitudes as much as it ruined their homes and farms.
That simple fact is ignored by many! Liberal Civil War professors, Glenn Becks, and many many many white supremacists.
Here's another for instance.
With my handle, I do sometimes catch a little flack for being a 'papist'…I'm sure the name-callers think they are just being good KKK people…but (as only you know) anti-catholicism got imported into the south AFTER the war…(along with fundamental-dispensationalism).
Another good point you made in this article is how bounteous the Ante-bellum South was and how poor it became and remained. 'Cowtown' and 'Ironsides' and 'Missouri Ruffian' seemed to be totally oblivious to this a couple of posts back (Debow's).