September 06, 2011

Historical Document: A "White" Slave in 1862

After the American Century

Occasionally I find an interesting document while doing my research. Often it has nothing to do with what I am looking for. But rather than let these documents go entirely, I will now reproduce selected items from time to time. The first one is from the Davenport Daily Gazette, Iowa, during the American Civil War.  It concerns slavery, and as one can see from the accompanying map, the slave concerned was living in the cotton growing area of Arkansas.

Slave crops, 1860

Monday Morning
September 1, 1862

White Slavery.
A Correspondent writing from Helena, Arkansas, says:

I was greatly surprised the other day by the declaration of a person with whom I had been conversing in the post office of this place, when, in reply to a suggestion of mine about his loyalty, he answered, “Why, my dear Sir, I am a slave. I belong to Dr.____,” I looked in his face, unable to believe my own eyes. His complexion was whiter than my own; his eyes a blue gray; his hair and features Caucasian; his language free from Negro dialect. I asked him again, “Is it possible that you are a slave? Why don’t you go North and claim the privileges of a free man?” He answered, I have a wife and children, and I don’t want to go till I can take them with me. I have been allowed by my master to enjoy a measure of freedom, and to possess a little property of my own. As soon as I can realize something of this property I intend, while the opportunity exists, to secure the freedom of myself and family.”

Our conversation had commenced upon a written document which he had been showing me, and which he could read as well a myself. When he left me I wondered greatly that such a man, at least 40 years of age, evidently a gentleman and a Christian, could be held a slave, and another white man be allowed to take his wages for naught in a Christian community. And then I remembered that the modern doctrine of the South, as taught by the Richmond Enquirer and other expounders of the system, is that slavery is not based upon complexion or race, but that capital should own labor, and the best condition of society is that in which the entire laboring population are slaves. This is the doctrine on which the leaders of this rebellion are striving to establish a Southern Confederacy, and thousands of laboring men in the South are blindly led to give it their aid by fighting against the Government of their fathers from mere sectional hatred and prejudice.

            When the rebellion shall be crushed and the South opened to free institutions and a higher civilization, the people who will be most benefited by the change are those who are now, by conscription and ignorance, arrayed in battle against us. May God speed the day when their eyes shall be opened, and they shall be able to discern between light and darkness!