“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” - St. John, 8:7
February is Black History Month in Virginia, and it is awash in vitriolic, virtue-posting Confederaphobia, Blackface scandals, resolutions apologizing for lynchings in the past, clamorings for removal of Latter-Day-designated “Jim Crow” monuments, picking the scabs off of long-dead slavery, and never-ending reminders and charges of Southern racism. Those who have only one card to play must play it for all it’s worth. In today’s climate of Progressive Identity Politics, it is easy to twist Black history into Progressive Identity Politics propaganda. I would therefore like to offer some points for consideration that might put some of these matters in a proper historical perspective. Let me begin with slavery.
Slavery is as old as history. The Laws of Moses codify it in Leviticus, Chapter 25, and the way slavery was practiced in America before it was abolished was closely in accordance with the Laws of Moses. In Virginia, we are noting the 400th anniversary of slavery being brought to our shores. The first cargo was purchased as indentured servants, but subsequent rulings codified perpetual bondage for some. One of the first slave owners in Virginia was a freed Black African named Anthony Johnson, who – at the end of his indenture - owned a tobacco plantation and slaves on the Eastern Shore. His was not an unusual circumstance, even after the Colonial period, although Blacks were prohibited by law from owning White – or “Christian” – slaves. “[S]lave-owning by free Negroes was so common in the period of the Commonwealth as to pass unnoticed and without criticism by those who consciously recorded events of the times.”
While the New England Puritans enslaved Native Americans (with poor success) we might claim that the Whites of the South – while they purchased, owned, and traded in slaves - did not actually enslave anyone. However, as the above shows, in changing an indenture of a limited period of service to an indenture for life, that claim is not technically true. But while it is true that Whites of the South obtained slaves by purchase from Northern and European slavers and not from capture or slave-raiding, the actual enslavement of the African race was done by the Africans themselves. Zora Neale Hurston, the noted Black anthropologist, interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last known living survivor of the African Slave-trade to the United States, who told his harrowing tale of capture by the slavers of the Kingdom of Dahomey, which Hurston recorded in her book Dust Tracks on a Road, and in her more recent book Barracoon. After hearing his story, Hurston stated that in spite of the fact that White people had purchased and exploited her people, the “inescapable fact that stuck in my craw was: my people had sold me and the White people had bought me.” But the White people in the Age of Discovery had found slave markets already in operation on the coast of Africa, and took advantage of this source of labor to develop the colonies of the Caribbean and Brazil, and later in North America. Africa was the home of slavery before the Europeans arrived, and – according to the anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel – it still is, with slavery being practiced in over two-thirds of the sub-Saharan cultures.
Slavery was first brought to our Colonial shores by the European Colonial powers. Early on, however, Virginians perceived the dangers and the iniquity of it all and sought to put an end to the traffic. The Virginia Legislature time and again tried to put prohibitive duties on the traffic, but Britain always vetoed the legislation. It was not until after American independence that the African Slave-trade was abolished by the US Constitution in 1809.
However, the Constitutional abolition of the African Slave-trade did not stop traders in the US. Although the British Navy patrolled the Slave Coast, Yankee smugglers evaded them regularly, and the Stars and Stripes proved to be an excellent talisman for vessels wishing to avert search and seizure. At the time of the election of Lincoln and the breaking-out of war, New York and New England dominated the trade, carrying mostly to Brazil and Cuba. The January 1862 Continental Monthly stated: “The number of persons engaged in the slave-trade, and the amount of capital embarked in it, exceed our powers of calculation. The city of New York has been until of late the principal port of the world for this infamous commerce; although the cities of Portland and Boston are only second to her in that distinction. Slave dealers added largely to the wealth of our commercial metropolis, and their bank accounts were largely depleted to carry elections…” John Brown of Rhode Island (not the John Brown of Harpers Ferry), founder of Brown University with money he made from his African Slave-trading, once said that in his opinion “there was no more crime in bringing off a cargo of slaves than in bringing off a cargo of jackasses.” When will that distinguished Ivy League University own up to its founding?
It might be inferred here, and correctly so, that the South held no monopoly on racism. In fact, the North passed “Jim Crow” laws long before the War Between the States, and long before the South passed her laws after Reconstruction. Lincoln’s Illinois prohibited Blacks from entering the State, either bond or free. John Randolph of Roanoke, Old Virginia statesman, bought land in Ohio and bequeathed it to his people for their settlement after he manumitted them in his will, but when they went to settle, the people in Ohio ran them out of the State and stole their land. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, the Northern States abolished slavery for its inutility in their industrializing economy, but they did not free any of their slaves. They sold them South before the Abolitionist laws went into effect, thus ridding themselves not only of an undesired labor system, but of an undesired population as well. In his well-known classic Democracy in America, Tocqueville noted that “the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.” The heated issue of slavery in the Territories, which did so much to provoke the secession of the seven States of the “Cotton Kingdom” at the election of Lincoln and the “Radical Republicans,” was strongly opposed by the White people of the North, not because it would spread the institution of slavery into the Territories, but because it would spread the Black population into the Territories. The Territories at the time either prohibited Blacks from residing within their borders, or required them to post a prohibitive bond for their good behavior.
Lincoln himself, the “Great Emancipator,” was a White Supremacist who was an advocate until the day he died of deportation out of the country of the freed Black population through the Colonization Society. To a delegation of prominent African Americans who called on him during the War, Lincoln said: “And why should the people of your race be colonized, and where? … You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss; but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both as I think. Your race suffers very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence. In a word, we suffer side by side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason, at least, why we should be separated.” Lerone Bennett, Jr., once editor of Ebony magazine, stated that between 1854 and 1860, Lincoln said on at least fourteen occasions he believed the Black race was inferior to the White. Bennett elaborates in detail in his book Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 2000). While we are busy vandalizing and removing Confederate monuments for specious allegations, what shall we do, then, about the Lincoln Memorial?
As for “Lynch Law,” the South holds no monopoly on that, either. In 1741 seventeen slaves were hanged and thirteen burned at the stake for an insurrection in New York. And while the Virginia legislature has recently voted unanimously to express “profound regret” for the lynching of 80 people between 1877 and 1950, between 100 and perhaps as many as 1,000 Free Blacks were lynched from lamp posts in one week during the July 1863 New York Draft Riots, in addition to the Colored Orphan Asylum being burned to the ground. This of course in no way exonerates Virginia or anyone else, North, South, or West, from this or any other lawless behavior, but only exhibits the sad fact that all mankind is capable of sin.
So what of our Confederate monuments? As Edmund Burke said, you are gibbeting the carcass while your house is the haunt of robbers.
"History is the propaganda of the victorious," said Voltaire, and such has it permeated our modern-day interpretation of the so-called "Civil War" that Progressive Identity Politicians and radical leftists are foaming at the mouth, posting their virtues, and calling for the destruction of all things Confederate, while Southerners and descendants of Confederate soldiers are crying mea culpa, rolling in the dust, and covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes. It is unbecoming of descendants of men who were fighting to defend their country from invasion, conquest, and coerced political allegiance, just as their forefathers had done in 1776, when the thirteen slaveholding Colonies seceded from the British Empire. Perhaps this true perspective of history will assuage their guilt – and, if the Truth means anything to the self-anointed, intolerant Elect who hate these Confederate soldiers and their descendants, perhaps it will temper their own intolerance and their own hate. Let us hope so, for who made these Latter-day Cains their brothers’ keepers?
The war was not the evil South's war to defend slavery or the righteous North’s war to free the slaves, as the “propaganda of the victorious” would have it. The North admitted it in the New York Times: “Slavery has nothing whatever to do with the tremendous issues now awaiting decision. It has disappeared almost entirely from the political discussions of the day. No one mentions it in connection with our present complications. The question which we have to meet is precisely what it would be if there were not a [N]egro slave on American soil.”
Follow the dollar. With “King Cotton” out of the Union the North’s “Mercantile Kingdom” would suffer financial disaster, so Lincoln launched an armada against Charleston Harbor to provoke South Carolina into firing the first shot to get the war he wanted and drive the “Cotton Kingdom” back into the Union - and in the process, to transform the voluntary Union of sovereign States bequeathed us by the Founders into a coerced industrial Empire.
South Carolina responded to Lincoln’s provocation in Charleston Harbor just a Massachusetts responded to George III’s provocation at Lexington and Concord. It was Abraham Lincoln's war to prevent Confederate independence. Virginia, "The Mother of States and of Statesmen," proved it by her decision on April 17, 1861. When the secession crisis arose at the election of Lincoln, Virginia called a Peace Conference to try to hold together the Union she had given so much to create, but she warned Lincoln that any attempt at coercion would lead to war. Lincoln did not listen to Virginia. Instead, he rebuffed all Confederate overtures for peaceful diplomacy, and launched an armada against Charleston Harbor to provoke the South into firing the first shot to get the war he wanted. He then called for troops from Virginia to help in his war to subjugate the “Cotton Kingdom.” Virginia, which had recently voted to remain in the Union, immediately voted to secede, while indicting Lincoln for inaugurating civil war. Four more States followed Virginia out of the Union. The rest is history, although it has been twisted into lies to conform to the identity politics of our multi-cultural Empire. But as Thomas Carlyle observed, “All lies are cursed and damned from the beginning.” We are seeing the results today.
An African-American columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently opined that it is time to unlearn the “fake history” of slavery and “The Lost Cause” that ostensibly has been taught in schools in Virginia and the South. The truth might be more than he wants. Much of today’s “fake history” comes from calculated omissions in order to confirm one’s credentials as a victim in today’s progressive identity politics. Therefore, while we are “unlearning the fake history of slavery” it may be of interest to unlearn some of the “fake history” of the victims of slavery.
As by far the majority of our African-American citizens are the descendants of slaves imported into the United States (and would still be in Africa today had it not been for the African slave-trade) we might find of interest the testimony of the last known individual to have been smuggled here in a slave ship just prior to the War Between the States. The noted African-American anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, recorded this testimony of Cudjo “Kossola” Lewis, near Mobile, Alabama, in her book Dust Tracks on a Road.
Lewis had been a member of the Takkoi nation. One morning they were attacked by the fearsome Amazon warriors of Dahomy, who burst through the gates of the compound while the male warriors waited outside to seize those who fled. The old and infirm were beheaded and their heads carried off as trophies. The rest were marched in a slave coffle to the Kingdom of Dahomey and the barracoons on the beach at Dmydah. On the second day of the march the severed heads began to rot, so the Dahomian slavers halted to smoke them. Lewis reported that they had to watch the drying heads of their friends and relatives turning on the long poles in the smoke.
At Dahomey, they saw the King’s palace surrounded by a wall of skulls before they were put into a barracoon on the beach to await the arrival of a slave ship. There were many captive tribes there, each tribe placed in a separate barracoon to prevent them from warring with each other. When a trader arrived, he would first decide which tribe interested him, and then – with the men lined up on one side and the women on the other – he would go along picking out the slaves he wished to purchase. Lewis was embarked in the Chlotilde, a fast sailing vessel built by the Maher brothers of Maine, who had moved to Alabama. They were chased by a British man-o’-war on slave patrol, but she outran it. Arriving at Mobile, the vessel and cargo were smuggled into the river, the hundred-odd slaves unloaded, and the vessel scuttled. The Africans then began their brief careers as slaves.
The implications of “fake history” today are that the South has a monopoly on sin, but one might note that the slave smugglers who brought Lewis and his people here were from Maine, one of the New England centers of the African slave-trade. The noted African-American historian and Harvard professor, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, in his work The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States, quotes the January 1862 issue of the New York Journal of Commerce as stating that New York, Boston, and Portland were the largest African Slave-trading ports in the world at the time.
Moreover, in her work quoted above, Zora Neale Hurston said that in spite of the fact that white people had purchased and exploited her people, the “inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people had bought me.” She said it did away with the folklore (fake history?) she had been brought up on, that white people had gone to Africa, waved a red handkerchief at the Africans to lure them onto the beach and aboard of the slave ship out of curiosity, and then sailed away with them. But no, she said, her own people had “butchered and killed, exterminated whole nations and torn families apart, for a profit” before strangers arrived, and all that Lewis had told her was verified from other historical sources, which impressed upon her the “universal nature of greed and glory.”
While Americans (North and South) owned slaves and traded in slaves, they did not enslave anyone. It was Black Africans who did that. How shall we fit that into the “Myth of American History,” our progressive Black Lives Matter identity politics, and our endeavor to “unlearn fake history”?
On January 7, 1861, Virginia’s Governor John Letcher convened the Virginia General Assembly in extra session because of the extraordinary situation of the secession from the Union of the State of South Carolina (followed by six others in the Deep South) at the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency - a lawyer and railroad lobbyist, and the candidate of a strictly sectional Northern political party in vocal and vitriolic enmity against the South. In the evening session of that same date, delegate Wyndham Robertson, who had once served as Governor of Virginia, presented to the House of Delegates what came to be known as the Anti-Coercion Resolution. The following is recorded in the Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia for the Extra Session, 1861 (Richmond: William F. Ritchie, Public Printer, 1861, pgs. 9-10) found in the Special Collection of the Library of Virginia:
When the secession crisis arose, Virginia, “The Mother of States and of Statesmen,” called a Peace Conference of all States to try to resolve the differences between the two sections and to hold the voluntary Union of sovereign States together that she and her statesmen had done so much to create. But Virginia told the Lincoln Administration in no uncertain terms that, while she thought the secession of the seven “Cotton States” was a mistake and unnecessary, they were fully within their rights, and she would not condone any coercion of those States by his administration to force them to return to the Union, warning him that any such attempt would lead to war.
Lincoln did not listen to the counsel of Virginia. He listened instead to his constituents in the industrializing North who had gotten him elected, and whose money interests would suffer or even collapse if the agricultural South – and particularly the “Cotton Kingdom” - were allowed to leave the Union and out from under the control of their “Mercantile Kingdom.” Lincoln therefore rebuffed all Southern overtures of diplomacy, and instead sent a heavily-armed armada to Charleston to provoke the South into firing the first shot and get the war he and his moneyed constituents wanted. After the success of his plan, he wrote to the commander of the expedition, Capt. G. V. Fox:
Lincoln then called for a quota of troops from each of the respective States - without the consent of Congress (which, under Article I, Sect. 8 of the Constitution, has the sole power to declare war) - to drive the “Cotton States” back into the Union at the point of the bayonet. Lincoln, the obfuscating lawyer, got around the Constitution by declaring that he was merely calling for troops to put down a rebellion too large to be contained by U. S. Marshalls – perhaps the understatement of the century. And since Lincoln did not recognize that the seceded States were out of the Union, by this masterful splitting of a hair he also absolved himself of treason (under Article IV, Sect. 4) for invading the Southern States with his armies. But “The Mother of States and of Statesmen” did not absolve him, for she was not taken in by his specious legal obfuscation. She knew what despotism looked like, for she had seen it “four-score and seven years” before.
When Virginia received Lincoln’s demand for troops, Governor Letcher was astonished and he emphatically refused to comply. A copy of his response may be found in the Richmond Enquirer, April 18, 1861:
The next day, April 17, 1861, the Virginia Convention, which had recently voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Union, passed Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession. As Winston Churchill wrote in his History of the English Speaking Peoples (vol. 4, pg. 169):
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, the author graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a Regular Commission in the US Army. His service included qualification as an Airborne Ranger, and command of an Engineer company in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. After his return, he resigned his Commission and ended by making a career as a tugboat captain. During this time he was able to earn a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, with an international focus on war and cultural revolution. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Society of Independent Southern Historians. He currently lives in Richmond, where he writes, studies history, literature and cultural revolution, and occasionally commutes to Norfolk to serve as a tugboat pilot