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”?
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