Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘civil war’

“Virtually all New Englanders” were anti-slavery by the 1820’s-1830’s, the speaker said, providing background information on John Quincy Adams’s anti-slavery petitions on the House of Representatives floor, eventually culminating in his stand against the Gag Rule. Widespread access to video and sound via the internet has allowed much more access to events than had been possible previously, and I had the talk on in the background on Thursday as I worked in my home office. This assertion made me stop in surprise. I think often of how successful the North was in its campaign to present itself as the all-abolitionist, always-slavery-free region during and after the Civil War, and to me this claim is a good example. Not only is it inaccurate, but it recasts actions like John Quincy Adams’s, and those of many much less famous Northerners, as being ho-hum: Of course John Quincy Adams presented anti-slavery petitions because everybody where he was from was anti-slavery; of course other individuals took stands against slavery because everyone was doing it. I thought, for example, of the mob that attacked and could have killed William Lloyd Garrison in Boston and the mob that burned down Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia after it had been open for just three days because anti-slavery speeches were being given at it by Angelina Grimké Weld and others. (Here is Angelina’s speech, given as a mob gathered outside, heckling her through the walls.) I thought, also, of the petitions from small groups of women to the Massachusetts legislature asking to secede in the lead-up to the Civil War, hoping that by removing their anti-slavery selves from the United States they could help stave off the war.

The night before I listened to that talk, I had attended Harvard Law School’s historian Daniel Coquillette’s talk on the first hundred years of the Law School at Royall House. The administration of Harvard Law School had actively recruited from the South, and because of this, they had a much higher percentage of Southerners than other Northern law schools before the Civil War, leading to many of their alumni being officers in the Confederacy, with West Point being the only other Northern school that graduated about the same amount of future Confederate leaders. Coquillette estimated in his talk that in the 1840’s 35% of the students at the school were from the Deep South. He explained that there were three main groups at the school:

  • Deep Southerners who were “very pro-slavery”
  • Cotton Whig Northerners, who were sympathetic to the Deep Southerners
  • Conscience Whig Northerners, who weren’t really pro-slavery but saw the best strategy as trying to contain slavery to its current locations (leading to such events as Bloody Kansas)

To put it mildly, this paints a different picture of Northerners than an assertion that all of them were anti-slavery. And while of course people at a law school are a tiny portion of the overall populace, many of them went on to become leaders who had regional or national influence. According to Coquillette, Charles Sumner had originally been considered the top person at the school to replace its head, but was told that his abolition wasn’t welcome there, and rerouted himself into politics instead.

In 1859 a newspaper editor, Charles B. Flood, and a US Marshal, Matthew Johnson, were using the Cleveland newspaper Daily National Democrat as their own bully pulpit to level political accusations outside of courtrooms. When John Brown was captured after the raid on Harper’s Ferry, a letter addressed to Cleveland resident Mrs. Isaac Sturtevant was found on him, and the Daily National Democrat published the claim that she had known about and helped to fund the raid. Mrs. Sturtevant wrote a lengthy letter to the Democrat‘s competitor the Plain Dealer in response, which I reproduce partially below (my own transcription of a printed letter, including a few quirks of printing):

… In reply to the charge against me of having incendiary letters sent to my care, I would say if the editor of the Democrat knows any such letters to be incendiary, he knows more about their contents than I do. … As to the charge of being a working woman I acknowledge myself such, especially in the cause of human-freedom, and while my strength remains I shall aid it by such means as I may command. …

While I have thus deigned to notice these charges against me, and this shameful and unjust attempt on the part of a public officer and a hireling editor, to bring reproach upon myself and husband, I wish to utter my protest against any and every effort of the kind. I deny the right of Marshal Johnson or editor Flood to pry into and bring before the public, the private doings of any of our citizens. If we have violated the laws of the land, the Government has pointed out a way and established tribunals whose especial business it is to investigate such violation. No honorable man would seek to prejudice the public against the accused. And it has guaranteed to every citizen, even to negroes and women, the privilege of a fair trial. But pray what chance has any one for an impartial investigation when the public mind is filled with false rumors and statements, as it has been of late by those two most unworthy officials, who have thus departed from their legitimate functions and have arrogated to themselves duties which in no manner belong to them. …

Am I amenable for such acts to the government at Washington and its petty officials stationed here? Or to the laws of Virginia, or its crazy executive, or its blood thirsty judiciary? who in their zeal to convict a person, as in the case of Mr. Brown make him guilty of twice murdering the same man ! Or to either of the political parties who in their strife for power ignore all the rights of individuals and seem to forget and wholly repudiate the plainest and dearest immunities which belong to us as private citizens, the right of private judgment and the liberty to act in harmony therewith. There is a system of espionage being established here which exceeds in servility the worst days of Democratic France. Slavery and the darkest features of the infamous system have obtained such a foothold here, that it would seem that we are not standing erect in the dignity of free men and women of Ohio but are cowering at the feet of the insolent slave power.

Men seem to forget to inquire what are the laws of Ohio–what does her Constitution guarantee to her citizens; but, what says the slave power? What does the Fugitive Bill demand? What of liberty is left us by the Dred Scott decision?

Now, for one, I utterly repudiate and abhor the requisitions of those laws. I would add, if indeed they are laws, I would disregard them. Any law, enactment, or custom which forbids me to aid suffering humanity wherever found, I utterly reject and despise. And I would thus publicly give notice to all the friends of oppression in every form, that I shall treat all such laws as a nullity, and if a grand jury can be found who will indict me for such disobedience, they are perfectly welcome so to do. I shall neither “flee to Canada” nor cease to do all that lies in my power to break down this unrighteous system of oppression, which is even here at the North, stifling every noble feeling or impulse of the human heart. …

[Plain Dealer issue of Saturday, 5 November 1859, page 2]

I can’t imagine anyone reading the above letter and still thinking that all Northerners were unified on the subject. But to say that there was unity is to erase the bravery of acts such as the publication of this letter.

I understand that generalizations are to some degree necessary when discussing wider history. However, I plead for people to be careful that generalizations do not wipe out the complexity of history nor the individual stories of individual people leading individual lives, be it in this era or any other.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Memorial Day, formerly more commonly known as Decoration Day, is today here in the U. S. While to many Americans today it is primarily a long weekend to relax while kicking off the summer season, I grew up in Gettysburg, where the bloodiest multi-day battle on American soil was fought, and where Memorial Day still retains its traditional meaning. In honor of Memorial Day, I am posting some memorials I have photographed here, along with transcriptions so that the names will be findable via search engines.

This blog post is part of a project called the Honor Roll Project that is run by Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the blog Nutfield Genealogy, where bloggers post photos and transcriptions of memorials at their own blogs and Heather compiles the posts into a list hosted at hers. I am also submitting copies of my relevant photos and transcriptions to the Lost Ancestors War Memorials project, hosted at their site, to maximize exposure. I first began photographing local memorials primarily to help increase the small U. S. memorial presence on the Lost Ancestors’ project.

I’ve arranged the memorials by town, with the towns in alphabetical order by the modern name of the town. Click on any photo to see a larger version of it.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Revolutionary War: Arlington (formerly Menotomy and West Cambridge), Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA

There are two memorial plaques to what we Americans call the Revolutionary War or American Revolution at Old Burying Ground in the town that is now known as Arlington. They are both on a single monument.

memorial-to-revolutionary-war-dead-in-old-burying-ground-arlington-ma-050712

Here is a wider shot of the Old Burying Ground showing the full memorial from a distance. It is the tallest one visible.

arlington-ma-old-burying-ground-on-031912

One of the plaques is for soldiers from area towns who were killed at Menotomy (now Arlington) in the opening battle of the Revolution and were known to be buried in this Old Burying Ground. While Lexington and Concord are the famous towns now, there was also deadly fighting in Menotomy. There is an article on the the Menotomy section of the battle here. Based on the material used to create this memorial, I suspect that it was originally a freestanding memorial (shaped & placed like a gravestone) that was later moved to this monument.

memorial-to-revolutionary-war-dead-in-old-burying-ground-arlington-ma-050712-died-at-menotomy-plaque

___ AMERICAN SOLDIERS

KILLED AT MENOTOMY APR 19 1775

AND BURIED HERE

LIEUT JOHN BACON – NEEDHAM

AMOS MILLS

ELIAS HAVEN – DEDHAM

WILLIAM FLINT – LYNN

THOMAS HADLEY

ABEDNECO RAMSDELL

BENJAMIN PEIRCE – SALEM

JONATHAN PARKER – NEEDHAM

NATHAN CHAMBERLIN

The other plaque was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1941. Please note that: a) They did not necessarily die during the War; b) just because they were buried here, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were living here during the War or even that they died here; c) since this was belatedly erected and done via DAR, it was likely compiled using DAR’s records, which would mean that anyone on the plaque probably has a DAR file researchers could utilize but also that there may be soldiers buried here who weren’t in DAR records and/or that research since 1941 may have changed DAR’s opinion on any particular person on the plaque. Also keep in mind that by DAR’s definition, the people that are labelled “Patriot” on the plaque did supporting things rather than officially being in the military.

memorial-to-revolutionary-war-soldiers-in-old-burying-ground-arlington-ma-050712-dar-plaque

AMERICAN

REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIERS

KNOWN TO BE

BURIED IN THIS CEMETERY

JOHN ADAMS * THOMAS HADLEY

JOSEPH ADAMS * ELIAS HAVEN

WILLIAM ADAMS * JOHN HILL

JOHN BACON * THOMAS HILL

JOSEPH BALCH * JOSEPH LOCKE

JOSEPH BELKNAP, JR. * AMOS MILLS

NATHANIEL CHADWICK * JONATHAN PARKER

NATHAN CHAMBERLIN * BENJAMIN PEIRCE

AMMI CUTTER * SOLOMON PEIRCE

AMMI CUTTER, JR. * JAMES PERRY

SAMUEL CUTTER * ABEDNECO RAMSDELL

WILLIAM CUTTER * JEDUTHAN WELLINGTON

WILLIAM DICKSON * SAMUEL WHITTEMORE

WILLIAM FLINT * JOHN WINSHIP

EPHRAIM FROST * JASON RUSSELL, PATRIOT

SAMUEL FROST * JASON WINSHIP, PATRIOT

STEPHEN FROST * JABEZ WYMAN, PATRIOT

ERECTED BY

MENOTOMY CHAPTER DAUGHTERS

OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

1941

There is also supposed to be a memorial to the Loyalists in the War, but I have searched the entire cemetery and been unable to locate it. This cemetery has had problems with vandalism and I suspect someone may have stolen it.

The Jason Russell house, where most of the 19 April 1775 fighting in Menotomy occurred, is a few blocks from the Old Burying Ground. Here is the house:

russell-house-arlington-ma-031912

Here is the most modern sign by the house:

russell-jason-house-sign-arlington-ma-031912

Jason Russell House 1740

and

Smith Museum

—————————-

Site of the bloodiest fighting between the

Minutemen and the Redcoats on the

first day of the American Revolution

April 19, 1775

—————————-

The Arlington Historical Society

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Civil War: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first officially commissioned African-American unit in the Civil War. Many Americans know it primarily if not totally via the partially historically accurate film Glory. Many people in the 54th lost their lives at the Battle of Fort Wagner on 18 July 1863. This monument is dedicated to the 54th in general and specifically to those that lost their lives at the Battle of Fort Wagner. The sculpture, seen below, was done by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It took him 14 years to complete. He took his time making each face unique to clearly show individuals. It was dedicated on 31 May 1897 on Beacon Street, where the 54th had marched out of Boston. The late Robert Gould Shaw’s mother Sarah Shaw, an ardent abolitionist who had been part of the driving force behind Shaw taking command of the unit, was at the unveiling and praised the monument to Saint-Gaudens as a great tribute to her son and to her beloved city, Boston. Many of the living veterans of the 54th returned to Boston for the dedication. The sculpture part of the memorial faces the Massachusetts State House, which is on the other side of Beacon Street from it.

memorial-massachusetts-54th-infantry-in-boston-ma-sep2012

Underneath the sculpture is an inscription in memory of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who is shown here on the horse. My photo of it did not turn out very well.

The rest of the inscriptions are on the back, facing Boston Commons in the opposite direction. The names of the other white officers who died at the Battle of Fort Wagner are by the wreaths in the below photo.

memorial-massachusetts-54th-infantry-in-boston-ma-inscription-sep2012

CABOT JACKSON RUSSEL * CAPTAIN

WILLIAM HARRIS SIMPKINS * CAPTAIN

EDWARD LEWIS STEVENS * 1ST LIEUTENANT

DAVID REID * 1ST LIEUTENANT

FREDERICK HEDGE WEBSTER * 2ND LIEUTENANT

The names of the African-American soldiers who died at the Battle of Fort Wagner are in the main inscription by the lion’s heads.

memorial-to-54th-massachusetts-infantry-boston-ma-taken-sep12

THE MEMORY OF THE JUST IS BLESSED

HENRY ALBERT * THOMAS R. AMPLEY * THOMAS BOWMAN * WILLIAM BRADY

ABRAHAM BROWN * JAMES H. BUCHANAN * HENRY F. BURGHARDT * ELISHA BURKETT

JASON CHAMPLIN * ANDREW CLARK * LEWIS CLARK * HENRY CRAIG

JOSEPHUS CURRY * EDWARD DARKS * HENRY DENNIS * WILLIAM EDGERLY

ALBERT EVANS * WILLIAM S. EVERSON * SAMUEL FORD * RICHARD M. FOSTER * CHARLES S. GAMRELL * LEWIS C. GREEN

JOHN HALL * WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON II * EDWARD HINES * BENJAMIN HOGAN * CHARLES M. HOLLOWAY * GEORGE JACKSON

JAMES P. JOHNSON * JOHN H. JOHNSON * DANIEL A. KELLEY * HENRY KING * CYRUS KRUNKLETON * AUGUSTUS LEWIS

THOMAS LLOYD * WILLIAM LLOYD * LEWIS J. LOCARD * FRANCIS LOWE * ROBERT MCJOHNSON * JOHN MILLER

JAMES H. MILLS * WILLIAM H. MORRIS * CHARLES E. NELSON * STEPHEN NEWTON * HARRISON PIERCE

CORNELIUS PRICE * THOMAS PETER RIGGS * DAVID R. ROPER * ANTHONY SCHENCK * THOMAS SHELDON

WILLIAM J. SMITH * SAMUEL SUFSHAY * JOHN TANNER * WILLIAM THOMAS * CHARLES VAN ALLEN

GEORGE VANDERPOOL * CORNELIUS WATSON * EDWARD WILLIAMS * FRANKLIN WILLIS

JOSEPH D. WILSON * WILLIAM WILSON * JOHN W. WINSLOW

INSCRIBED MCMLXXXII

Another shot of this memorial.

memorial-massachusetts-54th-infantry-in-boston-ma-names-of-deceased-sep2012

Here is the descriptive plaque that is by the memorial.

memorial-to-54th-massachusetts-infantry-boston-ma-taken-sep12-description

And here is a plaque on Saint-Gaudens that is also by the memorial.

memorial-to-54th-massachusetts-infantry-boston-ma-taken-sep12-info-on-gaudens

The 54th’s flag-bearer, Sergeant William Carney, was wounded three times in his duties but survived the war. He was subsequently the first African-American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A brisk but pleasant walk from the Boston Commons takes one to the Boston Public Library. In the main staircase of the library’s original building, there are monuments to two regiments from Massachusetts, the 20th Massachusetts Infantry and the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. The 20th was known as the “Harvard Regiment” due to the high percentage of men in it who were associated with Harvard University. Two photos of the memorial to the 20th are featured below, followed by one photo of the memorial to the 2nd. (I am not transcribing these memorials.)

memorial-to-massachusetts-20th-infantry-at-bpl-sep2012

memorial-to-massachusetts-20th-infantry-at-bpl-sep2012-front

memorial-to-massachusetts-2nd-infantry-at-bpl-sep2012

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Revolutionary War: Cambridge (originally Newtown/Newtowne), Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA

The Cambridge Historical Commission has put up a good number of plaques around Cambridge, including a few on the fence at Cambridge’s Old Burying Ground, which is located in what is now Harvard Square. While their graves are unmarked, the Cambridge Historical Commission put up a plaque commemorating the Revolutionary War service of two African-Americans buried there.

oldburyingground-cambridge-ma-black-revwar-soldiers-plaque-123110

REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIERS

BLACK SOLDIERS OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY

CATO STEDMAN AND NEPTUNE FROST

ARE BURIED IN THIS GROUND

1775

Christ Church is the Anglican Church in the neighborhood and is one of two churches adjacent to the Old Burying Ground. The church was where those that wanted to curry favor with the Crown worshipped before the American Revolution. Consequently, many of them were Loyalists who fled with the Crown. There is a sign about the Revolution on the church’s front wall:

cambridge-ma-christ-church-sign-regarding-revolutionary-war-taken-aug12

CHRIST CHURCH was established in 1759

to serve Cambridge’s Anglican community,

including students at Harvard College.

Peter Harrison, the preeminent architect of his day,

designed this church, King’s Chapel in Boston, and

Touro Synagogue in Newport, North America’s first synagogue.

The Rev. East Apthorp presided at the

first service, 15 October 1761.

Most of the congregation fled to Boston in 1774

and left with the British on Evacuation Day,

17 March 1776. The vacant church sheltered

Connecticut troops

during the summer and fall of 1775.

Gen. George and Martha Washington

worshipped here 31 December 1775, as the

Continental Army under his command

laid siege to Boston.

The exterior of Christ Church:

cambridge-ma-christ-church-exterior-taken-aug12

[Correction, June 2013: When I first wrote this post I said the exterior “is more recent than the Revolution, though it is on the spot where the original church was located.” This is based on information I had read that turns out to be somewhat incorrect. During Cambridge Open Archives 2013 in June 2013, I toured Christ Church and met its archivist and another staff member. They said that the current church was active as a house of worship before the Revolution although the final construction work on the church did not finish until after the Revolution, due to much of the congregation fleeing Cambridge and to the general upheaval  the Revolutionary War caused.]

Though the interior of the church is usually closed to non-congregants, I happened to go by one day when it was open:

cambridge-ma-christ-church-taken-aug12-interior

Brattle Street in Cambridge is a short walk from the Old Burying Ground and Christ Church. It was known as “Tory Row” because so many people on it were Loyalists to the Crown. Many of them initially thought they would be able to quickly return home and simply left their homes unattended, including the family that was residing in what is now known as Longfellow House/Washington’s Headquarters on Brattle Street, which became General Washington’s Boston Headquarters and later the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and is now run by the National Park Service. A Cambridge Historical Commission plaque on Brattle Street commemorates “Tory Row”:

cambridge-ma-tory-row-plaque-011111TORY ROW

WEALTHY FAMILIES LOYAL TO THE CROWN

LIVED ALONG BRATTLE STREET

BEFORE THE REVOLUTION

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Revolutionary War: Somerville (then part of Charlestown), Middlesex County, Massachusetts

This marker is now beside the curb on Elm Street in West Somerville, between Porter Square and Davis Square. At the time this “sharp fight occurred,” Somerville was part of Charlestown. The Battle of April 19, 1775: In Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown, Massachusetts, written by Frank Warren Coburn and published in 1912, states that the marker was already there then, but unfortunately does not list the names of the British who were killed here, only that “quite a number of Britons” were killed there by American sharpshooters and buried where they fell; you can read the page here. (Unlike the other photos in this post, this photo was taken with my cellphone.)

grave-marker-on-elm-street-in-somerville-ma-020713

A SHARP FIGHT OCCURRED HERE,

BETWEEN THE PATRIOTS AND THE BRITISH,

APRIL 19, 1775.

————————

THIS MARKS BRITISH SOLDIERS’ GRAVES.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Massachusetts: Modern Memorial Day Commemoration

As anywhere else, people here continue to commemorate Memorial Day. This year, a group called the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund placed 33,000 flags on Boston Commons to honor those from Massachusetts that had been killed in wars from the Civil War to the present. They termed their project a Flag Garden. A few photos follow from this commemoration on Boston Commons the weekend of Memorial Day 2013.

This shot is looking from the top of the hill down into the Commons.

memorial-to-fallen-massachusetts-military-from-civil-war-to-present-for-memorial-day-on-boston-commons-052613

This shot is looking from the bottom of the hill up towards the Civil War memorial that tops the hill on the Commons.

memorial-to-fallen-massachusetts-military-from-civil-war-to-present-for-memorial-day-on-boston-commons-looking-towards-civil-war-monument-052613

This shot looks from the flags towards adjacent downtown Boston.

memorial-to-fallen-massachusetts-military-from-civil-war-to-present-for-memorial-day-on-boston-commons-052613a

Here is a photo of the signs explaining the project.

memorial-to-fallen-massachusetts-military-from-civil-war-to-present-for-memorial-day-on-boston-commons-052613-signs

Read Full Post »

I’m one of those historical researchers who reads the entire page of the newspaper when I find an article of interest, who reads the surrounding pages of a census enumeration, the entire county’s tax rolls, the whole parish register book. I find everything interesting! This week I was researching a particular historical story in newspapers and accidentally discovered this article:

Headline: BURNED AT THE STAKE

Section 1 of an article from p. 3 of the 29 December 1885 New York Herald. (Scan courtesy of FultonHistory.com.)

Like most Americans (I hope), I know about how widespread lynchings of African-Americans were in America. This headline startled me, though. As if lynchings weren’t bad enough, people were being burned at the stake by mobs, too – and then the events were being reported in what read to me as a rather chipper way (That scoundrel got what he deserved! Everyone helped! We had a grand time burning someone alive!) in newspapers around the country.

As someone who grew up in a Northern area where the Klu Klux Klan was still very active when I was a child, I have spent a fair amount of time as an adult researching white supremacy movements and violence in America in the antebellum, Civil War, and post-Civil-War periods, counterpoints to my interest in North American & British abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. Reading historical summaries of the violence is horrific enough; here is a particularly chilling excerpt from David Grimsted’s excellent book American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998):

In the morning [in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1855], the election went fairly quietly, though there was a knife fight between an Irishman and an American, both of whom eventually died, the Irishman in jail. In midafternoon things grew worse when Germans fired into some American election carriages, killing two men, and Know-Nothings [an anti-immigrant American political party] attacked and burned five or six German homes and a coffeehouse from which the shots apparently came. The Know-Nothing mayor dissuaded them from attacking the Catholic church. In the next few hours, random Germans were attacked, at least three fatally, and other homes and a brewery burned down. Irish in Ward Eight attacked three Americans, killing at least one, and Know-Nothings followed their retreat to a house, burned them out, and killed three. Another American death led to an attack on Quinn’s Row, a block of Irish homes, and some others, twenty in all, which were burnt. Patrick Quinn was shot and his body partly burned, and rioters beat victims fleeing the fire and, rumor declared, drove some Irish trying to escape back to a fiery death. The Know-Nothing police, inactive and maybe helpless in the shootings and burning of private property, protected the hated Louisville Times when a mob later threatened it. (pp. 233-34)

This came to be known as “Bloody Monday.” I’ve read some other accounts that claim that when the mob set buildings on fire, some of the people waited outside to shoot the people who tried to escape the fire; perhaps that is what Grimsted is referencing when he says “burned them out, and killed three.” Another Louisville mob would kill three slaves two years later.

In this climate of mob violence, it’s no wonder that people and events such as the Border Ruffians, the Bushwhackers & Jayhawkers, and the New York Draft Riots followed shortly before and during the American Civil War. And when the federal troops pulled out of the South when US President Rutherford B. Hayes (born 190 years ago yesterday) ended Reconstruction as part of a compromise to resolve the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876, it’s no wonder that mob violence quickly escalated again.

Article, part 2

Section 2 of an article from p. 3 of the 29 December 1885 New York Herald. (Scan courtesy of FultonHistory.com.)

But reading about the violence as recounted in a book like American Mobbing is completely different than reading about it first-hand in contemporary accounts. The subheadings in the second section (above), “HUNTING THE NEGRO” and “CAPTURED,” remind me starkly of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which turned every American into an accomplice to slavery, and which spurred many bounty hunters of escaped slaves to hunt in free states and some to enter Canada to hunt those that had escaped to full freedom there.

One of the most famous cases was centered on Oberlin, Ohio, the town of my alma mater, Oberlin College, which had attracted a lot of abolitionist teachers and staff who had left Ohio State University because they were unhappy with its slavery stance. Most commonly known today as “the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue,” there is now a lengthy digitized article about it, “When the Slave-Catcher Came to Town,” featuring much background information on tensions at the time. It is well worth a read for anyone even lightly interested in white American/African-American relations and/or the lead-up to the Civil War.

This specific article is noteworthy in part for what it does not say. The reporter writes, “Confronted with this evidence of his guilt, and charged with the crime, the scoundrel admitted that he had attempted . . .” As Grimsted notes in American Mobbing (p. 15), “Southern mobs always offered ‘proof’ of guilt which no one could doubt: victims were ‘whipped until they confessed’ . . .”

article on being burned at the stake, section 3

Section 3 (of 3) from an article on p. 3 of the 29 December 1885 New York Herald. (Scan courtesy of FultonHistory.com.)

No trial, not even a day’s wait: “Reed’s confession sealed his fate. It was decided that he should die at once. The majority insisted that he should be burned at the stake.” Even if Dick Reed was guilty (and I have no idea whether he was or not, and never will due to the way this proceeded), this is not the way justice should be carried out in an even marginally civilized society.

Read Full Post »