“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Would it surprise you to know that our founders included slaves in this idea? Would it surprise you to know they diligently worked to fulfill that promise?
A while back, I did a podcast where I touched on the topic of slavery and how the United States was not built on it. Since then, I have received several messages of support, several messages asking for clarity, and several messages of protest. This article is being written for those who want to be empowered and want to know the truth about Slavery in America. Spoiler alert: it’s more than likely, not what you were taught in school.
It is my contention that as a nation, we should be proud of the fact that from the very beginning of the United States, people were proactively working to fulfill the promise of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Slavery in America should be looked at under a different light. Probably not the narrative you were expecting? If so, then this is the perfect time for a history lesson.
Ignoring for the sake of conversation, that slavery existed in Central America long before the Europeans arrived (because both the Mayans and Aztecs kept slaves), with his African slaves by his side, Christopher Columbus first engaged in slavery in the Americas when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492, capturing five hundred Indians and shipping them back to Spain as slaves. What is important for you to understand is that Columbus was a Spaniard and that this was over 290 years before the United States would even grace a map. It is also important to note that this went on for quite some time before the English would even arrive. In fact, the English did not have permanent settlements in the New World until more than a century after the Spaniards started – in which slavery was already well established. Of course, the British would continue the practice.
The first slaves that were brought to the North American British colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, were brought by the British. Jamestown was a colony of Britain that was subject to the slave trade in which the British thrust upon them. The colonists may have eventually owned slaves, but this was a British element of economics, not an American one.
Slavery in the Americas cannot be blamed on the United States as the United States wasn’t even a country during its introduction, or for the century and a half that followed. To clarify; the US wouldn’t be in a position to do anything about slavery for another 164 years. However, when they were in a position to do something about it, they did.
It is true that many of those who would eventually be born (generations later) and become the Founding Fathers of the United States were in fact… British Colonists. And being British, some of them did participate in economic norms of the time; such as slavery. But many did not like the institution of slavery and vocalized it repeatedly. But it would take a war, separating themselves from British influence, and a little bit of time to really get anything changed. It is important to note that some of those would-be Founders, would go on to be considered the Fathers of the Abolitionist movement.
In fact, slave owner Thomas Jefferson, is often attacked because he was engaged in slavery. Many of the ignorant call him a racist bigot and have called to have his memorials destroyed because of it. Setting aside the fact that Sally Hemings (a slave) had at least six children who are now believed to have been fathered by Thomas Jefferson years after his wife’s death, we should know that Jefferson was anything but a racist bigoted slave owner.
Before the Constitution was complete, Jefferson wrote direction for the different Western territories saying that “That after the year 1800 of the Christian æra, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.” He would also encourage others to move this goal along. In fact, on July 14th 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Rutledge and said “I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your state for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it forever. This abomination must have an end, and there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it.” It may seem odd, but even many in the South were actually opposed to slavery. In fact, something you probably won’t read in your modern history books is that in an 1856, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to his wife saying slavery was “a moral and political evil.”
If this seems counterintuitive, or if you find yourself wondering why you were never taught this, then you are about to be shocked again. It will surprise many to discover that slavery was not exactly a white on black thing. What most people choose to ignore is the fact that there were thousands upon thousands of white slaves, tan slaves, black slaves, and red slaves. On the other side of that exact same coin; there were white slave owners, tan slave owners, red slave owners and yes… even black slave owners.
Ironically enough, the first legal slave owner in the new world was a black man named Anthony Johnson – and he pretty much demanded it. Furthermore, statistics show that when freed from slavery, blacks became slave masters to a very high degree. Interestingly enough, disproportionately to whites. For example, in 1830, nearly a fourth of the freed Black slave masters in South Carolina owned 10 or more slaves; several of which owned more than 30. This far outpaced that of the white slave owners. Some blacks owned even more than that. Like Justus Angel and Mistress L. Horry, who each owned at least 84 slaves. In Charleston alone, 125 freed blacks owned slaves. North Carolina had at least 69 freed black slave owners.
Of course, this wasn’t just a Carolina problem. The country’s leading African American historian, Duke University professor John Hope Franklin, has shown that in New Orleans alone, over 3,000 freed blacks owned slaves. At least six of those owned 65 or more slaves. One freed black (C. Richards) owned 152 slaves. This story repeats over and over and over again throughout the southern states. The question you may be asking yourself is “why“? Well, the answer is quite simple; for the exact same reason anyone else engaged in the business of slavery; economics. John Hope Franklin, states this clearly in his book that “There were instances, however, in which free Negroes had a real economic interest in the institution of slavery and held slaves in order to improve their economic status.”
The point is that it was a wide-spread problem and not just a white on black issue. Many would be surprised to learn about the plethora of black land owners, black slave owners, and so on. But no conversation on black empowerment would be complete without discussing the Confederate William Ellison; said to be South Carolina’s biggest black slave owner, and arguably the most cruel slave owner in American history due to the treatment of his slaves and his slave breeding practices. Yes, you read that correctly. A black slave owner was also the most cruel. The question we should be asking ourselves is why is this not taught in our schools?
Perhaps the point that should really be expressed here is that the United States was barely 74 years old when slavery was finally put to an end in this country. What I want you to understand is that for thousands upon thousands of years, slavery was the norm around the planet, and the United States was able to end it in one’s lifetime. That’s pretty amazing. And while every color engaged in the practice to substantial degree, and even though the history of slavery spans nearly every culture, nationality and religion, and from ancient times to the present day; the United States led the way in stopping it, and many of our founders (like Thomas Jefferson) wanted to be done with it before we even started.
Something else to note is that while the colonists declared their independence in 1776, they didn’t actually acquire it until the peace treaty was signed in 1783. Then, after that, they needed to write a new Constitution, which was adopted in 1789. And it wasn’t until 1791, that the Bill of Rights was added to help guarantee unalienable rights. So as you can see, things took time back then. But I’m sure you can agree that the progress that was made was incredible.
Yes, slavery was a dark but brief time in our history. But the US didn’t start it, they ended it. And while tragic, it wasn’t like the US was neck deep in it either. You might be amazed to discover that the colonies only received under 4 percent of the African slaves shipped across the Atlantic. In fact, The Root – a website dedicated to African-American news and information – states that of the 10.7 million to have crossed and survived the Middle Passage, only somewhere between 388,000 and 450,000 Africans actually made it to the colonies and/or States.
Understand that this means that well over 96% of ALL African men, women and children who were kidnapped, sold, and taken from their homes by Islamic slave traders, were sent somewhere OTHER than US territory. Even more amazing is that the vast majority of today’s US population’s forefathers never even owned slaves of any color, and that the REAL prosperity in this country actually came from states who had freed their slaves.
Why are more people not excited and proud of these facts? Can you imagine how much more united this country would be if the TRUTH about slavery in America was taught? Can you imagine how empowered the black community would be if they knew these truths?
Knowledge is power my friends.
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