By Al Benson Jr.
Recently a friend in Athens, Louisiana lent me a book with the same title as this article. It was written by three writers who worked for a newspaper, the Hartford Courant, in Hartford, Connecticut. I mention that lest anyone accuse me of quoting some “bigoted” Southern source.
From what I can tell the three authors of this book are all quite a bit more liberal than I am and so I am sure there is much we would not agree on. But whatever else they might be, the three authors were honest enough to admit that slavery in this country was never only a “Southern” problem as we have, for so long, been led to believe.
I grew up in New England, went to school in New England, and I have to admit, I never read any of the material they present in any of the so-called “history” books I came across, either in school or anywhere else. We were always taught that all the slaves lived “down South” and that the virtuous New Englanders, among others, had fought to end that evil institution down here.
These folks did a lot of research to put their material together, so the research material is available. It just gets ignored. It’s the identical situation Donnie Kennedy and I found when we wrote Lincoln’s Marxists. The vast majority of the material about socialist and Communist penetration of both the Union armies and the early Republican Party by those people is just never mentioned. It doesn’t fit the current agenda and so it just gets omitted. It’s the same situation with Complicity. The truth about slavery in the North just doesn’t fit the agenda and so it mostly gets left out.
But there is lots of commentary about Northern slavery out there and the three authors of Complicity came up with lots of it. In the introduction it is noted: “Before the Civil War the North grew rich beyond measure by agreeing to live, however uneasily at times, with slavery. Perhaps as a consequence of striking that bargain, Northerners have pushed much of their early history into the deepest shadows of repression.—In the eighteenth century, even after America won its freedom from Great Britain, even after the writing of the Declaration of Independence, tens of thousands of black people were living as slaves in the North. Earlier in that century, enslaved blacks made up nearly one-fifth of the population of New York City.”
And then there was this, which although I lived and worked in Rhode Island, I never heard: “In the century before Congress finally banned the importation of slaves, Rhode Island was America’s leader in the transatlantic trade, launching nearly 1000 voyages to Africa and carrying at least 100,000 captives back across the Atlantic. The captains and crews of these ships were often the veteran seamen of America: New Englanders.” More information that somehow doesn’t make the cut when it comes to our “history” books! The authors note that, in 1760, there were around 41,000 blacks enslaved in the Northern states, which included New England and all the other states down to Delaware.
The authors also observed: “Slaves in the North, like those in the South, served at the whim of their owners and could be sold or traded. They were housed in unheated attics and basements, in outbuildings and barns. They often slept on the floor, wrapped in coarse blankets. They lived under a harsh system of ‘black codes’ that controlled their movements, prohibited their education, and limited their social contacts.” It actually sounds like, in many instances, slaves in the South were better off than those in the North. And “black codes” in the North? All we are ever told about is black codes in the South. They are never mentioned in relation to the North. You can tell that the winners write the history books and don’t hesitate to make themselves look good. The authors made an interesting comment about a man named John Adams, described as “…one of the Founding Fathers who refused to own black people…he paid handsomely for his principles because captive labor (in New England) was widespread, very skilled, and cheap.”
On page 80, in relation to New York City, the authors tell us that “Slavery was the bedrock of the city’s developing economy” in the early 1700s. Census figures showed a population, at one point, of about 4,000 whites and 600 blacks and most of the blacks were slaves.
On pages 97-99 the authors deal in some detail with Newport, Rhode Island and inform us that it was dominant in the state’s first and longest period in the slave trade. The Newport slave traders were mostly involved with the “upper” end of the trade. They owned or bankrolled the slave ships. And they observed that, in the days before the War for Independence the city of Newport was responsible for 70% of all American slave ships. Rev. Samuel Hopkins was one of the few theologians that even dared to preach against the slave trade. Hopkins indicted his own state when he said “The inhabitants of Rhode Island, especially those of Newport, have had by far the greater share of this traffic, of all these United States.”
Hopefully this brief article will give readers some idea of the large part the Northeastern part of the country played in the slave trade, and this went on, to some degree, literally up to the eve of the War of Northern Aggression.
I have seen articles over the years that totally blamed the South for the slave trade and some have even commented that Southerners invented this pernicious trade just so they could keep blacks under their heel. The book these three writers from Connecticut who are, as I said, much more liberal than I, have produced gives the lie to that baseless accusation.
When it came to slavery the North was every bit as guilty as was the South, in some cases even moreso. But then the professional “South-haters” who practice cultural genocide on Southerners and their culture do not want to hear this and so they will probably do their best to ignore this factual book just as they have studiously avoided admitting to much of what Donnie Kennedy and I have written about in Lincoln’s Marxists. Complicity is available at Amazon.com I would encourage folks who are serious about the truth to pick it up and read it. You won’t agree with everything in it. I didn’t. But it is still worth the read.