Confronting the true history of Forrest the slave trader

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Bee

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I found this article interesting for as much as it told about the Slave Trade in general, as it did about the Forrest family involvement in the business. Since I am not much familiarized with the biography of Nathan B Forrest, I cannot speak to the accuracy of the text. I will leave that to the forum experts.



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At the corner of Adams and B.B. King in Downtown Memphis, a sign marks the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s antebellum home. "Following marriage in 1845," the marker states, "he came to Memphis, where his business enterprises made him wealthy." What the sign neglects to mention is that his home stood adjacent to his business enterprise -- Forrest’s slave yard.

During the years before the Civil War, cotton and slavery became the lynchpins of the southern economy. During the 1840's and 1850's, the profitability of cotton cultivation drew increasing numbers of white settlers to the states of the Old Southwest -- Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

Because Congress had banned the importation of African slaves in 1808, thus cutting off the external supply of labor, white landowners in these newly settled areas sought to purchase enslaved people from other parts of the South. An abundance of slaves in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky thus met planters’ increasing demand for labor, as traders bought the enslaved for low prices before transporting and selling them farther south at a profit.

More Here: http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/12/08/confronting-true-history-forrest-slave-trader/926292001/
 

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diane

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Can't see anything inaccurate in there! In fact, that's the most accurate news article I've read regarding Forrest recently. My personal opinion of the marker is that it should remain where it is but be made honest - the business was slave dealing. The Forrest home was two doors up from the slave jail - that's what Forrest himself called it so there shouldn't be a problem calling it that on the marker. The livery business and others were while he was in Hernando - when he came to Memphis it was slave trading. He was just getting set up in cotton planting and land dealing when the war broke out. Incidentally, the reference to people from the Congo is also correct - Forrest had 'an interest' in the renegade slave ship Wanderer. That's a whole complex matter by itself.
 
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I found this article interesting for as much as it told about the Slave Trade in general, as it did about the Forrest family involvement in the business. Since I am not much familiarized with the biography of Nathan B Forrest, I cannot speak to the accuracy of the text. I will leave that to the forum experts.



View attachment 169899
View attachment 169901

At the corner of Adams and B.B. King in Downtown Memphis, a sign marks the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s antebellum home. "Following marriage in 1845," the marker states, "he came to Memphis, where his business enterprises made him wealthy." What the sign neglects to mention is that his home stood adjacent to his business enterprise -- Forrest’s slave yard.

During the years before the Civil War, cotton and slavery became the lynchpins of the southern economy. During the 1840's and 1850's, the profitability of cotton cultivation drew increasing numbers of white settlers to the states of the Old Southwest -- Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

Because Congress had banned the importation of African slaves in 1808, thus cutting off the external supply of labor, white landowners in these newly settled areas sought to purchase enslaved people from other parts of the South. An abundance of slaves in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky thus met planters’ increasing demand for labor, as traders bought the enslaved for low prices before transporting and selling them farther south at a profit.

More Here: http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/12/08/confronting-true-history-forrest-slave-trader/926292001/
Great find !

As we've said from the start, the Forrest forum exists to study this man at all levels.

Warts and all.
In fact, that's the most accurate news article I've read regarding Forrest recently.
That was my first thought as well.
 
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Bee

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Can't see anything inaccurate in there! In fact, that's the most accurate news article I've read regarding Forrest recently. My personal opinion of the marker is that it should remain where it is but be made honest - the business was slave dealing. The Forrest home was two doors up from the slave jail - that's what Forrest himself called it so there shouldn't be a problem calling it that on the marker. The livery business and others were while he was in Hernando - when he came to Memphis it was slave trading. He was just getting set up in cotton planting and land dealing when the war broke out. Incidentally, the reference to people from the Congo is also correct - Forrest had 'an interest' in the renegade slave ship Wanderer. That's a whole complex matter by itself.
Thanks for checking it over. An awful lot of what is written and shared about NBF gets mired in polemics. I just want the facts, ma'am. If one is not careful, it is easy to get sucked into NBF myth, and for folks like me, it is not easy to navigate between fact and fiction. I wish more articles were written in the plain spoken fashion -- specially when it comes to the more controversial figures.
 

Borderruffian

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That NBF was a slave trader along with his brothers is something that can't be debated, he was. He he was also Hernando Co constable and slave catcher thanks to Senator Chalmers.
It should be understood that for NBF and brothers this was a path to a life above their hardscrable raising in Tn and Ms.
 

TomP

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The only issue I can find with the sign, aside from what has already been discussed, it the description of his "early life on a Mississippi plantation."

diane , perhaps you can weigh in on this but I recall the descriptions by Jordan and Wyeth to be of a small-scale farm and that what land they farmed was cleared by the Forrest brothers. Tippah County, particularly in the northern sections around Salem, was hardly where one would find the typical plantation. Though the term "hardscrabble" is more often used in describing one of his future adversarys, the term seems to fit the Mississippi farm of the Forrests as well.

Tom
 
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James N.

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That NBF was a slave trader along with his brothers is something that can't be debated, he was. He he was also Hernando Co constable and slave catcher thanks to Senator Chalmers.
It should be understood that for NBF and brothers this was a path to a life above their hardscrable raising in Tn and Ms.
The sign's omission of HOW Forrest made his fortune reminds me of one on the grounds of the courthouse in Colfax, seat of Grant Parish, La., very briefly describing the Colfax Riot and its fatalities: 3 whites and 150 Negroes!
 

diane

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The only issue I can find with the sign, aside from what has already been discussed, it the description of his "early life on a Mississippi plantation."

diane , perhaps you can weigh in on this but I recall the descriptions by Jordan and Wyeth to be of a small-scale farm and that what land they farmed was cleared by the Forrest brothers. Tippah County, particularly in the northern sections around Salem, was hardly where one would find the typical plantation. Though the term "hardscrabble" is more often used in describing one of his future adversarys, the term seems to fit the Mississippi farm of the Forrests as well.

Tom
Plantation isn't exactly the right word for the Forrest farm near Chapel Hill. Miriam Beck Forrest's family had a plantation and William Forrest, Forrest's father, was a blacksmith there. It wasn't Tara either! Shadrack Forrest, the great-grandpa, had migrated from North Carolina and speculated in land, buying large parcels after the Indian removal. Lots of family members bought smaller parcels from him...which led to land disputes unto the two hundredth generation! There was a farm there already started that the Forrests bought. After bad water - probably typhoid - carried off half the Forrest kids, William moved to Tippah County Mississippi to land opened by the Choctaw cessions. That's where hardscrabble comes in as he and his two oldest sons (the others were very small) had to clear the land and get it into production - at that time the main crop was corn. I expect the very hard work was a killer for William, who had also survived typhoid, and he died not long after. Nathan and John were then the breadwinners but John was crippled in the Mexican war (some say the Texas war for republic) and the younger brothers still children - tough times! One thing, though, is the Forrest family and the Beck family were huge so there were many uncles and cousins to help - even so, it mainly fell to Nathan. He learned how to take charge and get things done right very early.

That NBF was a slave trader along with his brothers is something that can't be debated, he was. He he was also Hernando Co constable and slave catcher thanks to Senator Chalmers.
It should be understood that for NBF and brothers this was a path to a life above their hardscrable raising in Tn and Ms.
That's quite true. Forrest, upon his return from an adventure to Texas, partnered with his uncle in the livery business. It was more than renting animals and so forth, it also included some sort of paralegal business which is how Jonathan came to be guardian of some little relations...which led to his death in a shoot-out on the plaza in Hernando. Partner got the business - in more ways than one! Uncle Jonathan was chin deep in debt. Bedford, to his credit, tried everything under the sun from river boat captain to constable/coroner of DeSoto County but it was going to be the rest of his life climbing out of debt at that rate. After his marriage, he resolved to go into the slave trade. It was the only way for someone like him, with very little education, to make some bucks and he needed a pile of them. At that time, the slave trade was booming and a prime field hand could be picked up in Virginia for a couple hundred dollars and resold in Mississippi for at least a thousand. He became a millionaire in an amazingly short time.

One thing the article had right was the right Forrest in the slave advertisement! Often Forrest and Somebody didn't mean Nathan, but one of his brothers. He would start up a market then sell out to one of them, helping them get ahead a little faster. William Hezekiah was a silent partner in many of these and other dealings - he was said to have been twice as rich as his older brother, who claimed to have been worth a million and a half at the start of the war.

No, I don't see a problem at all with calling a thing by its proper name. Euphemism doesn't have much of a place in history, if one is going to be honest. Granted, you're liable to stomp on someone's bunions doing that! But, it is what it is.
 

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The sign's omission of HOW Forrest made his fortune reminds me of one on the grounds of the courthouse in Colfax, seat of Grant Parish, La., very briefly describing the Colfax Riot and its fatalities: 3 whites and 150 Negroes!
Well I don't know, it was never really a secert that NBF wss a slave trader.He advertised as such thanked customers in print in Memphis papers etc.
 
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diane

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Well I don't know, it was never really a secert that NBF wss a slave trader.He advertised as such thanked customers in print in Memphis papers etc.
But if you don't sanitize, you'll harsh the tourists' peaceful little buzz!

It was known far and wide, that's for sure, and it didn't seem to hurt his stature as a solid citizen either. He was constable, coroner, alderman, livery and stockman, and there was a slave market on every corner in Memphis. He had plenty of company! Where it became a stigma was when he had to deal with upper crust people like Bragg and Davis, who wanted to handle him with tongs. He was the only general in the CW who was a slave trader.
 
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No he was in the Memphis City Index, the Memphis papers and was elected as an alder man of his ward. That he was a slave trader was and never has been a secert at least in Tennessee and the old south west.
That was intended as sarcasm - I'm sure everyone here on the forums - as in the Memphis of the period the marker was erected - is quite aware of Forrest's prime vocation!
 
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Joshism

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Where it became a stigma was when he had to deal with upper crust people like Bragg and Davis, who wanted to handle him with tongs. He was the only general in the CW who was a slave trader.
Ironic that antebellum white Southern society was quite content with slavery and aspired to be slavery owners, but looked down their nose at slave traders.
 

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But if you don't sanitize, you'll harsh the tourists' peaceful little buzz!

It was known far and wide, that's for sure, and it didn't seem to hurt his stature as a solid citizen either. He was constable, coroner, alderman, livery and stockman, and there was a slave market on every corner in Memphis. He had plenty of company! Where it became a stigma was when he had to deal with upper crust people like Bragg and Davis, who wanted to handle him with tongs. He was the only general in the CW who was a slave trader.
So it was okay to buy, sell, and own slaves, but not to trade them? A very fine line there, me thinks.
I suppose on reflection it is similar to the British aristocracy looking down there noses at people in trade, who probably could have bought and sold them twice over.
The contradictions of slavery and of class structure never fail to amaze me.:unsure:
 
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According to this site, from the New York Public Library, the stories of the domestic southern slave-trader being looked down upon is largely a Myth. Used as a defense for the "slavery is good" argument in the antebellum and as a part of the "It wasn't about slavery" denials that followed the War. Bold mine.


The Slave traders

The trade has always posed problems for those seeking to portray slavery as a benign and paternal institution in which slave owners saw their main mission as "civilizing Negroes." Long after slavery ended, conservative white Southerners still pretended that the slave traders had been social outcasts and that their business had been of minimal importance to Southern life. In his 1904 history of the trade, the Southern historian Winfield H. Collins wrote that their ill repute was such that "They were accounted the abhorrence of everyone. . . .Their descendants, when known, had a blot upon them and the property acquired in the traffic as well." Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, traders were very often prominent citizens and respected leaders of their communities. Slave trading was not a poor man’s occupation. A coffle of forty slaves might cost the trader well over $30,000 in cash, a huge sum in the nineteenth century that is equivalent to about $600,000 today. Major traders nearly always came from wealthy planter families. The traffic in human beings made them even richer. (snip)

In the early decades of the trade, its speculators did attract some criticism in the South. Some feared that slaves from the Northern and middle colonies would bring with them undesirable ideas of freedom. Prosperous planters in older sections of states - sections where the system was long established and where planters no longer felt the need for new importations - resented traders who brought enslaved people into the newer, still-growing regions in their states. They were greatly concerned that any increase in the black population would undermine the prices of both crops and labor. Despite these apprehensions, they were quite happy to sell to traders as long as they transported their purchases out of state. Many planters also resented the profit gouging and crooked practices with which some traders were identified.

The traders’ high social status was deliberately concealed in the slaveholders’ propaganda efforts. The truth about "Negro speculation" would have made it impossible to defend the "morality" of slavery. As James Stirling, a Scottish visitor, observed in the 1850s: "The slave traffic was a sore subject with the defenders of slavery. . . . They fain would load all the iniquities of the system on the trader’s unlucky back." Thus, the trader was invariably portrayed as an outcast and a scoundrel in pro-slavery novels and polemics, in marked contrast to the picture they painted of a righteous, humanitarian plantation owner who only sold slaves as a last resort to clear his debts. (snip)

After the Civil War, chains of evidence that might otherwise have led historians to the trade were often deliberately broken. White Southerners, keen to invent and promote a history of the benevolent Southland, tended to write the trader out of history. In obituaries, biographical directories, and county histories, profiles of prominent citizens who had been slave traders tended to omit that aspect of their lives. When the notorious trader and prominent South Carolina politician T. C. Weatherly was discussed in an 1897 history of his county, his political career was referenced, but his slave trading went unmentioned. The death of the highly successful slave trader Charles Logan in 1903 was well covered in South Carolina’s newspaper, The State. He was remembered as one whose wealth had been accumulated through "speculative deals of various sorts," and as a benefactor of the Catholic Church, a hospital, a school and to officials charged with preventing cruelty to animals. Without the faintest trace of irony, The State concluded, "Next to the care of children, kindness to animals is the mark of a good heart." No mention was made of his slave-trading career.

http://www.inmotionaame.org/print.cfm;jsessionid=f8301089991517039133785?migration=3&bhcp=1
 
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