My Ancestors Never Owned Slaves...

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Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
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Location
Mississippi
"My Ancestors Never Owned Slaves..." is one of many talking points I hear when Southerners (like myself) argue for or against issues during the civil war.
I found the following quote on a display board in a museum in Franklin, TN over the weekend and thought it was good and wanted to share it with this forum:
"The reasons and motivations behind the actions of men and women during the time of the civil war were as diverse as the motivations behind the actions of people today. The people of the 19th century were a product of their time (in history) and their choices were certainly influenced by what surrounded them: the media , their positions in life, beliefs, values, family and traditions."

Too many times, we judge society back then against the standards we have today in the 21st century. Maybe we should spend less time judging and more time learning from history.
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
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Location
Upstate New York
My ancestors did own slaves and I feel quite free to judge them for it. Yes, I can put their actions into the context of the time and understand that they were not doing anything that they didn't see others do. I still feel what they did was wrong and I heartily wish they had made other, to me, better, choices. There was ample evidence all around the South that slave ownership deprived human beings of basic rights. My ancestors chose to ignore that - they chose to see persons of African descent as "less than" or "other" in order to gain the benefits of unpaid labor. We know from family records that my ancestors divided families, in some cases taking children from their mothers. They must have witnessed the anguish that caused. They chose to ignore it, deciding that the benefits they derived from, for instance, inheriting a slave from a family member, outweighed the pain it caused people with whom they lived and interacted every day. That takes a callousness that disturbs me. I don't have to look hard to see ways in which we in the modern era also find ways to conveniently ignore the pain of others. The end of slavery certainly didn't eradicate all the ills of the world. I judge myself for my failings in this regard.
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
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Location
Upstate New York
Many people mention Native Americans; their mistreatment by settlers and the government is well studied. I don't know that the experiences of the native peoples needs to be quantified as better or worse than that of slaves. All mistreatment towards anyone was wrong - none absolves any other. I cringe remembering my father explaining to me that slave owners were kinder than Northern factory owners since "they took care of the slaves when they got old" - a statement that overlooks so many other issues that it boggles the mind. But he was right that a lot of workers, especially immigrants, were mistreated by factory owners. Where he was wrong was in thinking that this small contrast somehow excused slaveowners.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Nobody ever mentions Native Americans. Were they less human? They were treated far worse it seems.

But by your standards we should not judge people by the way the treated Native Americans. So by your standards no American should feel any guilt for they did to Native Americans. *Edited*
 
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Dead Parrott

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 30, 2019
My ancestors were British, German, Polish and Lithuanian.

I'm sure they fought and killed each other over time - perhaps caring why, perhaps not, perhaps not even thinking it through.

I'm sure that, individually and personally, they were noble, and vile, and every shade in between.

I feel no compunction to defend what they may or may not have believed.

Saints and Sinners come in all Flavors.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
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Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
My ancestor owned seven slaves, ranging from 6 months to 60 something years of age of both sexes. His father owned 200 slaves.

As with @lupaglupa , I feel I can judge them and find them very wanting on this issue. They were wrong and I have no problem with that judgment.

History is supposed to teach us, not excuse us, so that we do not repeat our ancestors mistakes by taking the same, worn-out paths that they took.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
My ancestor owned seven slaves, ranging from 6 months to 60 something years of age of both sexes. His father owned 200 slaves.

As with @lupaglupa , I feel I can judge them and find them very wanting on this issue. They were wrong and I have no problem with that judgment.

History is supposed to teach us, not excuse us, so that we do not repeat our ancestors mistakes by taking the same, worn-out paths that they took.
I agree. But I don't think we'll ever go back to owning slaves in this country again. With that said, as appalling as ownership of other human beings seems...NOT owning human beings in an institution of slavery is really quite a new concept.
 

Jantzen64

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
I respectfully suggest we look to the words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. While squarely placing the cause of the war at slavery's feet ("All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war") and noting the fundamental moral problems of slavery and its defenders ("It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces"), he was quick to caution against demonizing one side ("let us judge not that we be not judged"), noting that the war was serving as God's judgment on both North and South for allowing slavery to continue ("If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him"). BUT, he ends with an admonition that that judgment left our country with an obligation - an obligation to move forward with "charity for all" and to "to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves . . . ". (all italics mine). I respectfully submit that the lens, and often-painful lessons, of history serves to help each generation determine whether they have lived up to that obligation, given the legacy of history.
 
If 23andme is to be relied upon, I probably had ancestors who owned slaves and ancestors who were slaves. My genetic profile (they tell me) is almost entirely European, but I am also 1.2% from sub-Saharan Africa. That was a total surprise. I had heard from my mother that some of her forebears were from North Carolina. I suppose that my sub-Saharan African component likely goes back to a slave owner (or a white associate of a slave owner) and a slave.
 

Viper21

Brigadier General
Moderator
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Location
Rockbridge County, Virginia
I have ancestors that owned slaves, & ancestors who didn't. I personally carry zero guilt for any of my ancestors. I have zero ancestors who were ever convicted of a violent crime, of hurting children, or ever spent any time in prison, except as POW's.

My ancestors were Men of their times, & Women of their times. They were honorable men & women. When trouble came, they defended their homes, & their families, just as their ancestors had, & their descendants would continue to do, right up to present day.

I have nothing but love, honor, & respect for them all.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
I'm an Italian descent. The Romans enslaved everybody they conquered, which was the majority of the known world at that time: Brits, Greeks, Gauls(France), Germanic tribes, Nubians, Anatolians(Turkey), Jewish, Syrians, Africans and there were Asian gladiators like Indian, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Chinese, but the historical record is hazy on Asians but it seems it is probable. If I were to sign a guilt clause on Roman slavery I would lose my mind within 2 minutes. Nevertheless I don't, but I am proud to be a descendant of the greatest empire in the history of civilization. Slavery in the southeast of the USA was kindergarten, so...
 
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