Southern Abolition Societies

jpeter

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#1
This topic occasionally comes up, so I'm pulling from readings in "Slaves Without Masters" by Ira Berlin. Paraphrasing....

There were southern abolitionist organizations after the Revolutionary War in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. South of these states, organizations with an abolition mission seemed incapable or organizing.

Initially, religious denominations like the Baptists and Methodists helped the societies after the Revolutionary War. The Methodists in particular were specific about their anti-slavery beliefs.

The organizations became increasingly weaker as you moved south. The Richmond Society had difficulty reaching a quorum by the 1790s. Most societies in the north were able to get political celebrities like John Jay and Benjamin Franklin to help with support, but the Upper South states had no such endorsements.

So what crushed the life out of these organizations and kept them from growing? The Haitian slave uprising in 1791 appears to be the biggest culprit.

From that point forward, there began to be real hostilities aimed at these organizations. Abolition societies were seen as nurseries for insurrection. By 1800 Abolition Societies in the South had lost all support - even from the religious groups like the Methodists who quit discussing slavery in moral terms.

Laws in Virginia were created to make manumission harder by the late 1790s. Lawsuits by slaves and abolitionists became impossible after that time as abolitionists were barred from sitting on juries that heard such cases.

One more small insurrection called Gabriel's Rebellion (instigated by Gabriel Prosser, a black carpenter in 1800), created general hysteria and nearly drove abolition societies underground in Virginia.

Nevertheless, thinking about slavery remained more liberal in the Upper South where sentiments were not operating as one mind as they seemed to in the deep south.

In a nutshell, it appears slave insurrections helped crush the spirit of the American Revolution for blacks by 1800.

"Slaves Without Masters," Ira Berlin, p. 79-86
 

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#2
It's called fear. The state governments in the south were reacting to the fears of the white population. The underlying problem that the abolition societies faced in the upper south was the great question of "what do you do with the black man once you've set him free?"
The 1831 Virginia convention fell apart under the weight of this question.
 

brass napoleon

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In a nutshell, it appears slave insurrections helped crush the spirit of the American Revolution for blacks by 1800.
A tragic example of the law of unintended consequences. Even so, some Southerners continued to support abolition, but it was a dangerous business by this time:

After Sam Fuller of North Carolina tried to help an escaping slave, he found a "crossbone and skull on a stick in front of his door." A short time later, he was kidnapped and killed by persons unknown.

Even in the face of such dangers there were southern whites who worked against slavery in any way they could, up to and including rebellion. Four white South Carolinians were thrown in jail for encouraging Denmark Vesey in his attempt to free the slaves around Charleston. In Mississippi, twenty-one "bleached and unbleached" men were hanged for plotting a slave revolt. A Virginia white man was hanged near Lynchburg for trying to help organize an uprising. So were several whites in Jefferson County, Georgia, for the same offense. And four "white abolition rascals" helped organize a slave insurrection at Iberville, Louisiana.


- David Williams, A People's History of the Civil War, pp. 34-35
 

jpeter

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#6
jpeter,

I recall reading somewhere that at one time abolition societies in the South outnumbered those in the North. Got any information on this idea?

Sincerely,
Unionblue
UB, I remember you mentioning that once, and I couldn't believe it then.

According to this book, that appears not to be the case - although it doesn't say so specifically. There was a national organization where chapters sometimes responded. The Southern chapters were very few and frequently had little to report. There is no record that I've read yet that suggests there were any organized movement in the Deep South - and only three Upper South states appeared to have organized meetings.

I'll let you know if I find something about that farther along in this book, but what I've read so far heavily suggests that was not the case. Abolition societies in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were well attended by the 1780s and those two states alone must have outnumbered those in the South.
 

jpeter

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A tragic example of the law of unintended consequences. Even so, some Southerners continued to support abolition, but it was a dangerous business by this time:
I think the most violent forms of retribution towards southern abolition increased as you moved towards the middle of the 19th century.

Apparently, a few black schools cropped in Virginia and Maryland in the 1780s or 1790s I think. There were protests against these schools even then, and most were forced to close before 1800.
 

unionblue

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I'll let you know if I find something about that farther along in this book, but what I've read so far heavily suggests that was not the case. Abolition societies in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were well attended by the 1780s and those two states alone must have outnumbered those in the South.
jpeter,

Appreciate it.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

jpeter

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#10
I should mention the fact that Louisiana had a completely different set of attitudes than that of the rest of the South.

They did not have abolition societies, but they had a huge creole class as the French and Spanish traded jabs in Caribbean waters. Many of the French and Spanish soldiers took black wives going back to the 1600s. Many of those same soldiers took some interest in their children's education and well-being. Many of this creole class made it's way to New Orleans and Mobile by the time of the American transfer in 1803.

Many of these mulattoes had established militias that protected New Orleans against the Natchez Indians during Spanish rule. By the time Andrew Jackson began to recruit for the Battle of New Orleans, these militia groups had established some respect.... and behaved admirably during that brief war. Although slavery was still protected in Louisiana, free blacks had many more rights than the average free black in the deep south.... and free blacks did not experience the same restriction of rights that was forced on free blacks in other southern states after 1800.
 

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I think the issue with them is Theodore Weld persuaded them to go on the speaking circuit in the north.

They were abolitionists FROM the South, but did not do their abolition work while IN the South.
Here's a little more info from Professor David Williams (Valdosta State U, Georgia) on the subject:

By the 1830s it was becoming dangerous to express antislavery sentiments in the South. Those who opposed slavery either kept their views hidden or were driven out. The Grimke sisters of South Carolina, Sarah and Angelina, fled to the North where they were active in both the abolitionist and women's rights movements. James G. Birney followed from Alabama to form the Liberty Party, dedicated to slavery's abolition. In 1840 he became its first presidential candidatate. - A People's History of the Civil War, p. 30
 

jpeter

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Here's a little more info from Professor David Williams (Valdosta State U, Georgia) on the subject:
I think that's right. I sort of remember how both Weld and the Grimke Sisters were reluctant to speak anywhere in the South and some places in the North, but I couldn't remember the book I had read that in.

There were abolitionists (and some preachers) who were tarred and feathered in the deep South for their anti-slavery views.... but I can't recall reading specifics on these people.
 

ole

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#16
The caution flag was flying. Today, a hostile crowd just waves posters and shouts down the speaker. Then, you'd be quite lucky to be only tarred and feathered.
 

Nathanb1

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Rev. Anthony Bewley, from The Handbook of Texas Online:

By 1858, after serving for ten years in Northern Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri, Bewley had moved his family to Johnson County, Texas, and established a mission sixteen miles south of Fort Worth. Although he was considered to be weak on the slavery issue by some northern Methodists, his antislavery views were threatening to southerners. Thus, when vigilance committees alleged in the summer of 1860 that there was a widespread abolitionist plot to burn Texas towns and murder their citizens, suspicion immediately fell upon Bewley and other outspoken critics of slavery (see TEXAS TROUBLES). Special attention was focused on Bewley because of an incendiary letter, dated July 3, 1860, addressed to a Rev. William Bewley and supposedly written by a fellow abolitionist, William H. Bailey. Many argued that the letter, which urged Bewley to continue with his work in helping to free Texas from slavery, was a forgery. The letter was widely published, however, and taken by others as evidence of Bewley's involvement with the John Brownites in Texas.
Recognizing the danger, Bewley left for Kansas in mid-July with part of his family. En route he stopped for eleven days in Indian Territory to wait for the remainder of his family and later visited with friends in Benton County, Arkansas. On September 3, 1860, a Texas posse caught up with him near Cassville, Missouri. His captors returned him to Fort Worth on September 13. Late that night vigilantes seized Bewley and delivered him into the hands of a waiting lynch mob. His body was allowed to hang until the next day, when he was buried in a shallow grave. Three weeks later his bones were unearthed, stripped of their remaining flesh, and placed on top of Ephraim Daggett's storehouse, where children made a habit of playing with them. After Bewley's death the Northern Methodists ended their activities in Texas.

According to some historians, they remained there until the end of the Civil War.
 
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#20
This thread is a good opportunity to plug Lacy K. Ford's Deliver Us From Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South. In the book, Prof. Ford traces the evolution of southern white thinking on slavery from roughly the Founding to about 1835. Among many other things, Prof. Ford examines the American Colonization Society (founded 1816), which in the late teens had broad if shallow support in both the lower and upper south. In the early 20s, the Missouri debates and the Denmark Vesey conspiracy caused the lower south to cast a suspicious eye on the ACS, and the Society's campaign for federal funding for removal in the 20s only made things worse. By the late 1820s the ACS was dead in the lower south. Although it retained some influential supporters in the upper south (notably Henry Clay), the ACS came under increasing attack and suspicion there as well as a breeding ground for slave revolts and the opening wedge for abolitionism.

Prof. Ford provides a superb overview of trends such as the battle between paternalism and an older, less sentimental approach to slavery, the key importance of colonization as an element in the thinking of almost all whites willing to contemplate gradual abolition, toleration of and crackdowns on slave education and participation in religion and religious gatherings, the interstate slave trade, the issue of free blacks, and the divergent approaches to slavery between the lower and upper south. He also relates fine and detailed accounts of specific incidents that dramatically affected southern thinking on the topic, such as the Vesey conspiracy. the Negro Seamen Acts, and the abolitionist mail campaign. If the topic is of interest, Prof. Ford's book is highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Deliver-Us-Ev...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1293439466&sr=1-1
 

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