Southern Abolition Societies

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jpeter

1st Lieutenant
Retired Moderator
Joined
Dec 14, 2007
Location
Dallas, TX
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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