Were All White Overseers Cruel to Slaves?

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
There were northern slaveholders for a period, and even non-white slaveholders. People are free to bring those up if they want, I don't see a prohibition on that.

But Drew, here's the reality: when the Civil War began, there were just 18 enslaved persons living above the Mason Dixon line/Ohio River. The overwhelming majority of persons who lived as enslaved people dying the history of this nation lived below the Mason Dixon line/Ohio River.

Alan, I understand this. I also understand that markets voracious for products produced below the M/D line by slave labor were above said line and beyond.

We're getting way off topic here and I apologize for my own contribution to the thread drift.
 

MattL

Guest
Joined
Aug 20, 2015
Location
SF Bay Area
Alan, I understand this. I also understand that markets voracious for products produced below the M/D line by slave labor were above said line and beyond.

We're getting way off topic here and I apologize for my own contribution to the thread drift.

As usual you can always start another thread to tackle any other related topics you might want, I know I and others would be more than willing to participate. Maybe start with some data about the voracious markets, numbers on where the slave products of the South went, how much of them went to the North, how much of the North's products were from Southern slave labor, how it all compares to other exporters, costs, value, etc, etc...

Certainly a relevant topic to US history if not really that relevant to this specific conversation. Feel free to start that thread, that conversation and throw out some relevant data and sources and again I and others I'm sure would love to join in.
 

Republican Blues

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 13, 2010
Location
on the Savannah Station..
One thing. People, quite naturally hear the phrase slavery or enslavement and automatically think plantations and agriculture..and also forget that the South had urban areas. And there were slaves in those urban areas. Many of those enslaved people were actually quite skilled. Masons, Carpenters, carriage and wheel makers, domestics, etc. Individual households had a few, and in Savannah, the Marshall House, Pulaski House and City Hotel had enslaved people on staff, and the city had enslaved people in the sanitation department. In Savannah, many of these people lived in a weird sort of half freedom. They worked more or less the regular hours of any other laborer, had Sundays off, attended church in one of three churches (where I work is right next to 1st African Baptist and 1st Bryan Baptist (both are amazing structures and 1st Bryan was used in the series Underground) and 1st African was said to have been used as a station in the UGRR.

Charles H. Olmstead in his memoir describes seeing the enslaved people.in their free time going about in the gayest of outfits.

iIRC, Savannah had laws about punishment.. but I have to double check

Just a peak into how things were in the city..morally just? Oh HADES no!! But a far cry better than on any plantation, no matter how fair or harsh the Planter..
 
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AshleyMel

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
One thing. People, quite naturally hear the phrase slavery or enslavement and automatically think plantations and agriculture..and also forget that the South had urban areas. And there were slaves in those urban areas. Many of those enslaved people were actually quite skilled. Masons, Carpenters, carriage and wheel makers, domestics, etc. Individual households had a few, and in Savannah, the Marshall House, Pulaski House and City Hotel had enslaved people on staff, and the city had enslaved people in the sanitation department. In Savannah, many of these people lived in a weird sort of half freedom. They worked more or less the regular hours of any other laborer, had Sundays off, attended church in one of three churches (where I work is right next to 1st African Baptist and 1st Bryan Baptist (both are amazing structures and 1st Bryan was used in the series Underground) and 1st African was said to have been used as a station in the UGRR.

Charles H. Olmstead in his memoir describes seeing the enslaved people.in their free time going about in the gayest of outfits.

iIRC, Savannah had laws about punishment.. but I have to double check

Just a peak into how things were in the city..morally just? Oh HADES no!! But a far cry better than on any plantation, no matter how fair or harsh the Planter..

I was born in Savannah and I love the history there!
 

ForeverFree

Major
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
I crafted the thread because my George Stephenson lived in the South. Slavery was approved in the North as long as it was profitable. When factory owners in the North discovered that they could get more work out of a paid factory worker than they could a slave they turned from slavery.

That is not true. Discussing that is something for a whole new thread. But to make a long story short, during the Revolution, and after it, there was a real abolition movement in the Northern states. People began gradual emancipation policies because the Revolution had led them to believe that all men were entitled to freedom. This move to gradual emancipation predated the expanse of factories.

I don't want to subvert the thread, but I want to offer just this:

Pennsylvania, An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, 1780
WHEN we contemplate our abhorrence of that condition to which the arms and tyranny of Great Britain were exerted to reduce us; when we look back on the variety of dangers to which we have been exposed, and how miraculously our wants in many instances have been supplied, and our deliverances wrought, when even hope and human fortitude have become unequal to the conflict; we are unavoidably led to a serious and grateful sense of the manifold blessings which we have undeservedly received from the hand of that Being from whom every good and perfect gift cometh. Impressed with these ideas, we conceive that it is our duty, and we rejoice that it is in our power to extend a portion of that freedom to others, which hath been extended to us; and a release from that state of thraldom to which we ourselves were tyrannically doomed, and from which we have now every prospect of being delivered.

It is not for us to enquire why, in the creation of mankind, the inhabitants of the several parts of the earth were distinguished by a difference in feature or complexion. It is sufficient to know that all are the work of an Almighty Hand. We find in the distribution of the human species, that the most fertile as well as the most barren parts of the earth are inhabited by men of complexions different from ours, and from each other; from whence we may reasonably, as well as religiously, infer, that He who placed them in their various situations, hath extended equally his care and protection to all, and that it becometh not us to counteract his mercies.

We esteem it a peculiar blessing granted to us, that we are enabled this day to add one more step to universal civilization, by removing as much as possible the sorrows of those w ho have lived in undeserved bondage, and from which, by the assumed authority of the kings of Great Britain, no effectual, legal relief could be obtained. Weaned by a long course of experience from those narrower prejudices and partialities we had imbibed, we find our hearts enlarged with kindness and benevolence towards men of all conditions and nations; and we conceive ourselves at this particular period extraordinarily called upon, by the blessings which we have received, to manifest the sincerity of our profession, and to give a Substantial proof of our gratitude.

SECT. 2. And whereas the condition of those persons who have heretofore been denominated Negro and Mulatto slaves, has been attended with circumstances which not only deprived them of the common blessings that they were by nature entitled to, but has cast them into the deepest afflictions, by an unnatural separation and sale of husband and wife from each other and from their children; an injury, the greatness of which can only be conceived by supposing that we were in the same unhappy case. In justice therefore to persons So unhappily circumstanced, and who, having no prospect before them whereon they may rest their sorrows and their hopes, have no reasonable inducement to render their service to society, which they otherwise might; and also in grateful commemoration of our own happy deliverance from that state of unconditional submission to which we were doomed by the tyranny of Britain.

SECT. 3. Be it enacted, and it is hereby enacted, by the representatives of the freeman of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in general assembly met, and by the authority of the same, That all persons, as well Negroes and Mulattoes as others, who shall be born within this state from and after the passing of this act, shall not be deemed and considered as servants for life, or slaves; and that all servitude for life, or slavery of children, in consequence of the slavery of their mothers, in the case of all children born within this state, from and after the passing of this act as aforesaid, shall be, and hereby is utterly taken away, extinguished and for ever abolished.
Two things of note:
1) The act was passed during the Revolution, before there were all these factory workers.

2) The act cites the freedom fervor of the revolution as a reason for the law; for example it is noted that the act was "also in grateful commemoration of our own happy deliverance from that state of unconditional submission to which we were doomed by the tyranny of Britain." Of course it also says that slavery is simply wrong, and so rightly ended.

This is definitely off-topic, but I wanted to put this buzz in your ear, this is something you can research if you wish.

- Alan
 

ForeverFree

Major
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
One thing. People, quite naturally hear the phrase slavery or enslavement and automatically think plantations and agriculture..and also forget that the South had urban areas. And there were slaves in those urban areas. Many of those enslaved people were actually quite skilled. Masons, Carpenters, carriage and wheel makers, domestics, etc. Individual households had a few, and in Savannah, the Marshall House, Pulaski House and City Hotel had enslaved people on staff, and the city had enslaved people in the sanitation department. In Savannah, many of these people lived in a weird sort of half freedom. They worked more or less the regular hours of any other laborer, had Sundays off, attended church in one of three churches (where I work is right next to 1st African Baptist and 1st Bryan Baptist (both are amazing structures and 1st Bryan was used in the series Underground) and 1st African was said to have been used as a station in the UGRR.

Charles H. Olmstead in his memoir describes seeing the enslaved people.in their free time going about in the gayest of outfits.

iIRC, Savannah had laws about punishment.. but I have to double check

Just a peak into how things were in the city..morally just? Oh HADES no!! But a far cry better than on any plantation, no matter how fair or harsh the Planter..

I just started reading Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War by Jacqueline Jones. It's very interesting. I hope to take a trip to Charleston and Savannah in the next year or so. My mother's family is from SC but she never goes there. I hope to make a nice visit and take in some history and the food.

- Alan
 

Republican Blues

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 13, 2010
Location
on the Savannah Station..
I just started reading Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War by Jacqueline Jones. It's very interesting. I hope to take a trip to Charleston and Savannah in the next year or so. My mother's family is from SC but she never goes there. I hope to make a nice visit and take in some history and the food.

- Alan

If ya make it to Savannah, let me know and I'll give ya a tour of the museum, and point ya out to few other points of interest!!
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
My 2nd great-grandfather, George Alexander Stephenson, 1822-1893, is listed as an "overseer" on the 1860 Census of Giles County,Tennessee. In 1850,George was living in the home of Carson P. Reed who owned at least 50 slaves. I assume that George was still working for Carson P. Reed in 1860. I know that I can't be held responsible for what my ancestors did, but I hope my George was not the typical stereotype of an overseer who whipped the slaves and did other cruel things to them. My only hope is that Carson P. Reed, a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher, was kind to his slaves. Are there any accounts of overseers who contradict the typical stereotype of overseers?
Would you please to restate your question as to were black and white overseers cruel? There were overseers that were slaves but had earned the position as overseers. Some would work at overseeing the slaves who worked around the plantation area and some who would become very good at business part of the plantation.Jefferson educated some of his slaves into learning skills so they would supervise other slaves [diplomatic way of saying oversee}.Like certain Jews would over see certain jobs in concentration camps or work camps with the idea that they would survive.
 

tdstepen

Corporal
Joined
Nov 16, 2015
Location
Texas
Would you please to restate your question as to were black and white overseers cruel? There were overseers that were slaves but had earned the position as overseers. Some would work at overseeing the slaves who worked around the plantation area and some who would become very good at business part of the plantation.Jefferson educated some of his slaves into learning skills so they would supervise other slaves [diplomatic way of saying oversee}.Like certain Jews would over see certain jobs in concentration camps or work camps with the idea that they would survive.
Since my George Stephenson was white, I worded the question as I did. Someone else,if they wish, could start a thread on black overseers who were cruel. Both blacks and whites took part in "Man's inhumanity to man."
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
While it doesn't confirm anything one way or another, what I do know is that there is definitely circumstantial evidence that the South was not a flat stereotype.

They are as follows:

1) The detail that the price of a slave was reduced considerably if they had been whipped, because it meant they were disobedient.
The reason this is important is that it shows not all slaves were whipped - that whipping was not a punishment dealt out lightly, in fact, because it would knock several hundred dollars off the value of the property.

2) The mention in northern newspapers of black men serving in the Confederate army in an armed capacity.
While this may be propoganda and not real, it would be an odd thing for the New York Times to invent - though the article was during the discussion around recruiting USCT, as I understand it, so perhaps they might have made it up. The article doesn't claim it was common, mind, just that there were a few.

3) The fact that, when a Confederate army was captured, there were substantial contingents of "negro" along with it.
These men were probably with the supply train for the most part, but free or slave they were certainly with the army. We know it was not exactly hard for men to desert the armies in the Civil War (indeed at one time nearly a third of those who were enrolled with the Union armies had gone absent - that's late-war) and it raises the question of why cruelly treated slaves would stick with an army unable to keep hold of their line troops!


What this means is not that slaves "had it good", but that slavery was complex. It's quite possible for your relative to have felt himself an enlightened man because his employer (say) let his slaves work a half day on Sunday, didn't use the whip but relied on the threat of sale to keep them working, even gave them small sums of money for themselves (though that's probably quite extreme!). None of these are outside the bounds of what historical slavery had been in other cultures (the personal money for slaves is the kind of thing one saw in Rome, for example) and it's still a bad thing from the modern perspective where slavery is seen as evil. (And rightly so, of course.)

But for someone brought up in that time and with slavery as a basic assumption, as it had been for most of human history? I think it's quite possible for them to have treated their slaves well relative to other slave owners, and to have felt themselves quite virtuous because of it! And we should not condemn all slave-owners as equally bad, simply because there is a difference between "made to work for no pay" and "made to work for no pay and beaten". They're both bad, but not both equally bad.


This is a difficult topic, as slavery often is, and it's hard to try and examine this as a complex issue without saying something that could be (mis)construed as support for slavery in some form or other. I'll simply say that, if the South had been uniformly as brutal as the worst examples from history, there wouldn't have been a South left to enter the Civil War in the first place - it would have self-destructed already.
Jefferson Davis refused to have any of his slaves whipped for any reason. He also allowed them to grow their own gardens and have their own laws and jury on the plantation. He regarded them as family.
I read that in his biography.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Jefferson Davis refused to have any of his slaves whipped for any reason. He also allowed them to grow their own gardens and have their own laws and jury on the plantation. He regarded them as family.
I read that in his biography.
It's worth tracing the sources back on that one, I think; it'd be quite easy for someone to invent hagiography for someone like that. That said, it's also not completely implausible, because - well - slavery was complex.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Here's the source @Saphroneth : Jefferson Davis, a memoir by his wife Varina Davis, Volume 1, Centennial Edition, The Nautical & Aviation Company of America, Baltimore, MD, INTRODUCTION page XXV111
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
But when the war came, it turns out they didn't regard him as family.
I can only comment on what Varina said. And many of their slaves were fond of the Davis family evidently.
In 1890, Varina did recall that looking back, she saw the injustice in it and digested it to her readers.
You should read the biography. It’s very interesting and helps unravel some of the mystery behind Jefferson Davis.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
I can only comment on what Varina said. And many of their slaves were fond of the Davis family evidently.
In 1890, Varina did recall that looking back, she saw the injustice in it and digested it to her readers.
You should read the biography. It’s very interesting and helps unravel some of the mystery behind Jefferson Davis.
I suggest that Varina might have been wearing rose colored glasses. In Stephanie McCurry's Confederate Reckoning and other works describes the rebellious Davis slaves.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Interesting. I guess it just depends on whose story to believe. History is such a mystery sometimes.
Okay, I'm sorry I'm continuing to beat this horse to death but I found another interesting source to back up my assertion that Jeff Davis treated his slaves like family.
The John Hopkins University Press, "Jefferson Davis, the Negroes and the Negro Problem" by Walter L. Fleming. The Sewanee Review, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp.407-427
On the first page it quotes, "Never were there more intimate friendships between whites and blacks than between Davis and his servants."
This reference backs up my assertion that Davis' view of slavery and the negro in the South prior to 1860 based on his public speeches and writings. Davis saw that slavery introduced the black man to a more civilized culture - religion, language, custom and industry. All of which the black man did indeed adopt.
It's an interesting and lengthy read but one worth reading.
Jeff Davis was quiet and complex. He never wanted the south to secede from the Union but reluctantly accepted the presidency of the Confederacy because he felt it was his duty.
 
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