What follows took place during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur, but when one happens across stupidity of a colossal nature – no matter how long ago it occurred – it deserves to be recognized.
A Sumter, S.C., newspaper called the Watchman and Southron in November 1881 detailed the story of a Georgia man who had $400,000 in Confederate bonds in his possession. He’d purchased them during the war and was being offered 5 cents on the dollar for them, which was probably not an unreasonable offer at the time.
At that price, the individual could have realized about $2,000 in US money, no small amount in those days, particularly given the overall state of the Southern economy less than two decades after the close of the War Between the States.
No deal, however.
The man responded to the offer by stating that he was not only not interested in accepting 5 cents on the dollar, he wanted full value.
“I have a part of a wagon load of Confed. securities but am holding them for $1,000 per thousand,” he wrote in late 1881. “I expect that one of these days that my children will get the full amount of my Confed. money back, together will all my bank stocks. More unpromising things have come to pass.”
Some 150 years after Union forces created the first community in the US specifically for freed slaves, the area once known as Mitchelville is again being debated by the powers that be.
A proposal under consideration by the S.C. Senate includes $200,000 for the Mitchelville Preservation Project on Hilton Head Island.
The nonprofit group seeking to preserve Mitchelville officially formed two years ago, on the eve of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Plans are to buy plots adjoining a 33-acre beachfront town park toward the nonprofit’s long-term goal of recreating parts of the original town, according to The Associated Press.
The former community at the northern end of Hilton Head Island was formed after invading Union Army and Navy troops established headquarters at nearby Port Royal in fall 1861, just a few months after the beginning of the Civil War.
Federal forces created a safe haven for slaves left behind by plantation owners who fled inland and for slaves fleeing from plantations on nearby islands.
What was created was a village of between 1,500 and 2,000, named after Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel.
It included homes built on half-acre parcels, town elections and mandatory schooling. Residents of the self-governing community dispersed after Union troops left in 1868, according to the wire service.
Last week, this blog wrote about a recent study that estimates some 750,000 Americans died during the War Between the States, rather than the 620,000 figure that’s generally been accepted as gospel for more than a century.
However, James Downs of Oxford University Press highlights an important distinction: J. David Hacker, the Binghamton University SUNY historian who compiled the study, included only soldiers in his calculations, failing to reflect the mortality of former slaves during the war.
“If former slaves were included in this figure, the Civil War death toll would likely be over a million casualties,” he writes at OUPBlog.
Hacker published a paper late last year in Civil War History revealing the new 750,000 figure based on demographic methods and sophisticated statistical software he used to study newly digitized US census records from 1850 to 1880.
The calculations yielded the number of “excess” deaths of military-age men between 1860-1870 – the number who died in the war or in the five subsequent years from causes related to the war.
Given the margin of error, deaths from the 1861-65 conflict could have ranged from 617,877 to 851,066. Hacker split the difference and settled on an estimate of 750,000 dead, 21 percent higher than the long-accepted figure.
In Hacker’s study there is only a passing reference to former slaves’ mortality, Downs writes.
A descendant of a chieftain’s son kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in Massachusetts more than 250 years ago will become the first black member inducted into a North Carolina chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution this weekend.
Chaz Moore, 30, is a descendant of Toby Gilmore, the son of a chieftain in coastal West Africa who was kidnapped at 16 and sold into slavery in Massachusetts. He gained his freedom after fighting for American independence against the British.
Moore, a native of Worcester, Mass., only recently learned he had an ancestor who had joined the Colonists’ side during the Revolutionary War.
“Growing up, I wasn’t even certain that African-Americans even fought in the Revolutionary War,” Moore said. “It’s not something that’s talked about. Then to say, ‘Well, yeah, they did, and you’re a direct descendant of one’ was unbelievable, humbling. I had to redefine patriotism for myself.”
Moore has been a Raleigh firefighter for about five years. On Saturday, he’ll become the first black inducted into the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution in a ceremony at the state Museum of History, according to The Associated Press.
A tall chimney, virtually alone in a field denuded of pine trees just days before, stood silhouetted against the winter sun.
Fifty trips down this stretch of South Carolina backcountry had never afforded me the above view, or even knowledge of the structure, or rather, what was left of it.
My first thought was that it was one of the increasingly rare but still extant examples of the havoc wrought by Sherman’s troops during their march through South Carolina in the early months of 1865.
Research shows that the structure, built by Thomas Wadlington in 1858, was indeed consumed by fire, but the conflagration took place some 124 years after Sherman’s bummers laid waste to much of the Palmetto State.
Known as the Keitt House, it was located eight miles east of Newberry, S.C., and was rented and used by the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity chapter of Newberry College from the early 1970s until Oct. 8, 1989, when it fell victim to flames.
Afterward, trees and undergrowth grew around what was left of the structure, mostly just the brick foundation and 30-foot-tall chimney, almost certainly built by slaves in the period just before the War Between the States.
Conventional wisdom holds that the subject of race in the South is an inflexible, immutable issue, separate and distinct as regards blacks and whites. Just as importantly, it always has been, according to popular notion.
A couple of cursory examples:
- Southern blacks today are overwhelmingly seen as being aligned with the Democratic Party, while a solid majority of Southern whites are Republicans; and
- If you visit a so-called “black church” or a “white church” you’ll rarely find many people of the opposite race on hand.
But as selectively segregated as some institutions may appear to be today, there’s no doubt that race relations have thawed considerably in the region over the past 40 years. Obviously, Jim Crow didn’t do a whole lot to bring people of different backgrounds together prior to that, nor was it designed to.
However, one occasionally stumbles across a glimpse of a past that shows that not everything was as neatly delineated between the two races as today’s stereotypical view of yesteryear might have us believe.
If one looks hard enough, there are examples that show the South, like any part of the United States, was and is an infinitely more complex region than today’s television pundits and political opportunists would have us believe.
Case in point: Earlier this month while rambling through the South Carolina Upstate, I came across New Enoree Baptist Church, located in rural Newberry County, about six miles northeast of the town of Newberry.
Slaves in at least one Northern community fared little better than those in the Deep South, according to a New Hampshire newspaper.
The Portsmouth Herald has detailed the findings of a report put together by archaeologists and scientists after a “Negro Burying Ground” was uncovered in the city in 2003.
At that time, a contractor excavating an area for a sewer manhole came across the base of a coffin. Eventually, eight bodies were found, ranging in age from 7 to 40 and all were Africans or of African descent.
“Some showed evidence of the hard work they performed throughout their short lives, some had poor teeth, some had childhood diseases,” according to the publication.
“This and much more was learned painstaking moment by painstaking moment by a group of archaeologists, dendochronologists, forensic anthropologists, historians and biochemists in the wake of the discovery of remains at what was once the city’s ‘Negro Burying Ground.’”
The eight bodies were among an estimated 200 Africans buried in what was then the outskirts of Portsmouth, once New Hampshire’s most populous city, from 1705 to the 1790s.
One of South Carolina’s most historic churches held a homecoming service earlier this month to celebrate an extensive renovation project that enabled it to formally reopen its doors after nearly a decade.
The Church of the Holy Cross, located in the Sumter County community of Stateburg, traces its history back to 1852, when it was built by slaves.
The Gothic Revival cruciform-design church features walls of yellow pise de terre – or rammed earth – and a high-pitched roof of red tile, and contains a rare organ and original carved walnut pews, according to a description of the Episcopalian house of worship on the National Register of Historic Places.
Using an ancient building technique, slaves “pummeled Georgia red clay into wooden forms to create monolithic walls, 18-inches thick,” according to The State newspaper.
By packing earth between wooden molds, tamping it down, and leaving it to dry, the earth became as hard as baked brick.
Don Boudreaux of Café Hayek takes time to highlight an interesting piece from David Freeman Hawke’s 1988 book Everyday Life in Early America; relating, in this instance, to 17th century life in the Palmetto State:
“Peter H. Wood found little discrimination in early South Carolina. ‘Common hardships and the continuing shortage of hands,’ he writes [in 1974], ‘put the different races, as well as separate sexes, upon a more equal footing than they would see in subsequent generations.’ Many scholars now conclude that discrimination set in only during the last quarter of the century when a ‘series of court decisions and statutes began closing the gates of freedom along racial lines,’ changes that finally became codified in Virginia’s slave code of 1705.”
Admittedly not having read the book, a question is raised by the above paragraph:
South Carolina was officially settled by the English in 1670, so are we simply talking about a five-year period before “discrimination set in (1670-1675)?”
Archaeologists working at the College of William & Mary, the nation’s second-oldest college, have found the foundations of a structure that may have housed slaves who cooked and cleaned for students and faculty of the school.
The brick remnants sit next to the Wren Building, at the core of the historic campus. Scholars believe that they are the traces of an outbuilding — possibly sleeping quarters, a kitchen or a laundry — built in the 18th century for slaves who lived and worked at the college, according to the Washington Post.
The find is “a little bit of a miracle” for William & Mary and for Williamsburg, once Virginia’s Colonial capital, a historic district that has been nearly picked clean by archaeologists and anthropologists, said Louise Kale, executive director of the school’s Historic Campus.
“One of the things that this reminds us is there is still wonderful information out there that is being given up by the ground,” she told the Post.