More Excerpts from my Writing: A Brief History of Slavery and the Role that Cazenovia Played

Cazenovia, NY  is known for hosting one of the most famous meetings of the abolitionist movement.

Fig. 72 The Free Slave Meeting

The first slaves were likely the product of war in prehistoric times. In earliest recorded history, it was the exchange of one’s freedom for one’s life by the losing side of warring parties (Babylonian Code of Hammurabi 1760 BC, the Shang dynasty in China 1700-1300, Homer’s Odyssey in Mycenean Greece 1178 BC ). Biblically, it has been presented as punishment, and also as an economic solution to famine. Among American Indians, slaves would be taken from tribes they had conquered in war. Because slaves were traditionally from a warring party, it becomes clear that slavery as an institution was both an act of aggression (albeit an appeased one) and a dominance of those who are feared. In older societies, it was somewhat tempered by the effort required to sustain the enslaved population. However, as with the “illegal” immigrants in New Mexico who have recently been targeted by new laws for “being a burden”, when power is unevenly distributed, those at the bottom will bear highest burden of hurt.  I’m sure that someone has done an economic analysis of population size, wealth, and economic contribution by those who work the hardest for the least return.

In ancient times, women and children were the preferred slaves, as men were considered more dangerous and capable of revolt. The men were often killed; the male children as well. Although slavery is discussed in parables by Jesus, and supported by example from the apostle Paul, in areas where Christianity developed, the moral imperative of “serving one another”, and “the dignity of every human through Christ”, largely replaced slavery with serfdom. It was still a pretty brutal system.

The moral abhorrence that is slavery was recognized and banned over the years by several governments (Cyrus the Great in Persia 6th century BC, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and France between 12-14th centuries, Poland and Japan around 1600). In the 15th and 16th century, a different kind of slavery was established – one that was based upon greed and race. These were often not slaves derived as a by-product of war, but, they nonetheless, were subject to the same institution of systematized diffused aggression and oppression. Once in this system, paradoxically, the more the oppressed is abused, the more fearful the oppressor becomes of retaliation. It was a dynamic that viciously consumed innocent human beings and, with instability, generated abuse and the response of a desire for revolt. This slavery would produce war, rather than be caused by it. It seemingly began about the same time in Portugal and Spain with explorers (50 years before Columbus), and was established as an industry with the first sugar plantation on the island of Madeira owned by Portugal. During the Portuguese colonization of modern day Mauritania, the first slave-fort was erected – the castle at Arguin, followed shortly by a second one in modern day Ghana – the castle at Elmina . With the exploration of the Congo and the development of the sugar industry, the slave trade flourished.

In 1493 the first transatlantic shipment of slaves occurred with Christopher Columbus. These first transatlantic slaves were Taino and native American (they were captured and returned to Spain), followed by Juan de Cordoba’s shipment of the first African slave to America in 1502 . By 1518, shiploads of African slaves were arriving regularly. Over the course of the next 350 years, somewhere between 5 and 30 million people would make the 6-8 week voyage under the most horrific conditions . Many did not survive the trip.

“In one of my voyages, which was particularly unhealthy, we have found eight or ten dead in a morning. In the _____ we purchased 350 slaves, and buried 6; in a second voyage, in the same ship, we purchased 350, and buried 200; and in the _____ we purchased about 370, and buried about 100.”

Rev. T. Clarkson, An Essay on the Comparative Efficiency of Regulation or Abolition, as applied to the Slave Trade: shewing that the latter only can remove the evils to be found in that commerce .

The frontier was a hard life, and it is questionable whether many would have had the fortitude to develop it voluntarily. Certainly, many of the grand mansions and lifestyles would not have existed without slavery. By the time of the revolution, enslaved Africans numbered 450 000 and slavery was practiced in all 13 colonies. The British army actively recruited the slaves of the Patriot masters, promising them liberty, and it is estimated that 1000 fought for the crown . Almost 20 times that number left with the British. It is estimated that about 5000 were drafted into the revolutionary army largely after 1777 .

From the earliest inception of democracy and government in the United States, slavery had its opponents. It was a cruel and dehumanizing institution that not only allowed violence and rape, but also split apart families. Indeed, there are stories of women giving birth to children only to kill them to prevent them from entering into this cruelty. Toni Morisson’s 1987 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning Beloved is based on such an incident – the Margaret Garner case . Although the majority of the children survived, they were often taken from their mothers at an early age, and sold. Many did not know who their fathers were. Marriage was illegal among slaves , although it was not uncommon.

When the 13 states were finally established at the end of the revolution, several of them began almost immediately forbidding the sale of human beings, and/or abolishing slavery: Pennsylvania and Massachusetts (1780), Connecticut and Rhode Island (1784); Vermont (1786), New Hampshire (1792); New York (1799); and New Jersey (1804). Slavery was additionally abolished in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. These latter modern states were then territories and a Congressional act (by Rufus King) was signed into law by President George Washington, himself a slave owner and apparently fonder of the more general rather than the specific case, who declared :

“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery]”.

By the turn of the century, the number of enslaved had doubled from its revolutionary value to number 900 000. The importation of slaves from Africa was rendered illegal in 1813, but it continued and another million or so Africans were illegally bought or sold in this country after the ruling. American born slaves continued to be bought and sold. The moral aspect was heavily weighed in the churches.  There were notable stances taken both among the Quakers and the Catholic Church.  The various churches aligned themselves on this issue, and then finally many of them also split along these lines.

In the early 1800s, the Underground Railroad was established through several churches to move enslaved people from their situation across borders to Canada or present-day Mexico. Churches that organized the resistance came primarily from the Quakers, Congregationalists, Weslayens, Reformed Presbyterians, and branches of the Methodist and Baptist denominations . Some estimate that as many as 100 000 people were successfully moved, although the number that crossed the border was far less than this. The railroad operated through a network of homes by having free blacks sneak into enslaved black populations and train them to use a coded language and “conductors” to move from one “station” to the next. William Still, a man who moved about 60 people a month, is considered the “father of the Underground Railroad”. He kept records of those who passed his way . Harriet Tubman, called “a Moses of her People”, was personally responsible for moving 300 from slavery:

“I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off track and I never lost a passenger.”

Although the overwhelming majority of the routes went through Ohio, Cazenovia, NY, was an enormously important station of the Underground Railroad, and a gathering point for free slaves. Its importance stemmed from the fact that if a fugitive could make it to Cazenovia or Watkins Glen on a night time train, they could then board a train to Niagara Falls and cross the border. The New York State Legislature had forbidden the sale of slaves since 1799. It finally abolished slavery altogether in 1813.

In 1850, five years after Frederick Douglas published his autobiography (he taught himself to read), and 2 years before Harriet Beecher Stowe would publish “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, on xxxx September 15, the Fugitive slave act, was introduced to the U.S. Senate. The act would, in effect, supersede the existing Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Prior to September 15, 1850, if a state made a claim to a slave, it was that state’s responsibility to come and get the slave. By the new law, states where slavery was illegal would be required to arrest and return all free slaves to their former owners. The law would also have made it illegal for anyone to harbor or assist fugitive slaves , and it gave national immunity to slave catchers.

A meeting was convened in Cazenovia on August 20-21, 1850 and attended by approximately 2000-3000 people to try to stop the passage of this legislation. The meeting including Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Samuel May, Theodore Weld, James Caleb Jackson, Charles B. Ray and the Edmonson sisters . The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act passed one month later, in spite of their efforts, signed into law by none other than President Fillmore. The meeting helped the resistance to organize though and they would continue to work with others over the next 15 years to end slavery. Indeed, the Underground Railroad would be at its peak during these years. Fillmore, to his credit, in all appearances, did not support slavery. That said, he could have vetoed the bill. He signed it, largely trying to preserve a Union that was destined for a bloody temporary divorce and war, regardless of what he did.

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil … and we must endure it … till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world.” Fillmore

“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The 13th amendment (1865)

Although slavery was abolished in 1865 when the 13th amendment to the constitution was passed shortly after the Civil War ended, it is still evident in other parts of the world: Sudan, India, Haiti, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Gabon . According to some estimates, up to 20% of the population (Haratin) is still enslaved in Mauritania . Not for sale.

There are parallels to be drawn with the situation with “illegal” immigrants. A few years back, I had been up in the Chicago area laying brick with a crew of “illegals”. After getting up at 3 am in the freezing cold in Indianapolis for one week standing every morning on the street corner waiting for work, one guy had finally asked me if I knew how to lay brick. I was desperate. I said yes. We left for a 3 week trip with 10 others. As brainless as it might look, laying brick is actually a 3-dimensional art that is not easily mastered. They took one look at me trying to do it, and then wisely placed me between 2 of the most experienced master bricklayers on the line. One to set an example, the other to clean up after me. The weather was well below freezing, and we had to melt water every morning to make mortar. The crew of 10 and my 3 dogs shared 2 rooms. I slept on the floor in one of the rooms. I remember listening to the guys bantering back and forth in Spanish, and hearing their nicknames – there was Conejo (rabbit – undoubtedly because he was fast) and a few others. I was really happy when they started calling me a nickname. I felt like I had a place and was fitting in. And then, I found out what the nickname meant – “Guera”, white girl. All of the sudden, Guera, get this, Guera do that, had a different kind of intimation. The only thing they could apparently see about me was my whiteness, that and the fact that I was a girl.

After 3 weeks, we finished and left to go back to Indianapolis to wait to get paid. Because the weather was so cold, I couldn’t stay in the car with the 3 dogs I had with me at the time. It was about 20 degrees below freezing, and then there was also the Chicago wind. One of the guys found a room for me upstairs in a house with an open live wire in it somewhere. I let one of the dogs stay with him while I was there, keeping the other 2 with me. Because of the short, there was no electricity upstairs. The bottom was inhabited by an old man who had emphysema and couldn’t climb the stairs.

After a couple of days, we were still waiting for the check, and the old man told me on the way in that the black mafia wanted me out of the room. It was after dark and 13 degrees Fahrenheit outside (almost 20 degrees below freezing). I stood no chance of finding another place. I weighed my odds – surely they wouldn’t come this late. I mentally balanced the risk of certain unpleasant death outside with what I figured was improbable discovery by a hostile group. I snuck back upstairs.

Well, they came. I heard them talking to the old man downstairs, and then I heard someone climbing up the stairs. As the guy opened the door, the little light seeping up the stairs from below, his eyes met mine squarely in the dark while my hands tightly clenched both dogs’ muzzles – one in each hand. He yelled down: “There’s no one up here.”, and turned around and left. It’s as close as I have come to the Underground Railroad.

The oppression of “illegals” is rampant in this country. It’s pretty simple from an abstract point of view. A group of people pass a law making it illegal for another group to participate in the economy. When they break that law by participating, the dominant group then “allows them to work (seemingly for a wage)”, and then confiscates that wage in the form of fines, payments, “broken” car parts, etc, so that there is no net influence on the economy except the benefit derived from the illegals’ labor. Sometimes, and it is even worse, they deliberately destroy whatever work you have done, and redo it.  They take away the freedom of expression that is creation, annihilating you.

It isn’t that hard to make anyone illegal – just find the right majority group, and pass a law to make someone a felon. Drug laws insidiously do this by criminalizing addiction – what is probably a biochemical disposition to behave a certain way when given a specific substance. The counterpoint to this, of course, is that, apart from those who are drugged in the womb, either actively or perhaps latently through the slow release of drugs taken previously by the mother (some of which are fat-soluble and probably slowly released), most of us are not born addicted to drugs. The addiction develops usually after puberty, after a poor choice has been made to try the substance. Only then, do some become slave to the addictive substance, willing to reorganize their lives around it.

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