Slavery As a Cause of the American Revolution

15 Jun

Hat tip to lunchcountersitin over at All Other Persons for an in depth book review and opinion piece  –

Was Slavery a Cause of the Revolutionary War? Yes. (Book Review of SLAVE NATION)

Revolutionary War Sailor

Revolutionary War Sailor

The book – Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen which seeks to prove that the impact of legal decisions in England relative to slavery as being one of the major contributing factors in the Southern slave holding states being willing to join the American Revolution.

At the time of the Revolutionary War, just as at the start of the Civil War, the South was the wealthiest portion of the soon to be country. The entire economic basis of that was built on slavery. Southerners lived in perpetual fear of slave uprisings, and the economic consequences of slave escapes could be devastating. Fear of their money train ending may have been enough to push Southerners into the Revolution, despite close ties to England as a market for most of their product.

In February 1776 South Carolina was one of six colonies whose delegates to Continental Congress were instructed not to vote for independence. As late as 1 July, South Carolina was still voting no – even after the British attack at Sullivan’s Island. South Carolina would not sign the Declaration of Independence until August 2nd.

South Carolina’s governing class was the richest in England’s mainland colonies, and recognized their wealth was wed to trade with England. These ties would continue post Revolution, and form the basis for England’s “neutrality” in financially siding with the South during the Civil War.

Despite the fear of slavery being outlawed,Loyalists made up a majority of the population of South Carolina and Georgia (As well as New York and Pennsylvania), and nearly 35,000 took up arms under the British Flag. The fall of Charleston to the British on 12 May 1780 was the worst patriot defeat of the war. Soon after,  South Carolina and Georgia were both overrun by the British aided by strong Loyalist support.

A year earlier Continental Congress had urged both states to meet the impending disaster by arming slaves. Both refused. In 1780 and early 1781 serious consideration was given to making peace by letting Britain keep these southernmost slave holding colonies.

Drawn into the war, South Carolina had little in the way of an Army to oppose the British. They came up with a way to encourage enlistments – In March 1781 General Thomas Sumter offered payment in slaves taken from loyalists.

General Andrew Pickens followed suit, but General Francis Marion, who doubted Sumter’s power to make the offer, spurned this recruiting device. These payrolls were made out in March and April 1782 after the legislature confirmed Sumter’s proclamation; they show the slaves already received and the “balance due.” The bounty ranged from “three grown negroes and one small negro” for each colonel to “one grown negro” for each private.

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Posted by on June 15, 2009 in Black History


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