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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: Black Slaveowners

Monday, April 04, 2016

Black Slaveowners

By John C. Whatley

Here’s yet another group of people who never existed.

Ask any revisionist historian and you’ll get the answers: No Jews died by the Nazis; the WBTS was fought over and only over slavery; no Blacks fought for the Confederacy; no women fought for the Confederacy; Northern troops fought to free the slaves. Yes, revisionist historians have been working overtime trying to find evidence to support the above, but, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, their erroneous facts still prevail.

John Casor was brought from Africa in the 1640s to work as an indentured servant for a Virginia landowner. After working several years past the indenture, Casor filed suit in Northampton County Court alleging that his master, Anthony Johnson, had unjustly extended the term of his indenture with the intent of making him a slave. On 8 March 1655 the court ruled that “the said Jno Casor Negro shall forthwith bee returned unto the service of his master Anthony Johnson”, where he essentially remained a slave for life. What is interesting about this case is that both Casor and Johnson were black. Even though a slave, Casor witnessed in 1672 the will of Mary Johnson, Anthony’s wife, and even registered his own cattle brand.

Slavery existed all over what is now the United States. Prior to the white man’s arrival, American Indians owned slaves, who were captured from opposing forces in tribal wars. The various Indian tribes had differing modes of slavery. While some worked their slaves to an early grave, tribes like the Seminoles allowed them large freedoms and even the right to carry weapons, including rifles.

With the arrival of the white man, the Indian tribes were sold into slavery and transferred to the Caribbean islands. The Cherokees settled down and became civilized; one of their arguments against their removal west was that they were slaveowners, having large slave holdings that were removed west with them.

In South Carolina William Ellison was the State’s largest black landowner. Born a slave and named “April”, he was manumitted – or freed – in 1816 knowing the trades of carpentry, blacksmithing, machining, and bookkeeping. With this knowledge, he set up shop to make cotton gins, at which he was remarkably successful. By 1820 he had purchased two male slaves to work in the business. By 1840 he had 30 slaves, and by 1860 he had 63. He purchased the plantation next door to Confederate Gen. Dick Anderson before The War, and his sons and their wives lived there.

During The War the Ellisons converted their plantation into producing corn, bacon, and cotton for the Confederacy. They paid more than $5000 in taxes during The War and bought more than $9000 in Confederate bonds. Ellison’s grandson, John Wilson Buckner, a free black, enlisted in the 1st South Carolina Artrillery. Thus the Ellison family had the distinction of being two things revisionist historians claim never were: black slaveowners and black Confederates.

Any slaveowner could free any slave by a process called “manumission” for any reason. The slaveowner freeing a slave generally gave him/her some sort of receipt announcing to the world he/she was free; otherwise, someone else could claim him/her as a slave for himself. These manumission documents were also generally recorded in the local courthouse. The most common of these documents, of course, was the last will and testament. Since slaves were a class of property, they could be passed on via a will to whomever, or freed. Of the many wills still extant, the vast majority of slaves freed were female. Some have gathered from this that they were the mistresses of the slaveowners, yet in many cases their freedom was secured, but that of their offspring was not.

In many cases, these offspring were ordered sold, or given to the administrator of the estate to handle as he “might see fit.” As this new class of person, the free person of color, began to emerge, the State legislatures began to restrict this new freedom. In 1800 the South Carolina Legislature required manumitted slaves to leave the State. So under this law it was easier for a free person of color to merely purchase his family rather than have them run out of the State. In Washington, D.C., one black slaveowner, who owned numerous members of his family, was compensated for his “slaves”, and listed his wife, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles as his slaves, making a tidy profit.

In 1806 South Carolina prohibited renting property directly to slaves. In 1820 the legislature banned personal manumission; it had to be by petition to both houses of the legislature. The courts thereupon entered the fray, deciding that anyone one-fourth (grandchildren) or one-eighth (great-grandchildren) Negro would be considered white!

By 1860 States were even limiting blacks’ ability to own property. North Carolina prohibited blacks to “buy, purchase, or hire for any length of time any slave or slaves, or to have any slave or slaves bound as apprentice or apprentices.”

Even with all this, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was as onerous to the black slaveowner as it was to the white slaveowner. Its later effect made them paupers again.

John Whatley is a retired USArmy field artillery officer and long-time correspondent on The War, with over 200 by-lined articles published. He is the author of the Typical Confederate Series (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina) and is working on Tennessee. All are $10.00 each from [Sorry, Union funds only.]


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