Monday, December 27, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #21: Impressment of Seamen, Class Insurgency and the Knowles Riot in Boston

[Graphic: Boston riot of 1747]
In November 1747, a large insurgency of Boston-based sailors, slaves, and other workers, of English, African and other backgrounds, arose together, seized the city, and held British naval officers hostage for three days. They were demanding the freedom of dozens of their comrades ‘press ganged’ into captivity as would-be sailors on a British warship.
‘No taxation without representation!’ was the major rallying cry we all learned about in school for the 1776 American War of Independence against Britain. I always thought it rather wimpy, something that belonged farther down among a list of outrages or other causes. First, you had to be wealthy enough to pay significant taxes, and second, any of the upper crust sent off to sit in parliament in London was not likely to have matters of the majority--the exploited, the enslaved, and the expropriated—foremost among their concerns.
But what did fire me up as a young student was the stories of the impressment of sailors and their resistance. Perhaps it was because my father was a sailor in WW2 and would tell us stories of his challenges a sea. ‘Impressment,’ moreover, was an odd word, so archaic you had to look it up, along with ‘press gang’ that went with it.
So I dug into it, and the more I learned, the more outrage I could feel. For starters, seamen of any sort in the Atlantic in these years had a hard and dangerous life. They were ‘motley crews’ made up of all nationalities and skin colors, free and escaped slaves. and Native peoples too. They were captured or ‘pressed’ into the ships in what amounted to kidnapping outside the law. Their rations were so poor as to leave them diseased before reaching a port. Captains were permitted to whip them, so long as they avoided the limit of mutiny. And they were paid little, and sometimes not at all. They had at times to wait a year for their pay, and were dead or long gone elsewhere. Once in port, they often tried to escape, and any new targets of ‘press gangs’ often resisted.
Charles Knowles was ‘Admiral’ of the British warship being repaired not far from Boston. His crew was hanging out in town or nearby, and a good number decided to seek other livelihoods as best as they could. The Admiral needed to fill out his crew, so if you were a young laborer of any sort anywhere near the docks, you were a target for kidnapping and made to be a sailor. even if you had never been to sea. The ‘press gangs,’ moreover, killed two laborers who resisted.
So this time, the young men had enough of it. They rebelled and seized several British officers as hostages of their own, demanding the release of those ‘impressed.’ The streets were in turmoil for three days, and the history books call it ‘Knowles Riot,’ after the Admiral. It would be better described as a ‘motley’ class revolt of sailors, laborers, and slaves against their British overlords and any local appeasers.
‘Town officials,’ states Wikipedia, ‘claimed that “the said Riotous Tumultuous Assembly consisted of Foreign Seamen, Servants, Negros & other Persons of mean & vile condition." Some historians believe this was an effort to deflect blame, while others treat it as fact. Hutchinson estimated the crowd's size at "several thousand," remarkable in a city with a population of just 16,000. In addition to sailors and other maritime workers, the crowd likely included most of Boston's militia, as well as some middle-class shopkeepers and merchants, women, and others whose lives were affected by impressment.’
In the end, a bargain was struck, and the hostages were freed and returned to their ship, while the ‘impressed’ Boston residents were also set free. Eleven men were arrested, three were fined and the rest were let go.
One young Bostonian, a budding journalist named Sam Adams, was quite impressed with the entire event. He wrote up an early pamphlet of his own on the matter, fearful of signing it with his own name, using ‘Amicus Patrie’ instead. Using the ideas of John Locke, he argued: "For when they are suddenly attack'd, without the least Warning, and by they know not whom; I think they are treated as in a State of Nature, and have a natural Right, to treat their Oppressors, as under such Circumstances."
What the slaves and free Blacks had to say, however, is unknown. There was no one recording it. Nor do we know the future of all these insurgents as to whether they became ‘settlers’ set against the Native people to their West. Several accounts state that a good number of them were ‘Scotch,’ which could have meant either immigrants from Scotland or the Ulster ‘Scots-Irish.’ In either case, they were likely, if they lived, to have become settlers and dispersers of Native peoples, a life with new contradictions. More to come.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #20: Christian Priber, the Western Cherokee and Early Utopian Communism

{Graphic: Painting of Cherokee 'Kingdom of Paradise' town.]
Christian Priber is not a name we’re likely to come across in the standard American histories of Turtle Island after the European entrance. Save for early histories of Georgia and the hinterlands of the Carolinas now known as Tennessee, where he was a minor if fascinating character, he would be far below the radar.
Yet he fits into an important part of these narratives which aim at telling larger stories sometimes counterfactual to the dominant ‘frontier settler colonialism’ we all learned. One point my accounts imply is that just because something happened, it wasn’t always inevitable—at least not in any strict sense. History, even of the historical materialism school, often has a contingent dimension. There are forks in the road where choices are made. And sometimes there are counter-events that are contradictory but prescient in certain ways. They can be brushed aside as ‘duds’ or 'dead ends’ or praised as ‘ahead of their times.’
Christian Priber (1697-1744) is a case in point. He was a utopian communist who decided the Cherokee people were best suited to his ideas, which, among other things, included forming a wide confederacy of native peoples to resist and defend against the contending forces of European colonialism. He was not alone, and I have earlier noted a few other cases--the Fort Christina commune in New Sweden, the African autonomous zone of Fort Mose, the Albemarle Settlement of intermingled Quakers, Levelers and Native Peoples in North Carolina, and the maroon colonies in the Great Dismal Swamp. Save for the latter, all these were short-lived, even if they made waves for a while. We will discuss more of them going forward.
But let’s return to comrade Priber. He was raised in a middle-class German family well-off enough to get him through Erfurt University where he had studied law and philosophy. He had come to embrace radical notions of natural law, not unlike the radical wing of the Cromwellian 'diggers' in England. He came to oppose not only private property in the means of creating wealth, but also all hierarchical class rule based on such property. His efforts to organize around his outlook found him in deep trouble, first in Germany, and then in England as well, where he had fled. He soon requested, and received, permission to migrate to the new colony of Georgia.
Priber arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1735. Oddly, or so it seemed, he quickly took out an ad to sell all his worldly goods, and did so, save for what he needed to make a journey far inland, to the homeland of the Western Cherokee. He had apparently made a study of these people, and decided they were best suited for his ideas on an ideal social order--but not in the ways that other settler-colonial missionaries had set out on projects of ‘Christianizing savages.’ In this period, the size of the Cherokee was also nearly cut in half by smallpox.
Despite troubles and some differences, Priber liked the Cherokee pretty much as they were. So he set about to transform himself, as best as he could, into one of them. Already a master of four or five languages, he quickly learned Cherokee and worked on learning all about their ways and culture, wearing their clothes, paint and ornaments. Visiting traders found it hard to tell him apart, except when he spoke with them in their own languages. Other young Europeans of the day, down on their luck, had sometimes decided on ‘living among the Indians’ and rarely returning. But few did it with the same approach as Priber.
Over several years, Priber tried to be helpful to the Cherokee. Seeing they were often cheated by traders because they lacked appropriate standards of weights and measures, he created a set and taught them how to use them in transactions. He also taught them how to make and shape iron and even steel for themselves, and projected making gunpowder as well. He encouraged them to welcome all escaping debtors, bondservants or slaves, of any color or nationality. The Cherokee, for their part, adopted him and gave him the title ‘beloved man’ and rejected all English attempts to return him.
The Cherokee already had a communal approach to property and the produce of their farming and hunting. Women already held a degree of power in a matrilineal society where the homes and tools were largely in their collective hands, even while the males were relegated to hunting and warfare. Priber was a bit more radical on ideas of marriage and divorce, arguing his version of ‘free love’, that either men or women should form or dissolve unions at will. It likely raised an eyebrow or two even among the Cherokee, whose children were bound to their mothers and their mother’s siblings. Priber simply argued they were simply the responsibility of all in a given village.
“Women would live with the same freedom as the men; they should be free to change husbands every day; the children who would be born would belong to the republic and be cared for and instructed in all things that their genius be capable of acquiring.” (from the journal of Antoine Bonnefoy, a French trader who met Priber at Tellico, [a large Cherokee town])”
But the wider politics of the ‘Kingdom of Paradise,’ as the Priber project was called, had more impact among its adversaries. First, it was open to all Indians and to be ruled by Indians, an anti-colonial project. Second, Priber argued that the Cherokee should stop any more ceding of land to the Europeans, explaining it was all part of a larger plot to take all of the Native lands. Third, he argued for a broad alliance or confederacy of all Southern native peoples against the Europeans, playing one or another against the other if need be.
When venturing out to win the Creeks to this project, Priber was captured by a small group of them, who sold him to the English, and he ended up in a Georgia jail. But even there, he was undeterred, turning his cell into an evening salon for intellectual discussions with any and all of his more literate captors. By all accounts, they were rather stunned and spellbound by both his ideas and his acting as free even while under lock and key. Eventually, he fell ill and died there. The exact circumstances remain unknown, but his ‘Paradise’, save for a few principles, such as Cherokee welcoming of outlaw rebels, was soon lost as well. More to come.
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Monday, December 06, 2021

New Narrative #19: Jemmy, the Stono Rebellion, and Fort Mose in La Florida

[Graphic: Portrayal of the Stono Revolt]
Jemmy was an enslaved worker in 1739 colonial South Carolina. As best as we know, he was born in the Kingdom of Kongo, or what is now called Angola. Influenced by Portugal traders, Kongo’s royalty spread the Portuguese language among its peoples. In the 1400s, it also adopted Catholicism and had an independent relationship with the Vatican. Kongo was a developing feudal order, with many skilled workers and artisans, and a warrior caste. It also had a class of slaves and engaged in the slave trade. Plantation owners around Charleston had a preference for slaves from ‘Angola’, since they were adept at growing rice and had other skills as well.
Jemmy, then, was a Catholic, spoke Portuguese, and was reportedly literate and a skilled fighter. He worked on a plantation near the Stono River, some 150 miles from the colony’s southern border. Across that line was the new colony of Georgia, designed for British prisoners, where slavery was illegal at the time. Another 100 miles or so was the border of Spain’s ‘La Florida,’ considered a backwater without gold or silver, looked on as an extension of Cuba. Florida was where beef cattle were raised and exported to Havana. Saint Augustine was the major fortress town, not far from the Georgia border.
Of interest to Jemmy and a few other Portuguese-speaking slaves he knew near Stono, was the Spanish then held a different policy on slavery than the British. In Florida, if you converted to Catholicism and agreed to join the militia, you would be emancipated and no longer be a slave. The appeal was natural.
‘La Florida’ had been a haven for escaped slaves and retreating Native Peoples for several decades. The Spanish encouraged them, not only to fend off the British, but to strengthen their hold on the indigenous peoples it held in debt peonage on several ‘mission’ plantations. It even gave Africans their own settlement, called Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-SAY). It served as a small autonomous zone and end terminal for an early ‘underground railroad’ running to the south.
We don’t know if Jemmy and his comrades were specifically familiar with Mose, only the attraction of getting to Spanish territory. The fall of 1739, when their masters were still recovering from bouts of malaria, seemed a good time for a rupture. So on Sept 9, his initial team of 20 or so rebelled, killed their masters, set the plantations aflame, and headed south. Their size grew as they marched, growing to around 100. They carried a banner that proclaimed ‘Liberty!’ They burned six plantations and killed about 30 whites in all before they were stopped. According to Wikipedia:
“While on horseback, South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor William Bull and five of his friends came across the group; they quickly went off to warn other slaveholders. Rallying a militia of planters and minor slaveholders, the colonists traveled to confront Jemmy and his followers. The next day, the well-armed and mounted militia, numbering 19–99 men, caught up with the group of 76 slaves at the Edisto River. In the ensuing confrontation, 23 whites and 47 slaves were killed. While the slaves lost, they killed proportionately more whites than was the case in later rebellions. The colonists mounted the severed heads of the rebels on stakes along major roadways to serve as a warning for other slaves who might consider revolt.”
Jemmy was also named ‘Cato’ by his master, and thus the Stono Revolt was sometimes called ‘Cato’s Rebellion.’ There were many more before it, but it was the largest in this period. The enslaver’s immediately enacted harsher rules—the enslaved were forbidden to learn to read or write, or gather among themselves.
It also changed some other practices. Those buying slaves more often sought them from the Caribbean, where they were supposedly ‘seasoned’ first. Or better yet, they were homegrown slaves, who had never known other conditions in life, even those in the Kingdom of Kongo. In the end, Jemmy’s descendants would come to rule for six years or so in South Carolina, during Reconstruction. But that’s far ahead in our stories. More to come.
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New Narrative #18: Where Are We So Far?

[Graphic Mound-builder village of Native people in Florida.]
This series has provoked a bit of interest, as well as a few questions. What are you trying to do? Where are you going with this?
These are good questions, and for some, I don't have good answers, at least not yet. I'm exploring, on a journey of sorts, to see what we can learn, about ourselves and all else concerned on 'Turtle Island', or North America. Here's what I think we can say so far:
1. North America was never a pure 'wilderness', a land without people, as least in the time frames we're using, since 12,000 BCE or so, but more pointedly since the 1400s CE
2. It was the home of many peoples at various levels of civilization, from hunter-gatherer, agricultural (some quite advanced), and feudal with great cities, libraries, and centers of art and science. It was never 'a land without people' in need of a new people to make it their land from 'virgin soil'.
3. The many peoples who lived here were never in full harmony. There were tribal rivalries, armed conflicts, and alliances of all sorts, and often fluid. In the larger empires, there was class struggle, and anti-empire popular resistance. With the arrival of the 'Great Canoe' peoples from Europe, they were brought into these rivalries and alliances--and the Europeans contended within themselves--Protestant vs Catholic, English vs Spanish vs French vs Dutch vs Swedes--all leaving their marks on how all the peoples of the continent changed and evolved.
4. The Europeans came here mainly to get rich, and also to gain land and power if it helped them get rich. If religion was a concern, it was secondary to that main purpose. There were three main ways to get rich.
5. First, outright theft and looting of existing treasures. Countless gold, silver, and other bejeweled artifacts were taken from palaces and places of worship, and sent back to the 'mother country.'
6. Second was extractivism via trade, especially in furs but also from mining for gold and silver. The latter required both enslavement and, in some cases, the creation of wage labor among the native peoples. It soon meant the expropriation of large numbers of African captives brought to work as slaves, and the development of cash crops of tobacco, sugar, rum, indigo, rice, and cotton. We can call this a period of 'war capitalism' since it was the expansion of mercantilism at the point of a gun, the edge of a sword, or a barrage of cannon, on land and on the sea.
7. Third was settler colonialism, where the aim was not simply to extract wealth with plunder and expropriated slave labor, native or African. Here the aim was to import land-hungry Europeans, largely as indentured servants or unwanted disruptive minorities. These included Puritan theocrats against the established Anglican church or the extreme 'leveler' and 'digger' wings (often Quakers) of the Cromwellian Revolution, or Irish and Scots Irish troublemakers when jails were overcrowded. If they managed to thrive in the New World, they could be taxed and become a market for goods, rather than filling a London poorhouse. Naturally, this meant class struggle within the settlements of European peoples, and well as rivalry among them.
8. There was conflict and encounter with Native Peoples. It took three main forms. One was to establish a moveable 'frontier,' at first only 100 miles or so inland from the Atlantic, and to push the Native People on the other side of it as 'spawn of the devil' in their 'wilderness.' The endpoint was violent expulsion and extermination, growing into ethnic removal and genocide. The second was to negotiate land sales and other types of trade, in a fluid 'peaceful coexistence.' (This was mainly the Quakers, the Moravians, and the French to a degree). Native peoples often found themselves severely weakened by disease and stealing of their people for enslavement, and succumbed to some of these 'treaties' involving their 'hunting ground' lands. And third was a small but still notable number of Europeans and Africans who decided to join the Native tribes and share their way of life, which they often found much better than the misery they faced otherwise.
The history we learn in our schools ignores much if not all of this. The anti-CRT people would like it to stay that way, or rewritten to move back to an even 'whiter' version.
What you can see most often depends on where you're standing. And our official history stands mainly in the shoes of successful settlers and enslavers (the latter called 'planters' in the textbooks), and land stealers (called 'surveyors' in the same books) and celebrates their constant 'manifest destiny' expansion from sea to shining sea.
So these contrarian narratives will continue for a while, and I'll do my best to put us in the shoes of the Native peoples, the enslaved, and the exploited of all hues of skin, both Native and European. We will try rescuing a greater number of stories from the well-designed obscurity some would like to maintain. We'll see where it goes. More to come.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #17: The Susquehannocks, the Retreat of France and the Paxton Boys

The Susquehannocks were a native people occupying what is now central Pennsylvania, and the river flowing through there into the Chesapeake Bay shares their name. They had lived there for hundreds of years before the European arrivals. Captain John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia, encountered them in 1608 as he was exploring the northern end of the bay.
The Susquehannock were large-scale agriculturalists. They practiced ‘slash and burn’ farming. This involved clearing the forest by burning down trees and planting crops in their ashes, as nutrients in the soil were depleted. They moved every few decades to refresh the soil. In the late sixteenth century they also absorbed smaller pre-existing native peoples. They were really a confederacy of up to 20 smaller tribes. They were also known for fortifying their villages with log stockades. They grew powerful for a time, but all but disappeared by 1776. But let's not get ahead of the story.
They were Iroquoian-speaking, but no one knows what they called themselves. Their ancestors were likely from the Ohio Valley and migrated centuries earlier over the mountains into the headwaters of the Susquehanna River near where Pennsylvania borders New York. ‘Susquehannock’ in the tongues of their neighbors means ‘people of the flowing muddy water,’ but those near the bay at the south end were also called ‘oyster-eaters.’ and ‘Conestoga,’ after one of their last settlements.
With the arrival of Europeans, their influence both grew and became more precarious. Since they had metal tools when John Smith first met them in 1609, they had likely obtained them through fur trading with the French, both directly and through their Iroquois rivals to the north. Going eastward through the Lenape in New Netherland and New Sweden, they were able to obtain firearms and training from the Dutch, They even obtained a small cannon from the Swedes.
Their location on a major river and its tributaries put them at several trading crossroads. They traveled them on foot, but also used heavy dugout canoes on the many waterways. It also put them in a position to hijack goods meant for others, such as shipments headed westward to the Seneca on the other side of the Allegheny mountains.
Those along the Chesapeake got in early trouble with the Virginians during Bacon’s rebellion. After some Doeg Indians near Jamestown killed some Virginians, some surviving colonists crossed into the colony of Maryland and demanded a meeting with a Susquehannock village settled at a fort on Piscataway Creek, below present-day Washington, DC.
When five local sachems came to the meeting, they were all immediately slaughtered. The Susquehannock then fled the area, but not without taking some revenge on surrounding settlers.
By the turn of the century, into the 1700s, their confederacy and power changed. They were decimated by European diseases, but also violence against them by growing numbers of Scots-Irish settlers moving westward.
The wider context was rivalry between France and Britain for control of the ‘Ohio Country’—the French were being pushed out, but their native allies still persisted in fighting the British. Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, formed a broad confederation to push the British troops and squatting settlers eastward back across the mountains.
The fighting, or its aftermath, reached the town of Paxtang or ‘Paxton’ on the Susquehanna in what is now Dauphin County. It was occupied by Scots-Irish, including the first Presbyterian church in the colony.
A good number of young men, called ‘the Paxton boys’ organized to retaliate. What made them stand out, however, is they didn’t care whether the natives they were killing were involved in the hostilities or not, making no distinctions among tribes, or whether the natives concerned were Christians or not. They simply slaughtered everyone, including the last remnants of the Susquehannock living in the village of Conestoga.
“At about sixty or eighty yards from the gaol, we met from twenty-five to thirty men, well mounted on horses, and with rifles, tomahawks, and scalping knives, equipped for murder,” reads an account in Wikipedia by William Henry of Lancaster. “I ran into the prison yard, and there, O what a horrid sight presented itself to my view!- Near the back door of the prison, lay an old Indian and his women, particularly well known and esteemed by the people of the town, on account of his placid and friendly conduct. His name was Will Sock; across him and his Native women lay two children, of about the age of three years, whose heads were split with the tomahawk, and their scalps all taken off. Towards the middle of the gaol yard, along the west side of the wall, lay a stout Indian, whom I particularly noticed to have been shot in the breast, his legs were chopped with the tomahawk, his hands cut off, and finally a rifle ball discharged in his mouth; so that his head was blown to atoms, and the brains were splashed against, and yet hanging to the wall, for three or four feet around. This man's hands and feet had also been chopped off with a tomahawk. In this manner lay the whole of them, men, women and children, spread about the prison yard: shot-scalped-hacked-and cut to pieces.”
Some 140 surviving natives fled toward Philadelphia to escape the Paxton Boys, who chased them to the outskirts of the city. Benjamin Franklin organized the local militia to protect them, and stopped the Paxton Boys at Germantown. He convinced them to turn their issues into the colonial legislature. But even if delayed, the Paxton Boys had staked out and clarified a new position: the real aim of ‘Indian policy’ was to be reduced to ethnic cleansing, extermination, and genocide against any and all ‘Red Skins.’ More to come.
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NEW NARRATIVE #16: Early New York’s Waterfront Dives, the Emerging Atlantic Proletariat, and the Defeat of a 1741 Working-Class, both Slave, Native and ‘Free,’ Attempting to Put ‘the Bottom Rail on Top’

In 1741, dozens of free and enslaved men of modest or no means, and a few women, all multiracial and multinational, had gathered many times at John Hughson’s New York City tavern. Among other things, they spent a good part of their time plotting an insurrection against the worst of the rich. They hoped to spread some of their wealth about, free some slaves and servants, and make for a better order. It didn’t turn out as expected, and many lost their lives. But that gets us ahead of the story.
As noted earlier, the island where the Hudson River opened to the Atlantic was the home of the Lenni Lenape people, who called it ‘Manhattan.’ The Dutch bought it and took possession of everything, reaching up to Albany. They called it ‘New Netherlands’ and the small but busily growing port at the tip of Manhattan was ‘New Amsterdam.’ Interested in all trade, but especially furs and slaves, with ships of all trading nations coming and going, its population was polyglot, with even the Dutch as simply a large minority.
As such, ‘New Amsterdam’ practiced some tolerance. Even the whipping of slaves required special permission, and slaves had the right to marry, and even to be set free. Some captured Native People were also enslaved, but generally, they were pushed away from the Hudson Valley in all directions. The Dutch put the slaves to work building a wall of upright logs from river to river on the upper end of the lower Manhattan settlement. The idea was to keep the slaves in and Indians and other unwanted intruders out. The boundary was called ‘Wall Street’, and remains to this day, even if its origins in slavery are dimmed memories.
In 1667. across the ocean in Europe, the Treaty of Breda ended the Second Anglo-Dutch war. The Dutch did well, retaining their most prized possessions in the East Indies, while trading off a colony seen as second rate, New Netherlands, to the British. After a few strokes of the pen, the British navy sailed into the Hudson, without resistance, and the whole area became New York, and the port was now New York City. Relative to the times, it was a large town of about 6000, a number which doubled by the turn of the century. At all times, the slaves counted as 20 percent of the residents, and over 40 percent of all households had enslaved servants.
But New York was unique in its dense slavery. There were no plantations, like those in the South, where slaves, in subdivided groups, toiled in rural isolation growing tobacco or rice, and later, cotton. New York’s slaves were a floating force of unskilled day laborers or skilled craftsmen. They loaded and unloaded ships, built the city’s infrastructure, or ran blacksmith or carpentry shops owned by their masters. They actually built the city, even if they had to turn their wages over to their owners. They lived in a back outhouse of their masters, or even in their shops. By the nature of their work, they had to pass freely on the streets among others going about their business. A small but good number of Africans, moreover, were not enslaved but had ‘free’ status, and were able to intermingle with slaves on the street or at work.
The new British overlords were wary and wanted a change, passing several new repressive measures. Beyond a short distance from their master’s home, a pass was required to walk in the streets. Meetings, however causal, of more the three Africans or Native Americans were forbidden. Masters no longer were required to get permission to whip their slaves, nor were slaves allowed to marry among themselves or elsewhere. Most important, in 1711, the city set up an official slave market for buying, selling, or otherwise making labor exchanges regarding slaves. The reason was they wanted a tariff for every transaction--often more than the cash value of the slave concerned--which was difficult to assess and collect if these sales were scattered and unregulated.
The slaves hated the new market and all the new repression. On April 6, 1712, about 20 of them set fire at night to a building on Maiden Lane near Broadway. They drew back in the darkness and waited for a crowd of whites to try putting out the fire. Then they struck, with guns, swords, knives, and whatever weapons they could find, and killed nine whites and injured six more before fleeing. The city’s armed militia quickly captured nearly all of them, and snatched up many more who had nothing to do with it, 70 in all. Six captives committed suicide, knowing the tortures awaiting them. Twenty-seven were put on trial, and 20 were convicted and burned to death alive at the stake. One was ‘broken’ to death on ‘the wheel.’ A pregnant woman was convicted, allowed for her child to be born, then hung. The authorities inflicted harsher repressions citywide following the executions, extending to all people of color, slave or free. Within four years, all free Blacks who owned land had it sold out from under them.
All this is the horrific and interesting backstory to all the plotting and planning going on a few decades later in John Hughson’s tavern. What’s even more intriguing is the immediate context of the tavern, its denizens, and others like it, not that this 1712 history wasn’t on everyone’s mind. Hughson’s lower-class joint was on the waterfront, as were two or three others like it. This meant it also served as a brothel, both for seamen and locals. It also served as a ‘fence,’ a place that trafficked in stolen goods, from the ships and elsewhere. The goods were traded either for cash, alcohol, or other items of value.
A key point needs to be made here about the seamen. Their story is told in depth in many of Marcus Rediker’s books, such as ‘The Many-Headed Hydra.’ His thesis is that the proletariat of the new far-ranging capitalism is born and takes shape on the seas, as well as on land. The ships of the day were both floating factories and prisons, and the ‘motley crews’ were very diverse. Rarely was an English ship operated by all-English seaman, all working voluntarily. Ship’s captains seized their crews from the poor in jail, from drunks in bars, from captured runaway slaves and natives, and from seaman of other countries captured in battles. Disciplined violently onboard, the seamen formed bonds and overcame language barriers with a Pidgin English. They were paid little, and sometimes not at all, having to wait a year. But by that time, they had been impressed on another ship. In these conditions, the men (and a few women) set aside national differences, color distinctions, and whether you were an escaped slave or Indian. They were cast into a common lot with a strong solidarity. Sometimes they mutinied, seized their ‘factory’, turning it into a workers coop of sorts, a pirate ship. Stealing part of the cargo, to them, was hardly theft, but an indirect way of regaining a bit of their own stolen wages.
So these were the people hanging out in the waterfront taverns of the sort described above. Naturally, they were joined by locals. Women working as prostitutes, local slaves of all colors who had snuck out for the night of drinking and gambling with a piece of their master’s silverware to pay for it, and local ‘free’ laborers looking for a rowdy time apart from the more upscale taverns of their ‘betters.’
So here is one birthplace of a Turtle Island proletariat—multinational. multiracial and conspiring, poorly or wisely, to wreak havoc on some of the rich, free some slaves, and redistribute some wealth in a Robin Hood fashion. If you want to study the history of the USAmerican working class, this is one good place to begin.
Despite their plans and aims, the ‘revolt’ itself didn’t amount to much. In the Spring of 1741, a series of 10 or so fires were set in buildings of the military and the wealthy, usually spaced about three days to a week apart. There was no mass insurrection. Just the opposite took place, a massive roundup of slaves, workers, Indians, in one batch after another, over months. Hughson, his wife, children, and his prostitutes were imprisoned and tortured for information, which led to more arrests and tortures. Some 172 were tried.
“In the end,’ states Wikipedia, “thirty-four people were executed. They included seventeen black men, two white men, and two white women who were hanged as well as thirteen black men burnt at the stake. The bodies of two supposed ringleaders, Caesar, a slave, and John Hughson, a white cobbler and tavern keeper, were gibbeted. Their corpses were left to rot in public. Another eighty-four men and women faced transportation to the brutal conditions of Caribbean slavery while seven white men were pardoned on condition of entering permanent exile from New York."
As time passed, the events were cast in the history books as more of a conspiracy than a revolt, and even much of the conspiracy’s overreach was recast as a cousin of the Salem Witch Trials. Many were unjustly accused and punished. Still, the structures of race and class were herein welded together in New York, both at the top and below. More to Come.
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Monday, November 15, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #15 Albemarle democracy, the Tuscarora War, and growing slavery in what became North and South Carolina

Graphic: Storming of the Tuscarora Fort Neoheroka by English colonists and their Native American allies, North Carolina, 1713.
By the last half of the 1600s, The Tuscarora and other native peoples in their region, recently named ‘Carolina’ by a king and ‘lord proprietors’ across an ocean, were having troubles with the newcomers living among them. The ‘Indians’ prized the metal goods and weapons, but they also suspected the settlers were the source of the new diseases that were wiping out entire villages. Before the Europeans, some estimates have the Tuscarora at 20,000 in population. Now that had been cut in half, if not more. The same was true of other tribes. They were also angered, in the southern part of their region, at the violent raids to seize their young men, women, and children, to be sold into slavery.
By 1670, four centers of power emerged in Carolina. One was in the south. Charles Town and the land nearby was developing as a slavocracy, the enslavers compelling growing numbers of Africans and captured Indians to grow and harvest rice and tobacco as export crops. Europeans without slaves were hired as overseers or pushed to the margins. The enslavers were also patriarchal, keeping their wives down while taking Africans and Natives as concubines.
The second settler region was in the north of ‘Carolina’, called the ‘Albemarle Settlements’, after the name of the sound near the Virginia border and the ‘Great Dismal Swamp.’ Tobacco was still grown and exported, but the settlers were largely Quaker and ‘Leveler’ smallholders, and many without any servants. An initial battle was waged, successfully, to change the proprietor’s law that refused people without servants the right to own land.
For religious and political reasons, these settlers attempted fair relations with the native people. Patriarchy also had less of a grip, as Quaker women were often outspoken leaders. The Quaker faith allowed male-female equality, which spilled over to the social sphere. Far from enslaving the Tuscarora, there was intermarriage among them—native men taking European wives and vice versa, facilitating relative harmony and exchange. Escaping slaves, both African and Indian, passed through Albemarle to get into the Great Dismal Swamp, where they formed independent and self-sustaining ‘maroon’ colonies, some of which lasted until after 1865. For a period of ten years or so, ‘Albemarle’ was, to a notable degree, a zone of democracy and cooperation among Quaker-influenced settlers, escaped slaves, and the Tuscarora and other native peoples.
The other two power centers were within the northern Tuscarora area. When their matrilineal groupings and clans grew beyond a certain size, they were often subdivided. The northernmost was headed by Chief Tom Blout. The other just below, along the Neuse River, was headed by Chief Hancock. Some accounts say Blout got his name because his mother was English, even though living within the tribe. Hancock picked his from that of a local well-off settler family. Picking an English name as ‘King’ was a custom started by Powhatan.
As the raids to capture them as slaves persisted, the Tuscarora under Chief Hancock waged a war of resistance (1711-1715) against Europeans, some involving bloody massacres. This was called the ‘Tuscarora Wars.’ For a time, those under Chief Blout defended the Europeans against Chief Hancock, leading the Hancock’s death. But the slave owners in the south around Charles Town, enlisting native warriors from other tribes, marched north continued all-out attacks on all the Tuscarora. In the end, the bulk of the Tuscarora who had been led by Hancock, packed up and left the Carolinas altogether, and made a long march through Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, until finally reuniting as the ‘Sixth Nation’ with their ‘Five Nation’ cousins among the Iroquois near Niagara. A smaller group under Blout was encircled and restricted to a small reservation along the Roanoke River, which was constantly encroached upon and reduced in size. A small area of this still remains with them today.
As a consequence of these upheavals, starting in 1710, the European residents of both regions of the Carolina province, petitioned the King to subdivide the area into the colonies of North and South Carolina, which was made official in 1729. African slaves continued to grow in number in South Carolina, while European immigrants, especially the Ulster-Scots or ‘Scots-Irish’ flowed into the piedmont of North Carolina from the north. Other native peoples were continually pushed westward and African slavery continued to grow in both new colonies. (More to come)
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Monday, November 08, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #14: The Tuscarora, Quakers, and Early Battles over Slavery

Long before Europeans and their 'great canoes' started to occupy and trade along the seacoast of Turtle Island, the Tuscarora people had migrated southward from the Great Lakes area and settled in the piedmont region of what was to be called 'the Carolinas.' They were 'Iroquoian' speakers, related to the five-nation confederacy living near the Niagara region and the mountains of what is now Pennsylvania. Just to their east, along the coastal bay and outer banks, lived a dozen or so Algonquin-speaking tribes. In the mountains far west of them lived the Cherokee.

Their name is pronounced 'tuh-skuh-roar-uh', which is close to their own name, 'Skarureh.' It means both 'the people who gather hemp' or 'the hemp-shirt wearers.' What we now call 'Indian hemp' is a very useful plant that produces strong fibers. The Tuscarora used hemp to make cloth for shirts, for rope and for ceremonial objects (some varieties of hemp contain cannabis). The hemp cloth, along with occasionally dying their hair red with bloodroot, made the Tuscarora stand out. Otherwise, they were like many of their neighbors. They lived in matrilineal villages with farms growing the usual 'three sisters', maize, beans, and squash. They had strong and skilled warriors, but they were known to be more peaceful and accommodating than warlike. They loved to play Lacrosse.

For several hundred years the Tuscarora thrived in their region. Their crops did well and the wild game was plentiful. They also made dugout canoes to fish the rivers and shallow coastal bays. They were especially fond of crayfish. Their homes were made of bent poles covered with layers of bark, but they tended to be smaller and more rounded than the 'long houses' of their cousins to the north. By the end of the 1500s, they were undoubtedly aware of Europeans--the Spanish failures in South Carolina and the failure of the 'lost colony' of Roanoke in the northern islets inside the Outer Banks. They would soon become aware of Jamestown and its early struggles.

What they didn't know was the deal-making going on across the ocean. In 1629, King Charles I handed out a land patent to Robert Heath, for all the lands north of Florida and below Virginia, stretching far to the west, at least to the Mississippi, even the Pacific. Naturally, he wanted it named after himself, 'Carolina.'

Unfortunately or not, he was beheaded and Cromwell ran the country for a decade or so, briefly unconcerned about colonies. apart from Ireland. The land grant was moot and put in the trash bin. But in 1660, the monarchy was restored with Charles II in charge. He came up with a new deal, a 'proprietary colony,' where he would name several 'lords proprietors' to take over Carolina, divide it up, and run it as they pleased.

"The Lords Proprietors named in the charter," says Wikipedia, "were Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon; George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle; William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven; John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton; Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury; Sir George Carteret; Sir William Berkeley (brother of John); and Sir John Colleton."

So with the stroke of his pen, Charles II had named new chieftains and overlords for the Tuscarora and dozens of other peoples as well. It mattered little whether any of high-born Englishmen had ever set foot on Turtle Island. But the Lords Proprietors quickly got to work, and in1670 sent 150 colonists to set up, naturally, 'Charles Town' near the old Spanish fort. Lord Shaftesbury, from London, planned the streets for the town and encouraged settlers from the sugar colony of Barbados to populate it. The same deal was made to William Sales, then governor of Bermuda, to round up a few boatloads of the residents of that colony to be removed to Carolina. In turn, Sales was named the first governor of the province.

The northern edge of Carolina bordered Virginia, and the border was ill-defined. A good number of Virginians, and people passing through Virginia, were suffering from the religious intolerance of Governor Berkeley, a High-Church cavalier, including many Quakers. There were also people feeling the edge of his crackdown on Bacon's Rebellion. Carolina had no churches to speak of then, and somewhat tolerant policies on religion. In 1672, George Fox, a founder of the Quakers, decided to explore the area himself, found it welcoming, and invited Quakers to move there in sizeable numbers. They did so, making a point of purchasing land from native leaders.

The coming clashes can be readily seen. The settlers from Barbados called themselves 'planters,' even though personally they never got their hands dirty. They owned and managed sugar plantations worked by slaves, and now on the mainland, they used slaves to grow rice and tobacco. They would buy bondservants and African slaves or they would have militias capture native peoples, including the Tuscarora, and work them as slaves. If they balked, they would trade the native slaves off to the Indies in exchange for Africans, or simply for the money. The Quakers, on the other hand, were developing into an anti-slavery force, and one that tried, as best as they could, to treat native peoples as equals as well. Contradictions were soon to explode. More to come.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #13 The Apalachee, DeSoto's Violent Slave Catching, and the Fate of Spanish Carolina.

The Apalachee were a native people who had made their home in the southern woodlands near the eastern edge of what is now called the Gulf of Mexico. They were mound-builders, erecting ceremonial earthworks in their major villages. This means they were also the southeasternmost part of what is now called the Mississippian culture of mound builders. This broader group covered the entire southern part of what is now the US, bordered by the Mississippi River on the west and the Ohio River to the north. Other native peoples lived there, too, but the mound-building made them unique.
The Apalachee had a warrior caste to be feared. As noted earlier, they first encountered the strange men of the ‘great canoes’ in an armed group headed by Ponce De Leon. The Spaniards were trying to seize the Apalachee and turn them into slave labor for Hispaniola, Cuba, and elsewhere, but as they learned the hard way during the DeSoto expedition, it was not so easy.
For thousands of years, the Apalachee lived in settled villages in homes made of palm branches and cypress moss. They grew several varieties of squash, maize and beans, and smoked fish and other game for long-term storage. (One Spanish raid of one of their stores provided several hundred of the Spanish marauders with supplies lasting nearly six months). With their surpluses and networks, the Apalachee were able to build their mounds and trade for goods reaching to the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, and down into Mexico.
The Apalachee were also known for a sport, a ball game with a small clay ball wrapped in animal skin, and a goal post. The ball had to be kicked to hit the post to score. Up to 40 or 50 men from rival villages took part, and the play could be as violent, or worse, than today’s hockey games.
Fierce as they might be, the Apalachee succumbed to the ‘invisible bullets’ of the Spaniards, as their villages after Desoto’s attacks and looting, were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases. Many of the tribal remnants moved northward to merge with their cousins, the Muscogee Creek Confederacy. Those remaining were absorbed into the Florida Spanish missions as forced labor while being ‘converted’ to Catholicism.
At the time, the turn into the 1600s, Spain’s ‘La Florida’ meant more than the name suggests today. It stretched from New Orleans in the west, to the Chesapeake Bay in the northeast, and to Tennessee to the north. The violent slave-raiding tour of Desoto around the Southeast is fairly well known, and continued until he died at the Mississippi. So is the Spanish founding of St Augustine on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Less known is the founding of St Elena at Parris Island, SC by the Spaniards,1566-1587, along with a string of forts reaching into the interior of the Carolinas, including one at Joara, a Cherokee town in what is now western North Carolina.
This was largely the work of Juan Pardo, a Spanish explorer. He was charged with the task of finding an overland route to the silver mines of Mexico from the Atlantic coast. The Spanish at the time thought the Appalachian Mountains (later named for the Apalachee) were a continuous chain reaching into the far southwest and Mexico.
Save for St Elena, Pardo’s forts quickly collapsed, once the native peoples around them discovered they were parasitic, and had no regular supply of trade goods. Their fate underscored a point: many European settlements survived or failed at the sufferance of the native peoples around them.
In 1586, Sir Francis Drake, the 'privateer' discussed earlier, attacked and burned St Augustine, a move that caused Spain to pull back from the Carolinas and defend what we today call Florida.
The geography of what was called Carolina, at least its coastal area, sharply divides the northern half from the southern. The north has large bays and sounds, protected by a long string of barrier islands, the Outer Banks. The sound area was home to one group of native peoples that included the Pamlico, while the inland piedmont was home to a larger grouping whose center was the Tuscarora. The arrival of English settlers was soon to reshape them all. More to come.
[A key source: New Voyages to Carolina: Reinterpreting North Carolina History, edited by Larry E. Ise and Jeffrey J. Crow]

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