Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake Black and White


1 thoughts on “Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage 1775 1865

  1. Paul Haspel Paul Haspel says:

    To challenge the institution of slavery in the Chesapeake region must have seemed an impossible thing in those antebellum days After all slavery had existed in the region since the first slave ship had docked at Jamestown Virginia in 1619 – “before the Mayflower” And yet there were those brave souls who did fight back against the “peculiar institution”; and their campaign was ultimately successfulIn Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake historian T Stephen Whitman of Mount Saint Mary’s University chronicles the stories of those who dared to confront the political and economic monolith that was slaveholding The book’s subtitle Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage 1775 1865 makes clear Whitman’s intention of showing the broad based nature of anti slavery activity in the Chesapeake region And the 1775 1865 timeline appropriately takes the reader from the first battle of the American Revolution through the last battle of the American Civil War There is a fine sort of symmetry in thatWhitman defines the Chesapeake region as encompassing the states of Virginia Maryland and Delaware – a designation with which some readers might take issue While Delaware certainly fits geographically with Maryland and Virginia – the three states often appear together on maps along with the city of Washington DC – the majority of the First State’s population centered around Wilmington has always looked to Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley rather than south toward the Chesapeake State maps set forth geographical designations but don’t always capture the sociological realities of a region That being said I do acknowledge that in Delaware’s two southerly counties of Kent and Sussex during the antebellum era the slaveholding economic and social order held power in a manner comparable with the neighboring counties of Maryland’s Eastern ShoreWhitman makes clear that opposition to slavery among Chesapeake area whites was often “inspired by religious feeling The uakers were foremost though Methodists also figured in the argument particularly in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore” p 49 But African Americans were always foremost in the fight for freedom and the struggle could take many different shapes In both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 a number of African Americans served with the British forces responding to British offers of freedom in return for service to the British cause; and at the end of both conflicts “The British navy honored promises of freedom to black allies by transporting them out of the United States” p 101Yet these dramatic episodes of wartime resistance were not by any means the only way in which African Americans fought back against the injustice and cruelty of slavery Balti in particular had a large population of free African Americans and “Building and supporting churches was only part of a wider effort by many free people of color to pursue ‘uplift’ a comprehensive effort to improve individual and community morality to attain respectability and thus to testify against slavery and race prejudice” p 150 Yet the odds against these brave African Americans whether enslaved or free were long indeed as Whitman points out in a chapter titled “The Two Underground Railroads” “If striking out for freedom in the North with or without the assistance of the underground railroad became the dream of untold thousands of African Americans in the Chesapeake the corresponding nightmare was the ever present threat to free blacks of being kidnapped and sold as slaves in the Deep South” p 168The underground railroad from South to North from slavery to freedom is the one that we Americans like to think about; it fits with our national narrative of American history forever moving forward toward a perfect union a truly free society for everyone To think about a second underground railroad that goes the other way – in the wrong direction for the wrong cause – is not something we want to think about though Steve Mcueen’s recent film version of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave has done much to remind Americans that that too is part of the history and needs to be part of the conversationA final chapter “Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery” chronicles the end of the “peculiar institution” in the Chesapeake region The Chesapeake like the United States generally was divided by the Civil War; Virginia seceded and joined the Confederacy while Maryland and Delaware remained with the Union as “border states” slave states that did not secede Accordingly the campaign against slavery took different shapes in the lower and upper Chesapeake In secessionist Virginia “The Civil Warlike the American Revolutionfeatured the same triangular conflict among rebel masters disaffected slaves and armies of outsiders trying to crush the revolt” pp 221 22 In unionist Maryland and Delaware by contrast the momentum of military and political events of the Civil War uickly undid the hopes some whites held of holding on to slavery in return for their loyalty to the Union; and “Recruitment of slaves from October 1863 onward sounded the death knell of slaveryEven conservativesbecame emancipationists” pp 218 19 Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake is a well written well researched treatment of a difficult subject Illustrated with helpful maps paintings and photographs Whitman’s book reminds us that nothing in the movement from tyranny toward human rights is inevitable or pre ordained


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Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage 1775 1865 A chronological account of nine decades of antislavery activity in Maryland Delaware and Virginia culminating in the Civil War Challenging slavery could entail negotiating for freedom by manumission; grasping freedom by flight or insurrection; or uniting with external allies in the American Revolution the War of 1812 or the Civil War Free black people also undermined slavery as workers worshippers teachers and writers Whites who aided black freedom seekers also played their part

  • Paperback
  • 320 pages
  • Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage 1775 1865
  • T. Stephen Whitman
  • English
  • 14 July 2016
  • 9780938420965