Saturday, April 17, 2010

"A Southern Planter Arming His Slaves to Resist Invasion"

Thanks to Mr. Lou DeCaro for commenting on the last post and identifying the artist of that cartoon as David Hunter Strother. Virginia Unionist Strother was a correspondent for the Harper's magazines (no relation to Harpers Ferry) before the Civil War who went by the pseudonym of Porte Crayon. His travel adventures throughout the South are almost as interesting and entertaining as those of the more well known Northerner Frederick Law Olmsted. Strother went to Charlestown, Virgina to report on the Brown trial and did a number of articles and sketches of Brown while there. Strother was also related to Brown's prosecutor Andrew Hunter and was allowed to be present when Brown was interviewed by Hunter and Virginia governor Henry A. Wise.

I had recently ran across another image that I thought I would share that Strother did in the wake of Harpers Ferry, and was published on November 19, 1859 in Harper's Weekly. In this picture, titled "A Southern Planter Arming His Slaves to Resist Invasion," the white planter, his wife, and young son are surrounded by their "faithful" slaves. This image is much like the previous cartoon in that it attempts to convey the idea that slaves would not support an abolitionist insurrection, but would rather rally to protect their masters.

It is interesting to see that the slaves are all armed with crude farm implement weapons such as hoes, hatchets, pitchforks, and grain knives, while it appears that the youngest slaves shown seem to be bringing the only military-type weapons (sword, gun and powder pouch) to the master. It is purely speculation on my part, but it would have probably gone against Strother's personal beliefs to present an adult slave with a gun. Also of significance are a couple of faithful hunting dogs looking up respectfully toward their owner.

Beyond claiming that it was a terribly oppressive labor system, it is personally difficult for me to generalize on the subject of slavery. There were just so many different dynamics that made individual situations specific. Geographic location, owner and owned personalities, type of labor (agricultural or industrial and domestic or field duties) all made for unique situations. Would slaves have rallied to protect their masters? I have no doubt that some would and did. Would slaves have rallied to kill their masters? Some did or at least tried to (see Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, and Denmark Vesey). Did some slaves try to resist or escape the oppression of slavery? Thousands of runaways and runaway advertisements are proof positive that they did. Did some slaves resist emancipation when it was offered? Some few probably did.

Obviously, images are powerful conveyors of information. The thoughts and sentiments that pictures present are sometimes just as, or more effective than text. It was William M. "Boss" Tweed (of the New York City political machine Tammany Hall) that later complained of political cartoons about him, "Stop them damn pictures! I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures."

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