Thursday, February 10, 2011

Vandalizing a Slave Dealer's Charleston Office

I recently finished reading Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life, by Steven Deyle and found it to be a fascinating book. It is amazing to think how much money was tied up in buying and selling slaves in the early to mid-nineteenth century and how far slavery's reach extended in America. I say America, because the Southern states were certainly not alone in this "infamous business." Northern owned insurance companies and transportation lines such as ships and railroads moved thousands of slaves from place to place, most often taking those from the upper-South states to those of the Deep South as cotton fever raged.

I came across an interesting section in the book that described the fall of Charleston, South Carolina and the adventures of two Northern newspaper correspondents upon entering the city. The following the paragraph is found on pages 204 and 205:

"In February 1865, two war correspondents, Charles Carleton Coffin of the Boston Journal and James Redpath of the New York Tribune, accompanied federal troops as they entered Charleston, South Carolina. Knowing the interests of their readers, the two men quickly headed for Ziba Oakes's large slave mart on Chalmers Street and , after breaking down the door, ransacked the premises. Spying the auction block, Coffin thought 'that perhaps [Massachusetts] Governor Andrew, or Wendell Phillips, or William Lloyd Garrison would like to make a speech from those steps,' and he 'determined to secure them [the steps].' In addition, Coffin climbed a post and wrenched down the gilt star that hung over the front of the mart, and he took the lock from the iron front gate. The two men also carried off a bell and a sign, as well as most of Oakes's business papers, with Redpath noting 'what a tale of wickedness these letter books do tell!' Before departing, the two correspondents scribbled 'TEXTS FOR THE DAY' on the walls, leaving quotes from Garrison, the Bible, and John Brown."

Deyle explained that "Most of the souvenirs were sent to Boston and used to raise money for the freedmen. But some of these items were also given to William Lloyd Garrison in honor of his role in the antislavery movement." Many of the items taken from the Charleston slave mart were displayed to the public in a showing at the Music Hall in Boston on March 9, 1865. Admission was taken to raise funds and Coffin read from Oakes's papers. When Garrison made an appearance the "crowd went wild." Garrison's paper, the Liberator wrote, "The scene was one of unusual interest and excitement, the audience raising thunders of applause and waving hundreds of white handkerchiefs for a considerable interval."

In a little over a month I will be going to Charleston to attend the National Council for History Education's annual conference. Although I have been to Charleston a couple of times in the past, I haven't had the chance to really explore the museums and the old parts of town to the degree I would like. Hopefully I will get to change that with this visit as I plan to stay a few days after the conference to explore and learn. As they might say there "cain't hardly wait."

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