Free African Americans

  • 250,000 free African Americans lived in slaveholding states at the start of the civil war.
  • Slaves could earn their freedom through purchasing it from their "masters" better known as slave holders. Purchasing their freedom was a difficult task becuase the slaves had to develop a skill seperate from their "masters."
    • An example of a slave buying their freedom was Elizabeth Keckley, who obtained freedom for her and her son by sewing. She eventually would work for Mary Todd Lincoln in the White House.
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  • Some slaves were released because of moral standards that their masters had, or were released when their masters passed away.
    • In 1833, when John Randolph passed away, his 400 slaves were freed.
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  • In reality, many slave holders did not want to lose their slaves, so the purchasing of freedom or the release of slaves was minimal.
  • In the 1830's laws about slavery became stricter. This was due to...
    • Nat Turner's Revolt (see Slave Resistance 1800-1860 for more information). Whites began to think that free blacks would make create more violence and rebellions than slaves would.
    • More communities of free blacks became predominant; this scared whites because it gave slaves an example of the outcome of freedom.
    • The North pushed an abolitionist agitation, which they thought would inspire slaves to rebel.
  • These new laws made it nearly impossible for slaves to become free. These laws also made it so Southern States could not allow free blacks in, and Arkansas made free blacks leave the state.
  • For Free African Americans it limited them in obtaining new jobs, they were not allowed to congragate unless there was a white present, and many more restrictions were enforced.
  • Some free African Americans, mainly in the North, gained wealth and prosperity. They even owned their own slaves, who were mainly family members, so these family members could be freed.
  • Cities such as New Orleans, Natchez, and Charlestown had free black communites which maintained economic stability, untouched by whites.
  • Unfortunetly, it was not the case for most free African Americans who often lived in poverty.
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  • Although free African Americans had the burdens of freedom such as supporting themselves, housing, and taxes. They prefered these burdens over slavery.
Debates & Raids
  • The question of Congress' power to ablosih slavery arose in 1857 with the Dred Scott Decision.
  • He sued for his freedom because he believed he was a free slave due to his residence in the free territory.
  • The case was a triumph for the South.
    • The court determined that Scott was never free. The Missouri Compromise had violated the Constitution, and it was annulled.
  • Overall, it was determined that Congress had no power to abolish slavery.

Watercolor painting of one wing of the Capitol Building
Watercolor painting of one wing of the Capitol Building

Slave Resistance

  • The most effective method of resistance was simply refusing to work.
  • Other effective methods were...
    • stealing,
    • sabotage by breaking tools or losing them,
    • and preforming tasks wrong.
  • An important thing to know is that the issue of the effect of slavery on African Americans is a still a very contraversal debate.
    • On one side, slaves holders argued that slaves we're happy in their condition.
    • The other side, and the more accurate side, is that slaves desired freedom. This is shown when slaves earned their emancipation, practically all slaves reacted in joyous celebration.
  • The reaction of African Americans to slavery was a mixture of both adaptation and resistance. These reactions were shown in two different forms.
    • The first was "Sambo." This reaction was that the slave would act exactly how a white thought a slave acted. For many slaves this was nearly a charade that was acted only when a white was around.
  • The second was a slave rebel. These slaves would not accept nor accommadate what they were, instead they rebelled.
  • Slave rebellions were very rare, but just the possiblity of rebellions drove fear deep into white southerners' hearts.
  • In 1800, Gabriel Prosser rose a rebellion of 1,000 slaves, but it was put down by the Virginia Militia before it began. Prosser and 35 African Slaves were excecuted.
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  • In 1822, 9,000 slaves and free africans were planning to revolt, led by the Charlestown Free Black Denmark Vesey, but like Prossers Rebellion, it was put down even before it started.
  • In 1833, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner led some Africans Americans armed with axes and guns, to white peoples houses. They killed 60 men women and children before they were stopped by the state and federal armies. 100 blacks were excecuted.
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    • Nat Turner's Rebellion was the only major rebellion during the 1800's.
  • As rebellions were going on, some slaves managed to escape to the North or even to Canada.
    • This was due to underground railroad, which was assisted by northern whites and free blacks.
    • underground_railroad1.jpg external image escape.jpg
    • The most famous underground railroad was led by Harriet Tubman. She rescued around 70 slaves in 13 expeditions.
  • The odds were high for a successful escape.
    • The reasons for an unsuccesful escape was becuase of the distance, the slaves ignorance of geography, and the "slave patrols."
      • Slave Patrols- white southerns that stopped wandering africans any where in the South asking for a travel permit. They often had dogs, mainly blood hounds, with them to help track down africans.
  • Althought many were caught and servely punished slaves kept trying to escape. The desire for freedom drove them to run away multiple times.

The Sources:

Notes On Dred Scott Decision
Information on Harriet Tubman
Notes On Slavery During the 1800's
Picture of Underground Railroad Routes
Picture/Information on the Nat Turner Rebellion
Information/Picture of Gabriel Prosser
Picture of Dred Scott
Picture of Randolph's Slaves
Picture of Congress in 1800s
Picture Free Slave