What would New York be without slavery?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 21 17:40:06 MDT 2003

(Opening pages of chapter one of Philip Foner's "Business and Slavery: The
New York Merchants and the Irrepressible Conflict", a book based on his PhD

In the years just before the Civil War, it was customary for anti-slavery
writers and speakers to refer to New York City as "the prolongation of the
South" where "ten thousand cords of interests are linked with the Southern
Slaveholder." If, by some magic, one of the countless visitors to the
"World of Tomorrow" had suddenly been transported back to the New York
World's Fair of 1853, he would have had no difficulty in discovering the
reasons for these remarks. Had he arrived in the city late in June or early
in July, he would have noticed that the lobbies of the Astor, St. Nicholas,
Fifth Avenue, St. Denis, Clarendon, and Metropolitan hotels were thronged
with Southern merchants and planters. The pages of the morning and evening
newspapers, he would have observed, were filled with advertisements
addressed to these Southerners, urging them to visit this or that store, to
inspect the latest assortments of dry goods, hardware, boots and shoes, and
other types of merchandise.

Had our visitor studied these advertisements carefully, he would have
noticed that many of these firms emphasized that they specialized in
merchandise exclusively for the "Southern" trade. And had he chanced upon
the following card in his newspaper, he would have learned that there were
many firms in the city who were referred to as "Southern" houses. It was
entitled "The Tailor's Appeal," and read:

 >>To the merchants from the South who have come to New York to purchase

Gentlemen: Whereas, a number of the "Southern" work employers, refuse to
give us a fair remuneration for our labor, and as it is utterly impossible,
for us, working for them, to earn bread for ourselves and families, and as
we wish you to fully understand who are the friends of the workingmen, we
subjoin a list of employers5 who have signed a bill of prices, and
earnestly call upon you to patronize only those employers who have acted so
honorably. . . .<<

Our visitor would also have noticed, when he read the advertisements of the
New York firms, that many of them mentioned that they had branch_ houses in
the South. Some, like J. P. Marshall and Company, Rogers and Company, and
Phelps-Dodge and Company, referred to branch houses in New Orleans; some,
like Trenholm Brothers, to branch houses in Charleston; and some, like
Daniel Parish and Company, to branch houses in five different Southern cities.

Had our visitor turned to the shipping news in his paper, he would have
noted with interest that a vessel had just been completed "to be employed
regularly in the coasting trade," and that it was hailed not merely as a
new ship, but mainly because it would "add another and stronger link to
that chain of union which the patriotism of the good men of both the North
and the South are anxious to cement." " He would also have been interested
to learn that the vessel was owned jointly by Spofford, Tileston and
Company of New York and Thomas G. Budd of Charleston, and that many other
coasting steamers and packets were owned jointly by New Yorkers and

Another newspaper item that might have attracted the attention of the
stranger was that which appeared in the Evening Post on May 10, 1853.
"Scarcely a day elapses," it declared, "that this sheet does not contain
lengthy appeals from Southern corporations for money to work mines, to
build roads, and to make other improvements." Had he remained in the city
for but a few weeks,: the visitor would have discovered that these appeals
rarely went unanswered. For he would have learned that mines in GeorgiaV
South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, and North Carolina had "been purchased
and taken possession of by New York companies," and that their Boards of
Directors were "composed mainly of New York capitalists." Also, that a
Southern railroad company was being organized in the city, that his
newspaper predicted that "the whole of the stocks will be subscribed in New
York City," and that a railroad project in Virginia was described as "a New
York scheme just set on foot by E. K. Collins and others, with a capital of
four million dollars." Finally, he might even have seen a report in his
newspaper stating that in the sale of a Southern planter's property, a New
York creditor took over the slaves. Had he consulted some bystander, he
would have discovered that this was by no means an infrequent practice, and
that as a result, a good many merchants at one time or another owned
"slave-work plantations." One partner in "a Broadway firm" was said to
possess twelve hundred slaves, and another three hundred.

Had the visitor remained in the city until September, he would have seen
the daily departures of packets for the South, burdened with huge cargoes
of dry goods, boots and shoes, hardware, clothing, liquors and even fruits,
butter, and cheese. The same vessels, he would have noticed, soon returned
to New York, this time loaded with cotton, tobacco, tar, resin, turpentine,
wheat, pork and molasses. By the time our visitor was ready to return to
the Twentieth Century, he should have been quite ready to agree that New
York was "almost as dependent upon Southern slavery as Charleston itself."
Perhaps he might even have agreed with James Dunmore De Bow, who said in
reply to a query by the London Times, asking, "What would New York be
without slavery?"

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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