HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
American Negro Slavery
Chapter X The Westward Movement
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


The flow of population into the distant interior followed the lines of least resistance and greatest opportunity. In the earlier decades these lay chiefly in the Virginia latitudes. The Indians there were yielding, the mountains afforded passes thither, and the climate permitted the familiar tobacco industry. The Shenandoah Valley had been occupied mainly by Scotch-Irish and German small farmers from Pennsylvania; but the glowing reports, which the long hunters brought and the land speculators spread from beyond the further mountains, made Virginians to the manner born resolve to compete with the men of the backwoods for a share of the Kentucky lands. During and after the war for independence they threaded the gorges, some with slaves but most without. Here and there one found a mountain glade so fertile that he made it his permanent home, while his fellows pushed on to the greater promised land. Some of these emerging upon a country of low and uniform hills, closely packed and rounded like the backs of well-fed pigs crowding to the trough, staked out their claims, set up their cabins, deadened their trees, and planted wheat. Others went on to the gently rolling country about Lexington, let the luxuriant native bluegrass wean them from thoughts of tobacco, and became breeders of horses for evermore. A few, settling on the southerly edge of the bluegrass, mainly in and about Garrard County, raised hemp on a plantation scale. The rest, resisting all these allurements, pressed on still further to the pennyroyal country where tobacco would have no rival. While thousands made the whole journey overland, still more made use of the Ohio River for the later stages. The adjutant at Fort Harmar counted in seven months of 1786-1787, 177 boats descending the Ohio, carrying 2,689 persons, 1,333 horses, 766 cattle, 102 wagons and one phaëton, while still others passed by night uncounted.[1] The family establishments in Kentucky were always on a smaller scale, on an average, than those in Virginia. Yet the people migrating to the more fertile districts tended to maintain and even to heighten the spirit of gentility and the pride of type which they carried as part of their heritage. The laws erected by the community were favorable to the slaveholding régime; but after the first decades of the migration period, the superior attractions of the more southerly latitudes for plantation industry checked Kentucky's receipt of slaves.
[Footnote 1: Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), July 21, 1787.]
The wilderness between the Ohio and the Great Lakes, meanwhile, was attracting Virginia and Carolina emigrants as well as those from the northerly states. The soil there was excellent, and some districts were suited to tobacco culture. The Ordinance of 1787, however, though it was not strictly enforced, made slaveholdings north of the Ohio negligible from any but an antiquarian point of view.

The settlement of Tennessee was parallel, though subsequent, to that of the Shenandoah and Kentucky. The eastern intramontane valley, broad and fertile but unsuited to the staple crops, gave homes to thousands of small farmers, while the Nashville basin drew planters of both tobacco and cotton, and the counties along the western and southern borders of the state made cotton their one staple. The scale of slaveholdings in middle and western Tennessee, while superior to that in Kentucky, was never so great as those which prevailed in Virginia and the lower South.

Missouri, whose adaptation to the southern staples was much poorer, came to be colonized in due time partly by planters from Kentucky but mostly by farmers from many quarters, including after the first decades a large number of Germans, some of whom entered through the eastern ports and others through New Orleans.

This great central region as a whole acquired an agricultural régime blending the features of the two national extremes. The staples were prominent but never quite paramount. Corn and wheat, cattle and hogs were produced regularly nearly everywhere, not on a mere home consumption basis, but for sale in the cotton belt and abroad. This diversification caused the region to wane in the esteem of the migrating planters as soon as the Alabama-Mississippi country was opened for settlement.

Preliminaries of the movement into the Gulf region had begun as early as 1768, when a resident of Pensacola noted that a group of Virginians had been prospecting thereabouts with such favorable results that five of them had applied for a large grant of lands, pledging themselves to bring in a hundred slaves and a large number of cattle.[2] In 1777 William Bartram met a group of migrants journeying from Georgia to settle on the lower course of the Alabama River;[3] and in 1785 a citizen of Augusta wrote that "a vast number" of the upland settlers were removing toward the Mississippi in consequence of the relinquishment of Natchez by the Spaniards.[4] But these were merely forerunners. Alabama in particular, which comprises for the most part the basin draining into Mobile Bay, could have no safe market for its produce until Spain was dispossessed of the outlet. The taking of Mobile by the United States as an episode of the war of 1812, and the simultaneous breaking of the Indian strength, removed the obstacles. The influx then rose to immense proportions. The roads and rivers became thronged, and the federal agents began to sell homesteads on a scale which made the "land office business" proverbial.[5]
[Footnote 2: Boston, Mass, Chronicle, Aug. 1-7, 1768.]

[Footnote 3: William Bartram, Travels (London, 1792), p. 441.]

[Footnote 4: South Carolina Gazette, May 26, 1785.]

[Footnote 5: C.F. Emerick, "The Credit System and the Public Domain," in the Vanderbilt University Southern History Publications, no. 3 (Nashville, Tenn., 1899).]
The Alabama-Mississippi population rose from 40,000 in round numbers in 1810 to 200,000 in 1820, 445,000 in 1830, 965,000 in 1840, 1,377,000 in 1850, and 1,660,000 in 1860, while the proportion of slaves advanced from forty to forty-seven per cent. In the same period the tide flowed on into the cotton lands of Arkansas and Louisiana and eventually into Texas. Florida alone of the newer southern areas was left in relative neglect by reason of the barrenness of her soil. The states and territories from Alabama and Tennessee westward increased their proportion of the whole country's cotton output from one-sixteenth in 1811 to one-third in 1820, one-half before 1830, nearly two-thirds in 1840, and quite three-fourths in 1860; and all this was in spite of continued and substantial enlargements of the eastern output.

In the western cotton belt the lands most highly esteemed in the ante-bellum period lay in two main areas, both of which had soils far more fertile and lasting than any in the interior of the Atlantic states. One of these formed a crescent across south-central Alabama, with its western horn reaching up the Tombigbee River into northeastern Mississippi. Its soil of loose black loam was partly forested, partly open, and densely matted with grass and weeds except where limestone cropped out on the hill crests and where prodigious cane brakes choked the valleys. The area was locally known as the prairies or the black belt.[6] The process of opening it for settlement was begun by Andrew Jackson's defeat of the Creeks in 1814 but was not completed until some twenty years afterward. The other and greater tract extended along both sides of the Mississippi River from northern Tennessee and Arkansas to the mouth of the Red River. It comprised the broad alluvial bottoms, together with occasional hill districts of rich loam, especially notable among the latter of which were those lying about Natchez and Vicksburg. The southern end of this area was made available first, and the hills preceded the delta in popularity for cotton culture. It was not until the middle thirties that the broadest expanse of the bottoms, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, began to receive its great influx. The rest of the western cotton belt had soils varying through much the same range as those of Georgia and the Carolinas. Except in the bottoms, where the planters themselves did most of the pioneering, the choicer lands of the whole district were entered by a pellmell throng of great planters, lesser planters and small farmers, with the farmers usually a little in the lead and the planters ready to buy them out of specially rich lands. Farmers refusing to sell might by their own thrift shortly rise into the planter class; or if they sold their homesteads at high prices they might buy slaves with the proceeds and remove to become planters in still newer districts.
[Footnote 6: This use of the term "black belt" is not to be confused with the other and more general application of it to such areas in the South at large as have a majority of negroes in their population.]
The process was that which had already been exemplified abundantly in the eastern cotton belt. A family arriving perhaps in the early spring with a few implements and a small supply of food and seed, would build in a few days a cabin of rough logs with an earthen floor and a roof of bark or of riven clapboards. To clear a field they would girdle the larger trees and clear away the underbrush. Corn planted in April would furnish roasting ears in three months and ripe grain in six weeks more. Game was plenty; lightwood was a substitute for candles; and housewifely skill furnished homespun garments. Shelter, food and clothing and possibly a small cotton crop or other surplus were thus had the first year. Some rested with this; but the more thrifty would soon replace their cabins with hewn log or frame houses, plant kitchen gardens and watermelon patches, set out orchards and increase the cotton acreage. The further earnings of a year or two would supply window glass, table ware, coffee, tea and sugar, a stock of poultry, a few hogs and even perhaps a slave or two. The pioneer hardships decreased and the homely comforts grew with every passing year of thrift. But the orchard yield of stuff for the still, and the cotton field's furnishing the wherewithal to buy more slaves, brought temptations. Distilleries and slaves, a contemporary said, were blessings or curses according as they were used or abused; for drunkenness and idleness were the gates of the road to retrogression.[7]
[Footnote 7: David Ramsay History of South Carolina, II, pp. 246 ff.]
The pathetic hardships which some of the poorer migrants underwent in their labors to reach the western opportunity are exemplified in a local item from an Augusta newspaper in 1819: "Passed through this place from Greenville District [South Carolina] bound for Chatahouchie, a man and his wife, his son and his wife, with a cart but no horse. The man had a belt over his shoulders and he drew in the shafts; the son worked by traces tied to the end of the shafts and assisted his father to draw the cart; the son's wife rode in the cart, and the old woman was walking, carrying a rifle, and driving a cow."[8] This example, while extreme, was not unique.[9]
[Footnote 8: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, Sept. 24, 1819, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 196.]

[Footnote 9: Niles' Register, XX, 320.]
The call of the west was carried in promoters' publications,[10] in private letters, in newspaper reports, and by word of mouth. A typical communication was sent home in 1817 by a Marylander who had moved to Louisiana: "In your states a planter with ten negroes with difficulty supports a family genteelly; here well managed they would be a fortune to him. With you the seasons are so irregular your crops often fail; here the crops are certain, and want of the necessaries of life never for a moment causes the heart to ache--abundance spreads the table of the poor man, and contentment smiles on every countenance."[11] Other accounts told glowingly of quick fortunes made and to be made by getting lands cheaply in the early stages of settlement and selling them at greatly enhanced prices when the tide of migration arrived in force.[12] Such ebullient expressions were taken at face value by thousands of the unwary; and other thousands of the more cautious followed in the trek when personal inquiries had reinforced the tug of the west. The larger planters generally removed only after somewhat thorough investigation and after procuring more or less acquiescence from their slaves; the smaller planters and farmers, with lighter stake in their homes and better opportunity to sell them, with lighter impedimenta for the journey, with less to lose by misadventure, and with poorer facilities for inquiry, responded more readily to the enticements.
[Footnote 10: E. g., the Washington, Ky., Mirror, Sept. 30, 1797.]

[Footnote 11: Niles' Register, XIII, 38.]

[Footnote 12: E. g., Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), March 11, 1836.]
The fever of migration produced in some of the people an unconquerable restlessness. An extraordinary illustration of this is given in the career of Gideon Lincecum as written by himself. In 1802, when Gideon was ten years old, his father, after farming successfully for some years in the Georgia uplands was lured by letters from relatives in Tennessee to sell out and remove thither. Taking the roundabout road through the Carolinas to avoid the Cherokee country, he set forth with a wagon and four horses to carry a bed, four chests, four white and four negro children, and his mother who was eighty-eight years old. When but a few days on the road an illness of the old woman caused a halt, whereupon Lincecum rented a nearby farm and spent a year on a cotton crop. The journey was then resumed, but barely had the Savannah River been crossed when another farm was rented and another crop begun. Next year they returned to Georgia and worked a farm near Athens. Then they set out again for Tennessee; but on the road in South Carolina the wreck of the wagon and its ancient occupant gave abundant excuse for the purchase of a farm there. After another crop, successful as usual, the family moved back to Georgia and cropped still another farm. Young Gideon now attended school until his father moved again, this time southward, for a crop near Eatonton. Gideon then left his father after a quarrel and spent several years as a clerk in stores here and there, as a county tax collector and as a farmer, and began to read medicine in odd moments. He now married, about the beginning of the year 1815, and rejoined his father who was about to cross the Indian country to settle in Alabama. But they had barely begun this journey when the father, while tipsy, bought a farm on the Georgia frontier, where the two families settled and Gideon interspersed deer hunting with his medical reading. Next spring the cavalcade crossed the five hundred miles of wilderness in six weeks, and reached the log cabin village of Tuscaloosa, where Gideon built a house. But provisions were excessively dear, and his hospitality to other land seekers from Georgia soon consumed his savings. He began whipsawing lumber, but after disablement from a gunpowder explosion he found lighter employment in keeping a billiard room. He then set out westward again, breaking a road for his wagon as he went. Upon reaching the Tombigbee River he built a clapboard house in five days, cleared land from its canebrake, planted corn with a sharpened stick, and in spite of ravages from bears and raccoons gathered a hundred and fifty bushels from six acres. When the town of Columbus, Mississippi, was founded nearby in 1819 he sawed boards to build a house on speculation. From this he was diverted to the Indian trade, bartering whiskey, cloth and miscellaneous goods for peltries. He then became a justice of the peace and school commissioner at Columbus, surveyed and sold town lots on public account, and built two school houses with the proceeds. He then moved up the river to engage anew in the Indian trade with a partner who soon proved a drunkard. He and his wife there took a fever which after baffling the physicians was cured by his own prescription. He then moved to Cotton Gin Port to take charge of a store, but was invalided for three years by a sunstroke. Gradually recovering, he lived in the woods on light diet until the thought occurred to him of carrying a company of Choctaw ball players on a tour of the United States. The tour was made, but the receipts barely covered expenses. Then in 1830, Lincecum set himself up as a physician at Columbus. No sooner had he built up a practice, however, than he became dissatisfied with allopathy and went to study herb remedies among the Indians; and thereafter he practiced botanic medicine. In 1834 he went as surgeon with an exploring party to Texas and found that country so attractive that after some years further at Columbus he spent the rest of his long life in Texas as a planter, physician and student of natural history. He died there in 1873 at the age of eighty years.[13]
[Footnote 13: F.L. Riley, ed., "The Autobiography of Gideon Lincecum," in the Mississippi Historical Society Publications, VIII, 443-519.]
The descriptions and advice which prospectors in the west sent home are exemplified in a letter of F.X. Martin, written in New Orleans in 1911, to a friend in eastern North Carolina. The lands, he said, were the most remunerative in the whole country; a planter near Natchez was earning $270 per hand each year. The Opelousas and Attakapas districts for sugar, and the Red River bottoms for cotton, he thought, offered the best opportunities because of the cheapness of their lands. As to the journey from North Carolina, he advised that the start be made about the first of September and the course be laid through Knoxville to Nashville. Traveling thence through the Indian country, safety would be assured by a junction with other migrants. Speed would be greater on horseback, but the route was feasible for vehicles, and a traveler would find a tent and a keg of water conducive to his comfort. The Indians, who were generally short of provisions in spring and summer, would have supplies to spare in autumn; and the prevailing dryness of that season would make the streams and swamps in the path less formidable. An alternative route lay through Georgia; but its saving of distance was offset by the greater expanse of Indian territory to be crossed, the roughness of the road and the frequency of rivers. The viewing of the delta country, he thought, would require three or four months of inspection before a choice of location could safely be made.[14]
[Footnote 14: Plantation and Frontier, II, 197-200.]
The procedure of planters embarking upon long distance migration may be gathered from the letters which General Leonard Covington of Calvert County, Maryland, wrote to his brother and friends who had preceded him to the Natchez district. In August, 1808, finding a prospect of selling his Maryland lands, he formed a project of carrying his sixty slaves to Mississippi and hiring out some of them there until a new plantation should be ready for routine operation. He further contemplated taking with him ten or fifteen families of non-slaveholding whites who were eager to migrate under his guidance and wished employment by him for a season while they cast about for farms of their own. Covington accordingly sent inquiries as to the prevailing rates of hire and the customary feeding and treatment of slaves. He asked whether they were commonly worked only from "sun to sun," and explained his thought by saying, "It is possible that so much labor may be required of hirelings and so little regard may be had for their constitutions as to render them in a few years not only unprofitable but expensive." He asked further whether the slaves there were contented, whether they as universally took wives and husbands and as easily reared children as in Maryland, whether cotton was of more certain yield and sale than tobacco, what was the cost of clearing land and erecting rough buildings, what the abundance and quality of fruit, and what the nature of the climate.

The replies he received were quite satisfactory, but a failure to sell part of his Maryland lands caused him to leave twenty-six of his slaves in the east. The rest he sent forward with a neighbor's gang. Three white men were in charge, but one of the negroes escaped at Pittsburg and was apparently not recaptured. Covington after detention by the delicacy of his wife's health and by duties in the military service of the United States, set out at the beginning of October, 1809, with his wife and five children, a neighbor named Waters and his family, several other white persons, and eleven slaves. He described his outfit as "the damnedest cavalcade that ever man was burdened with; not less than seven horses compose my troop; they convey a close carriage (Jersey stage), a gig and horse cart, so that my family are transported with comfort and convenience, though at considerable expense. All these odd matters and contrivances I design to take with me to Mississippi if possible. Mr. Waters will also take down his waggon and team." Upon learning that the Ohio was in low water he contemplated journeying by land as far as Louisville; but he embarked at Wheeling instead, and after tedious dragging "through shoals, sandbars and ripples" he reached Cincinnati late in November. When the last letter on the journey was written he was on the point of embarking afresh on a boat so crowded, that in spite of his desire to carry a large stock of provisions he could find room for but a few hundredweight of pork and a few barrels of flour. He apparently reached his destination at the end of the year and established a plantation with part of his negroes, leaving the rest on hire. The approach of the war of 1812 brought distress; cotton was low, bacon was high, and the sale of a slave or two was required in making ends meet. Covington himself was now ordered by the Department of War to take the field in command of dragoons, and in 1813 was killed in a battle beyond the Canadian border. The fate of his family and plantation does not appear in the records.[15]
[Footnote 15: Plantation and Frontier, II, 201-208.]
A more successful migration was that of Col. Thomas S. Dabney in 1835. After spending the years of his early manhood on his ancestral tide-water estate, Elmington, in Gloucester County, Virginia, he was prompted to remove by the prospective needs of his rapidly growing family. The justice of his anticipations appears from the fact that his second wife bore him eventually sixteen children, ten of whom survived her. After a land-looking tour through Alabama and Louisiana, Dabney chose a tract in Hinds County, Mississippi, some forty miles east of Vicksburg, where he bought the property of several farmers as the beginning of a plantation which finally engrossed some four thousand acres. Returning to Virginia, he was given a great farewell dinner at Richmond, at which Governor Tyler presided and many speakers congratulated Mississippi upon her gain of such a citizen at Virginia's expense.[16] Several relatives and neighbors resolved to accompany him in the migration. His brother-in-law, Charles Hill, took charge of the carriages and the white families, while Dabney himself had the care of the wagons and the many scores of negroes. The journey was accomplished without mishap in two months of perfect autumn weather. Upon arriving at the new location most of the log houses were found in ruins from a recent hurricane; but new shelters were quickly provided, and in a few months the great plantation, with its force of two hundred slaves, was in routine operation. In the following years Dabney made it a practice to clear about a hundred acres of new ground annually. The land, rich and rolling, was so varied in its qualities and requirements that a general failure of crops was never experienced--the bottoms would thrive in dry seasons, the hill crops in wet, and moderation in rainfall would prosper them all. The small farmers who continued to dwell nearby included Dabney at first in their rustic social functions; but when he carried twenty of his slaves to a house-raising and kept his own hands gloved while directing their work, the beneficiary and his fellows were less grateful for the service than offended at the undemocratic manner of its rendering. When Dabney, furthermore, made no return calls for assistance, the restraint was increased. The rich might patronize the poor in the stratified society of old Virginia; in young Mississippi such patronage was an unpleasant suggestion that stratification was beginning.[17] With the passage of years and the continued influx of planters ready to buy their lands at good prices, such fanners as did not thrive tended to vacate the richer soils. The Natchez-Vicksburg district became largely consolidated into great plantations,[18] and the tract extending thence to Tuscaloosa, as likewise the district about Montgomery, Alabama, became occupied mostly by smaller plantations on a scale of a dozen or two slaves each,[19] while the non-slaveholders drifted to the southward pine-barrens or the western or northwestern frontiers.
[Footnote 16: Richmond Enquirer, Sept. 22, 1835, reprinted in Susan D. Smedes, Memorials of a Southern Planter (2d. ed., Baltimore, 1888), pp. 43-47.]

[Footnote 17: Smedes, Memorials of a Southern Planter, pp. 42-68.]

[Footnote 18: F.L. Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country (New York, 1860), pp. 20, 28]

[Footnote 19: Ibid., pp. 160, 161; Robert Russell, North America (Edinburgh, 1857), p. 207.]
The caravans of migrating planters were occasionally described by travelers in the period. Basil Hall wrote of one which he overtook in South Carolina in 1828: "It ... did not consist of above thirty persons in all, of whom five-and-twenty at least were slaves. The women and children were stowed away in wagons, moving slowly up a steep, sandy hill; but the curtains being let down we could see nothing of them except an occasional glance of an eye, or a row of teeth as white as snow. In the rear of all came a light covered vehicle, with the master and mistress of the party. Along the roadside, scattered at intervals, we observed the male slaves trudging in front. At the top of all, against the sky line, two men walked together, apparently hand in hand pacing along very sociably. There was something, however, in their attitude, which seemed unusual and constrained. When we came nearer, accordingly, we discovered that this couple were bolted together by a short chain or bar riveted to broad iron clasps secured in like manner round the wrists. 'What have you been doing, my boys,' said our coachman in passing, 'to entitle you to these ruffles?' 'Oh, sir,' cried one of them quite gaily, 'they are the best things in the world to travel with.' The other man said nothing. I stopped the carriage and asked one of the slave drivers why these men were chained, and how they came to take the matter so differently. The answer explained the mystery. One of them, it appeared, was married, but his wife belonged to a neighboring planter, not to his master. When the general move was made the proprieter of the female not choosing to part with her, she was necessarily left behind. The wretched husband was therefore shackled to a young unmarried man who having no such tie to draw him back might be more safely trusted on the journey."[20]
[Footnote 20: Basil Hall, Travels in North America (Edinburgh, 1829), III, 128, 129. See also for similar scenes, Adam Hodgson, Letters from North America (London, 1854), I, 113.]
Timothy Flint wrote after observing many of these caravans: "The slaves generally seem fond of their masters, and as much delighted and interested in their migration as their masters. It is to me a very pleasing and patriarchal sight."[21] But Edwin L. Godkin, who in his transit of a Mississippi swamp in 1856 saw a company in distress, used the episode as a peg on which to hang an anti-slavery sentiment: "I fell in with an emigrant party on their way to Texas. Their mules had sunk in the mud, ... the wagons were already embedded as far as the axles. The women of the party, lightly clad in cotton, had walked for miles, knee-deep in water, through the brake, exposed to the pitiless pelting of the storm, and were now crouching forlorn and woebegone under the shelter of a tree.... The men were making feeble attempts to light a fire.... 'Colonel,' said one of them as I rode past, 'this is the gate of hell, ain't it?' ... The hardships the negroes go through who are attached to one of these emigrant parties baffle description.... They trudge on foot all day through mud and thicket without rest or respite.... Thousands of miles are traversed by these weary wayfarers without their knowing or caring why, urged on by the whip and in the full assurance that no change of place can bring any change to them.... Hard work, coarse food, merciless floggings, are all that await them, and all that they can look to. I have never passed them, staggering along in the rear of the wagons at the close of a long day's march, the weakest furthest in the rear, the strongest already utterly spent, without wondering how Christendom, which eight centuries ago rose in arms for a sentiment, can look so calmly on at so foul and monstrous a wrong as this American slavery."[22] If instead of crossing the Mississippi bottoms and ascribing to slavery the hardships he observed, Godkin had been crossing the Nevada desert that year and had come upon, as many others did, a train of emigrants with its oxen dead, its women and children perishing of thirst, and its men with despairing eyes turned still toward the gold-fields of California, would he have inveighed against freedom as the cause? Between Flint's impression of pleasure and Godkin's of gloom no choice need be made, for either description was often exemplified. In general the slaves took the fatigues and the diversions of the route merely as the day's work and the day's play.
[Footnote 21: Timothy Flint, History and Geography of the Western States (Cincinnati, 1828), p. 11.]

[Footnote 22: Letter of E.L. Godkin to the London News, reprinted in the North American Review, CLXXXV (1907), 46, 47.]
Many planters whose points of departure and of destination were accessible to deep water made their transit by sea. Thus on the brig Calypso sailing from Norfolk to New Orleans in April, 1819, Benjamin Ballard and Samuel T. Barnes, both of Halifax County, North Carolina, carrying 30 and 196 slaves respectively, wrote on the margins of their manifests, the one "The owner of these slaves is moving to the parish of St. Landry near Opelousas where he has purchased land and intends settling, and is not a dealer in human flesh," the other, "The owner of these slaves is moving to Louisiana to settle, and is not a dealer in human flesh." On the same voyage Augustin Pugh of the adjoining Bertie County carried seventy slaves whose manifest, though it bears no such asseveration, gives evidence that they likewise were not a trader's lot; for some of the negroes were sixty years old, and there were as many children as adults in the parcel. Lots of such sizes as these were of course exceptional. In the packages of manifests now preserved in the Library of Congress the lists of from one to a dozen slaves outnumbered those of fifty or more by perhaps a hundred fold.

The western cotton belt not only had a greater expanse and richer lands than the eastern, but its cotton tended to have a longer fiber, ranging, particularly in the district of the "bends" of the Mississippi north of Vicksburg, as much as an inch and a quarter in length and commanding a premium in the market. Its far reaching waterways, furthermore, made freighting easy and permitted the planters to devote themselves the more fully to their staple. The people in the main made their own food supplies; yet the market demand of the western cotton belt and the sugar bowl for grain and meat contributed much toward the calling of the northwestern settlements into prosperous existence.[23]
[Footnote 23: G.S. Callender in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, XVII, 111-162.]
This thriving of the West, however, was largely at the expense of the older plantation states.[24] In 1813 John Randolph wrote: "The whole country watered by the rivers which fall into the Chesapeake is in a state of paralysis...The distress is general and heavy, and I do not see how the people can pay their taxes." And again: "In a few years more, those of us who are alive will move off to Kaintuck or the Massissippi, where corn can be had for sixpence a bushel and pork for a penny a pound. I do not wonder at the rage for emigration. What do the bulk of the people get here that they cannot have there for one fifth the labor in the western country?" Next year, after a visit to his birthplace, he exclaimed: "What a spectacle does our lower country present! Deserted and dismantled country-houses once the seats of cheerfulness and plenty, and the temples of the Most High ruinous and desolate, 'frowning in portentous silence upon the land,'" And in 1819 he wrote from Richmond: "You have no conception of the gloom and distress that pervade this place. There has been nothing like it since 1785 when from the same causes (paper money and a general peace) there was a general depression of everything."[25]
[Footnote 24: Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy (Boston, 1869), p. 336.]

[Footnote 25: H.A. Garland, Life of John Randolph (Philadelphia, 1851), II, 15; I, 2; II, 105.]
The extreme depression passed, but the conditions prompting emigration were persistent and widespread. News items from here and there continued for decades to tell of movement in large volume from Tide-water and Piedmont, from the tobacco states and the eastern cotton-belt, and even from Alabama in its turn, for destinations as distant and divergent as Michigan, Missouri and Texas. The communities which suffered cast about for both solace and remedy. An editor in the South Carolina uplands remarked at the beginning of 1833 that if emigration should continue at the rate of the past year the state would become a wilderness; but he noted with grim satisfaction that it was chiefly the "fire-eaters" that were moving out.[26] In 1836 another South Carolinian wrote: "The spirit of emigration is still rife in our community. From this cause we have lost many, and we are destined, we fear, to lose more, of our worthiest citizens." Though efforts to check it were commonly thought futile, he addressed himself to suasion. The movement, said he, is a mistaken one; South Carolina planters should let well enough alone. The West is without doubt the place for wealth, but prosperity is a trial to character. In the West money is everything. Its pursuit, accompanied as it is by baneful speculation, lawlessness, gambling, sabbath-breaking, brawls and violence, prevents moral attainment and mental cultivation. Substantial people should stay in South Carolina to preserve their pristine purity, hospitality, freedom of thought, fearlessness and nobility.[27]
[Footnote 26: Sumterville, S.C., Whig, Jan. 5, 1833.]

[Footnote 27: "The Spirit of Emigration," signed "A South Carolinian," in the Southern Literary Journal, II, 259-262 (June, 1836).]
An Alabama spokesman rejoiced in the manual industry of the white people in his state, and said if the negroes were only thinned off it would become a great and prosperous commonwealth.[28] But another Alabamian, A.B. Meek, found reason to eulogize both emigration and slavery. He said the roughness of manners prevalent in the haphazard western aggregation of New Englanders, Virginians, Carolinians and Georgians would prove but a temporary phase. Slavery would be of benefit through its tendency to stratify society, ennoble the upper classes, and give even the poorer whites a stimulating pride of race. "In a few years," said he, "owing to the operation of this institution upon our unparalleled natural advantages, we shall be the richest people beneath the bend of the rainbow; and then the arts and the sciences, which always follow in the train of wealth, will flourish to an extent hitherto unknown on this side of the Atlantic." [29]
[Footnote 28: Portland, Ala., Evening Advertiser, April 12, 1833.]

[Footnote 29: Southern Ladies' Book (Macon, Ga.), April, 1840.]
As a practical measure to relieve the stress of the older districts a beginning was made in seed selection, manuring and crop rotation to enhance the harvests; horses were largely replaced by mules, whose earlier maturity, greater hardihood and longer lives made their use more economical for plow and wagon work;[30] the straight furrows of earlier times gave place in the Piedmont to curving ones which followed the hill contours and when supplemented with occasional grass balks and ditches checked the scouring of the rains and conserved in some degree the thin soils of the region; a few textile factories were built to better the local market for cotton and lower the cost of cloth as well as to yield profits to their proprietors; the home production of grain and meat supplies was in some measure increased; and river and highway improvements and railroad construction were undertaken to lessen the expenses of distant marketing.[31] Some of these recourses were promptly adopted in the newer settlements also; and others proved of little avail for the time being. The net effect of the betterments, however, was an appreciable offsetting of the western advantage; and this, when added to the love of home, the disrelish of primitive travel and pioneer life, and the dread of the costs and risks involved in removal, dissuaded multitudes from the project of migration. The actual depopulation of the Atlantic states was less than the plaints of the time would suggest. The volume of emigration was undoubtedly great, and few newcomers came in to fill the gaps. But the birth rate alone in those generations of ample families more than replaced the losses year by year in most localities. The sense of loss was in general the product not of actual depletion but of disappointment in the expectation of increase.
[Footnote 30: H.T. Cook, The Life and Legacy of David R. Williams (New York, 1916), pp. 166-168.]

[Footnote 31: U.B. Phillips, History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt to 1860.]
The non-slaveholding backwoodsmen formed the vanguard of settlement on each frontier in turn; the small slaveholders followed on their heels and crowded each fertile district until the men who lived by hunting as well as by farming had to push further westward; finally the larger planters with their crowded carriages, their lumbering wagons and their trudging slaves arrived to consolidate the fields of such earlier settlers as would sell. It often seemed to the wayfarer that all the world was on the move. But in the districts of durable soil thousands of men, clinging to their homes, repelled every attack of the western fever.

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works