June 19, 2020

USA: Dixie's Censored Subject About Black Slaveowners. Top 10 Black Slaveowners That Will Tear Apart Historical Perception.

written by Robert M. Grooms (1997)
[source: AmericanCivilWar.com]

In an 1856 letter to his wife Mary Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee called slavery "a moral and political evil." Yet he concluded that black slaves were immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially and physically.

The fact is large numbers of free Negroes owned black slaves; in fact, in numbers disproportionate to their representation in society at large. In 1860 only a small minority of whites owned slaves. According to the U.S. census report for that last year before the Civil War, there were nearly 27 million whites in the country. Some eight million of them lived in the slaveholding states.

The census also determined that there were fewer than 385,000 individuals who owned slaves (1). Even if all slaveholders had been white, that would amount to only 1.4 percent of whites in the country (or 4.8 percent of southern whites owning one or more slaves).

In the rare instances when the ownership of slaves by free Negroes is acknowledged in the history books, justification centers on the claim that black slave masters were simply individuals who purchased the freedom of a spouse or child from a white slaveholder and had been unable to legally manumit them. Although this did indeed happen at times, it is a misrepresentation of the majority of instances, one which is debunked by records of the period on blacks who owned slaves. These include individuals such as Justus Angel and Mistress L. Horry, of Colleton District, South Carolina, who each owned 84 slaves in 1830. In fact, in 1830 a fourth of the free Negro slave masters in South Carolina owned 10 or more slaves; eight owning 30 or more (2).

According to federal census reports, on June 1, 1860 there were nearly 4.5 million Negroes in the United States, with fewer than four million of them living in the southern slaveholding states. Of the blacks residing in the South, 261,988 were not slaves. Of this number, 10,689 lived in New Orleans. The country's leading African American historian, Duke University professor John Hope Franklin, records that in New Orleans over 3,000 free Negroes owned slaves, or 28 percent of the free Negroes in that city.

To return to the census figures quoted above, this 28 percent is certainly impressive when compared to less than 1.4 percent of all American whites and less than 4.8 percent of southern whites. The statistics show that, when free, blacks disproportionately became slave masters.

The majority of slaveholders, white and black, owned only one to five slaves. More often than not, and contrary to a century and a half of bullwhips-on-tortured-backs propaganda, black and white masters worked and ate alongside their charges; be it in house, field or workshop. The few individuals who owned 50 or more slaves were confined to the top one percent, and have been defined as slave magnates.

In 1860 there were at least six Negroes in Louisiana who owned 65 or more slaves The largest number, 152 slaves, were owned by the widow C. Richards and her son P.C. Richards, who owned a large sugar cane plantation. Another Negro slave magnate in Louisiana, with over 100 slaves, was Antoine Dubuclet, a sugar planter whose estate was valued at (in 1860 dollars) $264,000 (3). That year, the mean wealth of southern white men was $3,978 (4).

In Charleston, South Carolina in 1860 125 free Negroes owned slaves; six of them owning 10 or more. Of the $1.5 million in taxable property owned by free Negroes in Charleston, more than $300,000 represented slave holdings (5). In North Carolina 69 free Negroes were slave owners (6).

In 1860 William Ellison was South Carolina's largest Negro slaveowner. In Black Masters. A Free Family of Color in the Old South, authors Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roak write a sympathetic account of Ellison's life. From Ellison's birth as a slave to his death at 71, the authors attempt to provide justification, based on their own speculation, as to why a former slave would become a magnate slave master.

At birth he was given the name April. A common practice among slaves of the period was to name a child after the day or month of his or her birth. Between 1800 and 1802 April was purchased by a white slave-owner named William Ellison. Apprenticed at 12, he was taught the trades of carpentry, blacksmithing and machining, as well as how to read, write, cipher and do basic bookkeeping.

On June 8, 1816, William Ellison appeared before a magistrate (with five local freeholders as supporting witnesses) to gain permission to free April, now 26 years of age. In 1800 the South Carolina legislature had set out in detail the procedures for manumission. To end the practice of freeing unruly slaves of "bad or depraved" character and those who "from age or infirmity" were incapacitated, the state required that an owner testify under oath to the good character of the slave he sought to free. Also required was evidence of the slave's "ability to gain a livelihood in an honest way."

Although lawmakers of the time could not envision the incredibly vast public welfare structures of a later age, these stipulations became law in order to prevent slaveholders from freeing individuals who would become a burden on the general public.

Interestingly, considering today's accounts of life under slavery, authors Johnson and Roak report instances where free Negroes petitioned to be allowed to become slaves; this because they were unable to support themselves.

Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (University Press of Virginia-1995) was written by Ervin L. Jordan Jr., an African-American and assistant professor and associate curator of the Special Collections Department, University of Virginia library. He wrote: "One of the more curious aspects of the free black existence in Virginia was their ownership of slaves. Black slave masters owned members of their family and freed them in their wills. Free blacks were encouraged to sell themselves into slavery and had the right to choose their owner through a lengthy court procedure."

In 1816, shortly after his manumission, April moved to Stateburg. Initially he hired slave workers from local owners. When in 1817 he built a gin for Judge Thomas Watries, he credited the judge nine dollars "for hire of carpenter George for 12 days." By 1820 he had purchased two adult males to work in his shop (7). In fewer than four years after being freed, April demonstrated that he had no problem perpetuating an institution he had been released from. He also achieved greater monetary success than most white people of the period.

On June 20, 1820, April appeared in the Sumter District courthouse in Sumterville. Described in court papers submitted by his attorney as a "freed yellow man of about 29 years of age," he requested a name change because it "would yet greatly advance his interest as a tradesman." A new name would also "save him and his children from degradation and contempt which the minds of some do and will attach to the name April." Because "of the kindness" of his former master and as a "Mark of gratitude and respect for him" April asked that his name be changed to William Ellison. His request was granted.

In time the black Ellison family joined the predominantly white Episcopalian church. On August 6, 1824 he was allowed to put a family bench on the first floor, among those of the wealthy white families. Other blacks, free and slave, and poor whites sat in the balcony. Another wealthy Negro family would later join the first floor worshippers.

Between 1822 and the mid-1840s, Ellison gradually built a small empire, acquiring slaves in increasing numbers. He became one of South Carolina's major cotton gin manufacturers, selling his machines as far away as Mississippi. From February 1817 until the War Between the States commenced, his business advertisements appeared regularly in newspapers across the state. These included the Camden Gazette, the Sumter Southern Whig and the Black River Watchman.

Ellison was so successful, due to his utilization of cheap slave labor, that many white competitors went out of business. Such situations discredit impressions that whites dealt only with other whites. Where money was involved, it was apparent that neither Ellison's race or former status were considerations.

In his book, Ervin L. Jordan Jr. writes that, as the great conflagration of 1861-1865 approached: "Free Afro-Virginians were a nascent black middle class under siege, but several acquired property before and during the war. Approximately 169 free blacks owned 145,976 acres in the counties of Amelia, Amherst, Isle of Wight, Nansemond, Prince William and Surry, averaging 870 acres each. Twenty-rune Petersburg blacks each owned property worth $1,000 and continued to purchase more despite the war."

Jordan offers an example: "Gilbert Hunt, a Richmond ex-slave blacksmith, owned two slaves, a house valued at $1,376, and $500 in other properties at his death in 1863." Jordan wrote that "some free black residents of Hampton and Norfolk owned property of considerable value; 17 black Hamptonians possessed property worth a total of $15,000. Thirty-six black men paid taxes as heads of families in Elizabeth City County and were employed as blacksmiths, bricklayers, fishermen, oystermen and day laborers. In three Norfolk County parishes 160 blacks owned a total of $41,158 in real estate and personal property.

The general practice of the period was that plantation owners would buy seed and equip~ ment on credit and settle their outstanding accounts when the annual cotton crop was sold. Ellison, like all free Negroes, could resort to the courts for enforcement of the terms of contract agreements. Several times Ellison successfully sued white men for money owed him.

In 1838 Ellison purchased on time 54.5 acres adjoining his original acreage from one Stephen D. Miller. He moved into a large home on the property. What made the acquisition notable was that Miller had served in the South Carolina legislature, both in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and while a resident of Stateburg had been governor of the state. Ellison's next door neighbor was Dr. W.W. Anderson, master of "Borough House, a magnificent 18th Century mansion. Anderson's son would win fame in the War Between the States as General "Fighting Dick" Anderson.

By 1847 Ellison owned over 350 acres, and more than 900 by 1860. He raised mostly cotton, with a small acreage set aside for cultivating foodstuffs to feed his family and slaves. In 1840 he owned 30 slaves, and by 1860 he owned 63. His sons, who lived in homes on the property, owned an additional nine slaves. They were trained as gin makers by their father (8). They had spent time in Canada, where many wealthy American Negroes of the period sent their children for advanced formal education. Ellison's sons and daughters married mulattos from Charleston, bringing them to the Ellison plantation to live.

In 1860 Ellison greatly underestimated his worth to tax assessors at $65,000. Even using this falsely stated figure, this man who had been a slave 44 years earlier had achieved great financial success. His wealth outdistanced 90 percent of his white neighbors in Sumter District. In the entire state, only five percent owned as much real estate as Ellison. His wealth was 15 times greater than that of the state's average for whites. And Ellison owned more slaves than 99 percent of the South's slaveholders.

Although a successful businessman and cotton farmer, Ellison's major source of income derived from being a "slave breeder." Slave breeding was looked upon with disgust throughout the South, and the laws of most southern states forbade the sale of slaves under the age of 12. In several states it was illegal to sell inherited slaves (9). Nevertheless, in 1840 Ellison secretly began slave breeding.

While there was subsequent investment return in raising and keeping young males, females were not productive workers in his factory or his cotton fields. As a result, except for a few females he raised to become "breeders," Ellison sold the female and many of the male children born to his female slaves at an average price of $400. Ellison had a reputation as a harsh master. His slaves were said to be the district's worst fed and clothed. On his property was located a small, windowless building where he would chain his problem slaves.

As with the slaves of his white counterparts, occasionally Ellison's slaves ran away. The historians of Sumter District reported that from time to time Ellison advertised for the return of his runaways. On at least one occasion Ellison hired the services of a slave catcher. According to an account by Robert N. Andrews, a white man who had purchased a small hotel in Stateburg in the 1820s, Ellison hired him to run down "a valuable slave. Andrews caught the slave in Belleville, Virginia. He stated: "I was paid on returning home $77.50 and $74 for expenses.

William Ellison died December 5, 1861. His will stated that his estate should pass into the joint hands of his free daughter and his two surviving sons. He bequeathed $500 to the slave daughter he had sold.

Following in their father's footsteps, the Ellison family actively supported the Confederacy throughout the war. They converted nearly their entire plantation to the production of corn, fodder, bacon, corn shucks and cotton for the Confederate armies. They paid $5,000 in taxes during the war. They also invested more than $9,000 in Confederate bonds, treasury notes and certificates in addition to the Confederate currency they held. At the end, all this valuable paper became worthless.

The younger Ellisons contributed more than farm produce, labor and money to the Confederate cause. On March 27, 1863 John Wilson Buckner, William Ellison's oldest grandson, enlisted in the 1st South Carolina Artillery. Buckner served in the company of Captains P.P. Galliard and A.H. Boykin, local white men who knew that Buckner was a Negro. Although it was illegal at the time for a Negro to formally join the Confederate forces, the Ellison family's prestige nullified the law in the minds of Buckner's comrades. Buckner was wounded in action on July 12, 1863. At his funeral in Stateburg in August, 1895 he was praised by his former Confederate officers as being a "faithful soldier."

Following the war the Ellison family fortune quickly dwindled. But many former Negro slave magnates quickly took advantage of circumstances and benefited by virtue of their race. For example Antoine Dubuclet, the previously mentioned New Orleans plantation owner who held more than 100 slaves, became Louisiana state treasurer during Reconstruction, a post he held from 1868 to 1877 (10).

A truer picture of the Old South, one never presented by the nation's mind molders, emerges from this account. The American South had been undergoing structural evolutionary changes far, far greater than generations of Americans have been led to believe. In time, within a relatively short time, the obsolete and economically nonviable institution of slavery would have disappeared. The nation would have been spared awesome traumas from which it would never fully recover.
America Was Born On July 4, 1776 And Slavery Was Abolished In 1865. Slavery Lasted 89 Years In America. (emphasis mine)
[source: History Collection]

The Pendarvis Family

For a white plantation owner to take a female slave as a mistress was hardly unique in eighteenth century America. So, few people would have been so shocked to see the wealthy Joseph Pendarvis become involved with a lady of colour. However, Parthena was more than just a slave lover for Joseph. The pair were so close that they had seven children together. And so, when Joseph died, he remembered all of them in his last will and testament. The children, along with their mother, not only inherited a large expanse of arable land, they also took on dozens of slaves. Indeed, in 1830s Carolina, few families owned more slaves than the Pendarvis clan.

In fact, James Pendarvis, the eldest son of Joseph, inherited 1,009 acres of land close to Green Savanna. He was also bequeathed a plantation in nearby Charleston Creek. Moreover, according to the record books of the time, James inherited 113 slaves to work this land, making him the largest non-while slave holder in all of South Carolina. James carried on growing his business interests and so, by the time of his death in 1798, the Pendarvis family owned 155 slaves, the majority of them picking cotton or rice.

James himself left his property as well as his slaves to the next generation. Well into the nineteenth century, then, his heirs were among the most prominent individuals in all of not just their native Collerton County (modern-day Charleston) but of all of South Carolina. Notably, however, the Pendarvis family were not the only people of color to use slave labor to work the rice fields of South Carolina. The history books noted that the Holman and Collins families, both descended from a female slave brought to America from Sierra Leone, both traded in and made use of slaves during the second half of the 18th century.

Justus Angel

Men and women of colour owning slaves was not so uncommon, even in 18th century South Carolina. However, in most cases, they would own just one, two or three slaves, often family members. Which is what makes the case of Justus Angel so notable. In 1830s Collerton County, the part of the state where Charleston now lies, he was deemed a ‘slave magnate’. Not only dud he own dozens of slaves himself, he also traded in them, earning himself a fortune at the expense of other, more unfortunate souls.

As with so many cases of freed men who made their fortune, almost nothing is known about Angel’s early years. Where he came from, how long he lived as a slave, and how and when he earned his freedom, have all been lost to history. What is known, however, is that, by 1830, Angel was working with his partner, a certain Mistress L. Horry, in the slave business. Between them, they owned 168 slaves, putting them to work on their plantation and earning themselves huge amounts of money in the process. What also made Angel and his partner notable was their treatment of their slaves. Quite simply, just because Angel was a person of color himself didn’t mean he would treat his slaves kindly. Far from it, in fact.

While there is no evidence to suggest that neither Angel nor Horry were any crueller than the white plantation owners of the time, they definitely weren’t any nicer. For them, slaves were nothing more than labor or possessions. The records show that they used their privileges as owners to punish any slaves that tried to escape. What’s more, they would buy and sell slaves purely for profit, with no concern for their well being. Undoubtedly, families would have been split up and some slaves would have been sold on to even crueler masters.
Marie Therese Metoyer

Marie Therese Metoyer was born into slavery but died a rich woman. And a rich woman with slaves of her own to boot. In fact, at the turn of the 18th century, Marie Therese was one of the richest ladies in Louisiana. As a free lady, she was an astute entrepreneur as well as a social climber. Moreover, she was Christian-minded and worked to improve the society she lived in – even if she did make use of slave labor. So, how did this lady, born to slaves, earn first her freedom and then her fortune? The answer is simple: thanks to a simple twist of fate.

Marie Therese was actually born Coincoin (with no given surname) in the Louisiana French outpost of Natchitoches. While she was born into slavery, she did have some education as a child, being trained in nursing and then pharmacy – skills that she would be able to put to good use later in life. The records show that she had children young. Five children, to be precise, though who their father was is not known. What is known is that in 1765, Coincoin’s mistress decided to lend her to a man called Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. It was a decision that would change the lives of both the slave and the young French merchant.

Metoyer fell in love with his new slave. In order to stay together, he purchased her, as well as her children. She took a French name and when they had six children of their own, he purchased their freedom too. But, after many happy years together, Claude Thomas fell for another woman, divorced Marie-Therese and returned to France. He left behind all his possessions, however. Marie-Therese was a wealthy woman. By 1830, it’s estimated that she owned more than 1,000 acres, with an estimated 287 slaves working the land.

As with many plantation owners, Marie-Therese was tough with her slaves. She was obviously a shrewd businesswoman since she got steadily richer, suggesting she had little time for sentimentality. At the same time, however, she was a committed Catholic. She used her money to maintain her local parish church, and she even volunteered the labor of her own slaves for the task. Marie-Therese died in 1816, dividing her property – including her slaves – up between her surviving children.
Antoine Dubuclet

At the time of his death in 1887, Antoine Dubuclet was a wealthy man. A very wealthy man. In fact, he was widely regarded as one of the richest men in all of the South, richer even than his white neighbors. According to historians’ estimates, he was worth around $265,000, around 200 times the average annual income. As well as his land, he also owned significant numbers of slaves. Moreover, he was well-respected in society, not just because of his riches. Dubluclet was, in many ways, a true Southern gentleman: smart, well-dressed and debonair. The Dubluclet family had come a long way in a very short space of time.

Unlike many slave owners of colour of the period, Antoine Dubuclet was born to free parents. He was born in 1810, the son of a part-owner of a sugar plantation close to Baton Rouge. When his father died, his mother moved to New Orleans with Antoine’s younger brothers and sisters. Antoine, meanwhile, took over at the plantation. As well as the land, he also inherited around 70 slaves. In 1834, the other partners in the plantation sold up and the whole business was split equally between Antoine and his siblings. However, Antoine retained a position of leadership, growing the business until, by 1860, it was one of the largest sugar plantations in all of Louisiana, with around 100 slaves toiling the fields.

The American Civil War sent the sugar industry into freefall. Plantation owners, both white and black, lost huge sums of money. However, Antoine had married well back in the 1830s. His free, colored wife had wealth of her own and he had used it wisely, diversifying their investments. As such, Antoine came out of the war in good shape and soon entered the world of politics. He was nominated as the Republican candidate for the Louisiana state treasurer in 1868 and won. Against the odds, he got the bankrupt state back into the black, ensuring his re-election in 1870 and then again in 1874. He died in 1887 and is buried in New Orleans.

Andrew Durnford

As a physician and man of science, surely Andrew Durnford should have seen that all men were born equally? Evidently not. For, as well as being a doctor, Durnford – a man of color himself – was also a plantation owner. From the 1820s onwards, he grew his sugar business across the state of Louisiana, ultimately becoming the owner of not just large amounts of land but of dozens of slaves too. Furthermore, the history books show that he regarded the system of slavery as just and, indeed, even the ‘American’ way of doing things.

Born in 1800 in New Orleans, Durnford was the son of an Englishman and a free woman of color. Thanks to the Louisiana Purchase, he automatically became a citizen of the United States and earned a fine education, being fluent in both French and English. While Durnford was still a young man, his father died. After that, he became first friends, and then business partners, with one of his father’s old friends, a white New Orleans merchant by the name of John McDonogh. Though he was a trained physician, Durnford turned to McDonogh for credit in order to enter the plantation business. His friend agreed, they struck favourable terms and the young man was able to purchase small piece of land just south of the city.

Over the years, Durnford’s plantation grew, and the man himself climbed steadily through Louisiana society. In the late 1820s, the historian David O. Whitten, has revealed, Durnford paid $7,000 for seven male slaves, five female slaves and two children. What’s more, soon after that he travelled to Virginia to acquire 24 more slaves to work his land. In all, it’s estimated that Durnford owned more than 80 slaves at the peak of his operations, earning a small fortune off their hard work.

According to some accounts of the time, Durnford might have been able to free his slaves. A Creole man who had sent his former slaves to be free in Liberia, Africa, asked Durnford if he would consider doing the same. He demurred, apparently arguing that “self interest is too strongly rooted in the bosom of all that breathes the American atmosphere”. In 1859, Durnford died on his own St. Rosalie Plantation, the land still tended by slaves, including slave children.

John Carruthers Stanly

Like many slave children born on plantations, John Carruthers Stanly’s parentage was questionable. According to most accounts, he was born in March of 1795, the son of John Wright, a prominent merchant from New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was an enslaved Africa woman working on a nearby plantation. As such, the child their affair produced was also born enslaved. Fortunately for him, however, the owners of the plantation, a couple called Alexander and Lydia Stewart, were far kinder to their slaves than the majority of their peers.

It was due to this benevolence that Stanly was able to learn a trade while still being enslaved. Alongside a standard education (itself quite rare for slave children), young John learned to become a barber. What’s more, he was able to work part-time cutting hair while not busy on the plantation. After a few years, he had saved up a sum of money and earned himself a reputation in the local community as an honest and hard-working young man. So, in 1798, when he turned 21, he was able to buy his own freedom, backed by the support of the Stewarts.

In 1801, Stanly not only purchased his wife, Kitty, but two slave children as well. This meant he and Kitty could be legally married according to the State of North Carolina. Then, with his brother’s freedom purchased, he focused his attention on moving out of cutting hair and into making some serious money. With two of his own slaves taking care of his barber shop, Stanly bought some land just outside of New Bern. Over time, he expanded his operations significantly and, at his peak, he had an estimated 163 slaves under his control.

At some point in the 1820s, Stanly’s wife died. He was also forced to cope with some serious financial troubles. At one point, Stanly was even forced to sell some of his land and his slaves in order to cover a debt run up by his own brother. By the 1840s, he had lost much of his fortune. Indeed, at the time of his death in 1843, at the age of 71, Stanly had just 160 acres and seven slaves to his name. His children inherited all his property, slaves included.

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Horrible Fate of John Casor, the First Black Man to be Declared Slave for Life in America”. Kat Eschner, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2017.

“From Slave to Entrepreneur: The Life and Times of William Ellison”. Teaching American History in South Carolina Project.

“Selling Poor Steven: The struggles and torments of a forgotten class in antebellum America: black slaveowners”. Philip Burnham, American Heritage Magazine, February 1993.

“The Historical Encyclopaedia of World Slavery, Volume 7”.

“Andrew Durnford: A Black Sugar Planter in the Antebellum South”. David O. Whitten.

“Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860”. Larry Kroger, The Abbeville Institute, January 2016.

UPDATE 6/20/20 at 1:04am: Added info below.

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