Addendum to “Starting down the path to embracing our history of White Supremacy”

A Reader Adds:

My friend Walter Stitt wrote to me last week partially in response to my post, “Starting down the path to embracing White Supremacy” Here are his additions:

“I have shared my interest in Rhode Island history, and the often salutary effect RI events had on the development of the country as a whole.
Two huge positives are the understanding and empathy Williams had for the natives of this area, and the contributions to our views of church state relations made by Williams and some other RI geniuses/cranks, eg Ann Hutchinson and Samuel Gorton. The latter did influence the country, the former was followed very little.
Then there is the slave trade. By the middle of the 18th century RI merchants were practicing a hyper capitalism in which people were products. The attached was done by an artist named John Greenwood about 1755. It portrays traders waiting off the coast of South America while their cargo was loaded. On the right of the table in the blue coat is Joseph Wanton, who was governor of the colony during the 1772 Gaspee crisis. At the top center of the table in the gray coat and smoking a pipe is Nicholas Cooke, who became governor in 1775 when Wanton was pushed out of office for failing to support the rebellion. The man speaking to Cooke, wearing the black tricorn, is Esek Hopkins, first commander of the US Navy and captain of one of the most notorious slaving efforts ever, the voyage of the Sally in which 109 captives died. ”
When I queried Walter about “Gaspee crisis” of 1775 he responded with a further bit of history.

“The Gaspee crisis occurred after June 10, 1772  when  the royal revenue ship Gaspee was lured onto a Narragansett Bay sandbar near Pawtuxet and then burned by John Brown and other leading merchants of the colony, who rowed down the bay from Providence to attack the trapped ship . A royal commission spent a year trying to identify the attackers but the code of silence held. The “Burning of the Gaspee” is an annual celebration here. By Rhode Island lore it is the first blow of the Revolution. I have participated in a little skit in Pawtucket Cove in which a metal “Gaspee” is towed into the cove, dowsed with some flammables and then ignited after a cannon is fired at it.  (The cannon is not at all what happened to the original. It was simply torched by boarders after the crew was taken off.)  The attack was done in the name of freeing Rhode Islanders from oppressive taxes and the abusive behavior of Dudingston, captain of the Gaspee.  However the leaders of the attackers, John Brown, Abraham Whipple, Simeon Potter and others were all slavers. A local activist named Joey Neve Delafrancesco has argued in the Providence Journal and local events that it is time to accept that the burning of the Gaspee had everything to do with protecting slave trading.

And yes, this John Brown was brother to Moses Brown and one of the main backers of “The College of Rhode Island”,  later Brown University.”

Elite Education Slavers

Walter’s comments reminded me that in 2006 Brown University was the first of the Ivys to detail involvement in the slave trade.  Since then, there has been a small tsunami of schools owning up to their histories. These include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Hamilton College, Princeton, U Penn, Georgetown, and Rutgers, just to mention those located in the Northeast.

Slavery in the North

If you grew up in my generation, Boomers, and lived in the North you undoubtedly were taught directly or by inference that slavery was peculiar to the South. This, of course, turns out to be false. There were plenty of enslaved people in the North, and Northerners benefitted very directly from the system more broadly. Think of the burgeoning cotton industry in Lawrence, MA and elsewhere in the North.

It startled me a few years ago to discover that in Hudson, NY, my hometown of recent times, just 50 miles south of Albany, NY, it is estimated that  in the 1790s 20-25% of the families owned a slave. This makes slavery a very present institution in day-to-day life.