Tag Archives: U.S. History
Ordinance of 1787

The South and the Ordinance of 1787

The drawing above shows men in colonial dress nailing a broadside onto a tree. Other figures, including some which appear to represent historical figures such as George Washington and Patrick Henry, and some Indians, watch. The drawing probably refers to the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which created the Northwest Territory as a part of the United States. The artist was James Henry Beard (1812-1893).

The Ordinance of 1787

We have been accustomed to attribute the unanimity with which the Ordinance of 1787 was enacted, to the prevalend of Anti-Slavery sentiment in the country at the time of its passage. The Richmond Whig seems anxious to divest the South of all credit on this score.

Read the following:

“We have never been able, satisfactorily, to account for the extraordinary unanimity with which the Southern members of Congress supported this famous Ordinance – by which slavery was excluded from the Northwestern Territory. It is explained, however, by a paragraph in a letter from Colonel William Grayson, one of the members of Congress from Virginia at that time, (which we find in the New York Tribune,) addressed to one of his colleagues. He writes: ‘The clause respecting Slavery was agreed to by the Southern members, for the purpose of preventing Tobacco and Indigo,’ (the former the great staple of Virginia, and the latter of South Carolina,) from being made on the Northwest side of the Ohio, as well as for several other political reasons.’

“What those ‘political reasons’ were, however, we are unable to conjecture. That class of reasons now exert a contrary influence.”

It is painful to see this anxiety on the part of a leading Virginia paper to ascribe one of the noblest acts of Virginia and the Southern States, to merely selfish motives.

One is tempted, after reading such a paragraph, to believe that there was too much truth in the imputation made in the Convention that framed the Federal Constitution, that the efforts of Virginia to obtain an immediate prohibition of the foreign slave trade, were stimulated by a disposition to monopolize the business of supplying Georgia and South Carolina with slaves. But, no! we will not follow the example of the Whig, and offer such an indignity to the State which, through its delegates in the Federal Convention, stood pre-eminent in its opposition to slavery.

Whatever the public sentiment in Virginia now, once she had a Washington, who deplored Slavery as a crime, declared that it ought to be abolished by law, and that, so far as his suffrage could go in obtaining such a law, it should not be wanting.

Whatever the political or economical reasons which influenced the action of the Southern States, in 1787, this much is certain – they were unanimous in the passage of an ordinance prohibiting Slavery in the only Territory possessed by the United States.

The fact that they gave changed their policy, and that “that class of reasons exert a contrary influence,” does not make the prohibition of Slavery now, in United States’ territory, unconstitutional, or render it proper now that the other sections of the Union should change their minds – unless, indeed, it be claimed, that the fluctuating views of a few slaveholders, in relation to the interests of Indigo, Tobacco, Rice, Cotton, and Sugar, should decide what is constitutional, just, and politic, for twenty millions of people.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

Source: The National Era, February 17, 1848

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Glorious News – Slavery Abolished from the Constitution

We have the pleasure of chronicling in this issue of our paper, for the benefit of our readers, the thrilling and joyous intelligence that on the last day of January, 1865, the House of Representatives of the United States voted to amend the Constitution, so as to cause it to read as follows:

Article XIII

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This was carried by a vote of 119 for the amendment, to 56 in opposition to it. Thus is has passed by a two-third vote. The Constitution of the United States is now amended beyond doubt.

The Lord be praised for his great work of reformation in the hearts of the American people. We know that this welcome news will gladden the hearts of all patriots and true lovers of God and humanity, freedom and liberty. We hope that our Legislatures will act wisely in the premises. Once more may the old State House Bell ring forth, as in days of yore, proclaiming Liberty throughout the land – proclaiming that the martyrs of today have not cast their lives away in vain. A wild hum of joy comes to our ears on the dancing breeze as the bondman’s shackles fall, and we can almost hear the glad cry gushing like a fountain from his heart – “O God, we thank thee.”

Source: The Christian Recorder, February 4, 1865

A Parcel of Very Fine Slaves

A Parcel of Very Fine Slaves

The Virginia Gazette was the first newspaper published in Virginia and the first to be published in the area south of the Potomac River in the colonial period of the United States. Issues have the following subtitle: “Containing the freshest advices, foreign and domestick.” It was published weekly from 1736 through 1780.

This resource is quite valuable to anyone researching the internal slave trade within the colonies. Most issues start with news and letters from abroad, but the bulk of the paper was often commercial listings that in some way relate to slavery. This can include estate sales that include human slaves as part of the property or slave auction announcements or offers of payment for the return of runaway slaves.

These examples are all from The Virginia Gazette issue from January 10, 1771:

To be SOLD, to the highest bidder, byvirtue of a decree of Hanover Court, atthe court-house, on Wednesday the 23dof this instant (January)

THIRTEEN LIKELY VIRGINIA BORN SLAVES, consisting of men, women and children of the estate of James Blackwell, (Junior). to satisfy his creditors. Three years credit will be allowed for the greatest part of the money and 12 months for the remainder, giving bond and good security.

At the same time and place will likewise be exposed to public sale, about TWENTY valuable Virginia born SLAVES. men. women, and boys, for ready money,taken by virtue of executions by the sheriff of Hanover.

The Virginia Gazette, January 10, 1771

The Virginia Gazette, January 10, 1771

On Friday the 9th of February, at Mecklenburg court-house, TWENTY-FIVE likely VIRGINIA born NEGROES; among which are several young wenches that have tended in a house; the others are men women and children. They will be sold for ready money, or good merchants notes payable the ensuing April General Court. The title indisputable and will be made so to the purchasers on the day of sale. –FRANCIS WILLS.

PORTSMOUTH, January 2, 1771 — FIFTY choice Virginia born SLAVES will be sold at on Monday the 4th of February next, the time of payment for which will be made convenient to purchasers, and an undoubted title made to the SLAVES, by HUGH M’MEKIN.

To be SOLD pursuant to the last will and testament of Benjamin Du Val, deceased,on the premises, in Henrico County,

ALL the estate of the said Benjamin of a valuable tract of land on creek, containing 386 acres, and 25 bushels of Also a good dwelling house, with all convenient out houses: there are about 80 acres of fine meadow land, some of which will bring good tobacco. Likewise all the stock of horses, cattle, hops, sheep, corn, wheat, fodder, and a very good still that holds 50 gallons, a parcel of carpenter’s tools, a good set of surveyor’s instruments, 6 choice wheat fans with two paddles in each, that work both together, 18 choice slaves, mostly Virginia born; among them a good pair of sawyers, a carpenter and cooper; 4 valuable house wenches and cooks, all the plantation utensils, many other articles to mention. Two years credit will be given for the land and 12 months for all sums above 25 s. to bear interest from the date; but if the money is paid on the day it becomes due the interest will abated.The purchasers must give bond with approved security.

All persons that have any demands against. the said estate,are desired to make them known by the day of sale,and those indebted, to pay off their accounts. The sale begins of Thursday, the 17th of January 1771.  ROBERT DU VAL, Executor. (more…)

Library of Congress

The OTHER Fire at the Library of Congress – 1851

As many people know, after capturing Washington, D.C. in 1814, the British burned the U.S. Capitol and destroyed the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson, in retirement at Monticello, offered to sell his personal library to the Library Committee of Congress in order to rebuild the collection of the Congressional Library. On January 30, 1815, President James Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library of 6,487 volumes.

On December 24, 1851 the largest fire in the Library’s history destroyed 35,000 books, about two–thirds of the Library’s 55,000 book collection, including two–thirds of Jefferson’s original transfer. Congress in 1852 quickly appropriated $168,700 to replace the lost books, but not for the acquisition of new materials. This marked the start of a conservative period in the Library’s administration under Librarian John Silva Meehan and Joint Committee Chairman James A. Pearce, who worked to restrict the Library’s activities.

The fire was reported in The National Era.

National Calamity

Our whole city is intensely excited by the great calamity which has just fallen upon the Capitol.

The Library of Congress, with its rich collection of valuable books, public documents, precious manuscripts, paintings, busts medals, and other works of art, is in ashes. The loss to the nation is great, and, to a certain extent, irreparable. This was probably, on the whole, the best library in the United States; it was enriched by the choice collection of works brought together by the care, discrimination, and taste of Mr. Jefferson, and had been an object of deep interest and regard to successive intelligent committees of Congress, who were intrusted with the duty of superintending its management, and adding annually to its treasures.

Fort Pulaski After the Breach

The Southern Forts in 1861

Our Civil War Collection: A Newspaper Perspective contains major articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.

Coverage begins with the events preceding the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter, continues through the surrender at Appomattox and concludes with the assassination and funeral of Abraham Lincoln.

This detailed summary of the Southern forts appeared in the January 14, 1861 edition of The Charleston Mercury,

Southern Forts


Fort Macon protects Beaufort, N.C., and is situated on a bluff on Bogiebank, one and three fourths mile from the city. It commands the entrance to Beaufort harbor, having full sweep of fire on the main channel. The opposite entrance to the harbor is Shackleford bank, one and a half miles across. The fortification is of hexagonal form, has two tiers of gins, one in casemated bombproofs and the other en barbette.

Its armament consists of twenty thirty two pounders, thirty two twenty four pounders, two eighteen pounders, two twelve pounders, three field pieces for flanking defense, twelve flank howitzers (heavy), eight eight-inch howitzers (light), one thirteen inch mortar, three ten inch mortars, two Coehorn mortars. Total, eighty-seven guns.

The war garrison of the fort is three hundred men. This fort, requires pointing in many places; nearly all the iron work, such as door and window fastenings, are rusted away. One of the wooden bridges across the ditch is decayed, as also the shingled entire slope of the covered way. The shot furnace is useless, the storerooms need renovation, and the roadway requires to have its embankment repaired, and a new bridge to be built across the canal. The wharf having its piers undermined by the sea current and its wooden superstructure much decayed, requires to be rebuilt.

The fortification cost the Federal Government half a million dollars.

Fort Macon from the Shoreward Side

Fort Macon from the Shoreward Side