Grabbing Hold Of That Thin Slice of Delaware’s Confederate Past

Looks like the first monument to honor Delawareans who served in Confederate armies will be unveiled this Saturday on the grounds of the Nutter B. Marvel Museum.  The 9-foot obelisk will honor somewhere between 200 and 2,000 residents of the state who served in military and civilian capacities.  Of course, one of the individuals to be recognized is a black man:

David White, a slave from Georgetown who was traveling with his owner on a ship that was captured by the Confederate raider CSS Alabama on Oct. 9, 1862, near the Azores. According to historical accounts, White voluntarily served as a mess steward aboard the Alabama and refused numerous opportunities to desert and gain his freedom.   White went down with the ship when it was sunk by the USS Kearsarge in June 1864 off Kearsarge, France.

White was loyal to the end and even went down with the ship.  How touching.  What more can you ask for? (LOL)

It’s interesting that the SCV would spend so much time focusing on Delaware’s links to the Confederacy.  There is a bit of irony in all of this given the fact that, according to historian William Freehling, it may have been Border States like Delaware that doomed the Confederate experiment.  Delaware’s antebellum experience meant that the rhetoric coming from Deep South “Fireaters” would receive a cold reception before the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  It also helps us to understand why the secession commissioners that Charles Dew documents were unsuccessful in convincing the Border and Middle South States that Lincoln’s election constituted an “immediate threat” to the institution of slavery.  That Delaware ignored these pleas can be seen in the fact that from 1790 to 1860 the percentage of slaves in the Border South had dropped from 25 to 13 percent.  During that same period the percentage of free blacks had increased; by 1860 ninety percent of the state’s blacks were free.

The antebellum history of Delaware serves to remind us that the South was not monolithic in any sense.  The overwhelming number of its residents served in Northern armies and fought against their Southern brothers.  I have absolutely no problem with this monument, but I can’t help but wonder whether this is more a matter of ignoring the richness that is the history of the South in favor of another overly simplistic representation of the past.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

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