“Yours For Liberty”

[Thanks to Vicki Betts]

Vicki found this document during her research into the Confederate Citizens and Business File in Footnote.com.  This particular letter struck her as important and decided to pass it on to me, which I greatly appreciate.  The letter was written by John D. Berry, Schuyler County, New York and sent to the governor of South Carolina, probably late 1860 or early 1861.  Berry is listed as a (col) barber in Schuyler County.

Watkins, Schuyler Co. NY

To the Governor of South Carolina.  Sir I hope you will excuse me for ben so forward in droping you a few lines.   Sir I am no a Scoler.  My dear parents Sent me to School & paid $3 per [     ]  And There It would bee imposseble for me to Say more than one leson a day & Some times not that for Pregdise was So Strong in this Country Against the Colored rase that it was imposable for me to Get justice done me in School.  Sir this was on the Acount of Slavery & the arguments that you Southern men are obliged to youse to kepe us back & to Corupt the whites of the norther States & this Sir you have done perty efeculy for Clay to Lead of with Compromise After Compromise & then all you have to do is to buy Dou fases & that you Did be guining with Webster[.] but Sir I respect Mr. Colhoun for we new where to find him & his corse wodent of Dun us as much harm as has ben dun us by Henry Clays Corse for if the South had declared Slavery to be the Eakual of Liberty then as now the blood which is to brake on you now wold of brok then in sted of now & the Crash would have been So great that it wold have cosed you and every other Slave holder to Shake with fear[.]  your proclamation wodent Save you nor all the Governers in the Slave States.  For we Abolitiones have got the North rite & Justice is to be Dun to all men kind north & South & like bfore quiet will come to this Government[.]  this is so & you may as well begin one time as Another for the [        ] is rapidly at werk & your Proclomation is [       ] here at the north your bst [?] laff at it with the exception of Benet of the herald & we have Got him tite for he hasent Got eny Enfleuence[.]  he is used up Sir & this is so[.]  the Crises is upon you & you must Do my People Justice with the rest of mankind & this Sir will save you and your State will flourish & wax with wealth.  I Dow respect  Southern Gentlemen ten times ye one hundred times more than northern doufase for They Deceive Both north & South & you cant Depend on them[.]  all they want is Ofise[.]  Sir the South Dun rong when they Sanctioned the Outrage on Sumner it was Bad for you & it was bad for you when you Sanction the execution of J. Brown and his follower & Sustained Walker as the South and Administration did for you have made thousands of votes & people raise their voises & hart & hand Against you I mean your instituatain.  But Sir the Day has come for the Deliverance of my people & now humane Agency Can prevent it[.]  I thank God I am down on Slavery & in the words of Oconel when he first herd the idea of property in man it Sounded to him as if Some one was Stamping upon the Grave of his mother and so it Seams to me[.]  I am for Liberty Every time & care not how it comes either with or with out blud shed[.] Yours for liberty

John D. Berry Schuyler Co.

 

Black Confederates Uncovered

It looks like an elite unit of black Confederate soldiers was indeed trained during the war.  Enjoy.  In all seriousness, if you want to follow a very interesting line of inquiry that may result in a legitimate black Confederate soldier I urge you to check out this discussion thread.  Kate Holleron is researching her great-great grandfather, who served in the 26th Tennessee Infantry.  This is how serious research is done and I couldn’t be happier that this blog is assisting Kate in the research process.

 

Coming To Terms With Garrison and Radicalism

This week my AP classes are tackling the various reform movements of the Antebellum Period.  It should come as no surprise that we spend a great deal of time on the Abolitionist Movement and William Lloyd Garrison in particular.  This morning I began class with a fairly vague question to get the ball rolling that asked students to assess Garrison’s philosophy and goals.  Their responses are fairly typical and express a collective belief that Garrison ought to be admired for his perseverance and that his goals were laudable.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with such a response, but we should not pass up the opportunity to work to understand Garrison’s place both within the broader anti-slavery community and the society as a whole.  We do this by first sketching out the goals of the American Colonization Society, which united a broad swath of the population as well as notable political figures from around the country.  I then asked students to think about the implications of their goals of gradual abolition followed by colonization; what do these goals tell us about how Americans viewed slavery and race.  Most of the students were able to see that the program was intended to cause the least amount of harm to slaveowners while colonization suggests that many Americans were unable to imagine a racially integrated society.  This is the context in which to understand Garrison:

On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

This broader picture allows students to move beyond their own narrow interpretation of Garrison’s words and actions to a clearer understanding of the extent to which his understanding of race challenged the very foundations of American society.  This move from the personal to the historical is the bread and butter of historical inquiry and it is important, but it should not constitute the end of any classroom discussion about Garrison and the radical abolitionists. Continue reading

 

Dwight Pitcaithley on the Cause of the Civil War and Public History

Before I get to the subject of this post I wanted to mention that I’ve just finished previewing a forthcoming episode of American Experience on Robert E. Lee.  The show will premiere on PBS on Monday, January 3 at 9:00 p.m. ET.  Back in 2007 I received a call from one of the producers to chat about their plans for the episode.  We talked for quite a bit and I had a chance to offer some suggestions on various interpretive threads as well as suggestions on who to contact for additional commentary as “talking heads.”  The producers were able to bring together an excellent line-up of scholars that includes Peter Carmichael, Gary Gallagher, Emory Thomas, Michael Fellman, Emory Thomas, Lesley Gordon, Ervin Jordan, Elizabeth Brown Pryor and Joseph Glatthaar.  The folks at American Experience did a fine job.

The Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission now has all of the panels from the recent conference in Norfolk available on their YouTube page.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through them.  While I enjoyed Dwight Pitcaithley’s presentation he never really got around to discussing the challenges of interpreting Civil War causation within the NPS.  He did, however, say something relevant to my recent post on my tendency to steer clear of referring to people as Neo-Confederates.  In response to a student’s inquiry into whether he teaches the “true history” of the war, Pitcaithley points out to his audience that it is important to remember that people who subscribe to various strands of Lost Cause thought “come by it honestly.”  It’s important to remember because it seems to me that by calling folks “Neo-Confederates” we assume an accusatory stance that implies a conscious denial of a more complete understanding of what the war was about.

 

John C. Winsmith’s Black Confederate

As many of you know I am in the beginning stages of a book-length project on the subject of black Confederates.  While much of my blogging has centered on countering the nonsense coming out of certain camps concerning numbers and vague references to “loyalty” and “reconciliation” my real interest in this subject is firmly grounded in the war itself.  I am particularly interested in how the Confederate war effort shaped the master-slave relationship.  As I type this I am staring at rows upon rows of books that explore slave life and culture during the antebellum period.  I’ve learned a great deal from these books.  However, what I want to better understand is how the exigencies of war shaped the institution during its final few years, particularly in an environment away from what both parties had grown accustomed to.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time re-reading the John C. Winsmith letters, which I’ve finished transcribing and hope to publish at some point soon.  You can read about Winsmith in an earlier post, which includes one of the roughly 250 letters that he wrote over the course of the war.  Winsmith’s letters, which detail his relationship with his personal servant, Spencer, presents historians with a rich spectrum of experiences that deserve closer study.  One gets a sense of how close proximity between master and slave drew both closer.  At the same time the eventual outcome of this story raises profound questions about the extent to which the two truly understood one another.

At no point does Winsmith refer to Spencer as a soldier and at no point in this collection of letters does he refer to black Confederate soldiers.  Reading these letters one gets the sense that Winsmith would have been horrified to learn of black men serving as soldiers.  I’ve written quite a bit about these references, but I am curious as to what you see.

Sullivan’s Island, April 26, 1861

I have been doing very well in my quarters here in the Moultrie House, having a comfortable room [etc].  Spencer has proved himself an excellent cook and our mess cannot listen to the talk of his leaving: he was a little home-sick for the first few days, but is now anxious to remain; and believe he is making more money than any of us: he has become washer [?] and is adept at every sort of duty.  The time that I do not require his attention, I give him for himself.

April 29, 1861

Spencer has had a cold, but is now better.  He sends howdye to Peg and the other negroes.  He was very glad to get those nice things from home, and they were so much better than what we have been having. Continue reading