Are Slave Rebellions Part of the Story of American Freedom?

The Georgia Historical Society is in the process of installing new historical markers that expand our understanding of how the war impacted society beyond the battlefield.  One of the markers focuses on a failed slave revolt in the town of Quitman, Georgia, near the Florida border.  In 1864 three slaves and their white ringleader named John Vickery were hanged in Brooks County.  The reporter notes that, “The story highlights how three and a half years into war, many Georgians – especially poor, non-slaveholders — were hungry for food, war-weary and disillusioned with the Confederate cause.” And according to Todd Groce, the President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, the story “has a great relevance because it tells the African American people that they too are a part of the Civil War.”

Here is the text for the marker:

Civil War Slave Conspiracy

In August 1864, during the American Civil War, four men were executed in Brooks County, Georgia, for conspiring to plot a slave insurrection. The conspirators–led by a local white man, John Vickery, and three slaves named Nelson, George, and Sam–planned to seize weapons and take control of the town of Quitman, securing it for the U.S. Army in nearby Florida. Local authorities discovered the plot before it could be carried out. All four conspirators were convicted of insurrection and executed on August 22, 1864.  Anti-Confederate activity such as this, along with food riots, draft evasion, and labor unrest, increased during the final year of the war.

The choice of words is interesting.  Like most historical markers the basic outline of the event is presented, but there is little attempt to frame around a broader theme and that’s probably a good thing.  I assume that the “anti-Confederate” activity implied here is the slave insurrection itself, though it isn’t so clear.

I’ve asked this question before, but it is worth returning to given the placement of this marker: Is this event simply an example of anti-Confederate activity or is it part of a broader story of American freedom that we can all identify with?

[Note: I took the photo from one of the two article cited here because of the text that accompanied it: “A new plaque commemorates a failed slave revolt in Quitman. This image depicts a successful uprising by Nat Turner in Virginia.”  It goes without saying that Turner’s rebellion was not successful.]

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Trace Adkins Defines Tennessee’s Civil War Sesquicentennial

Tennessee’s Sesquicentennial Commission held its inaugural Signature Event on November 12 around the theme, “The Coming of the Civil War” in Chattanooga.  According to Governor Phil Bredesen. “This inaugural event, which begins the five-year recognition from 2011-2015, will create conversation, stir interest, and help people develop a greater appreciation for history and acknowledge the role this war played in the lives of all Americans.”  Historian, Sam David Elliott, gave the keynote address on the coming of the war and I suspect that he covered much of the ground found in the latest academic scholarship.

Interestingly, the commission also invited Country Music singer, Trace Adkins, to offer a few words.

I don’t know if I have a problem with inviting a singer to offer a few brief remarks about the coming of the war, but I do wonder how the organizers hope to reconcile Adkins’s personal view with what Elliott discussed and with the scholarly consensus on this topic.  Perhaps these opposing views don’t need to be accepted, but I suspect that the applause at the end of Adkins’s remarks suggests that most of the people left with his thoughts in mind as opposed to Elliott’s.

Actually, now that I think about it I do hope that the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission doesn’t choose to invite Williamsburg’s Bruce Hornsby or Charlottesville’s Dave Matthews to the next Signature Conference to discuss Confederate war strategy.

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The Sesquicentennial is Alive and Well in Fredericksburg

Congratulations to John Hennessy of the NPS and Sara Poore of the Fredericksburg Area Museum for organizing a wonderful event yesterday that included a rare opportunity to tour the grounds of Brompton as well as listen to historians George Rable and William Freehling.  More than 600 people attended the event at the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church, which is quite an accomplishment given the beautiful weather as well as the subject.  Read John’s thoughts about the day’s proceedings at Fredericksburg Remembered.  John and Sara are two of the hardest working public historians in the business and I hope that the people of Fredericksburg appreciate their commitment to organizing programs for the local community that are both entertaining and educational.

One of the more interesting moments took place during the Q&A following John’s talk on the secession debate that took place in Fredericksburg.  A member of the audience suggested that the lack of slave rebellions during the antebellum period suggested to him that slaves may have, in fact been content.  No surprise that John handled the question directly and with the sensitivity that it deserved.  What surprised me, however, was that after John finished with his response a large percentage of the audience clapped.  The response suggests that these questions are no longer appropriate to ask.  Yes, we can have serious discussions about the complexity of the master-slave relationship, but thankfully we seem to have moved beyond being able to suggest that people were content being slaves.

Thanks to everyone involved for organizing this event.

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Social Media Expert…Who Me?

Following my last class today I headed on over to the University of Virginia to take part in the annual meeting of the College Communicators Association.  I was asked to talk a bit about how university public relations people might utilize bloggers as a means to build stronger ties with the general public.  To be completely honest, I felt like a fish out of water, but I shared some ideas based on my limited interaction with public relations folks from various institutions.  Here is a brief rundown of my main points:

  • Keep in mind that blogging is a self-indulgent and ego-driven activity.  In other words, bloggers work to share their ideas with an audience and not the announcements of others.  In other words, understand that your communique goes against the grain of what blogging is about.
  • Do your homework and look into specific blogs that might be receptive to you rather than sending out a mass email.  The overwhelming number of blogs are not worth contacting because they do not attract an audience.  Build a relationship with specific bloggers.  A few weeks ago a major archival repository put out a video announcing a new exhibit.  The video went to most of the Civil War bloggers, which resulted in me not featuring it on this site.
  • Look for the tell-tale signs of a thriving blog.  Feedburner chicklets indicate the number of subscribers while sitemeter and statcounter will sometimes make public the number of daily visits and other relevant statistics.  In the case of advertising you may want to request a Google Analytics report.
  • Focus on bloggers who are self hosted and have their own domain name since this suggests a certain amount of investment into the site.  At the same time it is important to remember that you are asking for free publicity.  The blogger has to get something out of the transaction.  What are you offering to the blogger?
  • Make the pitch to the blogger as to why your information is relevant to the audience.  Again, I receive regular emails from various institutions and only rarely do I respond and it is even rarer that their information is featured on this site.
  • Finally, the energy expended trying to reach out to other social media sites should go into crafting your own content and figuring how to effectively utilize the many social networking tools that are available.  Create your own audience and understand why it matters.

I guess that sounds like something that Chris Brogan or the countless other so-called social media experts might say.

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November 19, 1863

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“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.

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