Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pocketing the Profits

Since Mystic was rediscovered as an important site of the Atlantic slave trade, the Hartford Courant has run regular specials on Connecticut and New England's involvement in slavery as an institution and industry. The net is cast wider this time, with more attention given to the entanglement of the Northeast in Southern plantation system.
That may shock many in Connecticut, who know their state was a force in the abolition of slavery, and that it sent thousands of its young men to die in the war to free the enslaved and end an inhuman, ungodly institution.

But the fact is that politically and socially and economically, Connecticut was as much a slave state as Virginia or Mississippi. It even had that most iconic of slave institutions: the plantation.

The big difference is that we hid most of our involvement because, well, we could. In large part, the slavery that Connecticut benefited from happened somewhere else.

Consider:

Connecticut became an economic powerhouse in the 18th century, far out of proportion to its tiny size, because we grew and shipped food to help feed millions of slaves, in the West Indies.

The rivers and streams of Connecticut in the 19th century were crowded with more than a hundred textile mills that relied on cotton grown by hundreds of thousands of slaves, in the South.

Up to the edge of the 20th century, two towns on the Connecticut River were a national center for ivory production, milling hundreds of thousands of tons of elephant tusks procured through the enslavement or death of more than a million people, in Africa.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hartford's most famous abolitionist, said this was slavery the way Northerners like it:

All of the benefits and none of the screams.

2 Comments:

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Wow. I haven't lately been checking as many non-Asia blogs as I used before spending the past two months in Japan, but I'm glad I checked in with the Rhine River. That's a very powerful story that still resonates today. Kudos to the Hartford Courant. Mark Twain would be proud.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

This is an evolving story. Someday I hope to give it fuller attention.

 

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