Guest Post: Questions About the Illicit Slave Trade, State Auctions, and Urban Infrastructure [Cross-Posted]

Todd Burst is an independent scholar who is researching and blogging about the eighteenth century British-African slave trade and the development of capitalism. He is currently writing about how Fante Africans on the Gold Coast vicariously influenced the role of the British state in commerce through the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa. He also runs the Roads to Modernity blog, where he reviews current writings about the history of slavery and capitalism, and occasionally publishes some of his own works. This guest post is cross-posted from his blog.

1_3 PAR20881410_Page_1.jpgIn Antebellum America, Southern municipalities generated revenue by confiscating and reselling illicit slaves through public auctions.[1] In 1807, Congress prohibited the international slave trade, a year later, Louisiana followed suite, but this did not stop the trade. An illicit trade from Africa across the Atlantic continued to supply the America South with slaves. Illegal slaves were forfeited to the state. The Sheriff’s department placed these slaves in prison to await resale to the public. These findings raise questions about the role of the state in the slave trade, property laws, municipal revenues, and contributions of the sale of slaves at “property auctions” to modern city infrastructures.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Stephen Campbell, “Reimagining the Second Bank of the United States in Early American History”

Stephen W. Campbell earned a doctorate in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2013. A lecturer at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Campbell is the author of articles that have appeared in American Nineteenth Century History, Ohio Valley History, Perspectives on History, and History News Network. He has recently completed a book manuscript entitled Banking on the Press: Newspapers, Financial Institutions, and the Post Office in Jacksonian America, 1828-1834.

Cadwalder Family Papers, Box 98, Folder 24, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. [Click for full-size]

Unexpected “ah-hah!” moments make long hours of historical research worthwhile. A few months ago I was perusing a letter from an edited volume of Henry Clay’s correspondence when my eyes began to drift over to an adjoining page. A letter, dated August 17, 1830, showed the great senator and orator instructing his Washington agent, Philip Fendall, to send one of his slaves, Lotty, back to Kentucky. Clay wanted Lotty “to have the means to bring herself home…but if she wants money for that purpose I will thank you to apply to Mr. R[ichard] Smith to advance her the necessary sum.” Nothing in the footnotes or index shed light on this enigmatic Smith (an exceedingly common name both then and now), but I had come across this name several times before. This was almost certainly the cashier of the Washington branch of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS), the nation’s de facto central bank. A few weeks later, Clay again penned Fendall: “There are persons frequently bringing slaves from the district [of Columbia] to this State, some of whom might perhaps undertake to conduct [Lotty] to Maysville, Louisville, Lexington, or some other point from which I could receive her.”[1] Continue reading

Guest Post: Jeremy C. Young, “James Rush and the Invention of Personal Magnetism”

Jeremy C. Young is an assistant professor of history at Dixie State University and the author of The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

youngToo often, as American historians, we imagine the Civil War as an impenetrable barrier between eras—as if American history simply stopped in 1861 and an entirely new nation, filled with new people, came to replace it. In reality, of course, people who cast their first ballots for Andrew Jackson cast their last for William Jennings Bryan; people born into slavery died after the advent of talking motion pictures. Nevertheless, professionally speaking, we’re often tacitly discouraged from placing the antebellum and postbellum worlds in conversation with one another. This way of thinking disadvantages historians of the modern era in particular, I think, in that it makes us less likely to investigate the early American roots of the phenomena we study. In my case, it explains why it took me so long to realize that the story I was telling about the 1920s actually began in the 1820s. I want to tell you about that moment of discovery, about how my reluctance to look at early American history almost caused me to miss the most explosive revelation in my book—and about what I found when I finally pulled back the curtain to reveal the early-American origins of my narrative. Continue reading

Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading

Lies and Half Truths in the Archives

calico-jack-rackhams-pirate-flagAs a historian of piracy, I suppose it was inevitable that my research summaries would end up reading like bad monologues for a late night comedy act. Like this tidbit from the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla: “1618 four Frenchmen appeared before the governor of Santo Domingo accused of piracy by the Spanish patrolmen who caught them on the island’s coast. The governor interrogates the four men through a translator. One of the men admits that, to survive, they occasionally went pirating on the high seas, but that they never stole anything from the Spanish. The governor then asks him where they got their ship, to which the men admit that they may have stolen one thing from the Spanish.” Ba dum tsshhh, cue the rimshot and laughter from my friends as I relate the story over beers later that evening. Continue reading

Steamboats and Teaching Tech

steamboat-imageSteamboats are ready for a comeback. A pedagogical one, that is. While in all likelihood the steamboat’s time as a common form of transportation in the United States is finished, over the past several weeks I’ve noticed subtle mentions in a seminar paper, a museum display, comments during last month’s PEAES conference, and only once, I should add, did I bring them up! This may be in part due to my increasing interest in them as a pivotal subject in the history of Anglo-American intellectual property. Yet I don’t think this is entirely an instance of frequency illusion but rather indicates that while steamboats are no longer an effective mode of movement, they are very effective as an illustrative one, particularly when trying to flesh out broader themes in the political economy of the Early Republic. Continue reading

“Daddy” Schuyler, Hamilton, and the Dakota Access Pipeline

State St. in front of the NYS Capital building, Albany, NY N 42 39.11 W 73 45.31 Text: <---- 1 1/2 Miles Schuyler Mansion Home of General Philip Schuyler. Residence of Alexander Hamilton in 1781 and 1795. State Education Department 1940

Three things happened in the last couple weeks to put Hamilton back on my mind: 1) the Victoria Palace Theatre in London announced that tickets for the show would finally (finally!) go on sale in January, 2) I started re-reading some of my research notes for this round of book edits, and 3) police arrested and pepper-sprayed peaceful Native Americans—Standing Rock Sioux, along with 90 additional nations and tribes—who were protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.[1] I find that being a historian is a job of intellectual mood swings. I read my sources telling me about the horrible things some of the people I study did in the past, and then I have to pull back and contextualize their actions within an eighteenth-century milieu in which many people were terrible people most of the time by 2016’s standards (and people, our standards these days are low). All this is a longish way of saying that I, like many historians, love Hamilton while recognizing that its treatment of Early Republic history misrepresents and sometimes leaves out some of the topics that matter most to me as a historian. And so today I want to talk about Hamilton, settler colonialism, and Native American history—in particular, about land battles and the relationship between Indians, federal governments, and state entities. Continue reading