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Americans in Antebellum Pre Civil War America - History

Americans in Antebellum Pre Civil War America - History

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Americans in Antebellum Pre Civil War America - History

Pre-Civil War Americans regarded Southerners as a distinct people, who possessed their own values and ways of life. It was widely mistakenly believed, however, that the North and South had originally been settled by two distinct groups of immigrants, each with its own ethos. Northerners were said to be the descendants of 17th century English Puritans, while Southerners were the descendants of England's country gentry.

In the eyes of many pre-Civil War Americans this contributed to the evolution of two distinct kinds of Americans: the aggressive, individualistic, money-grubbing Yankee and the southern cavalier. According to the popular stereotype, the cavalier, unlike the Yankee, was violently sensitive to insult, indifferent to money, and preoccupied with honor.

During the three decades before the Civil War, popular writers created a stereotype, now known as the plantation legend, that described the South as a land of aristocratic planters, beautiful southern belles, poor white trash, faithful household slaves, and superstitious fieldhands. This image of the South as "a land of cotton where old times are not forgotten" received its most popular expression in 1859 in a song called "Dixie," written by a Northerner named Dan D. Emmett to enliven shows given by a troupe of black-faced minstrels on the New York stage.

In the eyes of many Northerners, uneasy with their increasingly urban, individualistic, commercial society, the culture of the South seemed to have many things absent from the North--a leisurely pace of life, a clear social hierarchy, and an indifference to money.

Despite the strength of the plantation stereotype, the South was, in reality, a diverse and complex region. Though Americans today often associate the old South with cotton plantations, large parts of the South were unsuitable for plantation life. In the mountainous regions of eastern Tennessee and western Virginia, few plantations or slaves were to be found. Nor did southern farms and plantations devote their efforts exclusively to growing cotton or other cash crops, such as rice and tobacco. Unlike the slave societies of the Caribbean, which produced crops exclusively for export, the South devoted much of its energy to raising food and livestock.

The pre-Civil War South encompassed a wide variety of regions that differed geographically, economically, and politically. Such regions included the Piedmont, Tidewater, coastal plain, piney woods, Delta, Appalachian Mountains, upcountry, and a fertile black belt--regions that clashed repeatedly over such political questions as debt relief, taxes, apportionment of representation, and internal improvements.

The white South’s social structure was much more complex than the popular stereotype of proud aristocrats disdainful of honest work and ignorant, vicious, exploited poor whites. The old South’s intricate social structure included many small slaveowners and relatively few large ones.

Large slaveholders were extremely rare. In 1860 only 11,000 Southerners, three-quarters of one percent of the white population owned more than 50 slaves a mere 2,358 owned as many as 100 slaves. However, although large slaveholders were few in number, they owned most of the South’s slaves. Over half of all slaves lived on plantations with 20 or more slaves and a quarter lived on plantations with more than 50 slaves.

Slave ownership was relatively widespread. In the first half of the 19th century, one-third of all southern white families owned slaves, and a majority of white southern families either owned slaves, had owned them, or expected to own them. These slaveowners were a diverse lot. A few were African American, mulatto, or Native American one-tenth were women and more than one in ten worked as artisans, businesspeople, or merchants rather than as farmers or planters. Few led lives of leisure or refinement.

The average slaveowner lived in a log cabin rather than a mansion and was a farmer rather than a planter. The average holding varied between four and six slaves, and most slaveholders possessed no more than five.

White women in the South, despite the image of the hoop-skirted southern belle, suffered under heavier burdens than their northern counterparts. They married earlier, bore more children, and were more likely to die young. They lived in greater isolation, had less access to the company of other women, and lacked the satisfactions of voluntary associations and reform movements. Their education was briefer and much less likely to result in opportunities for independent careers.

The plantation legend was misleading in still other respects. Slavery was neither dying nor unprofitable. In 1860 the South was richer than any country in Europe except England, and it had achieved a level of wealth unmatched by Italy or Spain until the eve of World War II.

The southern economy generated enormous wealth and was critical to the economic growth of the entire United States. Well over half of the richest 1 percent of Americans in 1860 lived in the South. Even more important, southern agriculture helped finance early 19th century American economic growth. Before the Civil War, the South grew 60 percent of the world’s cotton, provided over half of all U.S. export earnings, and furnished 70 percent of the cotton consumed by the British textile industry. Cotton exports paid for a substantial share of the capital and technology that laid the basis for America’s industrial revolution.

In addition, precisely because the South specialized in agricultural production, the North developed a variety of businesses that provided services for the southern states, including textile and meat processing industries and financial and commercial facilities.

Emancipation/Reconstruction Era (1865-1887)

The records displayed in this exhibit document the Scotts' early struggle to gain their freedom through litigation and are the only extant records of this significant case as it was heard in the St. Louis Circuit Court. The original Dred Scott case file is located in the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.

This collection is an expanded and updated version of the original Dred Scott Case Collection. The collection, was expanded from eighty-five to one hundred and eleven documents, over 400 pages of text. In addition, the collection is now a full-text, searchable resource that represents the full case history of the Dred Scott Case.

Slave Punishments in the Antebellum American South

The slavery practiced in the United States prior to the Civil War was the legal establishment of human chattel enslavement, primarily, but not exclusively, of Africans and their descendants. Chattel slavery is so named because the enslaved are the personal property of the owners and bought and sold as a commodity, and the status of slave was imposed on the enslaved from birth. This form of slavery is in contrast to other forms such as bonded labor, in which a person pledged him or herself against a loan.

In chattel slavery, the limits of slave punishments were only set by the masters, as they had the legal right to do whatever they wished. Therefore, slaves in the American South experienced horrific levels of brutality.

A slave would be punished for:

  • Resisting slavery
  • Not working hard enough
  • Talking too much or using their native language
  • Stealing from his master
  • Murdering a white man
  • Trying to run away

Lady Antebellum and the Glorification of the Pre-Civil War South

A few months ago, &ldquoNeed You Now&rdquo by the country group Lady Antebellum was among iTunes&rsquo free downloads. I&rsquom a curious music lover with eclectic tastes, so I snagged the song for my iPod. It was catchy and nice in the inoffensive and pop-y way of crossover country&ndashthink Carrie Underwood not the rougher alt-country of Lucinda Williams. I&rsquoll keep the song, which will fit nicely in some future playlist. But the band chafes me. It&rsquos not the music it&rsquos the name. &ldquoLady Antebellum&rdquo seems to me an example of the way we still&ndashnearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War, nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Ac and in a supposedly post-racial country led by a biracial president&ndashglorify a culture that was based on the violent oppression of people of color.

According to an article in the Augusta Chronicle, the idea for the name &ldquoLady Antebellum&rdquo came after a photo shoot where band members dressed in Civil War-era clothing. It seems harmless&ndashjust a nod to the band&rsquos roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a recognition of the Old South.

Wikipedia defines the antebellum period thusly:

In the public consciousness, part of this story translates into Gone with the Wind-style mythology about big manor houses set on sprawling plantations fair, delicate, pale-skinned maidens in frilly dresses brave and handsome men in gray and solid, traditional American values. This rosy view of the antebellum South only holds up if you don&rsquot scratch too deep. But we&rsquore not likely to do that and disturb the patriotic version of history. We like myth better.

That is why, over the years, at least two women have gushed at me: &ldquoI would just love to go back to that time!&rdquo One, a white woman who had recently read the Margaret Mitchell novel that became the classic movie, did not consider that for her to be &ldquoScarlett&rdquo I would have to be a darkie working in the fields. My family would have to live in bondage as chattel&ndashour very lives dependent on the whims of our masters. The way of life she associated with the antebellum period, and the economy that supported it, was dependent on free labor and the dehumanization of people of color (not to mention classism and sexism). As an African American descendant of slaves, I cannot overlook that bitter reality. My acquaintance read Gone with the Wind and wondered how grand it would be to be Scarlett O&rsquoHara. I wondered how awful it must have been to be Mammy.

As an amateur family historian, I have scoured wills and bills of sale of Southern landed gentry in search of the names of my great-great-grandparents among the fine china and horses. Once you have done that, it is hard to look at the mythologizing of antebellum Southern culture as benign.

I was thinking about this fact last week as I finished reading Manhunt, by James Swanson. The book was a riveting account of the 12-day search for Abraham Lincoln&rsquos assassin, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Manhunt is a historical account that reads like a James Patterson novel. I couldn&rsquot put it down, despite knowing how the story ended. The book contains thrilling personal narratives of a defining event in American history. Hearing the impressions of President Lincoln&rsquos family, members of his Cabinet, Union loyalists and rebels, made history come alive.

After reaching Manhunt&lsquos midpoint, I thought surely it would become a book that I enthusiastically recommend to other readers. But I found that as John Wilkes Booth&rsquos saga wore on, Swanson seemed to be lionizing the assassin, which I found disconcerting and not a little offensive. Booth is drawn in purple prose. The author goes on and on about the actor&rsquos luminescent white skin, his thick black hair, his charm and elegant clothing. We learn about Booth&rsquos passionate conviction, his belief that his cause was noble and the inconveniences of life on the run. Booth becomes a hero, while his pursuers are drawn as petty bumblers, eager to cash in on the fame and money associated with bringing in the president&rsquos killer. Swanson even compares Booth to Jesus twice.

Late in the book, Swanson writes about how years after Lincoln&rsquos assassination, Booth has found a heroic fame that Lee Harvey Oswald or James Earl Ray never will. There is no better example of this than Manhunt itself, which seems to forget that Booth&ndashcharming stage star though he was&ndashwas, more importantly, vain, a murderer, a traitor, a racist and a megalomaniac.

This is yet another example of the soft and fuzzy way we look back on the Confederate cause, the antebellum South and slave culture. I cannot imagine a book set in Germany at the time of World War II that would fawn over the charm and appearance of defenders of the Third Reich or mention how members of the Nazi Party thought their cause noble. We would not draw those opponents as anything but villains for the evil they committed against humanity. Yet, mention the antebellum South or the Confederacy, and some Americans grow starry-eyed. No one thinks of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans who died in the Middle Passage or on some plantation or small farm. No one thinks of the people who were denied their freedom and humanity so that the Southern economy could rise, and that all those Rhetts and Scarletts could sit in their fine houses, showing off their fancy clothes and manners. That America forgets my ancestors, while longing for the &ldquoglory days&rdquo that their enslavement made possible, is offensive.

I don&rsquot like what the Confederate flag stands for and hate to see it flown. I think a century is not long enough to turn an assassin into a hero. And a middle-of-the-road country band with a name that harks back to pre-Civil War days doesn&rsquot feel benign to me. You may say that I am thinking too hard. I say that sometimes society doesn&rsquot think hard enough about the elements of history we cherish.

Abolition and Antebellum Reform

When the Boston abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson looked back on the years before the Civil War, he wrote, “there prevailed then a phrase, ‘the Sisterhood of Reforms.’” He had in mind “a variety of social and psychological theories of which one was expected to accept all, if any.” Of that sisterhood, anti-slavery stands out as the best-remembered and most hotly debated, even though it was not the largest in terms of membership or the most enduring. (That honor goes to the temperance movement.) Abolitionism continues to fascinate because of its place in the sectional conflict leading to the Civil War, its assault on gender and racial inequality, and its foreshadowing of the twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement.

Sometimes, however, it is useful to consider abolitionism in relation to Higginson’s Sisterhood of Reforms. The years between 1815—the year that marked the end of the War of 1812—and 1861 did indeed produce a remarkable flowering of movements dedicated to improving society, morals, and individuals. Some appear silly from a present-day perspective (would cheap postage really foster international unity and understanding?), but many contemporaries nonetheless took them seriously. And although Higginson exaggerated connections between movements, it was relatively common for people who believed in anti-slavery reform also to believe in religious reforms, women’s rights, temperance, and health reform. (The latter was based on the idea that proper diet—a severely vegetarian one—could eliminate illness and produce moral human beings.)

Placing anti-slavery within the sisterhood helps us to see both what was and what was not distinctive about it, as well as begin to address the larger question of why certain periods in American history provide especially fertile ground for reform movements. The answer to the latter question is not always straightforward. Drunkenness did not begin around 1819, when a temperance movement began to take shape slavery had not suddenly changed in 1831, the year a new, more radical anti-slavery movement emerged and the oppression of women did not start around 1848, the year of the pioneering women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. For that matter, segregation and racial discrimination began well before the twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement. Making it all the more difficult to answer the question of timing is the fact that periods of intense reform activity sometimes coincide with economic crises, as was notably the case during the Great Depression of the 1930s, while at other times such as the Progressive Era (1890–1919) and the 1960s, periods of reform are also periods of general prosperity. But regardless of whether reform movements take place in good or bad economic times, the point is that reform movements usually are more than just simple, direct responses to a perceived problem.

Multiple changes converged after the War of 1812 to produce the Sisterhood of Reforms. Improvements in transportation—especially steamboats, canals, and railroads—made it easier to send lecturers and publications—including abolitionists, other reformers, and their writings—far and wide. And new printing technologies in the 1830s lowered the cost of publications, including publications from abolitionists.

At the same time, a dynamic American economy created a new class of men and women with the leisure time and financial resources to devote to reform movements. A comparison with eighteenth-century reformers is revealing. They were fewer in number and, with some notable exceptions (mostly Quakers), tended to be part-timers like Benjamin Franklin who were either retired or had other jobs. By contrast, antebellum reformers were both more numerous and, in cases like that of the abolitionist editor William Lloyd Garrison, had no other career.

Social and economic change also provided a psychological context for reform. After 1820, the rapid growth of cities and expanding commerce and manufacturing seemed both to herald a glorious future and to open the door to temptations and vice. How to ensure that God, and not Satan and Mammon, would win?

Behind that question lay two powerful traditions that compelled reformers to contrast what America and Americans were with what they ought to be. One was the legacy of the American Revolution. Even when most critical of their government, reformers evoked it. The first women’s rights convention modeled its declaration after the Declaration of Independence. Similarly, after publicly and notoriously burning a copy of the Constitution on July 4, 1854, William Lloyd Garrison asked, “What is an abolitionist but a sincere believer in the Declaration of ’76?” He was repudiating a government that supported slavery, not the principles of the Revolution.

The other tradition was evangelical Protestantism. An outpouring of religious fervor in the early nineteenth century—sometimes called the Second Great Awakening—swept from west to east and fired the hearts of millions of Americans. It encouraged many to believe they had a moral imperative to do what they could to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. Although not all evangelicals were reformers, and not all reformers were evangelicals, the Awakening put the power of religion behind a belief that individual men and women could change the world, rather than passively accept as inevitable whatever fate held in store, as their ancestors often had done.

Why should they conclude that that job fell to them rather than to their leaders? The most famous foreign observer of the young republic, Alexis de Tocqueville, was struck by the peculiar propensity of Americans to form local “voluntary associations” to accomplish a wide range of goals, including reforms. In large measure, this was a reasonable approach in a nation with few effective institutional sources of moral authority, and one with relatively weak political institutions, no national church, and a culture mistrustful of governmental power. Use of voluntary associations also reflected a feeling among some—especially the most radical abolitionists—that elected officials were part of the problem, not the solution. Antebellum reformers believed in moral absolutes politicians believe in the art of the deal, even when the result is compromise with an evil like slavery. Under the circumstances, it seemed better to go around the political system than through it (a position temperance reformers and some abolitionists began to reconsider in the 1840s).

If multiple changes came together after the War of 1812 to produce the Sisterhood of Reforms, they did not determine how antebellum reformers tried to change the world or what they regarded as the main thing wrong with it. Even within a movement like abolitionism, there was widespread disagreement over tactics and goals.

Running through many reforms, however, were common themes and assumptions, one of the most important of which was a passionately held belief that individuals must be able to act as free moral agents, capable of choosing right from wrong, and not restrained by the “arbitrary power” of someone else (like a slaveholder or immoral husband) or something else (like alcohol, bad diet, or mental illness). In that respect, abolitionism was the ultimate expression of the antebellum reform impulse: Slaves, for abolitionists, were the mirror image of freedom, symbols of what it was not—the most extreme example of unfreedom. This logic helps explain the close connection between abolitionists and reforms such as the women’s rights movement, as well as why abolitionists felt an affinity with European revolutionaries and efforts to end serfdom in Russia. All such cases, in their view, were part of a larger international drama of the progress of freedom. With this powerful rhetorical tradition entrenched by the 1840s, it is no accident that the term “slave” persisted in reform rhetoric throughout the nineteenth century, long after the institution itself died in 1865—drunkards as “slaves” to the bottle, women as “slaves” to men, and factory workers as “wage slaves.”

Abolitionists themselves were vague about what freedom might mean in practice after the death of slavery, and unconcerned that others might disagree with their definitions. Even so, their emphasis on individual moral agency and their use of the antithesis between slavery and freedom to define freedom’s absence and presence locates them within Higginson’s sisterhood. But in three important respects—in their views on their government, gender, and race—abolitionists parted company with other sisterhood reforms. Few reform movements prior to 1861 produced the fundamental attacks on the American political system that abolitionists mounted in denouncing its devil’s bargain with slavery. And although all major antebellum reforms depended heavily upon women, only a handful of utopian communities gave as prominent a voice to them as abolitionism in its most radical forms.

Most distinctive, however, was how abolitionists framed the relationship between anti-slavery and race, using ideas and concepts that went well beyond the movement’s assault on slavery and that eventually came home in the form of attacks on discriminatory laws and practices in the North. In addition, the abolitionist movement was unusually interracial. The fame of a few black abolitionists—notably Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman—somewhat obscures the high degree to which lesser-known African American abolitionists also supported the cause in every way possible, including with their own organizations, pens, speeches, and dollars. If racism never entirely disappeared among white abolitionists, and if relations between them and black colleagues were sometimes strained, it is nonetheless true that no other movement of the day was remotely close to abolitionism in interracial cooperation, in mobilizing black communities, and in challenging racism in both theory and practice. On those issues, abolitionism was both part of a band of sister reforms and a movement that went well beyond them.

Ronald Walters, Professor of History at The John Hopkins University, is the author of The Antislavery Appeal: American Abolitionism after 1830 (1984) and editor of Primers for Prudery: Sexual Advice to Victorian America (1973) and A Black Woman’s Odyssey through Russia and Jamaica: The Narrative of Nancy Prince (1989).

'The Slaves Dread New Year's Day the Worst': The Grim History of January 1

A mericans are likely to think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a time to celebrate the fresh start that a new year represents, but there is also a troubling side to the holiday’s history. In the years before the Civil War, the first day of the new year was often a heartbreaking one for enslaved people in the United States.

In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” &mdash or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it &mdash because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families. The renting out of slave labor was a relatively common practice in the antebellum South, and a profitable practice for white slave owners and hirers.

“‘Hiring Day’ was part of the larger economic cycle in which most debts were collected and settled on New Year’s Day,” says Alexis McCrossen, an expert on the history of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and a professor of history at Southern Methodist University, who writes about Hiring Day in her forthcoming book Time&rsquos Touchstone: The New Year in American Life.

Some enslaved people were put up for auction that day, or held under contracts that started in January. (These transactions also took place all year long and contracts could last for different amounts of time.) These deals were conducted privately among families, friends and business contacts, and slaves were handed over in town squares, on courthouse steps and sometimes simply on the side of the road, according to Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South by Jonathan D. Martin.

Accounts of the cruelty of Hiring Day come from records left by those who secured their freedom, who described spending the day before January 1 hoping and praying that their hirers would be humane and that their families could stay together.

“Of all days in the year, the slaves dread New Year’s Day the worst of any,” a slave named Lewis Clarke said in an 1842 account.

“On New Year’s Day, we went to the auctioneer’s block, to be hired to the highest bidder for one year,” Israel Campbell wrote in a memoir published in 1861 in Philadelphia, in which he describes being hired out three times.

“That’s where that sayin’ comes from that what you do on New Year’s Day you’ll be doin’ all the rest of the year,” a former slave known as Sister Harrison said in an interview in 1937.

Harriet Jacobs wrote a particularly detailed account in “The Slaves’ New Year’s Day” chapter of her 1861 autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. “Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2[n]d, the slaves are expected to go to their new masters,” she wrote. She observed slave owners and farmers renting out their human chattel for extra income during the period between the cotton and corn harvests and the next planting season. From Christmas to New Year’s Eve, many families would “wait anxiously” to find out whether they would be rented out, and to whom. On New Year’s Day, “At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals to hear their doom pronounced,” Jacobs wrote.

On one of these fateful days Jacobs saw “a mother lead seven children to the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her but they took all.” The slave trader who took the children wouldn’t tell her where he was taking them because it depended on where he could get the “highest price.” Jacobs said she would never forget the mother crying out, “Gone! All gone! Why don’t God kill me?”

Enslaved people who attempted to resist going to their new masters were whipped and thrown in jail until they relented and promised not to run away during the new arrangement. Older slaves were also particularly vulnerable, as Jacobs describes one owner trying to hire out a frail roughly 70-year-old woman because he was moving away.

But the history of New Year’s Day and American slavery is not all horror. The holiday was also associated with freedom.

The federal ban on the transatlantic slave trade went into effect on New Year’s Day in 1808, and African-American communities did celebrate, but the festivities were short-lived.

“Different slave-trade abolition commemorations took place between 1808 and 1831, but they died out because the domestic slave trade was so vigorous,” says McCrossen. The risk of violence was also too great. For example, on New Year’s Eve in 1827, in New York City, a white mob attacked African-American congregants and vandalized their church.

The holiday became more associated with freedom than slavery when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Confederate states on New Year’s Day in 1863. Slaves went to church to pray and sing on Dec. 31, 1862, and that’s why there are still New Year’s Eve prayer services at African-American churches nationwide. At such “Watch Night” services, congregants continue to pray for more widespread racial equality more than 150 years later.

The original version of this story misstated the year of an attack on an African-American church on New Year&rsquos Eve in New York City. It was 1827, not 1927.

12.2 African Americans in the Antebellum United States

In addition to cotton, the great commodity of the antebellum South was human chattel. Slavery was the cornerstone of the southern economy. By 1850, about 3.2 million enslaved people labored in the United States, 1.8 million of whom worked in the cotton fields. They faced arbitrary power abuses from Whites they coped by creating family and community networks. Storytelling, song, and Christianity also provided solace and allowed enslaved individuals to develop their own interpretations of their condition.


Southern Whites frequently relied upon the idea of paternalism —the premise that White slaveholders acted in the best interests of those they enslaved, taking responsibility for their care, feeding, discipline, and even their Christian morality—to justify the existence of slavery. This grossly misrepresented the reality of slavery, which was, by any measure, a dehumanizing, traumatizing, and horrifying human disaster and crime against humanity. Nevertheless, the enslaved were hardly passive victims of their conditions they sought and found myriad ways to resist their shackles and develop their own communities and cultures.

Enslaved people often used the notion of paternalism to their advantage, finding opportunities within this system to engage in acts of resistance and win a degree of freedom and autonomy. For example, some played into their masters’ racism by hiding their intelligence and feigning childishness and ignorance. The enslaved could then slow down the workday and sabotage the system in small ways by “accidentally” breaking tools, for example the slaveholder, seeing the enslaved as unsophisticated and childlike, would believe these incidents were accidents rather than rebellions. Some enslaved individuals engaged in more dramatic forms of resistance, such as poisoning their captors slowly. Other enslaved people reported their fellow captives to their slaveholders, hoping to gain preferential treatment. Those who informed their holders about planned slave rebellions could often expect the slaveholder’s gratitude and, perhaps, more lenient treatment. Such expectations were always tempered by the individual personality and caprice of the slaveholder.

Slaveholders used both psychological coercion and physical violence to prevent enslaved people from disobeying their wishes. Often, the most efficient way to discipline people was to threaten to sell them. The lash, while the most common form of punishment, was effective but not efficient whippings sometimes left the victimes incapacitated or even dead. Slaveholders and overseers also used punishment gear like neck braces, balls and chains, leg irons, and paddles with holes to produce blood blisters. The enslaved lived in constant terror of both physical violence and separation from family and friends (Figure 12.6).

Under southern law, enslaved people could not marry. Nonetheless, some slaveholders allowed marriages to promote the birth of children and to foster harmony on plantations. Some slaveholders even forced certain individuals to form unions, anticipating the birth of more children (and consequently greater profits) from them. Slaveholders sometimes allowed enslaved people to choose their own partners, but they could also veto a match. Enslaved couples always faced the prospect of being sold away from each other, and, once they had children, the horrifying reality that their children could be sold and sent away at any time.

Click and Explore

Browse a collection of first-hand narratives of enslaved and former enslaved people at the National Humanities Center to learn more about the experience of slavery.

Enslaved parents had to show their children the best way to survive under slavery. This meant teaching them to be discreet, submissive, and guarded around White people. Parents also taught their children through the stories they told. Popular stories among the enslaved included tales of tricksters, sly captives, or animals like Brer Rabbit, who outwitted their antagonists (Figure 12.7). Such stories provided comfort in humor and conveyed the sense of the wrongs of slavery. Enslaved people’s work songs commented on the harshness of their life and often had double meanings—a literal meaning that White people would not find offensive and a deeper meaning for the enslaved.

African beliefs, including ideas about the spiritual world and the importance of African healers, survived in the South as well. White people who became aware of non-Christian rituals among the enslaved labeled such practices as witchcraft. Among Africans, however, the rituals and use of various plants by respected enslaved healers created connections between the African past and the American South while also providing a sense of community and identity for enslaved individuals. Other African customs, including traditional naming patterns, the making of baskets, and the cultivation of certain native African plants that had been brought to the New World, also endured.


African Americans and Christian Spirituals

Many of the enslaved embraced Christianity. Their holders emphasized a scriptural message of obedience to White people and a better day awaiting them in heaven, but enslaved people focused on the uplifting message of being freed from bondage.

The styles of worship in the Methodist and Baptist churches, which emphasized emotional responses to scripture, attracted the enslaved to those traditions and inspired some to become preachers. Spiritual songs that referenced the Exodus (the biblical account of the Hebrews’ escape from slavery in Egypt), such as “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” allowed enslaved individuals to freely express messages of hope, struggle, and overcoming adversity (Figure 12.8).

What imagery might the Jordan River suggest to enslaved people working in the Deep South? What lyrics in this song suggest redemption and a better world ahead?

Click and Explore

Listen to a rendition of “Roll, Jordan, Roll” from the movie based on Solomon Northup’s memoir and life.


Complicating the picture of the antebellum South was the existence of a large free Black population. In fact, more free Black people lived in the South than in the North roughly 261,000 lived in slave states, while 226,000 lived in northern states without slavery. Most free Black people did not live in the Lower, or Deep South: the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Instead, the largest number lived in the upper southern states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and later Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

Part of the reason for the large number of free Black people living in slave states were the many instances of manumission—the formal granting of freedom to enslaved people—that occurred as a result of the Revolution, when many slaveholders put into action the ideal that “all men are created equal” and released the people they enslaved. The transition in the Upper South to the staple crop of wheat, which did not require large numbers of enslaved laborers to produce, also spurred manumissions. Another large group of free Black people in the South had been free residents of Louisiana before the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, while still other free Black people came from Cuba and Haiti.

Most free Black people in the South lived in cities, and a majority of free Black people were lighter-skinned women, a reflection of the interracial unions that formed between White men and Black women. Everywhere in the United States Blackness had come to be associated with slavery, the station at the bottom of the social ladder. Both Whites and those with African ancestry tended to delineate varying degrees of lightness in skin color in a social hierarchy. In the slaveholding South, different names described one’s distance from Blackness or Whiteness: mulattos (those with one Black and one White parent), quadroons (those with one Black grandparent), and octoroons (those with one Black great-grandparent) (Figure 12.9). Lighter-skinned Black people often looked down on their darker counterparts, an indication of the ways in which both White and Black people internalized the racism of the age.

Some free Black people in the South owned enslaved people themselves. Andrew Durnford, for example, was born in New Orleans in 1800, three years before the Louisiana Purchase. His father was White, and his mother was a free Black. Durnford became an American citizen after the Louisiana Purchase, rising to prominence as a Louisiana sugar planter and slaveholder. William Ellison, another free Black person who amassed great wealth and power in the South, was born with a slave status in 1790 in South Carolina. After buying his freedom and that of his wife and daughter, he proceeded to purchase his own enslaved people, whom he then put to work manufacturing cotton gins. By the eve of the Civil War, Ellison had become one of the richest and largest slaveholders in the entire state.

The phenomenon of free Black people amassing large fortunes within a slave society predicated on racial difference, however, was exceedingly rare. Most free Black people in the South lived under the specter of slavery and faced many obstacles. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, southern states increasingly made manumission illegal. They also devised laws that divested free Blacks of their rights, such as the right to testify against Whites in court or the right to seek employment where they pleased. Interestingly, it was in the upper southern states that such laws were the harshest. In Virginia, for example, legislators made efforts to require free Black people to leave the state. In parts of the Deep South, free Black people were able to maintain their rights more easily. The difference in treatment between free Black people in the Deep South and those in the Upper South, historians have surmised, came down to economics. In the Deep South, slavery as an institution was strong and profitable. In the Upper South, the opposite was true. The anxiety of this economic uncertainty manifested in the form of harsh laws that targeted free Black people.


Captives resisted their enslavement in small ways every day, but this resistance did not usually translate into mass uprisings. The enslaved understood that the chances of ending slavery through rebellion were slim and would likely result in massive retaliation many also feared the risk that participating in such actions would pose to themselves and their families. White slaveholders, however, constantly feared uprisings and took drastic steps, including torture and mutilation, whenever they believed that rebellions might be simmering. Gripped by the fear of insurrection, Whites often imagined revolts to be in the works even when no uprising actually happened.

At least two major slave uprisings did occur in the antebellum South. In 1811, a major rebellion broke out in the sugar parishes of the booming territory of Louisiana. Inspired by the successful overthrow of the White planter class in Haiti, a group of people enslaved in Louisiana took up arms against slaveholders. Perhaps as many five hundred joined the rebellion, led by Charles Deslondes, a mixed-race slave driver on a sugar plantation owned by Manuel Andry.

The revolt began in January 1811 on Andry’s plantation. Deslondes and others attacked the Andry household, where they killed the slaveholder’s son (although Andry himself escaped). The rebels then began traveling toward New Orleans, armed with weapons gathered at Andry’s plantation. Whites mobilized to stop the rebellion, but not before Deslondes and the other enslaved people set fire to three plantations and killed numerous White people. A small White force led by Andry ultimately captured Deslondes, whose body was mutilated and burned following his execution. Other rebels were beheaded, and their heads placed on pikes along the Mississippi River.

The second rebellion, led by the enslaved Nat Turner, occurred in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner had suffered not only from personal enslavement, but also from the additional trauma of having his wife sold away from him. Bolstered by Christianity, Turner became convinced that like Christ, he should lay down his life to end slavery. Mustering his relatives and friends, he began the rebellion August 22, killing scores of White people in the county. Whites mobilized quickly and within forty-eight hours had brought the rebellion to an end. Shocked by Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Virginia’s state legislature considered ending slavery in the state in order to provide greater security. In the end, legislators decided slavery would remain and that their state would continue to play a key role in the domestic slave trade.


As discussed above, after centuries of slave trade with West Africa, Congress banned the further importation of enslaved Africans beginning in 1808. The domestic slave trade then expanded rapidly. As the cotton trade grew in size and importance, so did the domestic slave trade the cultivation of cotton gave new life and importance to slavery, increasing the value of enslaved individuals. To meet the South’s fierce demand for labor, American smugglers illegally transferred captives through Florida and later through Texas. Many more enslaved Africans arrived illegally from Cuba indeed, Cubans relied on the smuggling of enslaved people to prop up their finances. The largest number of enslaved people after 1808, however, came from the massive, legal internal slave market in which slave states in the Upper South sold enslaved men, women, and children to states in the Lower South. For the enslaved, the domestic trade presented the full horrors of slavery as children were ripped from their mothers and fathers and families destroyed, creating heartbreak and alienation.

Some slaveholders sought to increase the number of enslaved children by placing enslaved males with fertile enslaved females, and slaveholders routinely raped enslaved females. The resulting births played an important role in slavery’s expansion in the first half of the nineteenth century, as many enslaved children were born as a result of rape. One account written by an enslaved person named William J. Anderson captures the horror of sexual exploitation in the antebellum South. Anderson wrote about how a Mississippi slaveholder

divested a poor female slave of all wearing apparel, tied her down to stakes, and whipped her with a handsaw until he broke it over her naked body. In process of time he ravished [raped] her person, and became the father of a child by her. Besides, he always kept a colored Miss in the house with him. This is another curse of Slavery—concubinage and illegitimate connections—which is carried on to an alarming extent in the far South. A poor slave man who lives close by his wife, is permitted to visit her but very seldom, and other men, both White and colored, cohabit with her. It is undoubtedly the worst place of incest and bigamy in the world. A White man thinks nothing of putting a colored man out to carry the fore row [front row in field work], and carry on the same sport with the colored man’s wife at the same time.

Anderson, a devout Christian, recognized and explains in his narrative that one of the evils of slavery is the way it undermines the family. Anderson was not the only critic of slavery to emphasize this point. Frederick Douglass, a Maryland slave who escaped to the North in 1838, elaborated on this dimension of slavery in his 1845 narrative. He recounted how enslavers had to sell their own children whom they had with enslaved women to appease the White wives who despised their offspring.

The selling of enslaved people was a major business enterprise in the antebellum South, representing a key part of the economy. White men invested substantial sums in enslaved people, carefully calculating the annual returns they could expect from each enslaved person as well as the possibility of greater profits through natural increase. The domestic slave trade was highly visible, and like the infamous Middle Passage that brought captive Africans to the Americas, it constituted an equally disruptive and horrifying journey now called the second middle passage . Between 1820 and 1860, White American traders sold a million or more captives in the domestic slave market. Groups of enslaved people were transported by ship from places like Virginia, a state that specialized in raising enslaved people for sale, to New Orleans, where they were sold to planters in the Mississippi Valley. Others made the overland trek from older states like North Carolina to new and booming Deep South states like Alabama.

New Orleans had the largest slave market in the United States (Figure 12.10). Slaveholders brought the people they enslaved there from the East (Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas) and the West (Tennessee and Kentucky) to be sold for work in the Mississippi Valley. The slave trade benefited Whites in the Chesapeake and Carolinas, providing them with extra income: A healthy young enslaved male in the 1850s could be sold for $1,000 (approximately $30,000 in 2014 dollars), and a planter who could sell ten such enslaved people collected a windfall.

In fact, by the 1850s, the demand for enslaved people reached an all-time high, and prices therefore doubled. An enslaved person who would have sold for $400 in the 1820s could command a price of $800 in the 1850s. The high price of enslaved people in the 1850s and the inability of natural increase to satisfy demands led some southerners to demand the reopening of the international slave trade, a movement that caused a rift between the Upper South and the Lower South. White people in the Upper South who sold enslaved people to their counterparts in the Lower South worried that reopening the trade would lower prices and therefore hurt their profits.

My Story

John Brown on Slave Life in Georgia

An enslaved person named John Brown lived in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia before he escaped and moved to England. While there, he dictated his autobiography to someone at the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, who published it in 1855.

I really thought my mother would have died of grief at being obliged to leave her two children, her mother, and her relations behind. But it was of no use lamenting, the few things we had were put together that night, and we completed our preparations for being parted for life by kissing one another over and over again, and saying good bye till some of us little ones fell asleep. . . . And here I may as well tell what kind of man our new master was. He was of small stature, and thin, but very strong. He had sandy hair, a very red face, and chewed tobacco. His countenance had a very cruel expression, and his disposition was a match for it. He was, indeed, a very bad man, and used to flog us dreadfully. He would make his slaves work on one meal a day, until quite night, and after supper, set them to burn brush or spin cotton. We worked from four in the morning till twelve before we broke our fast, and from that time till eleven or twelve at night . . . we labored eighteen hours a day.
—John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Now in England, 1855

What features of the domestic slave trade does Brown’s narrative illuminate? Why do you think he brought his story to an antislavery society? How do you think people responded to this narrative?

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Read through several narratives at “Born in Slavery,” part of the American Memory collection at the Library of Congress. Do these narratives have anything in common? What differences can you find between them?

Early American Political Parties

Iowa political parties, like those in other American states, respond to changes that are important to voters at the time of elections. Economic interests like taxes are always important, but sometimes moral or cultural issues like prohibition or bodily autonomy can also capture attention.The American federal system that links states to the national government also plays an important role in fostering the creation and continuation of the political party system.

Whigs and Democrats in Iowa

Before the Civil War, in Iowa's territorial and early statehood days, there were two dominant political parties: the Whigs and the Democrats. The Whigs tended to favor a more active government role in the promotion of business and economic development (building roads, promoting commerce and manufacturing, stronger currency) while Democrats favored the smallest government possible with lower taxes. However, both parties experienced internal divisions as the interests of eastern states and western states differed, and especially with growing tensions between the North and South over slavery.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed the settlers in western territories to decide themselves whether they would be a slave or free state. This ended the provision of the Missouri Compromise that extended the line along the Missouri-Arkansas border as the western division between slave and free territories in the West. This opened the possibility of more slave territory and was strongly opposed by many in the North of both parties. Opponents of the new law in both parties broke ranks to form first the Free-Soil Party which quickly became the Republican Party. While the Democrats continued to hold support in both North and South, the Republican Party was based almost entirely in the North, including Iowa. The Civil War cemented Iowa's loyalty to the Republican Party that continued to produce election victories at the polls until the Great Depression in the 1930s. Following World War II, Democrats began gaining strength in the cities. Today, Iowa is a two-party state and has swung both ways in recent presidential elections.

Issue-Based Party Formation

While third parties have sometimes appeared on the Iowa ballot, none has earned a significant permanent place in the political landscape. In the 1870s and 1880s, tough economic conditions for Iowa farmers led to the formation of the Populist and Greenback Parties, which encouraged the regulation of railroads, corporations and other business interests thought to be practicing unfair policies toward farmers. They also wanted more money in circulation to make borrowing and repaying interest easier. The Prohibition Party focused narrowly on efforts to eliminate the sale of alcohol, but it competed for voters with the Republicans. In 1912, supporters of Teddy Roosevelt backed him in a race against the incumbent President William Howard Taft. This split the Republican vote and allowed the Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House.

In early days, candidates were nominated by political conventions. Those who had influence within the party structure played the key roles in candidate selection. In the early 1900s, Iowa amended the constitution to select candidates by direct primaries where registered voters in the party held primary elections to name the candidates. A popular candidate could gain the nomination without the support of party leaders, though this rarely happened. In 1976, the Iowa caucuses moved front and center of the national stage as the first step in the presidential nominating process. Every four years, those testing the waters for a shot at the presidency come to Iowa, providing opportunities for local voters to meet personally with top national leaders. Local politicians may step in to support one candidate or another or may keep on the sidelines so they do not offend Iowa voters or other persuasions. Regardless, national politics becomes Iowa politics every four years.

Parties are loose coalitions of citizens who rally around candidates who best promote their interests. Today, more Iowans register as "no-party" or independent than either Republican or Democrat. Among active party voters as of July 2019, registered Democrats hold a slight lead over Republicans. Republicans hold margins in the rural areas, while Democrats have urban majorities.

Native Americans in the Antebellum U.S. Military

Mentioning the U.S. military and American Indians together often brings to mind fierce and heart-wrenching battles between white soldiers and native warriors. But is this the whole picture? A review of selected records for soldiers who served during the Indian wars and disturbances from 1815 to 1858 shows that hundreds of Indians served in the military against their fellow Native Americans. In addition to serving in these wars, Native Americans served during the Revolutionary War and throughout the 19th century, almost exclusively in all-Indian units.

One Native American unit appears among the military records of the soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War. The "Pay Roll of the Delaware Indians in service of the United States, Commencing June 15th 1780 & ending Oct. 31, 1781" lists 12 soldiers: 4 captains and 8 privates.1 The names, except for Capt. John Montour, the company commander, appear to be in the Delaware language. For example, Captain Mawanapano is the second soldier listed after Captain Montour.

Compiled military service records are also available for these soldiers.2 The War Department abstracted a volunteer soldier's service onto cards from such records as muster returns and payrolls. The cards were placed in an envelope with the soldier's name on it.

Between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, one Native American unit served with federal forces. Capt. Will Shorey commanded the Corps of Cherokee Indians, who were in service from May 12 to September 12, 1800. On March 7, 1800, the secretary of war ordered the unit to be formed. Its mission was to punish offenders in the Cherokee Nation. The unit's Records of Events cards do not specify the offenses.3

More than 1,000 Native Americans served during the War of 1812. They were organized in more than 100 companies, detachments, or parties. About half were Choctaws, and half were either Creeks or Cherokees. Units from other tribes included Blue's Detachment of Chickasaw Indians (discussed below), Capt. Wape Pilesey's Company of Mounted Shawano Indians, and Capt. Abner W. Hendrick's Detachment of Stockbridge Indians.

Native American soldiers are listed in the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M602). The compiled service records for only two Native American units have been microfilmed: Major Uriah Blue's Detachment of Chickasaw Indians (M1829) and Major McIntosh's Company of Creek Indians (M1830). Both Blue's Detachment and McIntosh's Company served under Andrew Jackson in the Creek Indian War of 1813–1814, sometimes considered a part of the War of 1812.

Researchers should keep in mind the potential variations of Native American names. A selected review of the index and a review of the compiled service records for two War of 1812 units indicates that the majority of Native American soldiers retained their Indian-language name. In Blue's Detachment, for example, Corporal Tush wa tubbee and Private Ush o ma tubbee appear on a muster roll dated February 28, 1815, at Mobile. Other names appear to be the English translation of the Indian name, such as Private Wait & Kill it, who also appeared on the February 28 muster roll. When a common English name is listed in the index, often only a single English name appears. Four Private Georges and a Sergeant George were listed as part of Colonel Morgan, Jr.'s Regiment of Cherokee Indians, and two Private Jims were part of Col. Thomas Gales's Indian Corps.

Native Americans served in a majority of the Indian wars that took place from 1815 to 1858. Choctaw and Creek Indians served in the First Seminole War, 1817–1818, and the Second Florida or Seminole War, 1836–1842. During the Winnebago Indian Disturbance in 1827, a company of Menominee served. Menominee and Potawatomi served during the Black Hawk War in 1832. Creek Indians friendly to the U.S. government opposed their fellow Creeks during the Creek War in 1836. These Native American soldiers are listed in the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Indian Wars and Disturbances, 1815–1858 (M629).

Captain Smith's Company of Menamenie (Menominee) Indians served in 1827 during the Winnebago Indian Disturbances. The compiled service records for this unit list 125 men, nearly all designated with the rank of "warrior."4 There was also a "1st Chief," "War Chief," and two "Chiefs." All names appear to be in the Indian language, and many have the English translation. Warrior Eyam-e-taw's name, for example, translates to "The raw deer skin." A few muster roll cards show familial relationships among the soldiers.

Capt. Stephen Richards's Company of Friendly Indians made up part of the Florida Mounted Volunteers, which served in 1838 during the Second Seminole War. The compiled service records of volunteers who served in Florida units during the Florida Indian wars, 1835–1858, including Captain Richards's Company, have been microfilmed.5 No rank is noted for the men, although Tot-tour-Hargo is listed as "Capt. Billy." A few names, such as Madison and Isaac Yellowhair, are not in the Indian language.

One company of Native Americans served in the Mexican War, 1846–1848. Black Beaver's Spy Company was a mounted volunteer company of Indians from Texas. The compiled service records for all Texas units, including Beaver's Spy Company, are on microfilm.6 The members of the company mustered in for duty in San Antonio in June 1846 for six months. The names of privates Na-noon-ska-ska, Long Tail, and George Williams, show the mix of the Indian language, English translation of the Indian name, and an English name.

Immediately following the Mexican War, a company of Pueblo Indians served with the New Mexico Volunteers. Under the command of Bvt. Lt. Col. J. M. Washington, the Pueblos participated in an expedition against Navajos from August 22 to September 22, 1849. Nearly all the Indian names in the company's service records are Spanish, such as Juan Domingo, Salvador Andres, Francisco Garcia, and Lorenzo Duran, suggesting that many of the Pueblos assimilated themselves into the local Mexican culture. One possibly native Pueblo name, Topan, also appears.

Many Native American soldiers, their widows, or dependents applied for bounty land warrants or pensions, sometimes both, following the soldiers' service. Native Americans became eligible to apply for bounty land by an act of Congress dated March 3, 1855, that granted bounty lands to certain officers and soldiers who had been engaged in military service. Section 7 of this act extended all bounty land laws to "Indians, in the same manner, and to the same extent, as if the said Indians had been white men." Native Americans also applied for pensions under general statutes directed at all veterans of a conflict, such as "An Act granting Pensions to certain Soldiers and Sailors of the War of 1812, and the Widows of deceased Soldiers" passed on February 14, 1871.

Among the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a unique resource for identifying Native Americans who received bounty land warrants. The bureau required its agents to take steps to protect Indians from being swindled by unscrupulous people during the bounty land application process. One step was to keep a register of the issuance and transfer, if applicable, of the warrant. The name of each soldier, widow, or dependent was entered alphabetically by the first letter of the surname, along with the age and tribe of the applicant, the war, service dates, and the soldier's commanding officer. The remaining 12 columns provide information on the issuance and disposition of the warrant. This information usually is sufficient to request the bounty land warrant file at the National Archives. An index to about half the applicants listed in the registers was prepared.7

To locate the bounty land warrant files, you will need to know the warrant number, the number of acres received, and the year of the relevant bounty land law. The previously cited 1855 bounty land law is the law that authorized Native Americans to apply. The warrant number and usually the number of acres can be found in the Bureau of Indian Affairs registers and sometimes in a pension application file. A bounty land warrant file normally contains the bounty land certificate and the transfer of ownership document. Tunneempoya, for example, a warrior in Captain Mushoolatubbee's Company of Choctaw Volunteers during the War of 1812, received 160 acres on March 18,1857. On January 1, 1858, he sold his warrant for $128 to James L. Woodward of New York, who on April 24, 1858, sold it to Carlos Hall of Douglas County, Kansas.8

Native Americans who applied for pensions based upon War of 1812 service are listed in the Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files (M313). A review of three of the 102 rolls of this index identified five Native American applicants. The documents and information found therein are typical of what might be found in any pension file. Daniel Two Guns, for example, although unsuccessful in his numerous attempts at obtaining a pension, provided much information about himself on his applications. Rachel Two Guns, widow of Henry Two Guns who was possibly a brother of Daniel, provided important genealogical data, such as her maiden name and tribe, in her unsuccessful application.

Two acts of Congress approved on July 27, 1892, and June 27, 1902, authorized pensions for soldiers or their widows for service in the Indian wars and disturbances. A review of portions of two of the 12 microfilm rolls of the Index to Indian War Pension Files, 1892–1926 (T318) located two Native Americans who applied under the provisions of these acts. The two pension files contained documents similar to those in any Indian war pension file. Ninety-five-year-old Kawashca Ash-Pah yean used the "Declaration of Survivor of Indian War" form to apply for his pension, and Pauline Kash-Kosh-Ka, widow of Mitchel Kash-Kosh-Ka, used the "Claim of Widow for Service Pension of Indian Wars" form for her application. In both cases, however, pensions were not approved because the claims of service in the Black Hawk War could not be verified.

Soldiers who served in the Mexican War could apply for a pension under the provisions of the pension act of January 29, 1887. They are listed in the Index to Mexican War Pension Files, 1887–1926 (T317). A spot-check of 2 of the 14 rolls of this series, and a check for a dozen soldiers who claimed to have served, located one Native American applicant. John Beaver was a Delaware Indian in Black Beaver's Spy Company, but his claim of service could not be verified.

The records described in this article are the primary sources to document the service of Native Americans in the military prior to the Civil War. Historians can use the records to describe the contributions of Native Americans, and genealogists can learn about the service of individual soldiers of interest to them. Pension applications are often rich in genealogical data that may not be available anywhere else. The warrant registers created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are a unique resource of information about Native Americans who applied for bounty land.

James P. Collins is a volunteer staff aide at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. He has worked on a variety of genealogy-related projects since 1996. He wishes to thank three National Archives staff members for their help with this article: John Deeben, Constance Potter, and Rebecca Sharp.

1. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, roll 129), War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group (RG) 93.

2. Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War (National Archives Microfilm Publication M881, roll 146), RG 93.

3. Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served From 1784 to 1811 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M905, roll 6), Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, RG 94. The Cherokee Indians who served under Capt. Will Shorey are listed in the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served From 1784–1811 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M694), RG 94.

4. Compiled Military Service Records of Michigan and Illinois Volunteers Who Served During the Winnebago Indian Disturbances of 1827 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1505, roll 3), RG 94.

5. Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Florida During the Florida Indian Wars, 1835–1858 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1086, roll 46), RG 94.

6. Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War in Organizations From the State of Texas (National Archives Microfilm Publication M278, roll 16), RG 94. The members of the company are listed in the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served during the Mexican War (National Archives Microfilm Publication M616), RG 94.

7. Entry 544 (Index to Abstract List of Indian Applicants for Military Bounty Lands, 1855–75), and Entry 545 (Abstract List of Indian Applicants for Military Bounty Lands, 1855–82), Records of Bureau of Indian Affairs, RG 75, National Archives Building (NAB), Washington, DC.

8. Bounty Land Warrant file 59,272-160-1855 for Tunneempoya, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, NAB.

Watch the video: PROOF the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR was not about Slavery (June 2022).


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