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A Southern Newspaper Reports on Northern Racism

The Staunton Spectator, a Virginia newspaper, reported on the "miserable" treatment faced by fugitive slaves who had been "abandoned" by abolitionist supporters in the U.S. North and Canada. Using quotes from northern papers, it described a fight a between racist white workers and former slaves in Pennsylvania that led to the imprisonment of six African Americans. The article suggested that slaves who remained in the South lived happier and more productive lives, noting that it was "not uncommon" for masters to allow their slaves to grow and sell surplus produce. The existence of slave gardens dates back to at least the eighteenth century when masters in rural areas would a small plot of land for slaves to grow food crops to tend on Sundays.

The New York Herald publishes…an account of the unfortunate fugitives in Nova Scotia [Canada]… miserable and degraded in the extreme. The wretched lot to which…poor [fugitive slaves] are abandoned by the abolitionists, after they are stolen away from their comfort and the protection of their Southern homes, is the most pitiable to which their race is condemned, outside of the original savage state from which they have been rescued.

In August last a difficulty occurred in…Pennsylvania, between the blacks and a portion of the white population, in consequence of an attempt of the latter to drive the negroes off.  Believing that the presence of the negroes tended to lower the price of labor, the whites [told them] to leave, and this led to a collision in which one white man was killed and another wounded. Eight negroes were arrested, and…six of them were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to the Penitentiary for five years. No doubt the sentence was a just and proper one, but the assault upon the negroes in the first instance shows what sort of sympathy the blacks receive in the free States.

On the other hand, in regard to the treatment of Virginia slaves, the Norfolk Herald mentions….that a gentleman of Norfolk county…lately paid to his servants $550, for corn raised by them for their own benefit on his land. Another gentleman paid to his servants $600, earned in the same way; and another paid $300. Such treatment of slaves is not peculiar to Norfolk county, but is practiced more or less all over the State….

The negroes alluded to, says the [Norfolk] Herald, like millions in the Southern States, are not only plentifully provided for in every way, but they are saving money to use as they may find best in coming years--and withal they seem as happy as lords. They work well and cheerfully in the day, and at night, during the holidays they sing, dance and smoke, eat sweet potatoes, drink hard cider, sit around big kitchen fires, "laugh and grow fat," regardless of all the "tomfoolery" and nonsense about the "poor oppressed slaves."

Source | "Northern Free Negroes and Southern Slaves," Staunton Spectator, 17 January 1860, 2; from Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War,
Creator | Staunton Spectator
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Staunton Spectator, “A Southern Newspaper Reports on Northern Racism,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed January 27, 2021,

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