Contrary to popular belief, America’s northern states played a substantial role in supporting antebellum slavery greatly because, looking beyond the unrecognized immorality of owning fellow humans, slavery held together the country’s economy.
The chart to the left is crucial for understanding the northern interest in the institution of slavery because it illustrates the connection between slave-picked cotton and textile mills in the north. As the years went by and northern industrialization began to flourish, the number of textile mills increased; requiring more cotton to produce a larger quantity of cloth. This increased demand for cotton in the north required a larger number of slaves to work on plantations in the south. Northern factory owners, who were very aware of this fact, actively fought to protect the rights of slave holders out of fear for losing success within their industry. This took shape in many forms, but most prominently in the form of anti-abolition meetings like the Broadside Public Meeting. At this meeting, influential buisness owners and prominent investors appealed to a crowd of 1,500 people. They rationalized that abolishing slavery would be far too harmful for politics and the economy because it would be unconstitutional to deny slave holders of their property after all.
Most northerners were conscious of their indirect part in the slave trade through industrialization, but some took it even a step further. The DeWolfe family is prime example of this. Living in the northern town of Bristol, Rhode Island, the DeWolfes were surprisingly the most prominent slave trading family in the country. As Katrina Browne, a descendent of the DeWolfe family, said, “I was shocked again when I realized that instead of being the exception, the DeWolfe family was just the tip of the iceberg of the vast complicity to slavery in New England.” Having no idea of her ancestor’s connection with the slave trade until recently, Katrina and some of her relatives discovered a lot about the corruption of slavery in the north. The DeWolfes were able to aquire countless northern investors to fund their slave ships, and they easily convinced the government to overlook their boats as they sailed off for Africa. Greed and self interest oftentimes overpowered northern morals and anti-slavery laws, making it so people would ignore the suffering of slaves as long as it benefited them.
Contrary to the common misconceptions, the Antebellum North not only played a role in maintaining slavery, but provided the industry and traders that expanded and prolonged the need for slave labor. Although these people did not own their own slaves, they were well aware of their role in maintaining slavery.
Public Meeting Records, found at http://www.edline.net/files/_wdH6e_/044829789f60d8f83745a49013852ec4/Unit_4_Activity_5_Doc_8_Broadside.pdf , and newspaper articles found at, http://www.edline.net/files/_wdH66_/b4d0623095d7fd993745a49013852ec4/Unit_4_Activity_5_Doc_9_Lowell_Patriot.pdf , were used to gather information about the broadside meeting. For more information about the DeWolfe family, watch the video Traces of the Trade (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVOAsAgg9J8), and read PBS’s description, found at http://www.pbs.org/pov/tracesofthetrade/film_description.php .