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Transcript of Antebellum Richmond:
Tobacco was essential to the Richmond economy and truly shaped the City's development (Takagi, 17). By 1850, Richmond was the most prosperous tobacco manufacturer within the nation, making nearly $4 million annually (Takagi, 5).
This industry's growth was due to slave labor. Throughout 1800-1860, as the industry boomed slaves remained the major contributors to labor (Takagi, 18).
As a result, slave workers constituted approximately 80-90% of the 3000+ workforce from 1840-1860 (Takagi, 76).
Tredegar Iron Works consisted of typical antebellum aged iron forging and making devices such as, "rolling mills, heating furnaces, spike-making machines, and living quarters" (Takagi, 74).
The manufacturer provided much of the country's "railroad and ship spikes, forged guns and cannons, built railroad car wheels, engines, and locomotives" (Takagi, 74).
Modern day 'Jackson Ward' (termed in 1871) was one of the earliest independent slave communities where both the free and enslaved lived together, despite the illegality (Takagi, 96). This enclave was located in the northwest corner of the city between 4th and Belvidere streets, and from Broad to Leigh. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was common for white immigrants to live within this neighborhood, but by the 1850s most of the European immigrants had moved to better areas such as Union Hill or Oregon Hill.
Our Richmond tour seeks to illuminate key elements of the city in a unique way. Too often individuals place emphasis on historic locations that solely have relation to the Civil War. While these sites are important, we argue too little value is placed upon the formerly enslaved and their essential role within the City. Thus, we have decided to construct a tour around the enslaved viewpoint of antebellum Richmond.
Because of the urban environment, slavery within Richmond differed greatly from the common plantation model. This disparity grew as industrialization transformed the city into a manufacturing and economic hub. Consequently, the demand for (cheap) labor resulted in a large slave workforce.
While living and working conditions of the enslaved varied, generally those working within industry experienced much different conditions than a plantation laborer.
Urban industry and urban slavery resulted in unusual labor practices that altered the slave system so dramatically that eventually it loosely resembled the ones on plantations. For example, including slaves in the market economy resulted in minimal relations between slave and master, which made escape more feasible (Takagi, 71-72).
Importantly, "skills and knowledge acquired through jobs, churches, social, political, and financial organizations allowed slaves to challenge the ideological foundations of racial slavery" (Takagi, 72).
These slave conditions and the City's economic prosperity made Richmond unique in the antebellum south (Takagi, 74).
Tobacco Row is located between the 1800-2600 blocks of Cary Street. The industry began within the 18th century when tobacco inspection warehouses were established. The shift in the early antebellum era from exporting cured tobacco from the South to manufacturing chewing tobacco relied heavily on the use of slavery within the industry.
The increase of the slave neighborhoods resulted in communal and familial relationships (Takagi, 99).
The independent black Baptist Church was essential to the development of these kindred networks. The Church solidified ties, while also creating psychological and physical comfort. It eventually would initiate allowances of autonomy and authority (Takagi, 103).
After twenty years of persistence, black congregants won the right to establish a separate church in the 1840s. This is viewed as one of the first outstanding political and economic interventions for blacks in retaliation to the restrictions and restraints created by white superiority. Thereafter, in the winter of 1841 the First African Baptist Church was established (Takagi, 103).
William H Grant's factory constructed in 1852 was located on the corner of Franklin and 19th Street (Takagi, 74). It would eventually be transformed to a Confederate hospital during the Civil War and today serves as a commercial space.
It exemplifies the rapid growth of the tobacco industry in Richmond as well as the high demand of labor as a result of industrialization. Tobacconist, William H. Grant used the managerial system previously mentioned.
Richmond elites came to see urban slavery as a superior labor system that was more efficient, economical, flexible, and manageable than free labor (Takagi, 35).
Slave workers not only provided the main source of labor for the factories, overtime they also helped define the manufacturing process itself. In the early antebellum era some employers required bondmen to become involved. Often manufacturers used experienced workers to instruct younger hands and to monitor the quality of their work. Consequently, slave tobacco hands essentially controlled the pace of production. Employers chose not to interfere realizing that hastening the workers could have resulted in sloppy work and costly damage to their leaves.
"With the expansion of the tobacco industries and its' facilities...tobacco slave hands of the late antebellum era experienced a severe loss of autonomy and control over their labor as well as increasing tension and violence in the workplace. Industry began to use professional managers on the company floors to oversee the hundreds of workers." This generally mimicked the plantation model where overseers of the factory were given punitive discretion (Takagi, 89).
The expansion of slave labor into the iron workforce illuminates the impact and success of urban slave labor in Richmond. Industrialization resulted in a high demand for the enslaved and diversified their role in the labor force.
This is exemplified by the increase of the slave population from 7509 in 1840 to 11,699 in 1860. A significant statistic when compared to cities such as Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans whom loss considerable amounts of slaves during the late antebellum era. To exemplify this phenomenon, one should consider a 1860 letter written between brokerage (slave trading) partners located in Alabama and Richmond. In it William Finney from Alabama notes, "The quotations you sent from Richmond are too strong for this market, they leave but little room for profits" (Johnson, 58).
Slavery had become essential to Richmond's economic success. While occasionally some questioned the use of slavery within industry, "most industrialists and slave owners believed it was neither economically possible nor desirable to end urban industrial slavery" (Takagi, 79). By 1860, slaves were in most positions within the workforce. Ironically, this success and subsequent reliance on slave labor, questioned ideologies behind the pro-slavery movement.
Originally, this industry primarily employed white workers. "Before the 1840s only white workers had performed these jobs, maintaining a racial monopoly by teaching their skills only to selected white mechanics...to protect their jobs by barring slaves from the positions and by thwarting industrialist's efforts to select their own workers" (Takagi, 83).
Slaves were taught the necessary and difficult skills that white industrial workers coveted. The transition from a majority of white laborers to slaves was controversial and challenged racial prejudice, which attributed to the strike of 1847.
The owner, Joseph R. Anderson expanded his use of slave labor after the 1847 strike. Anderson realized that the company would save approximately $11,181 per year if it continued purchasing slaves in the place of white laborers (Takagi, 82-83).
By the mid to late 1840s, all the positions in the iron making industry were subjected to slaves (Takagi, 84). However, the demand of slave labor within Richmond skyrocketed and subsequently, attributed to the rise in cost of slaves (Takagi, 94).
Tredegar Iron Works
The Enslaved Community
In the early antebellum period, a vast majority of slaves In Richmond were 'leased' from their owners. Living conditions varied widely within the slave community, largely dependent on what job they performed and their limited income. Still, many slaves were used in factories. Unlike plantations, factories rarely provided housing for these slaves. Instead, slaves were allocated a small amount of money for housing and food.
Employers saw this as advantageous because it "released them from any responsibilities...once the working day was done" (Takagi, 23). Therefore, many slaves were given an unprecedented amount of independence living away from their owner, while subsequently developing their own communities (Takagi, 39). As industrial slave labor became popular, this practice grew. In 1820 this practice of independent living was considered abnormal, but by 1860 it was typical (Takagi, 96).
Shockoe Creek was closest to the docks, tobacco manufactures, foundries, and train depots.This community was not strictly limited to slaves, but also included German and Irish immigrants, free blacks, and also native-born whites. Shockoe Creek remained open to poor people from all backgrounds, but white Richmonders believed this area to be extemely impoverished and occupied by black and slave workers (Takagi, 97).
Most of the historic buildings were lost or destroyed following the civil war. While today most of the area is commercial, the recently excavated Lumpkin's Jail is situated in the heart of Shockoe Creek, where a mix of commercial and residential housing existed.
Shockoe Creek & Lumpkins Jail
These images found in the 1913 'Report on Housing and Living Conditions in the Neglected Sections of Richmond, VA' illustrates the neglected conditions many faced.
Still, long after the Civil War, Shockoe Slip was extremely underprivileged. One could only imagine its' condition during the antebellum era.
Despite these horrid conditions, slave residents had their own space to seek "comfort, solidarity, protection, and entertainment" (Takagi, 98). Due to this new independence they were allowed an unprecedented sense of privacy and separation from their owners which allowed some autonomy and agency over their own lives, unlike rural areas (Takagi, 98).
The Church "'fit [the] peculiar experience of enslavement in America'; an institution that allowed members to look to God for spiritual guidance and to themselves for support to uphold these beliefs; and a physical and psychological space within which congregants could release emotions, express opinions, seek justice, advocate equality, be judged by peers, and better themselves- by themselves" (Takagi, 111-112).
The First African Baptist Church was able to develop their community through organizational efforts. They focused on "self-improvement and mutual assistance" (Takagi, 106). By outreaching to the poor and needy, they also raised funding to assist slaves purchasing their freedom. One of the antebellum organizations was known as the Poor Saints Fund, established in 1848. This sparked the creation of other societies, but many were kept secret in fear of arrests due to illegal congregation (Takagi, 106).
By communal endeavors, this Church funded the development of three all-black independent churches by 1858.
Slave revolt was a violent and fearful possibility in the eyes of whites. In response to Nat Turner's Rebellion in 1831, the rampant idea that unsupervised religious congregations led to slave rebellion was popular and therefore, curbed by the implementation of certain limitations that significantly impacted the formation of the First African Baptist Church.
Among these limitations, a white pastor for the Church was mandatory. Virginia passed this restriction as a law. There was also a white committee from the all-white First Baptist Church that supposedly presided over the proceedings and operations of the Church. However, it appears that this committee allowed the First African Baptist Church some autonomy in their own matters (Takagi, 104).
Usually, the religious devotees could provide a final vote on the selected white pastor, but this right could be undermined by the previous pastor. It was common that these individuals promoted slavery, white domination, and obedience- although, pastors acted more like presiders. Deacons held an amount of self-governance. Numerous laws were established such as, the prohibition of free blacks and slaves preaching, but individuals were able to read between the lines and circumvent laws (Takagi, 105).
The First African Baptist Church
William H. Grant Factory
Alan Pederson, "Historic Tredegar," 2003-2014, Alan Pederson Photography, Richmond. http://photography.alan927.com/Virginia/slides/Historic%20Tredegar.jpg (accessed April 1, 2014).
Bumgardner, Sarah. "Tredegar Iron Works: A Synecdoche for Industrialized Antebellum Richmond." College of William and Mary, 1995. http://srnels.people.wm.edu/antrichf95/bumgard.html. (accessed April 1, 2014).
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Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Tredegar Iron Works. Records, 1845-1865. Accession 25744, Business records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=lva/vi00493.xml (accessed April 4, 2014).
Laird, Matthew. "Archaeological Data Recovery Investigation of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site." Richmond City Council: Slave Trail Commission (2010). http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/pdf_files/SpecialCollections/Lumpkin's%20Jail%20data%20recovery%20report%20vol.%201%20(research).pdf (accessed April 5, 2014).
"National Register Nomination: Shockoe Valley and Tobacco Row Historic District, Richmond," Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Richmond.
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Takagi, Midori. Rearing wolves to our own destruction slavery in Richmond, Virginia, 1782-1865. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.
United States. National Park Service. "--Richmond: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary." National Parks Service. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/richmond/JacksonWardHD.html (accessed April 22, 2014).
United States. National Park Service. "--Richmond: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary." National Parks Service. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/richmond/ShockoeValleyTobaccoHD.htm (accessed April 22, 2014).
Weber, Gustavus Adolphus. Report on housing and living conditions in the neglected sections of Richmond, Virginia,. Richmond, Va.: Whittet & Shepperson, printers, 1913.
Shireen Malakooti and Andrew Filipour