Monday, March 30, 2015


Elihu Embree's anti-slavery paper.
Indiana's admission to the union as a free state in 1816 was not necessarily a "done deal" even though conditions laid out by the federal government had mandated it.

As the Northwest Territory took shape at the end of the 18th century, the government began to make serious efforts to control the spread of slavery. The slave trade over the high seas had been abolished and the new U.S. Constitution smelled vaguely of hypocrisy in how it defined its citizenry.

It is clear that the initial settlers to the Whitewater valley were anti-slavery, at least in principle. The Logans, Hannas, Templetons, Levistons, Ewings ... all were either Presbyterians or Baptists, closely aligned with the Quakers on that one central issue.

The Carolina Settlement probably had more than one reason for emigrating in large numbers to the wilderness that would surround the town of Fairfield. It's not clear on some of the details, however.

What is known is that the business of slavery had expanded greatly since the United States became a nation in 1787. That was about trade. The new American economy had found favor in Europe and the demand for American goods increased exponentially as the government stabilized, shipping became better organized, and crop production improved.


King Cotton.

The Southern planters, bolstered by a new government that had a real currency, a shipping industry and a banking system, began buying more land. More land for more agriculture. More cotton. And corn. And tobacco.

As the markets grew, the demand grew and the need for labor expanded.

Cheap labor.

Slave labor.

The Southern aristocracy was doing very well for itself at the expense of the less-privileged whites. The plantations grew and those who found themselves politically inadequate to stem the growth and its ensuing expansion of slavery were faced with two choices:

Endure it, or leave.

The Carolina Settlement was one of just a few groups to abandon the slave-stained South. They came north, then west, across Virginia, Kentucky and into Indiana.

There, the state was being run by its territorial governor, William Henry Harrison, a Virginian ... and a slave owner. Harrison believed in slavery and lobbied hard to get the state admitted to the union as a slave state. He ultimately failed, naturally, but he did manage a compromise that allowed slave owners in Indiana to keep their slaves another 10 years, or until 1826. Most were freed before that time, however.

One can presume that the Carolina Settlement's reason for coming to Indiana was, in part, due to a belief in abolition, though there's only anecdotal evidence to support that.

None of the Whitewater valley settlers brought slaves with them, though there were black slaves in Indiana in 1800.

But the exodus of anti-slavery people from the South may have been more significant than meets the eye, according to Jeff Biggers, whose book, "The United States of Appalachia," explores the lives of the people who founded and formed that section of America.

Biggers devotes a chapter to a man named Elihu Embree, a wealthy ironmaker of Quaker persuasion who became, in the 1810s, a very loud voice in opposition to slavery.

Embree is somewhat of an enigma, having owned slaves himself until 1812. Having "seen the light," he was relentless in his opposition to slavery until he died in 1820 at age 38.

Embree became somewhat of a social thinker and concluded that the exodus of intellectual and wealthier Southerners into the Appalachian valley was counter-productive. Embree reasoned that under the right circumstances, had these anti-slavery advocates remained in the South, they'd have formed a powerful public opinion that could have wiped out the practice.

Embree thus believed that a strong anti-slavery presence could have dismantled slavery without violence ... and the Civil War was still four decades in the future.

It's a stretch, since the number of emigrants to the Whitewater valley isn't enormous, though it's realistic to assume that many important people left the Carolinas due to frustration over the expanding plantations. Without exploring the economic ramifications of Embree's academic theory, one wonders what the emigrants took with them that weakened the cause of the activists who remained.

Biggers writes: "Whether Embree was deluding himself over the abolitionists' ability to unhinge the grip of the slave-owning elite of the South is secondary to the consequence of this migration of the illuminated thinkers."

In essence, the foes of slavery just took their message elsewhere and left the landed slave-owners with virtually no intellectual opposition in their home states. The next 40 years would present an ever-changing landscape that culminated when South Carolina voted to leave the union in 1861.

Oddly, Embree's greatest success with The Emancipator, his monthly abolitionist opinion publication, came in his own state of Tennessee, a slave state. It cost a dollar a year to subscribe.


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