Were “Black Republican Proclivities” at play in Clear Spring?

Posted on October 14, 2009 by


Before I start with the article, I thought that I should point out… the Hagerstown Mail was a pro-secession publication, unlike Hagerstown’s Herald of Freedom and Torch Light. Apparently, the Mail, seeing all the talk (examples here and here) of strong Unionism in Clear Spring, thought that the town’s strong leanings toward Union might be influenced by one of the town’s rather prominent people… Lewis P. Fiery (a brother, by the way, of William Fiery, the future captain of Co. B of Cole’s Cavalry). More importantly, they suggested that Fiery was a “Black Republican.” Someone with the Hagerstown HF&TL objected, and made some good points (and some unanticipated). This is from the Feb. 6, 1861 edition of the HF&TL:

The Mail charges LEWIS P. FIERY, Esq., with Black Republican proclivities, and yet he and his father [Henry Fiery, Jr] have lost some thousands of dollars worth of Slaves, who made their escape to the Free States and Canada within recent years. Mr. FIERY is an ardent friend of the Union because he knows, as does every other well-informed man, that the slave interest in Maryland will be wholly destroyed if the Union should be finally dissolved. The most ultra Southern men in our midst are those who do not own a cent’s worth of slavery property, although some of them are abundantly able to possess themselves of thousands of dollars worth of it. They are, therefore, non-slaveholders from choice – not necessity – and should pluck the beam from their own eyes before they prate so lustily about the mote in the eyes of others.

Now… this little article offers some interesting challenges to modern thinking (at least in some) about the Union, the Confederacy, and the threatened longevity of the institution of slavery.

First, I’m going to spoil one thing (or make something more clear) by pointing out that another article (later, in early May) stated that, out of the Clear Spring District, there were only two votes for Abraham Lincoln. Though it doesn’t suggest who casts those votes, I don’t think Lewis Fiery and his father were the ones who voted in that way (frankly, I think it would have been at least three votes if the Fiery men were the ones… William Fiery being the potential third vote in such a scenario). From what I understand (though I need to do some additional research on this), the area, and even Washington County, leaned much more toward Constitutional Union Party Candidate John Bell, so “Black Republicanism” wasn’t the factor at hand. To me, it sounds as if the Mail was trying to stir the pot in an effort to influence more locals in favor of secession.

That said, it’s interesting to see the manner in which the author of this article specified that slaveholder interests were at stake in the crisis, and yet, the slaveholders felt that the institution would be best protected by looking-out for the Union. Was this a matter of “seeing the writing on the wall,” that the slaveholders of the deeper South who supported secession didn’t have a chance at winning a war? I’m not sure that’s it. Therefore, does this article reflect that these western Maryland slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike (though Washington County was a diminishing culture of slaveholding, it was still a culture in which slaves were a recognized part), realized that secession expedited emancipation far quicker than they hoped and brought with it an immediate impact on finances as opposed to a slow and gradual impact which would be much easier, not only on those who had invested in slaves, but the entire community? I think this has more weight behind it. I say this because, gradual emancipation was already occurring in Washington County.* You might recall, I mentioned in one of my posts from a while back that even my Moore ancestors in the Clear Spring area had ceased being slaveholders sometime after the death of my fourth great grandfather, James Draden Moore, in 1840. It looks like these folks sympathized, to some degree, with the deeper South regarding their beliefs/concerns over the impact that Abraham Lincoln might have on slavery. With the issue of secession being thrust upon the country, financial loss resulting from expedited emancipation seemed imminent. Even so, these western Marylanders weren’t so eager to forsake the Union in the interests of maintaining financial stability… or at least it seems.

*In Washington County, the number of free blacks had grown larger than the number of slaves by 1860, and the number of slaves had declined. In 1860, there were 1,677 free blacks as opposed to 1,435 slaves. In 1850, there were 1,828 free and 2,090 slaves. Of course, there is a factor behind the number of slaves that is missed if taking the number by itself. There was a practice, especially among Dunkers in Washington County, of buying slaves and either setting them free or holding them to an indenture of approximately seven years before they were freed. The “holding as indenture” part was also a time of education and skills-building in preparation for freedom. There is some great information about this, and a general discussion of slavery in Washington County found in Too Afraid To Cry, by Kathleen Ernst.