As we look to the past, we might be familiar with wording similar to what follows:
Africa, the pride of antiquity, and the original seat of the arts and sciences, has for three hundred years been visited with every act of oppression which could be devised by the tyranny or injustice of mankind. After improving the condition of the ancient nations of Europe and Asia, by instructing them in the principles of civil government and the maxims of philosophy, she has, in modern ages, been rewarded for her services by a system of cruel, inhuman persecution, unparalleled in the annals of the world. By means of the slave trade of Africa, the countries bordering on her sea coast have been desolated, her virtues blasted, her peace destroyed, her civilization retarded or converted to barbarism, and her intercourse with foreign nations annihilated, except in the diabolical traffic of human flesh! Our own country is blackened with the victims of slavery, already amounting to nearly two millions of souls; and to contemplate their increase through the vista of futurity is alarming to the patriot and the philanthropist.
That slavery is an evil no one can deny. All must desire to cure the disease or mitigate its ravages. If the evil be of fearful magnitude now, what will it be fifty years hence?
I just selected a couple passages, but, most certainly, it seems, such words had to be written by a New England abolitionist organization. The mistake, however, is to assume that as a certainty. In fact, these words came from Virginians in the Shenandoah Valley. No, not Quakers… not Brethren… not Mennonite. As to who it was who subscribed to these words… who signed their names under such words, deserves our attention. For that matter, for those among that same number, who saw the dawning of the American Civil War, it might be equally interesting to see which side they chose, and their thoughts as to why.
If we are to “face our history”, we should truly do so without blinders. We need to be conscious of the fact that, at this time, too many people (to include some Southerners) are affixing stereotypes to antebellum Southerners, and because of one thing that continued to thrive in the region… slavery.
For about a year now, I’ve been working through various texts looking for something that tears holes in the stereotypes of Southerners… or more importantly, to me, the Southerners of the Shenandoah Valley. Even after a year, my notes are crude and still a work in progress. Nonetheless, it seems like a particularly good time to wheel out a little of what I have, considering it, maybe for just a while, in a public forum.
Follow along with me, if you’re interested, in examining more of the texts from this document, and where it might lead.