New York, Created By Slave Cotton


Though it runs contrary to popular thought, Southerners were not alone in establishing or perpetuating the institution of slavery in America. Although most slaves were ultimately purchased by Southerners, the slave trade was established by the North. The institution would never have taken root without the profit-motivated slave-traders of New England. It was Massachusetts in 1641 that passed the first statute establishing slavery in America, and Massachusetts also has the distinction of enacting the nation’s first fugitive slave law. The North, no less than the South, was responsible and suffered for the evils of slavery.

complicityAs veteran New England journalists Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank wrote in their groundbreaking book, Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery: “Slavery has long been identified in the national consciousness as a Southern institution. The time to bury that myth is overdue. Slavery is a story about America, all of America….Together, over the lives of millions of enslaved men and women, Northerners and Southerners shook hands and made a country.” In this fascinating account of the North’s connection to the institution of slavery, these writers offer irrefutable evidence as to the source of the North’s (especially New York City’s early wealth: “Slave cotton is, in large part, the root of New York’s wealth….Cotton was more than just a profitable crop. It was the national currency, the product most responsible for America’s explosive growth in the decades before the Civil War. As much as it is linked to the barbaric system of slave labor that raised it, cotton created New York.

The authors further noted, “By some estimates the North took 40 cents of every dollar a planter earned from cotton.” And that cotton had been picked by slaves.

Excerpted from Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend by Richard G. Williams, Jr.