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I have bid farewell to life and all its hopes and joys. I go to meet my doom ...

Charles Brown, St. Louis 1841 [1]

The execution riveted St. Louis. Over twenty thousand people, about three quartets of the city's population, traveled to Duncan Island on July 9, 1841 to witness the hanging of four rivermen convicted of robbing a local countinghouse, killing two clerks and then setting the building ablaze. At one o'clock in the afternoon the four men, who included one slave, Madison Henderson, and three free blacks, Amos Warrick, James Seward, and Charles Brown, mounted the scaffolding. Minutes later, in the words of one observer, they were "launched into eternity together." [2] When Charles Brown finally succumbed to a weak knot, after several minutes of agony, the crowd dispersed, having seen stern justice done. The show was not over though. In the days after the hanging the men's heads were displayed prominently in a local storefront. The meaning of the severed heads was unmistakable: the city would not stand for insubordination from its slave and free black population--particularly its river workers. [3]

The grisly execution and decapitation punctuated rising sentiment in St. Louis, and the broader western region, that the river economy was a breach in the South's carefully constructed system of racial control. In the months following the execution newspaper editors from Louisville to New Orleans expressed alarm about the freedoms of the black urban underclass, particularly of free black rivermen. The St. Louis Gazette encouraged the "disuse, on board steamboats navigating the western waters, of all free negroes" as they "caused excitement and discontent among slaves of the states through which they pass ... " [4] In New Orleans, where worry about African American boatmen had been building for years, outcry was particularly vociferous. Following the hanging the New Orleans Picayune editorialized that free black steamboat workers were "prowling about the cities of the South." According to the newspaper they were a "dangerous body of incendiaries" that were "fomenters of disturbance." [5] The New Orleans Bee n oted that there "was no evil ... more dangerous to the institutions of the South" than "the employment of free blacks on steamboats whereby the free negro and the slave are brought frequently together." [6]

The four men's confessions, sold at their hanging, make it clear that such fears had merit. While their deaths symbolized the strength of the South's systems of control, their lives illustrate the weaknesses inherent to that system. The men created a world of their own on the docks, levees, plantation landings, city quays, and steamboat decks of the Mississippi River economy. While these men were not above occasionally swindling other working-class people, for the most part their actions were directed at the region's elites. They lied to, cheated, and stole from bankers, shopkeepers, plantation owners, and merchants--the people who possessed the wealth they coveted. When the Louisville Journal called them "desperate rascals, thieves, robbers, cut-throats, and blacklegs" the newspaper's editors were not far from the truth. [7] But money was not the only thing that mattered to these men. Charles Brown, for instance, combined the pursuit of ready money with efforts to liberate runaway slaves.

The men termed their activities "rascality." In a world of danger and exploitation, where death was only a steamboat explosion away, and the plantations of Louisiana and Mississippi loomed with an ominous omnipresence, they referred to rascality as any of a number of illegal acts that allowed them to create a life on their own terms. The men took pride in their ability to avoid what they called "honest labor," to out think the world around them, and to take advantage of the weaknesses of the slave economy. [8] In a world that commodified humanity they were independent men. They lived by their own wits as confidence men and tricksters. This independence was an important part of their black masculine identity that prized not only the more common working-class virtues of toughness and strength but also cleverness, dexterity, and flamboyance. [9] The last of these qualities was most evident in their spending habits. "Fashionable rascality," a term used by the men, referred to consuming beyond one's station. [10] This consumption allowed them to transform subservient identities. When Madison Henderson's schemes were successful, and he was flush with cash, he acted as if he was a well-to-do New Orleans Creole. He treated his friends, dressed in the finest of clothes, and escorted Crescent City ladies on carriage rides through the streets of the French Quarter. [11]

This article explores the process by which the men created a rascal identity while placing emphasis on the broader issues revealed through the men's story. The hanging of 1841 was an unusual incident, but it illuminates persistant social tensions inherent to the antebellum Mississippi River economy. By analyzing rascality it seeks to expand our knowledge of the world the slaves made during slavery while simultaneously illustrating the ways they used the river portion of that world to thwart the interests of slaveholders. As we shall see, black river workers and their riverside friends were at the root of innumerable problems slaveholders faced in the thriving commercial economy of the antebellum West.

The Mississippi River environment provided a fertile setting for African American agency and transformation. The Mississippi River system was a source of continual frustration to antebellum slaveholders even as the waterway helped make many rich. [12] The proliferation of steamboats on the Mississippi River system in the 1820s and 1830s gave southern merchants and planters opportunities for considerable profits but also created a mobile class of slaves and free blacks that moved with ease through the economic arteries of the southern economy. As trade flourished with northern river cities such as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, northern free blacks--and their abolitionist ideas--increasingly found their way to the rapidly growing plantation regions of the South. While fearful local slaveholders employed a variety of legal strategies to control black mobility, evidence indicates they were unsuccessful and that patterns of black rascality continued unabated through the Civil War.

These arguments help conceptualize the importance of what has been a relatively neglected slave narrative. Mary Seemater's thoroughly researched rehabilitation of the men's narrative deserves considerable acclaim. [13] Her able efforts at reconstructing many aspects of the men's lives are laudable. But she does not focus her analysis on the black Mississippi world. Furthermore, we differ on the overall significance of the men's narratives in regards to what she calls "race and justice" in antebellum St. Louis. [14]

While this article contributes to Seemater's rehabilitation of the narrative it is also in dialogue with a long list of historians who have analyzed the economic structure of the slave economy and its impact on slave communities. [15] In particular the article contributes to growing recent interest in the commercial world of the slave economy. Douglas R. Egerton, Betty Wood, Philip D. Morgan and others have begun the long neglected work of thinking about antebellum slavery as a system of commodity distribution as well as one of production. [16] Maritime historians have been particularly fruitful in this regard. Julius S. Scott, W. Jeffrey Bolster, Marcus Rediker, and David S. Cecelski have all contributed to our understanding of how mobile black sailors shaped Atlantic plantation economies. [17]

This essay extends these analyses to consider the role of black mariners on the Mississippi River system. Few have recognized that the black Atlantic of the nineteenth century stretched to Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Memphis and other disparate parts of the United States. Inland mariners on the western rivers had much in common with Atlantic sailors and the two groups overlapped frequently. Amos Warrick's working life reflected the breadth of this Atlantic world. In the years preceding his death on the gallows he shipped out through the Caribbean, the North Atlantic, and the Mississippi River Valley. [18] Sailors and steamboat workers labored in very different work environments but the experience of broad mobility linked both and provided the basis for a similar occupational experience.

Finally, the article adds to our understanding of the variety of ways in which slaves and free blacks resisted the slave regime. In particular this essay draws from a growing body of literature that analyzes the everyday forms of resistance of working-class people. [19] The insights from this transnational literature have not yet been fully integrated into our understanding of the slave experience. [20] While informal resistance has often been incorporated into studies of slavery, focus on slave production has obscured the extent to which the commercial world enveloping the slave South was the focus of a wide range of slave self-activity. James C. Scott writes that hidden transcripts are often associated with "trades or vocations that encourage physical mobility" because such people could link "subordinate communities" while remaining themselves "less socially anchored and hence more autonomous." [21] These comments reflect the experience of slaves and free blacks on steamboats. Message carrying, escape netw ork organizing, trading, and stealing were all facilitated by commercial mobility. While these themes are developed to varying degrees by other historians of black mariners this essay suggests that the simultaneity and multidimensional nature of these efforts have been neglected. [22] Thus it is my purpose here to describe activities in one region that may well be found in other places where slavery intersected with American maritime culture.

It is important to recognize that many of the actions discussed here are more proactive than those often included in discussions of day-to-day resistance. While these men were not social revolutionaries bent on overturning the slave system in one bold stroke, nor were they solely foot draggers content to slow production. Instead they sought to live outside the formal economy in a black river world where talents were rewarded and material gain was possible. [23] They were outlaws. And as such their actions represent a challenge to antebellum society that should be incorporated into our understanding of the range of ways African Americans battled both bondage and the limits of freedom.

Analysis of the men's confessions support these arguments. The hysteria surrounding the men's spectacular crimes provided a significant opportunity for profit. Two local St. Louis residents were quick to take advantage. A local new-paper editor, Adam B. Chambers and the local jailer, George Melody, worked together in recording the men's confessions. Chambers transcribed the accounts. Melody apparently demanded co-authorship (and probably a share of the profits) in exchange for granting Chambers access to the condemned men. The result was the Trials and Confessions of Madison Henderson, alias Blanchard Alfred Amos Warrick, James W. Seward, and Charles Brown. [24] Composed of four sections, each one the story of a single man's life, the book was a considerable publishing success.

The Trials and Confessions have the same problems of reliability as do other similar types of slave narratives. The confessions of Nat Turner, the trials of Denmark Vesey, and other black criminal narratives all were shaped in no small measure by the beliefs of their elite white authors and the buying public for whom they were intended. [25] These factors shaped the Trials and Confessions as well. Chambers was selling his narrative to a southern public who firmly believed in the dangers that free blacks, and loosely supervised slaves like Henderson, posed to society. But while such interests no doubt impacted the narrative, contemporary commentary from the white press suggests that significant portions of the men's stories were based on verifiable fact. Newspaper coverage quickly seized on some exaggerations in Charles Brown's life story, but in general the region's journalists believed the men's accounts. The St. Louis Daily New Era, which would likely have attacked their rival newspaper editor's account if possible, took a balanced view as to the narrative's reliability. "That parts of the revelations may be untrue," the paper editorialized, "we think highly probable: that other parts are correct, we think equally certain: that the whole has been compiled with a view to strict accuracy as to the disclosures, on the part of the editor, we have every right to believe." [26] The New Orleans Picayune felt that "while there may be some exaggerations" there were not enough to "render the story undeserving of confidence." [27]

In their accounts, a unifying theme is dissatisfaction with their social status. The men tell coming of age stories that revolve around a gradual, but growing dissatisfaction with slavery, with abusive supervision and with their hope for self-realization in a world that denied them opportunity. They portray a violent society, a world in which physical abuse was a constant threat, and one in which slave traders threatened to disrupt family lives at any moment. While the narratives each have subtexts that Chambers may have stressed in order to outrage southern readers (such as the "overindulged slave" or the incendiary "northern free black") they also reveal difficult lives led on the margins of society. These experiences no doubt impacted their later decisions to become rascals.

In their young adulthood the four men entered the river trade of the late 1830s. Shipping out as cooks, stewards, barbers, waiters, and deckhands they joined a river workforce that totaled over twenty thousand laborers at mid-century and which included at least two thousand free blacks and three thousand slaves. [28] Nearly all of these workers were men and thus gender identity was a particularly important component of the work culture. While gender identities varied, particularly between deck and cabinworkers, all types of black steamboat labor became iconographic of black masculinity. Black river workers were esteemed in port communities and became an ideal of manhood for young black boys. [29] These boys often looked to the river as a place of hope and opportunity.

The dramatic mobility of the work culture was an important component of the association between manhood, rascality, and the river. The four men's narratives express considerable time spent outside the domestic realm. [30] The accounts reveal lives spent moving on and off boats, in and out of ports, with time spent on land as well as on the decks of steamers. The slave Madison Henderson worked in a variety of Mississippi River trades and spent considerable time in both New Orleans and St. Louis--his "home" ports between voyages. Charles Brown, James Seward, and Amos Warrick traveled even more widely. With contacts in both free territory and the slave South, they were among the most feared of free black river workers. Brown moved between Cincinnati, where his wife lived, and New Orleans, where much of his life story takes place. Seward worked in Ohio River trades and thus moved with ease between the lower North and the upper South. Amos Warrick traveled the widest territory of the men. After years spent as a s ailor on Atlantic ships, he began shipping our of New Orleans, and later St. Louis, journeying up the Yazoo River, up the Missouri River, and to upper Mississippi River cities among other places. [31]

River work entailed significant contact with riverside society, a fact that in combination with rivermen's breadth of movement facilitated wide-ranging social networks--networks that were central to rascality. Leisure time spent in masculine environments such as black boardinghouses, city quays, grog shops, and city jails all facilitated friendships. [32] Charles Brown met Madison Henderson in working-class New Orleans. Brown recalled, "I had frequently heard of Madison, before I became acquainted with him, as a man of extraordinary talents and great daring. The boys about Orleans both loved and feared him. I first saw him on the Tuskarora steamboat, where he was pointed out to me." [33] Brown subsequently sought out Madison at his master's shop. Conversations also took place during work. Madison Henderson remembered that it was on the steamboat Agnus, on the upper Mississippi, that he first met James Seward and another man named Prime Bruce. [34] Working as a cabin boy, Henderson served passengers--a job th at required continual trips to the kitchen where Seward and Bruce prepared the boat's fare. The men were soon talking about more than the evening meal.

Madison Henderson created these networks as a slave--thus separating himself from the experience of most of his fellow western bondsmen and women. River slaves lived in a state of quasi-freedom. [35] They enjoyed the freedoms of urban slaves when in cities but moved beyond local communities as well. In addition their relations with masters were often causal. While working on the Agnus Henderson informed Seward that he was a slave but that he "had control over his own time." [36] Henderson testified to living apart from his master, making his own bargains with boats, and freely spending money earned on the river. [37]

Slave and free, the men were all able to turn their freedoms and social contacts into rascality. While not all of their schemes involved the river trade, the importance of the steamboat economy binds the four men's narratives. Henderson articulated the importance of the river when his New Orleans master told him of his impending sale. He remembered that he "preferred being sold to a boatmen, so that I might be kept on the river; but next to that, I wished to be sold to some merchant who did business with ships and boats." Compared to other forms of work the river offered him opportunity. "I thought myself sufficiently smart to make my way through the world, and get what money I needed if I staid [sic] on the river," Henderson was quoted as saying, "but if sold to the country, I knew that I would not have so much opportunity for the exercise of my talents and might have to run off, in which event I would get into trouble and to no profit." [38] When he was sold to Blanchard, a local merchant with interests in river commerce, he got his wish. Soon after his sale he met several local thieves and "sat up nearly the whole night talking about what might be done in the way of rascality in New Orleans and on the river." [39]

Henderson's initial New Orleans heists, before he moved on to break-ins, involved forging merchant orders, a practice that swindled local elites at the weak points of their commercial networks. Such activities required literacy and intimate knowledge of the flow of commodities between the levee and city neighborhoods. His network of friends made such operations successful. [40] While his accomplices forged orders from local merchants, he picked up goods, paid-off draymen and fenced the merchandise in the city's black market. In one case, Madison sold twenty boxes of candles, procured in this way, to a man heading north on a steamboat. [41]

Charles Brown's narrative reveals how boat workers helped fugitive slaves. During leisure time in New Orleans, and during longer stints living in the city between voyages, Brown used his connections to aid runaways. Brown testified to helping slaves obtain free papers and then either booking them on steamboats or helping them obtain work on the river. Contemporary commentary suggests that many of Brown's claims were true. [42] Brown provided names of masters whose slaves were involved, and the New Orleans Picayune concurred that these masters had indeed lost their slaves. [43] In one case he recalled that he took a New Orleans slave named Joshua with him on the Ambassador. In another he "carried away" a slave named Henry on the Tuscarora. In other verifiable cases he sent fugitives off on steamboats to St. Louis where friends could further help their escape. [44]

To the north, James Seward's early years of lawbreaking were also dependent on the river. Like Henderson, Seward was an adept swindler. While Henderson and his friends forged orders in New Orleans, Seward spent much of his youth learning the trade of counterfeiting. Passing counterfeit bills required moving broadly and quickly. In this way steamboats were a natural attraction for young Seward. While most of his operations were in New York State, he also recalled traveling through Cincinnati, Louisville, Frankfort, Lexington, and Nashville, all the while passing phony bills. [45]

Several of the men's accounts reveal connections between illicit trade and the river. Madison Henderson organized an elaborate plan to "purchase fruits, oysters, segars [sic], &c, in New Orleans and ship them to St. Louis and sell them," Madison thought "by purchasing from smugglers ... and [in St. Louis] investing the proceeds in fresh butter, eggs, &c, we could soon realize a handsome sum." [46] The scheme was never put into action but other similar plans were. James Seward was quoted as saying, "by shipping as steward, cook, or cabin boy" boat workers could "save the freights." [47] Charles Brown discussed taking "a large parcel" of goods out of St. Louis on a Missouri River steamboat and selling them on the way upriver. [48] He recalled that "a large share of the time I spent on the river trading. I purchased a great many stolen articles from slaves which I carried on the river and sold out as opportunity offered." [49] He stated that his "principal business" was "to purchase articles from slaves and sel l them on the river." [50] While these networks often involved foodstuffs, Brown sometimes dealt in more valuable merchandise. He remembered that "I bought at different times large amounts of silver spoons and jewelry from slaves and others. They were stolen articles and when not marked were easily disposed of at large profit on the river. When spoons were marked I had them run up into bars." [51]

Such trading activities reflected a broad interregional web of commercial exchange that linked slave and free black communities. Black river workers from ports in the lower North, upper South, and deep South traded with cotton and sugar belt plantation slaves for their produce. The Reverend Charles B. Ray commented on the breadth of this black trade network during his stay in Cincinnati in 1839. "Besides their ordinary wages, which are good," Ray noted, black steamboat workers had plentiful "opportunities for trading ... [in] the lower country." [52] This trade offered opportunity for additional income for boat workers while providing riverside slaves with a regular outlet for their goods. Recent studies of such informal economies have shown how these networks often made plantation slaves less subject to non-market prices offered by masters for their produce. [53]

The men began appropriating goods on the river in the months immediately preceding the Pettus Bank robbery. By this time, in late 1840, each of the men moved to St. Louis. It was on a boat out of this city, the Agnus, that Henderson, Seward, and a third free black hand named Prime Bruce, first used the mobility of steamboat work to aid their rascal thievery. While they were docked in Galena the men decided to rob a local merchant. Going ashore, they drank and played cards until ten o'clock. After this they walked to a store, went in through a window, and found a fortune--1260 dollars. They divided up the loot and returned to the Agnus, but still had to evade authorities. Seward remembered:

The next morning there was great excitement, and the boat and all hands were searched. I had my money on my person, but they did not find it after two searches. I felt very uncomfortable and uneasy about it. I had never been engaged in any thing of the kind before. Madison came to me and talked to me about my appearance told me my looks were enough to condemn me. [54]

The men succeeded in hiding the money during the search but still had to circumvent Galena authorities again days later on their way back downriver. This time Seward gave his money to the unflappable Henderson to hold. When the boat docked the hands were once more searched and Henderson managed to prove his skills of deception yet again. Safely away, the men returned to St. Louis where they split up. Seward left on a steamboat for Pittsburgh where he spent three weeks laying low in the city's Hill District. [55]

Some months later, at the spring thaw, after a series of local robberies around St. Louis, Madison led a group of men back to Galena in the hopes of repeating their previous luck. This time things did not go so smoothly. Traveling to Galena proved difficult. On the appointed day, Warrick, who until this time had not engaged in break-ins, backed out at the last minute. Seward was delayed by a debilitating hangover and had to wait an additional day before booking passage to join the others. Henderson's trouble began when he had trouble booking passage. After failing to persuade the captain of the Agnus to ship him from St. Louis, he crossed the Mississippi to Alton with Brown where the captain bore no risk of a lawsuit for carrying him out of Missouri without his master's permission.

Once assembled in Galena, things went no better. After several days of planning the men robbed a local bank. The safe would not give way, however, and they made off with very little cash. Disappointed but not dispirited, the men left town on the Iona, but left that steamboat for the Illinois when the captain refused to allow them to take meals with the white cabin passengers. [56] Here again the men demonstrated their rebelliousness. In sight of free land segregated travel was not acceptable--even for the slave Henderson.

Just a few months after the second Galena heist the men robbed the Pettus Bank. A man named Ennis, who had been boarding at a place called Leah's with several of the men, first suggested the robbery because he had heard rumors that the bank held vast amounts of silver. He believed that the silver was often not confined to a safe on Saturday nights but instead was left in the bank's easily opened counter cases. After a period of planning, the men decided to rob the place. They knew that several clerks lived in the shop and they felt that they would have to kill them in order to assure a successful robbery. This time rascality would involve taking the lives of local citizens. When Henderson, who was working on the Missouri at the time, heard that the boat was delivering a large shipment of silver to the bank he told the others. The men decided the time was right. [57]

The robbery was bloody and unsuccessful. Henderson went in first, presented a bank bill and asked the clerk, a man named Jesse Baker, if it was good. As Baker examined the bill, Henderson struck him with a crow bar and knocked him to the floor. The others, except Ennis, who had to work that night at a local barbershop, then came in. They vigorously pummeled Baker until he emitted nothing but "gurgling" sounds from his mashed skull. The men searched the place for money. At this point Seward, who was watching the front of the countinghouse, alerted the others that a second man--another clerk later identified as Jacob Weaver--was approaching the store. Brown took the lead. Waiting behind the door, he slugged Weaver, sending him off his feet. He then beat him until he was dead. Meanwhile the search continued. But it was to no avail. Ennis's information proved incorrect. Except for a few hundred in bills, everything was locked in the impenetrable safe. After repeated attempts to pry open the vault door, the men g ave up, set the place on fire in a futile attempt to cover their tracks, and left. Soon they were dividing their meager plunder. [58]

Unfortunately the men's accounts give us little sense of how they viewed these dramatic events. What was the relationship between rascality and murder? While there is little evidence in the narrative to help interpret this important question, it is my view that the killings were a dramatic form of noncompliance and thus a form of resistance. The pursuit of money through violence was a perfectly understandable means of self-activity in the context of a slave system founded on this logic. This is not to say that such strategies were effective or that all of their contemporaries would have endorsed killing bank clerks. Black preachers in particular would likely have condemned the St. Louis murders as step backward for slave liberation. But Madison Henderson and his friends were not respectable and they were not religious. [59] They inhabited a rough-and-tumble maritime culture that had masculine values quite distinct from those of many national leaders. [60] Their strategies and activities grew out of their own experiences with the slave economy and their contact with the steamboat culture.

However the men conceptualized their final St. Louis operations there is little doubt what local citizens thought. In the following days and weeks news of the crimes riveted St. Louis's populus. An intense manhunt ensued. The day after the failed heist the Missouri Argus called the city's men to arms to defend the town from the murderers. [61] The St. Louis Daily New Era reported that it was "impossible to convey the excitement that pervades the city." [62] On Monday after the heist the paper reported that the "safety of the city demands that the fiends be brought to punishment," that the city should be "ransacked," and that "every suspicious person be made to give account of himself." [63] The intensity of the search continued for the rest of the month. In the days after the killings St. Louis's mayor offered a five thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the capture of the fugitives. On April 30, the Daily Republican reported "no thing will be left undone to secure every avenue of escape." [64] A s reports of the crimes were carried via steamboat to other western cities, the entire region became focused on the spectacular St. Louis events. [65]

With public pressure mounting the men fled the city. They turned to the river, as they had so often before, as their means of escape. The men scattered in all directions. Brown and Steward left for Cincinnati, Henderson for New Orleans, and Warrick shipped out up the Missouri River. [66] But their escape attempts were futile. This time the vast, fluid social world of the western rivers was unable to shield the men from their pursuers. Soon after they left Sr. Louis, authorities caught Ennis who had stayed behind. In an attempt to escape prosecution, he then told city officials what he knew of the heist and the destinations of the four men. St. Louis newspapers published Ennis's account and police in western river cities scanned levee districts for the fugitives. [67] In New Orleans local authorities whipped one slave riverman, who they thought was involved, in an unsuccessful effort to make him confess. [68] Mounting pressure was eventually successful. Seward left Cincinnati on the Atlanta and was intercepte d at Carro by St. Louis constables searching passing boats. Authorities caught Warrick on the Missouri River as the Omega made its return trip to St. Louis. [69] Brown was next. St. Louis authorities traveled to Cincinnati where they searched the city. They finally apprehended him on the levee where he was seeking a berth. [70] Henderson was the final man captured. He quickly grew restless in New Orleans, especially when he realized that he faced trial in a separate theft case in that city. To avoid prosecution there, he shipped back upriver toward St. Louis. Police apprehended him at Cairo. [71]

During the men's final months, in which they were separately tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by the state's circuit judge, they exhibited the tough resilience and independence with which they led their lives. Rascality marked their lives to the end. All the men were composed at the trials. Henderson wore expensive hats as if to flaunt the material success of his activities over the years. Beyond his fashionable accessories he acted with "a rigidity of countenance" that was "truly astonishing" to one St. Louis reporter. [72] The men's spirit and cunning burst forth in their escape attempt just days before their execution. Even as they were giving accounts to Chambers laced with remorse, they were sawing at their shackles with a hidden knife and planning for their liberation. When Chambers came to record their stories one afternoon in their crowded jail cell, they ran past him and their jailers, escaping momentarily to the streets of St. Louis. The St. Louis Republican reported "there was probably never was a more daring attempt made by men." [73] This spirit was finally put to rest on the gallows one week later.

St. Louis's judicial system could hang the men, and the city's citizenry could desecrate their bodies, but they could not so easily solve the underlying problems of black river rascality that plagued the South. Southern elites found the mobility and autonomy of the river culture difficult to control. Existing laws holding captains responsible for shipping local slaves out-of-state without the permission of their masters were not enough to tame the dangers of the Mississippi River. [74]

Southern legislatures took note of the problem of black mobility. In the years surrounding the men's hanging, southern lawmakers began a two-decade legal effort to restrict the movement of free black river workers. In the same period that state legislatures in Alabama and South Carolina passed legislation prohibiting free black sailors from coming ashore, river city and state lawmakers sought to restrict free black boat workers by imprisoning them when in port. [75] Many black workers were jailed. On January 8, 1861 the Daily Memphis Appeal, for instance, reported that "three negroes, part of the crew of the Platte Valley were arrested by the river police yesterday for being in the state contrary to law ..." 76 One free black hand recalled that sometimes the authorities "would put us in jail at New Orleans." [77] Such experiences were apparently common enough. In New Orleans court records suggest that hundreds of free black steamboat workers were jailed in the antebellum period. [78]

But these laws were only partially successful. In the only existing study of this legislation, Richard Tansey argues that Louisiana laws were ineffective in stemming the tide of free black watermen into the city. He argues that steamboat owners in New Orleans actively lobbied against the enforcement of such laws, especially because they had to pay jail fees in order to reclaim their workers. They used their economic clout with local businessmen to leverage police and to prevent their workers from being jailed. While the extent to which this same dynamic occurred in other ports cannot be judged without local case studies, the response of boat officers to the New Orleans law suggests the difficulties local authorities had in preventing the infusion of out-of-state free blacks. [79] Widespread jailings were popular, but the centrality of the steamboat to the economy, and the corresponding power of boat officers and owners, made thorough enforcement of the laws unworkable in practice.

There is little evidence, however, regarding the possible effect of these laws on the free circulation of lawbreakers like Madison Henderson and his friends. While no comparable examples exist of black river lawbreakers for the remainder of the antebellum period, local court records may yet yield evidence of similar activities among other groups of slaves and free blacks. Certainly the larger river culture retained its adversarial relationship to the law. Timothy R. Mahoney has shown that levels of crime rose during peak seasons for river traffic. [80] While most of these crimes were misdemeanors, violent assaults--and even killings--were not uncommon in the levee districts of western cities. [81]

Evidence from the postbellum period, furthermore, makes it clear that the river would continue to be a place that bred rascality. In Cincinnati Lafcadio Hearn found that "a number of the colored river men are adroit thieves" and that the "little clothing shops and shoe stores along the levee are almost daily robbed of some articles by such fellows, who excel in ingenious confidence dodges." [82] Many of these involved elaborate lawbreaking networks. [83] John Boland, a mate who worked in the deep South in this period, concurred with Hearn's assessment remembering "not infrequently the niggers would get into trouble for stealing or some other misdemeanor." [84] A St. Louis attorney in these years actually began to specialize in defending African American rivermen. [85]

The Trials and Confessions certainly accurately represents the importance of the river as a pathway of fugitive escape. Here again the unusual document reveals broader trends in the river culture. Larry Gara's claim that "probably the greatest number [of fugitives] used water transportation" reflects the prevalence of western river fugitive escape. [86] Before running away Henry Bibb recalled standing "upon the lofty banks of the Ohio River, gazing upon the splendid steamboats, wafting with all their magnificence up and down the river" and thought "that I might soar away to where there is no slavery." [87] John Parker recalled that the "Mississippi River attracted me like a magnet, for as soon as I was free to move in my own selected direction I made straight for the river." [88] Prosecutions of captains carrying slaves out-of-state were common in many western states. Some of these were appealed to state supreme courts and include ample testimony concerning runaway slaves' river escapes. Evidence from slave narratives and fugitive escape notices also indicate the volume of the exodus. All together hundreds if not thousands of slaves likely escaped by western riverboat in the last decades of slavery. [89] Many others ran away to steamboats and worked on the margins of slavery and freedom. The liberties of the river allowed them to throw off old identities and take on new ones. Runaways frequently passed by posing as free blacks or legally leased slave workers. Stolen clothes, light skin, and a confident deportment all helped slaves to get a job and leave riverside slavery behind. [90]

Workers like Charles Brown, free blacks with links to the North and with strong feelings in favor of abolition, helped some of these runaways. The bonds of race and intimate understanding of all dimensions of the western slave economy, made slave and free black boat workers natural allies for fugitives looking to negotiate their way on board. African American stewards and cooks, who hired their own assistants in the cabin, would sometimes risk hiring slave fugitives. Friends and family of these workers had particular opportunities to gain passage. Henry Bibb, looking to leave St. Louis, found a steward "who was a colored man with whom I was acquainted." [91] Bibb recalled the black steward "very kindly aided me" in getting "into the land of freedom." [92] In other cases boat clerks and captains, busy with other duties, sometimes failed to check passes for the frequently changing cabin crew and thus had little idea of the labor status of waiters in the cabin or assistants in the kitchen. [93] African American deck workers also aided stowaways. [94]

African American river workers helped fugitives make their way into Cincinnati--the city that represented freedom for so many runaways. One fugitive, who had already escaped to the city, claimed that when runaways got to Cincinnati's levee that "the colored men in the boats" whispered in their ears "where to find the abolitionists." [95] The free black steamboat barber John Hatfield helped fugitives in a variety of ways. In one case he remembered that he heard during work that the pursuers of a runaway woman were closing in. [96] He warned her and reported that he "never felt so pleased with anything I ever did in my life." [97] Hatfield also claimed to have repeatedly sheltered runaways in his Cincinnati home. [98]

Networks of underground river trade outlived the St. Louis hanging. While trade did not always involve stolen goods and illegal transactions, it likely benefited both boat workers and riverside slaves. Mrs. Houstoun, in her travels through the Mississippi River Valley, noted that slave produce "is generally bought by their masters, who are certain to pay them twice as much as it is worth, and a great deal more than they would obtain from the passing steamers and flats." [99] To keep their slaves from selling goods off the plantation, planters were forced to meet their slaves' "exorbitant demands" according to Houstoun. Slave narratives and WPA interviews reveal a flourishing underground trade organized by boatmen that linked plantations and cities, free and slave communities. [100]

Such evidence indicates that Madison Henderson and his friends were not the only black rascals that worked on Mississippi steamers. As the South became ever more linked to a national and international market economy, more and more slaves and free blacks found themselves working in commerce where they found considerable opportunity for mischief. Movement fostered freedom from masters, the opportunity to meet collaborators, and the social space to craft new identities that challenged the southern ruling class. As the story of Madison Henderson and his gang illustrates, a variety of types of resistance flourished in this atmosphere. When on water, plantation tricksters became river rascals who lived by their wits and a multiplicity of illegal activities. Such rascals helped create the forgotten black history of the Mississippi River.

American culture has long associated the river environment with freedom, but the experience of these common laborers shows how starkly racialized notions of freedom were in the western river economy. If steamboating offered pilots like Mark Twain adventure and a brief respite from the responsibilities of riverside life, for boat workers like Madison Henderson and his friends the river nurtured rascal identities that flourished amidst the very arteries of the slave economy.

Abstract: Thomas C. Buchanan, "Rascals on the Antebellum Mississippi: African American Steamboat Workers and The St. Louis Hanging of 1841"

This article uses an 1841 confessional narrative of three free blacks, Amos Warrick, Charles Brown, and James Seward, and one slave, Madison Henderson, to examine how the Mississippi River steamboat culture impacted slave communities in the western region of the American South. It argues that in the Mississippi River economy a multidimensional, rascal form of resistance flourished amongst African American steamboat workers. As slave and free black steamboat hands moved between land and river, between city and country, and between slave and free states, many transformed their identities by living outside the law. By appropriating commodities, helping slaves to escape bondage, and participating in informal economies, they created networks that expanded not only their own status but also the scope and power of the larger African American community. Building on recent work in Atlantic history, and grounded in discussions of slave and working-class resistance, this article conceptualizes intersections between Afri can American history and the history of America's major river system.


I would like to thank the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis and the Rockefeller Foundation for financial support that allowed me to complete this article. I would also like to thank the Pittsburgh Working Class History Seminar, the Center for International Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and participants at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis conference on the Black Atlantic for helpful commentary on earlier versions of the essay. Marcus Rediker, Peter N. Steams, Kenneth W. Goings, Barbara Ellen Smith, Amanda Gierasch and the anonymous readers of the Journal of Social History deserve particular thanks for their excellent suggestions.

(1.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions of Madison Henderson, alias Blanchard, Alfred Amos Warrick, James W Seward, and Charles Brown, Murderers of Jesse Baker and Jacob Weaver: As Given by Themselves and Likeness of Each, Taken in Jail Shortly After Their Arrest (St. Louis, 1841), p. 64.

(2.) St. Louis Daily Republican, July 10,1841. See also St. Louis Daily New Era, July 10, 1841.

(3.) For another description of the hanging and decapitation see Mary Seemater, Trials and Confessions: Race and Justice in Antebellum St. Louis," Gateway Heritage 12 (Fall 1991): p. 46.

(4.) Reprinted in the Boston Liberator, October 15, 1841.

(5.) New Orleans Picayune, August 22, 1841.

(6.) New Orleans Bee, September 15, 1841.

(7.) Louisville Journal , April 23, 1841.

(8.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 50-1; Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p.9.

(9.) The figure of the rascal has been left out of discussions of nineteenth-century masculinity. For an excellent volume on constructions of black masculinity in this period see Dalene Clark Hine and Earnestine jenkins, eds., A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men's History and Masculinity, Volume 1, "Manhood Rights": The Construction of Black Male History and Manhood, 1750-1870 (Bloomington, 1999).

(10.) For usage of this term see Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 48-51.

(11.) These comments are based on the confessions of Henderson and Seward. The confessions reveal less about the spending habits of Brown and Warrick. See Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 48-50, 54; Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 8-9, 16.

(12.) Historians have generally not viewed the river as a social system. For a notable exception see Michael Allen, Western Rivermen, 1763-1861: Ohio and Mississippi Boatmen and the Myth of the Alligator Horse (Baton Rouge, 1990).

(13.) Seemater, "Trials and Confessions: Race and Justice in Antebellum St. Louis," pp. 36-46.

(14.) Seemater uses the men's story to illustrate the modernization of the legal system in St. Louis. Her essay compares the men's orderly trial and execution with the mob hanging and burning at the stake of the free black steamboat hand Francis MacIntosh just a few years before. But this argument does not take into account the broader, coercive relationship between African Americans and the law in this period.

(15.) Selected books that that have broadly influenced my thinking include Ira Berlin, Many Thousand Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in America (Cambridge, 1998); Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan, The Slaves' Economy: Independent Production by Slaves in the Americas (London, 1991); John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (Oxford, 1972); Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: the World the Slaves Mode (New York, 1976); Joseph P. Reidy, From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South, Central Georgia, 1800-1880 (Chapel Hill, 1992); Michael Tadman, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (Madison, 1989); Richard Wade, Slavery in the Cities: The South, 1820-1860 (New York, 1964); Peter Way, Common Labour: Workers and the Digging of North American Canals, 1780- 1860 (Cambridge, 1993).

(16.) Douglas R. Egerton, Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802 (Chapel Hill, 1993); Betty Wood, Women's Work, Men's Work: The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia (Athens, 1995); Philip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill, 1998).

(17.) For work on African American sailors see Julius S. Scott, "The Common Wind: Currents of Afro-American Communication in the Era of the Haitian Revolution" (Ph.D. Diss.: Duke University, 1986); David S. Cecelski, "The Shores of Freedom: The Maritime Underground Railroad in North Carolina, 1800-1861," The North Carolina Historical Review 71 (April 1994): 174-206; Bolster, Blackjacks: African-American Seamen in the Age of Sail (1997); W Jeffrey Bolster, "'To Feel Like a Man': Black Seamen in the Northern States, 1800-1860," Journal of American History 76 (March 1990): 1173-1199; James Barker Farr, Black Odyssey: The Seafaring Traditions of Afro-Americans (New York, 1989); Martha S. Putney, Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War (Westport, Conn., 1987); Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Cambridge, 1987); Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, "The Many-Headed Hydra," Journal of Historical Sociology 3 (September 1990): 225-252; Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Beacon, 2000).

(18.) Confession of Amos Warrick, Trials and Confessions (1841), 26-30.

(19.) For a discussion of this phrase and the hidden history of African American resistance in a later period see Robin D. G. Kelley, " 'We Are Not What We Seem': Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South," Journal of American History 80 (June 1993): 75-113. See also James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990); James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, 1985). This chapter also draws on an English crime and society literature that focuses on the role of crime in class struggle. Edward P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act (New York, 1975); Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteen Century (Cambridge, 1992); Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh, John 0. Rule, E. P. Thompson, and Cal Winslow, eds., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England (New York, 1975). This article also draws on discussions of working class self-activity . See, for example, George Rawick, "Working Class Self-Activity," Radical America, Vol. 3, No. 2 (March-April, 1969).

The best studies of black theft in the South do not analyze the commercial world. See Alex Lichenstein, "'That Disposition to Theft with which They Have Been Branded': Moral Economy, Slave Management, and the Law," Journal of Social History 21 (Spring 1988): pp. 413-40; Leonard P. Curry, The Free Black in Urban America, 1800-1850 (Chicago, 1981), chapter seven.

(20.) Historians of slavery do not universally hold this view. Robert L. Paquette, for instance, argues that studies of day-to-day resistance have gone too far and that slave revolt leaders deserve further study. Robert L. Paquette, "Slave Resistance and Social History," Journal of Social History 124 (Spring 1991): 681-685.

(21.) Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (1990), 124.

(22.) The four men's stories reflect the multidimensional quality of maritime resistance but it is important to recognize that they do not reveal all the ways in which African Americans used the Mississippi River system. The men's accounts, for instance, do not convey how slave and free black families used the river. In the era of the expansion of internal slave trade, river workers were a beacon of hope for slave families trying to stay in touch over thousands of miles of distance. In such situations river workers were heroic carriers of secret underground information. See Thomas C. Buchanan, "The Slave Mississippi: African-American Steamboat Workers, Networks of Resistance, and the Commercial World of the Western Rivers, 1811-1880," (Ph.D. Diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 1998), chapter 3.

(23.) The cultural dimensions of the antebellum black underworld have been the subject of a fine article by Shane White. See Shane White, "The Death of James Johnson," American Quarterly 51 (December 1999): 753-795.

(24.) Trials and Confessions (1841).

(25.) For an excellent recent example of the kinds of distortions that occurred within this genre see Edward A. Pearson ed., Designs Against Charleston: The Trial Record of the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy of 1822 (Chapel Hill, 1999). Pearson contrasts the official version of the trials with the actual trial transcripts. He argues that the official version censored discussion of the conspirators plans to poison Charleston's water supply for fear other slaves would use this strategy. While this finding is significant, it is important to note that there were far more factual similarities between the two documents than dissimilarities.

For a broader discussion of the how these the confessional genre relates to other slave narratives see William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (Urbana, 1988), pp. 39-44.

(26.) St. Louis Daily New Era, July 8, 1841.

(27.) New Orleans Picayune, July 29, 1841.

(28.) This figure is based on my analysis of the 1850 St. Louis census that included the unauthorized enumeration of ninety-three steamboats in the city's harbor. See Thomas C. Buchanan, "The Slave Mississippi: African-American Steamboat Workers, Networks of resistance, and the Commercial World of the Western Rivers, 1811-1880," pp. 32-34. This estimate may well be conservative. Robert Starobin claims that ten thousand black boat workers plied the western rivers in the antebellum period. See Starobin, Industrial Slavery in the Old South (1970), p. 30.

(29.) For further discussion of the gendered nature of this work environment see Buchanan, "The Slave Mississippi: African-American Steamboat Workers, Networks of Resistance, and the Commercial World of the Western Rivers, 1811-1880," chapter 3. For black masculinity in Atlantic sailor communities see Bolster, "'To Feel Like a Man': Black Seamen in the Northern States, 1800-1860," pp. 1173-1199.

(30.) For a discussion of the organization of the early steamboat industry see Louis Hunter, Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History (Cambridge, 1949), pp. 320-323.

(31.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 17, 20, 23; Confession of Amos Warrick, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 29-32; Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 57-8; Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 57-62.

(32.) Warrick remembered "it was during my stay in jail that I first got acquainted with Madison the man who is condemned with me. He was in jail three or four times and once was flogged." See confession of Amos Warrick, Trials and Confessions (1841), p.30.

(33.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 31.

(34.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 17.

(35.) For a more detailed description of the freedoms of these workers see Buchanan, "The Slave Mississippi: African-American Steamboat Workers, Networks of Resistance, and the Commercial World of the Western Rivers, 1811-1880," chapter 1.

(36.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 57.

(37.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 17.

(38.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 8.

(39.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 9.

(40.) In one case a local slave picked up a load of provisions from the steamboat Uncle Sam by falsely representing himself to the boat's steward as a servant of a local merchant. See New Orleans Picayune, April 8, 1849.

(41.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 9.

(42.) Some commentary was false, however. Chambers quotes Brown as saying that he attended Oberlin College and was a paid agent of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. But these stories do not square with records from Oberlin College or what is known about abolitionist organizations. See Catalogue and Record of Colored Students, 1834-1972, Office of the Secretary, Record Group 5, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

(43.) New Orleans Picayune, July 29, 1841.

(44.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 58-9; Missouri Republican, July 10, 1841.

(45.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 56.

(46.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 57.

(47.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 57.

(48.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 59.

(49.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 59.

(50.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 59.

(51.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 60.

(52.) William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, "John Mercer Langston," in Henry Louis Jr., ed., Race and the City: Work, Community, and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970 (Urbana, 1993), P. 34.

(53.) See John Campbell, "As 'A Kind of Freeman'?: Slaves' Market-Related Activities in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860," in Berlin and Morgan, eds., The Slaves' Economy (1991), pp. 131-170; Wood, Women's Work, Men's Work: The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia (1995).

(54.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 57- 58. For corroboration of these events see Galena Gazette, July 17, 1841.

(55.) Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 58.

(56.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 62. See Galena Gazette, July 17, 1841.

(57.) This account reflects passages in the narratives of Brown and Seward. Chambers quoted Brown as saying "On Friday night the Missouri came up and it was said that Mr. Collier (a partner in the Pettus Bank) had brought up a large amount of money." See confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), 62. Seward was quoted in his testimony as saying the men the men met Madison that night on the Missouri when it docked on the levee. Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 49.

(58.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 21; Confession of Amos Warrick, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 33-4; Confession of James Seward, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 50; Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), p. 63; Missouri Republican, April 20, 1841; St. Louis Daily New Era, April 20, 1841.

(59.) The narratives indicate that they shared a general secular orientation long associated with maritime workers. See Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987).

(60.) For the gender ideals of middle-class free blacks and the best single essay on African American masculinity in this period see James Oliver Horton, "Freedom's Yoke: Gender Conventions Among Free Blacks," Feminist Studies 12, No. 1 (Spring 1986): 51-76.

(61.) St. Louis Argus, April 19, 1841.

(62.) St. Louis Daily New Era, April 19, 1841.

(63.) St. Louis Daily New Era, April 20, 1841.

(64.) St. Louis Daily Republican, April 30, 1841.

(65.) The Cincinnati Daily Gazette reported on that the crimes created a "high degree of excitement throughout the whole western and south western country." See Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 17, 1841.

(66.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), 64; Confession of Amos Warrick, Trials and Confessions (1841), 35; St. Louis Daily New Era, May 5, 1841.

(67.) Missouri Republican, May 1, 1841; New Orleans Picayune, May 9, 1841.

(68.) National Anti-Slavery Standard, July 1, 1841. For other reaction to the men's flight see New Orleans Picayune, May 9, 1841.

(69.) St. Louis Daily New Era, May 5, 1841; Missouri Republican, May 6, 1841.

(70.) Confession of Charles Brown, Trials and Confessions (1841), 64; Louisville Journal, May 8, 1841; Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 6, 1841.

(71.) Confession of Madison Henderson, Trials and Confessions (1841), pp. 24-5; Daily Missouri Republican, May 10, 1841.

(72.) St. Louis Daily New Era, May 25, 1841. Coverage of the men's trials filled St. Louis newspapers in the May 10-June 7 period.

(73.) Missouri Republican, July 2, 1841.

(74.) Judith Schafer has done excellent work on these laws for Louisiana. See Schafer, Slavery, the Civil Law, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana (1994), p. 99. Similar laws in other western states have not received the attention they deserve. For Louisiana laws regulating steamboat officers and owners changed slightly over time. See "An Act to Take the Most Effective Measures in Order to Prevent the Transportation or Carrying Away of Slaves Out of This State ...," Act of February 13, 1816, Louisiana Acts, 1816, pp. 8-14; "An Act to Amend the Act Entitled 'An Act to Take the Most Effective Measures in Order to Prevent the Transportation, or Carrying Away of Slaves Out of State' ... Approved 13 February 1816," Act of March 26, 1835, Louisiana Acts, 1835, pp. 152-53; "An Act to Prevent the Carrying Away of Slaves, and For Other Purposes," Act of March 19, 1839, Louisiana Acts, 1839, pp. 118-20; "An Act ... Passed for the Purpose of Preventing Slaves From Being Transported or Conducted Out of This State," Act of March 25, 1840, Louisiana Acts, 1840, pp. 89-91. For Missouri see "An Act Supplementary to an Act Entitled 'An Act Concerning Slaves,'" Act of February 13, 1841, Missouri Acts, 1841, pp. 146-7. This act made it illegal for any "Master, Commander or [steamboat] Owner ... to Transport Any Servant or Slaves, From One Point or Place in This State Any Other Point ... Without the Consent or Permission of the Person or Persons to Whom Slave Doth or Right Belong." For Kentucky see "An Act to Prevent the Masters of Vessels, and Others from Employing or Removing Persons of Colour From This State," Act of January 7, 1824, Kentucky Acts, 1824, pp. 406-7; "An Act to Amend an Act Entitled 'An Act to Prevent the Masters of Vessels, and Others from Employing or Removing Persons of Colour From This State,' "Act of February 12, 1828, Kentucky Acts, 1828, pp. 178-9. This 1828 amendment made captains liable for Kentucky fugitives coming on board from the northern side of the Ohio River. For Tennessee see "Act to Amend the Act E ntitled 'An Act More Effectively to Prevent the Owners of Steamboats and Stages from Carrying Off Slaves Without the Knowledge or Consent of Their Masters'," Act of November 12, 1833, Tennessee Acts, 1833, p. 75.

(75.) Bolster, Black Jacks: African-American Seamen in the Age of Sail (1997), chapter 7. For an excellent summary of these laws in Louisiana see Tansey, "Out-of-State Free Blacks in Late Antebellum New Orleans," 369-387. For other states see "An Act to Amend the Several Acts of this State in Relation to Free Negroes and Mulattoes," Act of February 26, 1842, Mississippi Acts, 1842; "An Act Concerning Free Negroes, Mulattoes, and Emancipation," Act of March 3, 1860, Kentucky Acts, 1860; "An Act to Amend an Act Entitled 'An Act Concerning Free Negroes, Mulattoes, and Emancipation'," Act of January 23, 1861, Kentucky Acts, 1861; "An Act More Effectively to Prevent Free Persons of Color From Entering Into This State, and for Other Purposes," Act of February 23, 1843, Missouri Acts, 1843.

For an 1849 Memphis city ordinance see Marious Carrierre Jr., "Blacks in Pre-Civil War Memphis," in Kenneth L. Kusmer, ed., Black Communities and Urban Development in America 1720-1990: A Ten Volume Collection of Articles Surveying the Social, Political, Economic, and Cultural Development of Black Urban Communities, Vol. 2, (New York, 1991), pp. 127-128.

(76.) Memphis Daily Appeal, January 8, 1861.

(77.) John W. Blassingame, ed., Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches Interviews and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge, 1977), 387.

(78.) Tansey, "Out-of-State Free Blacks in Late Antebellum New Orleans," 378-381.

(79.) Tansey, "Out-of-State Free Blacks in Late Antebellum New Orleans," 378-381.

(80.) Timothy R. Mahoney, River Towns in the Great West: The Structure of Provincial Urbanization in the American Midwest, 1820-1870 (Cambridge, 1990), PP. 173-175.

(81.) News articles from New Orleans and St. Louis illustrate what was undoubtedly a pattern in other western cities. See, for instance, New Orleans Picayune, September 4, 1839; New Orleans Picayune, April 8, 1849; New Orleans Picayune, May 30, 1844; New Orleans Picayune, August 9, 1854; New Orleans Picayune, August 3, 1854; Missouri Republican, August 18, 1845; Missouri Republican, October 3, 1846; Missouri Republican, October 5, 1846; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 28, 1853.

(82.) Lafcadio Hearn, Children of the Levee, O. W. Frost, ed. (Lexington, 1957), p. 81.

(83.) Hearn, Children of the Levee, Frost ed. (1957), p. 81.

(84.) John Edmund Boland Recollections, Box 1, Folder 4, Sophie Pearson Collection, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University.

(85.) John Edmund Boland Recollections, Box 1, Folder 4, Sophie Pearson Collection, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University.

(86.) Larry Gara, The Liberty Line: the Legend of the Underground Railroad (Kentucky, 1961), p.50.

(87.) Gilbert Osofsky, ed., Puttin' on Ole Massa (New York, 1969), p. 72.

(88.) Stuart Seely Sprague, ed., His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker (New York, 1996), p. 63.

(89.) Buchanan, "The Slave Mississippi: African-American Steamboat Workers, Networks of Resistance, and the Commercial World of the Western Rivers, 1811-1880," chapter 4.

(90.) David Waldstreicher has recently published an outstanding analysis of "self-fashioning" by runaways in the eighteenth-century Mid-Atlantic. See David Waldstreicher, "Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic," William and Mary Quarterly LVI (April 1999): 243-272.

(91.) Osofsky, ed., Puttin' On Ole Massa (1969), p. 151.

(92.) Osofsky, ed., Puttin' On Ole Massa (1969), p. 151.

(93.) In one Missouri court case boat officers admitted that the practice of subcontracting labor made them ignorant of the labor status of African American workers. See Blair et. al. v. Steamboat Aunt Letty, No. 183, Box 5, Unreported (1857), United States District Court Records, Eastern District of Missouri, National Archives--Great Plains Region. For family connections securing illegal hires see Goldenbow v. Wright, 13 La 371(1839).

(94.) Sprague, ed., His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad (1996), p. 44.

(95.) William Creek and Aimee Lee Cheek, "John Mercer Langston and the Cincinnati Riot of 1841," in Taylor, Henry Louis Jr., ed., Race and the City: Work, Community, and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970 (Urbana, 1993), P. 44.

(96.) Benjamin Drew, The Refugee: A North-Side View of Slavery (Reading, Massachusetts, 1969), 256. For another case in which a northern African-American man, who was likely a boatmen, helped a black passenger elude bounty hunters see Sprague, ed., His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad (1996), 132-4.

(97.) Drew, The Refugee: A North-Side View of Slavery (1969), p. 256.

(98.) Drew, The Refugee: A North-Side View of Slavery (1969), p. 257.

(99.) Mrs. Houstoun, Mrs. Hesperos: Or, Travels in the West, Vol. II, (London, 1850), p. 160.

(100.) See, for instance, testimony of Cox, John Blassingame, ed., Slave Testimony (1977), p. 390; testimony of Sella Martin, Blassingame, ed., Slave Testimony (1977), p. 728; testimony of Shadrach Cyrus, Rawick, ed., The American Slave, Mississippi Narratives, Supplement, Series 1, Volume 7, Part 2 (1977), p. 545; testimony of Mary Kindred, Rawick, ed., The American Slave, Texas Narratives, Supplement, Series 2, Volume 6, Part 5 (1979), p. 2203.
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Author:Buchanan, Thomas C.
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Between Civil Rights and Black Power in the Gateway City: the Action Committee to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION), 1964-75.
The Black Enterprise African American travel guide presented by Allstate.
Black Life on the Mississippi: Slaves, Free Blacks and the Western Steamboat World.
Hard labor: scholars chronicle the relationship of African Americans to unions and the industrialization of America.

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