Saturday, May 9, 2015

American History 101: Profile of a Black Slave Owner - William Ellison, Jr.


It has been called an abomination... a blight on the American historical landscape... the white man's oppression of the black man...  but did you know that there were black slave owners?  It is true.  Just like the blacks in Africa sold their own people to the white Europeans and Americans, blacks in America owned slaves and plantations.  Of the approximately 2,000,000 slaves in America, approximately 12,900 slaves were owned by over 3,700 black slave owners.  This blog post is about one of them...  William Ellison, Jr.

William Ellison, Jr was born under the name April Ellison sometime in April 1790 (it was not unusual for there to be no concrete birth records of slaves).  He died on December 5th, 1861 and lived a unique life for a black man in South Carolina.  He was born a slave, owned by William Ellison, but granted his freedom by Ellison on June 8, 1816.  Although it is unknown whether or not William or his father, Robert, fathered William, Jr -- after he was given his freedom, he changed his name from April to William, Jr.  William went on to be a cotton plantation and slave owner.  And while the American Antebellum period saw many blacks begin to gain their freedom, he and his sons were the only black freemen in Sumter County, South Carolina.

William Ellison, Jr took the skills he'd picked up as a slave and put them to work, and by the the time he was in his late twenties he was a master cotton gin builder and repairer.  Within two years, business was booming and Ellison purchased two artisan slaves to work in his shop, and by 1830 he owned four slaves.  Because cotton prices were high, there was a great demand for Ellison's services and by the 1850's Ellison's slave count had risen to eight and he started a blacksmith business with additional slave labor.  He was even taking out print advertisements in the Sumter Southern Whig and Camden Gazette.

Within two years, Ellison had amassed enough capital to purchase a fifty acre cotton plantation -- and within two more years his plantation had grown to 386 acres.  Before the end of the 1850's, he would purchase the Hickory Hill plantation, boosting his plantation to over 1,000 acres and own 32 slaves.  Also, by the end of the 1850's, Ellison's slaves had children.  He believed that children should not work in the field, so all mothers and their children worked in the house.  His slave count was over 100 by this time.

During the Civil War, Ellison and his sons supported the Confederacy, believing that slavery was a profitable economic need for the country.  Ellison even went so far as to offer up 53 of his own slaves to the Confederate Army.  Additionally, Ellison converted a portion of his farm from cotton to differing foodstuffs that were grown and given to the army.

At age 21, Ellison chose Matilda as his consort, she was only 16 at the time.  In slavery marriage was not recognized -- so she was considered his consort.  After he was granted his freedom, he attempted to secure her freedom.  But it took several years for Ellison to buy his wife and children out of slavery because of South Carolina's restrictive manumission laws.  These laws created extremely restrictive guidelines about how slaves could be freed.  Ellison's priority was to free his wife first, then their children.  This was because all children born to a slave-mother were considered property of the slave owner, and thusly slaves.  Ellison wanted to ensure that all his future children would be born free.  Ellison ended up simply buying his family as slaves, and then granting them their freedom.

For regular readers of my BLOG I want to say thank you for reading.  But, the regulars know I post a lot of different things on this blog.  Moving forward, I will continue my posts on American History -- trying to highlight things that are a little unusual, or discussed less in the classrooms of America -- like the subject of black slave owners.  In the coming weeks I will be posting a BLOG about the first woman in America to become an millionaire.  If you don't already know who it is, I promise you'll be surprised!  And also, I'm working on an extended post about the causality of the biggest wars in history.  This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts because it does not deal primarily with American history (although I'll talk about the big American wars), and it is specifically designed to dispel the notion that the majority of the war throughout history is caused by religion.  I'll give you the ending now: it isn't.

So stay tuned -- if you like my educational technology blog postings, check out my Examiner Page.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

1 comment: