Waterman's Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina

Waterman's Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina

Waterman's Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina

Waterman's Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina

Synopsis

The first major study of slavery in the maritime South, The Waterman's Song chronicles the world of slave and free black fishermen, pilots, rivermen, sailors, ferrymen, and other laborers who, from the colonial era through Reconstruction, plied the vast inland waters of North Carolina from the Outer Banks to the upper reaches of tidewater rivers. Demonstrating the vitality and significance of this local African American maritime culture, David Cecelski also reveals its connections to the Afro-Caribbean, the relatively egalitarian work culture of seafaring men who visited nearby ports, and the revolutionary political tides that coursed throughout the black Atlantic.

Black maritime laborers played an essential role in local abolitionist activity, slave insurrections, and other antislavery activism. They also boatlifted thousands of slaves to freedom during the Civil War. But most important, Cecelski says, they carried an insurgent, democratic vision born in the maritime districts of the slave South into the political maelstrom of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Excerpt

In October 1830 Moses Ashley Curtis arrived at the mouth of the Cape Fear River aboard a schooner from Boston. the North Carolina coast would be the young naturalist’s first landfall of his first voyage into the American South. Emptying into the Atlantic, the Cape Fear was a tumult of heavy waves, strong currents, and dangerous shoals. Passage across the inlet’s bar and outer shoals was folly without a local pilot. the schooner’s master raised a signal flag and beckoned toward the village of Smithville for a pilot to guide him into the river. Curtis soon spied a pilot boat under sail, breaking through the waves toward him. Approaching the schooner, the fast, elegant craft turned into the wind and drifted alongside the larger vessel. “They boarded us,” Curtis wrote in his diary that day, “And what saw I? Slaves!—the first I ever saw.”

Guided into Smithville by the slave pilots, Curtis “found the wharf and stores crowded with blacks, noisy and careless.” After a brief stay, his schooner sailed toward Wilmington, a seaport 25 miles upriver. Unbeknownst to Curtis, this leg of his voyage was like a descent through the Cape Fear past. He sailed by Sugar Loaf, the high sand dune where colonial militia led by Colonel Roger Moore were said to have conquered the last of the Cape Fear Indians. He passed under Fort Johnston, with its oyster-shell-and-pitchpine walls built by slaves in 1802. Along the western bank of the Cape Fear River, Curtis peered into cypress swamps draped with Spanish moss. Here and there, hundreds of black hands had hewn out great rice plantations along the water’s edge.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.