I recently visited North Carolina, a state with which I have ancestral ties that go back so far as to exist only by word of mouth, that being the existence of a redheaded, blue-eyed Scotsman (that would be the Russell side) who came from the “Carolinas.” Ever so often he returns, my daddy told me as I was growing up. My grandmother Russell had two redheaded sons (my father wasn’t one of them) and I, too, gave birth to him twice, but my sons don’t bear the surname Russell; that’s my maiden name. Though I’d always suspected the “Carolinas” in this case referred to North Carolina, tentative research strongly indicates the family did indeed travel from North Carolina into Tennessee, then Georgia, briefly Alabama, and my branch has been in Mississippi for four generations now—six if I count my non-Russell offspring and their offspring.
But, let me get back on point. My visit was to Buncombe County in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Ashville specifically, a lovely, quaint little city favored by artists and flocked to by tourists and historically by those in need of the healthful mountain air to relieve whatever ailed them. I went with my daughter’s mother-in-law to visit old friends she wanted to see there, and they, knowing my interest in history, made a point of taking us to some of the local historical sites. What provided fodder for this particular blog were comments made by a tour guide at the birthplace of Zebulon Baird Vance, 37th and 43rd governor of North Carolina. His first term was during the War for Southern Independence, and he is beloved by the people of North Carolina for being “War Governor of the South.”
Zebulon Vance was the second son of David Vance, a veteran of the Continental Army that sent the Loyalists packing at King’s Mountain. The elder Vance either built or bought the house in 1795. The family ran a wealthy, slave-owning farm. Here is what got my goat. This young man, our guide, went off on a brief tangent highlighting how slavery was different in North Carolina, where more valuable skilled slaves were the norm vice the less valuable field laborers from the more southern states, where labor was cheap and the slaves were “worked to death” then replaced. He threw his hands out in front of him and said, “No big deal.”
I beg your pardon? Where did this double-standard, hypocritical, hogwash come from? Quentin Tarantino? Perhaps it was Harriet Beecher Stowe, but to believe the latter, I would have to credit the young man with having made some effort to research the history of slavery. I, in fact, use those same words—“worked to death”—referring to slaves, in my most recent novel Camellia Creek, spoken from the mouth of a hate-filled, bigoted abolitionist witch who didn’t know what she was talking about. There were plenty of skilled Negro slaves in the Deep South, and all slaves, skilled or not, certainly were costly, considering the slave-trade ended in 1808. Even assuming we in the Deep South were sub-human and cared nothing for human life, working slaves to death would have been economic suicide. I’m not saying such never happened, but it was not the norm and would have been as likely to happen in North Carolina as Mississippi.
I was hoping the thoughts espoused by the tour guide were his own, but subsequent discussion with my host indicates this “slavery in North Carolina was kinder, gentler” has become a common thread among those who wish to apologize for slavery’s existence in that state. Of course, I don’t know that those North Carolinians, whose roots go back to the beginning, really swallow that “bunk”, pun intended. I hope not. My host, who is not a Southerner, snickered when he gave me that “kinder and gentler” line. I can only surmise that such tripe handed out during tours is the result of federal funding or is an effort by the politically correct crowd to whitewash something it appears to be ashamed of. To those individuals I say whitewash it if you feel a need, but do it without defaming your sister states, whose ancestors were sure the devil no worse than yours, no matter where they hailed from.
Better yet, I would argue that when giving a tour of Governor Vance’s birthplace, place emphasis on the man himself and the time he lived, rather than gloss over it. He was a man who believed a state was sovereign, vis-à-vis a central government, in all things except those limited areas where said central government held precedent (a prominent characteristic of a number of North Carolina statesmen going back long before the War). Something all state governors should remember now, something governors in the North should have remembered then and the dark years following the War--something they all should have remembered in the 1960s. That belief is what the people of North Carolina fought for (in numbers that exceeded all others, I should add, all the while resisting Confederate conscription policies in the name of those same rights), not slavery. That autonomy as well as the inviolability of the Constitution are what were lost with the South’s defeat, and as regards the health of the Republic, those two things alone eclipse the radical and irresponsible dissolution of an institution doomed to extinction within a relatively short period of time. For all the right reasons, the South was right, something Southerners should remember and be proud of instead of hanging their heads in shame and prevaricating in the face of liberal propaganda and federal extortion.