Listen to THE TITANIC by Bessie Jones, the Sea Island Singers, and Hobart Smith.
With the fall of Savannah, and the alarming news in the late spring of 1779 that Sir Henry Clinton would be sailing south with an army of eight thousand men, the argument about arming blacks suddenly became less philosophical and more strategic. . . .[The] planters in the South Carolina low country were in a bind. The state was having trouble filling its militia ranks precisely because adult whites were needed on the plantations to guard against the likelihood of slave insurrections and mass flight. . . .Even so, with a number of his own slaves gone to the British or taken by them, Washington was worried about the possibility of an escalating armed-slave race, each side outbidding the other.
Yet on the 29th of March Congress authorized the raising of 3,000 able-bodied blacks in Georgia and South Carolina, to be commanded by white officers. . . .This would have been a revolution indeed, and at a stroke would have disposed of British accusations of hypocrisy. But it was precisely because . . . "such a measure will produce the Emancipation of a number of those wretches and lay a foundation for the Abolition of slavery" a huge loophole was included. In view of the "inconveniences" that the measure would cause the two Southern states, they would reserve the ultimate power to judge its practicality. The bitter conflict between North and South that would poison the new republic was there from the very start.
The outcome was predictable. When the black regiment was debated in the South Carolina House of Representatives at the end of August 1779 it managed to secure just twelve votes out of about seventy-two, even with the British virtually at the gates. "It was received with horror by the planters."
[By spring 1780, black pilots found British frigates a way over the sandbank guarding Charleston harbor.]
Governor Rutledge . . . made an offer of South Carolina's neutrality for the duration of the war in return for the preservation of the social order, meaning slaveholding society. In May the American garrison surrendered, delivering to the British more than five thousand prisoners.
Photo: Shoreditch mural (1).