Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 021/George Carter
|Born||circa 1845-1849 |
|Occupation||waterfront cotton loading|
George Carter, an African American male, grew up a slave in the antebellum south and experienced the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. He was the subject of an interview for the Federal Writers’ Project. The content of his interview contains some discrepancy concerning his claimed age and the events he talks about being a part of.
George Carter, an African American boy, was born sometime between 1845 and 1849 in Norfolk, Virginia. He was born into the Carter family for whom his mother was a slave. He served the Carters as well when he became old enough to work. At a young age he picked worms off the tobacco leaves in the fields. As he grew up, Mr. Carter had him work as a houseboy, cleaning the silverware and waiting on those at the table. His father is unknown.
At the age of sixteen he was taken to an event called “sale day” to be bought by a new master. While most of the slaves that day were sold to the railroad companies, he was considered too young for that work and was sold to be a houseboy. His new master, Doctor Arnold, lived in Savannah, Georgia.
When the civil war broke out in April 1861, news from the shootings at Fort Sumter spread quickly. As a result, Carter was sold to become a bodyguard for Captain Potter. George disliked his role protecting the Captain, so he ran away soon after arriving. He was quickly caught and returned, only to then run away again. This second time, he claimed to belong to Doctor Arnold and was returned there. Doctor Arnold kept him and did not make him return to his position with Captain Potter.
After the war he worked on the waterfront loading cotton. He married at the age of thirty and had two children, all of whom died prior to his interview. When the Spanish-American war broke out in 1898, he went to fight. According to the interview, George Carter said he also fought during the First World War and received relatively good pay for his service. After his World War I service, he resided in Savanah, Georgia, and when Doctor Arnold died, Carter was left some of Arnold’s possessions, including his large mahogany bed. In his old age, Carter lived in a rundown home on a street occupied solely by African Americans.
Date of death is unknown.
Slave Trade and Civil War in the American South
The slave trade was vital in the American South before the Civil War. It made up their labor force in almost every sector of their society. The primary industry of the south was farming, specifically on cotton and tobacco plantations, and slave labor was a large part of the growth and success of these farms. Leading up to the Civil War, the United States began expanding westward and claiming new territories. As these territories became part of the United States, the Northern and Southern states began to argue about weather slavery should be allowed to exist in the new states. D.S. Reynolds wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “for Southern extremists, this territory raised the bright possibility of a powerful western slave empire--a nightmarish prospect for antislavery Northerners, who insisted that the new lands be preserved for freedom.” These tensions grew until South Carolina became the first state to succeed from the Union in 1860. By 1861, ten other southern states had also succeeded. War broke out between the succeeded states, the Confederacy, and the Union, in 1861 when Confederate troops fired at Union controlled Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, South Carolina. The war lasted from 1861 till 1865 when the Confederacy surrendered.
While the American South was primarily a farming region, leading up to the Civil War they began to industrialize in attempt to become independent from the North. One of the main ways that they began to industrialize was through the building of railroads across the south. This was beneficial in bringing in imports from the coast as well as exporting their crops. This railroad construction took off in the 1830’s. An article in Social Science Quarterly states that “by 1860, the Southern railroads were nearly equal in length to those of the Northeast and Northwest regions.” The building of these railroads was done in large part through slave labor. Because of this there was an increase in the demand for this type of work force, and the importation of new slaves was illegal, the south experienced rising slave prices during the time. This increase in railroad construction also promoted the increase in factories and stores found in the south that would have previously been unsuccessful. For example, the article mention above includes information about how a “new town spawned a railroad to Charleston, which in turn begat more rural stores and eventually a pair of major textile factories at Vaucluse and Graniteville.” This phase of industrialization transformed the south and signified the desire of the south to begin to develop in a way that would potentially allow them to function separately from the North.
Post-Civil War Tensions
After the Civil War, the American South had to make a lot of adjustments to their society. As they transitioned plantations away from relying on slavery, sharecropping became the primary system of farming, allowing some freedmen to own and harvest their own land. However, many things also remained the same as whites made an effort to keep blacks inferior in society. There was also a large increase in the amount of violence in the south, targeted at the African American population. R.R. Verdugo writes in Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World that “the rise of violent, racist organizations, such as the KKK; the ability of White Southerners to retake control of the South; and the fact that former slaves were slow in leaving the South, which lay in ruins,” were all reasons that African Americans remained inferior in southern society. This also caused them to struggle to improve their lives economically. Furthermore, through political moves, the white population continued to block African Americans from claiming on their new freedoms. One of the ways they did this was through the implementation of “black codes” which regulated the behavior and labor rights of African Americans in the south. Reconstruction was not very successful in the south and tensions remained high between whites and blacks in the post-civil war south.
Carter, George. Interview by Adam Morris. Savannah, GA. January 17, 1939. Federal Writers’ Project.
Davis, Mark. 2015. “Southern History: Symposium Looks at Reconstruction: Post-Civil War America Posed Unique Issues for a Recovering Nation.”Atlanta Journal-Constitution , February 19.
History.com. "The Civil War Begins." History,com. Accessed March 22, 2016.
History.com. "Reconstruction." History,com. Accessed March 22, 2016.
Reynolds, D S. 2012. “Statesmanship in a Divided Era; Fisticuffs on the Floor of Congress, Southern Threats of Secession, Saber-rattling over Slavery in New States. and Then: Compromise.” Wall Street Journal , April 22.
Verdugo, R R. 2014. “The Making of the African American Population: The Economic Status of the Ex-slave and Freedmen Population in Post-civil War America, 1860-1920.” Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World 5 (1): 17–36. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1636192057?accountid=14244.
Watson, H L. 2006. “Planting a Capitalist South: Masters, Merchants, and Manufacturers in the Southern Interior, 1790-1860.” The Journal of Economic History 66 (3): 839–841. http://search.proquest.com/docview/216447312?accountid=14244.
Yanochik, Mark, Mark Thornton, and Bradley Ewing. 2003. “Railroad Construction and Antebellum Slave Prices.” Social Science Quarterly 84 (3): 723–737. Print.