After Slavery: Educator Resources

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2. New Bern's Black Community Negotiates their Terms for Military Service

Trent River settlement, North Carolina, 1866, <em>Harper's Weekly</em>.

Trent River settlement, North Carolina, 1866, Harper's Weekly.

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Four: Freedom, Black Soldiers, and the Union Military in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Control over the towns and waterways of coastal North Carolina slipped back and forth between Union and Confederate forces between late 1861 and the end of the war, but their capture of the strategically important riverport town of New Bern in March 1863 gave Lincoln's forces the upper hand on both sea and land. As in South Carolina, planters tried to carry off (or "refugee") their slave 'property' into the state's interior and away from northern lines, but the heavier traffic seems to have moved toward the coast. As word of the Union military's presence spread across the state, slaves made their break for the coast, and New Bern became a temporary home for large numbers of escaped slaves anxious to make their freedom permanent.

From the late spring of 1863 Union military authorities, led by an abolitionist-minded general named Edward A. Wild and supported by black northern troops, began recruiting these men into a 'colored regiment,' and by the late summer enough of them had enrolled to form an 'African Brigade.' The willingness of recently liberated slaves to enlist in large numbers is evidence that they understood clearly that their fate was tied up in the outcome of the war, but we should not assume that they took the decision to enroll lightly. For some it meant leaving behind families that they had only recently managed to reunite; many understood that they would face racial hostility and unequal mistreatment inside the ranks of the 'liberating' army; and for all who enlisted, military service brought the risk of injury, death, or capture by embittered Confederates determined to refasten the chains of slavery.

This document tells of a remarkable encounter that took place in New Bern between a Union recruiter and a group of radicalized freedmen led by Abraham Galloway. His commitment to black freedom, so clearly revealed here in the spring of 1863, would make Galloway the most outspoken proponent of racial equality in eastern North Carolina, and his death in 1870 was a heavy blow to freedpeople in the region.

New Bern's Black Community Negotiates their Terms for Military Service

The enlistment of the colored troops in North Carolina was a matter in which the members of the Forty-Fifth Regimenta took a deep interest, largely so, because of the earnest support given to the project by the Hon. Edward W. Kinsley, the loyal and enthusiastic friend of the regiment.

At the twenty-fifth reunion of "Company A, 45th Associates," Mr. Kinsley gave an interesting and thrilling account of his trip to New Berne, about this time, a little of the inside history, so to speak. He was well known to be one of Governor Andrew'sb truest and most confidential friends, and came down, ostensibly, as a servant to General Wild but actually in the capacity of a diplomat. Governor Andrew had seen enough of the bickerings and jealousies of army officers, to lead him to have very little faith in the success of the undertaking unless backed by brains and executive ability, and Mr. Kinsley must pack up, go to North Carolina, and look the field over. [Kinsley] went to Washington and had a long interview with Mr. Lincoln, answered questions and arguments innumerable, but the iron rules of war were not relaxed, no pass could be obtained. Determined not to be thwarted in his purpose he signed articles as a servant to General Wild and in that capacity entered New Berne. But the blacks did not come forward to enlist. Something was wrong and it did not take Mr. Kinsley long to find out the trouble. Among the blacks was a man of more than ordinary ability, a coal black negro, named Abraham Galloway. So great was his influence among the colored people that all matters of importance concerning them were left to his decision. Mr. Kinsley had several interviews with him, but still the recruiting hung fire. One day a message was brought to Mr. Kinsley to be at the house of Mary Ann Starkey, a colored woman, at twelve o'clock that night.

He was there at the appointed hour, was blindfolded and led to an attic room. When the bandage was removed he could see, by the dim light of the candle, that the room was nearly filled with blacks, and right in front of him stood Abraham Galloway and another huge negro, both armed with revolvers. With these weapons at his head, they put him under a solemn oath, that any colored man enlisted in North Carolina should have the same pay as their colored brethren enlisted in Massachusetts; their families should be provided for; their children should be taught to read; and if they should be taken prisoners, the government should see to it that they were treated as prisoners of war. To all of this Mr. Kinsley made oath and he was then conducted out of the house. He often avowed that these few moments spent in Mary Anne Starkey's house was the most thrilling experience of his life. The next day the word went forth, and the blacks came to the recruiting stations by hundreds and a brigade was soon formed...

aThe 45th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was organized in August 1862 in response to President Lincoln's call-up of 'nine-month' enlistees, and was stationed mainly in Virginia and North Carolina, where beginning in the spring of 1863 it was encamped on the Trent River below New Bern.

bMassachusetts Governor John A. Andrews had advocated black enlistment from early on in the war, and was among President Lincoln's most persistent critics on this issue. He personally dispatched Kinsley to North Carolina to assist in raising native black regiments, and assigned the 45th Regiment to play a 'protective' role in relation to these.

Source: Albert. W. Mann, History of the Forty-fifth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (Jamaica Plain, 1908), 300-302.


Questions to Consider

  1. Read the document closely, bearing in mind that the events it describes occurred in 1863, nearly two full years before the end of the war. What evidence, if any, does it provide of organization, or coordinated action, in the activities of New Bern's black population? Given the repressive conditions they lived under, how might we explain slaves' propensity for this kind of organization?

  2. What are the concerns expressed by the men Kinsley encounters in Mary Ann Starkey's house? Were their fears reasonable? What was their object in compelling Kinsley to take an oath?

  3. "The next day the word went forth, and the blacks came to the recruiting stations by the hundreds..." How might word of the encounter between Kinsley and Galloway's party have traveled so quickly through New Bern's black community? What does this response suggest about their willingness to undertake the risks involved in military action?

  4. Mary Ann Starkey plays an important role in the events this document describes. What are the consequences for her and other black women if, in the future, debates about black citizenship centered on black military service?

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