Michael Hoffman’s They Were White & They Were SlavesSpencer J. Quinn
Spanish translation here
They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America
Dresden, New York: Wiswell Ruffin House
Every few years or so a book comes around that rips your foundations from under you and makes you re-question pretty much everything. For me, Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago are two such books. Michael A. Hoffman’s They Were White and They Were Slaves is another.
I first learned of this book from Jim Goad, who was being interviewed by Greg Johnson for Counter-Currents. If I remember correctly, Goad was discussing his slightly aloof attitude towards White Nationalism and cited this book as a key ingredient of his unique and individualistic identity. “I don’t do group hugs,” he stated flatly. Instantly, I felt the need to read it.
I could follow this up with a trite statement such as “I wasn’t disappointed” or “It turned out better than expected,” but my reaction to this elucidating volume was one of a scolded child who knows he was in the wrong and is grateful that the scolding hadn’t been worse. They Were White and They Were Slaves chronicles the brutal and tragic (and, dare I say it, embarrassing) history of white people enslaving other whites, mostly in the British Isles and in Colonial America. Every page of the book hurts. For a comparison, I nearly swallowed the chapter in Benjamin Ginsburg’s How the Jews Defeated Hitler which covered Jewish warmongering before World War II. I dedicated over a third of my review to that chapter alone. I consumed Robert Davis’ Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters with the same abandon. Why? Because these books gave me someone to blame. Someone other than whites, that is. Michael Hoffman does not allow the same kind of out, so any white advocate or identitarian is just going to have to lump it while reading They Were White and They Were Slaves.
* * *
The several narratives attached to They Were White and They Were Slaves require discrete analyses. First, there is the exoteric history of the phenomenon. Of course, whites had enslaved their own people throughout history, as all peoples have done. Hoffman touches upon this, mentioning briefly the role of the Vikings in the global slave trade during the Middle Ages as well as the contemporaneous white-on-white slavery in Russia, which was something apart from serfdom. But Hoffman focuses mostly on the sharp rise in the demand for cheap labor and its transport that the discovery of the New World initiated. For over two centuries, Colonial America and the Caribbean became cesspools for white slavery. For example, by 1627, white slaves made up over four-fifths of the 25,000 slaves in Barbados. During this time, the term “barbados” was being used as a verb in England to describe the abducting of poor whites on the streets and shipping them off to the Caribbean as slaves.
Hoffman provides a sweeping and quite revolting depiction of the abject squalor large numbers of whites had to endure in England from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. As a result of widespread land dispossession, which took place towards the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, large numbers of English yeomen were evicted from their family farms and then flocked to the cities, which caused the twin crises of overpopulation and poverty. Hoffman quotes Herman Melville at length who as late as 1839 witnessed mass starvation on the streets of Liverpool. In one passage, the black slave of John Randolph of Roanoke visited Ireland with his master and, upon seeing the widespread poverty and wretchedness, was moved to contemplate his superior station in life.
And work was not necessarily a way out for these people unless it provided an early death — especially for children. Hoffman estimates that the mortality rate for children in the workhouse was ninety percent.
In 19th century England tens of thousands of White children were employed as slave laborers in British coal mines. Little White boys, seven years old, were harnessed like donkeys to coal carts and ordered to drag them through mine shafts. In 1843, White children aged four were working in the coal pits. In old English cemeteries can be seen epitaphs on grave stones like one which reads, “William Smith, aged eight years, Miner, died Jan. 3, 1841.”
It was within these roiling circumstances that enterprising men known as “spirits” would form “press gangs” and to kidnap poor whites for a lifetime of servitude in the New World — all for a fee. Children would quite literally be snatched off the streets, sometimes in the presence of their parents or siblings, never to be seen again. Of course, this practice was met with the tacit approval of many in the aristocracy — as depicted in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Kidnapped. Fat cat merchants would then transport these unfortunate souls to the Americas in the holds of ordinary cargo ships — a journey every bit as dangerous and lethal as the much more greatly renowned Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of Africans. Hoffman estimates that hundreds of thousands of poor whites from England, Ireland, and Scotland, many of whom were children, met such a grisly fate. The etymology of the term “kidnap” — as in nabbing kids — attests to this horrid phenomenon.
The English authorities were also quite clever in how they framed this behavior. Most often, these were criminals who were spared the gallows and mercifully given a second chance in the New World as indentured servants. To justify this lie, authorities substantially lowered the bar as to what constitutes a criminal. If you poached a deer, or skipped church on Sunday, or stole a loaf a bread to feed your starving children, then you stood a realistic chance of getting barbadosed. Political prisoners did as well.
Hoffman spares little detail on the horrors that white slaves had to face in America during the colonial period: the shackles, the torture, the floggings, the rape, the murder, the suicides, the unceasing body-warping labor. Fugitive slave laws were harsh and nigh-ubiquitously enforced. Escaping or aiding escape was punished brutally. Hoffman also points out how fraudulent indentured servitude really was. In some cases, yes, a person received a plot of land and his freedom after serving his term. But in most cases, however, white slaveowners would ignore or annul any agreement they had with their slaves (to be almost always seconded by the corrupt court system), or they would oppress their charges mercilessly towards the end of their tenures to encourage escape. This would ultimately give these cynical slaveowners the excuse to tack on a new set of terms on their beleaguered slaves once they were caught and returned.
Indeed, one-half of White “indentured servants” did not live to attain their freedom. Should anyone think this grim datum refers mainly to Whites enslaved in old age, it actually refers to Whites who were first “indentured” between the ages of 16 and 20.
* * *
They Were White and They Were Slaves, as one would expect, also challenges the prevailing myths (some would say “hoaxes”) of black victimization and white racism. If whites were enslaving their own kind just as badly if not worse than they were blacks, then that kind of explodes the idea of racism being our nation’s original sin, doesn’t it? Further, nearly all power-seeking racial minorities in the United States today use their aggrieved status as “victims” as a means to arrogate power for themselves. Whether this victimhood is real or whether whites actually treat these minorities better than they treat themselves in their own parts of the world remains immaterial. What is material is how these minorities use history as a weapon as they construct and maintain their victimhood narratives.
Of course, white people are not allowed to do this. White victimhood would not only derail minority victimhood narratives, but it would put whites in the front of the line for whatever reparations or privileges these minorities feel are rightfully theirs. Perhaps this is why the Leftist Howard Zinn scrupulously refers to whites in bondage in the Colonial period as “servants” rather than slaves in his People’s History of the United States, despite using some of the same sources Hoffman used.
Hoffman states it best:
The whole apparatus of the institution of human slavery in English-speaking America, which has been searingly memorialized in the voluminous literature on negro slavery, was first put into place in the enslavement of Whites who were kidnapped in their native land, died on board ship, suffered child slavery and separation of parents from children forever; endured fugitive slave laws, the banning of White slave meetings and severe and extreme corporal punishment, sometimes unto death.
The motivation for the cover-up of the extent of White slavery by Establishment-funded and approved house scholars is obvious. To admit the true history of White slavery and record it faithfully in modern history is to furnish empirical evidence that White skin does not necessarily embody power or status; that the “poor White,” “redneck” of today who is asked to subsidize with his taxes and make sacrifices in his living wage and job prospects, so that Blacks may be “compensated for slavery,” in reality owes nobody for anything.
Hoffman also takes pains to show how in many places white slaves were treated worse than black slaves. There were several reasons for this, the first being purely economic. Since they were in large part stolen and then transported on cargo ships which were headed to the New World anyway, white slaves were much more easily acquired and dispensed with than black ones. Black slaves had to be bought and paid for on the east coast of Africa. Slaver ships built for the sole purpose of transporting slaves had to be paid for as well. As a result, black slaves tended to be more valuable than white ones, and their owners were more loath to abuse them or expose them to potentially lethal work.
Here is an anecdote which epitomizes the difference in station between black and white slaves:
In the course of an 1855 journey up the Alabama River on the steamboat Fashion, Frederic Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed New York City’s Central Park, observed bales of cotton being thrown from a considerable height into a cargo ship’s hold. The men tossing the bales somewhat recklessly into the hold were negroes, the men in the hold were Irish. Olmstead inquired about this to a mate on the ship. “Oh,” said the mate, “the niggers are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything.”
The second reason deals with the rebellious nature of whites when they were being treated like animals. Fugitive slave laws were so rigorously enforced and escaped white slaves were so brutally punished because the threat of slaves running away or mounting rebellions was very real, more so than it was for the black slaves, according to Hoffman. Of course, Hoffman covers Bacon’s Rebellion and other failed white slave revolts. He also quotes contemporaneous sources that describe unrest among white slaves as “chronic” and putting whole regions on “the brink of civil war.” Such discord prompted most Southern planters and other slaveowners to gradually replace their white slaves with black ones.
* * *
Likely you can figure out the opposite side of the Devil’s denomination here. By undermining the insidious myth of black victimization with white victimization, Hoffman simultaneously strengthens the concomitant myth of whites being the ultimate villains. They Were White and They Were Slaves essentially has no other. Whites did the capturing, the shipping, the buying, and the abusing. Some got rich over it as well. Blue-blooded Britons such as Andrew Reid, James and Andrew Armour, Scot Duncan, and others served as the moneybag merchants behind the slave trade. Cold-blooded ones such as the Captains Edward Brockett and Barnet Bond developed fearsome reputations with the lash. Yes, Jewish economist David Ricardo is painted as particularly heartless in his assessment that it would be better to let unemployed whites starve than “create an unlimited demand for human beings.” But in this regard, Ricardo is hardly different from other thinkers of the time such as Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus. The latter, at one point, urged the poor to practice “moral restraint.” Translation: stop having children. A century later, English novelist George Gissing depicted the urban poor sympathetically in his classic The Nether World. Yet he describes — as narrator — the untimely deaths of young children born into desperate families as a “kindness of fate.”
Indeed, the “surplus” white populations of England were a real problem not just for themselves but for the aristocracy as well. The aristocracy saw poor whites as a revolutionary threat, and so were excruciatingly slow to halt the barbarous practice of slavery which either spirited these budding Robespierres off to the colonies or squeezed all possible work out of them with a tourniquet. Bills requiring that the minimum age of chimney sweeps be ten years were defeated in Parliament four times between 1804 and 1819. This was dangerous and potentially deadly work that boys as young as five were expected to perform. According to the likely uncircumcised Lord Sydney Smith, reform of the chimney sweep trade “could not be carried into execution without great injury to property.”
(And to play Devil’s advocate here — even to the point of the Devil himself saying, “Yeah, all right. No. Stop. Really. Just stop. You’re making me look bad.” — what if the aristocracy had a point? What if the real reason why the French Revolution had no parallel on British soil was not due to Edmund Burke’s consummate statesmanship — as Russell Kirk suggests in The Conservative Mind — but because the authorities just kept finding creative ways to manage the burgeoning populations of their poor?)
Oof. I’m going to Hell for that one. But apparently I’ll be waiting in a very long line. White advocates and identitarians must be clear-sighted about the sins in our own past. Sure, we get browbeaten constantly over bad things we’ve done to non-whites. But in many times and places, whites did beastly things to each other too. The only consolation appears when we realize that whites may have been the more moral race when compared to all the others. Hoffman does discuss how whites and only whites continually made attempts at reform, attempts which eventually began to heal the bleeding gash in our side that was white slavery. The same cannot be said of Mesoamerican, Muslim, African, and Asian societies which would never have abandoned slavery had the whites not done it first.
Slim pickings, but there it is.
* * *
Another drumbeat that pounds throughout this book is that of white virtue-signaling — especially when it comes to non-whites. You think it is a recent phenomenon? You think it couldn’t get any more annoying today? Think again.
Over and over, we have well-to-do whites absolutely fretting over the fate of the poor Negro slaves while all around them impoverished and enslaved whites suffer. The abolitionist Quakers who had no compunction about owning white slaves come across as especially sanctimonious. In Bleak House, Charles Dickens gives us Mrs. Jellyby, a character who obsesses over the welfare of distant Africans while making conditions intolerable for the white children working in her household. Remember those chimney sweep bills which were defeated in Parliament? Three of those defeats came after the abolition of the Negro slave trade in 1808. This demonstrates quite clearly where the priorities of the British elites lay back then — which is not far from where they lie today.
Perhaps the most delicious moment in They Were White and They Were Slaves occurs towards the end when Hoffman tears into Harriet Beecher Stowe. He calls her “one of the great hypocrites of the 19th century, a pious fraud whose legacy of malignant hatred for her own kind has infected many another White man and woman to this day.”
I’d quote more, but prefer to save some of the best stuff for those who will actually read the book.
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The final narrative entwined between the pages of They Were White and They Were Slaves took me to that beatific meta place where one envisions, like, everything with blinding, godlike clarity. It’s sort of like peyote, I guess. I’ve never tried it. Anyway, forgive me if any of you readers have already reached this wonderful place and have been wondering all these years when that slowpoke Spencer J. Quinn would finally turn up. Well, here I am.
Thanks to this amazing little book I now understand why white people vote Democrat!
What if — what freaking if — the stubborn loyalty that many poor and working-class whites have towards a party which is more worm than apple when it comes to corruption, which has a dismal record on the economy, which has all but renounced Christianity and patriotism, and which frankly demonizes their racial interests is, in fact, an artifact of the white slave trade from centuries ago? What if these poor whites see class as a deeper dividing line than race, religion, economics, or the flag? And, finally, what if this class division is really the deep and still-painful psychic scar left by white slavery?
This means that the Democratic Party can serve up a smorgasbord of sculpted steaming turds for the American people, but as long as they do more than just pay lip service to the class interests of poor whites, they will get their vote. Until Donald Trump, what did the Republicans have to offer as an alternative? The Laffer Curve?
Being raised in the upper-middle class, I’d seen the signs of this class struggle all my life and never took it seriously: Movies like Norma Rae and Roger and Me; novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Jungle; the classic-period songs of Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. David Duke, one of the most well-known white advocates in the world, ran for office in the early 1990s as a Democrat, not as a Republican. There’s a fascinating scene from the movie The Pope of Greenwich Village. The working-class Irish mother of a New York City police officer (in a breathtaking performance by Geraldine Page) meets with a pair of representatives from the NYPD after her son dies under dubious circumstances. Later she refers to them as “two college-educated little pricks.” The sheer contempt in Page’s delivery will never leave me. I saw this movie in college, and I wondered back then why this person would hate someone simply because they went to college.
Now I know. Or, or at least, I think I know. Pardon me while I spitball:
For many American whites, the greatest villains of history are not non-whites but other whites. It’s hard to get exact numbers here, but Hoffman estimates that the number of white Britons who were abducted, bamboozled, or sentenced to slavery in the New World reaches well into the hundreds of thousands. Compare this to the mostly black-on-black crime in our cities and the less than 600 whites that blacks kill every year. Compare this to the 3,000 or so whites killed by Islamic terror on American soil starting with 9-11. Sorry to say this, but most poor American whites won’t know about the horrid conditions of whites in South Africa, or the history of the Islamic white slave trade. And the Jews are so good at entertaining us and covering their tracks that any shenanigans they pull will likely go past them as well.
So in light of this, it makes sense that many poor whites would distrust capitalism, free markets, tax cuts for the rich, and other classic economic platforms of the Republican Party. Yes, a smaller piece of a bigger pie will give them more in an absolute sense. But it was never about that. It was about preventing the rich from getting too rich — because you never know what they’re going to do with all that power.
* * *
If They Were White and They Were slaves teaches us anything, it’s humility. This is something all of us should have in some degree or another. The Dissident Right can perceive a non-white holocaust already approaching within the horizon — the first one since perhaps the siege of Vienna in 1683. A lot has happened since 1683. We’ve had a holocaust of our own making which has been criminally underreported on in recent years. This is perhaps one major reason why whites have been so slow to react.
Of course, this has to change.
And the one person who seemed ahead of the curve on this was none other than Donald Trump. Trump was (and still is) the only Republican on the national level since Ronald Reagan to successfully reach across this white-white divide. F. H. Buckley in his 2018 book The Republican Worker’s Party describes this phenomenon. Trump abandoned some of the free-market, neocon globalism of the GOP he inherited from Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush and approached millions of disaffected whites with some good old-fashioned populism. And it worked. This is the key to success for the white race in the multiracial Thunderdome the West is becoming. We need to read books like They Were White and They Were Slaves, we need to understand the profound differences that linger among us as a result of our difficult past, and we need to heal the wounds that still keep us apart as a people.
Because if we don’t, the wounds we are going to receive once we become despised minorities in our nations are going to be far worse.
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