That expansion, Wells writes, “had been built on the backs of Southern slaves who picked cotton for hundreds of thousands of cotton bales every year, a crop that was financed by Wall Street banks and exported to New England and British textile mills via New York brokers, businesses and financiers.”
Slavery was prohibited in the state, but slave ships still docked at New York’s harbors, and the warehouses on the waterfront held cotton and tobacco. Sugar refining was Brooklyn’s biggest industry in 1850. Slavery openly continued in some quarters. When Ruggles heard of a Savannah businessman living in Brooklyn with three enslaved people, he took the ferry from Manhattan across the East River and knocked on the door.
The mistress of the home mounted a vague defense. Finally she claimed that her captives depended on her. She turned to one of them, Charity, and said, “You know you are subject to fits and will suffer if you leave me.”
Charity responded evenly: “Yes, I know I had fits from your beating me on the head, missee.” She left with Ruggles. Difficulties pursued her — a pregnancy and poverty. The press reported on the story with relish. This newspaper denounced Ruggles at the time, for his meddling.
New York was beholden to the South, enriched by it and dependent on it — never mind the frenzy of the Kidnapping Club and the children who kept vanishing.
Like Henry Scott, age 7.
Henry was at school practicing his letters when two men — a Southerner and a New York City sheriff — burst into the classroom, claiming he was a fugitive to be returned to Virginia. Henry’s terrified classmates ran after the men for as long as they could.
Henry was permitted to stay in New York, but his case, Wells writes, left a long scar on the city. The narrative is constructed around such incidents that outraged Black New Yorkers, and incited huge, well-coordinated protests. Hundreds of people would show up at a dock after hearing news of a kidnapped person smuggled in a ship. Protesters flooded courtrooms, and under the public glare, the members of the Kidnapping Club began to quail.
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