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Charleston's Free Blacks During the Civil War

South Carolina SC African-Americans Free Blacks in Charleston Charleston's Free Blacks During the Civil War

After John Brown's October 1859 raid, South Carolinians became even more fearful of the free blacks in their midst. Between 1859 and 1860 there were at least four legislative efforts to either remove or enslave free blacks. Their livelihoods came under attack when a bill was introduced to exclude free blacks from the mechanical trades. Another bill was introduced to prohibit them from owning slaves. This wave of persecution began to break down the informal arrangement many whites had to protect free blacks.

Even as South Carolina began moving toward secession, many blacks continued to profess their loyalty to the South, hoping to maintain their freedom. Many free blacks offered to perform services to the Confederacy, building defensive works and constructing ironclad vessels. Some of these services were pressured, sometimes the service was performed in hope of appeasement.

There were free blacks that willingly participated in the war effort. Charles C. Leslie, a Charleston free person of color, was involved in the very profitable gun-running operations of the war. The butcher Francis Sasportas served as a purchasing agent for the City Council, where he purchased his own beef.

South Carolina's white population pointed to the apparent loyalty of free blacks as evidence of the continued strength of the slave system. This didn't, however, necessarily reflect reality. One newspaper reporter explained, "Some [blacks] have told me how they said to their masters and mistresses on the day of the fight, 'The Yankees will be whipped, Massa and Missus,' but all the while they prayed and believed otherwise." and there are many examples of otherwise "loyal" blacks who escaped the Confederacy when the opportunity arose.


A Demographic Overview
Before the Civil War
Earning A Living as a Free Black
Where Free Blacks Lived
Free Blacks During the Civil War
Exploring Free Persons of Color
More Information
The Chicora Foundation


Understanding Slavery
Free Blacks in Charleston
Preserving Black Cemeteries
Mitchelville Experiment
Quash Stevens Letters