Arts and Culture
Food and Wine
People and Places
Science and Nature
Travel and Lodging
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Home » HISTORY in RI » RHODE ISLAND (all topics) » Pipes, Plaids, and Prejudices
President Ford meeting in the Oval Office with Vincent Cianci, Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, February 14, 1975     BY: Photo Provided Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library
Pipes, Plaids, and Prejudices

The Repercussions of the Civil War Linger on

By Nicholas H. Kondon | July 12, 2011

I was invited to an open forum on the Civil War and intrigued by what would be said, I went along.

Ledger of sale of 118 slaves, Charleston, SC, 1754

There’s an old canard that the winners write history, and I think the corollary is that the losers are condemned to keep living it.   The event drew a fair sized crowd – maybe close to 100 people.   As expected, the Confederates outnumbered the Yankees by four to one.   In 1865, the Yankees prevailed and moved on.   The Butternuts lost, so, for them the struggle continues, and finally, at this get together, they had what they sorely missed during the war: strength in numbers.

Once the greetings, glad-handing, and guffawing ended, there quickly developed a general under current.   No… better to say an unspoken self-righteousness began to gestate on both sides.   If I can capture it in a phrase (mine, because it was never spoken this precisely) it was: The Union states had a monopoly on enlightenment and knew to the bone that slavery was evil.   The Dixie side countered that, Northerners had no need for slaves, and little experience with them, but had they, abolition would have been DOA.

This last notion was put forth by a man with a drawl who, it later turned out, held a much higher opinion of Stonewall Jackson’s generalship than I.   Still, I sat quiet for this reason: they were both wrong.   Oh, and the outnumbered goody-two-shoes from Connecticut was holding a pipe.   Unlit, but still very effective at adding authority to any gesture.   Pipes covey scholarship, don’t they?

Serious men smoke pipes.   They are the kind of men who, in more stable days, went off to work wearing neckties, and pressed suits, and came home nine hours later to a wife-cooked meal which they consumed, still fully Brooks Brothered-out and still unwrinkled.   By contrast, serious men do not wear plaid suits.

President Gerald Ford is frozen in a black and white Oval Office photograph taken just at his apogee, which countered the fallen Nixon’s perigee.   Ford sits slouched, relaxing in a stuffed chair, talking to the about-to-be felon mayor of Providence.   In this photo, Ford is wearing a plaid suit.   He’s finished! A man can recover from a photo with a felon, but not from a plaid suit.   The cognoscenti knew right then and there that Ford was a half-term president. It’s worthy of note that in similar plaid-suit photos, Ford is holding a pipe.   No matter.   A pipe is strong, but not strong enough to mitigate lines crossing wool worsted perpendicular to one another.

The Old Plantation, 1790

Here’s the bombshell I sat on: as early as 1652 Rhode Island had far more black slaves than white people.   More slaves, in fact, than the aggregate total of the rest of the New England states.

By 1708, Rhode Island slaves outnumbered indentured servants (read white) by a whopping eight to one.   By the mid-1700s the proportion of slaves to whites in Rhode Island was at a level that would not be reached in the South until 1820! Oh, yes, Rhode Island knew from slaves.

Who can be surprised? In the one hundred year period between 1709 and 1808, Rhode Island moneymen underwrote 934 slaving voyages, and were responsible for the importation of 106,000 slaves.

And the cruise missile that would have exploded “the Pipe’s “ sanctimony was the fact that Northerners didn’t often free slaves, nor did they manumit them.   Oh, no – when abolition appeared to be a foregone conclusion, they simply sold them South.

A Slave Auction Block

So, let’s figure this out.   If over a period of seventy years (three generations) Rhode Islanders imported about 150,000 slaves.   By 1865 the number of northern-imported slaves - later sold South - would have grown to about 2,025,000 assuming male and female pairs of slaves each produced as few as three children who survived.

The Emancipation Proclamation freed approximately four million slaves.

I didn’t launch my cruise missile at the two ill-informed for three reasons:

First, I was a guest.   Second, the Confederate Jackson-lover had already lost the war, so what was to be gained by forcing him into a battle?

Third, no one would have believed me because, well… because I didn’t have a pipe.


The Road to Disunion, Vol II.   William W. Freeling, Oxford University Press 2007

Slavery in Rhode Island http://www.slavenorth.com/rhodeisland.htm

Anti-Establishment History – Who Would Ever Have Guessed? Al Benson, JR

Article author’s voluminous reading on the Civil War including the definitive Shelby Foote 3 vol. history

Share |
ONE is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.