What happens when people can be mortgaged like property? Sharon Ann Murphy, professor of history at Providence College, has received an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship for her project "Banking on Slavery in the Antebellum South." She spoke with RIPR'sChuck Hinman about her research.
Murphy specializes in the history of finance and while working on a book about banking and money as it developed from the founding of the United States up to the Civil War, she noticed a lack of research regarding slavery and the banking system’s involvement in it.
“I decided I needed to start examining,” she said. “Seeing if there was anything there.”
There was. Murphy found bank records, court records, letters and other primary sources that reflected a highly developed system of using slaves as collateral for loans, collateral that was often seized when a loan was not repaid.
“The same archives you go in to check on the history of the house you’re purchasing today,” said Murphy, “they have those records for slaves being used as loan collateral in the 19th century as well.”
Murphy said so far she has not found any bank or financial institution that appeared to be apologetic for its profits from slavery, but she did run across a letter from Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States. With branches across the country, he was concerned about what his Philadelphia investors might think about some of this activity.
Murphy quotes Biddle’s letter: “We probably don’t want them knowing what is going on down in Mississippi because they might not be happy about these relationships.”
Murphy said that was unusual, though, because most banks involved were local, where slavery was a way of life, and were not bothered by it. ...