William Scarborough on Bleeding Kansas
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Q: Why were the Native Americans removed?
A: Hundreds of thousands of people poured into Alabama and Mississippi after the end of the War of 1812. Many were people who had no land and no slaves, and simply sought a greater economic opportunity. They migrated basically along east-west lines, from the Carolinas and Georgia westward to Alabama and Mississippi. And there they entered the Indian lands, which were placed on sale. The amounts of money involved in land speculation were simply enormous. I believe in 1835 or Ô36, one correspondent remarked that there were $5 million waiting to be expended on Indian lands at one site alone (Columbus, Mississippi, up in Lowndes County in northeast Mississippi).
But they would come in ...if they had no capital at all. The procedure was explained by several correspondents writing during this time period. If they had no land at all, they would come in and they would survey the land themselves, look around and see what the best spots were, and then they would sell that information. They would sell that information to wealthy people who didn't want to go out into the boondocks and see where the best land was, or people who were too lazy to do it. And then with the capital gain, several hundred dollars, they would enter section of land themselves. As the land appreciated in value, they would sell that, maybe make ten times what they had paid for it. In that manner they became millionaires almost overnight.
One man, Guy S. Whitfield of Alabama, in the Demopolis area, wrote back to North Carolina in the mid-thirties and said he was making a thousand dollars a week from land speculation. That's an enormous sum of money for that time. It's not bad today, but it -- enormous for the 1830's.
Obviously when they purchased land and cleared the land with the expectation of making cotton, they needed labor. And so there's a huge migration not only of whites from the east coast to the Southwest, but also of slaves. There's controversy among historians as to what proportion of those slaves were brought by migrating masters, and what proportion were brought by professional slave traders. But there's no question, the numbers increased. In Mississippi, for example, the slave population increased 197 percent in the single decade of the 1830's. The white population also increased dramatically during the same time period, but not to the extent of the slave.
Just to give you one example of the bonanza atmosphere in the speculation in land and slaves, one correspondent writing from Vicksburg in 1836 said there were hundreds of Negroes for sale at every little log village in the state. And he also remarked that 6,000 Negroes had been sold in Yazoo County alone, in a period of about six months. So there's just enormous speculation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars being made from speculation in land and slaves.
There was a desire to move the Indians because the white people needed land on which to establish plantations. The Indians were ostensibly given an equal amount of land west of the Mississippi River, but we all know those agreements were honored more in the breach than in the observance. But it's simply of again displacing people who were regarded as basically uncivilized and unassimilable to a distant outpost so that the land could be taken over by the whites and developed economically. It's just a matter of dollars and a sense, with a little racism thrown in.
Professor of History
University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg
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