Revisionist Virginia History Regarding Slaves 1


by Mary Ellen Blencoe

About 30 of my high school classmates and I are reminiscing about the good old times. A few of us have a separate thread going about racism (our school was segregated at that time). One of the men asked if we remembered our 7th grade Virginia history book. My reply is below. There were companion versions for 4th and 11th grades, when VA history was also taught.

I remembered the textbook and that my sister had purchased a copy of it. At the time, she sent me an e-mail with excerpts from the book, which I have copied below. She thought it was from 4th grade, but I think from the vocabulary, it’s probably 7th grade. In the e-mail, she had included the name of the textbook, so I googled it. Here’s an article about the book and two others that I found from the Richmond newspaper ( which Larry knows well):

https://www.richmond.com/discover-richmond/happy-slaves-the-peculiar-story-of-three-virginia-school-textbooks/article_47e79d49-eac8-575d-ac9d-1c6fce52328f.html

My sister’s e-mail:

I’ve been thinking for a while that I would like to get a copy of the 4th grade Virginia history textbook we used. It was first published in 1957 and then revised in 1964. I found and ordered a copy of the 1964 edition of Virginia: History, Government, Geography and boy oh boy…

Under “The Character of the Indian”

“War was the only method the Indians knew to settle disputes between tribes. Disputes over hunting grounds sully caused the wars. The Indians believed in the swift surprise attack. They seldom showed their enemies mercy and they did not expect to receive any. They frequently tortured or burned to death prisoners who fell into their hands. We must remember that the Virginia Indians were still in the Stone Age at the time the settlers came to Jamestown. An we must not forget that Powhatan and the people of his land had not yet learned the teachings of Christianity.”

Under “How the Slaves Felt”

“Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to these arguments.”

Under “The Abolitionists”

“On January 1, 1831, a newspaper called The Liberator was started in Massachusetts. Its editor was William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison and his followers were called Abolitionists. They wanted to abolish slavery; that is, they wanted to do away with it. They demanded the freeing of all slaves at once and without payment to their masters or regard for the laws protecting slavery. They said that slaveholders were robbers, murderers, and thieves. They accused the masters of working their slaves to death. The Abolitionists also said that the slaves were not given enough clothes and that the masters beat them with heavy lashes. They said the slaves were chewed by bloodhounds, and that red pepper and turpentine were poured into their wounds. They used the United States mails to send their abusive literature into the South.

Virginians were angry about the false charges of the Abolitionists. They were not guilty of such crimes, but they feared that the acts of the Abolitionists would lead the slaves to commit bloody deeds. They knew that the Abolitionists had organized the Underground Railroad.”

Under the section on Reconstruction

“The Reconstruction Acts next gave the Negro the right to vote. At the same time, they denied this right to most of the intelligent and capable white people.”

and

“Under the Reconstruction Acts the government of Virginia was taken over by officers of the United States Army, by the Negroes, and by carpetbaggers and scalawags. The Negroes were too loyal to the Virginia way of life to want to pass harsh measures against their former masters. But they were not trained in political matters, and allowed themselves to be controlled by the scalawags and carpetbaggers.”

and

“After the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia was faced with the worst conditions she had experienced since she became a state. Much property had been destroyed, the Negroes were confused by the freedom thrust upon them, and West Virginia had been torn from the mother state. Some Virginians were so discouraged that they planned to go to foreign countries.

The evils of the times were increased by the intervention of the United States government. The state was placed under military rule with orders to make a new constitution giving the Negroes the vote and depriving most white people of it. The control of the state government fell into the hands of inexperienced negroes, carpetbaggers, and scalawags while those who had once managed public affairs were left helpless.”

Okay, I must stop though I could go on and on and on. It’s so much worse than I even imagined.

On Friday, November 8, 2019, 03:18:59 PM EST, David Stephenson wrote:

Anyone remember our 7th grade VA history book, which I think was written by Douglas Southhall Freeman, a legit historian of the times? There was a chapter on Reconstruction that open w/ pix of “Richmond in ruins.” Nary a mention of blacks


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One thought on “Revisionist Virginia History Regarding Slaves

  • Jim Nelson

    Hello from a fellow Virginian and Anderson County Democrat! I was born in Richmond in 1949, and was educated in public schools until I finished high school in 1967. I then attended Virginia Tech. from 1967-1971.

    I don’t remember exactly what we were taught about slavery, but I never had a pro-slavery mindset. Neither did my Virginia-born parents. I appreciate the excerpts you’ve provided from your textbook. What school system were you in?

    Can we discuss further the issues of slavery and the Civil War?

    Thanks,
    Jim Nelson