The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony - Preview

UNC Press



Technology played an important role in Horace James’s plans for the Roanoke Island freedmen’s colony. In contrast to freedmen’s settlements in Virginia’s tidewater or on the sea islands of South Carolina, the Roanoke colony was not connected with a larger agricultural experiment. James believed that the colony would support itself through a variety of domestic manufactures and small-scale farming. James’s early work on behalf of the colony involved traveling to Northern states to solicit donations from freedmen’s relief associations and individual supporters on behalf of the colony. In particular, he requested tools and materials to set up a variety of manufacturing ventures, as well as donations to help purchase a steam sawmill.

James’s emphasis on the centrality of technology in his plan for the experimental colony was a natural outgrowth of an ideological framework that embraced progress and featured a complex mix of evangelicalism, republicanism, and abolitionism. In common with many of his Northern Protestant evangelical contemporaries, Horace James believed that the United States was moving toward a quite literal millennium—a thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth, as prophesied in the Book of Revelations. These Protestant evangelicals thought that economic and technological progress reflected spiritual progress toward the millennium. At the same time, many Northern evangelicals, including Horace James, believed that slavery was preventing the nation’s progress toward the millennium. Progress would be stymied as long as slavery prevented technological development in the South. Consequently, these men and women were frequently in the vanguard of Northerners who believed that the war was about slavery rather than Union.

James viewed the Roanoke Island colony as an opportunity to put some of his ideology into practice as he developed a blueprint for what he termed a “New Social Order” in the South. He realized that, on a practical level, technological endeavors might enable the colony to become self-sufficient. More significant for the long-term, however, he believed that industrial training would help the freedpeople prepare for their re-entry into Southern society. Work on domestic manufactures would encourage the development of self-discipline, self-control, independence, and responsibility—fairly classic republican virtues—and prepare the former slaves for citizenship.

The items in the list at the bottom of this page shed some light on Horace James’s ideas about the role of technology in the Roanoke Island freedmen’s colony. His letter to the public presents an overview of his plans for the colony, while the letters discussing the sawmill and fisheries focus on some details related to these undertakings. The selection from James’s Annual Report describes his intentions for technological developments in the colony, as well as some of the accomplishments and shortcomings of the colony as of early 1865.

Patricia Click’s article from the Humanities & Technology Review develops some of her ideas about the relationship of nineteenth-century Northern Protestant evangelicalism, abolitionism, and technology. Professor Joan D. Gailey, Professor of Technology at Kent State University and editor of the Humanities & Technology Review, has graciously granted permission for the article to be included on this Website. Readers interested in learning more about the Humanities & Technology Review may contact Prof. Gailey.

Horace James to the Public, 27 June 1863

Letters about the sawmill and fishery:

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 11 February 1864

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 20 February 1864

     Horace James to Benjamin F. Butler, 20 February 1864

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 22 February 1864

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 23 February 1864

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 23 March 1864

     Horace James to J. B. Kinsman, 28 June 1864

     Horace James to George J. Carney, 21 October 1864

     Horace James to The Congregationalist, 6 October 1864

Selection from Horace James's Annual Report

Patricia C. Click, "`Every Wheel, Spindle, and Pinion Again Revolving':
Northern Evangelicals, Technology, and the Civil War,"
Humanities & Technology Review 18 (Fall 1999): 5-19.

Copyright © 2001 Patricia C. Click
Site maintained by Gregory V. Joiner.