There was a Reddit discussion about Robert E. Lee, whose birthday was celebrated by some yesterday. While I have the utmost respect for Lee as a military commander, and I have no doubt he’d have been an admirable man to work with or for, I cringe when I see people defending his choice to go with Virginia.
There’s a lot of mythology about the fact that Lee “didn’t like slavery” and that his entire motive lay in “defending his country”, but I finid those arguments as specious as the ones used to defend Thomas Jefferson. In short, both men were well heeled Virginians who made full use of their slaves to better their own lives while at best doing nothing to help their “property”, and at worst doing some pretty horrific things to another human being.
Here’s a first-person account by one of Lee’s slaves over the punishment Lee administered to him after he tried to run away.
We were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.
Source: Testimony of Wesley Norris. In NATIONAL ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD (1866-04-14)