Bank issues apology for predecesssors that profited from the slave trade
Wachovia Corp., the nation’s fourth-largest bank and largest lender in South
Carolina, issued an apology Wednesday for its ties to the slave trade around the
time of the Civil War.
Two banks that ultimately became part of Wachovia — the Bank of Charleston
and The Georgia Railroad and Banking Co. — were cited as having profited
directly from the slave trade.
The examples are numerous. In one case, an early Hilton Head developer used
a couple of plantations and more than 300 slaves as collateral with the bank
“On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and
especially to African-Americans and people of African decent,” Ken Thompson,
Wachovia chairman, said through a statement released with an exhaustive 100-plus
page report detailing the Charlotte-based bank’s ties to slavery.
The report concluded:
• Both predecessor companies owned or held as collateral several hundred
• The predecessor companies profited directly from the slave trade or
use of slave labor.
• Several founders and board members of the predecessor companies were
directly involved in the slave trade.
The report, conducted by the Chantilly, Va.-based History Factory, was commissioned
by Wachovia as the bank sought to satisfy a two-year-old Chicago ordinance requiring
companies doing business with the city to disclose their ties — if any
— to slavery.
Similar ordinances have been passed in other municipalities, including Philadelphia.
In North Carolina, the legislature is considering a disclosure bill that is
bottled-up in a committee.
Wachovia, which issues revenue bonds for municipalities nationwide, is involved
in public housing redevelopment in Chicago.
Earlier this year, another leading bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., acknowledged
that two of its predecessor banks had received thousands of slaves as collateral
before the Civil War. The New York-based bank made the disclosure also as part
of doing business with Chicago.
John Boyd, the president of National Black Farmers Association, said his group
has been picketing and lobbying Wachovia and other banking giants for eight
years, urging them to investigate and acknowledge their historical involvement
with the slave trade.
“We challenge other banks to come forth and step up to the plate and
acknowledge their past, like Wachovia did,” Boyd said Wednesday. “We
feel as though this is a step in the right direction.”
Wachovia did not announce specific programs, but pledged to work with community
organizations to further awareness and education of black history.
Records of the ties binding Bank of Charleston, the predecessor in South Carolina,
to slavery are not complete. However, enough information is included in the
report to understand how the bank profited from slavery:
BUSINESS: In several instances, the report cites bank records that show slaves
were used as collateral by customers trying to secure loans. Slaves, considered
property, were used much in the same way people today use their homes to secure
a second mortgage.
One example cited is the experience of early Hilton Head Island developer John
In the early 1800s, Stoney and his brother acquired significant tracts of land
on the island. In 1837, John Stoney mortgaged virtually all his “real
and personal property to the Bank of Charleston for $400,000,” the report
These holdings included a pair of Hilton Head plantations and more than 300
A year later, Stoney died and ownership of his property was tied up in court
for several years. Eventually, the bank gained ownership of about 1,000 acres.
The land was auctioned off. It is not clear whether any slaves were on the plantation
at that time.
BUSINESS INVESTMENT: The Bank of Charleston, in the normal course of business,
invested in other companies that owned or used slave labor.
Among the largest examples cited is the bank’s investment in the S.C.
Rail Road Co. The rail line used slave labor and even recorded the hiring of
a physician to tend to the slaves.
STATE INVESTMENT: Like most Southern banks during the Civil War, the report
said the Bank of Charleston loaned money to the Confederate South Carolina government.
By 1862, the bank had loaned more than $1.5 million to the state government.
The bank helped the Confederacy in other ways. At the end of June 1864, the
Bank of Charleston donated its books from the defunct Bank of the United States
to the Charleston Arsenal. The pages were used to make ammunition cartridges.
OWNERSHIP OF BOARD: The report cited several Bank of Charleston board members
as being slave owners or directors of other businesses that owned or used slave
An example is James Hamilton, a bank founder and first president. He owned
Rice Hope plantation on the Savannah River. In 1842, Hamilton bought 22 slaves.
“We know that we cannot change the past, and we can’t make up for
the wrongs of slavery,” said Thompson, Wachovia’s current president.
“But we can learn from our past and begin a stronger dialogue about slavery
and the experience of African-Americans in our country.”
Reach Werner at (803) 771-8509 or at email@example.com. The Associated Press
contributed to this article.