Opps, I slighted Nathan Bedford Forrest…

Yesterday I wrote about the effort in Mississippi to create a special commemorative license plate honoring the legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest–a Slave Trader, War Criminal, American Traitor and Domestic Terrorist.

In my post I gave short shrift to an important aspect of his career and I regret the error. So let me correct it.

I had mentioned that Forrest made a fortune as a slave trader before the Civil War and included an notice he ran advertising his “Negro Mart”:

Nathan Forrest_Slave Trader

And then I implied that after the Civil War he was a failure as a businessman. This is the slight of his record that I feel compelled to correct. Turns out that by the end of his life, Forrest was back in the slavery business and helped to create a model for stealing labor and keeping slavery alive under a different name. It was a very successful model that was replicated all over the South.

In the Mississippi River on the shores of Memphis sits President’s Island. Now it is an odd mix of industrial parks and wildlife areas.

President's Island

Back in the 1870s Nathan Bedford Forrest saw it as an opportunity. During the Civil War the very fertile island became the home of escaping slaves and by 1865 a community of about 1,500 Freemen lived on the island. Like many other post war African American communities, it was a community that all but disappeared as white supremacists used terrorism and murder to in the words of NBF, “…keep the niggers in their place.” According to the history of President’s Island a 1947 article in the local Memphis paper explained that the former Freemen “were absorbed into the community”.

By the late 1860s, early 1870s Forrest had failed as a businessman running the Marion & Memphis Railroad into bankruptcy. As he failed in that business his involvement in the KKK gave him new opportunities. Somehow he managed to get control of the land on President’s Island and convert it into one of the South’s first prison work farms. Here, newly imprisoned Negros could be forced under the lash to grow corn and cotton. According to the President’s Island history, Forrest:

offered to pay the county 10 cents a day for each worker and to provide food, clothing and housing. His offer was accepted, and a five-year contract was signed.

Forrest was an entrepreneur who helped to create this model of buying and selling prisoners. His system for stealing labor kept slavery alive well into the next century (and some might fairly argue that the system of forced prison labor is still alive and well today–and there is a strong case for that POV).

Working conditions at Forrest’s prison slave camp were horrible. Illness was very common and in an act of karma or divine humor, some folks speculate that NBF died because a case of dysentery he acquired from drinking impure water at his slave camp interacted badly with his diabetes.

After his his death–and despite Grand Jury investigations into stories of abuse–his son continued to run the family’s neo-NegroMart/prison farm business for years. And his family continued to live off stolen labor just as it had before the Civil War.

Nathan Bedford Forrest began his entrepreneurial life as a slave trader and died as a slave trader. I slighted him yesterday when I suggested that he was a failure in business after the Civil War. He was only a failure in legitimate business. When he figure out how to use terrorism to keep slavery alive under a new system–he did very well.

Perhaps it is his great creativity on how to steal the labor of others that makes him such a wingnut hero.

Fuck him and all the horses he rode in on.


66 replies
  1. 1
    dr. bloor says:

    So I guess this means you still don’t like the license plate thingy.

  2. 2

    And the fucktart still has roads and schools named after him.

  3. 3
    Dennis G. says:

    @dr. bloor:
    Could be, could be…

    And yet, if they want to celebrate him as a slave trader then at least I could respect their honesty. But it is all myth of the Lost Cause bullshit.

  4. 4

    Man, it is so depressing to see that ad and know it came from my country, albeit 150 years ago. And it does not soothe the pain, that there are idiots in the here and now that want to enshrine this shit weasel with vanity plates for their goddamn cars. Sometimes, a new civil war doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, and this time, when the haters are conquered, again, there will be no letters of regret and swearing of allegiance to the US of America for penance, and instant forgiveness. But penalties a bit more along the lines of the crimes. Of course, I jest, and never really wish for any war, but still…sometimes……

  5. 5
    Jager says:

    I just called my friend Ray after I sent him this post…Ray whose family escaped from the south to So Cal in the 50’s said, “fuck those stupid bitches”

  6. 6
    Penon says:

    Capitalism. It’s such a pure philosophy.

  7. 7
    MattMinus says:

    @Phil Perspective:

    Fucktart sounds like the worst kind of pastry.

  8. 8

    @Dennis G.: I thought the Lost Cause was slavery.

  9. 9
    Chris Wolf says:

    Short shrift, not short shift.

  10. 10
    Elisabeth says:

    @Phil Perspective:

    And a hospital and a county.

  11. 11
    Dennis G. says:

    @Chris Wolf:
    Thank You

  12. 12
    newhavenguy says:


    I’d wonder why any American would want to make a hero out of someone like this. A genuine monster, a war criminal. Good cavalry man, though. Very few Generals fighting for the Nazis has as bad a… what, “human rights record”? Sort of absurd thinking of human rights in the context of the Confederacy, isn’t it?

    Ha ha, just caught myself comparing the morality of the Third Reich to the Old South. Exceptional? Yes, I suppose we are.

  13. 13
    JCT says:

    I’m with Gen Stuck — and that ad makes me feel nauseated. Really.

    I’m aghast that *anyone* could see fit to venerate this guy as some sort of hero of the South. What the hell is wrong with these people?

  14. 14
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    And yet Americans can never stop flogging the Germans, Perhaps it is time to make a NBF movie, put Spike Lee on it let the world see the “hitlers” we produced.

  15. 15
    RAM says:

    It’s unfortunate Forrest, along with Jefferson Davis and a few others, weren’t executed after the Civil War. God knows they deserved it. Instead, that poor dumb bastard who was the commandant at Andersonville was about the only high-profile person to be convicted and executed for war crimes. Of course, we aren’t much different these days, given that Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Shrub are still walking around free. But at least they can’t go to Europe or they apparently will be threatened with arrest and trial, something our own government is too afraid to do.

  16. 16
    asiangrrlMN says:

    I feel even more ill now. I am with dengre. If the asshats who want to commemorate this piece of shit were to say, “YAY, slave trading! What a guy!”, I would still think they were asshats, but at least they would be honest asshats. This, “He repented and therefore redeemed” bullshit is just an insult.

  17. 17
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    I will never understand how somebody can look at someone of a different skin color as less of a person than they are. It must be some form of tribalism I was lucky enough to escape. I’m as pasty white as those assholes but I just don’t understand their hatred and bigotry. It would seem that if someone were to undergo an honest moment of retrospection and reflection on what it is that makes them hate as they do, that they would realize that there really isn’t any justification for it and see it for the evil it is.

    Hell, I’m glad there is wide variety in the people who populate our planet! This place would really suck eggs if it was a pasty white world. Variety is the spice of life.

    Season life liberally. :)

  18. 18
    Chris Wolf says:

    @asiangrrlMN: These are the same people that freak out when they name an elementary school after Barack Obama.

  19. 19
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Let’s say for the sake of argument that he did repent. It does not change what he did. Things should not be named after him. Now, had he repented following the war and spent his life making amends, there could be a discussion. I would still say no.

  20. 20
    Left Coast Tom says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: In the spirit of the failed San Francisco vote to name a sewage plant after George W. Bush…I’d name a sludge pond after Nathan Bedford Forrest.

    Which is, of course, not what states like Tennessee have done.

  21. 21
    aimai says:

    @Chris Wolf:



  22. 22
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @Chris Wolf: Did they? Sigh. Doesn’t surprise me, but certainly dispirits me.

    @Omnes Omnibus: I agree. Words are cheap. Actions, not so much. And, like you said, had he spent the rest of his life after the Civil War trying to atone for his sins, so to speak, well, I still wouldn’t want things named after him, but it would be easier to accept.

  23. 23
    sven says:

    Nathan Bedford Forrest High School

    their mascot?

    The ‘Rebs’.

    I can’t imagine how African American students at nbfhs feel.

    Dear lord…

  24. 24
    Chris Wolf says:

    “Tom Conlon, the board’s lone Republican, opposed the change. The school’s history “is being taken away from them,” said Conlon, who had suggested that the school name a room or part of the school after Obama, “and I think that’s tragic.” About a dozen community members spoke to the board about the name changing, voicing opinions ranging from calling Obama a socialist, to suggesting that the board wait until he is out of office to change the name, to saying that becoming the first African-American president is a worthy enough accomplishment to name a school after him.”

  25. 25
    Ken Pidcock says:

    This is the theme of Douglas A. Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name. I can’t say I recommend the book – Blackmon beats every story into the ground – but, damn, they are interesting stories, and should be conveyed well in television documentary form. And this isn’t peripheral. Re-enslavement was a big part of the national economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, helping to explain how support for white supremacy increased, in both north and south, during those years.

  26. 26
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    @sven: Hey, look! Strom Thurmond High School has the EXACT SAME MASCOT!

    Don’t that just put the wink in cowinky-dink?

  27. 27
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    “I can’t imagine how African American students at nbfhs feel.”

    I can’t imagine anything that would piss him off more than the school named after him being majority African-American.

  28. 28
    Fifi says:


    Fuck him and all the horses he rode in on.

  29. 29
    COB says:

    Kudos for this post.

  30. 30
    apikoros says:

    Dennis G., you really need to look into the history of Isaac Franklin! He missed out on the “illustrious” career in treason that Forrest had, but was an even more successful dealer in human misery and the misery didn’t stop with his death.

    He and his partner, John Armfield ran the largest of the interstate slave trading firms, Franklin and Armfield[1], selling human beings south[2] from Alexandria, VA (with branch offices in several MD and VA towns). With the profits he bought a series of plantations in northern Louisiana which were, after his death, combined into one, Angola, and run as a prison farm with “leased” labor until 1902. At that point the State of Louisiana ceased the leasing of prisoners (due to the abuses, don’cha know?) and bought it as the State Penitentiary. A land soaked in blood and misery for nearly 160 years.

    [1] The Franklin and Armfield office is now, appropriately owned by the Urban League.

    [2] If you ever heard the term “sold south” or “Sold down the river” and wondered, “From where?” the answer would be the Washington, DC area, with smaller operations in Baltimore, MD and Richmond, VA either by sea to New Orleans and Natchez, overland through SW Virginia and Tennessee, or through Wheeling, WV and down the Ohio River to the Missisippi.

  31. 31
    apikoros says:

    BTW, if you are curious, the office of Forrest and Maples would have been here on the southwest corner. Ignore the street number, the “between Second and Third” is more important. I’m betting that the complex would have taken the entirety of the paved area. You would have to be in Memphis to do the research needed to establish that exactly.

    One last note is that among his accomplishments… the good citizens of Memphis elected this bastard to the city council.

  32. 32
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @Chris Wolf: I’m going to hate myself for asking, but what was the name before the change?

  33. 33
    Cacti says:

    When will Wyld Bedford pirate be along to defend the honor of this noble Southron from you no-account Yankees?

  34. 34
    morzer says:

    I wonder whether a campaign to name public latrines after prominent Confederates would be possible? It seems like a suitable memorial for them.

  35. 35
    Cacti says:


    I wonder whether a campaign to name public latrines after prominent Confederates would be possible? It seems like a suitable memorial for them.

    Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial shithouse

    I like it!

  36. 36
    morzer says:


    Well, not to go for the full Alinsky… but it seems like something that would embarrass the right-wing, and amuse our comrades in the Republic of Sanity.

    Lost Cause Latrine.. it has a ring to it.

  37. 37
    BGinCHI says:

    How about we let them have their license plates and then we break their fucking windows.

    At least we’ll know who the assholes are.

  38. 38
    sven says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: WTF. This is where I think comparisons to fascism start to seem reasonable. Everyone else has to eat sh1t just so they can feel good about themselves.

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: I see your point but just can’t agree with you. The problem isn’t Bedford, the problem is the school board. These officials seem to believe that Bedford represents a legacy to be honored. Can we be confident that a district which makes this choice truly makes the education of all students a priority?

  39. 39
    Darkrose says:


    One last note is that among his accomplishments… the good citizens of Memphis elected this bastard to the city council.

    My great-great grandfather was the first “Negro” alderman in Memphis. I’ve always assumed the family moved to Chicago because of post-Reconstruction backlash.

  40. 40
    mcd410x says:

    I think Sherman had the right idea: raze the whole fucking place.

  41. 41
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:


    With the toilets having backs like his tombstone. I could drink a keg of beer and celebrate the occasion by symbolically pissing on his grave.

    @sven: “Can we be confident that a district which makes this choice truly makes the education of all students a priority?”

    Sure, as long as we acknowledge that some students get a higher priority and others a lower one.

  42. 42
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    We’re all wrong. Where the fuck is WyldePirate to correct us?

  43. 43
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    @Cacti: Shit, Cacti, you beat me to it. Sorry.

  44. 44
    Dr. Squid says:

    @Cacti: After he figures out which “Golly gee isn’t my contrarian talk wonderful?” pose he wants to take.

  45. 45
    Chris Wolf says:

    Actually, it was St. Paul…..but named for the the city, not the saint.

  46. 46
    maus says:

    Well, the KKK pyramid scheme did work for a time.

  47. 47
    Cermet says:

    Could anyone ever be a lower life form? Now I know why he quit the KKK – as a agent of the State making money hands over fist enslaving fellow Americans, the ass licking pile of worthless shit (his remains would poison any earth it would be placed on) the worthless bastard knew that his gravy train might end if he was proven to be the leader of the KKK – AND TO THINK THIS ASPECT OF THE TYPICAL PILE OF SHIT SOUTHNER IS CALLED BY STUPID DUMB SHITS A CIVIL WAR HERO – ASS HATS ALL. Thank god for BJ – I’d never know these details about that pig nor have ever figured out why he quit the KKK. Live and learn … hey, that would be a far better motto than then that stupid Vermont plates – Live to learn or die stupid

  48. 48
    Mary says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    Sure, as long as we acknowledge that some students get a higher priority and others a lower one.

    I dunno about that. A lot of school boards these days seem to have a vested interested in keeping all of their students as ignorant as possible.

  49. 49
    c u n d gulag says:

    It’s a crying shame the “man” wasn’t killed in a ‘prison” (slave) uprising.

    A licence plate?
    What the Hell is wrong with these people?
    Never mind. We know…

  50. 50
    JCalo says:

    Do you know of any activity going on to get the concerned citizens to write their legislators to oppose this license plate? This proposal is abhorrent, but if the community doesn’t tell their legislators how opposed they are, then what good are all the blog posts? I mean, I’m glad that the comments are overwhelmingly in opposition, but staying under the radar of the legislators’ awareness will do little good. There have to be some sane people in Mississippi, right?

  51. 51
    Woodrowfan says:

    you forgot to denounce Stalin so your argument is invalid.

    Living in (northern) Virginia I just think of SCV pl8ts as “asshole detectors.” If they adopt the requested “Tea Party” pl8ts then they’ll serve the same purpose….

  52. 52
    Shell Goddamnit says:


    Yes, and the voting districts have been carefully arranged so that there isn’t a majority of them anywhere. The legislators know this and fear only wingnuts.

  53. 53
    apikoros says:

    @Darkrose: Interesting! Especially that your great-great-grandfather was elected after 1876, which is generally regarded as the end of reconstruction.

  54. 54
    Theron says:

    @Phil Perspective: I live on one of those roads. “Forrest — two ‘r’s” I always have to tell people. Annoying whenever I remember why it has that funny spelling.

  55. 55
    JW says:

    Nathan F. was a very bad person, true enough. But, please remember, most Southerners never owned a slave. Though one of the reasons the Civil War (or the War of Succession if you prefer) was fought was to end slavery as an institution there were other reasons, one of the principal ones was the control over the cotton market: the Southerners wanted to make their own deals with England, a principal market. The Northern businesses wanted an exclusive.

    Because at the time there was no machinery to harvest cotton, upon which the South depended, ending slavery would have ruined what was big business in the south, a reason for panic, no? No one imagined cotton harvesters, invented thirty years after the war ended.

    One poster thought that Sherman should have razed the South. Truth to tell, he pretty well did. Caused anger and resentment that lasts to this day.

  56. 56
    catpal says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I am disgusted that too many in the Media are letting Repugs like Haley Barbour get off with the attitude that Slavery and remembering the Horrors of Slavery is “not a big deal.”

  57. 57
    Wayne says:

    Great parting line in your article!

  58. 58
    Wayne says:

    Great parting line in your article!

  59. 59
    Cacti says:


    Nathan F. was a very bad person, true enough. But…

    All excuse-laden confederate apologia starts with some variation of this line.

  60. 60
    Dennis G. says:

    Lots of errors and lots of Lost Cause talking points you got there.

    The question of slavery ownership is an especially misleading one. Many did not own slaves because they were too poor and could not afford the costs of keeping slaves alive. But that does not mean they did not aspire to follow in the footsteps of men like NBF and make a fortune from slavery. The end of the institution shut off a well worn path to riches. And you also have to look at the vast number of non slave owning Southerns who regularly rented slaves for help with planting, harvesting, building or manufacture projects. Renting slaves was a very profitable business and even some of the poorest white Southerners benefited from this system.

    After the war they recreated it using prison camps filled with men arrested for being black. The ‘renting’ of these men was the law of the land for about a hundred years. This went on despite labor saving technology and it is very safe to assume that slavery would still be practiced today had the Confederacy not been defeated.

    Hell, I suspect it is about to make a comeback.

    It is only a matter of time before a proposal to rent prisoners to private employers for forced labor comes up as a way to save money for States in the red. I’m just not sure if it will be Arizona, Florida, Texas or Wisconsin or some other state that will lead the charge.

  61. 61
    TOP123 says:

    @Cermet: Ahem. Please don’t confuse Vermont with its less sane neighbors across the Connecticut.

  62. 62
    apikoros says:

    and a final comment on this thread:

    Forrest’s partner, Maples may be this fellow:

    Colonel Josiah Maples of Red Fork Ar d. Sept. 1876, buried in Rossville, TN

    married to Mary Ann Maples b. 1834 d. 1917 seven children http://www.tngenweb.org/record.....a15-06.htm

    The ages, rank (another fake KY kernel!) and locations are right. No guarantee, tho.

  63. 63
    AAA Bonds says:


    Fuck off.

  64. 64
    Dan says:

    @Left Coast Tom: I think that I will start a new saying–whenever I come out of the crapper, I will say, “That was the best Nathan Bedford Forrest ever!”

  65. 65
    Josh says:

    “War of Succession”? JW thinks eleven states “succeeded” from the union, when in fact they failed.

  66. 66

    […] that April night late in the war.  He is alleged to have been some sort of great businessman, but he was not;  the only business he ever made money at was the selling of human flesh, and at that he was a […]

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