Life Under Slavery (Slavery in the Americas)

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We must keep this in mind as we delve into the history of slavery in colonial North America. To examine the process by which slavery became a political institution in the "New World.

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Goal 1: To discuss the African origins of slavery in the British colonies. All too often, studies of American slavery fail to examine the life which the Africans were forced to leave behind. Therefore, we will begin our analysis of slavery by asking two questions:.

  • When Did Slavery Start?!
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  • AMERICAN HISTORY: Slavery in the American South.
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From where did the slaves originate? As the above map of "Negroland" indicates, slaves were kidnapped mainly from western Africa, or what many have called The Slave Coast - the coastal areas of present-day Togo, Benin formerly Dahomey and western Nigeria. In the pre-colonial time this was one of the most densely populated parts of the African continent. It became one of the most important export centers for the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the 19th century. As the map below indicates, between , as many of 15 million Africans were kidnapped and forced into slavery.

You can see that most slaves were kidnapped from southwest Africa, where they lived largely in tropical rainforests, or areas that had no geographical similarities to where they were transported in North America. What kind of culture and lifestyle did the Africans leave behind after being forced into slavery?

As we begin our analysis of slavery in America, it is important to emphasize that we know a great deal about the evolution of African slavery in American society because slaves were property and as such, records were kept on everything that was owned. Goal 2: To examine the process by which slavery became a political institution in the "New World". As the chronology below indicates, slavery gradually became institutionalized in the British colonies of North America. Goal 3: To discuss the characteristics of slavery as it developed in the American colonies.

One is through force. He can be penned behind fences, guarded constantly, punished severely for breaking the slightest rule, and made to live in constant fear. The second is to teach him to think that his own best interests will be served by doing what his master wishes him to do. He can be taught that he is inferior and that only through slavery will he eventually rise to the 'level' of his master.

The southern slave owner used both. The first was the way of the whip, the threat of the auction block, and murder. Its aim was to make the slave live in constant fear The second way was more subtle.

Upward of ten percent of the enslaved African population in the United States lived in cities. In the southern cities they totaled approximately a third of the population. The range of slave occupations in cities was vast. Domestic servants dominated, but there were carpenters, fishermen, coopers, draymen, sailors, masons, bricklayers, blacksmiths, bakers, tailors, peddlers, painters, and porters. Although most worked directly for their owners, others were hired out to work as skilled laborers on plantations, on public works projects, and in industrial enterprises.

A small percentage hired themselves out and paid their owners a percentage of their earnings. Each plantation economy was part of a larger national and international political economy. The cotton plantation economy, for instance, is generally seen as part of the regional economy of the American South. By the s, "cotton was king" indeed in the South. It was also king in the United States, which was competing for economic leadership in the global political economy. Plantation-grown cotton was the foundation of the antebellum southern economy.

But the American financial and shipping industries were also dependent on slave-produced cotton. So was the British textile industry. Cotton was not shipped directly to Europe from the South.


Historical Context: Facts about the Slave Trade and Slavery

Rather, it was shipped to New York and then transshipped to England and other centers of cotton manufacturing in the United States and Europe. Recruited as an inexpensive source of labor, enslaved Africans in the United States also became important economic and political capital in the American political economy. Enslaved Africans were legally a form of property—a commodity. Individually and collectively, they were frequently used as collateral in all kinds of business transactions. They were also traded for other kinds of goods and services.

The value of the investments slaveholders held in their slaves was often used to secure loans to purchase additional land or slaves. Slaves were also used to pay off outstanding debts. When calculating the value of estates, the estimated value of each slave was included. This became the source of tax revenue for local and state governments.

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Taxes were also levied on slave transactions. Politically, the U. The patrols were authorized to use summary punishment against escapees; in the process, they sometimes maimed or killed the escapees. Historian Nell Irvin Painter and others have documented that Southern history went "across the color line. The slave-owning colonies had laws governing the control and punishment of slaves which were known as slave codes.

The South Carolina slave code was a model for other North American colonies. The South Carolina slave code was revised in , with the following amendments: [58]. The slave codes in the tobacco colonies Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia were modeled on the Virginia code, established in In , Arthur William Hodge was the first slaveholder executed for the murder of a slave in the British West Indies.

However, he was not as some have claimed the first white person to have been executed for killing a slave. On November 23, , in Williamsburg, Virginia , two white men Charles Quin and David White were hanged for the murder of another white man's slave. On April 21, , the Virginia Gazette in Fredericksburg reported that a white man William Pitman was hanged for the murder of his own slave. Laws punishing whites for punishing their slaves were weakly enforced or easily avoided.

In Smith v. Hancock , the defendant justified punishing his slave to a white jury; the slave was attending an unlawful meeting, discussed rebellion, refused to surrender and resisted the arresting officer by force. Slavery in the United States encompassed wide-ranging rape and sexual abuse. Slaves regularly suppressed anger before their masters to avoid showing weakness. Harriet Jacobs said in her narrative that she believed her mistress was jealous of her master's sexual interest in her, the reason she did not try to protect her.

Victims of abuse during slavery may have blamed themselves for the incidents, due to their isolation. Rape laws in the south embodied a race-based double standard. Black men accused of rape during the colonial period were often punished with castration, and the penalty was increased to death during the antebellum period ; [64] however, white men could rape female slaves without fear of punishment.

Slave Life and Slave Codes []

Foster suggests that men and boys may have also been forced into unwanted sexual activity; one problem in documenting such abuse is that they, of course, did not bear mixed-race children. Angela Davis contends that the systematic rape of female slaves is analogous to the supposed medieval concept of droit du seigneur , believing that the rapes were a deliberate effort by slaveholders to extinguish resistance in women and reduce them to the status of animals.

Roots: Families in Slavery - History

The sexual abuse of slaves was partially rooted in a patriarchal southern culture which treated all women, black and white, as property. The result was a number of mixed-race offspring. Children, free women, indentured servants and men were not immune from abuse by masters and owners. Nell Irvin Painter also explains that the psychological outcome of such treatment often had the same result of "soul murder". Children, especially young girls, were often subjected to sexual abuse by their masters, their masters' children and relatives.


Since these women had no control over where they went or what they did, their masters could manipulate them into situations of high risk, i. In , the southern colonies adopted into law the principle of partus sequitur ventrem , by which the children of slave women took the status of their mothers regardless of paternity. This was a departure from English common law, which held that children took the status of their father.

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Some fathers freed their children, but many did not.