Slavery Essay, Research Paper
Anthony R. Long
Dr. Isaac Green
13 January 2002
Why Slaves Didn?t Revolt
Imagine, if you will, rising earlier than the sun, eating a mere ?snack?, lacking essentially all nutritional value, trekking miles to toil in the unforgiving climate of the southern states, and laboring until the sun once again slipped under the horizon. Clad only in the rags your master provided (perhaps years ago), you begin walking in the dark the miles to your ?home.? As described by the writers Jacob Stroyer and Josiah Henson, this ?home? was actually a mere thatched roof, that you built with your own hands, held up by pathetic walls, over a dirt floor, and you shared this tiny space with another family. Upon return to ?home,? once again you eat the meager rations you were provided, and fall into bed, only to begin again the next day. Day in and day out, you faced brutality by your master, unbearable labor, and slow starvation, and watched your family do the same. So, exactly what was it to be a slave? It was exactly that, to be property of another, treated as a commodity that could be replaced if needed, thrown out on a whim, and neglected without a care. . Unable to communicate, he suffered from not only the reality of his situation, but also the uncertainty of the future. Unable to escape their bonds, slaves had little choice but to submit to their masters? orders, or face corporal punishment, torture, or death at his hands. For the most part, a slave?s only mission was simply to live another day with the hope and prayer that they would see the light of freedom before they succumbed to the horrors of slave life.
Slavery in the 1600?s played an essential role in the economy of the young but maturing Colonial America. The number of slaves greatly flourished in the southern states, resulting in slaves exceedingly outnumbering their owners. Living conditions being so bad and treatment so dissonant and inhuman: why didn?t slaves leave, runaway, or revolt? There were numerous factors that greatly deterred slaves from doing such; nevertheless, the number ratio was in their favor. This paper will touch on some of the reasons slaves were faced with that prevented revolting and overruling their masters in the early 1600?s.
Before the 1680’s, indentured servitude was the primary source of labor in the newly developed colonies. The original idea was to give the indentured servant, a method of becoming independent after a number of years of service. After the 1680’s, the population of the indentured servants decreased, exponentially. There were a number of different reasons why the population of indentured servants had decreased. The indentured servants were running away from their temporary masters, to find a job where he could become more independent. Indentured servants were also dying of many diseases, which were caused by harsh conditions. The immigration of servants thus declined, because of the people in England being informed of the harsh treatment in the colonies. The society was where the land was easy to find, while the labor was most scarce. Indentured servitude was a form of labor that was declining, and the need for labor increased rapidly (Franklin/Moss, 56-67). The decline in population of indentured servants exacerbated the situation, as time progressed, slavery became more and more imminent. Morality was not
taken into consideration, because of the settlers were only viewing slavery from an economic view, rather than a humanitarian point of view. The African slaves also had other characteristics that enticed colonists to use them as a labor force opposed to Native Americans. The African slaves were immune to malaria, which resisted them from disease. The African slaves also were subsistence farmers in Africa; thus, they had a tradition of farming, and essential agricultural skills. Most importantly, African slaves were immune to the heat of the sun and able to work out in fields for an extended amount of time (Katz, 4-7).
Africans were seized from different regions of West Africa. They often had different cultural backgrounds and spoke many different dialects that limited their capability to communicate effectively with each other. This would seriously hinder slaves from establishing any act of resistance (Franklin/Moss, 2-11). Resistance and oppositions happened naturally. Who in their right mind wouldn?t? To control this type of behavior, slave owners beat their slaves harshly and severely. These beatings usually occurred in public amongst the offender?s peers to deter others. The common instrument of punishment was the whip. Slaves were whipped with long straps three to four feet in length made of cowhide or rawhide that lacerated the skin with one single blow. Some slave owners used long leather straps ranging from eighteen inches long and two and a half inches wide. Whipping usually consisted of fifteen to twenty lashes; nevertheless, it would be proportionate to the nature of the offense and the character of the offender (Weinstein/Gatell, 52-55). In some accounts, slaves attempted to resist the whip. One slave tried to resist whipping, his master simply unleashed a pack of dogs on him. He continued to allow the dogs torture the man until bone could be seen from his wounds (Brent, 49-50). Fredrick Douglas, a slave, resisted and went against his owner. He believed that ? a slave whipped easiest, was whipped most?, which encouraged resentment (Katz, 50). Resistance in the form of self-defense was unlawful in some states. One example in 1829, a slave woman was shot for defending herself from her owner. A judge used this case to set an example of the absolute power of the slave owner and concluded, ?the power of the master must be absolute to render the submission of the slave perfect. The slave, to remain a slave, must be made sensible that there is no appeal from his master? (Katz, 33). Discipline often became death defying to a certain extent. If the owner so happens to beat his slave to death, so be it. Nothing ever became of it. In 1669, for example, in Virginia, it was declared that if a Negro slave died at the hands of a master who used ?extremity of correction? to overcome the slave?s ?obstinacy,? it was not murder. In ?an act about the casual killing of slaves,? lawmakers reasoned that no man would deliberately destroy his own property (DeFord, H01). Another clause that support the beating to death of slave was taken from Virginia Statutes in 1669 that stated ?if any slave resist his master or other by his masters? order correcting him and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be counted as felony, but the master or that other person appointed by the master to punish him be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that presence malice should induce any man to destroy his own estate (270). Laws like these literally gave slave owners the authority to kill slaves without facing any repercussions. This also was a powerful tool used by early slave owners to achieve respectful behavior from slaves.
As the African-Americans were brought to the colonies from Africa, they used Christianity to help bring them together. Some people use song and dance to express their Christian beliefs. The slaves started all this. African-American slaves used songs, dances, and often stories to show their feelings about God. These stories were called trickster stories. As African-American slaves became more involved in the Christian faith it gave them something to live and fight for. Slave owners used this to their advantage. African slaves were literally brainwashed by preachers appointed by slave owners and bought to believe that Christianity accepted slavery (Katz, 69-72). Slavery was established, regulated, supported and sanctioned by the Bible. It was a common practice during the time of both the Old Testament and New Testament. Typical sermons admonished slaves to be obedient, not to steal, and to remember that “what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses, are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters and mistresses over you in His own stead, and expects that you will do for them just as you would do for Him? (Blassingame, A5). A similar sermon given by bishop named Meade read as follows:
Poor creatures! You little consider, when you are idle and neglectful of your master?s business, when you steal, and waste, and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when you are telling lies and deceiving them, or when you prove stubborn and sullen, and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation-you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses are faults don against God himself, who hath set you masters and mistresses over you in His own stead, and expects that you would do for them just as you would do for Him. And pray do not think that I want to deceive you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God?s overseers, and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely for it in the next world (Katz, 69-72).
Also examples were taken from the Bible on the Hebrew?s opinion of slavery. Leviticus 25: 44-46 stated ?moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession?. Also Exodus 21: 2-6 supported the slave owners beliefs and stated ?if thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh year he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he was married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever?.
Slaves were told not to worry about their human freedom, as they should be concerned more about their spiritual life. Derived from all the spiritual teaches received from the preachers who were directed supervised and directed by the slave owner, slaves felt that it was their duty in life to be a slave for white men (Katz, 73-74). It was easy to see why slaves seen it as their destiny to be under captivity and didn?t revolt, thinking that God placed them in the world to be slaves.
As hard as it might seem, some slaves that worked inside the plantation house favored their position. They lived inside, worked inside, and ate better than the other slaves. These slaves were often mulattoes who where light skinned and mainly offspring of slave owners. They were treated considerably well and wore nice attire since they would be closely associated with the slave owners and their families (Katz, 46-47). Slaves thinking life would be better staying with their masters versus out on their own with no education, limited skills, no shelter, and the risk of being captured and put into a harsh environment of another slave owner. They preferred to stay right where they were.
Running away was always an option. Many slaves had opportunities to escape their masters, but chose not to for fear they would be caught and put to torture or even death. However, for some the hope of life as a freeman outweighed all the possibilities of capture?what could they possibly endure that would be worse than their current conditions. Death was a reasonable price to pay for the chance at freedom for many slaves. Unfortunately for countless numbers, the chance at freedom was stopped short when captured and returned to a brutal master for punishment. Just the color of their skin gave them away to the most extent. Most thought that if they could escape to the north, they would be free. The Fugitive Slave Act of September 18, 1850 quickly crushed that dream. The act mandated the return of runaway slaves, regardless of where in the Union they might be situated at the time of their discovery or capture (Katz, 130-133). When captured and returned to the plantation, the runaway usually faced stiff punishment and harsh discipline. On one account, a Virginia slave was convicted of trying to escape in July, 1640, was condemned to thirty lashes, with the letter ?R? for ?runaway? branded on his cheek and he was to work in shackles one year or more as his owner shall see cause (Robinson, Slavery and the Structure of American Politics).
Lastly, the individual state governments place harsh codes that resisted and limited slave activity. These were commonly known as the ?Black Codes?. All slave codes made slavery a permanent condition, inherited through the mother, and defined slaves as property, usually in the same terms as those applied to real estate. Slaves, being property, could not own property or be a party to a contract. Since marriage is a form of a contract, no slave marriage had any legal standing (American Treasures of the Library of Congress). Blacks were not allowed to possess weapons, gather together without a white man being present, couldn?t be taught to read, couldn?t work for wages, not allow to trade goods, couldn?t testify against a white, and even in Mississippi; they were prohibited to even play drums or blow horns (Franklin/Moss 124-126). With laws being that restrictive, slaves were always observed by someone to prevent any type of plotting of resistance or revolt.
As you can see, African slaves were continuously given the ?short end of the stick?. There were systems in place to so call ?keep the African slave or black man, in his place?. Ironically, later the slave owners and colonists called upon and needed slaves to fight for America?s independence from England, thus not having their own freedom. I conclude my thoughts with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: ?We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?. Again, ironically, with most of the founding forefathers of America, Jefferson owned slaves.
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