Plantation Slavery Essay Research Paper The warm

Plantation Slavery Essay, Research Paper

The warm climate, boundless fields of fertile soil, long growing seasons,

and numerous waterways provided favorable conditions for farming plantations in

the South (Foster). The richness of the South depended on the productivity of

the plantations (Katz 3-5). With the invention of the cotton gin, expansion of

the country occurred. This called for the spread of slavery (Foster). Slaves,

owned by one in four families, were controlled from birth to death by their

white owners. Black men, women, and children toiled in the fields and houses

under horrible conditions (Katz 3-5). The slave system attempted to destroy

black family structure and take away human dignity (Starobin 101). Slaves led a

hard life on the Southern plantations. Most slaves were brought from Africa,

either kidnapped or sold by their tribes to slave catchers for violating a

tribal command. Some were even traded for tobacco, sugar, and other useful

products (Cowan and Maguire 5:18). Those not killed or lucky enough to escape

the slave-catching raids were chained together (Foster). The slaves had no

understanding of what was happening to them. They were from different tribes and

of different speaking languages. Most captured blacks had never seen the white

skinned foreigners who came on long, strange boats to journey them across the

ocean. They would never see their families or native lands again. These

unfortunate people were shackled and crammed tightly into the holds of ships for

weeks. Some refused to eat and others committed suicide by jumping overboard

(Foster). When the ships reached American ports, slaves were unloaded into pens

to be sold at auctions to the highest bidder. One high-priced slave compared

auction prices with another, saying, ?You wouldn?t fetch ?bout fifty

dollas, but I?m wuth a thousand? (qtd. in Foster). At the auctions,

potential buyers would examine the captives? muscles and teeth. Men?s and

women?s bodies were exposed to look for lash marks. No marks on a body meant

that he or she was an obedient person. The slaves were required to dance or jump

around to prove their limberness. Young, fair-skinned muttaloes, barely clothed

and ready to be sold to brothel owners, were kept in private rooms (Foster). It

was profitable to teach the slaves skills so that during the crop off-season

they could be hired out to work. Although they were not being paid, some were

doing more skilled work than poor whites were. The better behaved slaves were

allowed to be carpenters, masons, bricklayers, or iron workers. The construction

of bridges, streets, canals, railroad lines, public buildings, and private homes

was made possible by using slave labor (Cowan and Maguire 5:44). Slaves had no

rights. This was done to keep them from revolting against their masters or

attaining too much power (Katz 3-5). They were not allowed to communicate with

each other or have meetings of any sort. To leave the plantation, a worker was

required to have a pass signed by the master and overseer. Slaves could not own

property, although some masters authorized it. Knives, guns, or any kind of

weapon was not allowed. Forced separation of family members was a constant,

dreadful threat (Foster). ?It was de saddes? thing dat ever happen to me,?

one slave recalls of the sale of her sister, whom she never saw again (qtd. in

Foster). Blacks received harsher criminal sentencing than whites, regardless of

the crime (Cowan and Maguire 5:17). Marriage between slaves was not legally

recognized, but owners encouraged it because a more stable environment was

created. Married couples with children were less likely to attempt escape.

Unfortunately, there usually was not a suitable mate choice among the slaves, so

most remained single (Starobin 7). Rebel slaves would recruit Indians, poor

whites, and anti-slavery persons to attack all white men, women, and children (Starobin

123-26). These uprisings occurred with at least one major revolt per generation

(Starobin 98). Most rebellions were led by skilled artisans and industrial

workers. The slaves depended on midnight surprise attacks and support from many

(Starobin 124). They would set fire to buildings; while the whites were

extinguishing the flames, angry slaves would assault them from behind (Starobin

123-26). Owners were forced to ?sleep with one eye open? in case the large

masses of slaves decided to uprise (qtd. in Foster). On a much smaller scale,

slaves expressed their hate by refusing their duties, performing slow and sloppy

work, stealing goods, fighting with overseers, sabotaging machinery and tools,

and resisting the white culture forced upon them (Starobin 98-99). Some

attempted to run away. They sought refuge in mountains and swamps. Professional

slave catchers used bloodhound dogs to track down runaways. Sometimes handbills

with the description of the slave were printed and distributed through several

communities. In some cases, after a few days or weeks in the wilderness, a slave

would give up hope and return to his master. Very few runaways escaped to

freedom. Captured slaves would be beaten, burned, or killed as an example to

other slaves (Foster). Whipping was the most commonly used form of punishment

for disorderly slaves (David et al. 63-68). Rewards were handed out to the

fastest and most productive cotton pickers. One might receive extra food rations

or a new set of clothing. Some earned assignment to tasks of choice. Permission

to visit a neighboring plantation might be given or a trip to town might be

planned. Some overseers gave out small amounts of money to buy tobacco, jewelry,

or trinkets from peddlers (David et al. 69-70). Overwork pay was another

favorable prize, but few slaveowners used this method (Starobin 7). A slave was

considered lucky if he got to be a house servant. House servants were considered

the ?aristocrats of slavery? (qtd. in Ploski and Williams 1438). They were

the best behaved and most submissive, occasionally even the mixed offspring of

the master himself. The house servants were raised in belief that they were

superior to other slaves in status and importance (Starobin 63). Intimate

friendships often formed between master and messenger (Ploski and Williams

1438). Young black boys and girls were sometimes adopted into the family (Katz

4-5). House slaves were allowed to practice trades such as tailoring and

masonry. Some were permitted to study music and teach. Duties of the housekeeper

were managing the house, caring for the children, and driving the buggy; they

basically catered to the master?s requests (Ploski and Williams 1438). A

slaveowner might enlist the help of his servant to spy on overseers and tattle

on other slaves (Starobin 63). Most house slaves lived in the same house as the

master (Ploski and Williams 1438). The majority of house servants were women;

therefore, they were open and vulnerable to sexual abuse. They were unsafe from

lusty masters and overseers, even fellow slave men, who ignored state laws

against rape. Powerless women were forced into prostitution. The slave woman

suffered most by the white ?fiends who bear the shape of men.? (qtd. in

Foster). Fortunately this seldomly occurred (Foster). Sometimes a willing

relationship between master and slave evolved (Ploski and Williams 1438). Field

hands met a much harsher fate. ?Unrelieved horror and vicious cruelty?

described the day-to-day life of a field hand (qtd. in Katz 3). They were in

charge of sowing, reaping, and planting commercial crops like cotton and tobacco

under the watchful eye of unmerciful overseers (Ploski and Williams 1437). They

worked in all weather conditions from sunup to sundown every day. Slaves were

rarely used to grow grains such as wheat, rye, and barley because they were

considered unsuitable to handle it (Katz 4-5). Field laborers cared for

equipment and kept gardens in shape (Ploski and Williams 1437). When the need

for soldiers arose during war, some blacks enlisted into the militia, either

willingly or by force from the master (Cowan and Maguire 5: 17). Masters kept

food, clothing, and shelter at bare minimum to reduce costs (Starobin 7). Often

workers were given a small shack with no windows, a bare dirt floor, and a leaky

roof. Several families might live in one crowded room. They were allowed corn or

rice, maybe a bucket a week, and rarely received meat as a food staple. The

field slaves were very malnourished. The slaves were given one set of clothing

to wear for years, and most did not have shoes (Ploski and Williams 1439). As a

result of the poor living conditions, disease and death rates were kept high (Starobin

7). Most adult slaves were worked to death in eight to ten years (Ploski and

Williams 1437). Slavery was a terrible institution. It took people?s lives and

tore them apart. Many black people suffered for decades. Slaves were exposed to

prejudice and inhuman treatment. They lived in unthinkable conditions, stripped

of their dignity and rights as human beings. Slavery changed the path of history



Cowan, Tom, and Jack

Maguire. Timelines in American History. New York: Perigee Books, 1994. David,

Paul, et al. Reckoning with Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Foster, Stephen T. The Civil War Collection. New York: New Viewpoints, 1974.

Katz, William Loren, ed. Slavery to Civil War. Vol 2. New York: Franklin Watts,

1974. Ploski, Harry A., and James Williams. Reference Library of Black America.

Vol 5. New York: Gale Research, 1990. Starobin, Robert S., Blacks in Bondage.

New York: New Viewpoints, 1974.


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