Week 6 – 2/13 Slavery in Colonial North America

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14 thoughts on “Week 6 – 2/13 Slavery in Colonial North America

  1. gna32013gahbrielle February 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm Reply

    Davis presents a side of slave history that is often ignored. I found it very interesting that the Puritans used the reference “Adam and Eve” from the bible in order to prove the injustice of slavery. Instead of claiming that slaves were cursed decedents from Ham, the puritan’s viewed slave origins from the start of humanity. Because of this perspective, the puritans viewed slaves as “fellow humans”. I also was surprised by the fact “no British founders of North American colonies, except for South Carolina, intended to create slave societies”. Slaves were not completely isolated from their masters because of their color. But on the contrary, slave’s worked alongside their owners. Some even ate dinner with their owners. This idea of slavery without extreme segregation is surprising when compared to the early to mid-20th century treatment of African-Americans. Davis states “Hair and skin had not yet become a symbol of inherent degradation and a screen to obscure the realities of economic dependence and exploitation”. I feel that as slave owner’s dependence for slaves grew, so did racism.

    • Christine Shaw February 13, 2013 at 12:06 am Reply

      I also thought it was interesting that the Puritans initially used the Bible as an argument against slavery, when most Christians accepted slavery as “a necessary part of a sinful world” and others, as you mentioned, used the curse of Ham to justify it. However, since they came to the New World to have the freedom to practice their religion, maybe they were initially more sympathetic. Also, their presence in large numbers meant that there was less of a labor shortage that could be filled by slavery.

      • gna32013gahbrielle February 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        I feel as though it was easier to treat slaves nicer when they were not the majority.

    • ewm1 February 13, 2013 at 2:39 am Reply

      It’s interesting that the religious justifications for slavery are such popular topics in North American slavery, where as in ancient slavery it was the conquered who placed in bondage. I wonder if slavery would have been the same had the religious reasons behind it all had not been considered by the colonists.

    • taymn February 13, 2013 at 3:00 am Reply

      Racism did grow. I liked how Olaudah Equiano addresses physical characteristics and the prejudice that come with them. At the end of chapter one where he explains his culture, he helps to draw the conclusion that one can not know a person by their skin color There could be other causes for a “supposed inferiority” (if there is one at all). In fact, European ancestors, he says, like Africans were once “uncivilized” and were not judged because of it.

  2. Christine Shaw February 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm Reply

    One of the topics that Davis touches on in Chapter 6 is the contrast between the interracial interactions that occurred in some instances in the Northern colonies and the gradual increase in racism and tensions between white workers and black slaves. In the North, the smaller amount of racial tension (initially, at least) arose from the “lack of staple crops for export” that prevented the economy from being completely based on slave labor (Davis 128). At the time, since social boundaries took precedence over race, slaves often worked with white farmers and laborers. This seemingly positive aspect of slavery in the North still led to negative feelings toward blacks. The white workers that worked alongside slaves started to resent the “competition” and “the way that slavery degraded most forms of labor” (131). Interestingly, these new sentiments about white ambition both weakened “the foundations of slavery” and strengthened racism.

    • ewm1 February 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm Reply

      The fact that whites would not be hired in the midst of such excessive amounts of slave labor caused a lot of resentment. It wasn’t just that they received such degrading labor as slaves, some wouldn’t receive work at all. Of course this was less an issue in the industrial north, but more so in the south, where whites couldn’t find simple labor on farms for a livable wage.

  3. cal72013 February 12, 2013 at 11:40 pm Reply

    In Olaudah Equiano’s description of his home in Africa, he says that courts often turned women accused of adultery over to their husbands who killed them or sold them in to slavery, while men were free to “indulge in a plurality,” (14). This reminded me of another double standard that existed in the Atlantic slave trade. In the reading for this week, Davis mentioned that Virginia and Maryland “passed laws against racial intermarriage as well as punishments for white women who gave birth to mulatto children,” however, “nothing was said about black women who gave birth to the mulatto children of white fathers,” (131). Davis has given many more examples where the exploitation of female slaves was generally accepted, while relationships between free women and male slaves were not. Overall, in Europe and the New World, it seems as though women, especially slaves, were not empowered at all. In contrast, Equiano describes women who “march boldly out to fight along with the men,” (18). In a society where women are considered less than men, like the colonies, it is easy to see where a gender-based double standard would come from, but the two ways in which Equiano describes the women of his village seem to contradict each other.

  4. taymn February 12, 2013 at 11:55 pm Reply

    I seem to find less and less evidence proving that racist ideologies somehow fueled the development of slavery. We found in both of the readings from Davis and Schmidt-Nowara from last week that economic opportunity led to the introduction of African slaves (along with a mixture of cultures) in Brazil and the Caribbean. While the temporary homes that entrepreneurs made for themselves in those regions were started solely for the purpose of financial gain, I have always understood that the lasting homes that were developed in North America were established for a new beginning in life. Even still, it is hard to imagine that, “…British founders of North American colonies, except for South Carolina, intended to create slave societies” (Davis 126). Regardless of how it started out, racial slavery, “…became embedded in the Americas in diverse and unpredictable ways” (124). It is interesting how the acceptance of other races (or interracial interactions) became “the norm” in some areas (Brazil and the Caribbean), tolerated in some areas, and subdued in others (most of North America).

    • Christine Shaw February 13, 2013 at 9:03 am Reply

      I’ve started reaching the same conclusion that racism was less influential in the development of slavery than I had previously thought. Even though the British founders of most colonies in North America did not intend to create slave societies and some groups initially resisted slavery on moral grounds, the potential for economic gain seems to have won out.

      • gna32013gahbrielle February 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        I beginning to think racism was just a tool used to control the rising slave population.

  5. ewm1 February 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm Reply

    In this week’s reading, Davis looks at the differences in slavery between various regions within Colonial North America. Interestingly, we see many ways in which slave owners were incentivized into giving their slaves more respectable jobs. In places such as New Amsterdam, slaves were first imported as a means of attracting wealthy people to the area that could use such cheap labor, while later on, slaves began to support the growing northern industrial economy by working in “tanneries, salt works, and iron furnaces” (129), educated labor often came as a significant advantage over enslaved under-educated workers. We see in Maryland and Virginia native-born slaves often took up more skilled trades such as “carpenters, tanners, and blacksmiths” (133). Farther south, in South Carolina, we see some degradation of this, but still in central cities such as Charlestown “slave women dominated [the] central market” (136). The task system implemented in lowcountry plantations saw many slaves who would hurry to finish their work for the day so they could tend to their own economic endeavors (growing their own sellable goods). The most remarkable incentive provided to the slaves was, I feel, the deal presented in Georgia that “any slave [that killed an enemy during invasion] would be freed” (137)

    • taymn February 13, 2013 at 2:49 am Reply

      Olaudah Equiano raises an interesting question. He says, “…Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire and every noble sentiment?”. With this question having been raised, I must note that it is fascinating that the slaves found any motivation at all. “Remarkable” is a good word for incentive involving enemies during invasions. The slaves had to resort to murder (taking a life) in order to regain their own.

  6. Dr. Joseph Moore (@drjosephmoore) February 13, 2013 at 9:37 am Reply

    These are some very interesting comments on a fascinating and important set of readings.

    Your class consensus seems to be that racism did not create slavery, as you might have thought before reading Davis’s work. The economic imperatives of the New World drove the choices that led to an expansion of African slavery into the colonies. Of course, by the time Equiano is telling his story, racism has embedded itself into the fabric of slavery. Why are people of color slaves? The answer in 1600 might have been an answer rooted in necessity, “because we need laborers and these people were sold to us for that purpose.” The answer in 1800 would have been rooted in nature, “because some people are inherently built/made by God for such work.”

    Christine Shaw mentioned the divergence between Biblical definitions of slaves as fully human versus the “curse of Ham” Biblical argument that slaves were made by God to be subservient creatures. Both arguments appeared quite early in this experience.

    This leads me to a question- If you are agreed that this transition occurred (from slavery to racism) and that it occurred well after competing ideologies for and against universal humanity existed (Puritan humanity vs. Biblical curse of Ham)…. HOW did the transition happen? What were the mechanisms by which people seen as “fully human” became seen as something less than other humans? Was that mechanism slavery itself? Religion? Science? Economic competition?

    Knowing that a transition occurred is one thing; figuring out how it occurred is the next step.

    PS- I’m not as high on Puritan views of universal humanity as some others might be. Puritans viewed Native peoples (the Catholic Irish and Pequot tribe, for instance) as inherently bad, barbarous, and (not accidentally) “dark.” Their religion gave them plenty of fuel for these beliefs. But perhaps that is a debate best left for another day!

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