Slavery In USThe Slaves’ And The Slaveowners’ Views Of Slavery “That face ofhis, the hungry cannibals Would not have touched, would not have stained withblood;– But you are more inhuman, more inexorable, Oh! ten times more thantigers of Hyrcania.
” Shakespeare I chose the topic about slavery for myresearch paper because I thought it would be an interesting experience doingresearch about slavery. It is American history and the more we know about it,the better we can understand what is going on today in our country. I think thatbecause slavery was abolished very recently in terms of historical periods oftime, it still has an impact on today’s economic and political life. Searchingfor the writings by slave owners was a more difficult task then searching forthe writings by slaves.
However, I found a lot of useful material in varioussources. The slavery in the United States is no doubt a shameful history of ourcountry. White people transferred the slaves living in Africa to the New Landand treated them as their property, not as human beings. The living and workingconditions of slaves and their food were extremely poor. Those were inhumanconditions in which the slaves had to survive.
Endless executions of the slavesmade the situation even worse. Slavery was a period of time when one racetreated the other race as animals, things, property, but not as people. Unfortunately, not everyone saw the situation as it was in reality at that time. As we can see from many different sources available today, the points of view ofslaves and slave owners on slavery were the opposite to each other. That can beseen in various slaves’ and slave owners’ descriptions of slavery. Slavesdescribed their dwellings, food, clothes, labor, and the terrible treatment ofslaves by their masters.
On the other hand, slave owners described therelationships between slaves and their masters in a very positive way. Theyargued that slavery is very beneficial for the slaves and the slaves are veryhappy to live with their masters. Let us now consider both these points of viewsin details. First of all, let us look at the slaves’ description of the cloththey wore. The clothes supply was as minimum as possible and the quality of theclothes was very bad. Here is how one of the slaves describes it.
“Our dresswas of tow cloth; for the children nothing but a shirt; for the older ones apair of pantaloons or a gown in addition, according to the sex. . . . In winter, around jacket or overcoat, a wool hat once in two or three years, for the males,and a pair of coarse shoes once a year”(Lester 65).
This scanty list of itemswas the only things available to the slaves. Certainly, it was not enough forthe people who worked very hard for more than ten hours a day. The clothes werevery dirty and with holes all over the place pretty soon. Imagine if you have towear the same shirt day after day for the long time.
The masters did not careabout slaves’ children; they did not distribute much clothes for them either. According to the slaves, it was their problem what to put on their children whenit was cold outside (Feldstein 45). However, some slaves say there were somemasters who gave some extra material for the children, but it was not sufficientany way. Others gave any additional clothes only for extra work (Feldstein 45). As for the slave owners’ seeing the slaves’ situation, one of theslaveholders reveals that he used to distribute new clothes once a year (Feldstein45).
This testimony by the slave owner actually testifies the slaves’descriptions of the slavery that makes us believe to the slaves even more. However, there were a lot of slave owners who saw the situation quitedifferently. One anonymous slave owner in his letter to Lord Brougham arguesthat “. . . as a slave, he [a black person] would have at least the protection ofone master interested in his welfare; as a freeman, almost beyond the pale ofgovernment protection, with no one to take care of him, of a despised andinferior race, a stranger in a land of strangers, how miserable would be hisfate!”(Williams 41) That is what this person really believes, and he was notalone.
The slave owners really believed that slavery was very beneficial for theslaves, and they clothed their slaves well. According to the slaves, theirdwellings were unimaginably poor huts that were not suited for living at all. Let us look at some descriptions of their huts to realize how terrible theconditions of the slaves were. One of the slaves remembers that the hut usuallywas “.
. . one-room log cabin. . . without a partition and a total furnishing weregenerally a bed, a bench and a few cooking utilities”(Feldstein 42).
Anotherformer slave tells us that “. . . they [were] erected with posts and crotches,with but little or no frame-work about them. They [had] no stoves or chimneys;some of them [had] something like a fireplace at the end. .
. “(Moulton 19). Itis obvious that these cabins with no furniture inside did not seem likepeople’s homes. The slaves lived almost outside. Some of the emancipatedslaves remember that they used to sleep “. .
. on a miserable bed, [and their]children on the floor”(Lester 62-63). One of the former slaves remembers hisexperience of living in such a cabin as very uncomfortable. “The cabin [was]constructed. .
. without floor or window. The latter is altogether unnecessary;the crevices between the logs admit[ted] sufficient light. In stormy weather therain [drove] through them. .
. “(Lester 63-64). As for the furniture of thecabins, another former slave remembers that he used to sleep on a plank twelveinches wide and ten feet long. As a pillow he used a stick of wood.
He had onlyone blanket and nothing else to make himself warmer (Lester 63). Except cold,rain, and wind, many slaves suffered from a great amount of mosquitoes. Someslaves remember that they kept a smoke from their fireplaces all night to securethemselves from all the insects (Moulton 19). Sleeping on the planks, beingcold, wet during the rains, and in the smoke; that was the way slaves lived intheir huts. These conditions of living made slaves’ lives very difficult andcaring for children almost impossible. Let us now see how slave owners saw theslaves’ conditions of living.
Here is what a slaveholder tells in one of hisletter. “The condition of the slaves of the United States. . . is far in advanceof that of any similar number of laborers following similar occupations, in anyother land under the sun”(Williams 32).
Obviously, from what we have heardfrom the slaves we can claim that this statement is not very accurate. Theslaves did not have very good houses as this person implies. But one thingpuzzled me when I read it. What makes the author of this letter be so confidentin his words? Where is his proof? It is very hard to believe that practicallywith nowhere to live, nothing to wear or eat, the condition of the slaves was sogood as the person argues.
Many slaves say that the food they ate at theplantations was extremely bad and insufficient. One of the former slavesremembers that they had only two meals a day. The first time they ate was attwelve o’clock, which was the middle of their working day, and the second time– late at night when the work for the day was done (Lester 64-65). Certainly,the slaves were hungry all the time. Considering how much they had to work,there is no wonder why many of them had faints caused by their hunger. Accordingto a slave the meal itself usually consisted of cornmeal and salt herrings,”.
. . to which was added in summer a little buttermilk and the few vegetableswhich each might raise for himself and his family on the little piece ofground. . . “(Lester 64).
A former slave remembers that the very typical thingfor a plantation was that children younger than eight years old did not receiveany food at all. They could eat only what their parents left over from theirmeals (Feldstein 44). Certainly, many female slaves did not eat already veryscanty food to feed their children. The same person remembers that returninghome late at night women mixed cornmeal with a little water, and backed it onthe fire (Feldstein 43). That was the only time when children could eat duringthe day.
With so scarce food as the slaves had, it was almost impossible tosurvive. Charles Ball, a former slave, wrote that there were a lot of”. . . raids on the smokehouse.
. . ” (Feldstein 43). That was the only way slavescould get some extra food to feed themselves and their children. However,Charles Ball added that “.
. . if a slave were caught stealing, his punishmentwould. . . be severe”(Feldstein 43).
A former slave remembers that he used tosteal some food from his master to survive. He says that if a turkey was stolenby the slaves, they tried to implicate an imaginary fox. When they stolepotatoes, they tried to implicate the hogs (Feldstein 45). As we can see theconditions of the slaves were inhuman. They had to have a lot of endurance tosurvive in their situation.
The slave owners’ viewing of how they fed theirslaves differs form all the descriptions made above by the slaves themselves. The same slave owner whom we have seen before also says in his letter to LordBrougham that “. . .
America found in the slave. . . a savage, and she hascivilized him!. . .
She found him naked and starving, and she has clothed and fedhim!”(Williams 32) Again, this person was not alone who thought thatslaveholders “clothed and fed” the slaves. Many slave owners shared the samepoint of view. They really believed that their slaves were well dressed and fed. They saw the slaves’ situation as very good and they thought of themselves asof the very kind people who did all these good things for uncivilized savages. According to the slaves’ description of their labor, they had to work on theplantations very hard.
They were called to work at five o’clock in the morningand they worked until late night (Feldstein 48). Often slaves had to workwithout any tools. One of the former slaves wrote that they were given a row inthe field and they had to remove all the weeds from there. He remembers that inthe end of the day, overseers checked everyone’s row.
“For every. . . strayweed that had been left in the row,. . .
the slave who had left it got a floppingmore or less severe”(Feldstein 48). Another former slave remembers that theyhad to plough with the oxen or mules. “The women as frequently as the menperform[ed] this labor, feeding, currying, and taking care of their teams and inall respects doing the field and stable work”(Lester 65). Also, we have somememories of former slaves that tell us how difficult it was to work on thecotton plantation. Men, women, and children, all had to work on the plantation.
He remembers that “. . . women and children picked cotton till the blood runsfrom the tips of their fingers. .
. “(Feldstein 47). He also remembers that theyfeared the flogging every minute of their work (Feldstein 47). They could notstop working even for a moment. According to another former slave, a womansurrounded with her children, half starved, was often “.
. . whipped at night ifshe does not perform her task”(Moulton 18). Women did not have time to carefor their children; they had to work as much as men.
They had to bring theirlittle children with them to the field and put them in the field dirt. Thechildren were alone all day crying because they were hungry and were not seeingtheir mothers. A slave remembers that often these children were “. . .
found deadin the field and in the quarter for want of the care of theirmothers”(Feldstein 48). Leaving children in the field was also dangerousbecause of the poisonous snakes. A slave remembers that some women worked withtheir children on their back because of those snakes (Moulton 18). It is wellknown that the slaves’ labor is the most hard and miserable among all kinds oflabor. And these accounts only prove the fact.
Many slave owners accepted thatthe slaves worked very hard. One of the former slave owners testified that whenthe business went quite poorly, “. . . the slaves were called up to work longbefore daylight. .
. and worked. . .
some of them all night”(Moulton 18). However,in his saying, there is no hint of regret. He states it as a very usual thing,and justifies it by the bad business situation. He still does not realize howevil it was to force the slaves to work for so long time. Anotherex-slaveholder, Colonel Bingham, wrote an essay on slavery when slavery wasalready abolished, but he was still confident that slavery was more beneficialfor black population then a free state.
In his essay, Bingham says that”. . . the race antagonism. .
. [is] no where perhaps more strong then among thewhite laborers of the North West against the negro. . .
“(Bingham 247). Heimplies here that the slaves’ labor was more beneficial for the slaves becausethey were not oppressed racially. However, the institute of slavery oppressedthe slaves in a enormous degree and some personal antagonism in the North isnothing in comparing with slavery. Also it does not justify the inhumanexploitation of the slaves. The most terrible and sad aspect of slaverydescribed by the slaves is their punishments by their masters.
It is the factthat the whippings often were very severe. It is hard to believe that somepeople could do all these terrible things to other people. Harry Thomas, afugitive slave, remembers one of the terrible mornings. “. . .
The master camefor me, took me home, stripped me stark naked, made a paddle of thick oak board,lashed me across a pine log, secured my hands and feet, and whipped me with thepaddle. . . . He whipped till he broke the paddle.
After that, he took me to thehouse, and hit me with a hickory stick over the head and shoulders, a dozentimes or more: then he got salt and water, and a corn cob, and scrubbed me. Thenhe sent me to water the hogs, naked as I was, in January”(“Testimony Of TheCanadian Fugitives” 7). It is very scary what this person went through whilehe was a slave. William Hall, another fugitive slave, described one more exampleof the executions.
“I saw nine persons at different times, made fast to fourstakes, and whipped with a leather strap from their neck to their heels and onthe bottoms of their feet, raising blisters: then the blisters broken with aplaited whip, the overseer standing off and fetching hard blows. I have seen aman faint under this treatment. I saw one about eighteen years old. . . used inthis way: seven weeks after he fainted in consequence; his nerves were soshattered that he seemed like a man of fifty”(“Testimony Of The CanadianFugitives” 9) As for the slave owners, N.
L. Rice made a very interestingargument when he made a speech participating in the debates on slavery held inthe City of Cincinnati in October 1845. He said that “. .
. the laws of Indiamake the wife the slave of the husband; and even in Ohio, a man may so treat hiswife as to render her life a burden, without being in danger of the penalty ofthe law. Shall we then denounce the marriage relation as in itselfsinful?”(Blanchard, Rice 56) He accepts that the slaves were treated verybadly, but claims that it does not imply that slavery itself is bad. Obviously,it is very bad for India and Ohio at that time that there were no laws thatwould protect a woman from domestic violence. Also his argument is very week inprotecting slavery.
However, many slave owners of that time were convinced byhis speech. That is why he represents the point of view of many slave owners. The writing by Colonel Bingham, whom we have already seen, reveals a differentperception of the relations between slaves and their masters. He denies a badtreatment of the slaves by their masters at all.
He says that “. . . in thehistory of the whole world there never were as kindly relations existing betweentwo races on the same soil as between the slave owner and the slave in the Southbefore the Civil War”(Bingham 248).
As a proof of his words he says that healways loved black people. He gives an example of how much he loved a blackwoman who helped his parents to raise him. He says that he “. . .
loved her nextto [his] parents”(Bingham 248). But how about other black people whom heexploited and punished pretty regularly? Did he love them, also? Definitely itis very week argument, but it reveals slave owners’ seeing of the relationshipbetween a slave and his master. We can see how distorted it was. We have seenwritings and memories of both former slaves and slave owners.
We found out thatthe slaves and slaveholders saw the slavery in absolutely different ways. Ipersonally believe the slaves’ accounts that described every detail inconstructing the reality of slavery. The slaveholders, however, talked ingeneral without a single example from their experiences as slave owners. Also,very often, it is hard to believe what they say in their essays.
But why thesepeople could be so evil? I think the best answer for the question can be foundin Inside View Of Slavery by C. G. Parsons who was a visitor from the North atthe time of slavery. He wrote that the system of slavery influences theslaveholder, and its “. . .
tendency to harden the heart, to dry up all thefountains of human sympathy, to make one callous to the wrongs and the woes ofthese around him, is stamped upon the very surface of society throughout theSouth”(Parsons 203). Probably that is the answer to the question why the slaveowners’ point of view is so different from the slaves’. Probably, it is truethat the system of slavery affected them in such a way that they were not ableto comprehend the reality of their evil. After writing this paper I realizedthat I did not really know that much about the history of the living conditionsof slaves.
I certainly knew many historical facts about slavery, but I did notknow much about the conditions of the slaves, their food, dwellings, etc. Theexperience of writing this paper was quite useful for me in understanding thesalves’ life and in trying to understand different points of views on slavery. It was very interesting to think why salves’ and slave owners’ writings areso different. As a whole, thinking about the topic itself gave me an opportunityto study the very interesting period in our history.
I am glad that I wrote thispaper and I am satisfied with my paper as a result of my research. Works CitedAlbers, Harry S. , ed. Testimony Of The Canadian Fugitives. http://history. cc.
ukans. edu/carrie/docs/usdocs. txt/canadian_slaves. html (24 Nov.
1996). Bingham, Colonel R. An Ex-slaveholders ViewOf The Negro Question In The South. Asheville: European Edition Of Harper’sMonthly Magazine, 1900. 243-256.
Blanchard Rev. J. and N. L.
Rice. A Debate OnSlavery: Held In The City Of Cincinnati, Of October, 1845. Detroit: NegroHistory Press, 1846. 34-60. Feldstein, Stanley.
Once A Slave. New York: WilliamMorrow and Company, Inc. , 1971. 39-87. Lester, Julius.
To Be A Slave. New York:Scholastic Inc. , 1968. 28-76. Moulton, Horace. American Slavery As It Is:Testimony Of A Thousand Witnesses.
New York: Arno Press and The New York Times,1968. 17-45. Parsons, C. G. Inside View Of Slavery: Or A Tour Among ThePlanters. Boston: John P.
Jewett And Company, 1855. 203-231. Williams, James. Letters On Slavery From The Old World. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969. 30-43.
BibliographyAlbers, Harry S. , ed. Testimony Of The Canadian Fugitives. http://history. cc.
ukans. edu/carrie/docs/usdocs. txt/canadian_slaves. html (24 Nov.
1996). Bingham, Colonel R. An Ex-slaveholders ViewOf The Negro Question In The South. Asheville: European Edition Of Harper’sMonthly Magazine, 1900.
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A Debate OnSlavery: Held In The City Of Cincinnati, Of October, 1845. Detroit: NegroHistory Press, 1846. 34-60. Feldstein, Stanley.
Once A Slave. New York: WilliamMorrow and Company, Inc. , 1971. 39-87. Lester, Julius.
To Be A Slave. New York:Scholastic Inc. , 1968. 28-76.
Moulton, Horace. American Slavery As It Is:Testimony Of A Thousand Witnesses. New York: Arno Press and The New York Times,1968. 17-45. Parsons, C. G.
Inside View Of Slavery: Or A Tour Among ThePlanters. Boston: John P. Jewett And Company, 1855. 203-231.
Williams, James. Letters On Slavery From The Old World. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.30-43