Slavery is a word that incites negative and painful memories to many people in society. It reminds humanity of the existence of evil and man’s hatred towards fellow man. Slavery represents pain, torture, and death. It is also the main reason for the development of the African American culture, as it is known today. Slavery can only be understood from a historical perspective. It started in the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. It saw the shipment of strong young black men to the colony as laborers for working in lucrative tobacco farms. Through the 17th and 18th century, this practice grew to see Africans help the rise of the economy of this new country. The practice solidified in 1793 with the invention of the cotton gin. In the following years, civil wars were rallied to abolish this dehumanizing venture. It successfully saw around 4 million slaves freed between 1861 and 1865. Slavery has continually influenced American history from those times. It has been a dynamic force in the growth of different relative dimensions of the polity with evidence standing to date. It goes beyond the physical chaining to an aspiration to change people into another form with different cultural, religious, and social ties.
The main reason for fighting against slavery is its negative impacts on the slaves and their families. It has the effect of emotional, physical and psychological scarring that is irreparable through age. The consequences of acts of slavery are still felt and evidenced in society to date. The following paper seeks to analyze this perspective from the enslaved point of view. It will examine slavery effects on men, women and children through means such as sexual exploitation and degradation. It will also examine the dawn of maroons and their duty in revolting against slavery. The advent will follow slaves’ engagement in wars, farming and other activities in their slave colonies. Consequently, the paper will look at the challenges these people faced as slaves and how the analyzed narratives appeal to contemporary society.
Slavery in the United States: A narrative of the life and adventures of Charles Ball, a black man, who lived forty years in Maryland, South Carolina is a narrative written by Charles Ball. It follows the life of the author, a black man enslaved for forty years in different plantations under different masters. He details the uncertainty and low quality of life of the slaves from a perspective that appeals to readers and draws them the actual scenario in the named age. Ball was born in a plantation as a slave at around 1780. At the age of four, he was separated from his mother and siblings, who were sold to another plantation. This draws readers to the perception of objectification of slaves. The incident of the first separation occasioned emotional turmoil in Ball, but he still had the will to live. He grew up in Georgia and married there (Wood, 1996, p. 45). He was then forced to separate with his wife and was sold to another master.
Slaves were treated like lesser beings. They were subjected to physical pain and torture. The author narrates how they were bound by chains on the necks and handcuffed before being forced to walk from Maryland to Columbia to their new masters. They were left starving with only roasted corn and a piece of meat or fish per day. They wore no clothes on the back and were often subjected to beatings when working. Suicide was a result sought by many slaves seeking solace from these dehumanizing acts of their traders. ‘What is life worth, amidst hunger, nakedness and excessive toil, under the continuous uplifted lash’ (Ball, 2009, p. 50). The life of slaves was harsh, they were living in deplorable conditions with no food, no shelter, no clothing, waiting for the mercies of their masters who would throw them crumbs and expect them to toil effortlessly in the farms. The situation was made worse with the advent of the cotton gin, where they were expected to spin nonstop with rigorous guards on look. Many slaves died during shipments due to the conditions in which they were living. They were chained and left huddled in darkness with no clothing or food. Death was a safer resort even still.
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Emotional pain was inflicted through separation from loved ones. Ball was separated from his families thrice in his lifetime. At the age of 4, his siblings and mother were sold to another place and he never saw them again. He got divorced from his first wife when he was sold to slavery in Columbia. Leaving her and their children caused an imaginable pain to all of them. After his return as a free slave, he was recaptured and escaped hiding in a ship to avoid being sold back into slavery. Because of this, his second wife and children, who were free slaves, were sold back into the turmoil. Ball was not able to recover from this torture as he had been lamenting to where his families were and how they were living. Such psychological effects hindered the slaves’ development and, consequently, the ability to relate with each other.
Chapter seven of the book Strange new land: Africans in colonial America examines the concept of assimilation of Africans into the American way of life (Wood 1996, p. 47). It is titled, “Building a Culture”. Slavery had consequences reaching far more than wounding the African soul. The colonialists had an intention of assimilating the Africans into their way of life. It is for this reason that they avoided shipping old people because, besides lacking physical strength to work as laborers, this generation was unwilling to change their traditions or adopt any means introduced by colonialist. Preferred Negros would be young, at the highest point of their physical strength and mentality to aid in developing the colonies while depriving Africa of this much-needed energy in their native lands. Progressively, the great collision of cultures experienced during interactions with Americans, Europeans and the slaves gave birth to new cultures and thought gave inspiration to people. Wood details the mode of slavery of the first workers as a physical embodiment. They retained most of their cultures and traditions in way of relating and spirituality. Political rule in the colonies by French, Spain and Belgians besides the Americans, gradually imposed their rules and traditions on consequent generations. Slaves were forced to observe the rules of their masters in simple matters like time observation and tools used during wars and working hours in the fields. They adopted the colonialists’ medicines, languages and belief systems, although some African traditions are infused to date. They were allowed limited formal education to aid in faster adaptation of such means. Slaves were also prompted to shift and adapt to the way of life of their masters as a means to survival. It led to the formation of African-Americans as they are known to be today.
This book examines slavery to a point of assimilation of Africans. Wood details the engagements forced on Africans through wars of independence and building the American economy. The book examines the survival instinct of the Africans during this phase and their adaptation through learning the language of the Americans, converting to Christianity or holding fast to Islam. They also embraced the western concept of human rights and would advocate for their recognition and shunning of most of their African cultural practices and traditions. Beyond chapter seven, the author expounds on the realization by Africans and their unity in fighting for their rights through violent and non-violent means (Wood, 1996, p. 53). The revolutionary war and the concept of liberty contributed greatly to their success in the eventual years.
Exiles: The story of the American maroons analyzes the effect of slavery that led to Africans running away from the camps to seek refuge in other regions of the south. The mountains of California and swamps of South Carolina were the preferred hiding places as they sheltered slaves in a more concealing and almost comfortable fashion. Men, children and women escaped to bury themselves in these grounds, and they are now commonly referred to as maroons. They developed their own traditions, cultures and enabling skills to shelter them from the harshness of slavery. Men, children and women would flee in their own rights abandoning their families for the greater good of progressing the generation. The whites had terrorized the Africans to a point that they could no longer take it. They had to act by running to the world regardless of the dangers or impending consequences as one maroon, Tom Wilson, was quoted ‘I felt safer among the alligators than among the whites’ (Diouf, 2007, p. 96).
They ran with the intent of never looking back. When captured, maroons would be subjected to torture through branding, whipping and public humiliation. They were left hungry as a form of punishment, killed by the militia or had dogs set on them to make an entertainment of their suffering. This writings depict the extent of dehumanization suffered by Africans in their plight to seek freedom and deliverance. They survived for days, months and years fighting the war against their masters and horning developmental skills in their camps. Maroons were able to come together and even form families within their hiding places. ‘To survive you have to be bold enough to let go’ (Diouf, 2007, p. 90). They created families, went for hunting and gathering, planted crops, stole clothes and supplements like tools and weapons from the masters with the help of plantation slaves and championed for their survival. One of the most famous valleys of survival is the Great Dismal Swamp. There were two categories of slave maroon, the borderline maroons being the first one. They lived in swamps and near plantations. They depended on the slave workers for food and supplements. They also carried out small trading activities with poor whites, but their missions were shorter and would only last a few months before they were caught or returned themselves into slavery. The second category was called hinterland maroons. Hey were more determined to not return. They built caves in the world where the influence of the whites would not easily penetrate. From there they also planted a variety of crops and stole tools used in fighting to further guard themselves. ‘Wilderness meant silence; maroons were always on the guard for the sound of approaching patrons’ (Diouf, 2007, p. 403). Diouf’s writing joins these two groups due to their unique efforts to make a revolt. Their shrewdness, willingness to face danger in the world and resilience were arguably the greatest contributory factors to the end of slavery in the American society. However, it remains a fact that is still overlooked in literary works on slavery.
Among the receptors of the worst effects of slavery were women and children. Stolen childhood: Slave youth in the nineteenth century America represents an analysis of the livelihood of these groups in the era of slavery. The blacks were treated like property that could be traded and used as masters wanted. The soldiers especially took advantage of this situation to propagate acts of violence against women and children. The latter were exposed to emotional turmoil and were abused through child labor practices at a very tender age. They were not allowed to get formal education; they were informally educated for survival by their parents and could be traded and separated from their families as their masters wished. Women could be raped in the presence of husbands and children (King, 1996, p. 84). They would at other times be sold off separating the whole families. In some instances, they had duties of serving in the farms besides preparing food and taking care of the children. This torture however, did not match up to watching their children suffering harm in the hands of their masters. Children were at the mercy of their owners who would at times decide to educate them and inform them on religious practices and the western way of life. The innocence of children would be stripped away as they grew up to discover they are meant to work hard and not to enjoy in play and fun. Their fathers would be stripped and beaten publicly to serve as a lesson to the children and the fathers. They were owned and sold to these monsters for life. King expounds that children would be subjected to punishment meant for adults, they would also be sexually exploited by their masters and soldiers and, in turn, aged before time or died young. King explores how the status of a child was determined by that of the mother. He also examines the disparities between the white child and the black slave child in the then society. If the mother was a free woman, the child had time to play, have fun, learn how to count during games and enjoy other benefits of free people (King, 1996, p. 35). If the mother was still owned, the child would be subjected to ill treatment. Such children would be neglected and abused. The book also further explains the state of livelihood after slavery, which did not seem to improve with time. Effects of the trade took a toll on Africans and led to more anguish as they suffered lack and want. Even while liberated, the blacks remained at the foot of the economic ladder and continued to be indirectly oppressed by the whites.
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From the above writers’ perspectives, it is apparent that slavery was a negatively perceived concept by the slaves. It subjected women, men and children to emotional, physical and psychological torture. Despite all these, slaves contributed to building the American economy to the state it has to date. They were exposed to harshness in the hands of their masters as they toiled in the farms and accompanied them to wars with rivalry states. This was through chaining, handcuffing and being made to walk long distances. They would also work in farms under very deplorable conditions. They did not have food, clothing or means of sustaining themselves. They were left at the mercies of their master who often would thrash them in front of their wives and children and sell them off separating and breaking their family ties. Slavery made the blacks feel unwanted and useless; on many occasions, they would prefer death to the sufferings, and many of them committed suicide. Many others died during shipments. With time slave trade became a popular occurrence that saw an increase in shipment and an effort to civilize the slaves. They were made to abandon their African traditions and learn new languages, new religious practice and a new way of living all together. Assimilation into the western culture was a progressive and gradual process, incepted mainly in young men and children. Women and children were on the harshest receiving end of slave trade effects. They suffered sexual exploitation and were traded like goods. They were subjected to mental torture by being made observe their fathers and husbands being punished. They lacked proper clothing and lived in deplorable conditions. With increasing inflicting of pain by the masters, the slaves sought to rescue themselves and developed the maroon movements, the members of which escaped and fought from the bushes. They were a strong force that traded with poor whites and acquired weapons to protect themselves. They planted crops to sustain themselves in valleys and mountains and collaborated with workers in the farms to further their livelihoods. Moreover, maroons even created families. They would however suffer public humiliation and branding when caught by the white soldiers. Regardless, they chose to fight and defend themselves in this age of terror.
The books are written from the perspective that appeals to the readers’ conscience. The authors objectively meet the target of the audience’s quest through elaborateness and precision by giving personal accounts of some slaves in the documentation. Readers are able to relate and identify with the struggles of these slaves during the 17th and 18th century. The writers report accounts of slaves through interviews, reviews of journals and other writings representing their struggles and way of life in the era of slavery. The challenges faced in those days are still relevant to date as now humankind experiences a different form of slavery. The Western world has been able to maintain its power and control over blacks by ensuring they are economically incapacitated and drawn to its influence. Today, instead of chaining and caging, Africans slavery is continued through chaining their economic progress, lending them money for developments and ensuring they always bend to their tune. African leaders have continued the trend by being very selfish and self-seeking which resulted in corrupt means and hunger for power to control their fellow man. The black American is arguably the greatest enemy to his/her fellows. They discriminate against each other on basis of skin colors and economic abilities and kill each other. There is need for the invention of modern day maroon troops that will unite as a black force and fight slavery in one voice.