What were the most important factors affecting the slave experience?
Historian Drew Gilpin Faust’s essay on the relationship between mas 1 ter and slaves on James Henry Hammond’s South Carolina plantation is based on Hammond’s extensive plantation records. Although Faust bases her discussion about planter-slave relations on documents produced by a white master, they reveal a great deal about slave autonomy and power and the existence of a separate slave community on the plantation. With the primary sources, you will be able to evaluate Faust’s findings with evidence from other slaves and plantations. As you read this selection, note how Hammond at tempted to assert mastery over his slaves and whether psychological manipulation or physical punishment was more important in his efforts to achieve control. Also pay attention to the ways Hammond’s slaves tried to undermine his efforts to dominate them. Finally, note what Hammond’s slaves did at the end of the Civil War, and Faust’s explanation for their behavior.
* Community, Culture, and Conflict on an Antebellum Plantation (1980)
DREW GILPIN FAUST
A dozen miles south of Augusta, Georgia, the Savannah River curves gently, creating two bends that were known to ante-bellum steamboat captains as Stingy Venus and Hog Crawl Round. Nearby, on the South Carolina shore, a cliff abruptly rises almost thirty feet above the water. Mineral deposits in the soil give the promontory a metallic tinge, and the bank and the plantation of which it was part came as early as colonial times to be called Silver Bluff.
In 1831, an opportune marriage placed this property in the hands of twenty-four-year-old James Henry Hammond. An upwardly mobile law yer, erstwile schoolmaster and newspaper editor, the young Carolinian had achieved through matrimony the status the Old South accorded to plant ers alone; When he arrived to take possession of his estate, he found and carefully listed in his diary 10,800 acres of land, a dwelling, assorted house hold effects, and 147 bondsmen. But along with these valued acquisitions, he was to receive a challenge he had not anticipated. As he sought to exert his mastery over the labor force on which the prosperity of his undertaking depended, he was to discover that his task entailed more than simply directing 147 individual lives. Hammond had to dominate a complex social order already in existence on the plantation and to struggle for the next three de cades to control what he called a “system of roguery” amongst his slaves.
Hammond astutely recognized that black life on his plantation was structured and organized as a “system,” the very existence of which seemed necessarily a challenge to his absolute control—and therefore, as he perceived it, a kind of “roguery.” Because Hammond’s mastery over his bondsmen depended upon his success at undermining slave society and culture, he established a carefully designed plan of physical and psychological domination in hopes of destroying the foundations of black solidarity. Until he relinquished management of the estate to his sons in the late 1850s, Hammond kept extraordinarily detailed records. Including daily entries concerning the treatment, work patterns, and vital statistics ofhis slaves, they reveal a striking portrait of slave culture and resistance and of the highly structured efforts Hammond took to overpower it. . . . While Hammond sought to assert both dominance and legitimacy, the slaves at Silver Bluff strove to maintain networks of communication and community as the bases of their personal and cultural autonomy. This struggle, which constantly tested the ingenuity and strength of both the owner and his slaves, touched everything from religion to work routines to health, and even determined the complex pattern of unauthorized absences from the
The desire to control black religious life led Hammond to endeavor to replace independent black worship with devotions entirely under white direction. At first he tried to compel slaves into white churches simply by making black ones unavailable, and even sought to prevent his neighbors from permitting black churches on their own lands. But soon he took positive steps to provide the kind of religious environment he deemed appropriate for his slaves. For a number of years he hired itinerant ministers for Sunday after noon slave services. By 1845, however, Hammond had constructed a Method ist Church for his plantation and named it St. Catherine’s after his wife.
The piety of the Hammond slaves became a source of admiration even to visitors. A house guest on the plantation in the 1860s found the services at St. Catherine’s “solemn and impressive,” a tribute, she felt, to Hammond’s be neficent control over his slaves. “There was a little company of white people,” she recalled, “the flower of centuries of civilization, among hundreds of blacks but yesterday … in savagery, now peaceful, contented, respectful and comprehending the worship of God. … By reason of Senator Hammond’s wise discipline,” the visitor assured her readers, there was no evidence of “religious excesses,” the usual “mixture of hysteria and conversion” that she believed characterized most black religion. These slaves, it appeared to an outsider, had abandoned religious ecstasy for the reverential passivity prescribed for them by white cultural norms.
Hammond had taken great pains to establish just such white standards amongst his slaves, and the visitor’s description of the behavior he succeeded in eliciting from his bondsmen would undoubtedly have pleased him. But even Hammond recognized that the decorous behavior of his slaves within the walls of St. Catherine’s was but an outward compliance with his directives. He seemed unable to eradicate black religious expression, evidences of which appeared to him like tips of an iceberg indicating an underlying pattern of independent belief and worship that persisted among his slaves. Twenty years after his original decision to eliminate the slave church, Hammond recorded in his plantation diary, “Have ordered all church meetings to be broken up except at the Church with a white preacher.” Hammond’s slaves had over the preceding decades tested their master’s initial resolve, quietly asserting their right to their own religious life in face of his attempt to deny it to them….
The struggle for power manifested in the conflict over religious autonomy was paralleled in other areas of slave life on the Hammond domain. Just as Hammond sought from the time of his arrival in 1831 to control religious behavior, so too he desired to supervise work patterns more closely. “When I first began to plant,” he later reminisced, “I found my people in very bad subjection from the long want of a master and it required of me a year of severity which cost me infinite pain.” The slaves, accustomed to a far less rigorous system of management, resented his attempts and tried to under mine his drive for efficiency. “The negroes are trying me,” Hammond re marked in his diary on more than one occasion during the early months of his tenure. In response, he was firm, recording frequent floggings of slaves who refused to comply with his will. When several bondsmen sought to extend the Christmas holiday by declining to return to work as scheduled, Hammond was unyielding, forcing them back to the fields and whipping them as well.
As the weeks passed, the instances of beatings and overt insubordina tion noted in plantation records diminished; a more subtle form of conflict emerged. Over the next decade, this struggle over work patterns at Silver Bluff fixed on the issue of task versus gang labor. The slaves clearly preferred the independent management of their time offered by the task system, while Hammond feared the autonomy it provided the bondsmen….
Although at this time Hammond succeeded in establishing the gang as the predominant form of labor at Silver Bluff, the victory was apparently neither final nor total. Indeed, it may simply have served to regularize the pattern of poorly performed work Hammond had viewed as a form of resis tance to the gang system. He continued to record hoeing that ignored weeds, picking that passed over bulging cotton bolls, and cultivating that destroyed both mule and plough. But eventually the slaves here too won a compro mise. By 1850, Hammond was referring once again in his correspondence and in his plantation diary to task work, although he complained bitterly about continuing poor performance and the frequent departure of many bondsmen from the fields as early as midafternoon.
Hammond seemed not so much to master as to manipulate his slaves, offering a system not just of punishments, but of positive inducements, ranging from picking contests to single out the most diligent hands, to occasional rituals of rewards for all, such as Christmas holidays; rations of sugar, tobacco and coffee; midsummer barbecues; or even the pipes sent all adult slaves from Europe when Hammond departed on the Grand Tour. The slaves were more than just passive recipients of these sporadic benefits; they in turn manipulated their master for those payments and privileges they had come to see as their due. Hammond complained that his bondsmen’s demands led him against his will to countenance a slave force “too well fed & otherwise well treated,” but he nevertheless could not entirely resist their claims. When after a particularly poor record of work by slaves in the fall of 1847 Hammond sought to shorten the usual Christmas holiday, he ruefully recorded on December 26 that he had been “persuaded out of my decision by the Negroes.”
Hammond and his slaves arrived at a sort of accommodation on the issue of work. But in this process, Hammond had to adjust his desires and expectations as significantly as did his bondsmen. His abstract notions of order and absolute control were never to be fully realized. He and his slaves reached a truce that permitted a level of production acceptable to Hammond and a level of endeavor tolerable to his slaves….
For some Silver Bluff residents, however, there could be no such compromise. Instead of seeking indirectly to avoid the domination inher ent to slavery, these individuals confronted it, turning to arson and escape as overt expressions of their rebelliousness. Throughout the period of his management, Hammond referred to mysterious fires that would break out in the gin house on one occasion, the mill house or the plantation hospital the next. While these depredations could not be linked to specific individ uals and only minimally affected the operation of the plantation, running away offered the angry slave a potentially more effective means of immedi ate resistance to the master’s control. Between 1831 and 1855, Hammond recorded fifty-three attempts at escape by his bondsmen. Because he was sometimes absent from the plantation for months at a time during these decades, serving in political office or travelling in Europe, it seems unlikely that this list is complete. Nevertheless, Hammond’s slave records provide sufficient information about the personal attributes of the runaways, the cir cumstances of their departure, the length of their absence and the nature of their family ties to demonstrate the meaning and significance of the action within the wider context of plantation life.
The most striking—and depressing—fact about Silver Bluff’s runaways is that Hammond records no instance of a successful escape. A total of thirty-seven different slaves were listed as endeavoring to leave the plan tation. Thirty-five percent of these were repeaters, although no slave was recorded as making more than three attempts. Newly purchased slaves who made several efforts to escape were often sold; those with long-term ties to the Silver Bluff community eventually abandoned the endeavor….
While the decision to run away might appear to be a rejection of the ties of black community as well as the chains of bondage, the way in which escape functioned at Silver Bluff shows it usually to have operated somewhat dif ferently. Because there were no runaways who achieved permanent freedom and because most escapees did not get far, they remained in a very real sense a part of the slave community they had seemingly fled. Forty-three percent of the runaways at the Bluff left with others. The small proportion—sixteen percent of the total—of females were almost without exception running with husbands or joining spouses who had already departed. Once slaves escaped, they succeeded in remaining at large an average of forty-nine days. Sixty-five percent were captured and the rest returned voluntarily. The distribution of compulsory and elective returns over the calendar year reveals that harsh weather was a significant factor in persuading slaves to give themselves up. Seventy-seven percent of those returning in the winter months did so voluntarily, while in the spring and summer eighty percent were brought back against their will. Weather and workload made summer the runaway season, and fifty-eight percent of all escape attempts occurred in June, July, and August.
While certain individuals—notably young males, particularly those with out family ties—were most likely to become runaways, the slave commu nity as a whole provided these individuals with assistance and support. Hammond himself recognized that runaways often went no farther than the nearby Savannah River swamps, where they survived on food provided by those remaining at home. The ties between the escapees and the community were sufficiently strong that Hammond endeavored to force runaways to return by disciplining the rest of the slave force. On at least one occasion Hammond determined to stop the meat allowance of the entire plantation until the runaways came in. In another instance, he severely flogged four slaves harboring two runaways, hoping thereby to break the personal and communal bonds that made prolonged absences possible….
In the initial part of his tenure at the Bluff, Hammond recorded efforts to round up runaway slaves by means of extensive searches through the swamps on horseback or with packs of dogs. After the first decade, however, he made little mention of such vigorous measures and seems for the most part simply to have waited for his escapees to be captured by neighbors, turn up in nearby jails, or return home. In order to encourage voluntary sur render, Hammond announced a policy of punishment for runaways that allotted ten lashes for each day absent to those recaptured by force and three lashes per day to those returning of their own will. The establishment of this standardized rule integrated the problem of runaways into the system of rewards and punishments at Silver Bluff and rendered it an aspect of the understanding existing between master and slaves. Since no one escaped permanently, such a rule served to set forth the cost of unauthorized absence and encouraged those who had left in irrational rage to return as soon as their tempers had cooled. When the respected fifty-three-year-old driver John Shubrick was flogged for drunkenness, he fled in fury and mortifica tion, but within a week was back exercising his customary responsibility in plantation affairs.. ..
While runaways disrupted routine and challenged Hammond’s system of management, his greatest anxieties about loss of control arose from the fear that slave dissatisfaction would be exploited by external forces to threaten the fine balance of concession and oppression he had established. From the beginning of his tenure at the Bluff, he sought to isolate his bondsmen from outside influences, prohibiting their trading in local stores, selling produce to neighbors, marrying off the plantation or interacting too closely with hands on the steamboats that refuelled at the Bluff landing. Despite such efforts, however, Hammond perceived during the 1840s and 1850s an ever-growing threat to his power arising from challenges levelled at the peculiar institu tion as a whole. To Hammond’s horror, it seemed impossible to keep infor mation about growing abolition sentiment from the slaves. Such knowledge, Hammond feared, might provide the bondsmen with additional bases for ideological autonomy and greater motivation to resist his control… .
At the beginning of the war, Hammond was uncertain about the sym pathies of his slaves. In 1861, he noted that they appeared “anxious,” but remarked “Cant tell which side.” As the fighting grew closer, with the firing of large guns near the coast audible at Silver Bluff, Hammond began to sense growing disloyalty among his slaves, and to confront intensifying problems of control. “Negroes demoralized greatly. Stealing right and left,” he recorded in 1863. By the middle of that year, it seemed certain that the slaves expected “some great change.” Despite his efforts, they seemed at all times “well apprised” of war news, sinking into “heavy gloom” at any Union reverse. Hammond observed the appearance of “a peculiar furtive glance with which they regard me & a hanging off from me that I do not like.” They seemed to “shut up their faces & cease their cheerful greetings.” Hammond felt the war had rendered his control tenuous, and he believed that even though his slaves sought to appear “passive . . . the roar of a single cannon of the Federal’s would make them frantic—savage cutthroats and incendiaries.”
Hammond never witnessed the Union conquest of the South or the emanci pation of his slaves, for he died in November of 1864. Despite his dire prophe cies, however, the people of Silver Bluff did not rise in revolution against those who had oppressed them for so long. Unlike many slaves elsewhere who fled during the war itself, the Hammond bondsmen did not depart even when freedom was proclaimed. “We have not lost many negroes,” Hammond’s widow complained in September 1865 as she worried about having too many mouths to feed. “I wish we could get clear of many of the useless ones.”
Given the turbulent nature of the interaction between Hammond and his slaves in the antebellum years, it would be misguided to regard the blacks’ decision to remain on the plantation as evidence either of docility or of indif ference about freedom. Instead, it might better be understood as final testi mony to the importance of that solidarity we have seen among bondsmen on the Hammond estate. These blacks were more concerned to continue together as a group than to flee Hammond’s domination. In the preoccupation with the undeniable importance of the master-slave relationship, historians may have failed fully to recognize how for many bondsmen, the positive meaning of the web of slave interrelationships was a more central influence than were the oppressive intrusions of the power of the master. Silver Bluff had been home to many of these slaves before Hammond ever arrived; the community had preceded him, and now it had outlived him. Its maintenance and autonomy were of the highest priority to its members, keeping them at Silver Bluff even when any single freedman’s desire for personal liberty might have best been realized in flight. The values central to this cultural group were more closely associated with the forces of tradition and commu nity than with an individualistic revolutionary romanticism….
.. . These freedmen saw themselves and their aspirations defined less by the oppressions of slavery than by the positive accomplishments of autono mous black community that they had achieved even under the domain of the peculiar institution.
Most of the sources in this chapter were produced by slaves or former slaves. Such documents are very helpful to historians who want to know what slav ery was like. As you evaluate them, consider what evidence they provide for a separate slave culture and about slaves’ opportunities to resist or escape the oppression of slavery.
Clark, a former slave, delivered this speech in 1842. It was recorded by abolitionist Lydia Maria Child and published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard. As you read it, consider whether Clark’s sympathetic Brooklyn, New York, audience might have influenced what he said.
* Leaves from a Slave’s Journal of Life (1842) LEWIS CLARK
“There was a widower in Kentucky, who took one of his women slaves into the house. She told her master one day that seven of the young girls had poked fun at her for the way she was living. This raised his ambition. Til teach ’em to make fun!’ said he. So he sent the woman away, and ordered the young girls to come to him, one by one.” (An ill-mannered and gross laughter, among the boys of the audience, here seemed to embarrass him.) “Perhaps I had better not try to tell this story,” he continued; “for I cannot tell it as it was; though surely it is more shameful to have such things done, than it is to tell of ’em. He got mad with the girls, because they complained to their mothers; but he didn’t like to punish ’em for that, for fear it would make a talk. So he ordered ’em to go out into the field to do work that was too hard for ’em. Six of ’em said they couldn’t do it; but the mother of the seventh, guessing what it was for, told her to go, and do the best she could. The other six was every one of ’em tied up naked, and flogged, for disobey ing orders. Now, who would like to be a slave, even if there was nothing bad about it but such treatment of his sisters and daughters? But there’s a worse thing yet about slavery; the worst thing in the whole lot; though it’s all bad, from the butt end to the pint. I mean the patter-rollers (patrols.) … If a slave don’t open his door to them at any time of night they break it down. They steal his money if they can find it, and act just as they please with his wives and daughters. If a husband dares to say a word, or even look as if he wasn’t quite satisfied, they tie him up and give him thirty-nine lashes. If there’s any likely young girls in a slave’s hut, they’re mighty apt to have business there, especially if they think any colored young man takes a fancy to any of ’em. Maybe he’ll get a pass from his master, and go to see the young girl for a few hours. The patter-rollers break in and find him there. They’ll abuse the girl as bad as they can, a purpose to provoke him. If he looks cross, they give him a flogging, tear up his pass, turn him out of doors, and then take him up and whip him for being out without a pass. If the slave says they tore it up, they swear he lies; and nine times out of ten the master won’t come out agin ’em; for they say it won’t do to let the niggers suppose they may complain of the patter-rollers; they must be taught that it’s their business to obey ’em in everything; and the patter-roller knows that very well. Oh, how often I’ve seen the poor girls sob and cry, when there’s been such goings on! Maybe you think, because they’re slaves, they an’t got no feeling and no shame? A woman’s being a slave, don’t stop her having genteel ideas; that is, according to their way, and as far as they can. They know they must submit to their masters; besides, their masters, maybe, dress ’em up, and make ’em little presents, and give ’em more privileges, while the whim lasts; but that an’t like having a parcel of low, dirty, swearing, drunk patter-rollers let loose among ’em, like so many hogs. This breaks down their spirits dread fully, and makes ’em wish they was dead.
“Now who among you would like to have your wives, and daughters, and sisters, in such a situation? This is what every slave in all these States is exposed to.—Yet folks go from these parts down to Kentucky, and come back, and say the slaves have enough to eat and drink, and they are very happy, and they wouldn’t mind it much to be slaves themselves. I’d like to have ’em try it; it would teach ’em a little more than they know now.”
*. Slave Interviews
Many former slaves were interviewed during and after the Civil War. Some of these interviews appeared in newspapers and magazines. In addition, the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, established in 1863, gathered testi mony from numerous former slaves. Former bondsmen were also interviewed by scholars in the early twentieth century. In the 1930s, for instance, Works Progress Administration interviewers recorded the testimony of former slaves. As you read these interviews, note what they reveal about the treatment of slaves, the threat to families under slavery, and the female slave experience.
* Harry McMillan, Interviewed by the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (1863)
I am about 40 years of age, and was born in Georgia but came to Beaufort when a small boy. I was owned by General Eustis and lived upon his plantation.
Q. Tell me about the tasks colored men had to do?
A. In old secesh times each man had to do two tasks, which are 42 rows or half an acre, in “breaking” the land, and in “listing” each person had to do a task and a half. In planting every hand had to do an acre a day; in hoeing your first hoeing where you hoe flat was two tasks, and your second hoeing, which is done across the beds, was also two tasks. After going through those two operations you had a third which was two and a half tasks, when you had to go over the cotton to thin out the plants leaving two in each hill.
Q. How many hours a day did you work?
A. Under the old secesh times every morning till night—beginning at daylight and continuing till 5 or 6 at night.
Q. But you stopped for your meals?
A. You had to get your victuals standing at your hoe; you cooked it over night yourself or else an old woman was assigned to cook for all the hands, and she or your children brought the food to the field.
Q. You never sat down and took yourdood together as families?
A. No, sir; never had time for it.
Q. The women had the same day’s work as the men; but suppose a
woman was in the family way was her task less?
A. No, sir; most of times she had to do the same work. Sometimes the wife of the planter learned the condition of the woman and said to her hus band you must cut down her day’s work. Sometimes the women had their children in the field.
Source: John W. Blassingame, ed., Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), pp. 379-380. (Origi nally from American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission Interviews .)
Charity Bowery (1847-1848)
Interviewed, 1847-1848. New York. by Lydia Maria Child
b. 1782. North Carolina Enslaved: North Carolina House servant
Source: Emancipation, April 5, 1848.
The following story was told me by an aged colored woman in New York. I shall endeavor to relate it precisely in her own words, so oft repeated that they are tolerably impressed on my memory. Some confusion of names, dates, and incidents, I may very naturally make. I profess only to give “the pith and marrow” of Charity’s story, deprived of the highly dramatic effect it received from her swelling emotions, earnest looks and changing tones. “I am about sixty-five years old. I was born on an estate called Pembroke, about three miles from Edenton, North Carolina. My master was very kind to his slaves. If an overseer whipped them, he turned him away….
“Sixteen children I’ve had, first and last, and twelve I’ve nursed for my mis tress. From the time my first baby was born, I always set my heart upon buy ing freedom for some of my children. I thought it was of more consequence to them than to me; for I was old and used to being a slave. But mistress McKinley wouldn’t let me have my children. One after another—one after another—he sold ’em away from me. Oh, how many times that woman broke my heart!”
Here her voice choked, and the tears began to flow. She wiped them quickly with the corner of her apron, and continued: “I tried every way I could to lay up a copper, to buy my children, but I found it pretty hard; for mistress kept me at work all the time. It was ‘Charity! Charity, Charity!’ from morning till night. Charity do this or that.
“I used to do the washings of the family; and large washings they were. The public road run right by my little hut, and I thought to myself, while I stood there at the wash-tub, I might just as well as not be earning something to buy my children. So I set up a little oyster-board, and when anybody came along that wanted a few oysters and a cracker, I left my wash-tub and waited upon them. When I got a little money laid up, I went to my mistress and tried to buy one of my children. She knew not how long my heart had been set upon it, and how hard I had worked for it. But she wouldn’t let me have one! So I went to work again; and I set up late o’night, in hopes I could earn enough to tempt her. When I had two hundred dollars I went to her again; but she thought she could find a better market, and she wouldn’t let me have one. At last, what do you think that woman did? She sold me and five of my children to the specula tors! Oh, how I did feel when I heard my children was sold to the speculators!”
Uncle Ben (1910)
Interviewed, 1910. Alabama, Enslaved: Alabama, Texas, by Mary White Ovington N.C.
“Yes, we was worked hard in those days, we sure was. You think, maybe, people done have a rest on Sunday? I done never see it. Half-time work on Sunday pullin’ fodder in the field for the mules an’ cows. Then Sunday mornin’ we’d build fences for the cattle, old fashion’ bridge fences, we calls ’em. The women too was worked terrible. You see the railroad yonder? Women helped grade that railroad. Other times they’d plow in the field an’ when night come they mus’ spin two cuts o’ cotton. Don’t matter how tired they might be, they mus’ spin their two cuts or in the morning they’d be whipt. That’s what I’s tellin’ you.
“There were terrible persecution then. I’s seen men with fly blows. You don’t know what that mean, perhaps? Fly blows is what we calls the meat when it turns to maggots. They’d whip a man until he’s so warm the blood creep thru his shirt, an’ the flies ‘ud come. Workin’ out in the fiel’ all the time, bendin’ over the hoe, an’ the flies suckin’ the blood. Some men wouldn’t stan’ it. They’d take to the woods, an’ then the dogs ‘ud ketch ’em. After that they’d be chained, an’ you’d hear rattling like they was chained logs. When night comes, there by deir bed there’d be a staple. The overseer’d come along an’ lock the chain to the staple so they couldn’t get away. In the mornin’ the overseer let ’em out. They done put ’em, too, in screw boxes, what you call presses. When they put down the foller-block, then the nigger was tight. It was out-o-doors an’ he was like to freeze. They chain him in the graveyard, too, keep him there all the night to skeer him. Oh, I knows what I’s talking about, yes ma’am. Now an’ den you can ketch some ole person who knows, who bear witness like hallelujah meeting, to what I say. …”
* Sarah Fitzpatrick (1938)
Interviewed, 1938. Alabama, by Thomas Campbell
b. 1847. Alabama Enslaved: Alabama House servant
In dem times “Niggers” had’ta hav’va pass to go to church too. White fo’ks axed you whut church ya’ wan’na go to an’ dey issue ya a pass, write on dere de name ob de church an’ de name ob de pu’son an’ de time to git back home. Co’se when “Niggers” went to church wid deir white fo’ks dey didn’t haf’ta have no pass. Ya’see, us “Niggers” had our meetin’ in de white fo’ks Baptist Church in de town o’ Tuskegee. Dere’s a place up in de loft dere now dat dey built fer de “Nigger” slaves to ‘tend church wid de white fo’ks. White preacher he preach to de white fo’ks an’ when he git thu’ wid dem he preach some to de “Niggers”. Telhem to mind deir Marster an’ b’have deyself an’ dey’ll go to Hebben when dey die. Dey come ’round an’ tell us to pray, git Tigion, dat wuz on Sun’dy, but dey’ed beat de life out’cha de next day ef ya didn’t walk de chalk line. Our white fo’ks made us go to church an’ Sun’dy School too. Dey made us read de Catechism. G’ess de re’son fo’ dat wuz, dey tho’t it made us min’ dem bedder. “Niggers” commence’ta wanna go to church by de’selves, even ef dey had’ta meet in de white church. So white fo’ks have deir service in de mornin’ an’ “Niggers” have deirs in de evenin’, a’ter dey clean up, wash de dishes, an’ look a’ter ever’thing. Den de white fo’ks come back at night an’ have deir Church Service. Ya’see “Niggers” lack’ta shout a whole lot an’ wid de white fo’ks al’round’em, dey couldn’t shout jes’ lack dey want to. …
Mos’ all de “Niggers” use’ta steal in Slav’ry time, co’se ’bout all dey stole f’om dey Marster ‘n Mistrus wuz sum’in t’eat, steal hogs ‘n kill’um an’ clean’um at night den dey dig a pit an’ put’um ‘way in de woods, den dey go back dere an’ git some uv’it when dey want it, an’ cook it. Som’times de white fo’ks ketch’em wid it an’ beat’em. Didn’t have no cook stove in dem times. Som’ uv’em cook out doors, some uv’em in fi’place. Any “Nigger” would steal when he didn’t get ’nuff t’eat. Ya’fam’ly didn’t git but three an’ haf’ pounds uv meat, one an’ er haf’ pecks uv meal a week, dat wont e’nuff, so “Niggers” jes’ had’ta steal. He didn’t steal nothing’ but sump’in t’eat dough. Co’se ma’ white fo’ks wux high class, deir house gals didn’t have no right to steal ’cause ma’ mistrus tel’ us anythin’ we want, don’t take it, but ax’ fer it. Ef we wanna wear piece of her jewry we ax’ her fer it an’ she let us wear it, to church som’time. She leave money ‘roun an’ udder val’able things an’ we didn’t bodder it. Dey taught us not to take things. I knowed whar ma’ marster kep’ his money box: he kep’it right out in de sec’e’tary. He nuver did bodder ’bout lockin’ it up fo’m us. We jes’ didn’t bodder his money Durin’ de war de white fo’ks sunt all de cot’on dey could get to de war. . . . “Niggers” didn’t think dat stealin’ wuz so bad in dem times. Fak’ is dey didn’t call it stealin’, dey called it takin’. Dey say’ “I ain’t takin’ fo’m nobody but ma’ mistrus an’ Marster, an’ I’m doin’ dat ’cause I’se hongry.” “Niggers” use’ta steal cot’on an’ anything dey could sell to ‘nudder white man. Co’se dats whut de whites taught’em.
Henry Bibb, the author of this letter, escaped from slavery in 1840. He campaigned for the Liberty Party in 1844 and 1845 and, after the pas sage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, moved to Canada. Note what this letter reveals about Bibb’s treatment and his feelings toward his former master.
* A Slave’s Letter to His Former Master (1844)
Detroit, March 23d, 1844 William Gatewood
Dear Sir:—I am happy to inform you that you are not mistaken in the man whom you sold as property, and received pay for as such. But I thank God that I am not property now, but am regarded as a man like yourself, and although I live far north, I am enjoying a comfortable living by my own industry. If you should ever chance to be traveling this way, and will call on me, I will use you better than you did me while you held me as a slave. Think not that I have any malice against you, for the cruel treatment which you inflicted on me while I was in your power. As it was the custom of your country, to treat your fellow men as you did me and my little family, I can freely forgive you. I wish to be remembered in love to my aged mother, and friends; please tell her that if we should never meet again in this life, my prayer shall be to God that we may meet in Heaven, where parting shall be no more.
You wish to be remembered to King and Jack. I am pleased, sir, to inform you that they are both here, well, and doing well. They are both living in Canada West. They are now the owners of better farms than the men who once owned them.
You may perhaps think hard of us for running away from slavery, but as to myself, I have but one apology to make for it, which is this: I have only to regret that I did not start at an earlier period. I might have been free long before I was. But you had it in your power to have kept me there much lon ger than you did. I think it is very probable that I should have been a toiling slave on your plantation today, if you had treated me differently.
To be compelled to stand by and see you whip and slash my wife without mercy, when I could afford her no protection, not even by offering myself to suffer the lash in her place, was more than I felt it to be the duty of a slave hus band to endure, while the way was open to Canada. My infant child was also frequently flogged by Mrs. Gatewood, for crying, until its skin was bruised lit erally purple. This kind of treatment was what drove me from home and fam ily, to seek a better home for them. But I am willing to forget the past. I should be pleased to hear from you again, on the reception of this, and should also be very happy to correspond with you often, if it should be agreeable to yourself. I subscribe myself a friend to the oppressed, and Liberty forever.
Although masters often used religion to teach obedience to their slaves, the slaves often derived other lessons from what they were taught. As you read this spiritual, ask yourself how religion helped sustain a slave culture. What lessons did slaves take from the Bible?
* A Slave Spiritual (ca. 1863)
THE SHIP OF ZION.
Dis de good ole ship o’ Zion,
Dis de good ole ship o’ Zion,
Dis de good ole ship o’ Zion,
And she’s makin’ for de Promise Land.
She hab angels for de sailors. (Thrice.) And she’s, &c.
And how you know dey’s angels? (Thrice.) And she’s, &c.
Good Lord, shall I be de one? (Thrice.) And she’s, &c.
Dat ship is out a-sailid, sailin’, sailin’, And she’s, &c.
She’s a-sailin’ mighty steady, steady, steady, And she’s, &c.
She’ll neither reel nor totter, totter, totter, And she’s, &c.
She’s a-sailing’ away cold Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, And she’s, &c.
King Jesus is de captain, captain, captain, And she’s makin’ for de Promise Land.
Brer (Brother) Rabbit was a familiar figure to slaves. As in African folk tales, slave stories assigned human qualities to animals. What traits allow Brer Rabbit to survive against a much stronger Brer Fox? What might these animal characters have stood for?
* Brer Rabbit Outsmarts Brer Fox
De fox had a way goin’ to de man hawg-pen an’ eatin’ up all his hawg. So de people didn’ know how to ketch de fox. An’ so de rabbit was goin’ along one Sunday mornin’. Say was goin’ to church. Ber Fox singin’, “Good-mornin’, Ber Rabbit!” Ber Rabbit singin’, “Good-mornin’, Ber Fox!” Say, “Whey you goin’?” Say, “I’m goin’ to church.” Ber Fox say, “Dis is my time. I’m hungry dis mornin’. I’m goin’ to ketch you.”—”O Ber Fox! leave me off dis mornin’! I will sen’ you to a man house where he got a penful of pretty little pig, an’ you will get yer brakefus’ fill. Ef you don’ believe me, you can tie me here, an’ you can go down to de house, an’ I’ll stay here until you come back.” So Ber Fox tie him. When he wen’ down to de house, de man had about fifty head of houn’-dawg. An’ de man tu’n de houn’-dawg loose on him. An’ de fox made de long run right by Ber Rabbit. Ber Fox say, “O Ber Rabbit! dose is no brakefus’, dose is a pile of houn’-dawg.”—”Yes, you was goin’ to eat
Source: Elsie Clews Parsons, Foke-Lore of the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society (Cambridge, Mass.), XVI: pp. 26-27, 66-67.
me, but dey will eat you for your brakefus’ and supper to-night.” An’ so dey did. Dey cut [caught] de fox. An’ Ber Rabbit give to de dawgs, “Gawd bless yer soul! dat what enemy get for meddlin’ Gawd’s people when dey goin’ to church.” Said, “I was goin’ to school all my life an’ learn every letter in de book but d, an’ D was death, an’ death was de en’ of Ber Fox.”
Artifacts from Slavery
Like other kinds of evidence, physical artifacts can tell historians much about what life was like for slaves. What does this evidence suggest about the opportunities for a separate existence in the slave quarters?
The abolitionist Frederick Douglass, himself a runaway slave, made a point illustrated by this chapter. A free man, said Douglass, “cannot see things in the same light with the slave, because he does not, and cannot, look from the same point from which the slave does.”6 The study of slavery demonstrates the need to write history from several vantage points. That lesson applies to many topics in history. In the next chapter, you will have the opportunity to assess historians’ conclusions about women in the North and South before the Civil War. Although most of these women had little in common with slaves, they also illustrate Douglass’s argument. Northern women did not necessarily look at their roles in society “from the same point” as their Southern coun terparts, and historians who ignore that fact will miss important differences.
The papers should not be long–no more than 3 pages (650 words ). Read the document and respond to the questions at the end. Number your responses to correspond to the questions and answer each question in a new paragraph. Each paragraph must include support drawn directly from the source. I look for more than a simple factual answer to the question. Tell me why you think your answer is correct. In other words you must justify your answer from the document itself in citing passage from the text . Show me that you have thought seriously about what you have read.
Through much of the 20th century, most historians were not interested int e bottom of society. Andrew Jackson’s life mattered; those of his slaves did not. Yet we cannot comprehend America’s past without understanding slavery. And that is impossible without knowing slavery’s impact of slaves. With these sources you will examine the lives slaves led within the institution filled with contradictions, deception, and self-deception.
Read the document and answer the questions
1) In what ways were slaves able to shape their own world on James Hammond’s Silver Bluff Plantation, according to source 1?
2) To what extent were Hammond’s slaves able to resist the oppression of slavery?
3) Do the primary sources support or contradict the essay’s conclusions about the nature of slavery?
4) What were the most important factors affecting the slave experience?