"Slavery and the Human Experience"

Evan Joseph

Lightning Talk Presented: March 10, 2014
Published: March 16, 2014

The slave experience was generally full of hardship and torment. Slaves were expected to work from dawn until dusk and had little time for leisure. A child as young as ten years old could be seen working alongside an adult slave. Women worked just as long as men did and also served as field hands. Depending on the type of plantation or farm that they worked on, slaves were expected to yield a certain amount of crops and would be whipped if the expectations were not met.

Overseers were often employed to drive slaves to their fullest working potential. They would do this by whatever means they found necessary. Occasionally, however, a "driver" was used instead of an overseer. The key difference between the two is that a driver was a slave himself. A driver was usually hated among other slaves because he was regarded as a sellout who wanted the extra perks and benefits a driver would get. In both cases, maximum efficiency was desired and could be guaranteed through fear and brutal treatment.

The legality regarding treatment of slaves and their rights was outlined in slave codes, which were passed by states. Although the codes varied, a lot of them had similar laws. Slave owners could generally treat their slaves in any way they saw fit. A master who severely beats or even kills his slave would not receive legal action because it would be seen as punishment for his or her disobedience. A white person who mistreats another master's slave would be charged with only a trespassing of property. Sexual abuses, such as rape, occurred often and were rarely reported. A slave could not testify in court, so there would not be a way for them to legally challenge their master's treatment.

Marriage between slaves was not considered legally binding. A slave master could split up a family and sell them separately if he desired. If a slave did want to get married though, he or she must ask permission from the owner. A master would usually allow a marriage between slaves from his plantation or a neighboring one because it would ensure that the children born from the married couple would become his slaves as well. A child born to a slave mother would indeed become a slave. However, for whatever reason, a master could disallow a marriage to take place.

Screen: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl--Excerpt (6:13).

Slaves usually lived in small cabins with very little furniture. It would be uncomfortably crowded, cold in the winter, and hot in the summer. The food and clothing they received was the bare minimum. Any kind of extra clothing a slave would want for his family would have to be made by hand during their limited spare time. Domestic slaves, those who lived and worked in the master's home, were better off than plantation slaves. They received better food, shelter, and clothing, but it was still by no means great.

Slaves did have some things to look forward to. Two major things that gave slaves hope were education and religion. Educating slaves was made illegal in many southern states. The idea behind it was that a slave that is educated is more likely to rebel. Leaving slaves ignorant made it a lot less likely for them to revolt and secured white superiority. A person caught educating a slave would be fined and could potentially serve jail time. However, it definitely occurred. Slaves learned from parents, family, and fellow slaves. Infrequently, a master would even teach his slaves how to read so they could perform certain tasks better.

Some masters were persuaded by Christian missionaries to allow Bible reading sessions. Slaves in the 1700s generally held on to their traditions and religions from Africa. In the 1800s, Christian missionaries saw increasing numbers of conversions. Although some masters welcomed Christianity among slaves, there was skepticism due to the possibility of revolts stemming from religion.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It declared the freedom of slaves in ten states. It was not a law passed by Congress, however. It was not until January 31, 1865, that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, which abolished slavery in the United States.

Slavery is a dreaded but also important part of American history. A clear understanding of what happened in the 1800s regarding slavery was necessary for the Civil Rights movement to take place and for African Americans to finally get the equality they deserved.

Works Consulted

    A.D. Mayo. The New Education in the New South. np c. 1880. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

      Education in the South after the Civil War came slowly but surely. More and more funding was given to schools to provide education to former slaves. Helping them become literate and get on their feet to start a new life is something that was necessary and a great step to equality.

    "African Americans in Slavery." NPS.gov. United States Government, 8 Feb. 2001. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      This government article describes where slaves originated from and how they got to America. The types of labor and the importance of cotton is detailed in this article. The insight provided includes valuable information that is from a trusted source.

    ASHP CML. "Doing As They Can: Slave Life in the American South." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.

      This is a short narrative of a supposed slave in the south who talked about slaves secretly disobeying masters and learning to keep quiet.

    Civil War in Art. Terra Foundation for American Art, 2012. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.

      This site showcased many Civil War art exhibits. Many pictures of slaves and plantations are illustrated. These pictures give a much more visual understanding of slavery than an article would give.

    Covey, Herbert C., and Dwight Eisnach. What the Slaves Ate. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2009. Print.

      This book focuses specifically on the foods and foodways from slave narratives, giving us an idea of what the slaves ate.

    Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Print.

      This autobiography details the life of one of the most famous slaves in American history, Frederick Douglass.

    Goldstein, Holly Markovitz. "St. Augustine's 'Slave Market': A Visual History." Southern Spaces. Emory Libraries, 28 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      This article gives interesting information on a specific region affected by slavery. It helps broaden my knowledge on the subject by going in depth in a specific area.

    Grandy, Moses. Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy. London: Gilpin, 1843. Print.

      The life of Moses Grandy is illustrated perfectly in this autobiography. First-hand accounts of slaves provide a fairly reliable source of information and can give people an idea of how their life truly was.

    Harper, Douglas. Slave North. Slavery in the North, 2003. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      Although this site does not specifically talk about southern slavery, it does provide some decent insight of slavery in the North. An understanding of northern slavery is ideal in our understanding of slavery in general.

    "Horrible Experiences Slaves Endured in the 1800s." History Engine. Richmond University, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This article shows that slave life was equally terrible for men and women. They would work the same number of hours, but men would get the more labor-intensive tasks.

    Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton. Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

      This richly illustrated book present the human side of slavery through stories of slaves themselves. It highlights the struggles slaves went through.

    Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents In the Life Of a Slave Girl. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. Print.

      This novel is a real story about a slave girl and the hell that she went through. It was a very important read for my research.

    JoinProject451. "'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' by Harriet Jacobs." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 December 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This video shows a woman narrating her life in a play. She recounts an encounter with her slave master where she lashed out at him angrily.

    Kimberly Sambol-Tosco. "The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

      For slaves, education and the arts were often considered taboo. Educating a slave could result in a hefty fine and jail time. Slaves would often create stories and pass them orally, and they would even create songs and instruments. This was an interesting example of how slaves struggled with education and tried to enhance life with songs.

    Kimberly Sambol-Tosco. "The Slave Experience: Religion." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

      Slaves oftentimes did not have much to look forward to. Religion is one thing that brought them together and gave them hope. This detailed accounting of slave religion provides relevant information on this important topic.

    Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. Print.

      This novel gives an overview of slavery from the 1600s to the end of the Civil War. Although our class is focused on the 19th century, learning what happened before then is vital to understanding the subject.

    "The Life of a Slave." Learn North Carolina. LearnNC, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      The focus of the article was the life of slaves in North Carolina, which is informative and gives a good idea of specific and localized slavery in a particular state.

    Mimms, Elizabeth. "Equity In Elementary and Secondary Education: Race, Gender, and National Origin Issues." Umich.edu. University of Michigan, 2007. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This timeline of important events regarding African Americans gives many places to expand my research. I can pick one of the broad events specified in the timeline and do further research on the subjects.

    Rose, Willie Lee. History of Slavery in North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print.

      This book is supposed to be a novel form of a documentary on the slavery in North America. As such, it is very informative and contains a multitude of information I found very useful to my research.

    "Slave Life and Slave Codes." U.S. History Online Textbook. Independence Hall Association, 2008. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

      Slaves were expected to be completely obedient. Disobedience could result in getting beaten. Treating another one's slaves poorly was considered a trespassing of property, not actual assault. This article gave good insight on actual slave life in the 19th century.

    "Slave Resistances and Revolts." Digital History. Digital History, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      Not only did this article highlight large slave revolts, but it also explained ways slaves could rebel each day. They could break tools, fake illness, or run away, among other things. It gives a good idea of some ways slaves might "fight" back.

    "Slavery and the African American Experience." North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial. NCCivilWar, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      Laws that were passed against slaves and blacks in general were detailed in this article, which is very helpful in my research. Pictures of slave reenactments made visualization easier.

    "Slavery in the American South." CRF-USA. Constitutional Rights Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      In this article, a detailed accounting is given of a free black man in the south being captured and the process of selling him. His reaction is quoted in the article. Living quarters and punishments to disobedient slaves were also explained to an extent.

    "Slavery in the Civil War Era." Civil War Home. Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War, 24 Feb. 2002. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      This article explains the slave system and its regulations. Slaves tried to undermine the south but were successfully for labor used anyway, despite their subversion. The article eventually talks about Lincoln and his efforts on abolition.

    "Slavery in the United States." civilwar.org. Civil War Trust, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      A brief overview of the history of slavery is given, which serves as a good foundation of knowledge on the subject. Photographs taken of slaves in the 1800s are included in the article, which greatly increases the value of it.

    "The Southern Argument for Slavery." U.S. History Online Textbook. Independence Hall Association, 2008. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This article expressed why some southerners defended slavery. They thought emancipation would result in widespread unemployment and chaos. It would have a lasting impact on the economy

    Taylor, Yuval, ed. I Was Born a Slave. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1999. Print.

      This anthology includes several narratives written by former slaves themselves. Two of the more famous narratives in this anthology come from Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner.

    Tptweb. "Slavery By Another Name - Promo." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      Provides a decent amount of quality information on the broad topic of slavery. It's a promotional of a documentary.

    "Treatment of Slaves in the U.S." Boundless. Boundless Teaching Platform, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      General elements of slave treatment are included in this article. Sexual abuse was actually fairly common among slave owners and his slaves. This article gives an idea of what slaves had to go through when they were disobedient or acted in a way that dissatisfied their masters.

    Williams, James. Narrative of James Williams, an American Slave. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838. Print.

      This autobiography is about a man who worked as a cotton driver on a plantation in Alabama for several years. Autobiographies are a great read because it's a first-hand account of what happened in a slave's life.







Whipped slave. Photograph taken April 2, 1863 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.