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Slavery In US Essay, Research Paper

The Slaves? And The Slaveowners? Views Of Slavery ?That face of

his, the hungry cannibals Would not have touched, would not have stained with

blood;– But you are more inhuman, more inexorable, Oh! ten times more than

tigers of Hyrcania.? Shakespeare I chose the topic about slavery for my

research paper because I thought it would be an interesting experience doing

research 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 that

because slavery was abolished very recently in terms of historical periods of

time, it still has an impact on today?s economic and political life. Searching

for the writings by slave owners was a more difficult task then searching for

the writings by slaves. However, I found a lot of useful material in various

sources. The slavery in the United States is no doubt a shameful history of our

country. White people transferred the slaves living in Africa to the New Land

and treated them as their property, not as human beings. The living and working

conditions of slaves and their food were extremely poor. Those were inhuman

conditions in which the slaves had to survive. Endless executions of the slaves

made the situation even worse. Slavery was a period of time when one race

treated 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 of

slaves and slave owners on slavery were the opposite to each other. That can be

seen in various slaves? and slave owners? descriptions of slavery. Slaves

described their dwellings, food, clothes, labor, and the terrible treatment of

slaves by their masters. On the other hand, slave owners described the

relationships between slaves and their masters in a very positive way. They

argued that slavery is very beneficial for the slaves and the slaves are very

happy to live with their masters. Let us now consider both these points of views

in details. First of all, let us look at the slaves? description of the cloth

they wore. The clothes supply was as minimum as possible and the quality of the

clothes was very bad. Here is how one of the slaves describes it. ?Our dress

was of tow cloth; for the children nothing but a shirt; for the older ones a

pair of pantaloons or a gown in addition, according to the sex. … In winter, a

round 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 items

was the only things available to the slaves. Certainly, it was not enough for

the people who worked very hard for more than ten hours a day. The clothes were

very dirty and with holes all over the place pretty soon. Imagine if you have to

wear the same shirt day after day for the long time. The masters did not care

about 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 when

it was cold outside (Feldstein 45). However, some slaves say there were some

masters who gave some extra material for the children, but it was not sufficient

any way. Others gave any additional clothes only for extra work (Feldstein 45).

As for the slave owners? seeing the slaves? situation, one of the

slaveholders reveals that he used to distribute new clothes once a year (Feldstein

45). 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 quite

differently. One anonymous slave owner in his letter to Lord Brougham argues

that ?…as a slave, he [a black person] would have at least the protection of

one master interested in his welfare; as a freeman, almost beyond the pale of

government protection, with no one to take care of him, of a despised and

inferior race, a stranger in a land of strangers, how miserable would be his

fate!?(Williams 41) That is what this person really believes, and he was not

alone. The slave owners really believed that slavery was very beneficial for the

slaves, and they clothed their slaves well. According to the slaves, their

dwellings 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 the

conditions of the slaves were. One of the slaves remembers that the hut usually

was ?…one-room log cabin… without a partition and a total furnishing were

generally a bed, a bench and a few cooking utilities?(Feldstein 42). Another

former 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). It

is obvious that these cabins with no furniture inside did not seem like

people?s homes. The slaves lived almost outside. Some of the emancipated

slaves 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 his

experience 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 the

rain [drove] through them…?(Lester 63-64). As for the furniture of the

cabins, another former slave remembers that he used to sleep on a plank twelve

inches wide and ten feet long. As a pillow he used a stick of wood. He had only

one blanket and nothing else to make himself warmer (Lester 63). Except cold,

rain, and wind, many slaves suffered from a great amount of mosquitoes. Some

slaves remember that they kept a smoke from their fireplaces all night to secure

themselves from all the insects (Moulton 19). Sleeping on the planks, being

cold, wet during the rains, and in the smoke; that was the way slaves lived in

their huts. These conditions of living made slaves? lives very difficult and

caring for children almost impossible. Let us now see how slave owners saw the

slaves? conditions of living. Here is what a slaveholder tells in one of his

letter. ?The condition of the slaves of the United States… is far in advance

of that of any similar number of laborers following similar occupations, in any

other land under the sun?(Williams 32). Obviously, from what we have heard

from the slaves we can claim that this statement is not very accurate. The

slaves did not have very good houses as this person implies. But one thing

puzzled me when I read it. What makes the author of this letter be so confident

in his words? Where is his proof? It is very hard to believe that practically

with nowhere to live, nothing to wear or eat, the condition of the slaves was so

good as the person argues. Many slaves say that the food they ate at the

plantations was extremely bad and insufficient. One of the former slaves

remembers that they had only two meals a day. The first time they ate was at

twelve 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. According

to a slave the meal itself usually consisted of cornmeal and salt herrings,

?…to which was added in summer a little buttermilk and the few vegetables

which each might raise for himself and his family on the little piece of

ground…?(Lester 64). A former slave remembers that the very typical thing

for a plantation was that children younger than eight years old did not receive

any food at all. They could eat only what their parents left over from their

meals (Feldstein 44). Certainly, many female slaves did not eat already very

scanty food to feed their children. The same person remembers that returning

home late at night women mixed cornmeal with a little water, and backed it on

the fire (Feldstein 43). That was the only time when children could eat during

the day. With so scarce food as the slaves had, it was almost impossible to

survive. Charles Ball, a former slave, wrote that there were a lot of

?…raids on the smokehouse…? (Feldstein 43). That was the only way slaves

could get some extra food to feed themselves and their children. However,

Charles Ball added that ?…if a slave were caught stealing, his punishment

would… be severe?(Feldstein 43). A former slave remembers that he used to

steal some food from his master to survive. He says that if a turkey was stolen

by the slaves, they tried to implicate an imaginary fox. When they stole

potatoes, they tried to implicate the hogs (Feldstein 45). As we can see the

conditions of the slaves were inhuman. They had to have a lot of endurance to

survive in their situation. The slave owners? viewing of how they fed their

slaves 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 Lord

Brougham that ?…America found in the slave… a savage, and she has

civilized him!… She found him naked and starving, and she has clothed and fed

him!?(Williams 32) Again, this person was not alone who thought that

slaveholders ?clothed and fed? the slaves. Many slave owners shared the same

point 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 as

of 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 the

plantations very hard. They were called to work at five o?clock in the morning

and they worked until late night (Feldstein 48). Often slaves had to work

without any tools. One of the former slaves wrote that they were given a row in

the field and they had to remove all the weeds from there. He remembers that in

the end of the day, overseers checked everyone?s row. ?For every… stray

weed that had been left in the row,… the slave who had left it got a flopping

more or less severe?(Feldstein 48). Another former slave remembers that they

had to plough with the oxen or mules. ?The women as frequently as the men

perform[ed] this labor, feeding, currying, and taking care of their teams and in

all respects doing the field and stable work?(Lester 65). Also, we have some

memories of former slaves that tell us how difficult it was to work on the

cotton plantation. Men, women, and children, all had to work on the plantation.

He remembers that ?…women and children picked cotton till the blood runs

from the tips of their fingers…?(Feldstein 47). He also remembers that they

feared the flogging every minute of their work (Feldstein 47). They could not

stop working even for a moment. According to another former slave, a woman

surrounded with her children, half starved, was often ?…whipped at night if

she does not perform her task?(Moulton 18). Women did not have time to care

for their children; they had to work as much as men. They had to bring their

little children with them to the field and put them in the field dirt. The

children were alone all day crying because they were hungry and were not seeing

their mothers. A slave remembers that often these children were ?…found dead

in the field and in the quarter for want of the care of their

mothers?(Feldstein 48). Leaving children in the field was also dangerous

because of the poisonous snakes. A slave remembers that some women worked with

their children on their back because of those snakes (Moulton 18). It is well

known that the slaves? labor is the most hard and miserable among all kinds of

labor. And these accounts only prove the fact. Many slave owners accepted that

the slaves worked very hard. One of the former slave owners testified that when

the business went quite poorly, ?…the slaves were called up to work long

before 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 how

evil it was to force the slaves to work for so long time. Another

ex-slaveholder, Colonel Bingham, wrote an essay on slavery when slavery was

already abolished, but he was still confident that slavery was more beneficial

for black population then a free state. In his essay, Bingham says that

?…the race antagonism… [is] no where perhaps more strong then among the

white laborers of the North West against the negro…?(Bingham 247). He

implies here that the slaves? labor was more beneficial for the slaves because

they were not oppressed racially. However, the institute of slavery oppressed

the slaves in a enormous degree and some personal antagonism in the North is

nothing in comparing with slavery. Also it does not justify the inhuman

exploitation of the slaves. The most terrible and sad aspect of slavery

described by the slaves is their punishments by their masters. It is the fact

that the whippings often were very severe. It is hard to believe that some

people could do all these terrible things to other people. Harry Thomas, a

fugitive slave, remembers one of the terrible mornings. ?…The master came

for 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 the

paddle. … He whipped till he broke the paddle. After that, he took me to the

house, and hit me with a hickory stick over the head and shoulders, a dozen

times or more: then he got salt and water, and a corn cob, and scrubbed me. Then

he sent me to water the hogs, naked as I was, in January?(?Testimony Of The

Canadian Fugitives? 7). It is very scary what this person went through while

he was a slave. William Hall, another fugitive slave, described one more example

of the executions. ?I saw nine persons at different times, made fast to four

stakes, and whipped with a leather strap from their neck to their heels and on

the bottoms of their feet, raising blisters: then the blisters broken with a

plaited whip, the overseer standing off and fetching hard blows. I have seen a

man faint under this treatment. I saw one about eighteen years old… used in

this way: seven weeks after he fainted in consequence; his nerves were so

shattered that he seemed like a man of fifty?(?Testimony Of The Canadian

Fugitives? 9) As for the slave owners, N. L. Rice made a very interesting

argument when he made a speech participating in the debates on slavery held in

the City of Cincinnati in October 1845. He said that ?…the laws of India

make the wife the slave of the husband; and even in Ohio, a man may so treat his

wife as to render her life a burden, without being in danger of the penalty of

the law. Shall we then denounce the marriage relation as in itself

sinful??(Blanchard, Rice 56) He accepts that the slaves were treated very

badly, 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 that

would protect a woman from domestic violence. Also his argument is very week in

protecting slavery. However, many slave owners of that time were convinced by

his 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 different

perception of the relations between slaves and their masters. He denies a bad

treatment of the slaves by their masters at all. He says that ?…in the

history of the whole world there never were as kindly relations existing between

two races on the same soil as between the slave owner and the slave in the South

before the Civil War?(Bingham 248). As a proof of his words he says that he

always loved black people. He gives an example of how much he loved a black

woman who helped his parents to raise him. He says that he ?…loved her next

to [his] parents?(Bingham 248). But how about other black people whom he

exploited and punished pretty regularly? Did he love them, also? Definitely it

is very week argument, but it reveals slave owners? seeing of the relationship

between a slave and his master. We can see how distorted it was. We have seen

writings and memories of both former slaves and slave owners. We found out that

the slaves and slaveholders saw the slavery in absolutely different ways. I

personally believe the slaves? accounts that described every detail in

constructing the reality of slavery. The slaveholders, however, talked in

general 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 these

people could be so evil? I think the best answer for the question can be found

in Inside View Of Slavery by C. G. Parsons who was a visitor from the North at

the time of slavery. He wrote that the system of slavery influences the

slaveholder, and its ?…tendency to harden the heart, to dry up all the

fountains of human sympathy, to make one callous to the wrongs and the woes of

these around him, is stamped upon the very surface of society throughout the

South?(Parsons 203). Probably that is the answer to the question why the slave

owners? point of view is so different from the slaves?. Probably, it is true

that the system of slavery affected them in such a way that they were not able

to comprehend the reality of their evil. After writing this paper I realized

that I did not really know that much about the history of the living conditions

of slaves. I certainly knew many historical facts about slavery, but I did not

know much about the conditions of the slaves, their food, dwellings, etc. The

experience of writing this paper was quite useful for me in understanding the

salves? life and in trying to understand different points of views on slavery.

It was very interesting to think why salves? and slave owners? writings are

so different. As a whole, thinking about the topic itself gave me an opportunity

to study the very interesting period in our history. I am glad that I wrote this

paper and I am satisfied with my paper as a result of my research. Works Cited

Albers, 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 View

Of The Negro Question In The South. Asheville: European Edition Of Harper?s

Monthly Magazine, 1900. 243-256. Blanchard Rev. J. and N. L. Rice. A Debate On

Slavery: Held In The City Of Cincinnati, Of October, 1845. Detroit: Negro

History Press, 1846. 34-60. Feldstein, Stanley. Once A Slave. New York: William

Morrow 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 The

Planters. Boston: John P. Jewett And Company, 1855. 203-231. Williams, James.

Letters On Slavery From The Old World. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.



Albers, 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 View

Of The Negro Question In The South. Asheville: European Edition Of Harper?s

Monthly Magazine, 1900. 243-256. Blanchard Rev. J. and N. L. Rice. A Debate On

Slavery: Held In The City Of Cincinnati, Of October, 1845. Detroit: Negro

History Press, 1846. 34-60. Feldstein, Stanley. Once A Slave. New York: William

Morrow 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 The

Planters. Boston: John P. Jewett And Company, 1855. 203-231. Williams, James.

Letters On Slavery From The Old World. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.


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