Slavery remains to be among the significant sections of the American history despite being a sensitive topic; especially in the southern region. With that Florida was among the states in the south that exploited people from the African descent to improve their economy. The presence of slaves in Florida can be dated back to the sixteenth century where they played a significant role during the reign of the Spaniards. Their significance is associated with the decimation of Native Americans by diseases, warfare, and mistreatments in addition to a shortage of the population of Europeans (Bell 283). Therefore, the demand for the African slaves was high especially during the middle of the sixteenth century resulting in an early use of slaves in the region. It is worth noting that the slavery during the Spanish rule was a bit relaxed in regards to race by which slaves would exercise most of their rights when compared to the exploitation in the Old South. However, the exploitation in Florida became immense with time (Bell 283). The analysis is based on the role of slavery in Florida to understand the significance of the system to the American history.
Nature of Slavery in Florida
Slavery is viewed as a type of labor system whereby the primary concern of the slave owners was to ensure that work was done by the slaves. The labor system was characterized by cruelty in addition to being a well-driven economic device. In most large manors, overseers, mostly men, were kept in charge of ensuring that activities were running as expected (Cameron 24). The overseers were poor farmers who disliked the slaves with the view that the slaves were responsible for their poor status. Also, the slaves knew that the overseers did not like them and hence feared them especially since the overseers took the role of disciplinarians. They often punished slaves using whips and any other physical item that brought about immense pain on the slaves bodies. Some slaves saw the need of rebelling against the cruel overseers with the view that they could easily be disposed of since they acted as middlemen between the slave owners and the slaves (Cameron 24).
Slavery was introduced in Florida during the Spanish rule who were the first to discover the regions and also the first occupants in the year 1513 (Berlin 45). However, because of the Spanish influence, the slave system in the state was less brutal when compared to the slave systems of the Portuguese and the British. Heading towards the southern regions was viewed as a road to freedom especially for people in Georgia and Carolina. Florida was perceived as a state where people could find refuge. The Spanish rule allowed escaped slaves into La Florida for them to obtain freedom. A good example is the Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, a region that allowed the African slaves to protect their freedom and exercise their liberty (Berlin 46). There were several terms used to identify the slaves that include; African Seminoles, Black Seminoles, Seminole maroons, escaped slaves and Black warriors. The names illustrated the complex associations of the slaves who were trying to seek their liberty in the Spanish rule. It is worth noting that the Florida became a part of the United States in the year 1821 after the Spanish rule that had existed for about three centuries. The total population in Florida was approximately twelve thousand when it became a state. The majority of the population were the free African slaves, the Seminole and the Creek Indians. Most of the African slaves liked the less stressful racial environment. As stated earlier, La Florida was viewed as a haven for slaves from the states of Carolina and Georgia during the 1730s. It is important to note that despite the life of slaves in Florida being similarly difficult to the lives of slaves in the British territories, the church and various sections of the government in La Florida provided them with adequate legal protection ad plenty of opportunities for them to exercise their freedoms (Berlin 46).
Middle Florida was viewed as the black belt of the stated in 1830 because of the large population of slaves occupying the region. Examples of counties in the area with the large population include Madison, Jackson, Leon, Jefferson and Gadsden. Also, most slave owners in the black belt who owned large plantations cultivated mostly sugarcane for domestic use before cotton became the regions core cash crop (McMichael 187). Most of the farmers planted various plants instead of their staple. Examples of the crops include; okra, greens, corn, and squash. The life on the plantations bettered with time especially on larger units where the bondservants were allowed to create kinship connections broadly. Most of the slave women gave birth when they were very young. Also, some slave owners provided the slaves with the chances of choosing their heirs for the purpose of keeping their families intact. The first slave to be sold in Florida, Jefferson County, was Thomas, in the year 1865 for $5500. Thomas was only twenty-two years old. Religion became an important tool that brought together members of the African community (McMichael 188).
Religion made life tolerable in regards to the blend of religious practices of the Africans and the Euro-Christians. Most of the slaves went to churches of their owners that were also controlled by the whites. However, some meetings in the churches were segregated in regards to race while some included every person. The slaves took in the message of being equal in Gods presence despite most messages talking about obedience. They believed that they were special similarly to the whites and hence found reassurance in their well-being when going to church (McMichael 190).
Role of slaves in Florida
Slaves in Florida played a significant role during the Civil War. By 1845, the total population in Florida was 140,000 whereby 63000 of it were African Americans. Also, a majority of the African Americans were slaves (McMichael 205). The economy in Florida comprised mostly of crops and domestic animals. Despite slavery being present in Florida, some African Americans were not slaves. Most of them were given their freedom by their owners while some bought it. Also, the Creoles, who were free descendants of the Spaniards occupied the region. Slavery was viewed as a slave state once it was made a state. Being a slave state, it became a significant section of the civil war. Slavery and the rights of states were the main reasons behind the civil war (McMichael 210). The slaves played a huge role in the war whereby most of the men got recruited to the army while others ensured that the farms were still operating. Some provided their labor to make clothes that were sent to the army and gathered iron for the purpose of making guns, swords and other weapons. The war intensified after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln that freed every slave that was present in the southern regions. The confederate was not pleased with the proclamation. Most of the slaves that had been freed became part of the Union Army and focused on defeating the South such that their fellow people were released from captivity. Several wars took place in Florida with the Confederate winning most of them. However, Florida finally gave in in 1865 whereby the Union troops occupied Tallahassee and raised large the U.S. flag. The northerners and southerners became one and hence abolishing slave trade (McMichael 210). The slaves played significant roles during the civil war regarding joining the army, ensuring that the farms continued producing crops and providing clothes and making weapons for the troops.
The role of the slaves in Florida can be viewed in regards to the important relationship between the slave owners and the slaves. It is worth noting that the primary source of income during that time was agriculture for individuals who owned large plantations in the south. The slaves became the labor system which did the cultivation, planted crops, and the harvesting such that the crops were sold in the market (Winsboro & Knetsch 51). They would work for longer hours and take on difficult tasks in addition to being a large number when compared to the Europeans and the Native Americans. The owners, on the other hand, provided security, shelter, and food to the slaves in addition to allowing them to engage in religious practices. Religion united the slaves in the sense that they used it to comfort each other during their hardships. They gave each other hope with the view that God was listening to their pain and would one day redeem them from the misery. In other words, they strengthened each other through religion to make their lives tolerable (Winsboro & Knetsch 51).
The slaves, despite the oppression, saw the need for equality and freedom and therefore rebelled. Millet explains that individual from the maroon community who comprised of a broader network of settlements in Florida rebelled against the Anglo-American society. Their flight from torture indicated their need for freedom in the sense that they had to flee to save their lives. At the frontier, the Seminoles engaged in various wars to maintain their freedom and were found in various parts of North America. According to Opala, the Seminoles lived well with the Indians such that they assisted them in coping with Floridas climate. Opala states, The two groups led an independent life in the wilderness of northern Florida, rearing several generations of children in freedomand they recognized the American settlers and slave owners as their common enemy (Opala 2).
Slavery promoted the appreciation of other races especially among some slave owners who began to treat their slaves humanely (Winsboro & Knetsch 51). The owners ensured that the slaves lived in proper shelters and had enough food to eat. They also introduced them to their religions where the slaves received the message of love and equality. The owners were less aggressive when compared to the overseers who disliked the slaves and hence more aggressive. Also, the fact that the Civil War was driven by the issue of abolishing slave trade indicates that some people were not comfortable with the treatment accorded to slaves (Winsboro & Knetsch 51).
The end of slavery in America can be perceived to have shaped America into what it is today. As stated earlier, the analysis is based on the role of slavery in Florida to understand the significance of the system to the American history. Slaves played significant roles in Florida by; taking part in the civil war, boosting the states economy by working in the plantations, fighting for their freedom through frequent rebellions, and encouraging each other during their hardships.
Bell, Gregory Jason. "The British Influence on the Development of Florida, 17631783." Theories and Practices (2011): 283.
Berlin, Ira. Generations of captivity: a history of African-American slaves. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Cameron, Catherine M. "Commodities or gifts? Captive/slaves in small-scale societies." The Archaeology of Slavery: A Comparative Approach to Captivity and Coercion 41 (2014): 24.
McMichael, Francis Andrew. Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2008.
Opala, Joseph A. Black SeminolesGullahs Who Escaped From Slavery. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Winsboro, Irvin DS, and Joe Knetsch. "Florida Slaves, the" Saltwater Railroad" to the Bahamas, and Anglo-American Diplomacy." The Journal of Southern History 79.1 (2013): 51.
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