Slave Life and Economy - Paper Example

Published: 2021-08-07
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University of Richmond
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The colonial society on the eve of revolution was characterized by some developments. European countries colonized Most of North and South America between the years of 1700-1775. A total of 32 colonies were under British rule. A few colonies rebelled initially against British due, but later the rebellion was subdued. Economic, social and political differences between the provinces were the main course of the uprising. During the conquest by the cradle which occurred in the 1700s, the population in the North and South American colonies increased gradually. The colonies became more populated than colonialists. Most of the people in the colonies, however, lived in the rural areas. The most populous colonies during this era included; Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

The colonial era of revolution was also characterized by a mingling of races. The total population of the colonies comprised of the multicolored community which consisted of European groups, I.e., French, Welsh, Dutch, Irish, Swedes, Jews, Swiss and Scots Highlanders. The indigenous population which also included the native North America people constituted the highest percentage of the population. The structure of the colonial society was such that the richest owned more than 2/3 of the taxable wealth. However, this group represented only 10% of the total population. The large number which represented more than 90% of the population consisted of homeless poor. This community was forced to work and wear a large red "P" on their clothing. The influx of indentured servants increased in all the colonies. These servants were the lower classes. The black slaves were at the lowest level in the colonial society. The slaves were forced to work on the plantations owned by the Europeans. They were also forced to work at the colonialist's homes as maids and houseboys. Slavery during the colonial era was characterized by a lot of oppression of the slaves by the high-class society. Various economic developments were also experienced during this period by the colonies. Trade among the colonies experienced growth due to the increased innovations and technological developments.

Slavery in the Eighteenth Century

Slavery during the eighteenth century varied for many reasons including, plantation development, mechanical advancements region and climate. In the colonial American society slave numbers differed within the different areas. North America had a lower number of slaves as compared to the South America. The northern colonies are estimated to have had a population of close to 19,108 slaves while the southern slave population was determined to be close to 1,519,017 slaves. However, though slavery differed in some ways in these regions, it still held many common practices that went unchanged.

The northern colonies initially used black indentured servants who worked in their households. The servants were remunerated through a small amount compared to the work they were supposed to complete. They carried out the household chores and occasionally assisted in the plantations. The servants were initially not oppressed by their masters. The servants were allowed to mingle with other servants as well as practice religion. However, things began to change, and the indentured servants were later developed into slavery. In Chesapeake a colonial territory in the north, slaves worked in the tobacco plantations. Tobacco production demand had initially increased, and the current production levels could not meet the needs. The colonial plantation owners, therefore, had to think of ways to improve the production. Slaves were a solution to this challenge, and thus the colonialists resulted in slavery which was a source of cheap labor. Chesapeake colonial masters sometimes worked alongside their slaves mainly on smaller farms. The North colonies had a diverse economy thus did not entirely rely on slave labor. On the other hand, the South relied heavily on slavery since its economy was mainly driven by the plantations as well as industries which employed slave labor. Northern colonies had slave codes which were less pervasive as compared to the Southern colonies, i.e., Carolina and Georgia. The vast number of plantations in the south led to the high practice of slavery. The adequate climate for commercial agriculture was also another factor that influenced slavery in the south. The large plantations cultivated rice and cotton which required massive labor requirements. Later cotton became the main crop grown on the farms due to its demand.

Slave Life

Slave life varied considerably depending on some factors. However, the slave was characterized by similar issues and challenges. Firstly, slaves worked on the plantations of the colonialists from sunrise to sunset. They used to work six days a week and only allowed to rest a day. The slaves would go for days without adequate food and at times were provided with low-quality food which in the modern era would be unsuitable for animals to eat let alone a human being. Free time provided for the slaves was adequate to perform personal duties and work. The slaves had to work to supplement the diet that was provided by the slave masters. They used to farm small pieces of land which were supplied by the slave masters. Slaves also practiced fishing as a source of food. A high number of slave owners did not give the slaves adequate clothing. The women slaves had to work extra hours to cloth their families especially the children. Slave owners rarely provided slaves with meat and fish to supplement their diets. Slaves usually wore rags due to the lack of adequate clothing and money to purchase clothes. The prevailing attitude among the many slave owners was that they were only required to provide the slaves with minimum clothing and. To acquire decent clothing and food, the slaves had to work extra during their limited free time.

Secondly, slaveholders provided little shelter. Slaves lived in small shacks which were provided by the colonial masters. The sheds were so small that the slave families had to share. The floor of the cabins was dirty and had little or no furniture at all. In extreme cases, the slaves lived in small stick houses with poor roofing. During rainy seasons the slaves had to endure the rains, wind and cold as the cabins could not protect them from it. This is contrary to want to be depicted in most slave films and art. The slaveholders were mainly concerned with their economic gains and thus provided the minimums needed for survival. Provision of the adequate and decent shelter was viewed by the colonial masters as unnecessary costs which would bring down the profits anticipated from the cotton plantations. The slave masters were only concerned with keeping the slaves alive and working rather than providing for comfort safety and health requirements.

Thirdly, slaves were allowed to practice autonomy in a few areas. Slaves were allowed to create families. However, this has been argued by analysts that this freedom was to the benefit of the slave masters. Through marrying and building families, the slave owners were assured of increase source of labor since the families would bear children. The children would later work on their plantations and thus add to their aim of immersing wealth. The colonial law provided that a child takes the legal status of his/her mother. This means that a child born to a slave mother would automatically acquire the slave status by law. This would remain even if the childs father were a freeman. This provision was to the advantage of the colonial masters who ensured that children born by a slave mother remained their property as opposed to a situation whereby the legal status adopted by the child was that of his/her dad. There was a provision also that required slaves to ask for permission from their slave masters to marry. This ensured that the slave's only married other slaves thus protecting the source of labor. However, slave marriages lacked legal protection. Slaveholders could dissolve slave marriages at their convenience and liking.

Fourthly, slaves lacked legal protection from the inhuman treatment by the colonial masters. The slaves were not protected by the imperial laws and thus could not bring complainants to the court of harsh treatment by the colonial masters. A black man could not testify against a white man in a court of law. This held in all types of criminal acts committed by the white men, i.e., murder, abuse, rape, etc. In North Carolina, before 1774 it was not a crime to kill a slave. However, after 1774, the law provided that a white man who had killed a slave and it is their first offense, he/she would receive a twelve months imprisonment. In a case whereby the slave was killed in a situation whereby the white was using moderate correction to punish the slave. The law provided that no criminal charges would be placed on the white man.

Slave life was also characterized by the presence of a slave court. The court was separate from the regular court system available in the colonial era. The court had the authority to try the slaves and sentence them. Also, the court had powers to execute the slaves convicted of a certain degree of crimes but would do so without trial by a jury. The slaves lacked representation of an attorney had on rare occasions would witnesses be called to the stand to witness. Over ninety percent of the tried slaves in the slave courts were convicted during the colonial period.

Also, to the slave courts, slaveholders had a separate private justice system in each of the plantations. This private justice system was tasked with listening to cases presented by the plantation slave owner. The slave owner would rush out punishments they felt appropriate to the slaves. Slave courts were preserved for criminal cases which were considered to bear similar status, i.e., felonious assault of a white man as well as the murder of a white man. Criminal acts among the slaves were handled by the colonial masters at the private justice systems.

Lastly, slave life had a few escapes on the life of the slave. To begin with, the slaves were allowed to practice religion. The slaves were permitted by their slave masters to participate in their traditional worship on the seventh day of the week. Slaves in North Carolina converted to Christianity due to this freedom. However, most of the slaves still maintained their traditional religious traditions. These traditions were from their native land; Africa where the slaves initially originated. The Christian missionaries who were presented during the colonial times failed to understand these traditional forms of worship and thus condemned the practices. They embarked on an effort to try and convert the slaves to Christianity. However, the earlier slaves were reluctant to give up their traditional forms of worship. Anglican missionaries were the first to translate slaves to Christianity. The rate of conversion was initially low but increased towards the 1800s. Slave masters did not interfere with this as their primary concern was seeing to it that the slaves provided the much-needed labor at the plantations.

Slave Economy

Slavery was a significant part of the agricultural economies of the south during the eve of revolution, i.e., 18th and 19th century. The south, however, had its economy anchored on slavery more as compared to North America. The cotton industry gained a lot of popularity in the south after the eighteenth century. Many slaves worked on the plantations in the south as the soil and the climate allowed for lucrative crops such as cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice.

Apart from providing cheap labor in the colonial plantations, slaves also carried out personal economic activities to sustain their families. The slave families engaged in internal commercial activities...

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