Monday, April 18, 2011

Slavery: Beyond Black and White

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Records show that the first group of laborers was Africans who arrived in Virginia on a Dutch Ship in 161. It was known that the Jamestown colonists treated the Africans as indentured servants. As years passed, many of these Africans received land and their freedom. Unfortunately, other Africans arrived in small groups, but it would be many years later when the Europeans would begin the systematic use of Africans as slave labor. Economics was a major issue. In Virginia, many indentured servants were purchased for 1,000 pounds of tobacco, while a slave might cost double or triple that amount. By the late 1600s, a decline in the indentured servant population doubled with an increase in the colonies overall wealth. Most arrivals to North America came abroad slave ships, not as indentured servants, but to be sold as slaves.

According to the Equiano packet, it stated that the European slave trade began on a small scale. A Portuguese sea captain landed on the Slave Coast, and captured twelve men in 1441. However, slave catching was not new in Africa. Muslim slavers had been selling black slaves to Middle Eastern buyers for centuries. It was also cited in the Equiano packet that the trade flourished for about 50 years. At this point of time, somewhere between 15 and 4 million of the West Africa’s most able-bodied men, women, and children were taken from their homes and spirited across the sea. Most of them ended up in the West Indies and South America. About 500,000 had been brought to colonial America by 1777. At that time of the American Revolution, one out of six Americans was a slave.

The journey across the Middle Passage was a complete nightmare of horrors. Slaves were crammed into dark airless hulls of the ship, and they were also shackled together in long rows. The struggle getting to the West Indies took about five weeks. The food was scarce and often rotten. The sick and helpless were thrown overboard and many went mad. Unfortunately, others threw themselves into the sea rather than succumb to slavery. More than 0% of the black people who set out from Africa never reached their destination.

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According to the Fredrick Douglas packet, he was a slave child, but at the time he was to young to work in the fields. So, he had a great amount of leisure time. The most he had to do was to drive up the cows at evening, keep fowls out of the garden, keep the front yard clean, and run errands for the master’s daughter, Mrs. Lucretia Auld. He would also help Master Daniel Lloyd in finding his birds, after he had shot them. They became quite attached, and Daniel was sort of a protector to him. Daniel wouldn’t allow the older boys to impose upon him. Fredrick was seldom whipped by his master and suffered little from food and cold weather. In February of 18, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated all of the treaties then in existence. Fifty-three Africans were purchased by two Spanish planters and put aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad for shipment to a Caribbean plantation. On July 1, 18, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered the planters to sail to Africa. On August 4, 18, the Amistad was seized off Long Island, NY, by the U.S. brig Washington. The planters were freed and the Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, CT, on charges of murder. Although the murder charges were dismissed, the Africans continued to be held in confinement as the focus of the case turned to salvage claims and property rights. President Van Buren was in favor of extraditing the Africans to Cuba. However, abolitionists in the North opposed extradition and raised money to defend the Africans. Claims to the Africans by the planters, the government of Spain, and the captain of the brig led the case to trial in the Federal District Court in Connecticut. The court ruled that the case fell within Federal jurisdiction and that the claims to the Africans as property were not legitimate because they were illegally held as slaves. The case went to the Supreme Court in January 1841, and former President John Quincy Adams argued the defendants case. Adams defended the right of the accused to fight to regain their freedom. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Africans, and 5 of them were returned to their homeland. The others died at sea or in prison while awaiting trial.

Yes there were exceptions to the black rule, but they were few and far between. Cited in the Fredrick Douglass packet, soon after he went to live with Mr. And Mrs. Auld, she was kind enough to teach him his A, B, C’s. After he learned this, she assisted him in learning to spell words of three and four letters. Just when he was progressing in his learning, Mr. Auld found out what was going on and immediately he instructed his wife to cut out these lessons. He explained to her that it was unlawful and unsafe, to teach a slave to read. Soon Fredrick understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. Now Fredrick had a new plan. He would make friends with little white boys, who he met in the street, so that they could teach him how to read. They would teach him at different times and places, and finally he succeeded in learning to read. Cited in the Equiano packet, his fate was not to be that of an ordinary slave, as he traveled extensively, eventually exploring the Artic. Eventually he was baptized with the name Gustavus I (Gustavus Vasa). He was one of the few slaves who became educated and as a result he was equipped to write him a journal.

To put it briefly, many of the slaves were treated poorly, but as an exception there were a few that were educated, and received their freedom. I feel that freedom has a major impact on a person. Having your freedom let’s you find out about life and who you are as a human being. People like Fredrick Douglass and Equiano, were very lucky to be in history books so that we, especially black people, can learn more about them.

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