The Growth of Slavery in the American Colonies

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Whether America is being praised or looked down upon, one indisputable fact is America has done great things. Some good and some bad, but great. It is also indisputable that every decision has made America what it is today. Especially in terms of slavery. Even though it may have been one of the most unethical practices America has ever partaken in, it is also without a doubt the most contributing factor to the foundation of the US. Back when the US was known to be a land of only 13 colonies, slavery was everywhere. Slavery was one of the few things all the colonies had in common. However, the treatment of slaves, considering housing, punishments and extent of labor, was almost entirely different. These differences are best shown when analyzing the Southern and Northern colonies’ slaves.

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In Southern colonies, the slaves who worked on the fields usually lived on an area in the plantation. Though some slave owners have been known to provide housing for their slaves, others usually made their slaves build their own huts, “almost all had thatched roofs” (Wheeler, Historyonthenet.com). The slaves who had to build their own huts mostly modeled it after their own huts in Africa. Furniture, if they had any, was rickety and made to the simplest degree. The only guaranteed piece of furniture everyone had been a bed of straw and rags. In these small huts, up to 10 slaves were forced to live in these cramp spaces.

Field slave owners’ hesitance to spend any amount of money on their slaves is shown even more when it comes to providing food and clothing. Southern slaves lived on fatty meat and cornbread. They were provided pots and pans to cook and “some slaves used a hollowed out pumpkin shell called a calabash, to cook their food in” (Wheeler, Historyonthenet.com). The clothes given to slaves wasn’t any better than the food. Slaves were given one pair of shoes and 3 pairs of underwear yearly. But, some owners force their slaves to work the field naked.

Slaves on the plantation, worked from sunrise to sunset. Some owners allowed a day off once a month, others every Sunday off. Frederick Douglass said himself ‘We were worked in all weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain, blow, hail, or snow, too hard for us to work in the field…’ (Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). Farming tobacco, sugar, cotton, rice, etc. is hazardous, rigorous work. It takes a toll on all who work on it. This was depicted in a drawing called Slaves Harvesting in Cotton Fields in Georgia by Edouard Riou, showing slaves, men, women, and children, harvesting cotton in the fields.

The only slaves safe from it are the old woman who can no longer work and young children who are not old enough. The old looks after all the young and the young get all the food they could ask for. Studies show that owner’s did this to make sure the young grow up strong enough to work, then they cut them off to provide for the next generation. They young and old women are the only ones shown mercy, even pregnant women have to work until they give birth.

The slaves who worked in their owners’ house, who lived close to the property, lived considerably greater lives than those who worked in the fields. Their houses were better, they were fed better, and they were clothed better. However, a downside to this improved living is they were more likely to be subjected to their owners wrath and sudden outbursts than others.

However, it did not matter whether they were a field or house slave, all were delivered the same punishments. Southern slave owners only cared about business and profit, so if things went wrong the punishments for misdemeanors were harsh and of great variety. Southern punishments include: Beatings, withholding food, threatening to sell a slave’s family members, being put into various contraptions, shackled, chained down, whipping, forced to walk on a treadmill, execution of by being hanged or burned alive.

Northern colony slaves lived completely different and, some may argue, better lives. Northern colonies were more focused on manufacturing and trade than agriculture. Slaves in the north either worked in the household, or beside artisans. Many worked as carpenters, shipwrights, sailmakers, printers, tailors, shoemakers, coopers, blacksmiths, bakers, weavers, and goldsmiths. Many became so talented in the crafts that the free white workers lost jobs to them. There was a high proportion of skilled slaves who learned valuable trades while working alongside artisan masters.

Northern slaves lived in better conditions, were fed more, and clothed in higher quality than the best of the south. This is due to the fact that they relied on slaves to help in their home, or their place of work. Unlike the south, Northern colonists did not need hundreds of slaves to get the job done, so they were able to provide for them better. Not to mention with fewer slaves around for hours on end, some sort of relationship forms.

Northern colonies even offered slaves the chance of freedom. They can win their freedom back by entering into formal contracts to serve for a period of years, some slaves were freed for faithful service, and others of their owners’ will. However, the free blacks of the north were still held an inferior status. Legally they did not differ much from slaves, they were still included in the slave code.

Even though, life in general for the Northern slaves were better than those in the South; it does not mean they did not suffer. Northern ships sent to collect their slaves was a fate worse than death for some. This was proven when many killed themselves before they reached America. On these ships conditions were cruel. The Africans were forced to crowd together and travel in areas so small they could barely move. Disease spreads like a wildfire under the decks, many falling sick, and dying before they could even reach the shore.

Once there, if they did something against the slave code or broke a law, they could have been stocked, pilloried, whipped, hanged, or ducked as punishment. Life may even have been significantly better for slaves in the north than in the south, but it was still hard and torture for them. They were still looked down upon, hated, beaten down, and discriminated against.

In conclusion, slavery in the south did not hold any mercy. Slave owners provided their slaves the bare necessities and drove them past their limit for their own gain. They worked their slaves day and night, through rain and snow, and from young to old. Punishments were dished out harshly, whether the slaves broke the rules or their master was in a bad mood. In the north, slaves mostly worked in households or with artisans. They learned many skills and could gain their freedom if they play their cards right. In many ways, life in the north was better than life in the south, but Northern slaves suffered from hardships all the same. Both Northern and Southern slaves were treated as lesser beings and experienced great injustice. Thankfully, since the north was mostly focused on manufacturing and trade, they were able to see how wrong they were about Africans. They were smart and could do things like any other white man. This may have not dispelled all the hate Africans received, but it did start the course of events that later led to the emancipation of slaves and equal rights among all.

Works Cited

Wheeler, Heather. “The Living Conditions of Slaves in the American South.” History, 16 Aug. 2018, http://www.historyonthenet.com/living-conditions-of-slaves/

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave, Written by Himself. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

BRUCE, HENRY CLAY. NEW MAN: Twenty-Nine Years a Slave. FORGOTTEN BOOKS, 2016.

Simkin, John. “Field Slaves.” Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, 2014, spartacus-educational.com/USASwork.htm.

Riou, Edouard. Slaves Harvesting in Cotton Fields in Georgia. Mark Getty, Https://Www.gettyimages.com/Photos/Slavery?Phrase=Slavery&Sort=Best#License, 1875.

Wheeler, Heather. “Slave Punishments in the Antebellum American South.” History, 16 Aug. 2018, www.historyonthenet.com/black-peoples-of-america-slave-punishments/.

Susteren, Greta. “AMERICAN HISTORY: Slavery in the American South.” VOA, VOA, 25 Oct. 2012, learningenglish.voanews.com/a/1532857.html.

Hayward, Ryan. “Slaves in New England.” Medford Historical Society & Museum, 2018, www.medfordhistorical.org/medford-history/africa-to-medford/slaves-in-new-england/.

“Slavery in the Northern Colonies.” Edited by Jacqui Afra, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/slavery-northern-colonies.

Cox, James. “Colonial Crimes and Punishments.” Terms of Estrangement: Who Were the Sons of Liberty? : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site, 2018, www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring03/branks.cfm.

Oakes, James, et al. OF THE PEOPLE: A History of the United States. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2018.  

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