Slavery In US


     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.

30-43.

Bibliography

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.

30-43