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Surge Summary: Chattel slavery in America was never justified … but there are still lots of important truths about it that are largely unknown. This needs to change. The full historical picture of the slavery situation in early America needs to be studied.
by Don Boys, Ph.D.
Black History Month is an effort by variously motivated black leaders to promote pride and self-respect in current Blacks. Often, truth and fiction are comingled into a confusing jumble of misinformation. As a white American interested in truth, I will add some balance to the narrative.
There were comparatively few slaves in New England (usually one or two slaves per family, if any), but New York had many slaves. Slavery was not very beneficial in New York because the slaves had to be fed and cared for all year, yet the growing season was short.
New Yorkers were very afraid of black slaves and had a constant fear of a slave uprising when Whites would be slaughtered in their sleep. There were few massive uprisings, but many small plots, fights, and flights during which a master or overseer was slain. So, in the early l700s, slaves were beaten if three or more congregated in one place unless they were working. That would keep down conspiracies, but if a slave killed a white person, he was tortured and executed.
There was a slave uprising in New York City (population of about 8,000 citizens and 1,000 slaves) in 1712 in which nine Whites were killed, and the authorities hanged 13 slaves, and burned four alive (one over a slow fire). One slave was broken on the wheel, and one was left to starve to death in chains. So much for the sanctified, self-justification of the northern hypocrite.
Now, to answer the sanctified, self-justification of the southern hypocrite. The southern planter sat on his porch, chewing tobacco, and drinking a cool glass of rum, and said, “Well, the southern slave is much better off than he was living in miserable squalor, sin, and superstition in darkest Africa.” No doubt, his living conditions were better, and his eating was more on schedule in slavery, but I remind you that Africa was home, and he had been forced from his home. In Africa, he was with his family, in lifetime surroundings, among friends, speaking his own language, and around his own culture. In American slavery, he was not his own man. Often, he was separated from his wife and children. He was the property of others. Even if he lived in a condominium on Virginia Beach, it was still wrong for him to be enslaved.
It is also true that slavery was wrong even when the slave owner was kind, thoughtful, and benevolent. All slave owners were not haters and sadistic tyrants. Most of them were average businessmen who needed workers. It was not a good business practice to mistreat a worker. Dead slaves don’t work! Some slave owners were thoughtful and kind, which did not justify slavery.
Some slave owners saw the wisdom in taking care of their slaves, even encouraging marriage to the extent of giving them a house, a plot of ground, and household goods. A slave with a family, home, garden, and some farm animals would be less inclined to rebellion. Slaves were not worked from daybreak to sundown. The January 1979 issue of Natural History reported, “Slaves spent their hours away from the field doing household chores, making handicrafts, hunting, and fishing, cultivating their own food, and entertaining themselves with dancing.” Archeological research at slave cabins in Georgia and Florida reveals that some slaves even had firearms!
Black leftists would have us believe that all slaves were worked to death and were practically starved to death. However, that only happened when the owner was a sadist or an idiot! Two liberal (very liberal) professors tell us in their book, Time On The Cross: The Economics Of American Negro Slavery, that some planters instituted a profit-sharing for their slaves. They also reveal “the average pecuniary income actually received by a prime field hand was roughly fifteen percent greater than the income he would have received for his labor as a free agricultural worker.” Wonder why public school books and race-baiters on television never mention that.
On some plantations, the best workers were given tobacco, whiskey, cash, holidays, and trips to town on the weekend. Rather substantial year-end bonuses were sometimes awarded.
We are told that the slaves were docile and contented, but that is not true, especially in earlier years. There was a natural tendency for second-generation slaves to be less belligerent and more contented, but that was not true of the first-generation slaves. The facts debunk the “contented” theory.
When the slaves arrived at the ports, the slaves were examined and branded with the mark of the new owner and then marched to the beach. Those Blacks brought from the interior were terrified of the pounding surf, the swaying slave ship, and the white traders. Some of the Blacks thought the white men were cannibals and would devour them on the beach. It was not uncommon for the captives to claw at the sand and attempt suicide rather than be crammed into the waiting ships. That doesn’t sound as if they meekly accepted slavery.
Suicide was prevalent, especially upon leaving the African Coast since they had no idea what was happening to them.
The Power to Die reveals that some slaves refused to eat or leaped into the sea, prompting some captains to install a net to make it more difficult to accomplish their desires. Many slaves strangled themselves, tore open their throats, and hanged themselves. In America, they jumped into rivers or out of windows or even ran into burning buildings.
One sea captain wrote: “The negroes [sic] are so wilful [sic] and loth [sic] to leave their country, that they have often leaped out of the canoes, boat and ship, into the sea, and kept under water till they were drowned, to avoid being taken up and saved by our boats….” There are numerous incidents of slaves jumping into the sea, cutting their throats, self-strangling, and self-starvation.
Upon arrival in their new land, those incidents drastically decreased; however, they did not give up the thought of freedom.
There were many slave rebellions, although not massive, that resulted in many executions of the leaders. Any slave who reported a rebellion was rewarded with his freedom, so most “uprisings” did not result in freedom for many slaves. It is natural that the more vicious the owner, the greater would be the desire for freedom of his slaves; however, not all slave owners were cruel and sadistic men.
Nat Turner was a slave in Southampton County, Virginia, and always felt he was destined to do great works that he thought were established by seeing spirits fighting in the night sky. He often heard voices which he often passed to his fellow slaves. After a solar eclipse, he was convinced it was an indication for him to lead his fellow slaves in a rebellion against their masters. One evening in 1831 he led a group of 75 slaves to attack and kill their masters as they slept. No child was spared or gender as they killed with guns, swords, clubs, and farm equipment. Some adults and children were beheaded. About 51 Whites plus ten or so others were killed in two days until the slaves were found and tried. Turner and 16 of his group were then executed in Jerusalem, Virginia.
Some famous Americans who profess sanity even call Turner “legendary” (Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates) and spoke of his “heroism and sacrifices.” Say what?
Movie producer Nate Parker described Turner as “a measured, self-determined man of faith, whose courage and sacrifice left him a martyr.” Nat wasn’t martyred; he was executed for the murder of innocent men, women, and children, even babies.
Molefi Kete Asante, a scholar at Temple University calls Turner a “reflective and mature thinker” who “believed in liberty,” “demonstrated both gravitas and charisma” and “has earned his place in the panoply of revolutionary icons.”
All three of the above promoters of Nat Turner have two things in common: they are all black and have major problems in their differentiation between right and wrong. They are missing a moral compass.
Whatever the location and how kind the slave owners were, chattel slavery is always wrong. Many slave owners cared for their slaves and were interested in improving their living and working conditions. Of course, those owners were still wrong. Those owners would not have wanted to be slaves, so it was wrong for them to enslave others. Jesus taught that truth when He said in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them….” That verse, if obeyed, would have wiped out slavery and all other injustices to men.
Slavery cannot be justified; however, it is easy for us to criticize the early Americans from our present advantage of enlightenment and abundance. What would you have done if you had lived in Jamestown in the 1600s with a farm to be worked, no white laborers to hire, and starvation facing you and your family? It is never right to do wrong, but it is easy for us to sit in judgment from a comfortable distance of more than 350 years.
While we can never condone slavery, let us at least be aware of the conditions that prompted it and be determined to never again enslave humans of any color for any reason.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan, Baptist Preacher
The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.
Originally posted here.
Image: Adapted from: Engraver "Copeland" (signature lower left); book copyright D.H. Montgomery – Page 53 of D.H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of American History. Boston: Ginn & Company, 1910. Digital scan at https://archive.org/details/leadingfactsofam01mont, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20568642
(Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives who ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. Boys authored 20 books, the most recent, Reflections of a Lifetime Fundamentalist: No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets! The eBook is available at Amazon.com for $4.99. Other titles at www.cstnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at Don Boys, Ph.D., and visit his blog. Send a request to DBoysphd@aol.com for a free subscription to his articles and click here to support his work with a donation.)
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