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Intro: During 18th century slavery, three regions of the country had slight to very different lifestyles as well as small to very common similarities. Slavery during the 18th century influenced how slavery went forth for the next century and a half. In this essay I will compare and contrast 18th century slavery in the Chesapeake, Low Country (South Carolina and Georgia), and the Northern colonies.
a. The early years of slavery in the Chesapeake region were lax.
There were few black slaves at first and there were only a few slaves in the labor force. The first set of slaves in Virginia and Maryland were more indentured servants than true slavery. Before the late 1600’s there was a very thin line between black slavery and white freedom. In the early 1600’s slaves that had “Christian” names such as Pedro or Isabella were considered Christians so they were considered indentured servants and allowed to work off the price that was paid for them and then freed.
They worked alongside white indentured servants. As time went on the slave, population there grew through natural reproduction.
b. As some of the British planters became more successful and held more land in an effort of their own interest introduced the “Unthinking decision” (Chattel Slavery) which officially drew a line in the racial divide between Africans (Blacks) and Whites. The Chesapeake region was the first to have and enact “Slave codes” which would eventually carry across all regions partially and in its entirety.
Bills of sale for slaves in regards to children of Black female slaves was instituted in the Chesapeake region saying that the children born to these women would be slaves for life because their mother was a slave. As the slave, codes kicked in slaves were deemed no more than livestock and inferior and could no longer become converts of Christianity taking away completely indentured servitude. It went on this way until slavery ended.
c. Tobacco was the main source of prosperity in the Chesapeake region slaves worked in gangs in the tobacco fields because the owners thought it made them work faster. d. The slaves in this region lived in log cabins.
2. Low Country (South Carolina and Georgia) e. Slavery in the low country was somewhat different in the aspect that the slaves that arrived there were already Chattel. The slaves in the low country were mainly Black and Indian slaves and eventually all black as time progressed. The slaves in low country grew through the constant new arrivals of slaves from Africa. Slaves in the low country had a very high mortality rate due to disease, overwork, and poor treatment. Slaves in the low country retained more of their African heritage because there were so many of them and always fresh Africans coming in the ports. By the 18th Century, the low country had almost a 70 percent ratio of black slaves compared to white slave owners. Charleston was North America’s leading port of entry for Africans. f. The main crops in the low country were rice and corn compared to the Chesapeake region. g. The slaves there developed their own broken languages called Geechie and Gullah.
h. Low Country showed a great deal of Creolization. This is the first sign of distinct classes between slaves. The creoles stayed in the same areas as whites because they were mixed race they had social and economic advantages over slaves that were on plantations but they were still watched all the time by whites. i. The slave houses in low country were made of tabby (a form of a concrete mortar mixture). j. In contrast to the slaves in the Chesapeake region, the slaves in low country had certain independence in their daily routines. Once they were done with their chores, their time was free to do what they chose without supervision. Although the slaves had this independence, the white people still had a “Negro Watch” to enforce curfew on the black people there.
3. Northern Colonies k. The Northern colony slaves were perhaps the least like slaves of the three regions. One of the main differences was organized religion. There was also the fact that during the 18th century there slave population in the Northern Colonies was a mere 4.5% compared to the 40% and higher in the south. Slavery was less oppressive due to the Puritan religious principles of the Northern region.
l. The slaves lived in the house with their master and his family. The slaves also worked along side the master, his family, and the other slaves on the small farms. Most had two slaves per household on the rare occasion there some estates that had 50 or 60. m. Slaves in the Northern colonies were allowed to become Artisans, Shopkeepers, Messengers, Domestic Servants, and General Laborers. New England slaves had a huge advantage over slaves in the other regions they could legally own, transfer, and inherit property. They also had the least opportunity to preserve their African heritage because of their easier conditions. They also had the highest amount of mulattoes.
4. The commonality between Chesapeake, Low Country, and the Northern Colonies is the fact that no matter what slaves were still deemed less than whites. They still had to abide by the “Slave Codes”. Miscegenation was banned and strictly enforced everywhere.
In comparing and contrasting the three regions there are more differences than commonalities when it comes to their areas. The commonalities are very strong in the fact that no matter how well or badly they were treated they were always deemed inferior to whites even the “mixed”, “Creoles”, or “Mulattoes”. In essence, slaves everywhere were under the same “Slave Codes” with the difference between the regions being how strictly they enforced.
While reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, written by Frederick Douglass, and From Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacobs, both enslaved people experienced life in a way that no human should. Douglass, an enslaved male, learned to use ignorance as a tool to gain his freedom, saw what slavery did to the Masters who had all the power, and he became grateful for the friendships he found in young white boys, as well as his fellow enslaved friends. Jacobs, an enslaved female, discovered how to cope with, not physical abuse, but emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse. She also saw what containing the power over enslaved people did to her Masters. Both individuals experienced abuse, from both gender standpoints, and the yearning for freedom.
Throughout Douglass’ narrative, a similar theme he related to was using ignorance in literacy as a tool for his freedom. He shows his “ignorance” when he states, “I used always to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me the more valuable bread of knowledge” (Douglass 1025).
His white masters expected him to be ignorant. Due to this, he was able to hide his knowledge well and he used this to his advantage when he bribed the young white boys in Baltimore to teach him. Douglass also tricked some boys into teaching him. He told of this incident by saying, “…when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, ‘I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.’ I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that” (Douglass 1027). In this situation, Douglass, once again, used his ignorance as an enslaved person to his advantage. With these two instances, Douglass got closer to his freedom. Another theme Frederick Douglass wrote about was what slavery did to the Masters. When Douglass went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, he was greeted with “a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings” (Douglass 1022).
However, after a while of being a slave owner, Mrs. Auld started to act as all other Masters did. Douglass states, “The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands … That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon” (Douglass 1022). According to Douglass, slavery was bad for many reasons, but this was a main one. Slavery did no good to anyone involved. It was abuse for the enslaved people, and the slave owners turned into inhuman monsters, even if they were once the sweetest human around. A final theme Douglass wrote about was the friendships he acquired. He said in chapter eight of his narrative, “It was to those little Baltimore boys that I felt the strongest attachment” (Douglass 1030). In chapter ten, Douglass also mentions being linked to his fellow slaves. Even though, he had no close family members, he had his fellow enslaved friends and he was forever grateful to those who helped teach him.
Harriet Jacobs’ experience as an enslaved person was similar, as well as different from Douglass’ experience. Jacobs also discovered how the power over slavery can produce an inhuman monster. An instance where this was evident was when Jacobs wanted to marry the love of her life. Dr. Flint was not pleased with this idea and when she declared her love for the other man, Dr. Flint was angry that she was honest with him, when any other sane human would appreciate honesty. Another experience Jacobs went through was the emotional and psychological abuse she endured from Dr. Flint. He informed her of a lonely cottage he was building just for her to live in and she knew that meant she would be having his children as well, which she did not want. Due to this, she chose to lose her purity and go against her morals and become pregnant at the age of sixteen by another man she became acquainted with. Jacobs says, “The months passed on. I had many unhappy hours. I secretly mourned over the sorrow I was bringing on my grandmother, who had so tried to shield me from harm” (Jacobs 888). This event took a toll on her mind and her body, as expected.
The main difference when being an enslaved person as a male or a female was the roles they had and the ways they suffered. Frederick Douglass went through his life as an enslaved person alone. He had no lover, no children, he did not know who his father was, and he was separated from his mother shortly after birth. So, on his journey to freedom, he only had to think about himself and how he would obtain freedom. However, Harriet Jacobs had two children to gain freedom for, as well, and she left behind her grandmother when she obtained her freedom. Douglass, being a male, was whipped and beat often in the beginning. Douglass states, “I lived with Mr. Covey one year. … scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back” (Douglass 1035).
Douglass’ role was to be outside doing the hard work and he was beat often just for being awkward. Being an enslaved male, he dealt with this more often than females would. On the other hand, Jacobs was hardly beat. In chapter twenty-one she says, “Yet I would have chosen this, rather than my lot as a slave, though white people considered it an easy one; and it was so compared with the fate of others. I was never cruelly over-worked; I was never lacerated with the whip from head to foot . . . But though my life in slavery was comparatively devoid of hardships, God pity the woman who is compelled to lead such a life” (Jacobs 892). Jacobs was not physically abused in the form of whipping, but she was touched in ways by Dr. Flint that were mentally scarring. She was also forced to give up her morals and values which had an emotional toil on her. People heal from physical abuse much faster than healing from emotional and psychological abuse, which is what Harriet Jacobs suffered from as an enslaved female.
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, both, had very challenging, abusive, and trying lives. Despite their differences of gender, neither of them should have gone through and put up with what they both experienced. However, through these experiences, both individuals learned lessons and tricks to live that free people will never know. They learned to be thankful for the small things, such as having the privilege to know their own birthday and getting to marry the love of their lives. They learned how not to treat people and this is a very important lesson in itself.
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