Devil Slavery and Dr. Faust In the essay from Dr. Faust’s “Community, Culture, and Conflict on an Antebellum Plantation”, she explores the balance of power between slave owners and their bondsmen, primarily, on the Hammond Plantation, Silver Bluff. She will focus on four areas of research, religion, work patterns, and payments/privileges, escape attempts/rebellion and external influences. She maintains that there was an intricate communal order among the slaves of the Silver Bluff Plantation. Using primary and secondary sources I will either verify or disprove Dr.
Faust’s thesis. Dr.
Faust has used the journal writings of James Hammond as her main primary source for her essay. I will use Dr. Faust’s essay for my secondary and writings from former slaves (primary) for my sources. As master of the plantation, Silver Bluff, James Hammond strived to gain complete control over every aspect of his slave’s lives. It was a struggle that spanned decades, and one he never fully realized.
Through his journal entries we see the daily struggle for control, and the means he used to uphold his authority. They also show how the slaves resisted Hammond’s attempts while holding on to their own society.
Dr. Faust shows through Hammond’s own words how he tried to control the slave’s religion by replacing Black worship with White belief. (pg. 220) He first tried by taking away all Black churches and forcing the slave to attend White churches. He then changed track by hiring traveling preachers for the slaves Sunday worship.
In 1845 he built his own church on the plantation. He was admired for the conformity his slaves showed for the white social norms. However, his slaves had learned to show Hammond the behavior he wanted all the while still holding true to their own religious beliefs.
Even after twenty years Hammond was still trying to eradicate the Blacks religion. “Have ordered all church meetings to be broken up except at the church with a white preacher. ” (pg. 220) To have Silver Bluff run more efficiently, Hammond wanted more control over the work habits of his slaves. For the first year he stepped up the discipline in regards to inferior or slack work. His slaves not being used to the strong-armed policies resisted. Hammond responded with more beatings. Over time the slaves conformed somewhat as the physical punishment slowed. pg 221) A more efficient form of working was the gang method, so Hammond thought. This gang method took away what little independence the slaves had. No longer could they manage their own time. Hammond knew that by stripping the slaves of their right to order their own day he would have more control. Once again the slaves resisted, by doing inferior work. (pg. 221) Over time a quiet compromise arose, and to some extent work seemed to go back the way it used to be for the slaves. Hammond also instituted a system of rewards to go along with the punishments.
He felt that by offering something the slave wanted/needed he would have that slave’s compliance that the slaves would work harder to obtain the reward. Here to, the slaves learned how to use this system for themselves. As punishment for a poor work season Hammond shortened the Christmas break but as his journal shows for December 26 “persuaded out of my decision by the Negros” (pg. 221) Like all plantations of the era, Silver Bluff had its share of escape attempts although no successful escapes were recorded. Through Hammonds writing Dr. Faust has devised a profile for the runaway.
Most were young males without strong family ties. The weather played an important part in determining the length of time away. Female slaves only ran with their husbands or to their husbands. Once the slaves escaped they did not travel far, mostly stayed in nearby swamps. The plantation slaves would then help the runaways by giving them supplies. At first Hammond sent men with horses and dogs out to search for the missing slaves, but after awhile he chose to just let others catch them , wait for them to end up in jail or wait for them to return on their own volition. Here too Hammond set some ground rules.
If the slaves returned on their own they only received three lashes for each day gone, where as on the other hand if they were forcibly brought back the punishment was ten lashes for each day off of the plantation. Hammond also realized that the runaways and those slaves left behind still held close bonds. Based on this he also punished those still on the plantation. With holding food rations and beatings hoping that the runaway would hear of it and return on his own. (pg 223) What Hammond was really trying to do was to create a micro-world on his plantation where he was in charge and all else where his minions.
His greatest fear was interference from the outside. To combat that he cut his slaves off from the outside, forbidding them to go to town, or from inter-acting with neighbors or the steamboat people. (pg. 223) As the war approached, he worried about which side his slaves were on. He felt that they were becoming riled and uneasy. Thefts of goods appeared more common and Hammond thought his slaves demeanor was changing and not for the good. He could feel the loss of control slipping away as the cannon’s roar rolled over his Silver Bluff. The first primary source I chose was Sarah Fitzpatrick (1938) (Hollitz, Doc. ) Part of her interview dealt with the issue of religion. If they wanted to attend their own church they needed a pass to allow them off the plantation. Many slaves though attended church with their masters. The preacher in the white church would first tend to his white flock then after that service he would preach to the slaves. Telling the slaves that they must listen and behave their masters and by doing so they would surly get to heaven. They were also taught catechism. The slaves preferred to attend their own service for they would get joyful and loud and that was not allowed during the white man’s service.
This experience of Sarah’s almost parallels what Hammond tried to do on Silver Bluff. I feel that this primary source supports Dr. Faust views on how religion was used as a tool to enforce the white man’s way upon the Black there by peeling away a layer of their culture. The story of Brer Rabbit Outsmarts Brer Fox (Hollitz, Doc. 10) I feel is an analogy for one of the slave’s survival mechanism. In this story Brer Fox stops Brer Rabbit on his way to church. Brer Fox is hungry and wants to eat Brer Rabbit.
Thinking fast Brer Rabbit tells Brer Fox that there are hogs at the man’s house that would be better for his breakfast and if Brer Fox did not believe him, he would agree to be tied up till Brer Fox checked it out. Brer Fox found no hogs and the man let his dog loose on Brer Fox. The dogs hunted Brer Fox and ate him up. Brer Rabbit was set loose and thanked the dogs. I feel Brer Rabbit represents the slaves, Brer Fox is the master and the dogs can represent many things depending on the story’s use. They might represent freedom, the war, or Heaven. Brer Rabbit used cunning and trickery to outsmart Brer Fox.
The slaves needed to learn how to put one face on for the master while keeping their true face concealed. They needed to learn cunning and trickery to outsmart their masters at times In my opinon the document also supports Dr. Faust’s essay. It shows how the slaves learned to use the reward system that Hammond put in place to their own advantage. Also by slowing work up to get what they wanted. I chose my next primary source, (Mary Reynolds, Dallas Texas, ASN) because she was a slave from the deep south. She tells of her life from the time she was born up till the time of her interview. She eemed proud of the fact that she knew her father and the he was a free man who chose to live as a slave for the love of her mother who was a slave. She describes her life as a slave as a harsh one. Being sold off because she was to close to the masters own child. When his daughter became ill and was told it was because his daughter was pining away for her Black friend the master relented and bought Mary back to the plantation. She tells of working the fields, not having enough food or proper clothing. She tells of the beatings she received from Solomon the overseer and how he kept a tight rein on the slaves.
She explains how the runaways are tracked down and then punished All these experiences mirror plantation life at Silver Bluff and so once again supports Dr. Faust’s thesis. What does not seem to support it though is Mary’s master allowed some of the slave’s culture. There were marriage ceremonies and there were funerals and allowed outside contact. The last document I chose was an interview of a former slave whose master was a Creek Indian. (Lucinda Davis Tulsa, Oklahoma,ASN). She tells her life story as if she were part of her master’s extended family not like she was a slave.
She was well cared for, well fed and had clothes. Her only chore was to care for a young child. The slaves were allowed to marry and did not have to live on their master’s farm. When the war was over and Lucinda parents wanted her back her master freely gave her up and sent her back. Her hardships did not seem any worse than any member of her master’s family. This document does not support Dr. Faust’s thesis. Maybe it is because the slave group was smaller and mostly men. There was no strife so they did not bond as the slaves on Hammonds plantation did.
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