Plantation Epic Essay
Erskine Clarke’s Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic is a product of a decade of research about the biography of Charles Colcock Jones, Sr. Presented in a narrative, the book reflected on four generations of the plantation and its residents. It provided views from the masters and the slaves, the whites and the blacks. It was completed out of the collection of the Jones Family’s papers that included numerous letters, plantation records, journals, archeological findings, sermons for the slaves and marks of the African-American community.
The lives of the African Americans, despite the fact that little documentation were provided for slaves, was included in this book based from the individuals that stood out that presented with them histories that tied their stories together. In that way, this book presented different perspectives. It offered the two sides of a coin wherein the whites told of how they saw the inhabitants of the piazzas of the plantation homes at the same time the blacks narrated of their stories from their view around the communal fires of slave settlements.
The different experiences of the slaves and their masters were simultaneously portrayed in the book and were labeled as a technique called the “upstairs downstairs” history. Clarke showed how the history of slaves in the Jones plantations had been typical yet somehow divergent of the common norms of master-slave relationship during those times. The narrative revolved around the Jones Family and the plantation workers. Most of the readers may be familiar to this family from Robert Manson Myers’ Children of Pride: The True Story of Georgia and the Civil War.
The book provides a multi-faceted account of the family’s life in the plantation following their portrayal in Myer’s book following the same novel-feel to reading historical accounts. As a standard for slavery in the south, it showed how the relationships of the slaves and the masters were relatively better than those in the north. Even if they were opposed to abolitionist advocacies, they maintained more humane relationships with their slaves. They would be the first ones to advocate religious instructions for the slaves and exercise proper stewardship for them as an obligation from God.
Charles Jones, one of the main characters, was the inheritor of the plantation as well as the slaves that resided in it. He was trained for the clergy at Andover and in Princeton seminaries. Charles did his best to integrate his role as the master of the household with his clerical calling. There was indecision within Charles concerning the morality of slavery. He then turned towards the consolation of interceding for the salvation of his slaves as the more important thing over the immorality of the nature of slavery.
He had two goals in his life which was to ensure that masters take on the duty of taking the gospel to their slaves and establish a more humane slavery system according to Christian principles. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SLAVES AND MASTERS The book focused on how Charles Colcock Jones led the way for religious instruction for the slaves. He also promoted stewardship of the masters with the slaves as they saw it to be their responsibility to God. Others would oppose teaching religious principles to their slaves in fears of having to teach them to read and write or for their slaves to demand for freedom and equal rights.
Charles assured the people of the benefits it would propagate if the masters teach their slaves about God. He promoted that it would be beneficial to the relationship of the master and his slave. Out of religion, the result would be greater subordination and the lessening of the crimes the blacks commit against the whites because of the fear of God. Coming from this argument, Christian masters then considered how the slaves were part of their household. They saw fit that they follow the teachings of Paul in the Bible in their dealings with their slaves.
According to Paul, masters should be just to their servants because they themselves have a master in heaven by which they serve and are accountable to. Interdependence In the Jones plantation, a complex relationship formed between the master and the slaves. Their lives are intertwined in away that they share their lives with each other, even the births of their children. The children of the masters and the children of the slaves would soon play the roles of master and children in succeeding generations.
Their lives were interdependent in such a way that the masters need the slaves to work their household and the slaves need their masters to provide them with basic necessities in living in America. Like in the case of driver slave named Jupiter, he was trusted by his master and was assigned with numerous tasks as reflected in letters sent to Elizabeth, John Jones’ first wife. The letters show how Jupiter was given a number of obligations. Jupiter knew the settlement very well and it was implied that without his skills and work in running it, it can be very difficult to manage it.
At the same time, John Jones had the authority to bring back Jupiter’s wife into the settlement when she was transferred some place else. They master and the slave relied on each other to keep themselves afloat in different areas like the household, the business and even their family affairs. Furthermore, it must be understood that during those times the special relationship of the master and the slaves go beyond the household. Slaves would even get into arguments with other slaves as to whose master is better, kinder, richer or smarter.
They perceive their masters’ greatness to transcend towards them. The reasoning behind this is that it was bad enough to live the life of a slave, but it was the worst to be a slave of a poor man. This was their escape from the reality that they had no choice but to serve their masters, good or bad, and put up a contented facade and work as hard as their masters would want them to work. White-Black Sexual Liaisons There were encounters wherein the masters and the slaves would have sexual encounters out of relationships formed and it would only be discovered with the color of the newborn’s skin.
In one instance, Mary, a slave girl from the Jones’ plantation married a man named Zaddock from a nearby North Hampton Plantation. When they had a baby, it was more mulatto than it was black. Nevertheless, Zaddock still remained married to her and told her that it should not happen again. There were many theories as to what resulted to such a baby. Thomas Shepard, Zaddock’s master said that it may be Mary’s participation in a consensual sexual encounter with a white man. It could also be one of the common cases wherein a white man would sexually abuse a black girl. There was another case wherein Roswell King, Jr. married Julia Maxwell.
In marriages of the planters they are able to combine their slaves into one household. Julia brought with her the slaves that were a gift to her by her father. Roswell’s own slaves included his two slave children from two different slave women. It was not known by his wife during that time until a point came wherein Roswell had to admit to his offsprings despite the fact that they are negroes. During those times, whether the sexual encounters between male blacks and white girls were consentual or not, the males would never admit to stories of fathering a black girl’s child or if they do, they would never admit to using force.
Although during that time, sexual abused was so common that black girls who would resist were considered heroines in their own right. PORTRAYAL OF FAMILIES AND RELIGION AMONG THE SLAVES Religion Charles encouraged the imposition of religion amongst the slaves by the masters because he greatly saw how the masters would be accountable to God as stewards of the slaves and thought that masters were responsible for their slaves’ spiritual destination. Despite the fact that other masters saw the dangers of this as wells as the unnecessity, they were convinced under the premise that they would have more ideals slaves as a result of this.
Instead of mere external show of authority, the slaves would have a change of heart internally and submit to their masters because of the fear of the Lord. Obedience was a religious principle and this can secure the authority of the masters over the slaves when they are exposed to religion. Charles suggested that complete subordination can be achieved out of religious principles of obedience to God. The slaves would turn away for resistance from bondage in exchange for eternal salvation. Furthermore, religion was seen as an economic benefit.
When slaves are faithful they would work better and be less of a liability for their masters, they are also safeguarded from diseases. However, Charles drove the point home when he insisted the main goal of religious instruction for the blacks was still the salvation of the souls of the slaves rather than economic gains. For him, slavery can be justified when a soul is saved. He further reiterated that the blacks are placed under the care of their masters by God’s providence. The benefits and reasons Charles gave his family and friends enough for a Liberty County Association for Religious Instruction of the Negroes to be formed.
The theme was dominantly the implementation and importance of religious instruction of the masters to the slaves because the Jones adhered to such mission from God. In those times, other historians of slave history have documented how planters have used religion as a means of social control, as Charles himself mentioned as one of the benefits of religion. For them, when black slaves would hear preachings about obedience and submission they would in turn be contented with their state thus making them more manageable. On the other hand, slaves benefited from being Christians as well. They were allowed to rest and go out on Sundays.
They were also treated better by their masters knowing that they know understand and know about the accountability of their masters to treat them better. They know that they have to be treated fairly as they have found out that they had to be submissive and obedient to their masters. Marriages Marriages and forming families were one of the coping mechanisms of the slaves because it provides for them a sense of normalcy and humanity despite their fate under slavery. Most of the time, male slaves did not want to be married. They did not want to witness abuse on their future wives and children.
They could not bear having to stand defenseless to a white man sexually abusing his wife as it has been something common amongst them. Nevertheless, the white masters encouraged their slaves to marry. They also encourage that they marry within the plantation and not with others to prevent themselves from sneaking out in the middle of the night. Some slave owners encouraged them to have strong family ties because of their religion. Some take advantage of this to handle their slaves easier. They see a marriage slave to be less of a liability because he would not attempt to rebel compared to a single slave due to marital baggage.
Some landowners encourage sexual morality and even punish those who commit adultery and encourage marriages. They have certain punishments for slaves that depart from their marital obligations. Promoting slave marriages, Thomas Clay spoke to the presbytery meeting on improving the morality of slaves in the plantations. He said that slave marriages must be honored by their masters and the male slaves must be warned against beating or abusing their wives. Parental Authority Slave parents experienced little luxury of taking care and teaching their children because of the work the plantations require.
They only learn by what is available to them, the time and the people they get to talk to was the limited yet varied means by which they are educated and disciplined. The slave girl would see how their parents interacted with the white masters and learn from there about how she should interact with the whites. Like any other parents, slave parents imposed strict discipline and taught their children the values of society and their community. Most of the time, the father was the final authority in the family and the children were afraid of their parents.
They would get disciplined when caught doing wrong or going on some wayward path. However, that authority was limited to whatever the white master would have to say and command. Children spend little time with their parents because of the heavy workload a typical slave needs to finish daily. Their time for education is limited to early mornings and late evenings. Most of the time, they are neglected. They are fed irregularly and not supervised even in the early years. This leads to sickness and disease that the ignorant slave parents had no means of curing or addressing. Slave Families and White Authority
The whites, adult or child always had higher authority than slaves. Slave parents had no power to stop a white man from whipping their children. At the same time slave spouses and children can do nothing but watch as the heads of their families are humiliated and whipped by their white masters. During those times, even grandparents or elderly people get whipped until the time that they were bleeding and no one in the family can do anything about it. They knew the mere presence of a white man can make a Negro shudder. MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES OF SLAVES In the Jones Plantation
As mentioned earlier, Charles and his family would implement religion as a mission and as a management technique for the slaves. There are instances mentioned in the book wherein Roswell King, Jr. did not care for any evangelical concepts for his slaves. Instead he favored a more utilitarian approach to the slave management. He did not see use for making his slaves happy for them to be better workers. He saw fit clear rules that would be consistently implemented for the slaves as well as some forms of flexibility measures would be sufficiently beneficial in establishing the plantation.
Degree of Management Techniques Standard in the South In the south there certain normal norms of management techniques aside from what was highly focused upon in Clarke’s book. Ideal slaves were the ones that respected their masters and obeyed them with whatever orders they had. They are also trust-worthy and loyal to their masters. To have such ideal slaves, written discourses discussed about the proper management of the slaves in the antebellum period to be applied and maintained under strict discipline. The first step the slave owners took was to adapt an army-like regulation for the slaves.
Under this circumstance, slaves are expected to obey at all times and under all circumstances cheerfully and with alacrity. According to such discourses, “unconditional subordination must be the only footing upon which slavery must be place. ” The second step to have ideal slaves was to implant in the blacks a personal inferiority. During those times, they would embed in the minds of their slaves that bondage was their natural status and that they should know they place. They must also have a clear concept between a master and a slave.
They made them feel that their color was a badge of their degradation and that coming from that ancestral line was caused them to have the lowest status in society, lower than the most wretched white man. Impudence would be something they must avoid. Any answer that has a tone or the lack of answer when being questioned can be interpreted as an impudent act on the part of the slave. The third step is to awe them with their master’s enormous power. This gives an impression that the master is so powerful that they should almost bow in fear. The principle by which slavery was founded was based on fear.
If the slaves are not afraid of their masters they would not be slaves. They blame abolitionist groups on the stricter discipline that had to enforce to keep their slaves in check. The slaves must also see his master’s success as his own success. The fourth step deals with having the slave think in the interest of his master’s enterprise. This would encourage them to work harder because their masters’ prosperity would translate to their own welfare. “The habit of perfect dependence” was something that masters see important in their slaves.
They saw how it was highly dangerous for slaves to be trained as artisans or even to be hired for factory work. Once they realized that they are capable to earn money doing other things they become unwilling to work in the normal household with strict demands. COMMON GROUND AND DIVERGENCE When the day has ended, Mary and Charles would sit on the porch to drink some tea and look at the spectacular beauty of Montevideo. For them, it was a place of responsibility wherein they would take care of the needs of the household, from food to clothing, religious instruction, proper control and management.
As they look into the view of Montevideo, they realize that what they are looking at is their source of wealth. On the other hand, before the cabins of Carlawter where all the blacks gathered at nightfall, they had the same view of Montevideo. From where they gathered around the fire, they too saw the spectacular beauty of the place despite the fact that it was a place of hard labor. They hear the same murmur of the river that is close by as well as the horizon that indicated daybreak or nightfall.
The slaves also considered the plantation their home, it was a place where their family and friends are in the slave community, and it was also the place of their ancestors. Even if it was a place wherein they had restricted freedom, it was also a place wherein they got protection from the more hostile world from white violence and power. Looking at the Montevideo, it can have a lot of different interpretations and stories to be told from different views. It was a constant struggle between those who sat on the piazza and those who sat around the fire near the cabins.
But the struggle is part of the reality of the life in the plantation. The differences go further into the education of the children who are black and white. While the children received training and education from a paid tutor, the slave children are educated by their parents in their cabins or learn from the wisdom of the folktales around the communal fire. NATURE OF THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY The reality is, despite the fact that the Jones plantation offered a kinder environment for the slaves; they were still slaves and deprived of freedom.
During celebrations of weddings or holidays in the household, the whites enjoy themselves with lavish parties and gatherings while the slave cook, Patience worked arduously in the kitchen preparing for the people. Others would insist that the institution of slavery was a means of civilizing and evangelizing to the African-Americans under the stewardship of their masters. It was discovered that Negroes were less disciplined and improved in slavery compared to their free counterparts as well as a barbarism of the race.
Slaves are placed under the impression that they are solely dependent on their masters. They think that they cannot survive without them because they give them everything that they need to live. They have settled instead for the temporary joys that they can get like Sundays and holidays. Admittedly, the true nature of the institution of slavery makes the slaves into mere properties of their masters. This is notable when the death of a Negro is not regarded as an extinction of life but merely a loss of property for the slave owner.
Slave management often resulted to ambiguous and complicated scenarios because treating a living and breathing person with human emotions and passions as a mere property or object was very difficult. The very nature of slavery meant the power of the master was absolute to render the perfect submission of the slave. The master can do anything to his slave, except kill or maime the slave intentionally. CONCLUSION If the nature of the institution of slavery was to make the Negroes civilized, they used manners such us humiliating them, and degrading their character and race as a means of being part of the so-called civilized society.
The Jones family, in this narrative account exhibited the more ideal ways of establishing civilization amongst the Negroes by means of campaigning evangelism and humane treatment of the slaves. Wills (2006), in her reflections of the book said, “He challenges me to contemplate the slaves’ unaccountable perseverance and the whites’ blind persistence, to credit the distance between them, and to recognize finally that the former was rooted in truth and the latter in nightmarish deception. ” BIBLIOGRAPHY Amazon. com. “Editorial Reviews,” Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic.
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