The Massive, Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners

The Massive, Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners

Most Americans know that George Washington owned enslaved people at his Mount Vernon home. But fewer probably know that it was his wife, Martha, who dramatically increased the enslaved population there. When they wed in 1759, George may have owned around 18 people. Martha, one of the richest women in Virginia, owned 84.

The high number of people Martha Washington owned is unusual, but the fact that she owned them is not. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, a history professor at the University of California-Berkeley, is compiling data on just how many white women owned slaves in the U.S.; and in the parts of the 1850 and 1860 census data she’s studied so far, white women make up about 40 percents of all slave owners.

Slaveholding parents “typically gave their daughters more enslaved people than land,” says Jones-Rogers, whose book They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South came out in February 2019. “What this means is that their very identities as white southern women are tied to the actual or the possible ownership of other people.”

White women were active and violent participants in the slave market. They bought, sold, managed and sought the return of enslaved people, in whom they had a vested economic interest. Owning a large number of enslaved people made a woman a better marriage prospect. Once married, white women fought in courts to preserve their legal ownership over enslaved people (as opposed to their husband’s ownership), and often won. “For them, slavery was their freedom,” Jones-Rogers observes in her book.

They Were Her Property upends a lot of older scholarship. For example, previous scholars have argued that most southern white women didn’t buy, sell or inflict violence on enslaved people because this was considered improper for them. But Jones-Rogers argues that white women were actually trained to participate from a very young age.

“Their exposure to the slave market is not something that begins in adulthood—it begins in their homes when they’re little girls, sometimes infants, when they’re given enslaved people as gifts,” she says. Citing interviews with formerly enslaved people that the Works Progress Administration—a New Deal agency—conducted in the 1930s, Jones-Rogers shows that part of white children’s training in plantation management involved beating enslaved people.

“It didn’t matter whether the child was large or small,” one woman told the WPA. “They always beat you ’til the blood ran down.”

As adults, white women often tore black women away from their babies so they could nurse the white mistress’ baby instead. To this end, white women placed thousands of advertisements in newspapers looking for enslaved “wet nurses” to feed their own children and created a huge market for enslaved black women who had recently given birth.

Why did these white women want black women to nurse their children? One complained “she felt like continuously having children and continuously nursing her children made her ‘a slave’ to her children—that’s an actual quote,” Jones-Rogers says.

Some black women reported in WPA interviews that their mothers would always give birth around the same time as the white mistress, suggesting that these mistresses were also orchestrating the sexual assault of enslaved women.

“There were instances in which formerly enslaved people did in fact say that their mistresses either sanctioned acts of sexual violence against them that were perpetrated at the hands of white men; or that they orchestrated instances of sexual violence between two enslaved people that they owned, in hopes of producing children from those acts of sexual violence,” Jones-Rogers says.

White women also fought to maintain the wealth and free labor that slavery provided them through the Civil War. As Union troops made their way through the south freeing enslaved people, white women would move enslaved people farther from the soldiers’ path. One woman, Martha Gibbs, even took enslaved people to Texas and forced them to work for her at gunpoint until 1866, a year after slavery’s formal abolition.

After the Civil War, southern white women sought to recreate slavery through exploitative work contracts. Some also wrote books portraying the institution of slavery as gentle and benign—the most famous being Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, a woman born 35 years after abolition. Yet as Jones-Rogers argues in her book, it was not only white women’s “ideological and sentimental connections” to slavery that made them defend it. Scarlett O'Hara would’ve been protecting her economic interests, too.

READ MORE: The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Slaves

READ MORE: Did George Washington Really Free Mount Vernon’s Slaves?

The disturbing history of enslaved mothers forced to breastfeed white babies in the 1600s

Elizabeth Johnson is a Ghanaian –Nigerian avid reader and lover of the Creative Arts. She is also a writer and has worked with various online platforms as an editor and content creator. She also produces a literary radio show and has worked as a festival administrator. Her story was featured in the 2017 Independence anthology by Afridiaspora. Her play has been staged by African Theater Workshop and she is the 2018 winner of the Random Thoughts writing Prize.

Slave trade brought many advantages to western societies. The main duty of a slave was to work on plantations increasing productivity. Slaves often worked long tedious hours in the sun with no pay or reward for their hard labour. Their presence made traders and plantation owners more productive and made their living conditions very harsh.

After a while, the duties of slaves extended to domestic work and female slaves became of high value. In addition to their plantation duties, many female slaves were taken into the homes of their masters to serve their mistresses, cook, clean and wash for them. If a mistress had too many children, the domestic worker was made to help in caring for the child. After a while, female slaves were made to take the place of low-class women paid to breastfeed babies, a practice known as wet nursing.

By the 17th century, wet nursing by slaves had become very popular in Europe. The practice soon reached America through British settlers.


Virginia Edit

From 1700 to 1740 an estimated number of 43,000 slaves were imported into Virginia, and almost all but 4,000 were imported directly from Africa. [2] Recent scholarship suggests that the number of women and men imported in this period was more or less equal and included a high number of children. [2] As most were from West Africa, its cultures were central in mid- to late- eighteenth-century slave life in Virginia. African values were prevalent and West African women's cultures had strong representations. Some prevalent cultural representations were the deep and powerful bonds between mother and child, and among women within the larger female community. [3] Among the Igbo ethnic group in particular (from present-day Nigeria), which comprised between one-third and one-half of incoming slaves in the early eighteenth century, female authority (the omu) "ruled on a wide variety of issues of importance to women in particular and the community as a whole." [4] The Igbo represented one group of people brought to the Chesapeake, but in general, Africans came from an extremely diverse range of cultural backgrounds. All came from worlds where women's communities were strong, [5] and were introduced into a patriarchal and violently racist and exploitative society white men typically characterized all black women as passionately sexual, to justify their sexual abuse and miscegenation. [6]

Virginia girls, much less black girls, were not educated, and most were illiterate. African and African American female slaves occupied a broad range of positions. The southern colonies were majorly agrarian societies and enslaved women provided labor in the fields, planting and doing chores, but mostly in the domestic sphere, nursing, taking care of children, cooking, laundering, etc. [7]

New England Edit

Historian Ira Berlin distinguished between "slave societies" and "societies with slaves." New England was considered to be a society with slaves, dependent on maritime trade and diversified agriculture, in contrast to the slave societies of the south, which were "socially, economically, and politically dependent on slave labor, had a large enslaved population, and allowed masters extensive power over their slaves unchecked by the law." [8] New England had a small slave population and masters thought of themselves as patriarchs with the duty to protect, guide, and care for their slaves. [8] Enslaved women in New England had greater opportunity to seek freedom than in other regions because of "the New England legal system, the frequency of manumission by owners, and chances for hiring out, especially among enslaved men, who seized the opportunity to earn enough money to purchase a wife and children." [9]

Enslaved women largely occupied traditional "women's work" roles and were often hired out by the day. They worked mainly as maids, in the kitchen, the barn, and the garden. They did menial and servile tasks: polished family silver or furniture, helped with clothes and hair, drew baths, barbered the men, and completed menial domestic chores like sweeping, emptying chamber pots, carrying gallons of water a day, washing the dishes, brewing, looking after young children and the elderly, cooking and baking, milking the cows, feeding the chickens, spinning, knitting, carding, sewing, and laundering. [9] Their daily work was less demanding than the field labor of enslaved women in other regions. Nonetheless enslaved women in New England worked hard, often under poor living conditions and malnutrition. "As a result of heavy work, poor housing conditions, and inadequate diet, the average black woman did not live past forty." [10]

Enslaved women were given to white women as gifts from their husbands, and as wedding and Christmas gifts. [10] The idea that New England masters treated their slaves with greater kindness in comparison to southern slave-owners is a myth. They had little mobility freedom and lacked access to education and any training. "The record of slaves who were branded by their owners, had their ears nailed, fled, committed suicide, suffered the dissolution of their families, or were sold secretly to new owners in Barbados in the last days of the Revolutionary War before they become worthless seems sufficient to refute the myth of kindly masters. They lashed out at their slaves when they were angry, filled with rage, or had convenient access to horsewhip." [11] Female slaves were sometimes forced by their masters into sexual relationships with enslaved men for the purpose of forced breeding. It was also not uncommon for enslaved women to be raped and in some cases impregnated by their masters. [ citation needed ]

Southern colonies Edit

Regardless of location, slaves endured hard and demeaning lives, but labor in the southern colonies was most severe. The southern colonies were slave societies they were "socially, economically, and politically dependent on slave labor, had a large enslaved population, and allowed masters extensive power over their slaves unchecked by the law." [8] Plantations were the economic power structure of the South, and male and female slave labor was its foundation. Early on, slaves in the South worked primarily in agriculture, on farms and plantations growing indigo, rice, and tobacco cotton became a major crop after the 1790s. Female slaves worked in a wide variety of capacities. They were expected to do field work as well as have children, and in this way increase the slave population. In the years before the American Revolution, the female slave population grew mainly as a result of natural increase and not importation. "Once slaveholders realized that the reproductive function of the female slave could yield a profit, the manipulation of procreative sexual relations became an integral part of the sexual exploitation of female slaves." [12] Many slave women raised their children without much assistance from males. Enslaved women were counted on not only to do their house and field work, but also to bear, nourish, and rear the children whom slaveholders sought to continually replenish their labor force. As houseslaves, women were domestic servants: cooking, sewing, acting as maids, and rearing the planter's children. Later on they were used in many factories, instrumental in the development of the United States, where they were kept at lower maintenance costs. [ citation needed ]

During the Revolutionary War (1775–83) enslaved women served on both sides, the Loyalist army as well as the Patriots', as nurses, laundresses, and cooks. But as historian Carol Berkin writes, "African American loyalties were to their own future, not to Congress or to king." [13] Enslaved women could be found in army camps and as camp followers. They worked building roads, constructing fortifications, and laundering uniforms, "but they remained slaves rather than refugees. Masters usually hired these women out to the military, sometimes hiring out their children as well." [14] Enslaved women could also be found working in the shops, homes, fields, and plantations of every American colony. It is estimated that by 1770, there were more than 47,000 enslaved blacks in the northern colonies, almost 20,000 of them in New York. More than 320,000 slaves worked in the Chesapeake colonies, making 37 percent of the population of the region African or African American. Over 187,000 of these slaves were in Virginia. In the Lower South there were more than 92,000 slaves. South Carolina alone had over 75,000 slaves, and by 1770 planters there were importing 4,000 Africans a year. In many counties in the Lower South, the slave population outnumbered the white. [15]

Although service in the military did not guarantee enslaved people their freedom, black men had the opportunity to escape slavery by enlisting in the army. During the disruption of war, both men and women ran away. Men were more likely to escape, as pregnant women, mothers, and women who nursed their elderly parents or friends seldom abandoned those who depended on them. [16] So many slaves deserted their plantations in South Carolina, that there were not enough field hands to plant or harvest crops. As food grew scarce, the blacks who remained behind suffered from starvation or enemy attack. The Crown issued certificates of manumission to more than 914 women as reward for serving with Loyalist forces. [17] But many women who had won their freedom lost it again "through violence and trickery and the venality of men entrusted with their care." [18] Others who managed to secure their freedom faced racial prejudice, discrimination, and poverty. When loyalist plantations were captured, enslaved women were often taken and sold for the soldiers' profit. [14] The Crown did keep promises to manumissioned slaves, evacuating them along with troops in the closing days of the war, and resettling more than 3,000 Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, and others in the Caribbean, and England. In 1792 it established Freetown, in what is now Sierra Leone, as a colony for Poor Blacks from London, as well as Black Loyalists from Canada who wanted to relocate.

One of the most well-known voices for freedom around the Revolutionary era was Phillis Wheatley of Massachusetts. She was a slave for most of her life but was given freedom by her master. Educated in Latin, Greek, and English, Wheatley wrote a collection of poems which asserted that Africans, as children of God just like Europeans, deserved respect and freedom. [ citation needed ]

In 1777, Vermont drafted a state constitution that prohibited the institution of slavery. In 1780 Massachusetts a state judge declared slavery to be unconstitutional according to the state's new bill of rights, which declared "all men. free and equal." Slavery effectively ended in Massachusetts with this ruling in a freedom suit by Quock Walker. This led to an increase of enslaved men and women suing for their freedom in New England. Also in 1780 in Pennsylvania, the legislature enacted "a gradual emancipation law that directly connected the ideals of the Revolution with the rights of the African Americans to freedom." [19] In the South, the immediate legacy of the Revolution was increased manumission by slaveholders in the first two decades after the war. But, the invention of the cotton gin enabled widespread cultivation of short-staple cotton, and with the opening up of southwestern lands to cotton and sugar production, demand for slaves increased. Legislatures made emancipation difficult to gain, and they passed harsher laws regulating African-American lives. [20]

As historian Deborah Gray White explains, "Black in a white society, slave in a free society, woman in a society ruled by men, female slaves had the least formal power and were perhaps the most vulnerable group of Americans." [1] : 15

The mother-daughter relationship was often the most enduring and as such cherished within the African-American complex of relations. [21] Relatively few women were runaways, and when they did run, they sometimes escaped with their children. Historian Martha Saxton writes about enslaved mothers' experiences in St. Louis in the antebellum period: "In Marion County, north of St. Louis, a slave trader bought three small children from an owner, but the children's mother killed them all and herself rather than let them be taken away. A St. Louis trader took a crying baby from its mother, both on their way to be sold, and made a gift of it to a white woman standing nearby because its noise was bothering him." [22] Another way these generational connections can be seen, is through song. Often songs about slavery and women's experiences during their enslavement were passed down through generations. [23] African-American Women Work Songs are historical snapshots of lived experience and survival. [24] Songs speak of families being torn apart and the emotional turmoil that enslaved women were put through by slavery. Songs add the legacy of oral tradition that fosters generational knowledge about historical periods. Little girls as young as seven were frequently sold away from their mothers:

"Mary Bell was hired out by the year to take care of three children starting when she was seven. John Mullanphy noted that he had living with him a four-year-old mulatto girl, whom he willed to the Sisters of Charity in the event of his death. George Morton sold his daughter Ellen 'a certain Mulatto girl a slave about fourteen years of age named Sally, being the child of a certain Negro woman named Ann'." [22] In 1854 Georgia was the first and only state to pass a law that put conditions of sales that separated mothers and their children. Children under five could not be sold away from their mothers, "unless such division cannot in any wise be [e]ffected without such separation.'" [22]

Slave girls in North America often worked within the domestic sphere, providing household help. White families sought the help of a "girl", an "all-purpose tool" in family life. [25] Although the word "girl" applied to any working female without children, slaves were preferred because in the long run they cost less. These enslaved girls were usually very young, anywhere from nine years of age to their mid-teens. Heavy household work was assigned to the "girl" and was therefore stigmatized as "negroes’" work. A "girl" was an essential source of help to white families, rural and urban, middle class and aspiring. She provided freedom for daughters to devote themselves to their self-development and relieved mothers from exhausting labor, while requiring no financial or emotional maintenance, "no empathy." [25]

In antebellum America, as in the past (from the initial African-European contact in North America), black women were deemed to be governed by their libidos and portrayed as "Jezebel character[s]. in every way the counterimage of the mid-nineteenth-century ideal of the Victorian lady." [26]

Enslaved women in every state of the antebellum union considered freedom, but it was a livelier hope in the North than in most of the South. Many slaves sought their freedom through self-purchase, the legal system of freedom suits, and as runaways, sometimes resulting in the separation of children and parents. "Unfinished childhoods and brutal separations punctuated the lives of most African American girls, and mothers dreamed of freedom that would not impose more losses on their daughters." [27]

Antebellum South Edit

After the Revolution, Southern plantation owners imported a massive number of new slaves from Africa and the Caribbean until the United States banned the import of slaves in 1808. More importantly, more than one million slaves were transported in a forced migration in the domestic slave trade, from the Upper South to the Deep South, most by slave traders—either overland where they were held for days in chained coffles, or by the coastwise trade and ships. The majority of slaves in the Deep South, men and women, worked on cotton plantations. Cotton was the leading cash crop during this time, but slaves also worked on rice, corn, sugarcane, and tobacco plantations, clearing new land, digging ditches, cutting and hauling wood, slaughtering livestock, and making repairs to buildings and tools. Black women also cared for their children and managed the bulk of the housework and domestic chores. Living with the dual burdens of racism and sexism, enslaved women in the South held roles within the family and community that contrasted sharply with more traditional or upper class American women's roles. [1] [ page needed ]

Young girls generally started working well before boys, with many working before age seven. [28] Although field work was traditionally considered to be "men's work," different estimates conclude that between 63-80 percent of women worked in the fields. [29] Adult female work depended greatly upon plantation size. On small farms, women and men performed similar tasks, while on larger plantations, males were given more physically demanding work. Few of the chores performed by enslaved women took them off the plantation. Therefore they were less mobile than enslaved men, who often assisted their masters in the transportation of crops, supplies, and other materials, and were often hired out as artisans and craftsmen. [1] : 76 Women also worked in the domestic sphere as servants, cooks, seamstresses, and nurses. Although a female slave's labor in the field superseded childrearing in importance, the responsibilities of childbearing and childcare greatly circumscribed the life of an enslaved woman. This also explains why female slaves were less likely to run away than men. [30]

Many female slaves were the object of severe sexual exploitation often bearing the children of their white masters, master's sons, or overseers. Slaves were prohibited from defending themselves against any type of abuse, including sexual, at the hands of white men. If a slave attempted to defend herself, she was often subjected to further beatings by the master or even by the mistress. [31] Black females, some of them children, were forced into sexual relationships for their white owners' pleasure and profit: attempting to keep the slave population growing by his own doing, and not by importing more slaves from Africa. Even Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, is believed to have fathered six mixed-race children (four survived to adulthood) with one of his female slaves, Sally Hemings, a woman three-quarters white and half-sister to his late wife, who served as the widower's concubine for more than two decades. In the case of Harriet Ann Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, her master, Dr. James Norcom, had sexually harassed her for years. Even after she had two children of her own, he threatened to sell them if she denied his sexual advances. [32] Although Harriet Jacobs managed to escape to the North with her children, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 still put their livelihood at risk due to Dr. Norcom's family continuing to pursue her. [32]

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 due to the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The decree offered enslaved men a path to freedom through military service. It wasn't until the Act of 1861 that enslaved women were allowed their freedom as they were no longer declared property of the Confederates in the south. [33] In 1868, the 14th Amendment extended citizenship rights to African Americans. "The Powers of Congress to Enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments". University of Missouri - Kansas City, School of Law. April 27, 2013.

Shocking List of 10 Companies that Profited from the Slave Trade

It is no secret that slavery rests at the foundation of American capitalism and is often synonymous with the sugar, tobacco, and/or cotton plantations that fueled the Southern economy. What many may not know is that slavery also rests at the foundation of many notable corporations. From New York Life to Bank of America, several companies have benefitted from slavery. Many of the companies even acknowledged their involvement in slavery and offered apologies in an attempt to reconcile their tainted history but, is an apology enough?

History has consistently shown that slavery has diminished the quality of life for African Americans and simultaneously enhanced the quality of life for White Americans. From institutionalized racism to blocked social and economic opportunities, African Americans are often excluded of African Americans.

Apologies cannot compensate an entire race of people for all of the social and economic ills they face as a result of their enslavement. They cannot address the residual effects of slavery. They cannot provide job opportunities to a race of people who are experiencing high unemployment rates. Apologies without action from the very systems they helped to create. Had it not been for slave labor, many corporations would not be where they are today and for these companies to acknowledge their involvement in slavery and then simply say ‘Oh, I’m sorry”, is to downplay their role in perpetuating the degradation are nothing more than a futile attempt to correct a wrong by pacifying the wronged. Instead of apologies, these companies could give back to the African American community by donating to HBCUs, investing in minority businesses, offering more minority scholarships, or launching initiatives to increase their number of minority employees. These companies include:

New York Life found that its predecessor (Nautilus Insurance Company) sold slaveholder policies during the mid-1800s.

Tiffany and Co. was originally financed with profits from a Connecticut cotton mill. The mill operated from cotton picked by slaves.

Aetna insured the lives of slaves during the 1850’s and reimbursed slave owners when their slaves died.

Brooks Brothers

The suit retailer started their company in the 1800s by selling clothes for slaves to slave traders.

Norfolk Southern

Two companies (Mobile & Girard and the Central of Georgia) became part of Norfolk Southern. Mobile & Girard paid slave owners $180 to rent their slaves to the railroad for a year. The Central of Georgia owned several slaves.

Bank of America

Bank of America found that two of its predecessor banks (Boatman Savings Institution and Southern Bank of St. Louis) had ties to slavery and another predecessor (Bank of Metropolis) accepted slaves as collateral on loans.

U.S.A. Today reported that its parent company (E.W. Scripps and Gannett) was linked to the slave trade.

Two institutions that became part of Wachovia (Georgia Railroad and Banking Company and the Bank of Charleston) owned or accepted slaves as collateral on mortgaged property or loans.

AIG purchased American General Financial which owns U.S. Life Insurance Company. AIG found documentation that U.S. Life insured the lives of slaves.

JPMorgan Chase reported that between 1831 and 1865, two of its predecessor banks (Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana) accepted approximately 13,000 slaves as loan collateral and seized approximately 1,250 slaves when plantation owners defaulted on their loans.

Remembering the Women of Slavery by Sylviane Diouf March 27, 2015

Since my graduate school days in Paris, I have been researching and writing and talking about the slave trade and slavery. On March 25, I had the honor of doing the latter during the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Here's what I wanted people to know and remember:

It is a great honor to be here today among you as we commemorate the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade whose memory has been so movingly captured and rendered by architect Rodney Leon. This year’s theme, “Women and Slavery,” comes fittingly on the heels of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. This theme reminds us that no history, no present and no future can be written without recognizing the vital role of women that, unfortunately, is too often obscured, glossed over, forgotten, or even denied.

So I am particularly pleased to be helping to break the silence that surrounds the women who were not simply the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, but were also immense contributors to the creation of a new world. But, first, let us remember that between the early 1500s and 1867 as many captives crossed the Atlantic as were forced out of Africa by all the other slave trades combined from 500 CE to 1900. The transatlantic slave trade was the most massive forced migration in history.

As a result, from 1492 to 1820, 80 percent of the people who arrived in the Americas were Africans, only 20 percent were Europeans. Africans landed in every country, from Argentina to Bolivia, from every Caribbean Island to Honduras and North America. The Africans’ skills, knowledge, and work transformed the land. They mined and cultivated the riches of the continents. They built cities and towns, and fought for their freedom and the independence of the countries that enslaved them, all the while developing new cultures, new languages, new religions, new peoples. Females represented 30 percent of the people who survived the Middle Passage.

We know that most deported Africans were between the ages of 15 and 30. What it means is that the majority of the women who boarded the slave ships were married and had children. It was the case for many men too. These women were not only daughters and sisters, then, but they were also wives and mothers leaving husbands and young children behind, or seeing them embark on another ship.

The sheer agony at being so brutally separated from the family that had loved them, uprooted from their community forever can never be adequately described, and it often was expressed without words. On the slave ships, one surgeon explained, men and women “showed signs of extreme distress and despair, from a feeling of their situation at being torn from their friends and connections. They were often heard in the night making a howling melancholy noise, expressive of extreme anguish. It was because they had dreamed they were in their own country again, and finding themselves, when awake, in the hold of a slave-ship. This exquisite sensibility was particularly observable among the women many of whom, on such occasions, he found in hysteric fits.”

The women who survived the ordeal represented 80 percent of all the women who landed in the Americas before 1820. Their presence had a considerable impact on the formation of the continents’ societies. They were central to the demographic, social, and cultural development of the Western Hemisphere.

They carried with them their knowledge of medicinal plants and various crops, their skills at gardening and midwifery, their cuisines, their songs, dances, and stories, and their gendered traditions, values, cultures, and religious practices. Although their mortality rates were high and their fertility rates were low, they were the women who brought to the world the first generations of Americans.

But as slaves and as women, they and their daughters and granddaughters bore the brunt of oppression. Studies have shown that women were more likely to be subjected to excessive physical abuse than men. They were more vulnerable, less likely to respond with force. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “He is whipped oftenest, who is whipped easiest.” Women, like men, were stripped naked and whipped and humiliated in front of their children and the larger community.

The abjection of slavery took an added dimension when women were concerned. They were the victims of sexual abuse, from harassment to forced prostitution, and from breeding to rape. Rape by sailors on the slave ships, and rape by overseers, slaveholders, and their sons in the Americas was a persistent threat to all, a horrific reality to many. Used, like it continues to be used today, as a weapon of terror, rape was meant to assert power over and demean not only the women, but also their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, who were reminded daily that they were considered less than men since they could not protect their womenfolk. Breeding through compulsion or incentives was another appaling feature of the gender-based violence and exploitation women had to endure. Overall, the sexual abuse of women was part of the larger attempt at demoralization and submission of the entire community.

Slavery did not recognize the sanctity of marriage. Couples and families could be broken up at any time, without warning. Commonly, except on large plantations, husbands and wives did not reside on the same place, sometimes not in the same neighborhood following sales or owners’ relocation. Thus, the reality is that despite men’s often incredibly heroic efforts at visiting and supporting their families, women were forced to raise their children largely on their own, for as long as they could since they lived under the constant threat of sales, sale of their children, or their own sale.

But in the midst of it all, women fought back in a multitude of ways. Throughout the Americas, their “insolence” was noted. Verbal confrontations, gestures, attitudes, looks, facial expressions that showed lack of respect and challenged authority were deemed to be mostly the weapon of women. These overt manifestations of hostility and insubordination could be brutally punished. It was often the women who were the poisoners of animals and people, spreading terror among slaveholders who feared for their lives and the lives of their families, and saw their holdings in beasts and humans shrink.Rejecting the owners’ management of their fertility, mothers and midwives were the abortionists, and the perpetrators of infanticide who refused to bring children into a miserable world and increase slaveholders’ fortunes.

Even if less frequently than men, women ran away to cities and free territories or stayed on their own or with their families in small and large maroon communities all over the Western Hemisphere. In the United States, there were mothers and their children who lived in caves they had dug 7 feet under the ground. Some gave birth there and remained safely hidden for years. During insurrections women fed the fighters, transported ammunition, acted as spies, and tended to the wounded. Some fought arms in hand sometimes disguised as men. Others used their gender as a weapon. The uprising and the revolution in St Domingue, for example, saw some women exchange sexual favors with the French soldiers for bullets and gunpowder. Women were hanged, whipped to death, burned alive, mauled by dogs, or shot for marronage, assault, arson, poisoning, or rebellion.

But one of the most enduring aspects of women’s resistance was the preservation and passing on of culture. Because of the widespread dislocation of families, mothers were, not the only but too often the main, social and cultural nurturers of 15 generations of enslaved men and women in the Americas. Given the circumstances, they, predominantly, provided their children with the inner strength and the coping mechanisms that enabled them to survive, live, love, hope, create, and form strong, resourceful communities.Through oral traditions, skills, deeds, example, and sheer determination, women largely kept the African Diaspora in the Atlantic world together. They were instrumental in creating and transmitting the dynamic and vibrant cultures we know as African-American, Gullah-Geechee, Caribbean, Bushinenge, Afro-Peruana, Afro-Brasileira, Creole, and antillaise.

The women’s bravery and stamina in a world that tried to degrade them as human beings, as Africans, and as women, is an extraordinarily inspiring example for all times and all places. In a most evil terror system, in a racist, sexist and patriarchal environment, women found ways: they taught, they protected, they nurtured, they challenged, and they fought.

The women’s struggles, alongside the men, did not end with the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. As the need for an International Decade for People of African Descent abundantly shows, their 200 million descendants in the Atlantic world still face daunting obstacles: individual and institutional racism, racial and gender marginalization and discrimination, poverty, de facto segregation and the denial of basic rights. Breaking the silence and confronting these issues, including modern slavery and sexual slavery that primarily victimize girls and women, are our responsibility today so that the next generations will not have to fight the same battles.

As a historian of the slave trade and slavery, there are many things I wish I did not know, or I wish I could forget. But one thing I know and I will not forget is the remarkable creativity, energy, resourcefulness and fortitude of the women who, with amazing courage and grace, showed us the way.

The Ark of Return at the United Nations

That memorable day saw the unveiling of the magnificent “Ark of Return,” a beautiful, striking memorial designed by architect Rodney Leon, who is also the creator of the African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan. The permanent memorial is located on UN ground.


End of the American slave trade Edit

The laws that ultimately abolished the Atlantic slave trade came about as a result of the efforts of British abolitionist Christian groups such as the Society of Friends, known as Quakers, and Evangelicals led by William Wilberforce, whose efforts through the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade led to the passage of the 1807 Slave Trade Act by the British parliament in 1807. [3] This led to increased calls for abolition in America, supported by members of the U.S. Congress from both the North and the South as well as President Thomas Jefferson. [4]

At the same time that the importation of slaves from Africa was being restricted or eliminated, the United States was undergoing a rapid expansion of cotton, sugar cane, and rice production in the Deep South and the West. Invention of the cotton gin enabled the profitable cultivation of short-staple cotton, which could be produced more widely than other types this led to the economic preeminence of cotton throughout the Deep South. Slaves were treated as a commodity by owners and traders alike, and were regarded as the crucial labor for the production of lucrative cash crops that fed the triangle trade. [5] [6]

The slaves were managed as chattel assets, similar to farm animals. Slave owners passed laws regulating slavery and the slave trade, designed to protect their financial investment. The enslaved workers had no more rights than a cow or a horse, or as famously put by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, "they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect". On large plantations, enslaved families were separated for different types of labor. Men tended to be assigned to large field gangs. Workers were assigned to the task for which they were best physically suited, in the judgment of the overseer. [7] [8]

Breeding in response to end of slave imports Edit

The prohibition on the importation of slaves into the United States after 1808 limited the supply of slaves in the United States. This came at a time when the invention of the cotton gin enabled the expansion of cultivation in the uplands of short-staple cotton, leading to clearing lands cultivating cotton through large areas of the Deep South, especially the Black Belt. The demand for labor in the area increased sharply and led to an expansion of the internal slave market. At the same time, the Upper South had an excess number of slaves because of a shift to mixed-crops agriculture, which was less labor-intensive than tobacco. To add to the supply of slaves, slaveholders looked at the fertility of slave women as part of their productivity, and intermittently forced the women to have large numbers of children. During this time period, the terms "breeders", "breeding slaves", "child bearing women", "breeding period", and "too old to breed" became familiar. [9]

Planters in the Upper South states started selling slaves to the Deep South, generally through slave traders such as Franklin and Armfield. Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River was a major slave market and port for shipping slaves downriver by the Mississippi to the South. New Orleans had the largest slave market in the country and became the fourth largest city in the US by 1840 and the wealthiest, mostly because of its slave trade and associated businesses. [10]

In the antebellum years, numerous escaped slaves wrote about their experiences in books called slave narratives. Many recounted that at least a portion of slave owners continuously interfered in the sexual lives of their slaves (usually the women). The slave narratives also testified that slave women were subjected to rape, arranged marriages, forced matings, sexual violation by masters, their sons or overseers, and other forms of abuse.

The historian E. Franklin Frazier, in his book The Negro Family, stated that "there were masters who, without any regard for the preferences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did their stock." Ex-slave Maggie Stenhouse remarked, "Durin' slavery there were stockmen. They was weighed and tested. A man would rent the stockman and put him in a room with some young women he wanted to raise children from." [11]

Personhood to thinghood Edit

Several factors coalesced to make the breeding of slaves a common practice by the end of the 18th century, chief among them the enactment of laws and practices that transformed the view of slaves from "personhood" into "thinghood". In this way, slaves could be bought and sold as chattel without presenting a challenge to the religious beliefs and social mores of the society at large. All rights were to the owner of the slave, with the slave having no rights of self-determination either to his or her own person, spouse, or children.

Slaveholders began to think that slavery was grounded in the Bible. This view was inspired in part by an interpretation of the Genesis passage "And he said, Cursed be Canaan a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." (Genesis 9) Ham, son of Noah and father of Canaan, was deemed the antediluvian progenitor of the African people. Some whites used the Bible to justify the economic use of slave labor. The subjugation of slaves was taken as a natural right of the white slave owners. The second class position of the slave was not limited to his relationship with the slave master but was to be in relation to all whites. Slaves were considered subject to white persons. [12]

Demographics Edit

In a study of 2,588 slaves in 1860 by the economist Richard Sutch, he found that on slave-holdings with at least one woman, the average ratio of women to men exceeded 2:1. The imbalance was greater in the "selling states", [ clarification needed ] where the excess of women over men was 300 per thousand. [ clarification needed ] [13]

Natural increase vs systematic breeding Edit

Ned Sublette, co-author of The American Slave Coast, states that the reproductive worth of "breeding women" was essential to the young country's expansion not just for labor but as merchandise and collateral stemming from a shortage of silver, gold, or sound paper tender. He concludes that slaves and their descendants were used as human savings accounts with newborns serving as interest that functioned as the basis of money and credit in a market premised on the continual expansion of slavery. [14]

Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman reject the idea that systematic slave breeding was a major economic concern in their 1974 book Time on the Cross. [15] They argue that there is very meager evidence for the systematic breeding of slaves for sale in the market in the Upper South during the 19th century. They distinguish systematic breeding—the interference in normal sexual patterns by masters with an aim to increase fertility or encourage desirable characteristics—from pro-natalist policies, the generalized encouragement of large families through a combination of rewards, improved living and working conditions for fertile women and their children, and other policy changes by masters. They point out that the demographic evidence is subject to a number of interpretations. Fogel argues that when planters intervened in the private lives of slaves it actually had a negative impact on population growth. [2]

The hidden history of America’s richest, cruelest slave owners

A window in the basement of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield's slaveholding "pen" in Alexandria, Va. The two men, largely forgotten today, were the most successful - and cruelest - domestic slave traders in American history. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain The Washington Post

The two most ruthless domestic slave traders in America had a secret language for their business.

Slave trading was a "game." The men, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, were daring "pirates" or "one-eyed men," a euphemism for their penises. The women they bought and sold were "fancy maids," a term signifying youth, beauty and potential for sexual exploitation - by buyers or the traders themselves.

"To my certain knowledge she has been used & that smartly by a one eyed man about my size and age, excuse my foolishness," Isaac Franklin's nephew James - an employee and his uncle's protege - wrote in typical business correspondence, referring to Caroline Brown, an enslaved woman who suffered repeated rape and abuse at James' hands for five months. She was 18 at the time and just over five feet tall.

Franklin and Armfield, who headquartered their slave trading business in a townhouse that still stands in Alexandria, Virginia, sold more enslaved people, separated more families and made more money from the trade than almost anyone else in America. Between the 1820s and 1830s, the two men reigned as the "undisputed tycoons" of the domestic slave trade, as Smithsonian Magazine put it.

As the country marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Americans are being forced to confront the brutality of slavery and of the people who profited from it. Few profited more than the two Virginia slave traders.

Their success was immense: The duo amassed a fortune worth several billions in today's dollars and retired as two of the nation's wealthiest men, according to Joshua Rothman, a professor of history at the University of Alabama who is writing a book on Franklin and Armfield. Several factors set the pair apart, Rothman explained: For one thing, their timing was impeccable. They got into the domestic slave trade just as the cotton economy - and American demand for enslaved labor - exploded, and quit right before the United States sank into the financial panic of 1837.

Their location was also prime, perched so they could collect enslaved people from plantations across Virginia and Maryland and sending them on forced marches - in groups of several hundred known as "coffles" - or on tightly packed ships along the Atlantic Coast to the Deep South. While their business strategy was not especially innovative, it was conducted on a scale "bigger and better than anyone else," Rothman said. Franklin and Armfield transported an estimated 10,000 enslaved people over the course of their careers, according to Rothman.

"They're the ones who turned the business of selling humans from one part of the U.S. to another . into a very modern, organized business - no longer just one trader who might move a few people from one plantation to another," said Maurie D. McInnis, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the cultural history of slavery. "They created a modern machinery to support the business of human trafficking."

That was possible largely because of the traders' willingness to be unusually cruel and heartless - even for a business built around the sale of human beings - as they committed atrocities they appeared to relish.

"In surviving correspondence, they actually brag about raping enslaved people who they've been processing through the firm," said Calvin Schermerhorn, a professor of history at Arizona State University. "This seemed to be as much a part of Franklin and Armfield's culture of business as, say, going to the bar after a successful court case might be the culture of a successful law firm's business."

Yet today, almost no one knows their names.

When Franklin and Armfield retired, they passed easily into elite white society, achieving respectable dotage without a murmur. History, too, has largely "let them off scot-free," Schermerhorn said. Few, if any, American high school or college students ever learn about the duo.

"I think America continues to be uncomfortable talking about the original sin of slavery," McInnis said. "And this is one of its most horrific chapters."

The slave trade was all Isaac Franklin ever knew.

He was born in 1789 to a wealthy planter family in Tennessee that owned "a significant number" of enslaved people, according to Rothman. In his late teens, right around the time the United States passed a law barring the transatlantic slave trade, Franklin and his older brothers grew interested in the domestic version: They began transporting small numbers of enslaved people between Virginia and the Deep South.

Franklin developed a taste for the business and, after taking a brief break to fight in the War of 1812, dedicated himself to slave trading full-time. It was all he did for the rest of his professional life, right up until he retired.

"His brothers never got back into the slave trade, but Isaac really decides this is going to be his game: He's good at it, he likes it, he can make money at it, he sticks with it," Rothman said.

Franklin worked with a few partners over the years but connected with his longest-lasting collaborator - the man who became his closest friend, confidant and nephew by marriage - in the early 1820s. At the time, John Armfield was lacking in purpose: Shiftless and footloose, he had recently been chased away from a county in North Carolina for fathering a child out of wedlock, Rothman said.

His path to the slave trade was less clear-cut than Franklin's. Born in 1797 to lapsed Quakers who farmed several hundred acres in North Carolina and owned a small number of enslaved people, Armfield spent his early adulthood pursuing a variety of unsuccessful ventures, including a small mercantile shop - which he was forced to abandon after his affair.

Though unsure what he wanted to do, Armfield was clear on what he didn't: He loathed farming. So, "floundering about" in the wake of the sex scandal, Armfield decided he would "just dabble in the slave trade," according to Rothman.

Franklin and Armfield met a few years after that in the course of business and immediately developed a rapport, Rothman said - an intimacy that continued for decades and fueled their profitability. In 1834, the two men became family when Armfield married Franklin's niece.

"They are each other's closest friends and that's rooted in their working relationship," Rothman said. "Part of the reason they're successful is they work well together: Each understands the other's strengths, they trust and respect each other."

The two men launched the slave trading firm Franklin & Armfield and moved into the Alexandria townhouse - today a museum - in 1828. From the beginning, they divvied the work according to each man's strength: Armfield, based in Virginia, managed the "buying side of things" and arranged transportation, Rothman said. Franklin, meanwhile, stayed mostly in Natchez, Mississippi, and was responsible for selling their human cargo to plantations in the Deep South.

It worked like this: Relying on a network of headhunters spread across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, Armfield would round up enslaved people, holding them in an open-air pen behind the house in Alexandria - or sometimes in its crowded, filthy basement - until heɽ amassed a sufficient number: usually between 100 and 200. Then, heɽ send the group on an arduous 1,000-mile march to slave markets in Natchez or New Orleans - or heɽ stuff them into one of the company's three massive ships to make the same journey by water.

At the peak of their business, the two men were moving roughly 1,000 people a year, historians said.

They placed ads in local newspapers seeking enslaved people almost every single day they remained in business. They developed cruel stratagems to boost their bottom line: For example, they "designated less space per person [on their ships] than the trans-Atlantic slave trade vessels did," Schermerhorn said.

While enslaved people waited in Franklin and Armfield's "holding pen" in Alexandria, the two men most likely adopted classic techniques employed by slave traders to enhance enslaved people's salability, McInnis said. That meant feeding their captives large amounts of corn pone and pork to "fatten them up," dying gray hair black "so they looked younger," and - if an enslaved person's skin was scarred with whip marks - smearing wax into the wounds "so they looked healthier," according to McInnis.

"The whole thing was so evil," McInnis said.

Through it all, both regularly raped the women they bought and sold and joked about it in letters, a shared habit that deepened their friendship. Franklin and Armfield each fathered at least one child with an enslaved woman, Rothman said. He suspects the abuse, which had no financial purpose, stemmed from a desire for raw power: "They did it because they could, and they felt like it."

When Franklin wed a rich socialite in 1839, he had been "raping the same enslaved woman" for about five years and had fathered a child with her, Rothman said. Franklin sold the enslaved woman and her baby right after his wedding.

Slavery in America: United States’ Black Mark

Though slavery in America has long since been illegal in the United States, the ramifications of the African slave trade that almost broke the new nation are still felt throughout American society, politics, and culture today.

While the rest of the world had long engaged in the forced servitude of people throughout history, America was introduced to the first African slaves by Dutch merchants in 1619, which spiraled into more than two hundred years of economic reliability on slaves.

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However, the enslavement of Africans in the New World was just one faction of slavery in America, with the forced servitude of Native Americans throughout the American Southwest and California also being present, and resulting in the genocide of many Native Americans throughout the territories.

Many people may incorrectly believe that the enslavement of Africans was America’s only abuse of slavery, but the first use of slavery in the Americas came with the Spanish conquerors when they settled in Mexico, California, and what is today known as the American Southwest, and was also used frequently throughout the American Southeast as well. As early as 1542, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer, claimed the California territories for Spain, the forced servitude of Native Americans resulted as many of the soldiers used native free labor to help build battlements, forts, and Catholic missions.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, missions throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States would capture the Native Californians, baptize them as Catholics, and then force them to work in different missions around Spain’s extended empire. While many missions stated they would release the Natives, who worked as planters, masons, cattle herders, carpenters, and more, after a decade of servitude, but often this never happened.

The Southern colonies of the United States were equally responsible, with their large plantations require massive amounts of labor. Paired with the poor treatment of the slaves, there was always need for more hands and bodies to do the backbreaking work. In many cases, the colonies in the Southeast had more Native American slaves than African slaves prior to the years of the American Revolution due to the fact they were cheaper and easy to get than African slaves, which had to be shipped from Africa and were often more expensive once they reached the Americas.

In fact, the trade of slaves with Native Americans was very popular in the Southeastern colonies, with colonists trading labor for goods and weapons in return for other natives that had been captured during battle or sieges. Some Native Americans were then traded to the Caribbean, where they were less likely to run away.

However, the Native Americans proved to be less reliable, and physically able, to live with the harsh working conditions of slavery, which, in conjunction with the profitable economy for cotton, tobacco, and other agricultural trades in the South, led to the increase of the African slave trade.

The ship carrying the first Africans to Jamestown, the first colony in America, in 1619 was made up of 20 Africans, and they were not immediately made slaves. The early American colonists didn’t particularly have a problem with slavery, but they were deeply religious, and as the first 20, and the next thousand Africans who would follow, were baptized as Christians, the colonists considered them exempt from slavery.

Many Africans, some even of mixed race with Spanish and Portuguese, lived as indentured servants, exactly the same as the Europeans bartering passage in exchange for years of labor, and were later freed and able to own land and slaves of their own (which some did).

The slave trade in America as we know it today was not an immediate institution, but one that evolved as the economies and social constructs changed with the times. Massachusetts became the first colony to legalize slavery, in 1641, but it wasn’t until 1654 that a black indentured servant was legally bound to his “master” for life, rather than a designated time that could be finished.

Since the colonies were dictated by English law, and loosely by European law, there was little understanding of how to deal with African or black citizens, as they were generally considered foreigners and outside of the English common law, which was the reigning governing law of the time. Unlike America, Britain had no procedure in place for accepting immigrants, and it wasn’t until 1662 that Virginia adopted a law to address the subject of immigrant or natural-born Americans of non-white parentage.

Known as the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, English law stated that any generations born into the colony were forced to take the social position of the mother, thereby claiming that any children born of slave mother was born a slave, whether a Christian or not, and subject to enslavement for life.

What was peculiar about this law was its objection to English common law, in that children born are required to take the status of the father, and it created many problems for slave women for more than a century. With white men not needing to take responsibility of their children, decades of abuse between owner and slave resulted in mixed-race children and infinite scandals.

In 1705, Virginia enacted their slave codes, a set of rules that further defined the position of slaves under the law in the colonies. In Virginia, slaves were people that were imported from non-Christian countries, however, the colonists still considered Native Americans slaves due to the fact that they were not Christian.

Thirty years later, Georgia prohibited slavery throughout the colony, the only one out of the 13, and continued to prohibit it until 1750, when the colony authorized slavery stating that it was unable to meet production demands on the numbers of indentured servants alone.

Louisiana, which was not an English colony but a French one, was under the rule of the French Code Noir, which already regulated the institution of slavery throughout France’s other conquests, including the Caribbean and New France. The regulations, however, were somewhat different than those of the English.

Under French law, slaves were allowed to marry, were considered inseparable after a union was made, and children were not allowed to be separated from their mothers. Though punishment of slaves in certain circumstances was systematically harsh, there were far more free people of color throughout the Louisiana colony than in any other in the Americas.

They were often business owners, and were educated, or even held their own slaves, but under the law, which still differentiated between black and white, people of mixed race were still considered black. After the Louisiana purchase, the slaves in Louisiana lost their “freedom” and denied the rights they had under French Rule. While slavery in the North did exist, it was less agriculturally oriented and more domestic many slaves in the Northern colonies were maids, butlers, cooks, and other household roles.

Though the number can’t be exactly placed, historians believe that as many as 7 million Africans were transported from their native home to the United States throughout the 1700s, despite many colonists feeling strongly against slavery, and if not strongly against slavery, they were at least in favor of emancipation due to the fear of slave revolts.

In 1775, one year prior to America’s independence, the governor of Virginia proposed freeing the slaves of the colony in return that they fight for the British. Some 1500 slaves, which were owned by American Patriots, left their masters to fight for the British, and 300 are said to have made it to freedom back in England.

Under the proclamation however, the slaves owned by loyalists were not freed, and remained in servitude. Many more slaves used the general disruption of the war to escape, running to the North, or to the West, to escape from their capturers while battles raged on around them. For those who fought for the British, around 20,000 freed slaves were taken to freedom in Canada, the Caribbean, and England.

Many more Africans, however, fought against the British during the Revolutionary War, winning the respect of the European-Americans, who came to regard the African slaves as being as oppressed by slaveholders as they were by the British. George Washington personally promised that any slaves who fought for the Patriots would be freedmen, and throughout the Revolutionary War, the American army was up to a one-fourth black, which included both freemen and former slaves.

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While the war raged in the colonies, Britain became the dominate international slave trader, and the American government forbade the importation of more foreign slaves, although later, after the turn of the century, due to the economic reliance on slaves on plantations such as tobacco, rice, and indigo, the trade was once again opened in Georgia and South Carolina.

Though the North was well on it’s way to industrialization, the South was a robust agricultural economy, one that made the thought of slavery as an illegal practice in the new country a pipe dream, for there was one plant in particular that would change the slave trade in America forever: cotton.

Those who say that America was built on the back of slaves harvesting cotton are a lot closer to the truth than they think after the fields of the 13th colonies were picked dry of nutrients for growing tobacco, and the English textile industries picked up, the huge demand for American cotton meant a huge demand for slaves. Prior to 1793, the process of separating cotton from its seed was a tiresome, and time consuming task done by hand by slaves.

Cotton was profitable, but not as much as it could be. After Eli Whitney, a young school teacher from the North invented the cotton gin, a machine that separated the see from the cotton ball, the lives of Americans changed almost overnight. No longer were slaves required to sort the cotton, but the demand for more and more crop and the work of a cotton gin, increased the country’s dependency on slaves, so instead of cutting down on the slave trade, it more than doubled the need for slavery.

After the Revolutionary War was won by the Patriots, the Constitution of the United States set to heal with the subject of slavery while the country was not uniform in its decision to legalize slavery, it did provide provisions to protect the slave trade and slaveholders. among those provisions included laws that would allow dates to require the return of escaped slaves to their proper homes.

As previously set down by the British, A state population was determined by the rate of 3/5 per slave, in relation to a whole vote from freed citizens. Prior to the Revolution and continuing after the war, the Northern state abolished slavery throughout their region, with New Jersey being the last to adopt the practice in 1804.

Freed status however did not mean a lack discrimination most freedmen still were subject to racial segregation. And while the Southern economy is somewhat vilified in history as the sole protector of slavery, much of the wealth generated by the North during the 18th century was as a result of landowning and wealth aggregates that originated in the South. However with the large slave populations, the South continued to gain power in Congress due to the three-fifths agreement, and all of the wealth generated by the slave labor, ultimately resulted in a South that was too powerful to give up slavery or so it thought.

As America moved into the 19th century, abolitionism took reins of the North. A movement designed to end slavery, the support above the Mason-Dixon line was overwhelming and thoroughly angelical. Considered “a peculiar institution” among contemporaries, though, slavery was seen as a necessary evil to keep up with the demands of the international cotton trade, at least from a ruling perspective.

No one wanted to upset the fragile balance of the new democracy, or wreak the thriving economy that was building out of it. Not only did the drive for more cotton increase the domestic slave trade in the U.S., but it also incurred a second side effect: migration of slaves out West. Dubbed the “Second Middle Passage,” it was a defining moment of the 19th century, and the resounding event between the American Revolution and the Civil War.

During this time, many slaves lost their families, ethnicity, and historical identity as communities were broken up, traded across slaves, and moved out west. Whipping, hangings, mutilation, torture, beating, burning, and branding were just a few of the punishments and cruelty shown to slaves by their slave holders. While conditions varied throughout the South, the harsh conditions were fueled by the fear of rebellion, and the slave codes, based on colonial era law, defined the relationships between slave and master, with the master hardly ever being prosecuted for wrongdoing.

The slave rebellions that plantation and slave owners feared were not a false fear–there were several rebellions after 1776 that are worth mentioning, including Gabriel’s conspiracy (1800), Igbo Landing slave escape (1803), Chatham Manor Rebellion (1805), 1811 German Coast Uprising (1811), George Boxley Rebellion (1815), Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy (1822), Nat Turner’s slave rebellion (1831), Black Seminole Slave Rebellion (1835-1838), Amistad seizure (1839), Creole case (1841), and the 1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation.

Of those, perhaps the most famous is Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, also known as the Southampton Insurrection, where Nat Turner, an educated slave who claimed to have divine visions, organized a group of slaves and then murdered 60 white people in Southampton, Virginia. The lasting effects of this rebellion were tragic–the North Carolina militia retaliated by killing some 100 slaves, not just those suspected, free people of color lost their vote, and other slave states began to severely restrict the movements of both slaves and free people of color. Among these laws included anti-literacy rules, which levied strong penalties on anyone who was suspected of educating slaves.

Led by free backs such as Frederick Douglass, a free black man, and white abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, writer of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, their activism grew between the 1830s and 1860s. Not only were abolitionists actively petitioning in the North, but they were also moving to help fugitive slaves escape from the South through a collection of safe houses.

Figures such as Harriet Tubman, and the Underground Railroad, became a defining characteristic of Pre-Civil War America, estimating that anywhere between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand slaves successfully escaped to freedom. But with Western Expansion continuing the fragile balance of pro-slave and anti-slave states, much of the many tensions between the North and the South accelerated. The Missouri Compromise, which allowed Maine admittance as a free state, Missouri as a slave state, and all western lands south of Missouri’s Southern line to be free, the balance was maintained.

But in 1854, after the Mexican war and more land was added to the American territories, the Kansas-Nebraska Act reopened the question of slavery in the new lands, and the new state of Kansas, which was admitted into the union and allowed to choose it’s slave status, created a bloodbath of civil unrest known as Bleeding Kansas. Just 6 years later, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president, seven states seceded from the United States of America, with four more to come, and named themselves the Confederate States of America.

While Lincoln’s abolitionist personal views were well known, it was with the idea of reuniting the American Union that caused him to move to war. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln read an initial emancipation proclamation that named “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” With that, and around 3 million newly freed black slaves in the southern rebellion states, the Emancipation Proclamation took the economic advantage out from under the Southern economy and the war ended in 1865, with a new country emerging from the bloodiest battle in America’s history.

Britain's massive debt to slavery

An illustration from the 19th century showing slaves in Barbados celebrating emancipation in 1833. In fact 'they were to work unpaid on the plantations for their former masters – while they 'learned to labour'. It took five more years to achieve 'full freedom' in 1838.' Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

An illustration from the 19th century showing slaves in Barbados celebrating emancipation in 1833. In fact 'they were to work unpaid on the plantations for their former masters – while they 'learned to labour'. It took five more years to achieve 'full freedom' in 1838.' Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

F orgetting the violence, pain and shame that is an inevitable part of any country's historical record is a critical aspect of a nation's history. This disavowal of the past is an active process: forgetting Mau Mau, for example, and the brutality of the British response to it was done deliberately by occluding the archival record it was only revealed by the patient work of determined survivors and dedicated historians.

Forgetting Britain's role in the slave trade began as soon as the trade was abolished in 1807. The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson's celebrated history of the campaign to end slavery focused on the work of white humanitarian men and their role in building a successful movement. He neglected not only the activism of black and female abolitionists but also the horrors of the trade itself, which he knew intimately.

A similar process took place in relation to emancipation in 1833. As soon as chattel slavery was abolished in the British West Indies, Mauritius and the Cape, the British began to congratulate themselves on their generosity. Abolition was redefined as a demonstration of Britain's commitment to liberty and freedom, and its claim to be the most progressive and civilised nation in the world.

In the language of the day, abolition was to wash away the sins of the nation. Yet the freedom that was granted by the imperial parliament to enslaved men and women was a relative one. They were to be "apprenticed" for four to six years – to work unpaid on the plantations for their former masters – while they "learned to labour". It took five more years of resistance in the Caribbean and campaigning "at home" to achieve "full freedom" in 1838.

What is more, £20m (equivalent to 40% of state expenditure in 1834) was paid in compensation by the British government to the slave owners to secure their agreement to the loss of "their" property – despite the fact that the moral basis of the campaign against slavery was that it was wrong to hold property in people. The "value" of the enslaved was judged according to the levels of their skill and the productivity of the colonies where they lived. An enslaved man in British Guiana was thus worth more than one in Jamaica, where productivity had declined and men were worth more than women. This was yet another moment in the commodification of human beings – not now sold in the slave market but their price determined by colonial officials and settled in government offices.

Detailed records were kept of all those who claimed for compensation and those archives, never systematically studied before, throw new light on how the slavery business contributed in significant ways to Britain becoming the first industrial nation. Today, the encyclopedia that we have created using these archives goes online with free public access. It records the 46,000 individual claims which were made for compensation together with the information we have collected on the 3,000 or so Britons who lived in Britain but had property in people. These men and women (and there were a considerable number of women who lived off slave-ownership) were anxious that their identities as slave owners be forgotten. And until now they had been very successful.

Some of the direct descendants of slave owners are well-known: George Orwell, Graham Greene and Quintin Hogg – not to speak of the banks and legal firms built on slavery's profits. In focusing on slave owners, our purpose is not to name and shame. We seek to undo the forgetting: to re-remember, as Toni Morrison put it to recognise the ways in which the fruits of slavery are part of our collective history – embedded in our country and town houses, the philanthropic institutions, the art collections, the merchant banks and legal firms, the railways, and the ways we continue to think about race. Slave owners were actively involved in reconfiguring race after slavery, popularising new legitimations for inequality that remain part of the legacy of Britain's colonial past. Captain Marryat, the son of a leading slave owner, and one of the most popular writers of naval fiction and children's stories, systematically racialised "others", creating hierarchies in which white Anglo Saxons were always at the top.

Across the Caribbean a movement is building for forms of restitution for the gross inequalities and underdevelopment that have persisted since the days of slavery. Their focus is on the state and governmental responsibility. In demonstrating Britain's debt to slavery, one of the ways in which modern Britain has benefited from and been disfigured by its colonial past, we hope we are contributing to a richer, more honest understanding of the connected histories of empire than is to be found in the parochialism and obsfuscations of Michael Gove's "island story".

Slavery is known to have existed as early as the Shang dynasty (18th–12th century bce ) in China. It has been studied thoroughly in ancient Han China (206 bce –25 ce ), where perhaps 5 percent of the population was enslaved. Slavery continued to be a feature of Chinese society down to the 20th century. For most of that period it appears that slaves were generated in the same ways they were elsewhere, including capture in war, slave raiding, and the sale of insolvent debtors. In addition, the Chinese practiced self-sale into slavery, the sale of women and children (to satisfy debts or because the seller could not feed them), and the sale of the relatives of executed criminals. Finally, kidnapping seems to have produced a regular flow of slaves at some times. The go-between or middleman was an important figure in the sale of local people into slavery he provided the distance that made such slaves into outsiders, for the purchasers did not know their origins. Chinese family boundaries were relatively permeable, and some owners established kinlike relations with their slaves male slaves were appointed as heirs when no natural offspring existed. As was also the case in other slave-owning societies, slaves in China were often luxury consumption items who constituted a drain on the economy. The reasons China never developed into a slave society are many and complex, but certainly an abundance of non-slave labour at low prices was one of the major ones.

Korea had a very large slave population, ranging from a third to half of the entire population for most of the millennium between the Silla period and the mid-18th century. Most of the Korean slaves were indigenously generated. In spite of their numbers, slaves seem to have had little impact on other institutions, and thus the society can be categorized as a slave-owning one.

Slavery existed in ancient India, where it is recorded in the Sanskrit Laws of Manu of the 1st century bce . The institution was little documented until the British colonials in the 19th century made it an object of study because of their desire to abolish it. In 1841 there were an estimated eight million or nine million slaves in India, many of whom were agrestic or predial slaves—that is, slaves who were attached to the land they worked on but who nevertheless could be alienated from it. Malabar had the largest proportion of slaves, about 15 percent of the total population. The agrestic slaves initially were subjugated communities. The remainder of the slaves was recruited individually by purchase from dealers or parents or by self-sale of the starving, and they can be classified as household slaves. Slavery in Hindu India was complicated by the slave owners’ ritual need to know the origins of their slaves, which explains why most of them were of indigenous origin. Although there were exceptions, slaves were owned primarily for prestige.

Slavery was widely practiced in other areas of Asia as well. A quarter to a third of the population of some areas of Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) were slaves in the 17th through the 19th centuries and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respectively. But not enough is known about them to say that they definitely were slave societies.

Other societies in the Philippines, Nepal, Malaya, Indonesia, and Japan are known to have had slavery from ancient until fairly recent times. The same was true among the various peoples inhabiting the regions of Central Asia: the peoples of Sogdiana, Khorezm, and other advanced civilizations the Mongols, the Kalmyks, the Kazakhs and the numerous Turkic peoples, most of whom converted to Islam.

In the New World some of the best-documented slave-owning societies were the Klamath and Pawnee and the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California. Life was easy in many of those societies, and slaves are known to have sometimes been consumption goods that were simply killed in potlatches.

Other Amerindians, such as the Creek of Georgia, the Comanche of Texas, the Callinago of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, the Inca of the Andes, and the Tehuelche of Patagonia, also owned slaves. Among the Aztecs of Mexico, slavery generally seems to have been relatively mild. People got into the institution through self-sale and capture and could buy their way out relatively easily. Slaves were often used as porters in the absence of draft animals in Mesoamerica. The fate of other slaves was less pleasant: chattels purchased from the Mayans and others were sacrificed in massive numbers. Some of the sacrifices may have been eaten by the social elite.

In England about 10 percent of the population entered in the Domesday Book in 1086 were slaves, with the proportion reaching as much as 20 percent in some places. Slaves were also prominent in Scandinavia during the Viking era, 800–1050 ce , when slaves for use at home and for sale in the international slave markets were a major object of raids. Slaves also were present in significant numbers in Scandinavia both before and after the Viking era.

Continental Europe—France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia—all knew slavery. Russia was essentially founded as a by-product of slave raiding by the Vikings passing from Scandinavia to Byzantium in the 9th century, and slavery remained a major institution there until the early 1720s, when the state converted the household slaves into house serfs in order to put them on the tax rolls. House serfs were freed from their lords by an edict of Tsar Alexander II in 1861. Many scholars argue that the Soviets reinstituted a form of state slavery in the Gulag camps that flourished until 1956.

Slavery was much in evidence in the Middle East from the beginning of recorded history. It was treated as a prominent institution in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi of about 750 bce . Slaves were present in ancient Egypt and are known to have been murdered to accompany their deceased owners into the afterlife. It once was believed that slaves built the great pyramids, but contemporary scholarly opinion is that the pyramids were constructed by peasants when they were not occupied by agriculture. Slaves also are mentioned prominently in the Bible among the Hebrews in Palestine and their neighbours.

Slaves were owned in all Islamic societies, both sedentary and nomadic, ranging from Arabia in the centre to North Africa in the west and to what is now Pakistan and Indonesia in the east. Some Islamic states, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Crimean Khanate, and the Sokoto caliphate, must be termed slave societies because slaves there were very important numerically as well as a focus of the polities’ energies.

Slaves have been owned in Black Africa throughout recorded history. In many areas there were large-scale slave societies, while in others there were slave-owning societies. Slavery was practiced everywhere even before the rise of Islam, and Black slaves exported from Africa were widely traded throughout the Islamic world. Approximately 18 million Africans were delivered into the Islamic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades between 650 and 1905. In the second half of the 15th century Europeans began to trade along the west coast of Africa, and by 1867 between 7 million and 10 million Africans had been shipped as slaves to the New World. Although some areas of Africa were depleted by slave raiding, on balance the African population grew after the establishment of the transatlantic slave trade because of new food crops introduced from the New World, particularly manioc, corn (maize), and possibly peanuts (groundnuts). The relationship between African and New World slavery was highly complementary. African slave owners demanded primarily women and children for labour and lineage incorporation and tended to kill males because they were troublesome and likely to flee. The transatlantic trade, on the other hand, demanded primarily adult males for labour and thus saved from certain death many adult males who otherwise would have been slaughtered outright by their African captors. After the end of the transatlantic trade, a few African societies at the end of the 19th century put captured males to productive work as slaves, but this usually was not the case before that time.

Watch the video: The Massive, Overlooked Role of White Female Slave Owners by Becky Little. 2019.