The institution of slavery and the slave trade was established in colonial America as a result of many complex factors. America's involvement in the slave trade mainly resulted from the increasing demand for slave labor to support the newly introduced agricultural system in North America. Most slaves that came to the United States were primarily kidnapped or sold from the Caribbean, not directly from the African continent. These slaves were sourced from the Trans-Atlantic trade where most Africans were sold to provide free labor in the large plantations in America and most parts of Europe (New Netherlands Act 1644). This paper presents a discussion on the life of slaves in colonial America to give a clear picture of the challenges that these individuals had to face and live with throughout the slave trade era in America.
The treatment of slaves in America varied based on the geographical location and administrative laws of the jurisdiction. However, slavery was marked with the utmost pain and suffering of hums beings at the hands of their masters. Slave buyers and masters came from a culture that supported the exploitation of needy individuals by the influential and affluent members of society. Blacks were pushed to domestic and agricultural roles while the majority of the White population took up white collar jobs that were not tiring or hard to execute. According to historical evidence, the treatment of slaves in colonial America was brutal and inhumane. The slaves suffered physical abuse during work and outside of work as a form of punishment from their holders. Most slaves were regularly subjected to whipping and harsh treatment especially by plantation overseers who acted in the absence. Inhumane treatment of slaves was mainly common in large plantations where the culture had been introduced and established. Some small slaveholders worked in collaboration with their slaves and attempted to improve their living conditions from time to time (Snyder 24).
Slaves in colonial America were also punished through hanging, mutilation, beating, and imprisonment, based on the course of punishment. The punishment was mainly administered by the master, his wife, children or the overseer in charge of the plantation. The slaves were primarily punished by the use of knives, guns and any other available weapon as the punishers sought to send a message to the rest of the slave population. Reports from history indicate that slaves were punished for fighting among themselves, disrespecting a White person or any signs of rebellion against the physical and emotional torture that slaves had to undergo. Slave masters also punished hem sometimes to reinstate their power and control over their lives. The masters made all the rules and slaves were not allowed to question the setup or rebel against them. Masters exercised absolute power over the lives of these individuals and gave them zero opportunity to participate in decision-making processes on issues about their lives and wellbeing (Virginia Codes 1645).
Rape and sexual abuse among female slaves was also a common aspect of the life of slaves in colonial America. Many slaves fought against sexual assault, and some even died from the same due to physical and emotional torture that they suffered. Such inhumane treatment of slaves also resulted in depression, low self-esteem, pain and bitterness among the victims. Majority of sexual abuse victims blamed the incidents on themselves due to the alienation they suffered from the rest of the population. The introduction of rape laws in later structural developments in South America also introduced a double standard to promote racial discrimination in punishing the offenders, Black males accused of rape were punished through castration and death sentences to send a stern warning to other slaves that could engage in such activities. However, White males could rape female slaves freely and without any fear of incrimination. Many mixed-race children were born from the result of rape, and in some instances, women slaves terminated pregnancies by use of herbs as a form of resistance to the master's authority (Virginia Code 1646).
Slaveholders also held on the common belief that restricting the access to information and materials among slaves would keep them obedient to the oppressing laws. The masters sought to kill the dreams and aspirations of slaves to retain them in an enclosed physical and mental state. For these reasons, slaves were denied access to education facilities to keep them uninformed on the happenings around the rest of the world (Virginia Codes 1642). Slave masters feared that literate slaves would learn of the slave abolition movements and the existence of free Blacks in other parts of the world. Such factors would have sparked resistance against their masters in attempts to free themselves from the oppressing rules and devastating living conditions. Slave masters also discouraged literacy among slaves because they feared that the rest of the world would learn of the inhumane conditions and come to their rescue. Denying the slaves, such basic facilities played a significant role in keeping them in a physical and mental prison for long periods so that the masters could promote their agendas (Snyder 27).
All the sources agree that the life of a slave in colonial America was hard and frustrating for the slaves and their families. The brutal experience was an insult to human dignity and has adversely affected the social state of America even in modern times. Sociopolitical issues such as racial discrimination and marginalization of minority groups in the nation are traced back to the slave trade and are yet to get resolved.
"New Netherland Act Emancipating Certain Slaves (1644).
"Virginia Codes Regulating Servitude and Slavery (1642-1705)
Snyder, Christina. "The Long History of American Slavery." OAH Magazine of History, vol. 27, no. 4, Oct. 2013, pp. 23-27.
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