Compareand Contrast: Slaves Narratives
Theslave culture was a predominant feature in the success of the Britishcolonies in America in the 18th century. The afforementioned arosebecause slaves were the reasons behind the prosperity of Britain astheir free labour on sugar and tobacco fields led to the growth ofthe agricultural industry. The industry had a considerable economicsignificance as the Englishmen were able to generate revenue fromexports. It is estimated that approximately 7.7 million slaves weretransported from West Africa between 1492 and 1820 through theTrans-Atlantic slave trade (Kolchin 73). Some of them died on the waybecause of the inhumane conditions that they were exposed to on seawhile others died as a result of the brutality of their colonialmasters.
Slaveswho arrived in America were taken to either of three places whichthey were in high demand. The first region was Chesapeake and theneighbouring Virginia which were famous for their tobacco fields. Thesecond regions were Georgia, and South Carolina that were known fortheir rice plantations and the last with the lowest demand fornon-plantation slavery were New England and the middle colonies. Thefirst two regions required slaves who would provide manual labour foragricultural labor. Slaves in these two colonies faced a harder timeand were needed in large numbers. As a result, there was fastergrowth in the black population due to procreation. The last regionsneeded slaves for trivial purposes such as housework, artisanactivities and other menial labour. Therefore, these areas consistedof a very few number of slaves and their growth rate was also muchslower than the rest. It is also clear that slaves in the Northernregion had more rights than their counterparts. Some of these rightsincluded being excused from severe physical punishment, being able toeffect legal suits as well as having legal and recognized marriages.This regionalism of slavery thus contributed to differentAfrican-American culture depending on the conditions that the slaveswere exposed to (Foner 820). The Chesapeake region was the mostfavourable and gave rise to a community-based culture but alsoencouraged the learning of English and religion revivalism as aresult of constant interaction with White people. The South Carolinaand Georgia slaves experienced the worst form of treatment and due tothe hardship developed a more African oriented culture.
Theinterview with Alice Gaston from Alabama gives an account of theinstitution of slavery. She recounts that the Yankees (WhiteAmericans) came to their home and took her father, two sisters andone brother. Her father had previously warned her not to tell themwhere they were but the White man convinced her by building trustwith her. She also eventually went to work for them, and sheremembers her boss name to be Mr. Frank. She narrates her experiencewith her master which she terms as pleasant. Her master instilledsome sense of integrity in her by emphasizing that she upholdshonesty in all her actions. She says her master taught her not tosteal or lie but to always ask for something whenever she needed it(Sonkin). These values have sustained her up to adulthood and oldage. It is because of this excellent relationship that she lived withher employers till their demise. Even after their death, thegovernment continued to take care of her, and she has never lackedanything.
Anotherinterview with another woman by the name of Harriet Smith from Texasgives a different version of slavery days. She states that her shewas born into slavery because her grandmother and her mother hadworked as slaves. Her mother’s position as a slave was a cook. Evenher siblings were slaves as well. They used to work for a Whitefamily known as the Burtons who dictated their lives (Faulk). Shetalks about religious activities during the slavery era byelaborating that the Whites attended different churches and atvarious times because of the racial segregation. One of the notablesongs that the Black slaves sang was “Are we Born to Die” as anexpression of their hardships. She also says that their masters didnot teach them basic skills such as reading and writing butconcentrated more on how the slaves could better obey their masters.Her description also states that although her family was notmistreated, she heard of tales of how other black slaves were beaten,punished and abused by their masters.
Thetwo narratives are similar in that the slave masters were sensitiveto the humanity of their slaves. They did not cause any physical ormental harm on their servants. It is interesting to note that some ofthese slave-owners were not as evil as they are usually painted. Ms.Gaston’s narration proves that by explaining how her masters madeher comfortable in their home and instilled some basic human moralvalues. However, there are some differences between these accounts.Ms. Smith explains how the slaves’ owners established clearboundaries in worshipping between the White folk and the Blackslaves. She also suggests that most of the White evangelistspreaching focused on obedience and submission of slaves to theirmasters instead of the gospel of the Lord. It was intended tobrainwash them so that they could not liberate themselves. The songby the slaves also describes the kind of condition that the slaveswere enduring.
Fromthese two narratives, it is evident that slaves experienced differentkinds of treatment based on where they lived and the kind of peoplethey had as their masters. The slavery era was one of the mostpainful times for the African-American community because they had norights and were owned like any other piece of property. However, itis worthy to note that despite all the negative elements aboutslavery, there was some White folk who were humane enough to treatthese slaves well and with compassion.
Kolchin,Peter. AmericanSlavery: 1619-1877.New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. Print.
Foner,Eric. GiveMe Liberty!: An American History.4th ed. N.p.: W.W Norton & Company, 2007. Print.
Faulk,John Henry. Interviewwith Aunt Harriet Smith, Hempstead, Texas, 1941(part 1 of 4)
Sonkin,Robert. Interviewwith Alice Gaston, Gees Bend, Alabama, 1941