Wednesday, 21 May 2014


   BLACK               SOCIAL              HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                     Treatment

The treatment of slaves in the United States varied widely depending on conditions, times and places. Treatment was generally characterized by brutality, degradation, and inhumanity. Whippings, executions, and rapes were commonplace.[citation needed] According to Adalberto Aguirre, there were 1,161 slaves executed in the U.S. between the 1790s and 1850s.[54] Exceptions existed to virtually every generalization; for instance, there were slaves who employed white workers, slave doctors who treated upper-class white patients, and slaves who rented out their labor.[55] After 1820, in response to the inability to import new slaves from Africa, some slaveholders improved the living conditions of their slaves, to influence them not to attempt escape.[56]

Gordon, a whipped Mississippi slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863; the guilty overseer was fired.[57]
The colonies and states generally denied slaves the opportunity to learn to read or write, to protect against their forming aspirations that could lead to escape or rebellion.[58] Some slaves learned from planters' children, or from free laborers, while working alongside them.
Medical care for slaves, which was limited in terms of medical knowledge available to anyone, was generally provided by other slaves or by slaveholders' family members. Many slaves possessed medical skills needed to tend to each other, and used many folk remedies brought from Africa. They also developed new remedies based on American plants and herbs.[59]
Some states prohibited religious gatherings of slaves, particularly following incidents such as Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831. Planters feared that group meetings would facilitate communication and may lead to rebellion.[60]
According to Andrew Fede, "...a master could be held criminally liable only if the slave he killed was completely submissive and under the master's absolute control."[61] For example, in 1791 the North Carolina legislature defined the willful killing of a slave as criminal murder, unless done in resisting or under moderate correction.[62]
Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, and imprisonment. Punishment was most often meted in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but sometimes abuse was carried out simply to re-assert the dominance of the master or overseer over the slave.[63] Treatment was usually harsher on large plantations, which were often managed by overseers and owned by absentee slaveholders; in contrast with small slave-owning families, where the closer relationship between the owners and slaves sometimes resulted in a more humane environment.[64] William Wells Brown, who escaped and became a fugitive slave, reported that on one plantation, slave-men were required to pick 80 pounds-per-day of cotton, while women were required to pick 70 pounds; if any slave failed in his or her quota, they were given lashes of the whip for each pound they were short. The whipping post stood right next to the cotton scales.[65]
Historian Lawrence M. Friedman wrote: "Ten Southern codes made it a crime to mistreat a slave. ... Under the Louisiana Civil Code of 1825 (art. 192), if a master was “convicted of cruel treatment,” the judge could order the sale of the mistreated slave, presumably to a better master."[66]
Because of the power relationships of the institution, slave women in the United States were at high risk for rape and sexual abuse.[67][68] Many slaves fought back against sexual attacks, and some died resisting. Others carried psychological and physical scars from the attacks.[69] Sexual abuse of slaves was partially rooted in a patriarchal Southern culture which treated black women as property or chattel.[68] Southern culture strongly policed against sexual relations between white women and black men on the purported grounds of racial purity but, before the late 18th century, the many mixed-race slaves and slave children showed that white men had often taken advantage of slave women.[68] Wealthy planter widowers, notably such as John Wayles and his son-in-law Thomas Jefferson, took slave women as concubines; each had six children with his partner: Elizabeth Hemingsand her daughter Sally Hemings (the half-sister of Jefferson's late wife), respectively. Both Mary Chesnut and Fanny Kemble, wives of planters, wrote about this issue in the antebellum South in the decades before the Civil War. Sometimes planters used mixed-race slaves as house servants or favored artisans because they were their children or other relatives.[70]

Slave saleCharleston, 1856
While slaves' living conditions were poor by modern standards, Robert Fogel argued that all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the 19th century were subject to hardship.[71]

Slave codes[edit]

Main article: Slave codes
To help regulate the relationship between slave and owner, including legal support for keeping the slave as property, slave codeswere established. Slave codes were laws established to demonstrate legal sanctions over the black population.
While each state had its own slave code, many concepts were shared throughout the slave states.[72] According to the slave codes, teaching a slave to read or write was illegal, although it often took place as children taught each other.
Even though slave codes had many common features, each state had specific codes or variations that suited the laws in that region. For example in Alabama, slaves were not allowed to leave from the premises of the owner without written consent, nor were slaves allowed to trade goods among themselves. In Virginia, slaves were not permitted to drink in public within one mile of his master or during public gatherings. In Ohio, an emancipated slave was prohibited from returning to the state in which he or she had been enslaved. Slaves were not permitted to carry firearms in any of the slave states.
The code for the District of Columbia defined a slave as "a human being, who is by law deprived of his or her liberty for life, and is the property of another."[73]