CLIMATE, AGRICULTURE & SLAVERY
After years of research I have concluded that, due to climate, two distinct forms of slavery diverged in the colonies. Starting in Virginia and moving north, tobacco was the most important crop for the first century of English colonization. Its reliability as a staple crop, however, diminished the farther north it was planted.
Although tobacco requires a fair amount of attention, crops like cotton, rice, indigo and sugar cane, which need the hot wet climate that prevailed in the southern colonies, are extremely labor-intensive; and more African slaves, who could tolerate this kind of climate, were required to cultivate them. Combined with the relative isolation of the deep South's plantations, this spawned the use of extremely cruel methods to control slaves. To add to the problem, the rich planter class encouraged the help of those without slaves in case of insurrection.
From Virginia northward, however, slavery developed in a different manner. From the very beginning Virginians were relatively tolerant with their slaves. Many slave masters cohabited with their slave women to produce mulatto children. ("Mulatto" is derived from a Spanish word meaning "cross-bred.") It was not unusual for the master in this part of the country to set his mulatto children free to avoid embarrassment. By 1700 a sizable population of free mulattos lived in America, many in such northern cities as Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Neither white nor black, entirely free nor entirely slave, free mulattos were for the most part descendants of freed African indentured servants or children of masters and their slave women.
Generally restricted to their own communities and activities, these "free people of color" developed their own subculture, which offered little social interaction with the swelling numbers of new European immigrants. Nonetheless, some free blacks gained influence in the north, especially in religious matters. As an instigator of the "Boston Massacre" of 1770, Crispus Attucks, probably the descendant of freed African indentured servants, gained posthumous fame as the first American killed in action in the Revolutionary War. Both the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad started in earnest after the American War of Independence.
Another subculture developed among free African-Americans in the western region of Virginia, where a large group of very light-complexioned free mulattos formed small farming communities in the vicinity of Philippi. In general they got along well with native Americans and there was considerable intermarriage between the two cultures.
Some free mulattos were offspring of European men who had married African women and moved west to avoid racial harassment. On the western edge of the advancing American frontier these people developed their own rural subculture based on anti-slavery sentiments -- particularly after 1787 when the U.S. Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, named for the vast tract of land that would eventually become five Midwestern states and part of another. Slavery was outlawed in the new territory. Later, in Cutler, Ohio, a community in western Washington County a few miles north of the Ohio River, their descendants, along with white abolitionists, would help many fugitive slaves find their way through the rugged countryside of southeastern Ohio to freedom.
A HINT OF FREEDOM
The following oral interview by reporter James Immel appeared in an obituary for Mrs. Sarah Burke, 96, one of Washington County's oldest residents, in the Marietta Times, Saturday, Feb. 10, 1940:
"Yessir, I guess you all would call me an ex-slave cause I was born in Grayson County, West Virginia and on a plantation I lived for quite a spell, that is until when I was seven years old when we all moved up here to Washington County. My Pap's old Mammy was supposed to have been sold into slavery when my Pappy was one month old and some poor white people took him to raise. He worked for them until he was a growed-up man, also till they give him his free papers and 'lowed him to leave the plantation and come up here to the North.
"How did we live on the plantation? Well -- you see it was like this: we lived in a log cabin with the ground for floors, and the beds were built against the walls jus' like bunks. I 'member that the slaves had a hard time getting food, most times they got just what was left over or whatever the slaveholder wanted to give them so at night they would slip outa their cabins on to the plantation and kill a pig, a sheep or some cattle which they would butcher in the woods and cut up. The wimmin folks would carry the pieces back to the cabins in their aprons while the men would stay behind and bury the head, skin and feet.
"Whenever they killed a pig they would have to skin it, because they didn't dare to build a fire. The women folk after getting home would put the meat in special dug trenches and the men would come erlong and cover it up. The slaveholders in the part of the country where I came from was men and it was quite often that slaves were tied to a whippin stake and whipped with a blacksnake until the blood would run down their bodies."
"I remember quite clearly one scene that happened jus' afore I left that there part of the country. At the slaveholders home on the plantation I was at, it was customary for the white folks to go to church on Sunday morning and to leave the cook in charge. This cook had a habit of making cookies and handing them out to the slaves before the (white) folks returned. Now it happened on one Sunday for some reason the white folks returned before the regular time and the poor cook did not have time to get the cookies to the slaves, so she just hid them in a drawer that was in a sewing chair.
"The white folks had a parrot that always sat on top of the door in this room and when the mistress came in the room the mean old bird hollered out at the top of his voice, “It's in the rocker. It's in the rocker.” Well the Missus found the cookies and told her husband, whereupon he called his man that done the whipping and they tied the poor cook and whipped her till she fainted. Next morning the parrot was found dead and a slave was accused because he liked the woman that had been whipped the day before. They whipped him until the blood ran down his legs.
"Spirits? Yessir I believe in them, but we warn’t bothered so much by them in them days but we was by the wild animals. Why after it got dark we children would have to stay indoors for fear of them. The men folks would build a big fire and I can remember my Pappy a sittin on top of the house with a old flint lock across his legs awaiting for one of them critters to come close enough so he could shoot it. The reason for him being trusted with a gun was because he had been raised by the poor white man who worked for the slaveholder. My Pappy did not work in the fields but drove a team of horses.
"I remembers that when we left the plantation and come to Washington County, Ohio, that we traveled in a covered wagon that had big white horses hitched to it. The man that owned the horses was Blake Randolls. We crossed the river 12 miles below Parkersburg, W.Va., on a ferry and came to Stafford, Ohio, in Monroe County where we lived until I was married at the age of 15 to Mr. Burke, by Justice of the Peace, Edward Oakley. A year later we moved to Curtis Ridge, which is seven miles from Stafford, and we lived there for 20 years or more. We moved to Rainbow for a spell and then in 1918 my husband died. The old man Hard Luck came around cause three years later my home burned to the ground and then I came here to live with my boy Joe and his family.
"Mr. Burke and myself raised a family of 16 children and at that time my husband worked at farming for other people at $2.00 a month and a few things they would give him. My Pappy got his education from the boy of the white man he lived with because he wasn't allowed to go to school and the white boy was very smart and taught him just as he learned. My Pappy fought in the Civil War too. On which side? Well, sho nuff on the North, boy."
From the time that Africans were first enslaved they had resisted, but for most slaves resistance was futile under the increasingly discriminatory colonial laws which legitimized slavery. In order to justify the perpetuation of slavery, the rich tobacco tycoons had to portray Africans as people with less than human qualities. And under the controlled conditions of slavery, this was not terribly difficult, since those Africans unfortunate enough to become slaves in America had no knowledge of the English language, English Common Law or English culture. In America only people with black skin could be held as slaves, and black skin readily identified a slave, making it easier to control the slave population.
To keep African slaves ignorant, colonial slave laws were enacted to prevent Africans from becoming educated in European customs. The central goal of the slave-owning class was to keep slaves in perpetual ignorance, denying them the means to resist. Every aspect of a slave's existence was controlled to the smallest detail from birth to death. The purpose behind slavery was to get the maximum amount of labor for the minimum expense, with no resistance.
There was nothing subtle about the conditions that maintained the institution of slavery. The threat of violence hung over the slave culture like an omnipresent fog, and slaves were punished for the smallest infraction. Rebellious slaves were severely beaten and tortured to death while their fellow slaves were forced to witness the punishment to discourage further resistance. Fear of their slaves’ reprisal weighed so heavily upon the conscience of slaveholders they became their own victims to the brutal slave culture they had created.
Though nearly all slave-owners were white, the great majority of the white population in North America were never slaveholders. Nevertheless, slave-owners were the powerful political and social class of their time. As a consequence of being a minority, this slave-owning class had to expend great effort to gain and hold the support of the non-slave-owning class of whites in case of a slave rebellion. This was accomplished, without giving up the enormous profits of slave labor, by inventing and perpetuating the myth of racial superiority.
From the earliest days of the African slave trade in the 16th Century, there were some Europeans, especially those from clerical backgrounds, who recognized the inherent evils and brutality of slavery -- that no human being deserved to be treated like a draft animal. It was from this concept that the Abolitionist movement would evolve, yet it took two centuries for the anti-slavery movement to gain sufficient support to become effective. By 1760, the movement had spread over most of Europe, where it gained enough momentum to end slavery in most European countries by the beginning of the American Revolution.
Many people in the former English Colonies of North America, including slaves, expected slavery to be abolished in the new United States soon after the Revolutionary War was successfully concluded in 1783. During the dark days of the war General George Washington had, in fact, decreed that any slave who fought for American independence would be freed. Consequently, individual northern states began implementing various methods for freeing their slaves as early as 1780. In the euphoria of freedom that gripped the new nation immediately following the war, some states adopted immediate emancipation plans, while others took a more gradual approach to emancipation. Even in some southern states, particularly Virginia, some slaves were freed.