Life on the Plantation
African slavery started at the 16th century and ended in the 19th century. Slave life was the most brutal and disrespected period of America. When Africans first stepped foot on the slave ships coming to America things were bad. The white man beat, raped, and treated the black man like animals. Life on the plantation wasn’t any better. The slaves didn’t work for a paycheck, they worked for their lives. The black man had difficulties adapting to the environment, learning another language, and being a monogamous.
Most slaves came from the West African region. Disease, frailty and brutality, played a heavy part on of slaves dying on the ships. The slave ships landed in Maryland, Virginia, or Carolina. Once the slaves reached land they had to adjust to the environment in America. Adapting to the new country meant:
Europeans and Africans would encounter varieties of microorganisms foreign to them and would bring with them varieties that were new to America. So with red, white, and black men merging in this place, their bodies would have to make adjustments. (Nathan Irvin 58)
Europeans had trouble adapting to the shorelines. The Africans were amused by the illness of the Europeans. African immigrant wasn’t as vulnerable to the shoreline, because they were adapted to the shorelines in West Africa. They were most vulnerable to the malaria parasite. In time, they adapted to the parasite. Even though the African had some defenses, their body developed the sickle cell trait. Other fatal diseases were yellow fever, which is carried by mosquito and smallpox, a contagious disease carried by a human host. All white and black newcomers had to adapt to the new microorganisms coming into the country. It was hard to make medicine for the slaves, because they didn’t have the same herbs or plants in America.
Communication was a necessary tool between the Africans and the Europeans. To increase communications and reduce confusion, a language called linguae francae was developed. This is a blend of Portuguese, French and English. The slave owners and traders mixed the African tribes. The mixture of tongues helped make a new language. Children found it easy to mouth new sounds for old meanings. Older Africans were concerned that they were not being understood while trying to communicate in the new language. Some settlers didn’t want the Africans to learn English:
English settlers made little effort to teach Africans English and made none to learn African languages; but each people had to find a halfway point. As they both became more skillful at it, the whites would come to consider the blacks more “sensible.” (Nathan Irvin 64)
White men and women did learn some African words like goober, gumbo, banjo, cooter, yam, okra and juke. Africans usually named their children the days of the week. Some of the names were Juba (Monday) and Cuba (Wednesday).
Europeans and Africans always characterize each other by the way they used their words. The black men that learned how to speak the white man language socially removed themselves from the ones who could not speak the language. The way a man spoke depended on the intelligence and opportunity he had. This made blacks think he was a mimic of the white men. Some white men didn’t think the slaves were worthy enough to learn their language:
They wanted to talk to one another, among blacks, and not have their meaning understood. They wanted language to serve in limited ways to communicate between themselves and slaves. Language to them was a mark of civilization as well as a tool of communication. (Nathan Irvin 66)
The Africans knew himself to be one with nature. Most Africans became Christians. Africans that settle in French or Spanish colonies became Catholics. Voodoo was also practiced among the slaves. The ritual was celebrated with priests and priestesses, possessed dancers, and animal sacrifices.
The few hours that the slaves got to themselves was a time of enjoyment. To take their anger out and to relieve stress towards the master, the slaves had physical contests, against other slaves. Most of their spare time was on Saturdays and Sundays. These days were usually spent doing household chores. On religious holidays the slave owners let them freely celebrate by themselves. Owners prepared whole hogs, sheep or beeves. Some owners weren’t particularly interested in recreational activities. They did not want the slaves wearing themselves out, by getting drunk and going to parties. To keep the slaves in after dark the slave owners lock their cabin doors. On Sundays slaves usually:
Went fishing, hunting, wrestled, ran races, strumming the banjo, singing, dancing, playing marbles, recounting tales, fiddling, drinking whiskey, gambling, or simply visiting and conversing with friends. They often organized dances and parties without the master permission.
Parents played a major roll in developing their children’s behavior. Slave families learned from one another how to avoid punishment, cooperate with other blacks, and to maintain self-esteem. The slave parents taught their children what the slave owners couldn’t or wouldn’t. Parents taught them values and the situation of slavery.
The slaveholders encouraged Monogamy. It made it easier to discipline the slaves. A married black man was less likely to run away. Some black women were forced to have sexual intercourse with their masters. The women were either rape by the slave owner or a white bachelor near the plantation. Slave traders usually had sex with the most beautiful black women. When slave women was traded they usually became prostitutes. Some women were just used as concubines or whores. The slave owners wife usually found out about the adultery and sometimes they were so angry they wanted revenge against their husbands. They would go so far as to have their own affair with a slave. Sometimes it was more pleasure than revenge.
When slaves got married they vowed never to separate from their loved ones. This made it harder to get remarried. Falling in love was a very important event. The
slave men wanted to marry someone that was not on the same plantation:
They did not want to marry a woman from their own plantation and be forced to
watch as she was beaten, insulted, raped, overworked, or starved without being
able to protect her. (Blassingame 85-86)
Most often they were talked into marriage with threats. The slaveholders treated the African men and women, like breed dogs. Some black males were forced to have sexual relations with women of different plantations.
Before going to work, some slaves had to wake up before dawn to do their chores. After getting finish preparing meals and feeding the livestock they had to go to the plantation. They worked in the fields or the house from sunrise to sunset. The domestic or house servant played an important part on the plantation. They took care of the housework and the children. They were always up before dawn and were required to stay up until all of the family went to bed.
The slaves didn’t have comfortable cabins. The slaves had to make their own furniture, tables and utensils. Some cabins didn’t have a bed or blankets. They had to sleep on the floor if they didn’t have a mattress. Some of the cabins weren’t like any cabin that you might see on little house on the prairie. The cabins would be one room with a dirt floor or a wooden floor with cold air seeping through the cracks. Cabins usually had three to eight people living in one room. School life for the slaves was forbidden. The classes usually took place in an abandon one-room building or a church. The children sat on either benches or a log. They didn’t learn off of any blackboard or maps. Students learned how to write and read out of the New England Primer.
In Conclusion, the punishment of black slaves was no joke. To me there is nothing that the white man can say to me or give to me to make up for the brutality of my ancestors. Today we do not appreciate our freedom, we take advantage of it. If the white man took our freedom away only a small percent of us will survive. To me slavery was pure evil. Slavery was the cause of the Civil War deaths. America was built on the blood sweat and tears of slavery. If the white man didn’t have our help to raise their daughter or son they wouldn’t have survive. When the white man says today black man society is lazy. I think to myself about how my ancestors help raise their kids. How slaves were in their fields picking their cotton, feeding their kids and doing their housework.