Notes on Negro Slavery

Allan Callahan

Notes on Negro Slavery slavery 1

Of all the factors that have led to the atrocious racial situation in the U.S. today, none is more important than the guilt complex built up in the minds of White Americans over Negro slavery. This came about because of the currently popular notion that the Black slave trade can be blamed entirely on “Whitey” and that to “make it up” to the Negro we should clutch him to our bosom and integrate him completely into our society.

At the outset it should be pointed out that before the Industrial Revolution began, around 1775, slavery was widely practiced in numerous areas of the world. Until the advent of the machine, there were only two kinds of useful power – man power and animal power. Sometimes the man power was furnished by free men and sometimes by slaves, and nowhere was slavery more prevalent than in the Negro homeland – Africa.

It is maintained by some that the Machine Age actually did away with slavery, and not any “pangs of conscience” on the part of mankind, and they may very well be right. But it is a paradox that in one case, at least, a machine helped promote slavery, rather than retard it. This was the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793. Up until that time it took one man ten hours to extract one pound of lint from three pounds of seeds. Cotton growing had been in a slump but the new invention made it much more profitable, and resulted in a fantastic boom in the raising of the crop, and thus created the need for more slaves.

The trade in Negro slaves began in 1441 and lasted over 400 years. The first slaves to reach British America arrived in 1620, when a dutch ship sold part of its cargo to the tobacco growers in Jamestown, Virginia. It was common for the slaves to be first procured in the interior of Africa by native chieftains, traded to Arab slavers and then taken to the coast where they were exchanged again for Western commodities. The native chieftains would engage in forays, sometimes even among their own subjects, a favorite method of capture being to set fire to a village by night and seizing the fleeing inhabitants when they tried to escape.

Regarding the treatment of Black slaves once they reached the United States, abolitionists like Thaddeus Stevens, William Lloyd Garrison, and Jonathan Walker spread horror stories about it, but the truth is that the slaves were valuable property, costing from around $500 to $2,000 each, and it did not pay to abuse them. If a farmer’s bull tears up a fence, he does not kill it, nor does a horse breeder, recovering one of his horses that ran away, whip the animal to death because it tried to escape. Punishments for disobedience, and a few deaths, did occasionally occur, but they were the exception rather than the rule. As for food, a study in 1879 showed that slaves had a “quite substantial diet” which exceeded that of free men by over 10%. The food was simple but wholesome, and the slave quarters were much like the cabins of pioneer Whites. They had good medical attention and were forced to keep regular habits, with the result that the health of the Negroes under slavery was better than it was after emancipation, and their mortality rate, up until the Civil War, was less than that of the White population of the South. Slaves were often rewarded for extra production with cash, goods or unscheduled holidays, and those with good records given bonuses and promotions.

The Black slaves of White Southerners fared much better than did those taken to South America by the Spanish and Portuguese. Most American slaves were not opposed to slavery, and even aided and abetted it. In their own homeland in Africa they had often been slaves, or had a status not much better than that of a slave. On Southern plantations the more able among them ran the field operations by serving as foremen or overseers, while 7% were used as domestic servants and 12% trained to be semi-skilled craftsmen.

The rate of increase of American slaves proves that they were well treated, in general, rather than mistreated. Some 330,000 were brought here originally, and they had increased to over a million by 1880. By the close of the Civil War, Negroes in the U.S. numbered about 4½ million, and most of this was due to natural increase, rather than by new blood being brought in. Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1808, and we did so immediately afterward. Other nations began to jump on the bandwagon, so that the traffic in slaves by overseas routes was vastly reduced in the next two decades, and ceased to exist, at least as far as Europe and America were concerned, with the signing of the Ashburton Treaty in 1842. So, when we consider that Blacks in America more than quadrupled in 65 years, we have to come to the conclusion that they were well cared for in the South. In fact, their reproduction during this period was so great that it hardly has any counterpart in history!

In his native land, on the other hand, the African often had it much tougher, and the death rate from malnutrition and disease was far higher. He was also more or less in danger of being a victim of some of the atrocious mass murders committed by his own chiefs, which were well recorded by White settlers and missionaries in Africa. Sometimes these were performed as sacrifices to a tribal god or at the death of a tribal leader; at other times they were done simply as entertainment for the local chieftain and henchmen. These fiendish practices were sometimes used by the early White slavers as justification for their trade, as they felt they were saving the natives from brutal and early deaths. At any rate, the slaves in America led safer lives than did their brethren back in the Dark Continent, and also enjoyed more comforts, bad as their lot may sometimes have been. In fact, they enjoyed higher standards of living than do many Blacks in Africa today.

Most Southerners did not own slaves, and of those who did, 20% had only one slave and 44% owned three or less. Just before the Civil War, there were 2,292 owners with 100 slaves or more, and 88 who owned 300 or more. Only one family owned more than 1,000 slaves in 1860.

Slaves fared best of all on the small plantations. Here the owners had personal contact with them, and treated them about as well as some employers treat their workers today. Smaller slave owners seldom broke up a family, because it was not good economics in their cases. The hotter regions of the deep South had the largest plantations. These were agribusiness types of operations with huge plantings of cotton, sugar cane, etc. The owners here had little personal contact with their slaves and were thus not as much concerned about their treatment. The work was harder and more regimented, and often a hardnosed Black foreman was in charge. If a slave proved himself to be too lazy or uncooperative to do ordinary work around a farm or small plantation, he was sometimes put on the auction block and sold to one of the larger plantations. Blacks with much intelligence or ability were considered too valuable to do the routine work in the huge cotton and cane fields.

It was these large agribusiness types of operations that produced the most runaway slaves. But the owners themselves usually did not have the time or inclination to look for them, so professional slave catchers came into being, operating somewhat along the lines of the bounty hunters of the Old West; except, of course, that they did not kill the slaves they captured.

It is popular today for fiction writers to depict the Southern plantations as hotbeds of miscegenation, with the owner’s fair-haired daughter lusting over the Black field hand, or his dissolute son crawling in bed with a Black house servant. In truth, such things were not common, and the average Southerner was no more immoral than his Yankee cousin up North. Most slave owners were men of family, and too proud to stoop to race-mixing. Their sons and daughters were also not inclined to disgrace their families by breeding with Negroes. The plantations didn’t produce hordes of mulattoes; they were the product of cities and towns. Here the free Negroes congregated. Washington, D.C. in 1850 had 42.18 mulattoes to every 100 Blacks. By 1860 the following cities showed these percentages of mulattoes to the total number of Negroes :

48.9% in New Orleans; 11% in the rest of Louisiana;
18.1% in Savannah; 8.2% in the rest of Georgia;
25.2% in Charleston; 5.5% in the rest of So. Carolina.

On the farms and plantations, Negroes were valued for the work they could produce and not because of sexual attraction. If a White man had bought a woman slave for the purpose of concubinage, he would have been socially ostracized.

It should be realized that most Negro slaves in America had no feeling against slavery, and that there were Black slave owners in the South who were just as pro-slavery as any White slave owner. And while the White nations had given up slavery long before the 19th century was out, it was widely practiced in various Negro societies in Africa well up into modern times, and there are still occasional reports of it being practiced there even now.

There is no reason for any White man or woman today to feel guilty about slavery, and as for the descendants of these slaves who now reside here, if they fell wronged, would they want us to right this wrong by sending them back to their ancestral homeland? How many Blacks in America would trade places with the average modern Black in Africa?

While it is true that a small percentage of Whites in America did benefit economically from Negro slavery, this has been overwhelmingly offset by all the negative effects that have come down upon us. We now have on our hands a race problem of staggering proportions. Steadily the negroid gene-pool grows, like a spreading cancer. It is a problem that our White politicians should face, but they dare not face it.

SOURCE: The Liberty Bell, November 1984

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