Slavery within the present day United States can majorly be traced back to the early years of the colonial period. It is approximated that about twelve million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves between the 16th and 19th Centuries. The number of slaves within the United States of America for example, was estimated to be about four million according to the Census carried out in 1860 (Mathew 19). This essay therefore aims to provide more insight on the concept of slavery within the Old South region, with particular emphasis on slave labor.
Slavery within the Old South region was so rampant that the then population believed that owning a slave along with his or her descendants was one of the most valuable things. All the slaves were blacks of African origin. Whites mainly owned the salves. At that time, slavery was widespread to an extent that children born in slavery were always earmarked, and became slaves as soon as they attained maturity (Mathew 23). The salves played a critical role in agriculture, which was the main economic driver of the nation at that time.
It is important to note that in as much as there was desire to eradicate slavery in the early 1800s, not all States adhered to the legislations that were passed regarding the abolition of slavery. The States within the southern region for example, did not adhere to slavery laws because of the expansion of the cotton industry within the region. This therefore resulted in polarization of the nation, with States such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut completely eliminating slavery, while the likes of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina continued with the practice of slavery.
As highlighted in the introduction, slavery within the Old South region was regulated by law. The laws included slave codes that were put in place to guide the slaves on how they were to go about their daily activities. The slaves for example were forbidden from owning property and from congregating in groups. At the same time, slaves were not to be subjected to any form of education at all costs. Majority of the slaves resided in medium and large plantations and very few owned their own residential units (Mathew 38). Contrary to the normal expectations where employers and their employees are often expected to forge close relationships, the slaves did not associate regularly with their masters except in situations where they were being instructed on how to carry out their activities.
The slaves were only provided with enough necessities to enable them survive and have some energy to work. They worked tirelessly with women ploughing the fields and males being assigned duties that are more demanding (Mathew 41). Most of the slaves were single and raised any kids they had as single parents because they were routinely sold to different families. Additionally, whereas some argue that the conditions under which the slaves operated were better than those that the northern workers were subjected to and less severe than the conditions of the Caribbean slaves, they still had high death rates, with a few number of children surviving until adulthood.
Whereas most of the slaves operated within the countryside, instances existed when some of the slaves were requested to work in plantations within urban areas. Most of the urban tasks involved providing labor and taking part in unskilled jobs. A few of the slaves who worked within urban areas worked tirelessly and wholesomely saved their earnings, which they used to buy their freedom from their masters (Mathew 42). Slaves were equally freed in case their master passed on or when their masters deemed it fit, particularly in instances where the slaves along with their families had demonstrated good moral standing in the course of going about their activities. The salve laws were however tightened with time, an aspect that made it impossible for masters to free their slaves even if they served them diligently.
In some instances, slaves were transferred from one locality to another within the South. Slave traders carried out such forms of transportation, though the masters took part occasionally; predominantly when they had special interest in the transaction. Whereas domestic slave trade played a significant role in the development and prosperity of the Southern region, it was quite dehumanizing (Mathew 44). This is mainly because families were often separated, with husbands being forced to stay away from their wives and children being forced to go through childhood on their own due to the separation from their parents.
As is routinely the case, most of the slaves were unhappy about the fact that they were slaves and routinely agitated for their freedom. That notwithstanding, they often employed the adaptation mechanism, implying that they always acted according to how the world and everyone else expected them to act (Marrs 127). Some of the slaves however resisted by refusing to work for their masters and even stole from them with the objective of compensating themselves for the significant amount of effort they always put. Some of the daring slaves attempted to resist by running away so that they would escape to the Northern region that had abolished slavery or even to Canada. Those who wanted to run away often used underground railroads and a times took advantage of sympathetic whites (Marrs 152). Nonetheless, instances of success were few and most of those who were caught in the act were heavily punished.
In the middle of all the challenges that they faced, the slaves did not lose hope. Neither did they forget their culture, as they found ways of incorporating their African languages into English. In like manner, they used songs to pass time and convey both their emotional and religious beliefs. The slaves were often forced to worship in the church of their masters, as they were not allowed to assemble on their own. They were equally denied the opportunity to form families of their own liking.
- Marrs, Aaron W. Railroads in the Old South: Pursuing Progress in a Slave Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Print.
- Mathew, William M. Edmund Ruffin and the Crisis of Slavery in the Old South: The Failure of Agricultural Reform. Place of publication not identified: Univ of Georgia Press, 2012. Print.