Slavery


"Charles Calvert and Colored Slave" 1761.  Painter John Hesselius of Maryland juxtaposed these two very disparate denizens of the genteel Southern society.

Britain made enormous profits in the colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. During seventy seven years from 1697-1775, the balance of trade between England's tobacco colonies was in favor of the colonies; but the colonists were usually in debt to British merchants. Thomas Jefferson remarked,  "Our debts become hereditary from father to son for many generations."

The slave trade was a huge part of the profit for British capitalists and those who dealt in the "species of property" to provide manpower for agriculture.  Britain's Royal African Company held a monopoly to provide slaves from West Africa to England's American colonies between 1672 and 1698.  Their promise was to provide that any slave between 12 and 40 years of age be healthy enough to  "go over the ship's side unaided." and would be supplied in Virginia for 18 pounds sterling.

The slave imports profoundly affected the human geography of the Chesapeake colonies and throughout the South. As early as 1736, Wm. Byrd II, appalled by the large number of slaves in VA wrote "I fear the colony will some time be confirmed by the name New Guinea." By 1760, there were 386,000 slaves in the colonies with 299,000 in the South.  Fully 33 percent of Georgia's population were slaves.

Between 1671 and 1700, the number of Negroes in Virginia rose from 2,000 to 6,000; after trade opened up to independent slavers in 1698, Negro population rose from 12,000 by 1708 to 30,000 in 1730.  In Maryland,  the black population rose to 25,000 in 1720.  A 1715 census revealed Virginia had the largest percent of Negroes in the population up to 60 percent and South Carolina was second.

Sentiment and rebellion begins over slavery

Even before the Revolutionary War, sentiment about enslaving people had begun to change. In 1769, Thomas Jefferson in his first legislative effort, introduced a measure in the House of Burgesses to free the slaves.  It was not very popular and was rejected.  Ben Franklin wrote that use of slaves was not economical.  In  1774, General Washington, who owned slaves, signed the Fairfax Resolves against Britain, calling for an end to the "wicket, cruel and unnatural trade." Yet, in 1779 he opposed emancipating Negro Revolutionary soldiers lest it encourage emancipation for all slaves.

Slaves were rebelling in growing numbers throughout the 1700's.  The first slave uprising recorded was in New York in 1712 where 12 slaves were executed and six committed suicide before they were to be hanged.  In 1741, eleven Negroes were burned at the stake and 18 hanged following a series of arsons.  Tension was rising in New York where a fifth of the colony's population was slaves.  Rebellions occurred in southern colonies and were dealt with sternly.  A hundred years after the Royal African Company was granted its 1672 charter to slave rights in west Africa, opposition in the colonies was so strong that imports dwindled to 1700 annually, due also to growing numbers slaves dying aboard ship due to overcrowding.

Even so, by the 1790 census, there were 700,000 slaves out of an American population of four million people.  Nearly 60,000 had become free Negroes in the North where sentiment had generally turned against slavery.  By 1808 slave trading was illegal and by 1820, slavers were considered pirates and ships were seized by the Navy.

As states were being added to the union, the political battles were over which would enter as "free states" and which would be "slave states."  The federal government gave in to Southern demands for laws to return runaway slaves.  By 1802 the South was being plagued with uprisings and except New Jersey, all states north of the Mason-Dixon line had passed either anti-slavery laws or ones calling for gradual emancipation (granting of freedom for the slaves).  Virginia was the scene of many insurrections and large numbers of slaves as well as some white men were banished, flogged or hanged.  It was generally said that slaves were treated somewhat more kindly in northern and border states and more harshly in the South. Abolitionists (those against slavery) were becoming more politically verbal and gaining sympathetic ears, partly because of books like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin which was widely read at that time.  White abolitionists began helping runaways escape to freedom with a loose network of safe houses called the "underground railroad."  The stage was set for the Civil War and in 1860 South Carolina seceded as President Buchanan was leaving office after trying to please both pro-slave and anti-slave states--and ended up pleasing neither.  President Abraham Lincoln would be credited with freeing the slaves, but would also be a wartime president and would be assassinated just before the last of the Confederate armies were to surrender in 1865.
 

 
 
Above: A reward notice by a Kentucky slave owner;  painting of slaves using the cotton gin, presumably in a cotton state.  Chronicle of America, Jacques Legrand, Publisher, Prentiss-Hall Trade.

Certain Maddoxes were tobacco farmers and planters from the outset in both Maryland and Virginia--some Maddoxes owned slaves and some did not.  Maddox is a common surname among African-Americans because of slavery and intermarriage and that's why we address this issue in the Maddox Family Website.

Slavery issues continue to provoke Americans

Slaves become a part of Civil War displays at historic sites; new center devoted to the issue

Ledger-Enquirer
, Sunday, June 18, 2000

By Michael Kilian, Knight Ridder Newspapers WASHINGTON

     The volatile issue of slavery is stirring America once again, drawing new attention not only from historians, but from government officials and the public at large.
     At the request of Congress, the National Park Service is making slavery a part of displays at Civil War historic sites.  Thomas Jefferson's relations with his slave Sally Hemings have become a national controversy.  Last month, Mayor Richard Daley apologized to blacks for slavery as the Chicago City Council approved a resolution urging Congress to study the question of reparations for descendants of slaves.
     But away from the halls of government, the Smithsonian Institution recently held a symposium that took a long, hard look at slavery and faced up to reality many people have preferred to ignore.
     Titled "American Slavery in History and Memory," the forum brought talk of resistance efforts: slaves beheading white people and mixing ground glass into their food to make them slowly bleed to death.
     Participants expressed outrage over a junior high school class' cancellation of a school trip to a black history museum because a white student had been traumatized by a slave exhibit there.
     Discussions raged around the aversion of some black people to any reminder of slavery, and the need to overcome that by following the example of Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust.
     And there were startling revelations:  The U.S. Capitol and the White House may be symbols of American government and liberty, but they are also monuments to slavery.  About two-thirds of the skilled artisans who built these two edifices were slaves whose wages went mostly to their masters.
     This unusual colloquy took place in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where African-American director Spencer Crew is creating a Center for American Identity.  It will be devoted to the study of how Americans came to be what they are, how they think of themselves and how they relate to one another - especially in terms of race, class and gender.
     "We want people to think in new ways," Crew said.  "I think it's fertile ground and a wonderful way for people to think about not only their differences but their similarities - and to find their commonality.  Sometimes we lose that."
     When fully established by the museum, the center will have its own director and staff, will produce publications and educational materials, and will work closely with the rest of the museum on public programs and exhibits.     The center will also try to promote communication between the nation's academic community and the public at large on these issues.
     "I think the historians for too long have talked to the historians," said Rex Ellis, chairman of the museum's Cultural History Office and another leader in the Smithsonian effort.  "The public for too long has learned their history from television and film.  Both have been served in a very, very negative way because of that.  There are more youngsters out there whose understanding of history is based on what they've watched on television, and historians who have lived and died and only written monographs that 15 of their favorite friends have read."
     The symposium was intended as a first step toward bringing the two together.  Co-sponsored by the National Archives, the University of Maryland, Howard University and Delta Sigma Theta sorority, it drew hundreds of educations, scholars, museum officials, historical interpreters, journalists and members of the public.
     Unfortunately, Ellis said, many black people don't want to be reminded of slavery.
     We have an exhibition called "Communities in a Changing Nation," Ellis said, "and one of the first things you see when you go into that 19th Century exhibit is a display with the figures of a slave woman and child.  They did a survey of audiences coming through to see how they felt about that.  A sizeable majority of the public - said, "Why are you talking about this?  Why are you mentioning this yet again?."
     Before joining the Smithsonian, Ellis was in charge of Colonial Williamsburg's Africian-American living history program from 1984 to 1992.  For five years prior to that, he worked as a part-time actor portraying slaves at Williamsburg.  "There were people who saw me and began whistling 'Dixie" when they walked away from me," Ellis said.  "There were black people who were so ashamed to see me that they just walked away without hearing what I had to say."
     That began to change after he encouraged the management to incorporate commentary into the presentation to explain what was being depicted and why.
     Other historic places have begun to portray slavery as it occurred on the premises.  In the wake of the controversy over Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemings, Monticello has created a living history slave village adjoining the main house to provide a glimpse of African-American life on that famous plantation.  And in Charlottesville, VA, this week the 2000 Jefferson Symposium will discuss slavery and Jefferson.
     At George Washington's Mt. Vernon, a "slavery tour" is offered, along with commentary about conditions there under one of early American's more benign slave masters - though it's noted that Washington once concurred in the whipping of a rebellious young slave woman.
     Most Americans have a simple concept of slavery that represents a small part of a complex and constantly changing whole, said University of Maryland historian Ira Berlin, author of the landmark "Many Thousands Gone:  The First Two Generations of Slavery in North America" and keynote speaker at the symposium.
    "Slavery itself changed so rapidly that the experience we capture in a kind of snapshot on the eve of emancipation - of cotton and the Deep South and the African church - was itself a relatively new creation at the time," Berlin said.  "The continuing negotiation between master and slave continually changed the nature of the relationship, making it different at different times.  There were periods of great tension, periods of great relaxation, periods of enormous violence and periods of quiescence."     Substantial numbers of free blacks lived in the South during slavery, Berlin said.  On the eve of the Civil War, there were 10 times as many free blacks in Baltimore as there were slaves.
     Slave owners who freed their slaves often turned around and bought new slaves.  It was not uncommon for freed slaves to set themselves up as planters, merchants or tradesmen and acquire slaves of their own, Berlin said.
     A frequent complaint at the symposium was that white America views the eventual freeing of the slaves as a completely white enterprise, in which slaves took no part.
     "Do Americans get an accurate image of slavery?" asked symposium participant Joe Madison, a nationally syndicated columnist and radio talk show host.  "The reality is, absolutely not.  I don't think there's ever been a documentary, a television series or a film on something as common as Nat Turner and his slave rebellion.  Even in the 1970's mini-series 'Roots,' as viscerally s we reacted to that, there was not one slave revolt scene in that series."
     Ethiopian-born black filmmaker Haile Gerima said that, in white-dominated America culture, whites are the heroes of slavery.
     "White people have been able to literally dethrone the role black people played in freeing themselves," he said.  "They're literally superimposed as the heroes of the story.  Black kids have asked me if we didn't do anything towards our freedom - if I owe my freedom to white freedom fighters.  I am ashamed of that history."
     Ellis said he thought the popular myths about slavery were attributably to "our bent for a happy ending."
     "From Disney to Snoopy and the gang, to any number of films, we think we've been cheated if there's not a happy ending and everything turns out all right," he said.  "Well, slavery doesn't turn out all right."
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