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Children in Slavery through the Ages

Gwyn Campell

Publication Year: 2009

Significant numbers of the people enslaved throughout world history have been children. The vast literature on slavery has grown to include most of the history of this ubiquitous practice, but nearly all of it concentrates on the adult males whose strong bodies and laboring capacities preoccupied the masters of the modern Americas. Children in Slavery through the Ages examines the children among the enslaved across a significant range of earlier times and other places; its companion volume will examine the children enslaved in recent American contexts and in the contemporary/modern world.

This is the first collection to focus on children in slavery. These leading scholars bring our thinking about slaving and slavery to new levels of comprehensiveness and complexity. They further provide substantial historical depth to the abuse of children for sexual and labor purposes that has become a significant humanitarian concern of governments and private organizations around the world in recent decades.

The collected essays in Children in Slavery through the Ages fundamentally reconstruct our understanding of enslavement by exploring the often-ignored role of children in slavery and rejecting the tendency to narrowly equate slavery with the forced labor of adult males. The volume’s historical angle highlights many implications of child slavery by examining the variety of children’s roles—as manual laborers and domestic servants to court entertainers and eunuchs—and the worldwide regions in which the child slave trade existed.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Editors’ Introduction

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pp. 1-16

This is the first of two volumes on children in slavery—a subject that has only recently become the focus of academic research. Scholarly attention has up to now centered primarily on adult male slaves, first in the Americas and the Caribbean, then in Africa, and more recently on women in slavery.1 Throughout the known history of slavery, children were in a minority. However, ...

Section I. The Trades In Slave Children

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pp. 17-18

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1. Child Slaves in the Early North Atlantic Trade in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

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pp. 19-34

Traditional historiography presents us with a stereotyped picture of Atlantic slavery, in which black slaves generally appear as a category of dominated people who neither speak nor think for themselves, but rather are spoken and thought about. In the fifteenth century shipping routes in the North Atlantic created a cultural and economic bridge of humanity between the...

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2. Children and European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean During the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

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pp. 35-54

On 1 February 1835 slavery was formally abolished in the British colony of Mauritius in the southwestern Indian Ocean. The act of abolition stipulated that emancipated slaves had to serve their former masters as “apprentices” for no more than six years before finally being freed and that owners were to be compensated for the loss of all legally acquired slaves. Shortly thereafter, the ...

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3. Small Change: Children in the Nineteenth-Century East African Slave Trade

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pp. 55-70

During the nineteenth-century East African slave trade—in which long-distance caravans channeled slaves from the interior to coastal ports for transshipment to Zanzibar, Pemba, the Kenya coast, Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and India—prepubescent boys and girls were a significant portion of the traffic. Some children were in demand as servants in urban homes ...

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4. The Brief Life of ‘Ali,the Orphan of Kordofan: The Egyptian Slave Trade in the Sudan, 1820–35

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pp. 71-87

‘Ali was one of the few child slaves from the nineteenth-century Sudan to be described by more than one European writer.2 His life is recounted by Dr. William Holt Yates, a member of the British Royal College of Physicians and an abolitionist, and in part by Edmond de Cadalvène and J. de Breuvery, two scholarly French travelers who briefly accompanied ...

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5. Traded Babies: Enslaved Children in America’s Domestic Migration, 1820–60

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pp. 88-102

Sometime in 1843, a young Hawkins Wilson went on the block at a sheriff’s sale. A quarter century later, Wilson, who had been born in Caroline County, Virginia, wrote from Galveston, Texas, eager to set back to rights what had been nearly demolished by a lifetime in slavery. “Dear Sir,” Wilson opened his letter to a Freedmen’s Bureau official from whom he ...

Section II. The Treatment and Uses of Slave Children Through the Ages: Part A Children Acquired for Social, Political, and Domestic Roles

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pp. 103-104

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6. Singing Slave Girls (Giyan) of the ‘Abbasid Court in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

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pp. 105-118

The category of slave in the Middle East encompassed a number of different duties and positions: eunuch, chattel, domestic servant, sexual subject, infantryman, concubine, entertainer, laborer, and sometimes a trusted and valued member of the household. As Shaun Marmon has noted, “there can be no single model for the study of slavery in Islamic societies,”1 and to ...

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7. Becoming a Devsirme: The Training of Conscripted Children in the Ottoman Empire

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pp. 119-134

For centuries the military-administrative positions of the Ottoman state were manned by slaves who were carefully recruited and painstakingly educated. Different variations of this institution have existed in Islamic societies since the ‘Abbasid caliphate—the traditional source of the enslaved military-administrative stratum had always been war captives. The Ottomans, ...

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8. The Third Gender: Palace Eunuchs

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pp. 135-151

Societies using eunuchs have two common characteristics: first, they possess a despotic monarchy and a strong state autocracy, second, they practice polygamy or concubinage. In premodern China concubinage is officially recognized by Confucian ideology. The Forbidden City, home to the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, was divided into two sections: ...

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9. The Well-Being of Purchased Female Domestic Servants (Mui Tsai) in Hong Kong in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 152-166

By the early twentieth century, human beings in China had been purchased like a commodity for many centuries. They were wanted for adoption, domestic servitude, marriage, prostitution, and overseas indentured labor. Generally for the Chinese community, the buying and selling of human beings were morally acceptable so long as the transaction was aimed to ...

Part B: Children in Commercial Slaveries

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pp. 167-168

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10. Slave and Other Nonwhite Children in Late-Eighteenth-Century France

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pp. 169-186

It was fashionable in early-modern aristocratic circles to own an African male child as a domestic servant. So prevalent was the fashion for “little blacks” dressed in exotic costumes in France, notably in the late eighteenth century, that a governor of Senegal, the chevalier de Boufflers, on a short visit home, brought a number of them, along with parrots and other exotic...

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11. The Struggle For Survival: Slave Infant Mortality in the British Caribbean in the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

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pp. 187-203

The enslaved population of the British Caribbean failed to reproduce. This abnormality of human demographic behavior resulted from the low fertility and reproductive difficulties suffered by female slaves subjected to the tough working regime of cultivating sugar, poor nutritional and living conditions, the physical punishments characteristic of slavery, and inad-...

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12. Left Behind But Getting Aahead: Antebellum Slavery’s Orphans in the Chesapeake, 1820–60

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pp. 204-224

Enslaved children left behind in the antebellum Chesapeake faced an unforgiving landscape of challenges as their parents were sold off to the cotton plantations of the Deep South. Forced separations orphaned countless youngsters, as slaveholders broke up, through sales, one in three marriages among the people they owned each decade between 1820 and the onset of ...


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pp. 225-228


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pp. 229-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443392
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418772

Publication Year: 2009