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17 Prologue The antislavery impulse was as old as the republic itself. So too were sectional tensions deriving from the diverging interests of the free labor North and the slaveholding South. By the eve of the American Revolution, slavery had existed in North America for more than 150 years; it was legal in every one of the thirteen colonies. But di√erent patterns of settlement and di√erent geographies distinguished the Northern colonies from the Southern ones and set them on di√erent trajectories. Slavery was marginal to the economy of New England, which was ‘‘wedded to family and wage labor.’’ It was pervasive in the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but slave labor there was incorporated into a diverse economy; slaves worked in artisan shops, in the maritime industries, and on farms, alongside white and black indentured servants and wage workers. Slavery, in other words, was not the dominant form of labor in the North. The Southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, by contrast, were not merely societies with slaves but ‘‘slave societies,’’ organized economically, socially, and politically around the principle and practice of human bondage. In 1760, 88 percent of the 325,806 slaves in the British mainland colonies lived in the South.∞ Although the majority of white Southern families did not own slaves, the slaveholding minority, particularly the wealthy ‘‘planters’’ (those who owned twenty slaves or more and operated plantations), held the preponderance of power in the colonial South. In the deferential political culture of the region , wealth and, in plantation districts, slaveholding were the prerequisites for political leadership. The system of bondage defined black slaves as ‘‘chattels,’’ pieces of property with few, tenuous rights. Slaves could not leave plantations without permission, could not buy or sell goods, could not have legally recognized marriages, could not claim authority over their own children. The separation, through sale, of slave families was commonplace; 18 Δ Prologue so too was the rape of slave women by their masters. Slaves who defied their owners or the law were viciously punished—whipping, branding, and even mutilation were common penalties for misbehavior. The slave system, Anthony S. Parent forcefully argues, did not ‘‘emerge’’ as an ‘‘unplanned consequence of a scarce labor market.’’ Rather, it was designed. In the period 1660 to 1740, a small class of ascendant planters in Virginia established the legal and ideological template for the development of slavery elsewhere in the colonies, and thereby ‘‘gave America its racial dilemma.’’≤ The slave codes first established by seventeenth-century Virginia became the model for successive Southern states, and they reveal a great deal about slaveholders’ anxieties and aims. Overturning traditions of English common law that stipulated that a child inherited the status of his father, the Southern slave codes provided that a child born to a slave mother would inherit his mother’s status as a chattel—in this way, a master who coerced a female slave into sex stood to gain financially by his act, for any child born of it would be his slave. The slave codes not only rewarded masters for their coercion but also worked to prevent the growth of the free black population. Virginia and other colonies passed statutes that criminalized interracial sexual acts, but such laws were enforced selectively—the vast majority of those prosecuted under the Virginia law, for example, were white women who had had sexual relationships with black men; white men’s interracial sexual misconduct went virtually unpunished. The system for policing sexuality was thus designed to ‘‘solidify the patriarchal stake of all white men in a slave system that o√ered the greatest benefits to large planters.’’ Both wealthy planters and white men of lower status were guaranteed sexual access to black women and strict enforcement of the ban on interracial liaisons of white women.≥ The system of law enforcement that developed in the South is documented by runaway notices that slaveholders ran in their newspapers: When a slave fled, the master typically printed a description of the fugitive and promised a reward for his or her capture and return. Thousands of these advertisements survive from the colonial era, and their descriptions of slaves with lashed backs, broken teeth, brand marks, cropped ears, and other deformities caused by deprivation or punishment testify to the conditions in which slaves lived. The work of tracking down fugitive slaves initially fell to private citizens and to sheri√s and militias. But by 1704 South Carolina had...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469606200
Related ISBN
9780807832325
MARC Record
OCLC
405097257
Pages
472
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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