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Ill A N X I O U S O P P R E S S O R S Freedom and Control in a Slave Society DURING THE FIRST QUARTER OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Negro slaves poured into the English colonies on the American continent in unprecedented numbers. This sudden enlargement of the slave population meant for white men a thoroughgoing commitment to slavery; the institution rapidly thrust its roots deeply into a maturing American society. For roughly the first sixty years of the eighteenth century slavery itself grew without appreciable opposition , or even comprehension, gradually becoming barnacled with traditions, folkways, and a whole style of life. Most important for the future, unthinking acquiescence in the existence of slavery resulted in unthinking acceptance of the presuppositions upon which slavery rested. Slavery seemed a necessary response to conditions , a submission to the decrees of life in America. Basic to the emergent pattern of master-slave relations was the demographic pattern of European and African settlement in the seaboard colonies. Despite the crucial and at times determinative influence of this pattern, the varying degrees of rigor which slavery exhibited in various regions did more than reflect population ratios; in their enactment and application the laws of slavery reflected the complex needs and responses of communities which for varying reasons were both different and roughly similar to each other. White reactions to manifestations of slave discontent, especially, seem to have differed in ways which suggest that the measure of communal integration among white men was crucial to the shape of their response. In all the English settlements, though, colonials faced common problems which turned around certain central facts—that Negro slaves were property but also men, that they had always to be governed and sometimessuppressed, that some Negroes were not slaves, and that racial slavery existed in burgeoning settle- [101] ] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K ments which were characterized notably by personal freedom and ethnic diversity. 1. DEMOGRAPHIC CONFIGURATIONS IN THE COLONIES The influx of Negroes into the American colonies was part of a more general development, the arrival of large numbers of non-English peoples. It is impossible to say precisely when the flood began, but the trend toward variegation of England's colonial peoples accelerated rapidly in the early years of the eighteenth century. Three groups contributed most heavily to this novel diversity. The Scotch-Irish (the lowland Scots who had migrated to Ulster) pushed through to frontier regions where they rapidly established a reputation for bellicosity among themselves and toward the Indians. The Germans flocked especially to Pennsylvania where by mid-century they constituted a third of the population. Though most were Protestant, their presence aroused some antagonism, for their large numbers and tenacious devotion to their language and ways suggested to some colonists that Pennsylvania might be becoming New Germany. In a famous outburst Benjamin Franklin asked petulantly , "why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion." x By far the most numerous (and surely the most distinctive in "Complexion") of the three major non-English groups were the Africans. Like Europeans, they differed among themselves in nationality and language, but they too shared, for the most part, a common culture.2 Like most European immigrants, they clustered in certain areas, without having anything to say in the matter. In the eighteenth century Negroes were heavily concentrated on the seaboard of the southern half of the English territory along the Atlantic edge of the North American continent. From about 1730 almost until the Revolution Negroes comprised at least one-third the total population within the line of English settlement from Maryland to 1. "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind" (1751), Leonard W. Labaree et al., eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, 1959 ) , IV, 2342 . Though now challenged on many points, the single most important work on the African background of American slaves remains Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (N. Y. and London, 1941). [102] Anxious Oppressors South Carolina (and to Georgia after its firm establishment in mid-century). Within this area there were significant variations...


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