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The Effects on African Slaves on Plantations in the Americas

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Plantation slavery was instituted for economic gain for white plantation owners. The very act of owning another human being may have impacted on the masters, but on the slaves themselves the impact was devastating and long lasting, affecting every aspect of their lives. There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence to prove how great this impact was. This essay will, however, be concentrating on the mental and emotional losses and the physical violence they suffered, the impact on family units and on their physical bodies. The slaves offered resistance when they could, some was overt and some was covert involving both genders. Women also suffered and offered resistance in ways that were specific to their gender.

Loss of land, language and identity had a mental and emotional impact on both male and female African plantation slaves. Indigenous African people have always placed great importance on their land which was crucial to their culture, spiritual and economical survival, as well as their identity and language. Slaves often found it difficult when they were taken from their families and integrated into different cultural groups who did not speak the same dialect as they did. Slave men and women lost their identity because slavers gave them names such as Bessy, Cudjoe, Woman September and Quashie, the latter 'becoming a term of abuse and was commonly used to refer to a fool'. Quashie, however, had another meaning such as playing the fool for strategic reasons. They did however, retain fragments of their culture through chanting and incantation, singing about their country and drumming, until it was forbidden. In spite of these attempts to maintain their culture, the emotional effects were devastating.

Violence daily on the plantation.

'Slavery was conceived and nurtured in violence'. Both male and female plantation slaves were treated with varying degrees of violence. Many, however, were subjected to cruel and violent treatment by the heartless planters. In the West Indies, for example, both male and female slaves were repeatedly whipped and flogged by the overseers and planters with a thong whip which often left severe lacerations, scars and after suffering from the beatings, brine was rubbed into their wounds. In extreme cases some planters such as Thistlewood were known for their cruel and sadistic punishment of the slaves. In the instance of Thistlewood, he was known to punish the plantation slaves by branding them on the side of the face with hot irons. Tarring, burning and mutilations were amongst many of the abhorrent treatments that these oppressed people had to endure from plantation owners like Thistlewood.

On the other hand, the slaves at Mount Airy in Virginia owned by the Tayloe family were treated more humanely than on some other plantations such as Mesopotamia in the West Indies. For instance, 'the Mesopotamia records show nearly two slave deaths for every slave birth'. Because slave deaths outnumbered births, the Barham family were continuously transporting new slaves to Mesopotamia in Jamaica to keep the plantation viable. In contrast, the Tayloe family from the Mount Airy plantation had a higher slave birth rate and lower slave death rate than their counterparts in Jamaica. There was always a surplus of slave labour at the Tayloe plantation, where some slaves were sold to other planters or sent to new work sites. It can be seen that all slaves' lives were not the same. In Mount Airy Virginia, for example, the slaves had a much different life than the slaves from Mesopotamia, Jamaica. The life expectancy, amount of children born, quantity of new slaves brought in, burden of labour, over all treatment from their owners, can all be considered different by analysing the documentation from the two different plantations. The Jamaican slaves had to work much harder with the sugar cane than the slaves in Virginia with their crops or specialised skills. More babies were born to the slaves in Virginia which meant that they populated themselves and at the same time their life expectancy was much longer than for the slaves at Mesopotamia, in Jamaica. One of the demographic problems for the planters at Mesopotamia was the low birth rate for African -born women compared to the Mesopotamian- born slave women. The latter, however, was boosted by the sexual predatory exploitation of the female slaves by the white staff at the plantation. Clearly it can be seen that 'the Mount Airy Slaves did not experience the same demographic problems found at Mesopotamia'. A common factor for the slaves from both Mount Airy and Mesopotamia, however, was that they had all experienced exploitation, manipulation, dehumanisation and racial enslavement, as did the other slaves in different ways on various plantations.


The family unit was the basic feature of slave life during the 19th Century. Female slaves had separate roles, such as labouring in the fields or as domestic servants and being wives and mothers. Deborah Gray White suggests that relationships between male and female slaves was diverse and had a sense of unpredictability about it. Slave owners, however, had an intense influence over the courtship for both male and female slaves. The slaves found that the slaver's presence was constantly in their lives and 'that any interaction between both male and females had to conform to the work and social patterns established by the system of slavery...' Walvin argues that slaves were wrenched from their kinship ties and white society could not comprehend the fact that slaves came from communities with close family ties or that they had any emotions. Richard Dunn argues that the family unit was ruptured when slaves were sold separately. Dunn gives an example of two adult slaves, Harry and his wife Agga who belonged to the Tayloe family at Mount Airy and had eight children. The children who were of various ages were sent to different places to work, sometimes in remote areas where many of them lost contact with their parents and siblings. Moreover, it was not unusual for children to be separated from their families. Usually, at Mount Airy when slave children were in their mid-teens, males and females were separated and sent to other places to work. Sex

White males often used the excuse that black people were promiscuous; therefore, it was acceptable for them to sexually violate both slave men and women. Black women, for example, were depicted as being naturally highly sexed. This mythical concept of



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