Many tried to destroy them, but slaves stayed strong and found ways to escape their injustices. The first Africans to reach America landed in Jamestown, the first English settlement in North America. For 250 years, many Africans and African-Americans found ways to resist slavery, ranging from hindrances to violent outbreaks. Resistance to slavery came in many forms. On Southern plantations, some slaves executed small passive acts of resistance, while others ran away. Slaves also showed resistance in the form of religious practices in order to find comfort in the face of oppression. Violent rebellions were less common and mostly unsuccessful, but open defiance brought terror upon Southern whites. Slaves resisted the oppressive rule of their masters through aggressive acts like fighting overseers, revolts, and suicide, passive acts such as slowing work and secret religious meetings, and running away. The most common measure to undermine the institution of slavery was for a slave to run away. Runaway slaves were a constant dilemma for slave owners, overseers, employers, and law enforcement agencies. “Slaves had diverse reasons for running away, such as brutal punishments, separation from family, and fears of being sold” (Campbell). Living conditions for slaves were hard, with long work hours and low wages. Few masters recognized slave families and sold off children from their parents, or vice versa. Slaves were subject to harsh punishment for even minor offenses, depending on each individual master. Whippings and beatings were prevalent and some masters became proficient at inflicting physical punishments on their slaves that did not hinder their ability to work. Running away allowed them to get away from all the hostility, if only for a while. Often slaves gathered together, ran away as a group. “In North America, slaves often banded together and formed utopian-type communities like Wilberforce in Ontario and in the northern United States and other parts of Canada” (Slave Resistance). Running away was risky, but in the context of servitude for the rest of their lives and future generations’, many enslaved believed the consequences of doing nothing and remaining in slavery outweighed the risk. Slaves would group together to run away and established their own communities. In the Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA, Ida Blackshear Hutchinson. She relates the experiences of her father. “When the overseer untied him, Isom took his shirt in one hand and the overseer’s whip in the other and whipped him almost all the way to the big house. Then he ran away and stayed in the woods for three or four days… ” (Wpa Slave Narrative: Ida B. Hutchinson, Excerpt). Isom went against his overseer’s orders about not helping his wife out in the field. She could not keep up with the others. Isom made the overseer believe that he had learned his lesson and would follow orders, but he quickly turned on the overseer and whipped him back to the big house. Knowing he would face a harsh punishment or slip back into his life of slavery, Isom runs away. This would not be his first time. Ida earlier states that Isom ran away three times, showing slave perseverance. Slaves often took the high risk of resistance: running away to get away from the dreadful conditions they lived in. However, they did not always take the path of most risk.Furthermore, slaves resisted with nonviolent approaches, including work slowdowns and religious meetings. Former slave Mary Gladdy was born on a plantation in Georgia. Her story provides insight into the religious practices of slaves and the role of prayer and song in their everyday lives. ” … it was customary among slaves to gather together secretly in their cabins two or three times each week and hold prayer and ‘experience’ meetings” (“Wpa Slave Narrative: Mary Gladdy, Excerpt). Slaves were forced to assimilate into American culture, however, they held onto some their African roots. Slaves were not allowed to practice their religions or congregate especially at night. Slaves displayed small acts of resistance through secret religious meetings. Enslaved Africans also fought against slavery by keeping their African cultures and traditions alive in words, names, music, and beliefs. Slave owners often tried to control this. The religions of the slaves were dissimilar to the religions of the slave owners which caused them to restrict the slaves’ religions. So continuing to practice their religious beliefs were methods by which the slaves could resist and challenge slavery. Slaves would also just not work which also had the effect of slowing work. “Sometime they lazy around and if I see the overseer comin’ from the big house I had a song ‘sing to warn them, so they git to work and not be whupped” (Wpa Slave Narrative: Richard Carruthers, Excerpt). Slaves would not work while the overseer was not there, which would negatively affect the slave owner’s profit. By slowing down work and production, slaves defied the power and authority of the overseer and master. Slaves also affected the economic stability of their masters by producing less. “In work slowdowns, the product output per slave was consciously reduced. This occurred through such strategies as feigned ignorance (e.g., “I don’t understand how to do this”), thus resulting in other slaves’ overseers or supervisors taking extra time with them. With work stoppages, slaves would not work because of such reasons as temporary illness and needing to care for a child or sick relative” (Slave Resistance). The enslaved struggled daily to define the terms of their work. In response to slave masters making their lives harder, slaves defied authority by slowing work, pretending to be ill, breaking tools, or sabotaging production. These everyday forms of resistance distressed slave masters, but they could do little to stop due to fear of spreading disobedience. In this way, the enslaved often negotiated the basic terms of their daily routines. Small passive acts of defiance through secret meetings and sabotage provided small victories for the slaves. Violent acts of defiance provided larger victories.Lastly, although not common, slaves did resist slavery in violent ways through suicide and revolts. Some slaves were confident enough to fight the overseer instead of receiving a harsh punishment. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) was an autobiography by prominent abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. In Chapter 9 of his Narrative, Douglass traces interactions with one of his various owners, Mr. Covey. ” … but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all aback” (Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Excerpt). Some slaves resisted their superiors directly. Slaves like Frederick Douglass fought back and defied orders. Their resistance would be unexpected and give them leverage and the confidence to further rebel. Escaping slaves who faced capture often decided that death was better than returning to slavery. From the narrative of Ida Blackshear Hutchinson, Hutchinson talks of Lucy, a slave that committed suicide. “They say Negroes won’t commit suicide, but Isom told us of a girl that committed suicide. There was a girl named Lu, who used to run off and go to the dances” (Wpa Slave Narrative: Ida B. Hutchinson, Excerpt). Many slaves, feeling hopeless about any potential change, committed infanticide and mass suicide. Many slaves tried to commit suicide in order to avoid further suffering. Mothers would often kill their infants to spare them from the suffering they would have endured. There were many ways that the slaves would try to do this, but the most common ways were starvation and drowning. Patrollers would try to catch Lucy but always failed because she was too fast. She ran to the cabin and got her hidden quarter. She put the quarter in her mouth. The quarter got stuck in her throat, and she went on down to the slough and drowned herself rather than let them beat her, and mark her up. Mass violent resistance often involved revolts, which were widespread in the Americas. A series of slave rebellions and revolts throughout American history, most notably the Stono Rebellion of 1739 and Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, alarmed whites and showed that not all slaves peacefully accepted their status. Nat Turner was a religious and intelligent slave who led the most violent slave revolt in American history. Turner believed that he could eradicate slavery and act as an extension of God and recruited dozens of slaves to his cause. “By the time Turner and his men reached Jerusalem the morning after their attack, their ranks had swollen to about 60 African-American men, all armed and many on horseback. They had killed in the course of the night almost 55 whites, mostly women and children” (Blassingame). Occasionally, revolts were the only way for slaves to show their discontent without directly suffering from their slave masters. Slaves were controlled in every way. Slave owners treated them inhumanely and often brutally punished them. Some slaves thought only a large rebellion could help them break free and show that they are people too. Some slaves resisted through violent acts of defiance. Commonly, slaves fought back, committed suicide, or organized revolts.Slaves resisted slavery through large acts of revolts, small acts such as production hinderance, and escaping. Many slaves attempted to break the chains of their bondage by grouping together and running away. Some slaves resisted on a day-to-day basis. They would resist with smaller acts like disrupting work and secretly congregating. Other slaves reacted combatively to their subjugation. Slaves fought their overseers, suicided, and coordinated uprisings. Throughout the history of American slavery, Africans and African-Americans resisted whenever possible. The odds of them truly becoming free were slim, but keeping things the way they were was not an option. Whatever punishment they receive or the amount of laws passed to restrict them, enslaved Africans still rebelled. They made it clear that if they were not set free, they would free themselves.
July 19, 2019 0 Comments