Transported Labor, Indentured Servitude, and Slavery in the Americas: A Comparative Approach
While slave labor comprised the majority of the plantation workforce across the Americas, it was never the sole labor system in use. Historical records now show that slaves often worked alongside transported laborers and/or indentured servants. One document in the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership (a digital archive collaboration on the hemispheric Americas), James Revel’s poem The Poor Unhappy Transported Felon’s Sorrowful Account of His Fourteen Years Transportation, at Virginia, in America: : :, provides rare insight into life and labor in colonial America. As such, educators can use the document as a teaching tool within AP History or college introductory History courses.
Very little is known about Revel, but his account, composed at some point during the eighteenth century, traces his path from rebellious teen to Chesapeake tobacco laborer. In the document Revel states that he lived in England until he was caught stealing and was sentenced to transportation, which was, A just reward for my vile actions base. As one historian notes, transportation was Britain’s, adopt[ion] [of] foreign exile as a punishment for serious crime (Ekirch, 1). During their period of exile, felons could experience a wide array of treatment at the hands of their employers as, Parliament enacted laws to prevent their early return home but took no steps to regulate their treatment either at sea or in the colonies(Ekirch, 3). Revel’s exile began in Virginia where he worked for a farmer who was abusive and cruel. Upon his master’s death, Revel was sold to a tenderly and kind individual who eventually arranged for Revel to travel back to England as a free man. For a solid overview of transportation as a British punishment, see Frank McLynn’s Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England (2002).
Figure 1.1: The title page from an early version of James Revel’s account.
To begin with, educators can incorporate Revel’s poem into the classroom within a discussion of transportation as one method of colonial labor supply. Whereas AP and introductory courses often cover indentured and slave labor, transported laborers remain unacknowledged and this misses an opportunity to display the interconnectedness of the Atlantic economy. Specically, a lecture on transportation would t well within a U.S. course section on the late colonial period. The height of transportation was from 1718 (the passage of the British Transportation Act) to the early 1770s (the build-up to the American Revolution). One possible classroom exercise would be to read Revel’s poem alongside another primary document set, such as the transported passenger lists printed within Peter Wilson Coldham’s Bonded Passengers to America (full biographical details follow the module). While the poem attaches a personal face to this labor phenomenon, the lists present the broader picture of where the convicts departed from, the dates they departed, the arrival locations, and, on occasion, the crimes supposedly committed.
Educators can choose to incorporate one lecture focusing specically on transportation, or they can take a more integrated comparative approach and make the evolution of labor systems a theme within their courses, as the College Board suggests. This comparative approach can be accomplished through exercises analyzing the similarities and dierences between transported labor, indentured labor, and slave labor. For example, in the lecture section focusing on colonial development, educators can ask students to compare the lives of the three ‘types’ of laborers in one location, such as Virginia. For this exercise the Revel poem serves as the source on the lives of a transported laborer, while primary documents from Warren Billings’s The Old Dominion provide personal accounts of indentured and slave life. Categories of comparison can include everything from daily diet to the nature of punishment. Revel facilitates this comparative approach by describing how, after his conviction, he was transported overseas bound with an iron chain, was sold in Virginia like a horse, and then worked with his fellow slaves among the tobacco plants.
Figure 1.2: Individuals sentenced to transportation heading to a ship that will carry them overseas.
In addition, from the mid-seventeenth-century until the late-twentieth-century, all three groups of laborers could be found throughout the hemispheric Americas. Revel’s travels from Britain to Virginia and back again can serve as an entry point into a discussion of the movement of bodies to satisfy the labor needs of colonial plantation economies. In the course section on colonial development educators can focus on comparing the experiences of laborers across the globe. A wide variety of academic works feature essays on particular, local labor situations during the colonial period. One essay collection edited by Kay Saunders contains chapters describing colonial indentured labor in locations such as Jamaica, British Guiana, Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji, Malaya, and Queensland. Asking students to compare the lives of the laborers described within these essays to the lives of laborers in colonial North America, including Revel, partially satises the emphasis on globalization recommended by the College Board.
After introducing Revel’s account in the colonial section of the course, it could also be useful to revisit the poem during a discussion of emancipation in the U.S. Although it is an abstract concept the 1660s can be linked to the 1860s through the questioning of the historical nature of freedom. An educator can begin by discussing how transported laborers, indentured servants, and slaves all were granted freedom in right by the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War. Then, foreshadowing the upcoming discussions of sharecropping and African-American debt peonage, educators can explore how emancipation, across the globe, has not always led to what is commonly considered freedom. Historian Walton Look Lai nds that post Emancipation in the British West Indies meant that the phenomenon of labor coercion, far from dying out, assumed new and diverse forms (Look Lai, xi). In this same vein, educators can ask that students explore the continuation of indentured labor and the problems associated with it throughout the Caribbean during the twentieth century. Maharani’s Misery (2002), the story of a young female Indian indentured laborer killed in 1885 on her way to Guyana, is an apt and appropriate work to assign to students at the introductory college level and upwards. Maharani’s experiences are in many ways connected to Revel’s account and together they oer an avenue through which students can understand labor patterns across place and time.
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Billings, Warren, ed. The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1700. Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Coldham, Peter Wilson. Bonded Passenger to America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983.
Ekirch, A. Roger. Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Galenson, David. White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
Look Lai, Walton. Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.McLynn, Frank. Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Shepherd, Verene. Maharani’s Misery: Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean. Kingston: University of West Indies Press, 2002.
Saunders, Kay, ed. Indentured Labor in the British Empire, 1834-1920. London: CroomHelm, 1984.
An “Atlantic Creole” Case Study: Olaudah Equiano
Broadly construed, creolization refers to a mixing of cultures and beliefs. A creole society is one in which a variety of cultures and ideas coexist. Thus, historian Ira Berlin attempted to capture the impact of creolization on individuals in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic when he coined the term Atlantic creole. Berlin’s Atlantic creoles were economically active people who became part of the three worlds (Africa, Europe, and the Americas) that came together in the Atlantic littoral (Berlin, 17). For more information on Berlin’s work see Many Thousands Gone (1998). Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavas Vassa (see gure), has now become the person whom historians rst refer to when asked to identify a representative Atlantic creole. Equiano is most recognized for his Interesting Narrative which is now available as part of the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership (a digital collaboration on the hemispheric Americas). This module traces how educators can use Equiano’s life and The Interesting Narrative as an avenue through which to explore the nature of creolization, the activities of the Atlantic abolitionist and anti-slavery movements, and how historians approach and utilize primary source materials.
Figure 2.1: A portrait of Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa.
The Interesting Narrative conveys a version of Equiano’s life story and, according to the work, he was born in Africa in 1745, was captured by slavers as a young man, and was eventually purchased by a British Royal Navy ocer, Michael Henry Pascal. Equiano traveled the world on various ships that Pascal served upon. After being denied his freedom by Pascal in 1762, Equiano ended up working on various sugar plantations prior to purchasing his own freedom in 1766. The 1770s found Equiano in London, but he still
took sea voyages to exotic locales, such as the Arctic. Finally, in 1789 his autobiography was published, which provided a much- needed rst-hand account of the horrors of the slave trade. As much of the action in Equiano’s tale takes place in the mid to late 1700s, a discussion of his life and works would best t within a U.S. history or literature lecture on the Age of Revolutions or even the Early Republic. Educators could emphasize how he was representative of a large scale movement of ideas, often revolutionary in approach, and peoples during this period.
Figure 2.2: A title page image from a 1793 version of Equiano’s Interesting Narrative.
In particular, educators could focus on Equiano’s lifestyle as a sailor, the epitome of an Atlantic creole activity. To begin with, to get students familiar with his movements, an activity could ask students to read The Interesting Narrative and then to trace Equiano’s movements on a map. The result will be multiple lines of travel crossing and converging in the Atlantic. For additional material on his movements as a sailor, see W. Jerey Bolster’s Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (1997). Bolster explores the Age of Sail and argues that, Before 1865 seafaring had been crucial to blacks’ economic survival, liberation strategies, liberation strategies, and collective identity formation (6). At this point educators can stress how black seamen were often seen by U.S. southerners as agents of radicalism. For example, South Carolina passed a law in the early 1800s requiring the imprisonment of any black seamen arriving at her ports. This begs the question, what elements of radicalism exist within The Interesting Narrative? When discussing Equiano’s radicalism, it is useful to reference the entire text, but the early pages are particularly interesting as he states, Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its re and every noble sentiment?
Undoubtedly, Equiano associated with anti-slavery and abolitionist individuals in England and this inuence appears within his writings. He even mentions that numerous friends have pressured him to write his life story, presumably a few of these persons were involved in reform movements. As such, an exercise could require students to read The Interesting Narrative searching, in particular, for ‘typical’ anti-slavery imagery? The ‘typical’ nature of such imagery could be demonstrated through a comparative reading of a few of the slave narratives that would appear in later years, such as the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1999 ed.). Also, please view the following modules: Gender and Anti-Slavery in the Atlantic World and Slavery, Resistance, and Rebellion Across the Americas. This broader discussion of reform movements could extend the discussion of Equiano and his writings from the 1780s into the antebellum period or even the Crisis of the Union lectures of the 1850s/1860s. After an exploration of the term creole an educator could also ask their students to explain how The Interesting Narrative is a creole text.
Figure 2.3: An early map depicting West Africa, an area that plays a critical part within Equiano’s work.
Finally, historians have identied The Interesting Narrative as an important source of information on Atlantic and slave life in the late 1700s. However, scholars continue to evaluate the veracity of the claims that Equiano makes within the work. This debate oers a window into how historians wrestle with the constructed nature of autobiographical texts. In particular, Equiano’s birthplace has become a site of scholarly questioning. To introduce students to this debate it is suggested that they read excerpts from the work of Alexander X. Byrd, who makes an argument for the African origins of the Narrative, or Vincent Carretta, who contends that a South Carolina heritage might be closer to the mark. Both of these scholars have marshaled ample evidence in defense of their claims and students can be asked to make their own determination at the conclusion of the readings. In addition, one interesting collection, Olaudah Equiano & the Igbo World (2009) presents a series of essays evaluating the Igbo heritage thesis. This is also a general opportunity to describe how historians feel a need to approach every source from a critical perspective. The scholarly productions surrounding The Interesting Narrative are cutting-edge history in the truest sense and exposing students to these ideas can only enhance the classroom experience.
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Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Bolster, W. Jerey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Byrd, Alexander X. Eboe, Country, Nation, and Gustavus Vassa’s Interesting Narrative. William and Mary Quarterly LXIII (January 2006): 123-148.
Carretta, Vincent. Equiano the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. New York: William Durell, 1791.
Korieh, Chima, ed. Olaudah Equiano & the Igbo World: History, Society, and Atlantic Diaspora Connections. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2009.
Sugar Culture in the Hemispheric Americas
A discussion of colonial tobacco cultivation is a standard part of most introductory U.S. History courses. This emphasis on tobacco is justied, in part, because it was the rst cash crop produced in North America, it shaped the everyday lives of British North American colonists, and it created new Atlantic trade networks. However, while tobacco was starting to take hold in the Chesapeake during the rst half of the seventeenth century, the sugar cultivators of the West Indies were already expanding operations and establishing additional avenues of trade. A study of sugar reveals the development of the global economy in the colonial era. In addition, the unique demands of sugar resulted in the creation of an Atlantic ‘sugar culture’ characterized by the usage of enslaved laborers, harsh plantation conditions, and boom/bust prot scales. A document within the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership (a digital archive collaboration on the hemispheric Americas), and contributed to the OAAP by the Early Americas Digital Archive, James Grainger’s Sugar-Cane: A Poem (1764), provides a rst-hand account of colonial sugar culture. The poem, divided into four books, represents Grainger’s attempt to convey his Experience as a St. Christopher sugar planter to other individuals interested in the science of sugar production. It is Grainger’s belief that sugar cultivators are capable of obliging mankind with their improvements. This module suggests avenues through which educators can enhance their discussions of colonial America through the usage of Grainger’s poem and an exploration of sugar culture.
Figure 3.1: A close-up view of sugar cane stalks.
Grainger, who was born in Scotland and travelled to the West Indies during the 1750s, begins the poem by describing the basics of sugar cane planting and processing. For example, he advises planters to avoid the rocky slope, The clay-cold bottom, and the sandy beach as planting areas. He also advocates the use of fertilizer before he goes on to discuss how hurricanes and other natural disasters devastate the sugar crop on a yearly basis. In the nal book he focuses on relations with slave laborers and advocates a paternalistic relationship. The entire poem is infused with British pride and Grainger closes his work with, Britain shall ever triumph o’er the main. The poem’s length and breadth make it a convenient teaching aid for use within introductory college history, AP European History, AP U.S. History, or AP World History courses. An educator could rst introduce the poem during a lecture on the importance of sugar during the early colonial period of their course, roughly dened as 1492-1690. During the 1550s the British started to focus on the West Indies and Brazil as sugar colonies. The poem could be further emphasized during the late colonial period and the American Revolutionary Era lectures.
An initial way to incorporate Grainger would be to ask students to place themselves in the position of Grainger’s original audience, potential sugar planters, and ask them to dissect the poem looking for all hints/tips on sugar cultivation. At this point, the instructor could emphasize that Sugar-Cane: A Poem was but one of many instructional writings available to planters from the sixteenth century onwards. Then, a class discussion could take place focusing on the detailed process of growing sugar for market purposes in the colonial era. Students will quickly learn that sugar growing required skilled labor and patience, as a single crop would take over a year from planting to processing. Selections from Richard Sheridan’s Sugar and Slavery (1973) (see full biographical details below) could provide another description of the process and introduce the broad economic inuence of the sugar industry.
Figure 3.2: An image of a mill for grinding the harvested sugar cane.
In addition, one lecture could focus specically on the relationship between sugar and the American Revolution. This could include an explanation of the Sugar Act, but also an emphasis on the trade relationship among Britain, the West Indies, and the North American colonies. Selwyn Carrington’s The Sugar Industry and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1775-1810 (2002), provides tables and charts to aid in a discussion of the sugar trade. For instance, Table 2.12 tracks the sugar exports from the British West Indies to Britain for 1772-83 and shows that during just 1772-73 approximately 112,305 casks of sugar were transported. Furthermore, Carrington describes how the byproducts of sugar, such as rum, were also vital to trade. The British West Indies bought North American colonial goods and, in return, the mainland colonies took all British West Indian rum, a byproduct of sugar agriculture (1).
Although an overview of the Atlantic sugar trade is important, the poem also allows for a focus on how the sugar culture manifested itself in a variety of ways on the local level. A comparative exercise could ask students to take on the perspective of sugar planter, or a slave on a sugar plantation, from various locales. Grainger’s poem provides a viewpoint from St. Christopher, while the letters of Pierre Dessales explore the experiences of a planter living in Martinique during the nineteenth century (see Sugar and Slavery, Family and Race (1996) for transcriptions of Dessales’s letters and diaries). Another valuable, and vivid, primary source is Jamaican planter Thomas Thistlewood’s 37-volume diary, excerpts of which are printed in Douglas Hall’s In Miserable Slavery (1989). All of these accounts give information on sugar culture, planter life, and the slave experience.
Figure 3.3: Slaves working as a group in the cane elds of Antigua.
If a focus on individuals does not work with the outline of the course, an educator could easily craft a lesson drawing upon the ample literature on sugar culture around the globe and throughout history. One essay collection that epitomizes this global perspective is Sugar, Slavery, and Society (2004), which contains eight essays on the Caribbean, India, the Mascarenes, and the United States. These essays make it possible to see how the cultivation of sugar evolved over time and was subject to inuences other than the economic pressures of the British. The sugar industry in Louisiana, for example, was inuenced by French agricultural advances. As one historian states, progressive French ideas did nd their way into the sugar industry…French chemical and analytical techniques proved to be useful(26). Educators can stress how West Indian sugar planters in the 1760s, such as Grainger, can be linked to Louisiana sugar cultivators in the 1880s by their ties to world markets and their quest for up-to-date agricultural techniques.
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Burnard, Trevor. Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slave in the Anglo-Jamaican World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Carrington, Selwyn. The Sugar Industry and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1775-1810. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.
Dunn, Richard S. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
Forster, Elborg and Robert Forster, eds. Sugar and Slavery, Family and Race: The Letters of Pierre Dessales, Planter in Martinique, 1808-1856. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Hall, Douglas. In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-1786. London: Macmillan, 1989.
Heitmann, John Alfred. The Modernization of the Louisiana Sugar Industry, 1830-1910. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.
Moitt, Bernard, ed. Sugar, Slavery, and Society: Perspectives on the Caribbean, India, the Mascarenes, and the United States. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.
Scarano, Francisco. Sugar and Slavery in Puerto Rico: The Plantation Economy of Ponce, 1800-1850. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
Schwartz, Stuart B., ed. Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Sheridan, Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
Slavery, Violence, and Exploitation in 19th-Century U.S. Literature
As sectional tensions within the U.S. escalated toward civil war, African slavery became an increasingly important point of focus for literary texts of the antebellum period. Anti-slavery ideologies feature prominently in works by several canonical authors of the time, including essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Fugitive Slave Law, (1851) and Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, (1849) as well as Herman Melville’s renowned novella, “Benito Cereno” (1856). Though a long-standing genre throughout the Americas, the slave narrative reached its peak of popularity during the ten years leading up to the U.S. Civil War, its most famous iterations now being Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life (1845) and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). And the most popular U.S. novel of the entire nineteenth century was, of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). This brief catalogue does not even begin to account for the plethora of pro-slavery texts that appeared in the years following the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, often referred to as anti-Tom novels. Some notable examples of these anti-Tom novels include The Planter’s Northern Bride (1854) by Caroline Lee Hentz and The Free Flag of Cuba (1854) by Lucy Holcombe Pickens. Even as these works waged a erce ideological battle, they shared a common underlying goal in purporting to depict the realities of the slave system in America. While anti-slavery texts highlighted the violence and degradation experienced by slaves within the South, pro-slavery writers countered with images of loyal and happy slaves who depended upon their owners for their own well-being and protection. These debates were no doubt at the front of George Dunham’s mind as he recorded his observations of the Brazilian slave system and its everyday operations.
Positioning Dunham’s experiences with Brazilian slavery in his A Journey to Brazil (1853) – which is held at Rice University’s Woodson Research Center as part of the larger ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership – among the aforementioned masterworks of U.S. slavery literature oers a host of pedagogical opportunities. That being said, attempting to deduce, from his journal, Dunham’s political views on slavery poses its own set of diculties. He has been invited by a group of plantation owners to help modernize their operations through an infusion of new technologies and techniques, so he has ample opportunity to witness the treatment of slaves on the plantations. Quite purposefully, it would seem, he sprinkles several instances throughout his writings of violence committed against slaves, always cast in a negative and disapproving light. Early in the journal he writes, saw the rst Negro whipped to day and hope it will be the last (see Figure 1 [a]).
Having spent more time working and living in Brazil, he begins to go into slightly greater detail concerning these outbursts of violence, taking on a somewhat more questioning and critical tone: There was a Negro woman taken into the building and whipped today I don’t know what for and it will do no good to ask for it is by chance if I could nd out and it is no use to say anything here for it would only make a bad matter worse (see Figure 1 [b]).
Figure 4.1: Excerpts, page 49 (top) and 98 (bottom), from the original manuscript of George Dunham’s travel journal, A Journey to Brazil
In a nal example, taken from the latter portions of the journal, Dunham comes out more explicitly in opposition to the brand of discipline practiced by slave drivers in Brazil: An old man that takes care of the sheep was whipped tonight I dont know what for perhaps for some accident that he could not possibly help the German appears to be an ugly rascal and will whip when there is no occasion and for that matter I think there never is any need of whipping after they are grown up (135). Perhaps not surprisingly, owing to his professional position, Dunham expresses his disapproval of the brutality that he witnesses in practical, economic terms, generally speaking. He perceives these methods as inecient, counterproductive means for controlling the labor force that forms the foundation of Brazil’s agricultural economy. It is never clear to what extent genuine humanitarian concern lies behind his condemnations; nor is it certain if he is directing these critiques toward the practices of slaveholders in the U.S. South. Regardless of his personal politics, Dunham would have known that his contemporary readers, inundated with the slavery question, would read such connections into his text, so these passages can, at a minimum, be understood with that broader reality in mind.
Even if Dunham, in his journal, cannot necessarily be classied as an anti-slavery writer, his chronicling of the violence and exploitation associated with the slave system does evoke the abolitionist texts that helped to dene antebellum U.S. literary culture. Douglass’s Narrative of the Life and Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life, for example, portray in stark detail the series of physical, mental, and sexual abuses suered by themselves as well as their friends and family. These authors sought to make their experiences as real and immediate as possible in order to convince their readers of slavery’s evils. Without that type of socio-political agenda behind his writings, Dunham does not approach the same level of detail found in Douglass and Jacobs; nonetheless, his observations contribute to an emerging portrait in the mid-nineteenth century of slavery as a cruel, demeaning, and unjust institution. One of the more striking moments from A Journey to Brazil, in which Dunham discovers copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brazil, further motivates one to read the journal in relation to the anti-slavery literature of its day. I nd that Uncle Toms Cabin has got into Brazil and the people will read it, Dunham writes (168). This exciting passage provides at least two opportunities to a class in the process of studying Stowe’s novel. A teacher could, of course, parallel the brutality of a character such as Simon Legree and the violent acts observed and recorded by Dunham. Yet another possibility would be to utilize this moment as evidence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s global circulation, its worldwide impact on the issues of slavery and freedom. Paired with these classics of anti-slavery literature, Dunham’s journal takes on massive import to the study of nineteenth-century cultural production.
Figure 4.2: An oversize poster addressed to Jeerson Davis encouraging the exportation of U.S. slavery to Nicaragua.
Another strategy for utilizing Journey to Brazil in the classroom would be as a vehicle for discussing slavery as an institution in other places within the Americas beyond the U.S. Dunham provides with some valuable rsthand observations of the inner workings of the Brazilian slave system. Brazil itself is, of course, an interesting case since it was the last country to ocially abolish slavery, in 1888. More generally speaking, however, the journal will enable teachers to demonstrate the ways in which nineteenth-century slavery functioned as a transnational, hemispheric system. Dunham himself is a perfect example of how slavery in the Americas depended upon a transnational exchange of people, ideas, and technologies. Cultural critics have recently begun to explore in-depth the nature and ramications of these dynamics, as can be seen in such studies as Matthew Guterl’s American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation and the collection of essays edited by Deborah Cohn and Jon Smith, Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies. Journey to Brazil provides yet another important case study for drawing connections among the slaveholding practices of the U.S. South and those of other slaveholding societies throughout the hemisphere.
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Cohn, Deborah and Jon Smith, eds. Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Guterl, Matthew. American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2008.
Hentz, Caroline Lee. The Planter’s Northern Bride. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1854.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl . Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.
Pickens, Lucy Holcombe. The Free Flag of Cuba. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2002.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin . New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
Slave Sales in the Nineteenth-Century Americas
Historians studying slavery in the Americas and the world have often lamented, with good cause, the diculty of nding primary sources created by enslaved persons. Instead, historians are often forced to rely upon primary sources that provide a ‘from the top down’ view of slavery. Economic accounts kept by slaveowners is one example of a source base that provides information regarding the lives of enslaved persons, but the accounts have to be approached carefully due to the inherent biases contained within the writings. Two bills of slave sales, available online as part of the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership (a digital collaboration on the hemispheric Americas) and physically housed in Rice University’s Woodson Research Center, serve as valuable entrypoints into classroom discussions of the local economic processes of slave systems and slave family life.
Figure 5.1: This is an original bill of sale showing the purchase of “George” for $505. The notes in pencil are not from the period.
This module encourages educators to incorporate these two documentary items within classroom lessons focusing on early to mid nineteenth-century slave life. At the start of the lesson, it might prove useful for a teacher to pass around photocopies, or project the images, of the bills of sale. Students will immediately be struck by the stark simplicity of the documents. One of the bills relates to the sale of George in 1847. George was 30 years old and sold for $505. The other bill, dated from 1811, notes the sale of a woman named “Milly & her child for $330. At this time, it would be important to stress the sensitivity with which we must approach these documents. Educators should convey to their students at the outset that these writings represented the practice of selling human beings and, as such, the conversation has to proceed with a level of respect for the suering of George, Milly, her child, and the millions of others who endured similar sales.
Figure 5.2: This image is from an original sketch of a slave auction done by Theodore R. Davis. It appeared in Harper’s Weekly on July 13, 1861.
The bills of sale can also be placed within the larger international framework of the economics of slave systems. Sales of slaves occurred on a variety of scales, from entire shiploads of individuals to a single slave being sold. In addition, any location that perpetuated a slave system also had built in mechanisms for slave sales. Students could benet from a survey of international slave systems using, for example, the study of the Cuban slave market completed by scholars Bergrad, García, and del Carmen (1995). Their work also allows for a classroom exercise involving students in groups, or as individuals, being assigned a particular table from the study, interpreting the data table, and presenting their ndings to the class. The authors provide a wide variety of tables including information on: sex, origin, age, place of sale, national origins, and average prices on specic groups of laborers i.e. domestics, drivers, eld hands.
This photo (ca. 1900-1910) shows an old slave auction block in the St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Understanding the economic details of slave sales is important, but educators can also push their students to contemplate what George or Milly might have experienced on an auction block in a locale such as New Orleans. At this juncture, historical images of slave auctions could be shown, perhaps read alongside accounts provide by the American Slave Narrative project, available online. These slave narratives provide detailed remembrances of the sale process. The slave pens, where slaves were held before and after auctions, have been described as particularly horrid. Walter Johnson in his study of the New Orleans slave market states, The walls surrounding the pens were so high-fteen or twenty feet-that one New Orleans slave dealer thought they could keep out the wind(2). Despite this brutal environment, slaves were still pushed to lie and cajole possible purchasers at a moment’s notice. Johnson contends, Slaves who had run away or been ill were told to hide their histories(130).
Figure 5.4: This image tries to capture the feelings and emotions of when “A Slave Father [Is] Sold Away From His Family.”
In addition, educators can use the bills of sale as a transition into a discussion of slave families. A sale often meant the breaking up of a family arrangement. Using sources such as Ann Patton Malone’s Sweet Chariot (1992) and Larry Hudson, Jr.’s To Have and to Hold (1997), educators can describe how slaves were able to form loving family situations. Then, the threat of sale can be placed alongside other forms of brutality used against enslaved peoples. As Hudson, Jr. states, A common tactic used by planters to control their labor force was the threat of sale(168). Furthermore, those individuals being sold, such as George or Milly, would then face the challenge of establishing a new life in a foreign locale. Students can be asked to contemplate how the sale process from threat to relocation could have impacted daily life for an enslaved individual. As an addition to the above exercise, educators can assign one of the many lesser known studies of individual slave experiences, such as In Search of the Promised Land (2006), the story of Sally Thomas’s quest for a free family life.
- This content is available online at <http://cnx.org/content/m34242/1.3/>.
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m34242/latest/http://oaap.rice.edu/>
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m34242/latest/http://hdl.handle.net/1911/26586>
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m34242/latest/http://hdl.handle.net/1911/26589>
Bergrad, Laird, and García, Fe Iglesias, and Barcia, María del Carmen. The Cuban Slave Market, 1790-1880. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Franklin, John Hope and Loren Schweninger. In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hudson, Jr., Larry E. To Have and to Hold: Slave Work and Family Life in Antebellum South Carolina. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Malone, Ann Patton. Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Stevenson, Brenda E. Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Slavery, Resistance, and Rebellion across the Americas
The history of African slavery in the Americas is deeply intertwined with a correspondent history of conspiracy, resistance, and insurrection among the enslaved population. Though not the earliest of these revolts, the Haitian Revolution stands as both the most successful and arguably the most signicant one. A series of violent confrontations that lasted over a decade and that involved at various points Saint Domingue’s enslaved, mixed race, and Creole populations as well as French, Spanish, and British colonial forces, the revolution saw the emancipation of the island’s slaves as well as the establishment of an independent Haitian republic in 1804. Therefore, this monumental event proved to be not only the rst and last triumphant slave revolt in the western hemisphere, it also turned into the second successful anti-colonial movement within the Americas, after that of the United States. The Haitian Revolution’s larger signicance can be measured by its impact on other countries and colonial spaces throughout the Americas. Many of these locales, including the United States as well as British and Spanish colonial holdings in the Caribbean, restricted trade with the new island nation out of fear that Haiti’s revolutionary heritage would spread, causing unrest among both colonized and enslaved peoples. The U.S., in particular, experienced a number of foiled slave conspiracies during the rst half of the nineteenth century, frequently attributed to the inuence of the Haitian Revolution. The most notable of these planned revolts included Gabriel Prosser’s aborted rebellion in Richmond in 1800, Denmark Vesey’s widespread anti-slavery conspiracy in Charleston in 1822, and Nat Turner’s famously defeated revolt in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Vital and vivid histories of the Haitian Revolution have been and continue to be produced, including C.L.R. James’s foundational The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Alfred Hunt’s examination of Haiti’s Inuence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, and newer historical narratives such as Laurent DuBois’ Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution.
George Dunham’s travel journal, A Journey to Brazil (1853), is a fascinating piece of the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership, a collection of rare documents focused on a hemispheric approach to the study of the history and literature of the Americas. This journal, physically located in Rice University’s Woodson Research Center, oers several valuable instances for the study of slave resistance in either the history or literature classroom. Dunham takes up residence at a plantation belonging to one of the planters for whom he has agreed to work; therefore, he has ample opportunity to observe the relationships, and more specifically the tensions, between the enslaved and free populations. The anxiety is palpable in the following passage: I got scared a little last night for the rst time since I have been here the old man had gone away and not coming back until Monday and the Negroes act dierent when he is gone and about midnight the farmer White that sleeps in the room with me hollered and waked me up and said he thought there was some one in the room (see Figure 1). As can easily be detected from this passage, the fear of a violent slave revolt is rmly implanted in the minds of the white population. At various points in his text, Dunham points out slaves’ singing and participating in other forms of alternative communication, a familiar signal that a conspiracy may be simmering under the surface of a seemingly docile plantation setting. These anxieties would have been commonplace for slaveholders in the U.S. South, so it is fascinating to see them manifested so explicitly within a dierent geopolitical site at the middle of the nineteenth century.
Figure 6.1: An excerpt from page 59 of George Dunham’s travel journal, A Journey to Brazil (1853)
While the implications of revolutionary violence in the journal jump out the most to a contemporary reader, Dunham touches upon other forms of slave resistance that are worth noting. He observes behavior among some of the slaves that he seems to interpret as laziness, stating, there is several negroes lying round sick and some do not appear as sick as they pretend (89). Many historians of New World slavery have pointed to the pretence of sickness and the refusal to work among slaves as a subtle and eective form of protest, given the circumstances. Slave owners and drivers would, of course, write this behavior o as mere laziness and further evidence of the racial inferiority of blacks to whites. Determining the agency of individual slaves within a system designed to render them so powerless has been a demanding endeavor for these scholars, and primary texts such as A Journey to Brazil are crucial in piecing together a comprehensive narrative of slave systems and all their players. Yet another moment that shines a light on the unrest of Brazilian slaves comes in a brief but telling passage: Three young negroes that belong here took each of them a horse out of the barn here Tuesday night to ride o somewhere and the German that has charge here caught two of them that night and the other run into the woods or some other place and has not come back yet (109). The history of runaway slaves in the U.S. is a familiar one, primarily represented by the Underground Railroad and its most famous actor, Harriet Tubman. This phenomenon was a common one throughout the slaveholding Americas, resulting in a widespread community of runaway slaves known as maroons. Maroons would often ee to mountainous or swampy terrain (not easily accessible to the planters), and they were frequently implicated in the fomenting of anti-slavery conspiracy and potential insurrection.
Utilizing this approach to Dunham’s journal should produce great rewards for the U.S. literature instructor, in particular. The above passages from Journey to Brazil can be productively paired with any number of important literary works that touch upon the topic of slave rebellion. Frederick Douglass’s short story The Heroic Slave (1852) chronicles the true-life events of a revolt on board the slave ship Creole, led by a slave named Madison Washington. The story concludes with the commandeering of the ship by the freed slaves and their successful escape to an island in the recently emancipated British Caribbean, gesturing toward the hemispheric entanglements of slavery and emancipation in the nineteenth century. Benito Cereno (1856), the famous novella by Herman Melville, operates similarly to The Heroic Slave, recounting an actual overthrow of a slave ship by its cargo, though in this instance the slaves are recaptured and either resold or sentenced to execution for their crimes. Eric Sundquist convincingly argues Melville’s narrative as a sort of metaphorical re-staging of the Haitian Revolution, designed to demonstrate the violence and injustice inherent to the institution of slavery. Of particular interest to a reader of the Dunham travel journal might be Martin Delany’s complex, fragmented novel Blake; or, The Huts of America (1859). The protagonist of Blake evolves from a slave in the U.S. South to a revolutionary leader in colonial Cuba; the international machinations of Delany’s narrative with its emphasis on travel, border crossings, and the transnational exchange of institutions and ideologies mirrors many of the dynamics that we have been tracing in Dunham’s writing. Finally, one cannot forget Harriet Beecher Stowe’s follow-up to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856). Many radical abolitionists criticized Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a lack of revolutionary content, claiming that its black characters were too passive in the acceptance of their lot. Stowe attempted to answer her critics with the character of Dred, a revolutionary maroon and descendent of Nat Turner living in the swamps and planning an insurrection (which never comes to fruition) against southern slavery.
Though Stowe’s Dred comments more directly on the issue of slave revolt, it is the discovery of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brazil that occasions Dunham to once again reect, though somewhat circuitously, on the constant possibility of rebellion within a slaveholding society. He writes, I nd that Uncle Toms Cabin has got into Brazil and the people will read it. It is translated into Portuguese by a French man and several of them have got into the country but the Government has prohibited the sale of it. I have seen a Brazilian that can read English reading a book that he appeared very cautious about any one seeing the title of but I saw on the cover, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (168-9). Here, Dunham implicitly recognizes the power of this book to incite anger and resentment toward the slave system. The attempt by the Brazilian government to limit its circulation reveals the fear that Stowe’s novel, alone, may lead to the wider spread of violence and other forms of anti-slavery resistance throughout the country. Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s inuence ranged far beyond U.S. borders, contributing to the ongoing struggles against slavery in locations such as Brazil and Cuba. Its sudden and unexpected appearance in Dunham’s journal reminds us that literary texts not only depicted but also played a vital role in the various movements against slavery throughout the nineteenth-century Americas.
Figure 6.2: An Uncle Tom’s Cabin cover contemporaneous with Dunham’s trip to Brazil.
This module will conclude with a brief overview of a few of the scholarly works that have contributed to
our ever-expanding awareness of the transnational dimensions of African slavery within the Americas. From
a literary studies perspective, there is perhaps no better place to start than Sundquist’s To Wake the Nations:
Race in the Making of American Literature. Sundquist takes the Haitian Revolution to be a foundational
event in the construction of an American literary tradition. Moreover, as he centralizes slavery and its
shaping of racial relations within his analyses of literary texts, he continually charts the connections between
U.S. and Caribbean models of slavery and emancipation. Anthropology and history have perhaps done an
even better job in charting the crucial interdependencies among national and colonial slave systems in the
Americas. More specically for the questions that we have asked here, there are several important works that
look at anti-slavery movements from a transnational perspective. Richard Price’s Maroon Societies: Rebel
Slave Communities in the Americas provided an early contribution to this conversation. More recently,
in his The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850, Lester Langley investigates the intersections
between anti-colonial and anti-slavery movements across a variety of national and colonial locales. Finally,
The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas, a collection of essays published through
Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, examines how both
pro-slavery practices and abolitionist sentiment and action traveled along a variety of international routes
throughout the nineteenth century. Dunham’s Journey to Brazil marks another potential moment within
this dialogue. It helps to illustrate that, like the institution itself, resistance to slavery possessed a certain
type of mobility, a hemispheric circulation.
- This content is available online at <http://cnx.org/content/m38437/1.2/>.
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m38437/latest/http://hdl.handle.net/1911/9247>
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m38437/latest/http://oaap.rice.edu/>
Delany, Martin. Blake; or, The Huts of America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
DuBois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2004.
Hunt, Alfred N. Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1988.
James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Touissant L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.
Johnson, Walter, ed. The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2004.
Langley, Lester D. The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1996.
Melville, Herman. Benito Cereno. Barre, MA: Imprint Society, 1972.
Price, Richard. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1979.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
________Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. New York: J. W. Amerman, 1856.
________Sundquist, Eric J. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Cambridge, MA:
Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1993.
Gender and Anti-Slavery in the Atlantic World
Although the British slave trade ocially ended in 1807, the institution of slavery continued for decades afterwards and reformers across the Atlantic world focused on putting an end to slavery or, at the very least, improving conditions for the enslaved. An anonymous commentary, “On the ogging of women,” captures the frustration felt by British anti-slavery activists as they struggled with a colonial system reliant upon slave labor. This four-page document, physically housed in the Woodson Research Center at Rice University, is also made available in a digital format as part of the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership, a collection of rare documents focused on a hemispheric approach to the study of the history and literature of the Americas. This module is designed to suggest a few avenues through which teachers of history and literature courses at both the advanced high school and undergraduate levels can use “On the ogging of women,” as an entry point into a discussion of gender, slavery, and anti-slavery within their courses.
The commentary, dated roughly 1827, opens with an account of the defeat of a proposition presented to the Jamaican House of Assembly. This bill would have regulated the ogging, or whipping, of enslaved women. A poem by Charlotte Elizabeth entitled, “On the Flogging of Women,” or “Flogging Females,” comprises the second half of the document. This poem also calls attention to the plight of female slaves, not just in Jamaica but across the Americas. Therefore, in terms of course design, the commentary would fit well within a thematic section such as ‘Slavery and the Atlantic World’ or a chronological section such as ‘The Age of Reform, 1820-1860.’ It can be noted that both of these suggestions do not include geographic limitations, therefore even in a course devoted to the rst half of U.S. history it is not only possible, but highly useful, to incorporate a hemispheric approach.
Educators can link the story of Jamaican reform movements and emancipation to U.S. history by exploring the dierent paths through which emancipation was achieved in the two areas. While emancipation in the U.S. occurred as a result of a militaristic conflict, Jamaican emancipation followed a gradual route beginning with reformist movements during the early 1800s. By the 1820s Jamaica was one of Britain’s most valuable colonial holdings. However, Britain struggled to retain control over the island’s inhabitants and suggestions from Westminster were often met with coldness, if not outright hostility, from Jamaican planters. The 1820s debates over the treatment of female slaves proved no dierent as both sides refused to accept defeat. In 1823, the Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst (the same Bathurst mentioned in the document) rst approached the West Indian colonies with a British House of Commons resolution by humanitarian Thomas Buxton that argued for a ban on the ogging of female slaves. Bathurst defended the bill in gendered terms and stated, “[B]eing single in its nature [it] may be at once adopted, viz., an absolute prohibition to inict the punishment of flogging under any circumstances on female slaves . . . to restore to the female slave that sense of shame which is at once the ornament of and the protection of their sex. . . .” (Harlow and Madden, 560). However, the planters countered with their own gender-based arguments that enslaved women were particularly hard to control and benefited more from whipping than their male counterparts. Educators could very successfully pair a discussion of the anonymous commentary alongside an investigation of the Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica (1822-26), in which the debates are recorded. In the end, the Jamaican House of Assembly refused to pass a measure regulating female flogging and even the Slave Act of 1826 did not include any such limitation. The author of “On the Flogging of women,” is referring to the 1826 debates when he/she states, “However painful to the feelings the knowledge of these proceedings may be, it is better they should be known” (see Figure 1).
Figure 7.1: An excerpt from the second page of an anonymous commentary on the treatment of Jamaican slave women. (c.1827)
British anti-slavery activists were the individuals initially responsible for pressuring their colonial government to improve the conditions of slave life, so it only made sense that they took it upon themselves to spread word of the Jamaican debates. In the anonymous commentary the author learns of the Jamaican defeat of Bathurst via “No. 21 of the Anti-slavery Reporter” (1). The Monthly Anti-Slavery Reporter, established in 1825, was the paper of the British Anti-Slavery Society. The Reporter was distributed across the Atlantic world and provided a common source of information that travelled across traditional geographic borders. One historian estimates that, “Between 1823 and 1831 the Anti-Slavery Society published 2.3 million copies of tracts, speeches, and meetings” (Morgan, 182). These documents were designed to create an emotional reaction in the reader and educators could possibly design an exercise comparing “On the flogging of women” with other anti-slavery documents in the ‘Our Americas’ Archive, such as Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative. The commentary could also be paired with U.S. slave narratives such as Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life (1845) or Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Students could be asked to dissect these historical texts with a particular focus on how the ‘standard’ format of the slave narrative crossed geographic boundaries and could be used eectively in documents such as anonymous commentaries or novels.
The commentary “On the flogging of women,” also demonstrates that the anti-slavery dialogue was one that included both male and female reformers. Educators can use Charlotte Elizabeth Browne Phelan Tonna, pen name Charlotte Elizabeth, as an example of this gendered reformist movement (for a portrait of Tonna see Figure 2). Her poem “On the flogging of women” appears at the end of the anonymous commentary. The author of the commentary wishes that “the planters who thus voted” against flogging reform “could be induced to peruse” the poem for it would surely change their minds (2). However, it is certainly possible that a few Jamaican planters knew of Tonna because she was a very prolic and well-known British author. After a nasty divorce in the mid-1820s, Tonna lived o of the prots of her anti-Catholic, anti-slavery writings. Tonna focused many of her writings on the universal suffering of women as she believed that women were “specially suited for detecting injustice and comforting the unhappy” (Paz, 272). Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Tonna’s poem “On the Flogging of Women,” pushes for men baring “a Christian’s name” to defend enslaved women against injury by the whip (3). In particular, Tonna expresses concern for the injury done to an enslaved “female’s modest pride” (3). As historian Diana Paton argues, both Lord Bathurst and Tonna “invoke[s] the commonly held view that a society’s level of “civilization” could be measured in its treatment of women” (7). Tonna’s poem was undoubtedly partially motivated by her belief that enslaved women already possessed less shame than British middle-class women and therefore, could not aord to be degraded any further. It is critical to understand that for the proper Victorian lady shame was an asset, not a liability. Therefore, a possible classroom application for the anonymous commentary, including Tonna’s poem, lies within an investigation of how depictions of violence against enslaved peoples across the globe share certain gendered descriptions. For example, how do the violent episodes found within Celia, A Slave (1991) compare with Douglass’ experiences with punishment? Or, introductory history and literature courses could explore the methods, practices, and experiences of female Atlantic reformers. Tonna could be discussed alongside the Grimké sisters from South Carolina. This comparison makes sense not only because South Carolina was often considered the sister-site to Jamaica, but also because the Grimkés were prolific authors operating at the same time as Tonna. In a similar vein, students could explore how Harriet Tubman’s antislavery speeches act as a companion to, and diverge from, the writings of Tonna and the Grimkés. For an excellent work on the Grimké sisters, see Gerda Lerner’s The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition (full biographical details follow the module). In general, Tonna’s writings helped emphasize a bond between women that knew no geographic borders, but the written word was not the only tool used by anti-slavery activists.
Figure 7.2: A portrait of British anti-slavery activist Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna.
Visual images often accompanied reformist writings or were distributed on their own. Although the anonymous commentary does not contain a visual image, Figure 3 represents a typical portrayal of the abuse of enslaved women. This image reects a growing concern over how punishment often led to the clothing of enslaved women being damaged or destroyed, thus resulting in the display of their bare bodies. The anonymous commentator notes that the Jamaican debates included a provision “that in the whipping of women there should be no indecent exposure,” however, these regulations were consistently rejected and/or ignored in the colonies (1). These concerns continued to mount as Jamaican planters turned to the treadmills to punish women in prisons during the early 1830s. The treadmill was eventually discontinued as a method of punishment due, in no small part, to the graphic images of abused women circulated by anti-slavery activists. While there is no standard visual image used within introductory U.S. history and literature courses to represent the abuse of slave women, it is possible for educators to and a variety of anti-slavery cartoons, newspaper illustrations, and plantation photographs for students to analyze alongside images from throughout the Americas, such as Figure 3. These images all travelled via the information network forged by reformers within the Americas and beyond and this contributed to the gradual destruction of slavery in Jamaica and elsewhere. The anonymous commentary provides a brief glimpse into the ways in which the dialogue surrounding anti-slavery and slavery was both gendered and global.
Figure 7.3: Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave
- This content is available online at <http://cnx.org/content/m32169/1.5/>.
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m32169/latest/http://hdl.handle.net/1911/26578>
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m32169/latest/http://oaap.rice.edu/>
Elizabeth, Charlotte. Personal Recollections. London: Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley, 1847.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Harlow, Vincent and Frederick Madden. British Colonial Documents, 1774-1834: Selected Documents. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000. Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica 14 (1822-26).
Lerner, Gerda. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition. Cary, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Mair, Lucille Mathurin. A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica, 1655-1844. Ed. Hilary McD. Beckles and Verene A. Shepherd. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2006.
McLaurin, Melton A. Celia, A Slave: A True Story. New York: Avon Books, 1991.
Midgley, Clare. Feminism and Empire: Women Activists in Imperial Britain, 1790-1865. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.
Paton, Diana. No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004.
Paz, D. G. Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
Peterson, Linda H. Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
The Civil War Through Contemporary Accounts: The Diary of Alexander Hobbs
The American Civil War generated countless writings from contemporary participants both in the North and South. The conict witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of private diaries and letters written by soldiers in the eld and families and friends on the home front. And, hundreds of post-war memoirs captured the contested recollections and memories of the nation’s central crisis. Historians have long utilized these collective accounts as essential elements to craft an historical narrative of the late unpleasantness. Scholars, thus, have chronicled the course and conduct of the war through the actual voices spoken between 1861 and 1865. These contemporary writings, however, transcend substantive context and underscore the emotion and comprehension of peoples as they endured the chaos, upheaval, and stress of modern war. This module explores the uses and utility of one of these primary accounts: the diary of Alexander Hobbs, which is housed at Rice University’s Woodson Research Center in Houston, Texas. Scholars and teachers alike can and much value in this revealing, yet relatively brief journal. Hobbs, a private in the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, reected on his role as a northern soldier, his rst and only journey to the Deep South, the distinct wartime culture of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts, the immorality of slavery, death, the battle of Galveston in January 1863, and life as a prisoner of war.
Figure 8.1: Page One of the Hobbs Diary
At first glance, the Hobbs diary appears somewhat dierent from traditional rst-hand accounts of the Civil War. The reader will not nd any reference to Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Gettysburg, or the grand military campaigns in Virginia. Hobbs was assigned far from these famous gures, and he instead chronicled lesser-known Civil War-era names: William Renshaw, the U. S. S. Harriet Lane, and Carrollton, Louisiana. Thus, the diary, which covers Hobbs’s military service between November 1862 and August 1863, offers an unusually candid window into wartime life along the Gulf Coast, the primary locale in which Hobbs served. His unit was raised in 1862 near Boston, stopped briey in New York City on its southern journey, and skirted the coast at Key West, Florida, and Ship Island, Mississippi. Hobbs and the 42nd Massachusetts then spent several days in New Orleans, a substantial prize of war captured by the Union several months prior to Hobbs’s arrival. In late December 1862, half of Hobbs’s unit was assigned to Texas, where, on January 1, 1863, they fought in the battle of Galveston. Hobbs and his comrades were captured and transferred to
Houston where they spent the next two months as prisoners of war. In February 1863, Hobbs was paroled and embarked on a journey from Texas to Louisiana over land and water to rejoin the other half of his regiment at New Orleans. Finally, in the summer of 1863, those in the 42nd Massachusetts (including Hobbs) who had survived the diseases garnered by the swampy marsh lands of the Texas and Louisiana coasts were sent back to Boston where their unit was officially disbanded.
Figure 8.2: Hobbs’s Hand-Drawn Picture of the Battle of Galveston
Alexander Hobbs’s experiences clearly were atypical of many Civil War soldiers. He did not undergo the constant campaigning reeffective of military life in Virginia, Tennessee, or Georgia, nor did his unit engage in multiple large-scale battles. Instead, the very nature and day-to-day accounts of his service allowed Hobbs to ruminate on traditionally under-valued aspects of the wartime experience: perceptions of civilian culture in the Gulf South, the nebulous question of Confederate loyalty as perceived through northern eyes, and interactions with civilians in Texas as a prisoner of war. Readers will quickly glean from his writings rich and varied depictions of wartime life in the regions far removed from the principal war in Virginia. For example, when his unit sojourned at Key West Hobbs wrote, to us who had never been at the south the trees and fruit looked really pleasant. And, while he was stationed briey outside New Orleans, Hobbs commented, The scenery on the banks of the river for the most part has been delightful. [B]eautiful groves of orange trees which hung full of the golden fruit looked to us verry [sic] inviting.
Although these perceptions certainly reveal how a young man from Massachusetts witnessed his rst trip to the Deep South, Civil War teachers would benet more from Hobbs’s detailed treatment of the war along the Gulf Coast and his explicit criticisms of slavery. Teachers can use Hobbs’s entries on the battle of Galveston to compare to more famous Civil War battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, or Gettysburg. Hobbs demonstrates how battles on the Texas coast, such as Galveston, were relatively small, involved joint army, navy, and marine operations, and were sometimes conducted by uninspiring commanders. Based on Hobbs’s characterization of the ght at Galveston, teachers can ask students to consider the similarities and differences between battles in the East fought by the enormous Armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia and those in the lower Trans-Mississippi Valley waged by small coastal and garrison units.
Figure 8.3: Diary Excerpt, January 1, 1863
Hobbs’s comments on slavery add further texture to the diary and oer a unique perspective to existing historiographical debates. Teachers as well as historians immersed in the current literature on Civil War soldiers’ outlooks on slavery will undoubtedly nd Hobbs’s writings useful and penetrating. Several days after being captured as a prisoner of war, Hobbs commented, Our negroes have gone to Galveston to build fortifications. The[y] held a prayer meeting last night in our yard and . . . I believe they had the presence of the blessed master. I honestly believe [there] will be more slaves found in heaven than southerners. A few weeks later, Hobbs witnessed and critiqued the following episode: Six coloured men have been taken away to prison four of them belonging to the Harriet Lane and two our Col. & Surgeons’s boys. [A]ll but one or two were free born but all are now to be sold together. [S]uch acts only stir up a hatred to the institution of slavery . . . [W]e were never born to be held captive. These comments reflect the central theme in Chandra Manning’s recent work, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (2007). Manning argues that slavery was the most important category to soldiers on both sides of the war. Union soldiers particularly, according to Manning, discovered that emancipation made the Union stronger and worth saving, and came to supported equality for blacks.
Finally, Hobbs’s writings raise the murky issue of Confederate loyalty. Scholars have traditionally fallen into two schools of thought on this subject. On the one hand are those who posit that the Confederacy crumbled from within on account of internal fissures combined with a lack of national identity and purpose (Beringer et al., 1986). Other scholars suggest that many white southerners, in spite of hardship and low morale, remained dedicated Confederate nationalists continually in search of an independent southern nation (Gallagher, 1997). As a prisoner of war in Houston, Hobbs continually commented on his comrades trading goods with Confederate Texans. Although he also suggested that these civilians continued to praise the Confederacy, the existence of trade networks with the enemy for the sake of basic survival raises new questions on the soundness of Confederate loyalty. Teachers can use these selections to ask students to determine the relationships between dedication to country, family, or daily sustenance. Hobbs’s writings underscore what Gary W. Gallagher has recently called for in future studies on the Confederate experience. He suggests that historians move beyond the existing binary between internal defeatist and diehard nationalist, and instead define the neutral middle-ground of those white southerners who did their best merely to survive the war (Gallagher, 2009).
- This content is available online at <http://cnx.org/content/m38587/1.3/>.
- See the le at <http://cnx.org/content/m38587/latest/http://hdl.handle.net/1911/26591>
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