Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1 of this series of posts, we introduced the idea that there are many different kinds of slavery. When most Americans ponder slavery, though, we are thinking of the southern United States before the Civil War. So what was slavery like in the southern United States? The Christian Thinktank summarizes several aspects of this type of slavery.
First, “slavery was motivated by the economic advantage of the elite.” The Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology explains, “New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features. Its use of slaves was strikingly specialized as unfree labor – producing commodities, such as cotton and sugar, for a world market.”
According to Britannica: “By 1850 nearly two-thirds of the plantation slaves were engaged in the production of cotton…the South was totally transformed by the presences of slavery. Slavery generated profits comparable to those from other investments and was only ended as a consequence of the War Between the States.”
Second, entry into “slavery was overwhelmingly involuntary. Humans were captured by force and sold via slave-traders.” Again Britannica explains:
Slaves have been owned in black Africa throughout recorded history. In many areas there were large-scale slave societies, while in others there were slave-owning societies. Slavery was practiced everywhere even before the rise of Islam, and black slaves exported from Africa were widely traded throughout the Islamic world. Approximately 18,000,000 Africans were delivered into the Islamic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades between 650 and 1905. In the second half of the 15th century Europeans began to trade along the west coast of Africa, and by 1867 between 7,000,000 and 10,000,000 Africans had been shipped as slaves to the New World…. The relationship between African and New World slavery was highly complementary. African slave owners demanded primarily women and children for labour and lineage incorporation and tended to kill males because they were troublesome and likely to flee. The transatlantic trade, on the other hand, demanded primarily adult males for labour and thus saved from certain death many adult males who otherwise would have been slaughtered outright by their African captors.
Third, the treatment of slaves was harsh by modern standards, and punishments were extreme.
Fourth, the legal status of New World slaves was generally like the following, according to the Christian Thinktank: “Slaves were considered ‘property’ in exclusion to their humanity. That is, to fire a bullet into a slave was like firing a bullet into a pumpkin, not like firing a bullet into a human. There were no legal or ethical demands upon owners as to how they treated their ‘property’. Other than with the occasional benevolent master, only economic value was a main deterrent to abusive treatment.”
In addition, “Slaves could not have their own property–all they had belonged to their ‘owner’. ”
Fifth, there was generally no exit from slavery. “There were never any means of obtaining freedom stipulated in the arrangement. In the cases of an owner granting freedom, it was generally a ‘bare bones’ release–no property went with the freedman.”
We have summarized five characteristics of New World slavery, so our next step is to compare these characteristics to the characteristics of the slavery found in the Old Testament Law. We’ll tackle that next.