Antebellum Slavery

In the early 19th century the Lower South as a geographical category appeared. It was also called the Deep South. In general, historically it is associated with cotton industry. This was the main reason for the name “Cotton States” by 1850. In the early 1800s planters rejected from the other cash crops except cotton. This was the key-difference between the Upper and the Lower South. Economy of the Lower South was oriented on plantation cash crop agriculture. It was necessary to have a lot of workers for cultivation of cotton, rice and sugar on the plantations. Purchasing of the slaves was banned just in 1808. Before this slaves from Africa and the West Indies were taken in a huge amount. All the economy relied here on cotton, thus it was dependant from the black slaves work.

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Intensive use of African American slaves, a few cash crops and big difference between town and rural area are the main features of the Lower South. Difference in social customs is seen even in the description of the Upper South as the “Yeoman South” opposing to the “Plantation South”.

Despite the sufficient differences in social customs, factories from the Upper South benefited directly from cotton, and indirectly – from the slavery.

Until the 1840s, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and other states (so called the old Northwest) were tied to the South. Important shipping of their agricultural produce down the rivers (Ohio River, Mississippi River) to New Orleans was significant position of their profit. But in the 1850s this cooperation was reoriented. It was caused by building of the railroads, which could connect the Northwest with East much faster. With change of the population (before this mostly there were migrants from the Lower South) the Northwest became much less like the South. New Englanders from New York and Pennsylvania made it much more like the East.

Social Structure of the Lower South

Stereotypical vision of the Lower South shows huge plantations, involving thousands of slaves. Actually, such cases were rare. Social structure of the South was represented by three groups: planters, small slaveholders and yeomen. To be a planter it was necessary to own 20 slaves, small slaveholders had even less. The biggest group was yeomen – ? of all the white population of the South. Yeomen didn’t have any slaves and were involved in farming. Among the owners, 88% were small slaveholders. It is interesting, but that ? of all the population almost unanimously defended the institute of the slavery, relying on future possessing of slaves. This support can be explained by psychological attitude: there is poorer social group, but with the difference that farmers are free and white.

Most of the slaves of the South worked on plantations with cotton. The majority of the plantations had less than fifty slaves. Despite this, there were some plantations, which had several hundred of slaves.

Planting was not the only labor. Labor force was necessary on plantations, as well as on farms. Among the duties of enslaved people were clearing of a new land, digging ditches, cutting and hauling of the wood, slaughtering livestock, reparation of the buildings, etc.

Freed slaves in the majority cases involved themselves in handicraft. In towns and cities they were employed as drivers, mechanics, carpenters, and blacksmiths and so on. Black women, except work at the plantation, were responsible also for family life and children.

The most privileged category was “house servants”. They did domestic work at the houses of the master or overseer. Their work was not as difficult as others, but all the time they were controlled by the owner. Thus they had even less privacy.

Slave codes – an invention of the antebellum times – were laws adopted to regulate relationship between owner and slave. Every state or colony had their own slave code but most of the ideas, concepts and legal rules were common. Teaching of a slave was restricted in all the southern states. Another restriction concerning freed African Americans forbids the last to communicate and associate with slaves. Most of the codes include legal norm circumscribing people of color passive electoral right or even forbid to use the same places with white Americans.

Fixed in the legislation property status of the slave defined his relationships with a master. Relationships with the master depended also on the work done by a slave. “House slaves” had much better relations with the owner. Sometimes their children without any racial, social and other prejudices formed more complex relationships playing together on farms and plantations.

The treatment of slaves varied widely depending on many factors such as conditions, times and places. In general, it could be characterized as brutal and inhuman. Whippings and executions as punitive measure were everyday occurrence. For sure it is impossible to generalize. There were exemptions, for instance, slave doctors or renting-out their labor slaves.

In the majority of colonies and states it was forbidden to study, even learn to write and read, for slaves. This restriction was to protect white owners from the aspirations of slaves, which could develop in rebels in future. But some of the slaves learned to read and write from planters’ children or from freed slaves.

Issues of sexual abuse were of great importance. Patriarchal culture of the Lower South treated all the women despite the color of the skin as owned chattel. Sexual attacks targeting African American women aimed sexual exploitation. Except harassing and rapes long-term cohabitations with masters took place. Slave women didn’t have other choice. Some of them tried to resist but died.

Slaves’ Resistance to Their Behavior

Slaves had innumerable ways to resist their treatment. They could destroy crops, disable machinery or feign sickness. Sometimes they stole livestock or even valuable things. Slaves fought with their masters. Burning buildings and forests was not rare way of resistance. Killing of owner was the rarest crime in order to protect themselves or members of their family from the inhuman treatment. Others killed their masters outright — some by using weapons, others by putting poison in their food. But ht most popular method of disobedience was escape, especially to the North. Other hid in mountains or forests.

Forming community within the plantation was also resist. Within the community they married, had children and developed their own, underground culture. Aforementioned “house slaves” informed them the last news from the master. In these communities they grow up their children teaching them all the necessary things for their future live.

Religion was of great importance for the slaves. The role of the religion was to protect them from the degradation. Most of the slaves practiced their African religions. Islam and Christianity were also popular, despite the fact that some slaves rejected from the Christianity, which justified their inhuman treatment – slavery. Worth mentioning, that Christianity practiced by African Americans had strong influence of African pagan religions.

Having committed act of resistance, slaves were punished. Among punitive measures most popular were whipping, beating, branding, shackling, hanging and imprisonment. In the majority cases punishment was chosen according to fault or disobedience, but sometimes it was executed just to increase fear and show domination of the owner or overseer over the slave.

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Summing all it up, it is necessary to stress upon the inhuman treatment of people because of their race in the history of the United States. Learning about these shameful pages of history has to remain us about the slavery and prevent from the return to that time.