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In the United States, slavery was carried out during the colonial era where different forms of injustices happened such as human trade. Many of the people who were enslaved were the black people, who included women, children, and men. In 1850s, slavery was high in the states of the South region that included Mississippi and South Carolina (Slavery and Patriarchy 168). The American were searching for young women and men whom were physically fit to barter and sell. Slaves were sold among the Americans and were purposed to work in their farms particularly in the cotton farms and also in rice farms that were based in Carolina and Georgia. During this era, women were given the same value as men, and the kind of work they did was not different from what men were doing. Slave women worked in large plantations and some of them also worked indoors to attend to their master’s house chores. Nevertheless, many of the women slaves spent their lives working in the fields picking cotton, tending tobacco as well as cultivating and harvesting rice. Also, the women used to haul out logs, cut down trees and also plow lands when necessary. Accordingly, the understudy sheds light on what the role of women slaves was during the American slavery and how this slavery affected women. Also, the paper elaborates on some American slavery resistance.
The Role of Women Slaves During the American Slavery
During the America slavery, slaves used to work in gangs that were divided by gender. Women were projected to work in gang systems, as house servants, bear children, and others were trained as nurses to attend to injured slaves in the farms. In large plantations such as cotton farms, women were organized to work around the gang system. In gang systems, slaves were controlled by overseers, but sometimes they had little control. Women carried out the same kind of labor as men, but they worked separately. Also, women created a support group they named trash gangs which involved pregnant women as well as young girls who were in their early teens. Women working in this groups weeded, cleared fields, lightly hoed and also collected trash. Once these slave women were done with their daily activities, they were given time to do their own work which included vegetable cultivation and chicken rearing. Furthermore, some of these slaves produced enough food for their families and also for trade market. In 19th century, women slaves were selling their products in Georgia and South Carolina among other cities (Slavery and Patriarchy 172)
During the slavery period, not all women were working in the farm, some of them were working in their master’s houses as house servants. The slave women were assigned duties to cook and take care of the young children. The slaves who worked as house servants were less disadvantaged because they worked around the mistresses all through the day, and their mistakes were easily tracked. Women servants who cooked in separate houses from the master’s house were a bit advantaged. Cooking provided them with better diets as they fed on the food they prepared for their owners. Many domestic servants were trained from the age of twelve where they were given simple tasks like chasing away insects. Also, women slaves were responsible for cleaning the houses and sewing clothes. Other women slaves were trained as nurses who attended to other slaves in household plantations. Women who utilized herbal therapies to cure different diseases were very significant to the slaves in plantations and also to the whites as they offered childcare. Sometimes the slave nurses were challenged and dismissed by the white practitioners who claimed that their work was not effective and was dangerous. In addition, as the women slaves who worked as house servants aged, the whites did not give them much care and some were left to die.
The slave women were obligated to bear children with their masters and this was a common custom. Women were separated with their children forever after they were sold to other slave owners at a high price. Young slave girls were therefore expected to have children after becoming women, and some become mothers at the age of thirteen. The innocent children were then sold to other families as slaves and resistance resulted to severe punishment or even death. As William J. Anderson stated ‘’I knew of a man at the South who had six children by a colored slave…and he sold all the children but the oldest slave daughter…he had a child by this daughter, and sold mother and child before birth’’ (National Humanities Center 4). Slave trade was rampant during the American slavery period and slave traders would take the slaves in taverns where buyers and traders gathered, display the slaves and sell them. Women who were known for producing healthy and strong black children were sold out to different families to produce more slave children.
How American Slavery Affected Women of Color
The slave women in the United States encountered many hardships compared to their men. One of the harshest hardship they encountered was sexual abuse from the slave owners and also from other white men. Enslaved women were required to submit to their owners and adhere with their sexual demands. Many black women were sexually assaulted by their masters, while others engaged into sexual relationships with their owners. The slave women knew what to do than what not to do because resistance from sexual advances called for severe punishment. Annie Wallace who was a slave woman still remembered how a plantation overseer punished her mother for rejecting his sexual advances. ‘’Would start beating her naked until the blood ran down her back to her heels.” (Slavery and Patriarchy 174). The slave women were sometimes purchased by the white men only to satisfy their sexual desires. During this period, attractiveness and being a beautiful woman was an advantage to the slave owners. For instance, in Missouri, Celia was a young beautiful slave woman. She was bought by Robert Newsom who was a sixty years old man. Celia learned about her role when Robert raped her right after purchasing her. Sylvia Watkins who was enslaved in Tennessee stated that, “…Now sometimes, if you were a real pretty young gal, somebody would buy you without knowin’ anythin’ ‘bout you…” (National Humanities Center 2).
Further, slave owners from the Southern region developed the stereotype of young slave women referred to Jezebels. The Jezebels were an extension of sexual exploitation of the black women which had emerged during the colonial period. These slave women offered to have intercourse with the white men in order to justify their desires, but in the course, they were still exploited and forced to pull up their skirts to reveal their bodies while in fields. However, no law in the United States protected the slave women or even their children. For example, in Mississippi, a slave by the name George sexually assaulted a ten-year-old girl but the law failed to uphold conviction claiming that George was not against the law by raping the young girl.
The slave women in the United States encountered problems when it came to marriages. The black women were denied rights to legally marry their husbands and also had no right over their children. Their family lives were regularly destroyed as their loved ones were sold any time. In the 19th century, the issue of family breakup through sale increased as the number of slaves increased in the South and East region. Moreover, between 1820 and 1860, nearly a million slaves were taken to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana cities resulting to a high family breakup rate (Slavery and Patriarchy 171). The licentious slave owners would also get into the lodge places of the slaves, take the black women and break the family unions for life without any lawful action taken against them. Following this, there were no legal marriages between the slaves in the American slavery history. As Moses Roper stated, “There was no legal marriage among the slaves…I never saw nor heard of such a thing in my life” (National Humanities Center 5).
America Slavery Resistance
Slavery in the United States was an experience that anyone in the modern world not wish to go through. Both women slaves, as well as male slaves, were aware of injustices they were facing and they too were getting tired of it. Sometimes the enslaved people run away from the plantations and this was highly experienced in men than women. Some women failed to escape fearing to leave their children back as slaves and also because women with children had high chances of getting caught. Their stamina to survive was also low. Nonetheless, some women escaped together with their partners before they had children. Slave women expressed their resistance by using absenteeism instead of escaping and hiding in the woods and sneaking into plantations at night to get food for survival. There were other cases of infanticide experienced from the women who had children as they could not withstand watching their children enslaved.
Slave women who were physically and sexually assaulted used violence to defend themselves. Different cases were recorded of slave women who had attacked and murdered their masters. There was a case of a black woman who was enslaved in Maryland, was charged with murder after attacking and killing her master who wanted to sexually assault her (National Humanities Center 1). The girl had sterilized him using a knife which resulted to his death. Although she was set free thereafter, many poor girls were prosecuted following violence cases. For Instance, Celia a black woman who repeatedly assaulted by her master for five years was declared guilty and executed after killing and burning his body in her cabin (Slavery and Patriarchy 177).
Slavery in the United States was carried out for many years where millions of black people were victims of this uncouth activity. Slavery happened in different America cities like Missouri, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Alabama among others. Black slave women found the situation during this colonial era brutal for them. Enslaved people were forced to work in the plantations and also as house servants where they encountered number of injustices. Women were sexually abused, marriages broken and children were sold as slaves. Further, slaves who worked in plantations, particularly the rice plantations, were exposed to dangers as they worked in infected swamps where they faced dangers of contracting malaria or even getting bitten by dangerous snakes. Today, women of color still fight and struggle to protect themselves from the whites, which states that they are still discriminated.
National Humanities Center. “On Slaveholders’ Sexual Abuse of Slaves. Selections from 19th and 20th
Century Slave Narratives. The making of African American Identity: vol. 1, 1500-1865, 1-7
Family Business. Slavery and Patriarchy, 1800-1860, 167-177.
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