Slavery: Slavery in the United States and Slave Owners Essay

Submitted By landrover1
Words: 2764
Pages: 12

Southern distinctiveness was a feature of antebellum life that was sustained by the plantation economy, but there were other significant elements that contributed to a separate and distinct southern identity.

The term ‘peculiar institution’ has become something of a euphemism for slavery in the antebellum south. This description describes the protection of slaves by their slave owners but restricting their freedom or any autonomy they sought. The booming cotton industry and the white masters being hugely anti-modern defined this era in American history. Any threat to the master or the social hierarchy was stamped out and autonomy to an extent was only a luxury for some slave plantations. The hierarchical society that was present in the American South was deeply rooted in white supremacy, although as I will explore, masters never achieved the total domination that they sought over their slaves. Most importantly to note, slave life was influenced by but not controlled by rigidly held plans and regimes of their slaveholder. Slaves during this era enjoyed a semi-autonomous way of life, as Peter Kolchin describes away from the toiling in the fields from sunrise to sunset they, ‘lived in a world largely unknown to their masters’. The matriarchy that existed in the slave quarters, as men spent all day toiling in the fields, the distinct religion of the slave south, the interference in the children’s lives, the emergence of a new wave of Afro-Christian traditions and beliefs and the resistance slave’s showed with the Nat Turner insurrection all created a very distinct south. Masters exercised their control ruthlessly over their slaves. This closely governed slave life shaped its unique identity and the intense relationship also that created this separate culture in the slave south. An examination into these elements can help understand southern distinctiveness. However a brief understanding of the plantation economy will put these facts into perspective. The introduction of the Cotton Gin into the plantations of the southern plantations helped it become the world’s largest exporter of cotton by 1825. By the 1820’s its future seemed limitless, its booming slave economy coupled with Eli Whitney’s revolutionary invention helped it benefit from its greatest cotton crop it ever had in 1860. It was reckoned that, ‘for every field hand 10 acres of cotton was cultivated’. The plantation economy was by the 1820’s a slave economy, both cotton cultivation and slavery represented two very profitable sources in the antebellum. After all, the planters during this era were raging capitalists, ‘capitalists that benefited from southern trade’. One of the most decorated historians in recent decades on slavery has labelled this era in history as a, ‘school in a backward state of civilization’ that a, ‘negro was what a white man made him’ effectively. Yes, Ulrich B. Phillips is an outspoken critic on the antebellum age and studied this ‘backward state’ through the way the planters managed their slaves and the normal everyday slave life in the Deep South. In relation to Phillips I will do the same, highlighting the distinct elements of the antebellum era in how the planters controlled their slave lives and in some areas engaged and participated in other areas to help their people and the hardships slaves faced on a daily basis. One area that masters were actively involved in again and again was the slave families. Paradoxically it seems, slaves unfortunately were totally dependent on their masters. However evidence suggests that slave owners were key participants in their slave’s lives. They made sure slave’s were happy in their log cabins and would take illness or disease very seriously, ensuring there was medical care for the slave’s if they were unwell. Encouraging marriage, whilst punishing slaves for adultery shows how contradictory the planters acted, a distinct, unorthodox manner unique to the south. The role of the family and