Spencer Sparagna                                                                      12/11/17

History of The Old South

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Professor Dupre

 

Examining The Intricacies of A Master And Slave
Relationship

 

         Social interactions between people are an intensely
complicated subject. One facet of those interactions that is often glossed over
is the relationship between slaves and their masters in the antebellum south.
It is often easy to skate by this relationship and chalk it up as a purely
aggressive and cruel relationship, however, it was much more delicate than that.
The concept of having another person with whom you can empathize with and
relate to who is also considered property is a delicate balance between wanting
to take care of your kin, and ensuring your property is being utilized. Slave-owners
felt a sense of paternalism toward their slaves while also punishing them
severely for their misbehaviors, balancing the line between where the cruelty
returns to bite them in the butt by hurting their own assets. Slaveowners used
many tactics to help themselves justify the harshness of slavery; tactics such
as rationalizing it as being a necessary evil, administering ‘punishments’ for
misbehaviors, and quite notably by attempting to force Christianity and its
morals upon the slaves in order to serve their own purposes of feeling superior
by ‘saving their souls’.

         It is interesting to note the turn that ideals of slavery
took after the revolutionary war. Before the Revolutionary war, general mindset
was that slavery was just the way things were and that being a slave was the
lot in life they were cast so they had best make the best of it. By the end of
the Revolutionary war we begin to see a progression of thought, as many people
believed that while slavery wasn’t necessarily the best thing in the world; it
was still a necessary evil. By the 1820’s ­­these thoughts had been rearranged
into slavery being a wholly positive and good factor of life. In order to
determine how this change came about we can examine the mindset of the
landowning white men. These southern landowners must have felt a tremendous
guilt on their shoulders having so recently fought a war to free themselves
from those who they saw as oppressing their freedom as they go about lording
over these African slaves. We can imagine that they must have needed some kind
of justification to themselves as to why they would do something like this to
another person when the experience left such a bitter taste in their mouths. In
Soul By Soul Walter Johnson speaks about such justifications saying, “The
point, rather, is to emphasize the plasticity of slaveholding paternalism.
Because it was a way of imagining, describing, and justifying slavery rather
than a direct reflection of underlying social relations, because it was
portable, paternalism was likely to turn up in the most unlikely places-in
slaveholder’s letters describing their own benign intentions as they went to
the slave market…a paternalist whose self described motive in buying slaves was
to treat them well or save them from the market.” (Johnson, 111)

 

         Slave relations were always a tentative relationship with
their masters; it was commonplace to enforce an idea of paternalism with the
slave owner. Paternalism while not a painless form of slav­­ery was a form
where owners took a personal interest in the well being of their slaves. It
formed from an idea of the wealthy landowner of an area took care of the people
around him; ‘his people’ if you will. In James
Henry Hammond and The Old South; A Design for Mastery it is said that
Hammond would give his slaves their weekly rations personally, he would ensure
that they kept up to date on the most current health trends, and he would
enforce his levels of cleanliness upon the slaves. These are all things that slave-owners
would do in order to be the caregiver, the hand that feeds. In the background
they paid others to do the dirty work of whipping the slaves into shape,
administering punishments, and delivering bad news. Simultaneously these
masters wanted to be feared, obeyed, and yet loved and appreciated; emotions
that do not often go well together. “This sense of paternalism that Genovese
mentions was a self-justifying ideology and…was meant to fully exploit the
slaves while the ideology allowed whites to exercise their ‘superior’ status
with relatively no guilty conscience.”(Cole, 31) Furthering the idea that slave-owners
needed reassurance that they weren’t terrible people for what they were doing,
they often came up with excuses as to why they had to mistreat the slaves they
way they did, rationalizing that they deserved the punishments they got, and
inventing false reasons for selling a slave away from family and friends, such
as that they drank too much and got too rowdy so therefore had to be sold or
beaten to learn the lesson.

 

         As abolitionist propaganda became more and more common and
popular, southern plantation owners found themselves backpedaling faster and
faster to create reasons as to why it was actually a good thing. One such
argument is that the Slaves, taken care of as they were under the idea of
paternalism, were living better lives than poor whites. “…Medical care on the
plantations exceeded that of southern whites, and slaves were relatively
healthy under the care of their worried masters”(Cole, 32) James Henry Hammond
made a speech in 1858 in which he says “in all social systems there must be a
class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a
class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill…such a class
you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress,
civilization, and refinement…Fortunately for the south, she found a race
adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own…for the man who
lives by daily labor, and scarcely lives at that…your class of manual laborers
and operatives as you call them, are essentially slaves.”(Hammond, class
handout speech) broken down he is saying there must always be a lower class for
society to function and that while some places have abolished racial slavery
the free working class white man lives worse off than a slave who never goes
wanting for food thanks to their paternal figure of a master.

 

         Keeping in line with this idea of white
planters achieving their mindset of being beneficial to their slaves, they
regularly encouraged the slaves to take up Christianity. Two events in
particular brought about the push for Christianity among slaves at different
times throughout the Pre-Civil-War era. The first was The Stono Rebellion, it
was a slave rebellion in early September in South Carolina.  It was one of the largest slave rebellions
with almost 50 whites and as many blacks killed during the turmoil. The second
was Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Nat Turner was a slave pastor who was allowed to
travel to surrounding plantations and preach the word of God.  Turner supposedly received a vision from God
which inspired him to rebel, he killed his masters family and he and the other
slaves went house to house murdering and collecting slaves to incite the
rebellion. These two Rebellions had far reaching implications as neither of the
slaves were being mal-treated; it frightened the slave-owners who had
previously been secure in the thought that if they treated their slaves nicely
they would in turn be respected and loved. Gray quotes from the public records
“The late insurrection in Southampton
has greatly excited the public mind, and led to a thousand idle, exaggerated
and mischievous reports. It is the first instance in our history of an open
rebellion of the slaves, and attended with such atrocious circumstances of
cruelty and destruction, as could not fail to leave a deep impression, not only
upon the minds of the community where this fearful tragedy was wrought, but
throughout every portion of our country, in which this population is to be
found” (Gray, 13) The results of these rebellions was much fear of slaves,
restrictions on gathering, and curfews being enforced. One peculiar result was
that slave-owners began to encourage Christianity more, albeit a skewed and
biased version of it. Preachers told slaves that God was all knowing and had
put them where they were for a reason, and that they had to be aware of their
lot in order to reach heaven. They preached about the importance of non
violence and several other topics that would be beneficial to slave-owners by
making the slaves more docile and ready to comply, but glazing over the parts
of the bible that would make them feel as if they deserved more in life than
being a slave.

 

         Another interesting aspect of the relationship between slave
and slave owner is the interaction with the Plantation Mistress. In order to
understand the complex relationship here we must understand the social spheres
of the pre-Civil-War south. The Men tended to stay within their public sphere
of influence which included voting, taking care of finances, being a property
owner, bread winner, and head of household in terms of citizenship. They were
also known for their strong characteristics such as confidence, their
inclination towards drinking, infidelity, and aggressiveness. Meanwhile the
women tended to operate in the domestic sphere centered about cooking,
cleaning, and taking care of the children and the homestead. They were
characterized as being whimsical, obedient, nurturing, and virtuous.  As we learned in our class lectures, the
women had a certain extent of power being so dominant of the domestic sphere
because it was seen as a haven at the end of the day where a man could rest and
the women could smooth the callousness of the men. The situation begins to
become more sticky and interesting when the two spheres collide on the
plantations. A plantation is a workplace where slaves are worked to collect the
crop, but it’s also the home to a family, this causes a level of strain to be
placed on those in charge of the domestic and public social spheres. We see a
strange relationship forming of where the women take care of the home and the
people who live there, and the jockeying with the men who are in charge of the
workplace and enforcing their ideas of paternalism on the slaves. Both
meanwhile are being somewhat hypocritical in their ideas of taking care of
these people that they are struggling for power over and simultaneously
punishing them severely for misbehavior. “it was an open secret that white
planters on the north American mainland…took sexual advantage of their female
slaves and fathered mulatto children thereby adding to their own wealth, but
such relationships were often coerced and almost never publicly acknowledged.
As Mary Boykin Chesnut commented acidly in 1861 ‘like the patriarchs of old,
our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines; and the
mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children. Any lady
is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in
everybody’s household but her own. Those, she seems to think, drop from the clouds’
(Chesnut, 1949:21)”(Lockley, 255) This meaning that she sees the problem in
living in the working public sphere where their husbands fool around with other
women who are constantly paraded in front of the wife along with their bastard
children. “On the other hand,
masters were not the only ones making use of sex in this relationship. Slaves
also used sex as a weapon, but as a weapon of resistance instead of oppression.
They rebelled by refusing sexual relations with masters and/or other slaves and
sometimes aborting children that masters had impregnated them with. The sexual
relationship between a slave and a master had potential benefit for both
parties as weaponry”(Mamrak, 3) ­­One
such example of this was in Incidents in
The Life of A Slave Girl; where ­her master constantly sexually pursues
Harriet Jacobs throughout her life. Jacobs forms a sort of alliance of hatred
with the mistress of the house in which the mistress helps her to evade the
advances of her master. The master’s wife has a hatred for Jacobs as the object
of her husband’s desires, and yet would rather help the girl in order to keep
her husband faithful to her, this angry assistance is one of many such issues
brought forth by the collision of the different social spheres of pre-Civil-War
life.

 

         All together there are too many aspects of interest to
consider about this topic. The relationship is too intricate due to the nature
of owning a person; having a physical and emotional connection and sharing
empathy with someone, but also having that kind of power over them, driving a
stake between the two parties. These are but a few of the most pertinent areas
to be examined in such a unique relationship.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Faust, Drew
Gilpin. James Henry Hammond and the Old
South: a design for mastery. Louisiana State University Press. 2010

 

Gray, T. R..The Confessions of Nat
Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia: Together
with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and
Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Chapel Hill:
The University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Project MUSE,

 

Hammond, James
Henry. “Hammond Speech in Senate” Class Handout

 

Cole, Josh. The Excuse of Paternalism In the Antebellum
South: Ideology or Practice? . 2006. www.eiu.edu/historia/Cole.pdf

 

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the life of a slave Girl:
Harriet Jacobs. W.W.Norton and company, 2001

 

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: life inside the antebellum
slave market. Harvard University Press, 2000

 

Mamrak Skylar. Victims of Lust and Hate: Master and Slave
Secual Relations In Antebellum United States. Portal Articles.
http://portal.lvc.edu/vhr/articles/2016-Skylar%20VHREssaySubmission%20Lust%20Hate