Friday, February 21, 2020

The Real Story of Slavery - Part 2

The initial forced labor in the British North American colonies involved indentured servants who served a limited amount of time and were then freed. Many whites volunteered to  serve a period of time in exchange for funds to pay for their trip to North America. Although these indentured servants were only temporary slaves, they were slaves in every sense of the word.   Owners could mistreat them and even choose their sexual partners.  Use of   indentured servants continued through April, 1775, when prominent Virginia planter George Washington     advertised  a reward  for the return of 8 white and 2 black runaways.
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  The Africans and many Irish were forced to travel to the British colonies. Irish were sometimes sentenced to "transportation to America" for illegal acts.  Over 300,000 Irish  were sent to North America and the West Indies as slaves.  .  Thousands of children from London streets were rounded up and sent to the Americas. 

 Most indentured servants were white, particularly Irish, but some were Africans like Anthony Johnson who like white indentured servants was given some land after being freed.  Johnson used indentured servants on his land. 

Later when a decision was made to allow people to be held as permanent slaves, only Africans could be permanent slaves because they were foreigners.  The law didn't allow British subjects to be permanent slaves.  However, initially black children of indentured servants could be treated as permanent slaves because the mother's status as free or nor free determined the  child's status.  If the mother was a slave the child woul be a slave.   This practice differed from the traditional practice of having the father's social status determine the child's status.    A white slave child would be considered an indentured servant.  A black slave child would become  a permanent slave.

By the time permanent slavery began whites and blacks had been having relationships for years and produced children of mixed ancestry.   Some plantation owners forced white female  indentured servants to mate with black men so the children would become permanent slaves.  This practice increased the portion of the slave population that had European [white] genes as well as African [black] genes.   The slave population received additional white DNA from slave owners and overseers.

The relationships among those of mixed ancestry and between those with  mixed ancestry and whites were producing children who could " pass for white " in the 18th Century.   Some with a slightly dark complexion might have claimed to be of North American or Mediterranean ancestry to gain acceptance as whites. 

The relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his sister-in-law and virtual wife  Sally Hemings provides an example of this situation.  Hemings was the daughter of a union between Jefferson's father-in-law  John Wayles. and a slave. Wayles took Hemings' mother as his concubine after his first three wives died.   Hemings was legally classified as  "white" and had  long straight hair, but the social situation and laws governing slavery likely made an actual marriage impossible.   Some of their children later passed for white after being freed and leaving Virginia. 

This situation demonstrates that slavery was no longer about "race" or "color" in 1800.  Even though Hemings was the "white" daughter of a plantation owner, she was still considered a slave who became part of the property of her father's estate when he died in 1774. 

Various accounts in the following years indicate that household servants were often of lighter complexion than field slaves.   Many suggest this situation indicates color prejudice.  The more likely explanation is that the household servants had lighter complexions because they were related to the plantation owner.

By the time of the Civil War there were 5,000 black slave owners and  many slaves who were light complexioned or even white.  

The strange case of Jane / Alexina Morrison demonstrates that slavery wasn't necessarily about color.  According to the slave trader who sold her in Louisiana the blonde haired blue-eyed young woman he called "Jane" was born a slave. The woman who called herself "Alexina" sued him for kidnapping her after she escaped from him. The case bounced around the Louisiana courts just before the Civil War with juries siding with the woman and the courts with the slave trader.  It  apparently is still technically before the courts.   Regardless of which person was telling the truth, the fact that the courts even considered the possibility of Morrison being a slave demonstrates that white slaves were a part of southern slavery by the start of the Civil War.   Some of the escaped slaves whose narratives were published before the Civil War mentioned having seen white slaves.    Harpet's  Weekly in January carried a picture of  slaves recently freed by the Union army who were white.

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