Slave Marriages

Slave Marriages

Most slave-owners encouraged their slaves to marry. Some masters favoured marriage for religious reasons and it was in the interests of plantation owners for women to have children. Child-bearing started around the age of thirteen, and by twenty the women slaves would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage childbearing some plantation owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. Several slaves recorded in their autobiographies that they were reluctant to marry women from the same plantation.

As John Anderson explained: "I did not want to marry a girl belonging to my own place, because I knew I could not bear to see her ill-treated." Moses Grandy agreed he wrote: "no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused without daring to say a word in her defence." As Henry Bibb pointed out: "If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to witness the sight."

A study of slave records by the Freedmen's Bureau of 2,888 slave marriages in Mississippi (1,225), Tennessee (1,123) and Louisiana (540), revealed that over 32 per cent of marriages were dissolved by masters as a result of slaves being sold away from the family home.

If a slave man and woman wished to marry, a party would be arranged some Saturday night among the slaves. The marriage ceremony consisted of the pair jumping over a stick. If no children were born within a year or so, the wife was sold.

At New Year's, if there was any debt or mortgage on the plantation, the extra slaves were taken to Clayton and sold at the court house. In this way families were separated.

Master Jonas Mannyfield lived seven miles from us, on the other side of the Blue Ridge; and he owned a likely young fellow called Jerry. We had always known each other, and now he wanted to marry me. Our masters were both willing; and there was nothing to hinder, except that there was no minister about there to marry us.

One day, there was a colored man - a pedler, with his cart - on the road, and Jerry brought him in, and said he was ready to be minister for us. He asked us a few questions, which we answered in a satisfactory manner, and then he declared us husband and wife. I did not want him to make us promise that we would always be true to each other, forsaking all others, as the white people do in their marriage service, because I knew that at any time our masters could compel us to break such a promise; and I had never forgotten the lesson learned, so many years before, in the blackberry pasture.

To enslave men successfully and safely it was necessary to keep their minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations short of the liberty of which they were deprived. Thus masters gave the slaves some holidays, which served the purpose of keeping their minds occupied with prospective pleasures within the limits of slavery. It was during these holidays that the young man could go wooing; the married man went to see his wife; the father and mother to see their children; the industrious and money-making could earn a few dollars: it was then that the strong tried their strength at wrestling or boxing; then the drinker drank plenty of whisky, and the religious spent their time in praying, preaching, singing and exhorting. Before these holidays their pleasures were in prospect, after they were pleasures of reflection; but for these holidays, which acted as safety-valves, the rigours of bondage would have been carried off by the explosive elements produced in the minds of the slaves by the injustice and fraud of slavery.

I now began to think of entering the matrimonial state; and with that view I had formed an acquaintance with a young woman named Nancy, who was a slave belonging to a Mr. Leigh a clerk in the Bank, and, like many more slave-holders, professing to be a very pious man. We had made it up to get married, but it was necessary in the first place, to obtain our masters' permission, as we could do nothing without their consent. I therefore went to Mr. Leigh, and made known to him my wishes, when he told me he never meant to sell Nancy, and if my master would agree never to sell me, I might marry her. He promised faithfully that he would not sell her, and pretended to entertain an extreme horror of separating families. He gave me a note to my master, and after they had discussed the matter over, I was allowed to marry the object of my choice.

When Nancy became my wife she was living with a Mr. Reeves, a minister of the gospel, who had not long come from the north, where he had the character of being an Anti-slavery man; but he had not been long in the south when all his anti-slavery notions vanished and he became a staunch advocate of slave-holding doctrines, and even wrote articles in favour of slavery which were published in the Richmond Republican.

My wife was still the property of Mr. Leigh and, from the apparent sincerity of his promises to us, we felt confident that he would not separate us. We had not, however, been married above twelve months, when his conscientious scruples vanished, and he sold my wife to a Mr. Joseph H. Colquitt, a saddler, living in the city of Richmond, and a member of Dr. Plummer's church there. This Mr. Colquitt was an exceedingly cruel man, and he had a wife who was, if possible, still more cruel. She was very contrary and hard to be pleased she used to abuse my wife very much, not because she did not do her duty, but because, it was said, her manners were too refined for a slave. At this time my wife had a child and this vexed Mrs. Colquitt very much; she could not bear to see her nursing her baby and used to wish some great calamity to happen to my wife.

Eventually she was so much displeased with my wife that she induced Mr. Colquitt to sell her to one Philip M. Tabb, for the sum of 450 dollars; but coming to see the value of her more clearly after she tried to do without her, she could not rest till she got Mr. Colquitt to repurchase her from Mr. Tabb, which he did in about four months after he had sold her, for 500 dollars, being 50 more than he had sold her for.

My parents belonged to Lemuel Bruce, who died about the year 1836, leaving two children, William Bruce and Rebecca Bruce, who went to live with their aunt, Mrs. Prudence Perkinson; he also left two families of slaves, and they were divided between his two children; my mother's family fell to Miss Rebecca, and the other family, the head of which was known as Bristo, was left to William B. Bruce. Then it was that family ties were broken, the slaves were all hired out, my mother to one man and my father to another. I was too young then to know anything about it, and have to rely entirely on what I have heard my mother and others older than myself say.

If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers; if she must bear the stripes of the lash laid on my an unmerciful tyrant; if this is to be done with impunity, which is frequently done by slaveholders and their abettors. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to watch the sight

Slave Marriages - History

The concept of family played a crucial role in the daily lives of enslaved African Americans in the Old South. Family represented an institution through which slaves pieced together communities and ultimately an entire world distinct from those who exploited them. Family ties provided slaves with identities apart from their master, connections with other slaves, and ways to preserve the traditions and beliefs of their own communities. These ties also provided networks to share news, resistance tactics, and advice of all kinds.

The nature and structure of the slave family changed over time. African-born slaves during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries typically engaged in unions—often polygamous—with those of the same ethnicity when possible. However, by around 1830, the growth of Christianity in slave communities increased the prevalence of nuclear families. By the start of the Civil War, approximately two-thirds of slaves were members of nuclear households, each household averaging six persons. The remaining third of slaves resided with only one or neither biological parent.

Many slave marriages endured for many years, although the threat of sale always loomed. The increased interstate slave trade after the turn of the nineteenth century accounted for the dissolution of hundreds of thousands of slave families. In the decades before the Civil War, between one-fifth and one-third of all slave marriages were broken up via sale or forced migration. Slaveholders also disrupted slave families for a variety of other reasons, selling slaves they considered disobedient, mutinous, unproductive, unhealthy, or even infertile. Law and custom that defined slaves as property enabled slaveholders to bequeath their slaves to heirs, present them as gifts, or offer them to settle debts.

Planters justified their position of power using the logic of paternalism. Paternalism implied that masters would serve as “fathers” or “mothers” who would care for their slaves as they would children. This ideology created a way for some slaves to manipulate masters into giving them better treatment, but paternalism always replicated an inequality in power relations and undercut the autonomy of slave families. In a society that so often venerated the authority of men over wives and children, slavery imposed a very different set of expectations on slave men and women.

Though most enslaved women performed field labor similar to their male counterparts, the experience of slavery affected men and women in different ways. Enslaved women were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved woman from North Carolina, chronicled her master’s attempts to sexually abuse her in her narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs suggested that her successful attempts to resist sexual assault and her determination to love whom she pleased was “something akin to freedom.” Jacobs’ ability to choose her own lover and spouse was unfortunately not possible for many enslaved women. Rape of slave women was common and could even be used by white men to terrorize both enslaved men and women. Women constantly faced the threat of sexual violence, and multiple accounts exist of men forced to watch as masters raped their wives or children. An absence of laws addressing the rape of slaves allowed for the constant barrage of sexual assault. One enslaved woman from Missouri, Celia, murdered her master after he raped her repeatedly for five years. The rape was overlooked in the courtroom, and Celia was hanged for the murder.

White women and enslaved women were both subject to the authority of white men, yet this did not mean that white women were particularly sympathetic to slaves. White women frequently inflicted physical violence upon their slaves, particularly women, who often worked in close proximity to the household. This type of abuse constituted another way of asserting power within the household. Harriet Jacobs noted that once news of her master’s intentions to sexually exploit her became clear, her mistress became increasingly distrustful of Jacobs, and Jacobs feared for her life.

Slaves could and did resist those who sought to exploit them, both through minor acts of everyday resistance and through organized rebellions. On the morning of August 22, 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner and six collaborators attempted to free the region’s enslaved population. Turner initiated the violence by killing his master with an axe blow to the head. By the end of the day, Turner and his band, which had grown to over fifty men, killed fifty-seven white men, women, and children on eleven farms. By the next day, the local militia and white residents had captured or killed all of the participants except Turner, who hid for a number of weeks in nearby woods before being captured and executed.

Gordon, the slave pictured here, endured terrible brutality from his master before escaping to Union Army lines in 1863. He would become a soldier and help fight to end the violent system that produced the horrendous scars on his back. Matthew Brady, Gordon, 1863. Wikimedia.

Turner’s rebellion revived white anxieties about a massive slave uprising, fearing the United States would fall to the same fate as Haiti some years earlier. In response to the rebellion, white Virginians cracked down on the state’s African American population. Hundreds of enslaved and free blacks were arrested, deported, or executed, regardless of their involvement in the uprising. Virginia’s legislature passed new restrictions on the free black population—particularly on their interstate mobility—believing that they could be a negative influence on what they believed was an otherwise contented slave population.

Many whites denied that enslaved people would rebel simply against the inhumanity of slavery itself, instead blaming growing abolitionist sentiment in the North for the uprising. William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator was first published in Boston the year Turner and his men took up arms, and David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World had recently appeared in the hands of black Virginians as well. As in other rare instances of insurrections, whites in Virginia placed the blame for the uprising on outsiders—particularly abolitionists and free blacks—and strengthened their defense of slavery.

Nine years before Turner’s rebellion, fears of widespread slave insurrection shook the South Carolina Lowcountry. According to white authorities, a free black Charleston man by the name of Denmark Vesey had organized enslaved and free black inhabitants with the purpose of staging a bloody revolt. Days before the revolt was to take place, fearful slaves revealed the plot to white authorities, leading to swift retribution. Vesey and some thirty-five other blacks were tried and hanged, and others were sold into slavery in the West Indies. The planned revolt inflamed the racial anxieties of whites in Charleston and throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry. In response to the conspiracy, the legislature passed new laws restricting manumission and the mobility of free blacks and created a new guard to protect Charleston against future insurrections.

In recent years, some historians have begun to doubt the commonly accepted Vesey story. Historian Michael P. Johnson in particular has questioned whether a conspiracy existed at all, suggesting it may have been a fabrication of white authorities for their use as a political issue. Most historians continue to believe Vesey was involved in some kind of insurrection plot in the summer of 1822, but the scope and scale of the rebellion remains under debate. Like other southern slave insurrections both real and imagined, the prospect of black-on-white violence stoked the racial fears of many white southerners.

Here's the tangled history behind why some couples jump over a broom at their wedding

Wedding traditions often have odd, unexpected, and occasionally even disturbing histories behind them.

The tradition of "jumping the broom" is no exception. Few wedding traditions have vexed historians and folklorists so much.

In its contemporary usage, couples jump over brooms as a sort of signifier of sweeping away the old to make way for a new beginning, and the tradition is most widespread among some black communities in the United States today. As the name of a 2011 romcom, it's even firmly part of the cultural lexicon.

Slaves in America were married by jumping over a broom.

Slave marriages often weren't legally recognized, with tragic consequences — families could be separated at the whim of their owners. In the antebellum United States, "jumping the broom" was one ceremony where slaves were forced to marry one another, according to the folklore scholar Alan Dundes.

Instead of an ordained minister legally conducting a wedding, there are accounts of slaveowners fetching a broom and having two slaves jump over it before they were considered married, according to Dundes.

There was some variance in the practice, according to the accounts that exist today. Sometimes the broom was laid on the ground and sometimes it was held in the air. Sometimes the couple jumped at the same time and sometimes they jumped separately. And sometimes they jumped over a single broom, and sometimes they each had their own broom.

Jumping the broom wasn't necessarily a tradition imposed on slaves by their masters, according to Tyler Parry, a historian of marriage rituals in the African diaspora. Some slaveowners forced their slaves to do it as a form of mockery. But at the same time, most historians think slave masters didn't care all that much about slave marriages "as long as they were bearing children," Parry told INSIDER. If anything, some slaveowners tended to give more showy weddings.

"When slaveowners married slaves, they would usually give certain slaves a very elaborate wedding," Parry said. "They used this to prove to northern abolitionists that they were being very benevolent, nice, and kind to their slaves. It became a form of apologetics."

By the 1830s and '40s, jumping the broom was a ritual that enslaved people understood as their own.

"They didn't entirely know the origins of it," Parry told INSIDER. But at some point, "slave communities recognized it as one way they could legitimately marry each other."

After the American Civil War, former slaves "embraced more orthodox forms of marriage," according to Parry. But in some situations, it was still used. If a couple wanted to marry but a priest wasn't available, for example, they'd jump the broom and then wait for a clergy member to come into town a few weeks later to ratify the marriage.

At the same time, former slaves had complicated relationships with legal marriage in America. Marriage was important for legal recognition. But in some cases, they'd rely on their broomstick weddings.

"There were even cases where former slaves refused to be married, because they felt their broomstick wedding conducted 30 years ago was sufficient," Parry said. "They didn't need the government telling them they had to get remarried."

Centuries later, black communities in America reclaimed the slavery-era tradition for their own.

Dundes credits Alex Haley's book and miniseries "Roots" for the resurgence of the marriage ritual. It's featured in a scene in Haley's story.

It's part of a larger conversation about broom-jumping and marriage rituals that was taking place among black writers in the 1960s, according to Parry. The 1977 "Roots" miniseries, in particular, sparked a lot of interest in the black community in America at large.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ebony and Jet magazines often wrote about the tradition. According to Parry, the interest in it culminated with the 1992 book "Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love" by Danita Rountree Green.

" That would be the turning point in changing the African-American wedding into what we typically call 'heritage weddings,'" Parry said, which implement African and African-American traditions into wedding ceremonies.

But what does the tradition mean and where does it come from?

Many writers believe the myth — promoted in Green's book — that some form of jumping the broom was practiced in Africa, particularly by the ruling tribes in Ghana, and came to America with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. But there are no recorded instances of jumping the broom in Africa prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, according to Dundes. Parry, who's done more recent scholarly work on West African wedding traditions, agrees.

"I found nothing about jumping the broom there," Parry said. "It just doesn't exist."

The custom, bizarrely enough, most likely originated in Europe.

Jumping over a broom was a way to get married without the church.

The oldest records we have of jumping over a broom being used as a marriage rite dates to around 1700, in Wales.

Some people — particularly Roma, commonly known as "gypsies" — had marriages that weren't recognized by the church. They were married through non-church rituals. One of these rituals, practiced widely in Wales, was a "Besom Wedding," a besom being a type of broom.

In a Besom Wedding, a broom was placed aslant in a doorway for a couple to jump over. The couple had to jump over the broom without touching it to be married, according to the folklore scholar C.W. Sullivan III. The marriage could also be annulled if the couple jumped over the broom again — but backwards.

By the beginning of the 18th century, broomstick weddings were widespread in Wales. Stepping over an object was, in fact, widespread throughout much of England. In one community, couples jumped over a "Petting Stone." But while these unions were accepted in Roma communities, Christian communities did not accept the validity of those marriages.

Elsewhere in Europe, jumping over the broom symbolized defying witchcraft.

For cultures where a belief in witches ran rampant, keeping those witches at bay was a priority. Marriages, in particular, were considered susceptible to witchcraft and curses. Take, for example, the "something old, something new" rhyme, which is meant to defend against the evil eye.

An article published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1908 or 1909, cited by Dundes, said that some Roma communities in Scotland and England in the 1800s practiced jumping over broomsticks as a wedding rite. The broomstick, the article wrote, is emblematic of evil and witches. Jumping over the broom symbolized wedded love defying evil and witchcraft.

The practice may also be related to a British version of carrying the bride over the threshold. For that tradition, in some British communities, brooms were placed at the entrance of the room the bride and groom would go into. Anyone who refused to step over it would be considered a witch.

It's through 18th century British migrants that the folk ritual made its way to the United States, argues Parry.

Jumping the broom in America is now common — and some Neo-Pagans in Europe do it as well.

Over time, the tradition of jumping the broom has been somewhat divorced from its Welsh roots. In America, its history has now come to be closely associated with slavery. But today, some people have reclaimed the tradition for their own.

"Jumping the broom matters for people," Parry said. "Millions of people still do it."

In some black communities in America, jumping the broom is a matter of debate. There's a discussion about whether the tradition is archaic and worth discarding as a relic of slavery, or worth maintaining and remembering.

"I'm starting to see that instead of just accepting that someone is going to jump the broom, there are actual conversations that people are having about whether or not they should," Parry said. "Especially when people are interracially married and are dating outside their race . I've seen some online blogs and polls that ask, 'I'm marrying a white guy, should I jump the broom?'"

In Europe as well as the United States, there's also a parallel movement in Celtic and Neo-Pagan communities to renew the tradition "as a kind of homage to the British Isles," Parry said.

"While in America, we usually attach it to an African-American practice, if you go to Wales or Scotland, they would see it as much more about people who rejected Christianity," Parry said.

Over the centuries, jumping the broom has acquired a tangled history, one that touches on different lineages and traditions in different communities. Parry advocates for sharing it.

"What you'll actually find is people from different communities trying to claim the custom, which I think is kind of a problematic way of going about it," Parry said. "Because no one owns culture. Culture is just something that evolves and is shared across time."

The History of Black Marriage

Alexis Coe: I read your last book, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War, in graduate school, and it was a revelation to me. Your new book, Bound in Wedlock, is even more ambitious — and personal. You open the book with a marriage certificate that belonged to Ellen and Moses Hunter, your great-great-grandparents. What did that document tell you about your own family and about the larger story you wanted to tell in this book?

Tera Hunter: The marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents served as a source of inspiration as I researched and wrote Bound in Wedlock. I kept it pasted above my writing desk. It amplified the stories of the multitudes of anonymous people in the book. It reminded me how the work that I do is quite personal and yet historically relevant and significant beyond my biography.

Ellen Morrison and Moses Hunter were both enslaved people prior to their marriage in 1872. We still have family members who remember Ellen, who was also a midwife, who assisted in their birth. The era of slavery seems far away, and yet we are only a few generations removed from it.

AC: That’s incredible. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which means Ellen and Moses should have been free for almost a decade by the time they married. (Slaves in Texas didn’t find out about it until June 19, 1865.) When and how did they meet? When they were freed, how did they decide where to settle and how to build a life?

TH: We do not know the details of their relationship. My paternal family was rooted in the same Georgia/South Carolina region stretching as far back as we can trace them. They were part of a close-knit community. We can only decipher the timing of their coupling by the birth of their first child, just after the Civil War. Moses was born free in 1835 but then enslaved in his youth, which shows how precarious freedom was for African Americans. Ellen was a slave until the institution was abolished. They did not formalize their relationship until 1872, as the marriage certificate indicates.

AC: Why do you think they waited?

TH: There are a lot of factors that may explain the delay. Many slaves, with the help of the Union Army and Northern missionaries, began the process to formalize their unions during the Civil War, when they were in proximity to the occupied troops and contraband camps. After the war ended, it could take some time for ex-slaves to gain access to civil agencies to put their marriages on legal footing. It is noteworthy, too, that the certificate was issued the same year as the arrival of a black minister at the family’s (previously biracial) church. He would have performed the ceremony.

AC: Ellen and Moses had grown up seeing slaves around them enter into intimate bonds they called marriage, but those couples had none of the rights and protections guaranteed after the Civil War. You write about those marriages, in which the benefits were considerable and familiar to us: emotional bonds, intimacy, support, and children. It also made them incredibly vulnerable, as if they weren’t vulnerable enough already, to the whims and cruelties of whites — which was acknowledged in a very blunt and heartbreaking line in their vows. Tell us about that, and the constant threat of separation they lived under?

TH: The fear of separation was especially haunting for couples. Slaves faced the greatest threats of being sold away in their prime years, precisely when they would have been young couples. They were most prized as workers and able to fetch a higher price on the market then. The trepidation loomed large over their relationships, which sometimes made them ambivalent about whether to wed or not. The threat of separation was used as a form of punishment and containment to keep slaves obedient. It also became an issue when the finances of the slave owners lagged or when they passed away and their estates had to be settled. As you have noted, masters were quite blunt in making this clear even in the marital vows exchanged between slaves — “until death or distance do you part.”

AC: My god. And some of those marriages weren’t always voluntary, right? Slaveholders wanted their slaves to marry in the hopes that they would appease abolitionists by appearing to emphasize marriage, and if the couple had children, they too were slaves, thus adding to their own wealth.

TH: Most slave marriages were voluntary, as masters saw the benefits of using coupling as a stabilizing influence on plantations and, of course, encouraging reproduction of their property. Masters used marriage to lay claim to their benevolence and Christianity, to counter the arguments that abolitionists made about the brutality of slavery. But the use of force was common, as masters often paired slaves together against their will. This was a gross form of sexual violation of both women and men. Not to mention, the marital beds of voluntary couples were often exploited by the masters themselves, using their prerogative to molest female slaves.

AC: How did a marriage work when one person was free and another still enslaved?

TH: Mixed-status marriages were similar to enslaved marriages in the sense that they were not legally recognized. Free persons’ rights were thus restricted because of their close ties to enslaved relatives. In some cases, couples lived together in the cabins of the enslaved person. In other cases, the free person might live elsewhere and visit back and forth with the enslaved spouse. (The latter were called “abroad” marriages, though slaves married to one another often used the same arrangement when each person had a different owner.) Mixed-status relationships existed because slave and free black communities intermingled through work and leisure activities. This was especially true in urban places, where the boundaries of caste were more fluid. These relationships also existed as some enslaved people gained their freedom and maintained ties with those still enslaved.

AC: I imagine that slaveholders would find that quite threatening.

TH: Some states, like North Carolina, even prohibited them by law, though they were not so successful in enforcing it. The law itself shows that it was considered a menace difficult for officials to repress and contain.

AC: There was so much violence, chaos, and confusion during and after the Civil War. What happened to slave marriages during that transition?

TH: The Civil War opened the door to both chaos and unforeseen possibilities. It became an important turning point in the history of African American marriages. Slaves ran away in droves at the sight of the Union Army as battles were fought in Confederate territory. They forced the federal government to reckon with a population that it assumed would be neutral in the war.

AC: Remain neutral! What a crazy thing to imagine.

TH: Contraband camps were set up to house the runaways and to put them to work aiding the United States military. Northern missionaries and abolitionists seized the opportunity to use these sites to cultivate Christian norms and values associated with citizenship in a post-slavery world. They began the process of marrying slaves “under the flag” — that is, formalizing their relationships under the authority of the federal government. Thousands of former slaves were remarried or married for the first time in this context. But it would take winning the war before those relationships would be fully free and legal. The defeated Southern states were forced to pass laws during Reconstruction recognizing the marriages of former slaves.

AC: Books take a long time to write. When you started this, we didn’t have a president who emboldened white nationalists, openly and repeatedly defending them. How do you think it’s influenced the book’s reception and the kinds of questions you get asked about it?

TH: Yes, books take a long time! I will just say I started it during the Bush years. I worked on the final revisions as Obama was leaving and Trump was coming into the White House, which made it feel like déjà vu. The book is about a tumultuous century of our nation’s history. It opens during the peak of the most profitable slavery era and ends after slavery has been defeated.

Then there was a moment of democratic possibilities that opened during Reconstruction, followed by a fierce backlash of white supremacy in the form of disenfranchisement, lynchings, debt peonage, etc. A lot of readers find the book helpful to reflect on the resonance between those times and ours. Not to mention, we are continually jolted by reminders that proslavery views inform racial stereotypes about black families, without any appreciation for what African American marriages and families have had to overcome.

Louisiana Lineage Legacies

During slavery, most slaves were not able to legally marry since they were considered property and therefore less than human. They were however, in many cases encouraged by slave-owners to informally marry since it was believed that married men was less likely to be rebellious or to run away. Also, the slavemaster felt that marriage meant the procreation of children and some even offered freedom to slaves who produced at least 15 children.

This is a sad and awful truth that our ancestors had to endure. In addition, since slave marriages had no legal standing, it meant no protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master's will.

Couples who resided on different plantations were often only allowed to visit with the consent of their owners. However, in some of the slave narratives that I have read, the men preferred it that way. As John Anderson explained: "I did not want to marry a girl belonging to my own place, because I knew I could not bear to see her ill-treated." Moses Grandy agreed he wrote: "no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused without daring to say a word in her defence." As Henry Bibb pointed out: "If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to witness the sight."

Most slaves married without the benefit of clergy but instead the marriage ceremony was often performed by other family members and only with the master's permission.

It also was not like the other traditional marriages that took place during that time. Instead, most slaves "jumped the broom." This was a practice in which the couple before being pronounced as man and wife, they literally jumped over one or in some cases 2 brooms, one for each person into the land of "holy matrimony."

These were the lucky ones, some marriages consisted only of the slaves simply getting the master's permission and moving into a cabin together." Hence, comes the term, "shacking up."

After emancipation, a lot of slaves became legally married even though by that time, they often already had a house full of kids.

The federal government also established the Freedmen's Bureau to help former slaves get established in the society as free men. One of the services provided by the Bureau was to record marriages that had taken place during slavery.

Several of my own ancestors did just that even though in a lot of cases, they already had grown kids.

These are some of the ones like became legally married after slavery ended:

1. Oliver and Edy Williams Clayton "re-married" 7/24/1869 in Caddo parish after slavery ended and they already at least 3 children at this time. The oldest known was 8 years old so they had been together at least that long.

2. Levi and Mary Clay Green renewed their vows on September 24, 1872 in Bossier Parish. At that time, they had about 8 kids.

3. David and Mariah Pressley Hines (Hinds) exchanged their vows again on April 1, 1873 in DeSoto Parish. They already had at least 3 children at that time and another (My g-grandpapa Isam) on the way.

We have definitely come a long way from back then and we are truly blessed for having come so far. It must have had so much meaning for these former slave couples as was the case for many others to legalize their marriages.

However, I believe that in the eyes of God, they were already bonded and their love and commitment to each other and their families are eternal!

Forced Marriage

Due to the, often, unofficial and undocumented nature of most forced marriages, statistics on forced marriage vary. In 2003, the International Center for Research on Women estimated that over 51 million girls under the age of 18 were forcibly married. Forced and early marriage are most common in impoverished states in Africa, South Asia as well as the former Soviet republics. However, there are still cases of forced and early marriage in more affluent North American and European countries.

Forced marriage can be coupled with other forms of slavery. Children who are trafficked for sex may also be sold into forced marriages. An adult who is forcibly married may then be trafficked for labor or sex by and for the financial gain of his or her spouse.

International Definition

Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery akin forced marriage to slavery. Forced marriage is an institution or practice where individuals don’t have the option to refuse or are promised and married to another by their parents, guardians, relatives or other people and groups. Early marriage is the forced marriage of a child, usually defined internationally as an individual under the age of 18.

Sometimes called servile marriage, forced marriage also occurs when a wife is forcibly transferred to another in exchange for some type of payment or when a widow is given no choice and inherited by one of her husband’s male relatives.

The key piece to forced marriage is that at least one of the marrying parties does not give his or her consent. There is no agreed-upon international minimum age for marriage consent. However, most countries set the limit at 15 or 18 years old.

United States’ Definition

In the United States, only ten states have legislation that directly address forced marriage. The U.S. State Department recognizes forced marriage as a marriage without the consent of at least one party. Duress, threat, physical abuse and death threats by family members constitute force and coercion. In the United States, forced marriage is considered to be a human rights violation and in some cases, a form of child abuse.

An arranged marriage is differentiated from forced marriage because the marrying parties agree to the marriage arrangement in an arranged marriage.

Forced Marriage in the United States

In the United States, adults and children are forced to marry through familial deception, cultural tradition, emotional blackmail and threats of abuse or even death. Exceptions allow children under the age of 18 to legally marry. Most states grant children, usually between 16 to 17 years old, a marriage license so long as their parents give parental consent. The other exception involves judicial approval and can allow people under the age of 15 to marry.

Unchained at Last found that between 1995 and 2012, judges allowed 178 children between the ages of 10 and 15 to marry in New Jersey. From this sample, a number were children married to adults.

The Tahirih Justice Center reported at least 3,000 suspected forced marriage cases in the United States between 2009 and 2011.

Slaves of the tribe: The hidden history of the Freedmen

Late last summer, after more than a decade of legal battles, a U.S. federal court ruled that the rights enjoyed by members of the Cherokee Nation also extend to the descendants of the slaves owned by the Nation before the Civil War.

The court upheld an 1866 treaty between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation which granted “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including citizenship in the Nation, to their liberated slaves—the Cherokee Freedmen—and their descendants.

After this ruling, according to the Cherokee Phoenix, the Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Todd Hembree, announced “that he would not appeal the court’s ruling,” likely bringing an end to the long-running conflict between Freedmen descendants and the Cherokees.

In 2007, the Cherokee Nation voted to amend its constitution to limit membership to only those persons descended from ancestors listed as “Cherokee by blood” on the original Dawes Rolls registry of Native Americans. This eliminated the citizenship rights of those descended from Cherokee Freedmen who were also on the same roll.

The Cherokee Freedmen are only the most recent group of freedmen to regain citizenship. The Seminole Freedmen descended from escaped slaves that joined the Seminole Nation in Florida and traveled with them along the Trail of Tears, previously won back some rights. There are still others, however, who are excluded by their respective indigenous governments.

The history of the Native American Freedmen is not widely known. One of the reasons why many don’t know this history is that out of over 500 federally recognized tribes, only five ever practiced chattel slavery. But even those who are familiar with some part of the story often believe a number of common myths.

One of them is that the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, and Chickasaw weren’t engaged in actual slavery. It is widely believed that they were just buying slaves to either set them free or to free Black family members. This wasn’t really the case. These tribes—four of the Eurocentrically-termed “Five Civilized Tribes”—did engage in the practice of slavery, aided and encouraged by the U.S. government.

The U.S. encouraged slavery among the tribes in the southeastern United States to accomplish two goals. One was to “breed out” the native population by having them mix with white settlers and adopt the practice of chattel slavery. Cultural assimilation efforts would later take the form of forcefully sending indigenous children into boarding schools. Another goal was to keep Native Americans from protecting Black slaves who ran away from white plantations.

Encouraging the adoption of slavery was a second-best effort. Early on, colonists attempted to enslave indigenous people themselves. This was met with a number of difficulties, a major one being that diseases like smallpox killed so many indigenous people. Additionally, given that the indigenous were on their own land and knew it better than the colonists, escape was far easier for them.

Though Native Americans proved difficult to enslave, at least some tribes were enticed into becoming slaveowners. The Black people that were owned as slaves by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee (Creek) Nations were mostly owned by either intermarried whites or their mixed blood descendants.

In the southern United States, the system of chattel slavery conferred a vast amount of power and influence on slave owners and shaped the destiny of the country. It was no different among the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscogee (Creek) Nations. Slavery among the five indigenous nations in the southeastern United States often mirrored practices in the rest of the South.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced most of the indigenous nations in the southeastern United States to relocate west of the Mississippi along the Trail of Tears. That part of history is well known, but what is often overlooked is the fact that those nations who held slaves took them with them in the move. They would continue to keep them in bondage until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

At that time, the United States government negotiated new treaties with each of the indigenous nations. Enshrined into those agreements were the citizenship rights of the now-freed Blacks. Out of the five indigenous nations, only four granted freedmen citizenship. Freedmen were given a choice to take U.S citizenship instead, an option similar to that given to indigenous people if they chose to stay in their ancestral homelands rather than travel westward on the Trail of Tears.

The Dawes Commission, established by the U.S government in 1893, removed sovereignty and distributed land to freedmen and indigenous citizens on an individual basis. Freedmen, however, were granted less land than citizens by blood or by marriage. According to the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, “Choctaw freedmen and their descendants would each get forty acre allotments, but no share of the other tribal resources.”

Often, those with mixed Black and Native American heritage were listed as freedmen instead of “by blood.” “Mixed-blood black Indians were all enrolled as freedmen with no Indian blood,” according to Linda Reese of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “When stalling tactics failed the Indian governments, they used every measure at their disposal to limit the number of freedmen admitted to the rolls.”

It was really up to individual U.S. commissioners to determine if someone would be listed as a freedman, usually on the basis of whether they looked Black enough. Once free, many of the freedmen started looking for family members that had been sold to different plantations. They gathered into small settlements with their families, and some of these towns still exist in Oklahoma today.

Waynetta Lawrie (left), of Tulsa, Okla., stands with others at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in 2007, during a demonstration by several Cherokee Freedmen and their supporters. | AP

With the ruling in the Cherokee case, the descendants of the Native American freedmen have now gained citizenship in the Seminole and Cherokee Nations, though it is still limited in the former. Both of these groups of freedmen descendants regained their citizenship rights following court decisions.

The Muscogee (Creek) Freedmen, however, lost their citizenship in 1979, the Choctaw Freedmen in 1983, and the Chickasaw Freedmen were never granted full citizenship. Some of the descendants of the Freedmen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma have chosen a different route than seeking to have their citizenship rights restored. Instead, they have formed the “Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band” and have sought federal recognition from the United States.

After the ruling that restored the Cherokee Freedmen descendants’ citizenship rights, the Tulsa World reported that “the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole nations are each at various stages of acceptance of Freedmen as full citizens of their tribes.” It will likely take many more lawsuits, however, before all the freedmen are restored the rights taken away from them.

Slave Marriages - History

Enslaved blacks attempted to provide for their family members financially, as well as spiritually. At a time when slavery was still a concept rather than a legal institution, blacks from New Amsterdam to the Chesapeake Bay used the courts to ensure the well-being of family members. Numerous slaves made bequests of property to wives or children in wills. The fluidity of the status of black people also allowed greater opportunities to achieve freedom for kin. Some parents contracted their children to masters under terms that guaranteed the children would be released from service after a specified number of years. Others attempted to buy loved ones out of slavery. Occasionally black men married white women, ensuring that their children would be born free.

As the plantation revolution swept across the South in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and the terms of racial slavery were concretized in law, slaves found it increasingly difficult to form families. Not only did the law forbid interracial wedlock and deny blacks legal rights to marry each other, but the agricultural demands of Southern slave societies also continued to generate a disproportionate population of black men in the colonies.

"A Negro Wedding" (p.104) Illustration from Thomas Nelson Page, Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
By the early 1700s, however, planters in both the Chesapeake region and in the Southern low country were becoming aware that they could profit economically by promoting the families their slaves were struggling to create. Marriage, they reasoned, would make slaves content and therefore docile. What is more, stable unions would lead to reliable reproduction cycles. This idea of a self-renewing slave labor force was exploited on a grand scale for the first time on the plantations of late eighteenth century America, increasing in intensity after 1807 when Congress outlawed international slave trade.

The nature of the slave family varied depending on the form of agrarian activity taking place in a given region. Because tobacco planting required fewer slaves on a single farm, Chesapeake slave families were often spread across several plantations. Men and women in this region often "married abroad," meaning that spouses had different owners and lived apart. In such cases, a husband, either with permission or surreptitiously, would usually visit his wife and children once or twice a week.

Family born on a Beaufort, South Carolina, plantation. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs
The divisiveness of agricultural production in this area helped to foster a vast kinship network that linked several plantations. In contrast, the largest of "Cotton Kingdom" plantations required dozens of hands, making it more common to find whole families working and living together.

As industry attempted to keep up with agricultural output in the South, the number of African slaves in the North increased, rapidly replacing the first generation of Atlantic Creoles who had successfully organized into autonomous families. Unlike their Southern contemporaries, Northern slave owners had little interest in family formation among slaves. The nature of urban life and small-farm production made large workforces untenable and unnecessary. While the plantation master approved of, oversaw, and often arranged marriages among his slaves, the Northern master discouraged marital union and dissolved existing bonds by separating husbands and wives.


When English settlers arrived in the seventeenth century in what became the colony of Virginia, there were 30 or so tribes of Native Americans, in a loose confederacy led by Powhatan. He lived in the region of the James River [2] and was the father of Pocahontas, who later married a colonist. [3] Numerous colonists starved during the colony's early years. [4] Kathryn Knight, author of Unveiled - The Twenty & Odd, about a group of captives from the Kingdom of Ndongo who were the first Africans in Virginia, says of the immigrants: "Basically all of those people were right off of the streets in England. [they] didn't know how to grow anything. They didn't know how to manage livestock. They didn't know anything about survival in Virginia. [Africans and Native Americans] saved them by being able to produce crops, by being able to manage the livestock. They kept them alive." [5] The English settlers and traders began enslaving Native Americans soon after founding Jamestown. [6]

Africans were brought by Dutch and English slave ships to the Virginia Colony. The plantation system developed over the seventeenth century and was increasingly inequitable, with the institution of slavery evolving gradually, at first by custom and then through the imposition of laws, from regulating indentured servitude to eventually making life-long servitude legal. [7] Laws and practices limited the behavior of African Americans, for example, by not allowing blacks to meet in groups, have firearms, or raise livestock. They could only leave plantations for four hours, and needed written permission to travel. Over time, being a Christian did not prevent African Americans from suffering life-long servitude. [7] Laws vacillated over time concerning the enslavement of Native Americans. [6] Algonquin-speaking Native Americans, English, other Europeans, and West Africans brought customs and traditions from each of their home countries and "loosely-knit customs began to crystallize into what later became known as the Tuckahoe culture". [8]

During the colonial period, settlements were established in the James River valley at major river crossings. There were few stores, and churches, and no public schools, and churches. [9] The valley was known for its large tobacco plantations of thousands of acres in the Tidewater coastal plain and on the Piedmont plateau. [8] [9] On these plantations, tobacco planters treated field, household and skilled workers like chattel (owned property). Growing the labor-intensive tobacco crops, and later the cotton crops, of the South required large tracts of land and relied on slavery to be profitable. Social and political inequality between the planters and the other classes became more pronounced as planters became wealthier. [10] In 1860, there were 20,000 enslaved people that lived in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William counties. [11]

Plantation owners in Virginia became wealthy during the eighteenth century, as well as members of a new planter aristocracy, by growing tobacco and employing unpaid enslaved people to perform this and other agricultural and domestic labor. [12] [13] The planters were far outnumbered by indentured servants, slaves, and poor white people. [10] Thomas Anburey, an English officer, visited Colonel Randolph's house in Goochland in 1779 and opined that Virginia plantations were owned and operated by refined, educated people. He thought the class of whites who had the most interaction with their slaves were uneducated and unworldly, and generally "hospitable, generous, and friendly", but qualified his estimation with the statement that they were "accustomed to tyrannize with all their good qualities, they are rude, ferocious, and haughty, much attached to gaming and dissipation". [9]

Plantations were few in number in colonial Virginia, but were key to the economic welfare of the colony. History often obscures the realities of slavery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by focusing on the history of the plantation owners and the architecture of the plantation manors, relegating enslaved people to the margins of the history of the plantations. [14] As historical plantation sites such as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, George Washington's Mount Vernon, and other plantations throughout the South attempt to provide a fuller picture of colonial life and slavery, some visitors prefer not to hear it. [15]

Slavery continued until the passage of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865. There were laws enacted and other practices that limited African Americans rights and opportunities after the Emancipation Proclamation. [12]

Native Americans Edit

After the first Africans arrived at Jamestown in 1619, slavery and other forms of bondage were found in all the English colonies some Native Americans were enslaved by the English, with a few slaveholders having both African and Native American slaves, [16] who worked in their tobacco fields. Laws regarding enslavement of Native Americans vacillated between encouraging and discouraging slavery. The number of enslaved native people reached a peak at the end of the seventeenth century.

The colony of Virginia formally ended Indian slavery in 1705. The practice had already declined because Native Americans could escape into familiar territory, and also suffered from new infectious diseases introduced by the colonists, among whom these were endemic. The Atlantic slave trade began to provide numerous African captives to replace them as laborers. The enslavement of indigenous people continued into the end of the eighteenth century by the nineteenth century, they were either incorporated within African-American communities or were free. [6]

Europeans sold guns for slaves in an existing indigenous trading market, and encouraged allied tribes to provide the slaves by targeting Indian groups on the periphery of English settlements.

Indigenous people were generally taken in the greatest numbers during battles between the English and Native Americans. [6] They attacked or fought one another for years, partly because of the English people's lack of food and the Native Americans' distress that they were losing their land. On March 22, 1622, 347 or more colonists were killed and English settlements were set on fire during an Indian massacre. Approximately 20 women were taken from Martin's Hundred plantation on the James River and were said to have been put into "great slavery". [17] To prevent escape, the English sent captured Native Americans to British colonies in the West Indies to work as slaves. [18] [19] [a]

First Africans Edit

In late August 1619, twenty or more Africans were brought to Point Comfort on the James River in Virginia. They were sold first in exchange for food, and then sold in Jamestown to intended slaveholders. [21] [b] The Africans came from the Kingdom of Ndongo, in what is now Angola. [5] Angela, an enslaved woman from Ndonggo, was one of the first enslaved Africans to be officially recorded in the colony of Virginia in 1619. [24]

By 1620, there were 32 Africans and four Native Americans in the "Others not Christians in the Service of the English" category of the muster who arrived in Virginia, but that number was reduced by 1624, perhaps due to the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632) or illness. [21] [25] William Tucker, born in 1624, was the first person of African descent born in the Thirteen Colonies. [26]

There were 906 Europeans and 21 Africans in the 1624 muster. By 1625, the Africans lived on plantations [21] many of them were baptized as Christians and took Christian names. In 1628, a slave ship carried 100 people from Angola to be sold into slavery in Virginia, and consequently the number of Africans in the colony rose greatly. [21] [25] [27]

The Atlantic slave trade had been in existence among Europeans before Africans landed in Virginia and according to custom, slavery was legal. Unlike white indentured servants, blacks could not negotiate a labor contract, nor could African Americans effectively defend their rights without paperwork. By the mid-1600s, seven legal suits had been filed by African Americans asserting their claim to a limited period of service. In six of the cases, their enslavers claimed that they were bound for life. [28] Since 1990, after over 30 years of scholarly debate, the dominant consensus is that "the vast majority" of Africans were treated like slaves by their slaveholders. It was very rare for blacks to have a legal indenture, but there were some people who attained freedom in a number of different ways. [29]

Mary and Anthony Johnson were among the few African Americans who were able to gain their freedom, herd livestock, and establish a prosperous farm. [30] In 1640, one black servant, John Punch, ran away and was sentenced by the Virginia courts to slavery for the rest of his life. Two white indentured servants who ran away with Punch had four more years added on to their servitude. [31]

Unpaid servants Edit

Household and farm work was performed by indentured servants and enslaved people, including children. [12] [c] Indentured servants, generally brought from England, worked without pay for a specific length of time. [33] They exchanged their labor for the cost of their passage to the colony, room and board, and freedom dues, which were stipulated to be provided to the servant at the end of the indenture period, and could include land and supplies that would help them become established on their own. [27] [34] In the seventeenth century, the tobacco fields of Virginia were mostly worked by white indentured servants. By 1705, the economy was based upon slave labor imported from Africa. [35]

Enslaved people were generally held for their lifetimes. Children of enslaved women were enslaved from birth per the legal doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem. [33] Some commentators hold that since the muster and other records used the term "servant" that it meant that blacks who landed in Virginia were indentured servants. Unlike indentured servants, slaves were taken against their will. When slaves were first sold in exchange for food, it was clear that they were considered property. The term "indentured servitude" was often a euphemism for slavery when referring to white people. [36] Enslaved blacks were treated much more harshly than white servants. Whipping of blacks, for instance, was common. [33] [d] [e]

Domestic, field, and skilled labor Edit

From Monday through Saturday, enslaved people were assigned specific duties. Most people, including children, were farm hands. [38] Domestic work, another duty, included preparing and serving food, cleaning, and caretaking of white children others were trained to be blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers. [38] Those who had livestock or gardens tended to them on Sunday. It was also a day to be with family and for worship. [38]

Children also worked for instance, by the late eighteenth century at Monticello, small black children helped with tasks at the main house and looked after enslaved toddlers until they were ten years of age. At that time, they were assigned to work in the fields, the house, or to learn a specific skill such as the making of nails or textiles. At the age of 16, they might be forced into a trade. [39] Domestic work was not as onerous as field work and provided opportunities to overhear gossip and news. Life was more difficult for children who worked in the fields, particularly on large plantations, but it was most difficult when family members were sold away from the farm or plantation. Some planters cruelly mistreated those in their charge. [40]

Offenses against slaves Edit

Enslavers had control of the people that they enslaved. They could favor some, make life miserable for others, tease them with hollow promises for emancipation, brutally rape, and severely punish slaves. They could also control what happened to their children, which was a very powerful tactic. Slaves could not testify against their masters in a court case, making their situation more difficult. [41] In 1829, the North Carolina v. Mann case was brought before the North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled that slaveholders had the right to treat enslaved people in any way that they chose, including killing them, in order to better the "submission" of the enslaved to their masters. [42]

Into the first half of the nineteenth century, it was common practice at southern universities, such as the University of Virginia (UVA), for white men to rape the enslaved women and children who served them. Over the years, between 100 and 200 black men, women and children who worked at the university were mistreated and beaten. [43] [f] The behavior was accepted by law enforcement and schools. [43] In September 1826, two students at the university, George Hoffman and Turner Dixon, caught the same sexually transmitted disease, which they deduced was caught from the same girl, who had been raped by both men. They and other classmates found the 16-year-old victim and beat her until she was bloody. After her owner complained to the college, the young men were reprimanded and ordered to pay $10 to the slaveholder. [43] [g]

After 1808, when Congress made the Atlantic slave trade illegal, prohibiting importation of slaves from the West Indies or Africa, the domestic slave trade increased. The slave trade grew in the country through breeding enslaved women so that their children could be sold for profit. [44]

Progeny Edit

From the 1600s until 1860, it was common for white planters, overseers, or other white men to rape enslaved women. Because of the disparity of power between enslaved women and the men who fathered their children, and the fact that the men had unlimited access to such forced sex, "all of the sex that took place between enslaved women and white men constituted some form of sexual assault." [42]

Since children followed their mother's status, the children of enslaved women increased a slaveholder's work force. It met the economic needs of the colony, which suffered perpetual labor shortages because conditions were difficult, mortality was high, and the government had difficulty attracting sufficient numbers of English indentured servants after economic conditions improved in England. [45] This resulted in generations of black and mixed-race enslaved people. Among the most notable were Sally Hemings and her siblings, fathered by planter John Wayles, and her four surviving children by Thomas Jefferson. [46] This was in contrast to English common law of the time. [h]

Formalized slavery Edit

—Leon A. Higginbotham quoted in "The 'Twenty and Odd': The Silences of Africans in Early Virginia Revealed" [47]

A law making race-based slavery legal was passed in Virginia in 1661. [21] It allowed any free person the right to own slaves. [48] In 1662, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law that said a child was born a slave if the mother was a slave, based on partus sequitur ventrem. Specifically, "all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother." The new law in 1662 was an effort to define the status of non-English subjects in Virginia. It was passed in part because of a freedom suit in which a mixed-race daughter of an Englishman, who had been baptized as Christian, won her freedom by a colonial decision. The law also resulted in freeing white fathers from any responsibilities toward their mixed-race children. If they owned them, they could put them to work or sell them. [45] It also voided the previous prohibition against enslaving Christians. The colonial law was in contrast to English common law of the time that prevailed in England. [i] Slavery created a racial caste associated with African descent regardless of a child's paternal ancestry. The principle became incorporated into state law when Virginia gained independence from Great Britain. [49]

Additional laws regarding slavery were passed in the seventeenth century and in 1705 were codified into Virginia's first slave code, [48] An act concerning Servants and Slaves. The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 stated that people who were not Christians, or were black, mixed-race, or Native Americans would to be classified as slaves (i.e., treated like personal property or chattel), and it was made illegal for white people to marry people of color. [50] Slaveholders were given permission to punish enslaved people and would not be prosecuted if the slave died as a result. The law specified punishment, including whipping and death, for minor offenses and for criminal acts. Slaves needed written permission, known as passes, to leave their plantation.

Servants, differentiated from slaves, had rights to safety, the receipt of food and goods at the end of their term of service, and to resolve legal issues first with a justice of the peace, then in court, if needed. [50] Virginia had a longer list of offenses that a black person could commit than any other southern colony. Blacks did not benefit from legal procedures that would allow them to properly plead their case and prove their innocence, nor did they have the right to appeal decisions. [51]

Plantations and farms Edit

Virginia planters developed the commodity crop of tobacco as their chief export. It was a labor-intensive crop, and demand for it in England and Europe led to an increase in the importation of African slaves in the colony. [52] European servants were replaced by enslaved blacks during the seventeenth century, as they were a more profitable source of labor. Slavery was supported through legal and cultural changes. Virginia is where the first enslaved blacks were imported to English colonies in North America, and slavery spread from there to the other colonies. [53] Large plantations became more prevalent, changing the culture of colonial Virginia that relied on them for its economic prosperity. The plantation "served as an institution in itself, characterized by social and political inequality, racial conflict, and domination by the planter class." [10]

Tobacco farming in eastern Virginia so depleted the fertility of its soil that by 1800, farmers began to look to the west for good land to raise crops. John Randolph said in 1830 that the land was “worn out.” Corn and wheat were grown in the Piedmont plateau and the Shenandoah Valley. The number of slaves in the Shenandoah Valley were never as high as in eastern Virginia. The area was settled by German and Scotch-Irish people, who had little need for or interest in slavery, and the absence of competition with unpaid slave labor prevented the development of class divisions like those in the east. [54] [55] In western Virginia, the economy was based upon raising livestock and farming. It was not economical to use slave labor except for the few tobacco farms, coal mines, or the salt industry. The coal and salt industry leased enslaved people who were hired out, [56] mostly from eastern Virginia, because their risk of death was high enough that purchasing enslaved people was not cost effective. Poor white people also worked in these industries. The slaves that were no longer needed or marketable within Virginia were hired out or sold to work in the cotton fields of the Deep South. [55] [57] Nevertheless, the slave population decreased in the counties now encompassing West Virginia in the years from 1790 to 1860, [58] by which year 3% of western Virginia's population (18,451) were slaves, while slaves in eastern Virginia were 30% of the population (490,308). [59] [j] [k] With a shortage of white labor, blacks had become deeply involved in urban trades and businesses. In this setting, slaves were able to buy their way out of slavery. [61]

Eastern Virginian's interests were very different from those of western Virginia. The state of West Virginia was formed in 1861 from the western counties of Virginia, [38] and it achieved federal statehood in 1863. [62] West Virginia chose not to join the Confederacy and was a free state during the American Civil War. [38]

Culture Edit

African Americans developed cultural traditions that helped them cope with being enslaved, supported family members and friends, and promoted their human dignity. Music, folklore, cuisine, and religious practices by blacks influenced the broader American culture. [38] Africans contributed to American culture, including American language, music, dance, and cuisine. [63] The first Africans carried from Angola may have brought some Christian practices that they learned from the Portuguese Catholic missionaries and Jesuit priests in Africa. [64]

Enslaved African Americans fostered racial pride, groomed their children, and taught life lessons by the telling of stories from African folklore, as well as African parables and proverbs. The animal characters in these stories represent human traits—for example, tortoises represent tricksters, while other animal figures employ guile and intelligence to get the better of powerful enemies. [38]

Religion and music Edit

White people built and held religious services in church buildings where free blacks and enslaved people may also have been allowed to worship, albeit in segregated spaces, until they were able to establish their own churches. [65]

Some enslaved persons were able to attend church and others met secretly in the woods to worship. Either way, religious practices—such as music, call-and-response forms of worship, and funeral customs—helped blacks preserve their African traditions and manage "the dehumanizing effects of slavery and segregation". [38]

Methodist and Baptist ministers preached sermons on redemption and hope to enslaved blacks, who introduced shouts and the singing of sorrow songs to religious ceremonies, creating their own religious music that incorporated complex rhythms, foot-tapping, and off-key vocalizations with European practices. They sang communal songs called spirituals about deliverance, salvation, and resistance [38]

Music was an important part of the social fabric of African American communities. Work songs and field hollers were used on plantations to coordinate group tasks in the fields, while the singing of satirical songs was a form of resisting the injustices of slavery. [38]

Food Edit

Enslaved people's diet was determined by what food was given to them, the mainstays being corn and pork. [38] [66] At hog butchering time, the best cuts of meat were kept for the master's household and the remainder, such as fatback, snouts, ears, neck bones, feet, and intestines (chitterlings) were given to the slaves. Cornbread was commonly eaten by enslaved people, and there were many other ways that corn was prepared, such as porridge, hominy, grits, corn cakes, waffles, and corn dodgers. [67] Enslaved adults were typically given a peck (9 liters) of cornmeal and 3-4 pounds (1.5–2 kilos) of pork per week, and from those rations come soul food staples such as cornbread, fried catfish, chitterlings, and neckbones. [68]

Enslaved Africans augmented their rations with cooked greens (collards, beets, dandelion, kale, and purslane) and sweet potatoes. [69] Excavations of slave quarters found that their diet included squirrel, duck, rabbit, opossum, fish, berries and nuts. [66] [67] Vegetables and grain included okra, turnips, beans, rice, and peas. [66] [70]

Similarly to the ways in which early Virginians shared knowledge and traditions of their heritage with one another, [8] enslaved people prepared meals based upon European, indigenous, and African cuisines, devising their own cookery from the limited rations given to them by their masters. They prepared gumbo, fricassee, fried foods, [38] and soups made from scraps of meat and vegetables [66] thus originating what is now called soul food [68] these foods were cooked in their fireplaces. [66]

According to Booker T. Washington, who grew up on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, scraps werre often the only food available to enslaved persons. If there was nothing for breakfast, he ate boiled Indian corn that was prepared for the pigs. If he did not get to it before the pigs were fed, he picked up pieces around the pig troughs. [66] He remembers as a young boy being awakened to eat a chicken acquired by his mother, likely taken from the plantation, and cooked in the middle of the night. [66]

How or where she got it I do not know. I presume, however, it was procured from our owner’s farm. Some people may call this theft. But taking place at the time it did, and for the reason it did, no one could ever make me believe that my mother was guilty of thieving. She was simply a victim of the system of slavery.

Clothing Edit

The clothing that enslaved people in Virginia wore varied depended upon when they lived, what positions they had, and the practices of their enslavers. They could not retain their choice of clothing from Africa, except that some women wore traditional West African cloth head wraps. [71] In the eighteenth century, if they worked in the fields, they likely wore uncomfortable, simple European-style clothing. It was certainly made of inexpensive and inferior fabric, like Negro cloth and osnaburg made from hemp and flax. Some people found the clothing so uncomfortable that they tried to take it off when able. [71]

More durable and comfortable fabric, like jean cloth, was used in the nineteenth century. With the increased cotton production, ready-made clothing of blended fabrics was common. If someone worked in the house or held a liveried position, they had higher quality clothing or uniforms. Girls wore simple gowns and then adult dresses beginning in puberty. Boys clothing varied as they aged. They wore simple gowns, short pants, and then long pants. They were given shoes and sometimes hats. Clothing was generally handed out twice a year. Personal touches could be applied in the making of vegetable-dyed fabrics, sewn-on glass beads or cowrie shells, or hand-fashioned necklaces. Some people planning to run away acquired better clothing, so that they would be less conspicuous—they stole clothing or purchased it, if they were able to make money. [71]

Transatlantic slave trade Edit

The Atlantic slave trade started in the sixteenth century when Portuguese and Spanish ships transported enslaved people to South America, and then to the West Indies. Virginia became part of the Atlantic slave trade when the first Africans were brought to the colony in 1619. [72] The slaves were sold for tobacco and hemp that was sent to Europe. [72] In 1724, one London merchant, Richard Merriweather, estimated that between 1500 and 1600 slaves were imported to Virginia each year by Bristol and London merchants. [73]

The United States Congress enacted an Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves that was effective as of 1808. This increased the domestic slave trade business. [38]

Domestic slave trade and breeding Edit

Virginia's domestic slave trade grew substantially in the early nineteenth century. It became the state's most lucrative industry, with more money being made by the exporting of enslaved people than was made from tobacco. [38] There were over 300,000 more female slaves than male slaves, because the women were used for breeding. White men fornicated with enslaved women as they wished, but consequently they also obtained large, strong male slaves to breed field workers, giving them an incentive to provide health care that would ensure women's fertility and successful childbirth. Robert Lumpkin operated his slave jail, where enslaved blacks suffered greatly under his brutal management, near the slave market of Richmond, which city was the largest American slave-trading center after New Orleans, [74] and ranked first in slave breeding. [75]

Enslaved women and girls were raped by their enslavers and enslaved men to reproduce and birth more slaves for the slave market and more slaves for slaveholders. ". there is evidence that some enslaved men were coerced into sexual relations with enslaved women by slave owners leading to rape, or that bondmen sexually abused black girls and women over whom they exercised authority." "Similarly, in antebellum Virginia, the owner of enslaved teenager Louisa forced her to lay with Sam, an enslaved man, but their voyeuristic owner appeared more interested in watching them engage in sex at his bidding than in increasing his human property." [76] [77] [78]

Richmond was the largest slave trade center in the Upper South. Two million enslaved people are believed to have been transported or walked to the Deep South from Richmond. They were needed for the cotton fields. [38]

Sale Edit

Richmond was a hub and the largest seller of enslaved people in Virginia. [79] [11] When enslaved people were sold, it meant that communities and families were subject to being dispersed to different places. [79] It was common for people to be separated from their spouses and children, perhaps for the rest of their lives. [79] People were taken from the plantation and put into jails or slave pens of slave traders. They might be held there for weeks and were subject to intrusive physical inspections. When they were auctioned, they could be sold again to another trader or ultimately sold to work on plantations in the Lower South. [79]

The sale prices for enslaved people varied based upon age, gender, and the time period. Women were valued at eighty or ninety per cent of the prices men would bring. Children were valued at about half the value of a "prime male field hand". In the late 1830s, the high rate for an enslaved person was $1,250, due to a boom in the cotton industry. In the 1840s, the value dipped substantially, and recovered in the late 1850s, when the highest value for an enslaved person reached about $1,450. [38]

Alexandria was a center of the slave trade, and was situated on land ceded by Virginia to the US federal government to create the federal district. That land was returned to Virginia with the District of Columbia retrocession. Once again a part of Virginia, Alexandria's slave trading business was secure. One of the main reasons that the retrocession occurred was that the end of slavery in the District of Columbia was a primary goal of abolitionists, a goal staunchly opposed by slave owners and slave traders, who endeavored to protect their business interests and therefore desired Alexandria to be in slave-holding territory. [80]

Slaveholders had ongoing concerns that bondspeople might run away or revolt against them, and employed a number of controls. One tactic was to prevent African Americans from learning how to read and write. They limited opportunities for groups of people to meet and prevented them from leaving the plantation. Slaves who attempted to escape their bondage and were caught were punished publicly punishments included execution and physical disfigurement. White Virginians who helped black people violate the codes were also punished. Other control tactics were incentives, religion, the legal system, and intimidation. [38]

There were various forms of resistance, but the most effective means was having their own culture, expressed through religion, music, folklore, and music. Others included working at a slow pace, stealing food, or breaking the slaveholder's property. Even though the risks were well-known, some people still tried to escape when they could. [38]

During the nineteenth century, there were three major attempted slave revolts in Virginia: Gabriel's Rebellion in 1800, Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831, and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, organized by a white man. After the Nat Turner's rebellion, thousands of Virginians sent the legislature over 40 petitions calling for an end to slavery, and Richmond's newspapers argued fiercely for abolition. [81] [82] According to historian Eva Sheppard Wolf, "The response of white Virginians continued well beyond their initial fit of violence and included the most public, focused, and sustained discussion of slavery and emancipation that occurred in the commonwealth or any other southern state." [83]

Thomas Jefferson's grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, [84] led the losing faction in Congress. Their proposed bill would have freed all children born of slave parents after July 4, 1840. [85] Thomas R. Dew opposed it his book, Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature, [86] was influential in its defeat. [87]

Buying One's Freedom, Emancipation of Enslaved African Americans, African American Identity [88]

There were many enslaved people who attained freedom prior to the American Civil War. Some were freed, or voluntarily emancipated by their slaveholder through manumission. Regulation of manumission began in 1692, when Virginia established that to manumit a slave, a person must pay the cost for them to be transported out of the colony. A 1723 law stated that slaves may not "be set free upon any pretence whatsoever, except for some meritorious services to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council". [89] [90] The new government of Virginia repealed the laws in 1782 and declared freedom for slaves who had fought for the colonies during the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783. The 1782 laws also permitted masters to free their slaves of their own accord previously, a manumission had required obtaining consent from the state legislature, which was arduous and rarely granted. [91] Rarely after 1800, some people were able to purchase their own freedom. [92] As the abolition movement grew in popularity, more people were freed. [92]

Many of the free blacks were highly skilled. Some were tailors, hair stylists, musicians, cooks, and artisans. Others were educators, writers, business people, planters, and cooks. [92] Notable freed persons include Absalom Jones, abolitionist and clergyman Richard Allen, minister, educator, and writer Sarah Allen, abolitionist, missionary, and wife of Richard Allen Frederick Douglass, orator, writer, and statesman and Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and political activist. Thomas L. Jennings invented a dry-cleaning method for clothes, while Henry Blair was a scientist who patented a seed planter. [92]

Free blacks were on average older than the general population of slaves. This was partly because slaveholders were likely to free blacks once they developed disabilities or other health issues that come with age. If they were going to buy their freedom, enslaved people had to build up savings to make up the asking price. Children of white enslavers were more likely to be treated favorably and obtain their freedom. Fair-skilled free blacks of mixed race were a large portion of the freed slaves. [93]

Indentured servitude Edit

Indentured servitude was a contractual arrangement between English persons and their masters that specified the number of years to be worked in exchange for their passage to Virginia and their upkeep. One of the restrictions of their contracts was that they could not marry while in service. The first servants who came to Virginia received a percentage of the profits of the Virginia Company of London. After ten years, in an attempt to attract more workers, English indentured servants were to receive land upon the completion of their contract. Servants and their masters could take one another to court if the terms of the contract were not being met or to address wrongs, such as physical abuse of the servant. [94] [95]

From the start, Africans were not treated the same as English indentured servants. [94] White indentured servants were recorded in early muster (census) records with their date of arrival, surnames, and marital status. Blacks were listed by only their first names, if their names were listed at all. [96] Records survive in Virginia of seven cases brought by Africans or African Americans asserting that they had served finite terms of servitude and had earned freedom, as if indentured, but their masters claimed they were bound to service for life. Six of these suits failed, indicating that the Virginia courts regarded Africans and African Americans as enslaved for life rather than bound to specific terms of indenture. [97]

One of the first Africans to come to Virginia and subsequently be freed was Anthony Johnson, who then held a contract with John Casor as an indentured servant. Casor fulfilled their agreed-upon arrangement, and worked another seven years. They went to court, and the judge determined that Casor was to be his slave for the rest of his lifetime. [98] [99] [l] Philip Cowen had worked the agreed upon number of years as a servant and expected to be freed. Like other blacks, he was forced to sign a document that extended his service. Charles Lucas "with threats and a high hand and by confederacy with some other persons" forced him to sign an indenture document. He filed a lawsuit with the court in 1675 and after winning the case was given a new suit of clothes and three barrels of corn, as he had been promised while in service. [102] [103]

In an unusual court case, John Graweere, an indentured servant, filed a petition to purchase his son. The boy was born to an enslaved woman. Graweere wanted to raise him as a Christian. The court ruled in 1641 in his favor and he was able to free his son. [104] [105]

Run away Edit

Another way to attain one's freedom was to run away, which made that person a fugitive slave. [106] Both indentured servants and enslaved people ran away for several reasons. They may have been in search of family members that they were separated from, or fleeing abusive masters and hard labor. [107]

Slaves from Virginia escaped via waterways and overland to free states in the North, some being aided by people who lived along the Underground Railroad, which was maintained by both whites and blacks. [106] Although there were a number of measures to control enslaved people, there were still many that ran away. In doing so, they had to cross wide rivers or Chesapeake Bay, which was subject to storms that made the passage more difficult. People often headed for Maryland and places further north such as New York and New England, and may have run into hostile Native Americans along the way. [107]

In 1849, slave Henry "Box" Brown escaped from slavery in Virginia when he arranged to be shipped by express mail in a crate to Philadelphia, [106] arriving in little more than 24 hours. [108]

There were at least 4,260 notices of runaway slaves published in Virginia from 1736 to 1803. [109] Those persons who helped apprehend runaways were given the stipulated cash award advertisements were also often placed in newspapers when the fugitives were captured. [110] If slaves ran away a number of times and were returned to the slaveholders, they might be branded, shackled, or have their hair cut in an identifiable way. [107]

Sometimes, black and whites ran away together, with far different repercussions. In 1643, the Virginia General Assembly passed laws about runaway servants and slaves. [107] In 1660, the Assembly stated that "in case any English servant shall run away in company with any Negroes who are incapable of making satisfaction by addition of time…[he] shall serve for the time of the said Negroes absence." [111] An act concerning Servants and Slaves of 1705 allowed for severe punishment of slaves, to the point of killing them. There were no consequences for excessive punishment or for killing slaves after this law was passed. [107]

Self-purchase or family members's purchase of freedom Edit

Another path to freedom was to purchase it by saving their wages. In 1839, over forty percent of the free blacks in Cincinnati, Ohio had paid for their freedom. Moses Grandy, born in North Carolina but worked in Virginia, purchased his freedom twice. [112] If a former slave wanted to purchase the freedom of their wife and children, the process would take years. They had to convince the slaveholder to allow family members to be purchased. If they agreed, a price was set. The arrangement was often broken if the slaveholder died before the wife or children were freed. [113]

Mary Hemings, an enslaved woman from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation, and two of her children, were purchased by her common-law husband, Thomas Bell. She was unable to purchase her two oldest children, Betsy Hemmings and Joseph Fossett, who was later freed in accordance with Thomas Jefferson's will. His wife Edith Hern Fossett and her children were not freed. [114] Joseph and his brother-in-law Jesse Scott purchased the freedom of Edith and their children. [115] Also from Monticello, Israel Jefferson purchased his freedom with his wife's assistance. Peter Hemmings was purchased by a family member and then was freed. Mary Colbert's freedom was obtained by family members. [116]

Freedom suit Edit

In 1658, Elizabeth Key was the first woman of African descent to bring a freedom suit in the Virginia colony. She sought recognition as a free woman of color, rather than being classified as a Negro (African) and slave. Her natural father was an Englishman (and member of the House of Burgesses). He acknowledged her, had her baptized as a Christian in the Church of England, and arranged for her guardianship under an indenture before his death. [45] Before her guardian returned to England, he sold Key's indenture to another man, who held Key beyond its term. When he died, the estate classified Key and her child (also the natural son of an English subject) as Negro slaves. Key sued for her freedom and that of her infant son, based on their English ancestry, her Christian status, and the record of indenture. She won her case. [45]

Manumission Edit

Some enslaved people were manumitted by their enslavers. [113] In some cases, people were freed because they were held in good esteem by their enslavers, sometimes it was because the enslaved were no longer useful. In other cases, mixed-race children of white slaveholders were freed. [92]

White residents of Virginia found freed blacks to be a "great inconvenience" and were suspicious of their ability to influence enslaved people and accused them of crimes. So laws were passed to make it more inconvenient for the blacks and their enslavers. [113] In 1691, a law was passed that required freedmen to leave the colony and required former slaveholders to pay for their transportation. In 1723, a law was passed that made it harder to free slaves: [113]

No negro, mullatto, or Indian slaves, shall be set free, upon any pretence whatsoever, except for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council, for the time being, and a licence thereupon first had and obtained. [113]

For those who were freed, they could be sold back into slavery if enough people complained about them. Initially, "meritorious service" meant that authorities would be alerted if there were plans of rebellion. Later, it was construed to mean that faithfulness or exemplary character. [113]

In the first two decades after the American Revolutionary War, inspired by the Revolution and evangelical preachers, numerous slaveholders in the Chesapeake region manumitted some or all of their slaves, during their lifetimes or by will. [117] In 1782, it was made easier to manumit enslaved blacks, but if they were more than 45 years of age, the former slaveholder may have been responsible for providing them an income if they were unable to work. In 1806, freed slaves were to leave the state after six months of freedom. [113]

From 1,800 persons in 1782, the total population of free blacks in Virginia increased to 12,766 (4.3 percent of blacks) in 1790, and to 30,570 in 1810. The percentage change was from free blacks comprising less than one percent of the total black population in Virginia, to 7.2 percent by 1810, even as the overall population increased. [117] One planter, Robert Carter III, freed more than 450 slaves in his lifetime, more than any other planter. George Washington freed all of his slaves at his death. [118]

Immigrants Edit

Free blacks came to the Southern states after the 1791 Haitian slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, in which enslaved blacks fought the French. Some of the free blacks brought their slaves with them, and many more slaves and free people of color arrived in Louisiana after the United States purchased Louisiana, [119] and joined the generally mixed-race issue of black slaves and French and Spanish colonists. [93]

Life after attaining freedom Edit

Settlement Edit

Most free people of color lived in the American South, but there were freed people who lived throughout the United States. According to the US census of 1860, 250,787 of them lived in the South [120] and 225,961 lived in other parts of the country. In 1860, the free blacks were 100% of the population of blacks in the north. [93] Large populations of free blacks lived in Philadelphia, Virginia, and Maryland. [92]

In the south, free blacks only made up about six percent of blacks there. Generally, women were more likely to stay in Virginia and men were more likely to head north. [93] [121] Of those who stayed, they generally moved to cities, where work was easier to find. [93] Many freed people and runaways lived in the Great Dismal Swamp maroons of Virginia. [122] Those who lived in western Virginia became West Virginians in 1863. Even throughout the American Civil War, black Virginians were more likely to stay in the state. [93]

Education Edit

African Americans established schools, including secondary schools, for freed people in Virginia soon after the start of the American Civil War (1861–1865). [123] The schools were taught by white and black teachers, the latter of whom taught longer than whites throughout Reconstruction. [123]

The federal government provided supplies to build schools through the Freedmen's Bureau and transported teachers to Virginia. American Missionary Association and other aid societies sent teachers, as well as books and supplies. [123] Evidence "suggests that black education in Virginia, as elsewhere in the South, was a product of the freed people's own initiative and determination, temporarily supported by northern benevolence and federal aid." [123]

Religion Edit

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, which grew out of the white church, was founded by free blacks in Philadelphia. It was central to communities of free African Americans, and branched out to Charleston, South Carolina and other areas in the South, although there were laws that prevented blacks from preaching. The church was treated brutally by whites and members were arrested en masse. [92]

Inequities Edit

Freedom had its challenges. There were laws, particularly in the Upper South, that created obstacles for free blacks. Lawmakers sought to keep an eye on free blacks, by registering them, deporting them, or putting them in jail. They made it harder for black to testify in court and to vote. Ira Berlin states, that "even the lowest whites [could] threaten free Negroes … with ‘a good nigger beating.'" [93]

Anthony Johnson was an African who was freed soon after 1635 he settled on land on the Eastern Shore following the end of indenture, later buying African indentured servants as laborers. [124] Although Anthony Johnson was a free man, on his death in 1670, his plantation was given to a white colonist, not to Johnson's children. A judge had ruled that he was "not a citizen of the colony" because he was black. [99] [m]

The Revolutionary war of 1776 and the Constitution of 1787, left open the issues of whether aristocrats or other groups of people should reign over others. Americans were proud to say that America was "the land of liberty, a beacon of freedom to the oppressed of other lands" in the early 1800s. However, the United States had become the largest slaveholding country in the world by around the 1850s. [126] Yet, from 1789 to 1861, slaveholders made up 66% of the presidents, nearly 60% of Supreme Court justices, and 66% of the Speakers of the House of the Senate. There was growing tension between the southern plantation society based upon slave labor and "diversified, industrializing, free-labor capitalist society" in the north. [126] Richmond, Virginia was the site of the Confederate capital. [5]

In June 1861, enslaved people traveled with their families to Union camps, including Fort Monroe, where they thought that they would be free. They ended up, however, working very hard in difficult, unsanitary conditions. They didn't have an enslaver to deal with, but they were treated similarly by the military.

During the war, 200,000 African Americans (United States Colored Troops) fought for the Union army and a growing number of white soldiers began to see the need to end slavery and to be a united country. One soldier stated, after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, that "the contest is now between Slavery & freedom, & every honest man knows that he is fighting for". [126]

During the Civil War, food was in short supply. The slaves' diet remained much as before, but plantation owners had a harder time. They could no longer obtain fancy foods and food was scarce. [66]

Thousands of enslaved people went to Harpers Ferry, a garrison town behind Union lines so as to be protected these individuals were called contrabands. [127] [128] The protection was only as secure as the Union lines when the Confederates retook Harpers Ferry in 1862, hundreds of contrabands were captured. [128]

During the war, free blacks worked as cooks, teamsters, and laborers. They also worked as spies and scouts for the United States military. [128]

The first concrete, successful step towards ending slavery in Virginia was President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863. [126] However, it only applied to those areas controlled by the Union Army Charlottesville commemorated the arrival of Union troops on March 3, 1865, bringing with them freedom for everyone enslaved, with its new Liberation and Freedom Day holiday. [129] The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, effective December 18, 1865, made slavery illegal everywhere in the country. [130]

Education about the history of slavery tends to blur the truth of horrors that enslaved people experienced, including sexual violence, being separated from family members, as well as the physical and psychological cruelty they experienced. Schoolbooks tend to skim the surface of slavery. [131] Historians, civil rights advocates, and educators recommend changing the way that slavery is taught in schools and acknowledging how misconceptions, soft-pedaling, and denial impacts the lives of Africans into the 21st century, including fewer opportunities, the greater likelihood of African Americans to be put in prisons, and becoming victims of hate crimes. [131]

In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of "profound regret" and acknowledgement of the "egregious wrongs" committed against African Americans. Part of the statement is: [11]

The General Assembly hereby expresses its profound regret for the Commonwealth's role in sanctioning the immoral institution of human slavery, in the historic wrongs visited upon native peoples, and in all other forms of discrimination and injustice that have been rooted in racial and cultural bias and misunderstanding.

The statement was made in May 2007 to coincide with the 400 year anniversary of the first Virginian settlers arriving at Jamestown. [79]

The place where the First Africans landed is now the site of Fort Monroe. In 2011, President Barack Obama read a proclamation: "The first enslaved Africans in England's colonies in America were brought to this peninsula on a ship flying the Dutch flag in 1619, beginning a long ignoble period of slavery in the colonies and, later, this Nation." The fort was made a National monument. [132] [133]

Forced Marriage: An under recognized, poorly understood form of enslavement

Editors Note: There are two parts to this post. Part 1 is Karlee Sapoznik’s piece on Forced Marriage. Part 2 is a summary of the launch and upcoming events for one of our partners, the Alliance Against Modern Slavery.

When we think of slavery, the institution of marriage rarely comes to mind. However, the denial of basic human rights and the enslavement of women and girls continue on a widespread scale, often centering on marriage.

Since the post World War II era, forced marriage has been prohibited under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), forbidden in dozens of international treaties recognizing the right to free and full consent in marriage, and specific forms of forced marriage have been defined as “slavery.”

On January 10, 1963, Canada joined a number of countries in ratifying the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Article I of the Supplementary Convention (1956) to the Slavery Convention (1926) prohibits any institution or practice whereby

(i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise or (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person.

In February 2008, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found that the systematic, widespread forced impregnation, torture, rape, abduction, mutilation, forced labour and sexual slavery experienced by women and girls as “bush wives” during the conflict in Sierra Leone constituted a new crime against humanity: that of “forced marriage.”

Following this finding, this past February 24-26, 2011, York University Law & Society Professor Annie Bunting, The Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, Women’s Forum, and The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples hosted an unprecedented international conference in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Historians of slavery, women’s human rights scholars, activists, survivors, legal scholars and local NGO representatives from Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo met in the Special Court for Sierra Leone to better understand and delineate forced marriage, sexual slavery and enslavement in conflict situations.

Special Court for Sierra Leone, photo taken by Karlee Sapoznik, February 24, 2011.

Groundbreaking research is also being conducted on forced marriage in non-conflict situations. Further, historians of slavery are now recognizing the extent to which slavery was rape, involving violent non-consensual conjugal arrangements. Data from the 35,000 slave voyages documented in the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database and from other sources reveals that African women – more than any other group – peopled the Americas based on violence and non-consensual sexual relations.

The 37-volume manuscript diary of Thomas Thistlewood (1721–1786) detailing his sexual conquests of slave women by location, time, name, date, age, African origins and frequency is well known. Douglas Hall’s In Miserable Slavery (1989) includes extensive excerpts from the Jamaican planter’s diary kept from 1750 to 1786. Based on the latter, Trevor Burnard has estimated that Thistlewood had sex 3,852 times with 138 slave women in thirty-seven years, including dozens of entries with one slave woman in particular named Phibbah whose son Jon was raised as his heir. Between 1751 and 1754 alone, Thistlewood recorded 265 “encounters” with over 45 slaves. He also documented the rape of female slaves by other white men.

Video Excerpt from Thomas Thistlewood’s Diary

Since the early 1990s, forced and servile marriages have increasingly come to the attention of numerous states. Canada is no exception. Every year, dozens of Canadian women and girls, and occasionally men and boys, are forced into marriages.

A 2005 report entitled “Who’s in charge here?: effective implementation of Canada’s international obligations with respect to the rights of children” by Canada’s Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights found that Canada has fallen behind other countries in meeting its international obligations, especially those with direct impact on children’s rights, including an action plan to combat forced and servile marriages.

While in some nations, governments have taken the leading role, implementing legislation focused on curtailing these practices, others, like Canada, have relied on nongovernmental organizations, especially women’s groups and legal aid organizations. Scholarly research in Canada is in its first generation, and in many ways an exercise in documenting cases involving longstanding as well as diasporic communities.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 8, 2011 is International Women’s Day. It is appropriate that Canadian documentary filmmaker Azra Rashid has chosen this date to screen and raise funds for her documentary Unveiling the Abuse. All are welcome to attend the event from 7:00pm-9:00pm at The Centre for Women at the University of Toronto, 563 Spadina Ave, Room 100, North Borden Building, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2J7.

Unveiling the Abuse is about Canadian women who are being forced into marriages by their families under the guise of the age-old tradition of “arranged” marriage. The documentary also looks at whether Canada’s multicultural policies render women vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their family in the name of culture and tradition.


On January 28-29, 2011, Active History participated in the launch of the Alliance Against Modern Slavery, which brought together international experts, government officials, law enforcement personnel, survivors of slavery and more to York University’s campus for a freedom concert and conference.

Approximately 150 people attended the Party for Freedom Concert in York’s beautiful Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre. Highlights included Roger F. Cram’s inspiring keynote, a documentary on Slavery Past and Present, greetings by Judith Dueck on behalf of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Testimony from Glendene Grant – mother of missing human trafficking victim Jessie Foster, and performances by Samba Elegua Drummers, Kate Todd, Jeff Gunn and Janelle Belgrave of Peace Concept. Those in attendance also enjoyed fair trade chocolate, coffee and cookies from ChocoSol.

An estimated 270 people attended the Slavery in the 21st Century Conference from 9am to 5:30pm in York University’s Founders Assembly Hall. The seats were full to capacity, and those in attendance heard presentations by NGOs, activists, law enforcement and government officials doing work to end modern-day slavery in local and global communities.

Following this successful launch, AAMS is working on creating a list serv to help increase communication and organization among NGOs, survivors of modern slavery, politicians, law enforcement officials, activists, educators, academics and the general public.

AAMS is pleased to be participating in a number of upcoming events, including the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series, co-hosted with

Other upcoming events include:

  • March 8 – Loose Change to Loosen Chains Awareness Event, Vari Hall, York University, 10am-4pm
  • March 8 – Film Screening and Fundraiser: The documentary screening of Unveiling the Abuse and a fundraiser with director Azra Rashid and forced marriage survivor Sandeep Chand will take place on International Women’s Day, Tuesday, March 8th from 7-9pm at: The Centre for Women @ The University of Toronto, 563 Spadina Ave, Room 100.
  • March 9 – AAMS President / Co-founder Karlee Sapoznik will be speaking at Tapestry New Opera’s workshop presentation of “The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G.”

Tickets are now on sale for the first public showcase of “The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G” workshop presentations of Act I in advance of its world premiere in a future season. Sung by a cast of 16 in multiple roles in Ukranian, Russian and English, Oksana G. is written by Governor General’s Award-winning playwright and filmmaker Colleen Murphy and SOCAN Young Composer-award winning composer Aaron Gervais. For more information, please visit

The launch concert and conference organized by AAMS both received a considerable amount of media attention, including stories in the following online local, provincial and national publications:

Watch the video: Χορός της νύφης. Γάμος Βασίλη Κολλάρου και Κωννας Ρουμελιώτη. 13-7-2019 (December 2021).