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African Life in America

African Life in America

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African Life in America

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  1. African Life in America • Slave labor & commercialized agriculture created distinctive social structure • Pyramid • broad base was composed of slaves • ascending face comprised freeholders • apex was crowned by a small planter elite. • Rhetorically at leased white southerners constituted a unified communion • During 18th C small elite increasingly monopolized wealth and power.

  2. White society developed a protective shield of symbols and institutions • The great house • The courthouse • The church • Created apparent unity of the white community and thereby helped to secure its well-being

  3. The plantation of the average wealthy tidewater planter consisted of some three thousand acres of land that generally were broken up into small tracts called a quarters.

  4. As part of the deterrent process the southern colonies also created elaborate surveillance systems. • Separate judicial process for slaves created in reaction to the growing assertiveness of the South’s swelling slave populations

  5. Late colonial period saw steady increase in convictions and sentences of execution.

  6. Church, courthouse and plantation house provided overlapping networks of relationships control • These institutions both: • reinforced patterns of white domination and control. • made it possible for slaves to begin to develop their own Separate culture in the quarters. • i.e. • A black cultural world was developing within the contours of the institution of slavery.

  7. African American Slave Culture

  8. Stuff • Trip to Ghana • ”Africa's Calling: Culture in Ghana” (IS 370) under core-curriculum for humanities credit (three credits) Prof. Barry Bilderbeck bbilder@uidaho.edu • VA Historical Archaeology • Historic Jamestowne • Jefferson’s Montecello • Jefferson’s Poplar Forest • Websites

  9. Constant surveillance caused much African heritage to be lost • But not all • Covert ceremonies and actions continued • Passed down from through the generations

  10. group and culture-building process began in slavery • African-American slaves were, as one scholar has put it, • "functionally members of the same caste” • Social survival involved more than adaptation to the dominant plural pattern

  11. Management styles mattered • Low-country rice slaves • little contact with whites prior to the Revolution • Black majority of rice coast counties developed a culture strongly influenced by African cultural patterns.

  12. Example 1 • Building materials similar to those found in Africa • leaves of the palmetto tree • used in the construction of slave huts in the low country. • steeply pitched roofs and the circular form that dispersed the suns rays evenly to keep buildings cool • All had their antecedents in coastal areas of West Africa.

  13. Example 2 • In parts of Africa a special language was created that was distinct from that spoken by the master class • Low-country slaves created their own form of communication. • Known as • Gullah in South Carolina • Geechee in the Georgia Sea Islands • Resulted from a fission of African and English words

  14. Example 3 • Entertainment leads to cultural formation and expression • Culture (music, tales, language, magic, religion)

  15. ‘The Old Plantation’ Anon

  16. ‘Preparations for the enjoyment of a fine Sunday’

  17. Family life • The traditional African domestic organization was severely disrupted by conditions under slavery • But because of • the growth of the size of quarters after 1740 • the increase in the proportion of slaves in the populations • the decrease in the adult sex ratio • Slaves were in a position to begin re-forming families by the mid eighteenth century

  18. Eve of Revolution variety of different kinds of households had emerged. • Slave marriages complex • Slave marriages differed from African prototypes • But shared more similarity with them than with the Euro-American family type

  19. “Negroes marry after their own way.” • John Brickell, • In he 1731 described a common ceremony in North Carolina: • Their Marriages are generally performed amongst themselves . . . very little ceremony . . . the Man makes the Woman a Present such as a Brass Ring or some other Toy, which if she accepts of becomes his Wife

  20. Mother-headed households and polygyny functionally useful under conditions of slavery • Both survived until the end of slavery • Naming of children for parents, siblings, and blood relatives • Suggests strength of family and kinship ties • Slave practice of passing on economic skills, often the slaves' most valuable possession to sons and daughters.

  21. Work • Most slaves involved in field work, • Tobacco (Virginia), • Rice and Indigo (South Carolina), • After invention of cotton gin (1793) cotton becomes most important slave-grown crop

  22. Work began before dawn and ended after dusk • Initially multiple tasks for every slave • “Ploughing, planting, picking cotton, gathering corn, and pulling and burning stalks, occupies the whole four seasons of the year. Drawing and cutting wood, pressing cotton, fattening and killing hogs, are but incidental labours” Solomon Northup – former slave

  23. Growth of skills among slaves • Some slaves moved either indoors and became house slaves • Also moved into specialized work such as blacksmiths and carpentry • Industrial type work, especially in ports

  24. Domestic Slavery

  25. Free Time • Notion of free time • Informal economic activity, pros and cons

  26. Religion • Equal, if not more, important than family for the maintenance and reconstruction of culture was religion

  27. Religious community of necessity paid obeisance to white Christian beliefs and practices • But black Christians proceeded both consciously and unconsciously to reinstate certain traditional values and beliefs • African-American Christianity retained an immutable individual essence.

  28. Three elements crucial in the creation of a common religious culture: • 1) the particular complex of values that were common to traditional religion • 2) the relative isolation of black communities from competing values • 3) committed efforts of the handful of white planters and missionaries who brought the faith to blacks' together with the work of a larger number of black converts who were the principal carriers of the faith.

  29. What emerged in the end was a religious system that stood alongside the white system rather than within lt. • Protestant Christianity forms a critical chapter in the history of the emerging black community and indeed in the history of slavery.

  30. Punishment • Master has right of life or death • Important to control large numbers of slaves - deterrent • Ingenuity of methods, need to keep slaves docile and working while punished • Threat of sale, rape, violence.

  31. Resistance • Violent rebellions rare • New York 1712 & 1741 • South Carolina 1739 • 1800 Virginia • Personal resistance vs masters and overseers more common - could be violent or passive • Effectiveness of running away (groups most likely to flee,outcomes)

  32. Virginia Gazette June 21, 1770

  33. After the Seven Years War

  34. Radicalism of the American Revolution Internal Change

  35. John Adams • “What do we mean by the revolution? • The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775”

  36. For Wood the problem of American politics was not • Imperial • Constitutional • But social • By looking at the “transformations in the relationship that bound people together” • We see the true radical nature of the revolution

  37. Example: Rhode Island • The location with the weakest level of royal control in the Americas • Yet it was also one of the most faction-ridden locations in the Americas • A location where, as in the rest of the colonies, the social structure of colonial society was beginning to buckle

  38. Sites of weakness

  39. Land ownership In the 1760s ¾ of all farmland in England was owned by gentry and noble landlords 400 families owned one fifth of all land in England Out of a population of 7-8 million

  40. In contrast most American farmers by now owned their own land One aspect of American society which challenged the hierarchical structure of dependency and paternalism

  41. Georgia plantation owner William Knox • who son Henry fought at Bunker hill • Wrote that freehold tenure • “excluded all ideas of subordination and dependence”

  42. Population Growth • Population boom in the late colonial period • Challenged relations with Native Americans • But also challenged colonial social structure

  43. New England “warning out laws” • During the colonial period, at a time, when everyone had a fixed place • A vagrant who arrived and stayed in a town for a fixed period of time • 3 months in New Hampshire • 1 year in Massachusetts • They were considered to be part of the town • “warning out laws” in place to push people back to their original place

  44. Increase in population and the ownership of land • Movement became a major factor in White American life • Farms now thought of less as patrimonies • something to hand down and use as a tool of control • But more as a commodity • Something to be bought and sold

  45. “They acquire no attachment to Place: but wandering about Seems engrafted in their nature” • A British official • Led to the gradual collapse of the “warning out laws” • People could no longer be tied to a physical place • Another sign of the collapsing societal structure

  46. Economic boom (and later bust) 1740s and 1750s saw a massive increase in exports and imports This led to increased wealth But more important was the effect on social structure Increase wealth led to desire for a rise in individual standard of living

  47. Emulation • Luxury goods • Latest fashions • Tea and tea sets • Silk handkerchiefs • Feather mattresses • A new carriage • Glass windows • Items like this had traditionally been for those at the top of the hierarchy

  48. Late colonial period these boundaries were collapsing • In America • “Every tradesman is a Merchant, every Merchant is a gentleman, and every Gentleman is one of the Noblese”