Make your own free website on Tripod.com

 

Back to Editorial Page

Source: Slavery: Opposing Viewpoints, Bruno Leone, Editor, American History Series, Greenhaven Press, Inc. PO Box 289009, San Diego, CA, 92198-9009, 1992.

SOURCES AGAINST SLAVERY or Northern Point of View

 Fanny Kemble

David Walker

 Frederick Douglass

 Josiah Henson

Source #1: Fanny Kemble

Fanny Kemble was an English actress who married a Georgia plantation owner in 1834. Her experiences on her husband's slave estate so repelled her that she divorced him in 1849. In these excerpts from a letter to a friend in England, she describes a visit to the plantation hospital and other aspects of slavery.

In the enormous hospital chimney glimmered the powerless embers of a few sticks of wood, round which, however, as many of the sick women as could approach were cowering, some on wooden settles, most of them on the ground...and these last poor wretches lay prostrate on the floor, without bed, mattress, or pillow, buried in tattered and filthy blankets, which huddled round them as they lay strewed about, left hardly space to move upon the floor...Here lay women expecting every hour the terrors and agonies of childbirth, others who had just brought their doomed offspring into the world...here lay some burning with fever, others chilled with cold and aching with rheumatism, upon the hard cold ground, the draughts and dampness of the atmosphere increasing their sufferings, and dirt, noise, and stench, and every aggravation of which sickness is capable, combined in their condition...
...The negroes, as I before told you, are divided into troops or gangs, as they are called: at the head of each gang is a driver, who stands over them, whip in hand, while they perform their daily task, who renders an account of each individual slave and his work every evening to the overseer, and receives from him directions for their next day's tasks. Each driver is allowed to inflict a dozen lashes.... at his own discretion. and the [overseers] as many as he himself sees fit, within the number of fifty: .... With regard to the oft-repeated statement that it is not the owner's interest to destroy his human property, it answers nothing : ... [The] black slave, whose preservation is indeed supposed to be his owner's interests, may be, will be, and is occasionally sacrificed to the blind impulse of passion.

What does Miss Kemble's account of the hospital show about the owner's concern for his slaves? What advantage might a foreign observer have over a northerner or a southerner?

 Fanny Kemble

David Walker

 Frederick Douglass

 Josiah Henson

Source #2: David Walker

David Walker as a free black who in 1829 published a pamphlet called "Appeal," in Four Articles which decried slavery and exhorted slaves to resist their masters. He died under mysterious circumstances a year later. The pamphlet, the first extended political tract written by an African-American, was attacked by Southerners who attempted to limit its distribution. It was blamed for causing the 1831 Nat Turner insurrection.

I do not think that we were natural enemies to each other. But the whites having made us so wretched, by subjecting us to slavery, and having murdered so many millions of us in order to make us work for them, and out of devilishness - and they taking our wives, whom we love as we do ourselves - our mothers who bore the pains of death to give us birth - our fathers and dear little children, and ourselves, and strip and beat us one before the other, - chain, handcuff and drag us about like rattlesnakes -
shoot us down like wild bears, before each other's faces, to make us submissive to and work to support them and their families.....
we may appear cheerful, when we see them murdering our dear mother and wives, because we cannot help ourselves...but this statement is incorrect - for we can help ourselves; for, if we lay aside abject [wretched] servility [submissiveness], and be determined to act like men, and not brutes - the murderers among the whites would be afraid to show their cruel heads. But O, my God! - in sorrow I must say it, that my color, all over the world, have a mean, servile spirit......

.....if ever we become men, we must exert ourselves to the full. For remember, that it is the greatest desire and object of the greater part of the whites, to keep us ignorant, and make us work to support them and their families. Here now, in the Southern and Western sections of this country, there are at least three colored persons for one white, why is it, that those few weak, good-for-nothing whites, are able to keep so many able men, one of whom, can put to flight a dozen whites, in wretchedness and misery?

According to Walker, what prevents the slaves from resisting the whites?
Is violence ever justified to achieve freedom?

 Fanny Kemble

David Walker

 Frederick Douglass

 Josiah Henson

Source #3: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born a slave on a Maryland plantation in 1817. He escaped to freedom in 1838 and became famous as an abolitionist and crusader for Negro equality. The following selection is taken from Douglass' autobiography and describes his boyhood on the Maryland plantation of Colonel Lloyd.

It was the boast of slave holders that their slaves enjoyed more of the physical comforts of life than the peasantry [farmers] of any country in the world. My experience contradicts this. The men and the women slaves on Col. Lloyd's farm received as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pickled pork, or its equivalent [the same weight] in fish. The pork was often tainted [spoiled], and the fish were of the poorest quality. With their pork or fish, they had given them one bushel of Indian meal... of which quite fifteen per cent was more fit for pigs than for men. With this one pint of salt was given, and this was the entire monthly allowance of a full-grown slave, working constantly in the open field from morning till night every day in the month except Sunday. There is no kind of work which really requires a better supply of food...than the field work of a slave.
The yearly allowance of clothing was not more ample than the supply of food. It consisted of two linen shirts, one pair of trousers of the same coarse material, for summer, and a woolen pair of trousers and a woolen jacket for winter, with one pair of yarn stockings and a pair of shoes of the coarsest description.....
...The slaves worked often as long as they could see, and were late in cooking and mending for the coming day, and at the first gay streak of the morning they were summoned to the field by the overseer's horn. They were whipped for over-sleeping more than for any other fault...The overseer stood at the quarter door, armed with stick and whip, ready to deal heavy blows upon any who might be a little behind time.....
It was slavery...that I hated. I had been cheated. I saw through the attempt to keep me in ignorance.

How does Douglass view slavery? What are his feelings?
What were the working conditions like?

 Fanny Kemble

David Walker

 Frederick Douglass

 Josiah Henson

Source #4: Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson was a Maryland slave. When he was a young boy, his master died, and the estate was divided. The heirs promptly sold all the property, including slaves, and divided the income. Henson describes his feelings about the slave auction as follows:

Common as are slave auctions in the southern states...the full misery of the event - of the scenes which precede and succeed it - is never understood till the actual experience comes.... The remembrance of the breaking up of McPherson's estate is photographed in its minutest features in my mind. The crowd collected round the stand, the huddling group of negroes, the examination of muscle, teeth, and exhibition of agility, the look of the auctioneer, the agony of my mother - I can shut my eyes and see them all.

My brothers and sisters were bid off first, and one by one, while my mother, paralyzed by grief, held me by the hand. Her turn came, and she was bought by Isaac Riley of Montgomery county. Then I was offered to the assembled purchasers. My mother, half distracted with the thought of parting forever from all her children, pushed through the crowd, while the bidding for me was going on, to the spot where Riley was standing. She fell at his feet, and clung to his knees, entreating him in tones that a mother only could command, to buy her baby as well as herself, and spare to her one, at least, of her little ones. Will it, can it be believed that this man, thus appealed to, was capable not merely of turning a deaf ear to her supplication, but of disengaging himself from her with such violent blows and kicks, as to reduce her to the necessity of creeping out of his reach, and mingling the groan of bodily suffering with sob of a breaking heart? As she crawled away from the brutal man I heard her sob out, "Oh, Lord Jesus, how long, how long shall I suffer this way!" I must have been then between five and six years old. I seem to see and hear my poor weeping mother now.

From Henson's description, what seems to you to have been the worst part of a slave auction?
In what ways did slave auctions show the worst of the slave system?