I. African Slavery in the Colonial Period
A. The business of slavery
For the first 75 years, (until about 1700), slaves brought into the North American colonies had been transported from the Caribbean. By 1700, that changed, and slaves began to arrive directly from Africa. This was largely a result of the demand for slave in the colonies having dramatically increased for a number of reasons. First, colonial life, especially in the Chesapeake region, had stabilized and fewer people were dying of disease; purchasing slaves in the 1600s meant that planters in Virginia (for example) ran the risk of their slaves dying quickly and having to replace their “investment.” Secondly, after Bacon’s Rebellion (see Chapter Two), wealthy gentry in Virginia (especially) were increasingly wary of hosting large populations of poor former indentured servants-turned-small farmers, since these poorer farmers were often hostile to their wealthier (and more successful) neighbors, and since these poorer men had shown they would resort to violence to promote their interests. Since indentured servants were now thought to be too risky, and slavery deemed to be less risky (for different reasons), it became therefore more profitable for slave-traders to bring them to the North American colonies directly.
Over the course of the 17th century through the 19th century, the African-Atlantic Slave Trade brought approximately 10 million slaves to the New World. You may be surprised to learn that, of these, only about 600,000-700,000 came to the United States, and mainly to three areas and a few cities: (1) the Chesapeake region, (2) South Carolina (the colonies’ largest importer of slaves), and (3) Savannah (which became a major destination only in the late-colonial period). New York and Philadelphia were also slave destination, as urban slavery was fairly common in the Northern Colonies, even if rural agricultural slavery was not. (The vast majority of slaves were sent to the Caribbean and South America.) During the colonial period, about 500,000 slaves arrived in the US. Although Congress ended the slave trade in 1808 (and many of the Northern states stopped it during the Revolution), the practice of holding slaves continued but with the population of enslaved people reproducing itself within the U.S., instead of being replenished with new captives from Africa.
60-second Quiz #1: Why did the numbers of African slaves transported to the North American colonies increase in the 18th century? Which of the following reasons are correct?
a. White indentured servants were becoming rebellious once they were freed.
b. Indian indentured servants were becoming rebellious once they were freed
c. Life expectancy in the Chesapeake region increased.
d. All of the above
e. (a) and (b) only
f. (a) and (c) only
Who were the slaves and where did they come from? English slave-traders brought 85% of all slaves arriving in the mainland colonies, yet the English never developed long-term links with specific African regions for their slaves; instead, the English traders purchased their captives from all along the African Coast. This meant that about ¼ of all colonies received enslaved people from Congo-Angola. Later, more slaves came to English colonies through Angolan ports along the African coast. About ¼ of all slaves came from Southeastern Nigeria; these included the Ibo and Ibidio groups. About 15 percent came from the Senegambia region; these included the Mandinka, Fulba, Serer, Wolof, Bambara, and Jola. About 15 percent came from the Gold Coast—these were the Ashanti and Fanti. About 15% came from Sierra Leone or the Ivory Coast, including the Vai, Mende, Kpelle, and Kru; a sizeable portion of South Carolina slaves came from Sierra Leone, and brought with them their knowledge of making baskets out of reeds.
Why is this important?
For several reasons: First, these enslaved people were PEOPLE and not objects; although they were treated as personal property (chattel), which could be bought, sold, leased, and inherited, these individuals were human beings with their own lives, wants, and needs, who were captured (sometimes by African slavers initially) and had their freedom and their futures stolen from them. Secondly, these people were from different places, different communities, and did not necessarily have a natural affinity for other people enslaved next to them. They may not have even been able to communicate, because Africans spoke several hundred languages in Africa and represented diverse cultures and ways of life. The vast majority lived in small villages, relied mainly on farming and ranching, and had a strong sense of community (from which they were permanently separated).
There were two major ways in which slave traders acquired slaves in Africa, the “boat trade” (mainly used by the English and French) and the “fort trade.” Once they were put on the boat, slaves were not packed in quite like sardines as the pictures showed, but they had about half the space of a convict sent to Australia, or of a poor white indentured servant coming to Philadelphia. Still, conditions were horrible, as you have probably heard. In a giant room beneath the ship with 4-5 foot ceilings, they had to contend with foul air, heat, smells. They ate only twice a day, morning and evening out of communal tubs, and had a pint of water with each meal. There was on average during the colonial period, a sixteen percent mortality rate on board the ship (this includes the rare shipwrecks, pirate attacks and possibility of epidemic outbreaks). If slave traders were paid according to profits, they took better care to keep their deaths to a minimum. If paid in advance, they cared even less about the captives’ well-being. Ship revolts were occasional, and happened about once every five years or so.
After about a thirty or 40 day journey, from say, Sierra Leone to Charleston, slaves were quarantined in the harbor and had to remain for a week or two to make sure that there were no epidemics on board the ship with them. During this time another 5% died. So, in total, about 20% of all slaves died on the boat before they reached land in America.
There were two ways in which slaves were then sold: “boat sale” and the “regular sale.” The Boat sale was more typical in Chesapeake; here a plantation owner would coordinate the sale through a slave trader, the ship would arrive as advertised, and planters would show up to meet it and would carry out their transactions on board the ship. The regular sale typically took place further south, in ports such as Charleston (but also Georgetown and Beaufort), which received ¼ of all colonial slaves, and Savannah but also in New York and Philadelphia. In the regular sale, slaves were cleaned up and brought to established slave markets on land, where people would contract with merchants.
B. African American culture
Africans and African-Americans who were enslaved were deprived of the power to determine many of their life choices, from where they wanted to live, to what they wanted to do, to with whom they wanted to associate, and certainly they were deprived of the right to own the proceeds of their labor. And yet, African Americans still demonstrated their very humanity and exercised what little agency they possessed over their lives by creating their own unique culture, mixing together their various languages, customs and traditions, assimilating white religious beliefs, and combining it all together. They were enthusiastic in their religious services, expressing emotions, laughing, dancing, and shouting. Their funerals were loud, with music, singing dancing, laughing and drinking. It is true that they did not have the power to universally separate themselves from white English culture but the extent to which they retained their African ways of life depended upon their isolation from whites, meaning slaves who were forced to work under more immediate supervision of whites would have less autonomy but slaves who were sent to work in more remote locations could exercise a little bit more freedom to choose their words, their music, their religious practices, even as they could not choose to be completely free people.
At the same time, we do know that the idea of freedom was inescapable and the desire for freedom irrepressible, even if only a small fraction of slaves attempted to revolt or run away. On occasion, there were slave revolts, as we talked about before.
In September 9, 1739, the Stono Revolt drastically hurt African Americans in Charleston for ever after. 20 blacks broke into a store, stole guns and gunpowder, killed the shopkeepers, and headed south, intending to go to Florida. They killed whites on their way, and tried to get slaves to join them. By mid-day, there were 50-60 slaves. They crossed paths with Lieutenant Governor William Bull, who happened to be riding in the area on horseback, and he notified the authorities. Within a week the planters had attacked, dispersed, and gradually apprehended many of the people involved in the revolt. Perhaps 20-30 escaped to Florida. After that, whites tended to lump all blacks together as hostile, increased slave patrols, harshened laws restricting Africans’ freedoms, and increased the severity of punishments. Still, slaves could resist in other ways, such as poisoning, using perhaps their knowledge of plants from Africa. One slave, Caesar, actually became a local celebrity for his expertise in curing poisoning victims, and his folk remedies for poisoning, food poisoning, and various intestinal disorders, were published in the South Carolina Gazette and in Charleston Almanacs in the 1750s.
Africans contributed other aspects of their own culture, too: In South Carolina and Georgia, they reconstructed African-style dwellings. Their music and dance actually influenced Virginia, whose dance parties normally included a harpsichord player and a bunch of stuffy rich (white) people dancing organized waltzes; instead, Africans animated, lively, and sometimes spontaneous dances became part of Virginia culture. Africans also brought the tambourine, xylophone, and guitars made out of gourds. Africans also contributed several western African words to the English language such as: okay, nitty-gritty, voodoo, banana, banjo, and tote (as in tote bag or to carry something).
In their spare time, most Africans in Charleston liked to gather to dance, to race boats, to drink and play dice, and to make fun of whites. Once again, their freedoms to hold parties, for instance, were severely restricted in the 1740s everywhere following the Stono Revolt and the New York slave conspiracy.
60-second Quiz #2: What evidence is there of enslaved peoples’ resistance to the demands of the slave system? Which of the following is NOT correct?
a. Enslaved African Americans created their own culture by mixing elements of African religious practice with white European religious practice
b. Enslaved African Americans built their own African-style dwellings to live in
c. Enslaved African Americans sometimes openly revolted and sometimes subtly poisoned their masters
d. Enslaved African Americans adopted white Europeans’ musical styles and preferences, and wrote music to suite the colonists’ needs
II. Women in Colonial America
While African-American slaves and Indians were, as we have seen, subject to control, abuse, violence, and generally unequal treatment from white English colonists, the white English women living in the colonies were also did not enjoy status equal to their male peers. Thus we can say that, generally speaking, women’s lives varied depending upon location and relative social status, however all women were subordinate to men, and all women’s lives revolved around private life, in the domestic circle.
A. Women’s experiences
Mary Beth Norton, a Cornell professor and leading expert on early American women’s history has divided women’s experiences into roughly four categories:
1. Female African-Americans on the plantation, were usually assigned a job by the master that they kept for a number of years: cooks, seamstresses, housekeepers, field laborers, or poultry and livestock attendants. Housekeepers tended to have their daughters work with them and learn the ropes. On the plantations, slave midwives delivered African and European children, and were usually expected to drop everything else to do so. Slave women had some entrepreneurial initiative; though they worked six days a week, they tended gardens on Sundays and raised chickens; they could also sell these at markets to whites. Free black women in the cities tended to work primarily as housekeepers and nannies.
2. Poor and middling white farm women spent most of their lives cooking, washing, and ironing. They milked cows and took care of animals. Their lives revolved around daily routines and also seasonal patterns: for example, in the spring they’d plant the garden, in the summer, they’d harvest the bee hives, in the fall would be time to make apple cider and do canning, in the winter when the hog-killing took place, they’d make candles and soap and do the knitting and sewing necessary. Because their homes had dirt floors and it was a never-ending task, most women did not clean or sweep. It was simply too difficult.
3. White urban women were involved mainly in food preparation, gardening, etc., but they had a higher standard of cleanliness to live up to. Typically, they’d do their work in the morning and then in the afternoon, would socialize with friends or read. They had typical daily and seasonal rhythms, though they went to the market daily to procure the food for the evening’s meal. City daughters had it especially good. Since their mother did most of the work, and perhaps had a slave or free servant or two, they learned music, sewing, read and sang, and hoped for a rich husband to continue to provide them with a life of leisure.
4. White plantation women had even fewer household chores, however, they had much more supervisory duties and required good management skills. They supervised slaves in the household. They read and played piano, did needlework and wrote letters to family and friends in their spare time or after dinner. They ate meals with their husband, but other than this and in the early evenings, had little time together. Once the food was available and in storage, they were also meal planners.
Demeaned and devalued by men, women found their work burdensome and difficult. Domesticity was women’s only role, it was seen. It was supposed to be fulfilling, but as we can tell from what many women wrote down, it was not.
B. Sexuality / Homosexuality
In his article, “Deficient Husbands: Manhood, Sexual Incapacity, and Male Marital Sexuality in Seventeenth-Century New England,” Thomas A. Foster argues that sexual pleasure played an important role in marriage, and on seventeenth century views on male sexuality. Incapacity had serious repercussions for manhood, because it could prevent men from fully performing their role as head of household, husband, and father. Many advice manuals, a New Haven law, and many individuals recognized and valued the importance sexual pleasure, while downplaying the role of sex purely for the purposes of procreation; male incapacity became a serious hindrance to female pleasure. Although seventeenth-century New Englanders held strong beliefs about the importance of reproduction, they believed that sexual relations between husbands and wives were separable from this imperative and important in their own right.
Attitudes towards homosexuality in the colonies are difficult to know, and so are the ways in which people reacted to it. Not all New Englanders, however, shared a horror of it. Ministers and magistrates saw homosexual acts as driven by sexual orientation and they were unequivocally hostile towards those who committed it. They saw it as a sin, like any other sin, a bodily impulse. But the community was surprisingly tolerant of it. For example, Stephen Gorton, a Baptist minister in Connecticut in the 1750s, was accused of making advances to other men, the community required him to take a leave of absence to reform his ways and allowed him to return to the church. Ebenezer Knight, a preacher in 1730s in Marblehead, MA, was suspended from his church, and a few years later publicly asked for forgiveness and was reaccepted.
There was a gay subculture, with men called “mollies”—they dressed and acted effeminately, and gathered in taverns, parks, and public places; this represented a shift to a homosexual identity. However, this was not the case in the countryside or in America.
60-second Quiz #3: What were some of the more nuanced gradations of gender and sexuality in colonial North America? Which statement is most correct?
a. Domesticity was the overarching ideal African-American (enslaved) women were expected to pursue, but not white European women
b. Domesticity was the overarching ideal white European women were expected to pursue, but not African-American (enslaved) women
c. Domesticity was the overarching ideal wealthy white European women were expected to pursue, but not middling- and poor white European women, and not African-American (enslaved) women
d. Domesticity was the overarching ideal all women were expected to pursue, no matter their race, class, or free/unfree status
III. The Great Awakening
Now that we have surveyed two of the larger examples of structural inequality in the colonies – the third example would be the experience of Indians – we need to turn back to religion. Up to this point, we’ve really seen religion play an important role in the northern colonies but less so in the southern colonies. This dichotomy was made less strict by the arrival of the Great Awakening, an event which saw religious revival threaten to shake the pillars of English society, both inside and outside the churches.
The Great Awakening was an intercolonial revival that occurred in the 1730s. Started by Presbyterians Gilbert and John Tennent of New Jersey, the movement crossed denominational and geographical lines, and had far-reaching implications for the culture of colonial America. In part, it was a response to the failure of the Puritan experiment. It was also in part a reaction to the Enlightenment, that intellectual movement among scientists and philosophers in Europe to apply reason and logic to nearly all aspects of human experience; in this case, the Enlightenment had led the Anglican Church to produce sermons and teachings that were viewed by congregations as cold, rational, serious, and mental, instead of personal, exhilarating, or emotional.
Writing to friends in New England, the New Jersey preachers encouraged revivals in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Soon, Johnathan Edwards, a Congregational minister, led the charge. Edwards believed that God was acting throughout the colonies, perhaps throughout the world. He preached that, at any moment, our hold on life could break and we'd be plunged into fires of eternal damnation, and so therefore, now was the time to repent and to devote one’s life to Christ.
In the late-1730s, George Whitefield, a young Anglican minister in England began questioning the Anglican Church. Influenced, perhaps, by Edwards and by changes in England that patterned the changes in the colonies, he developed a preaching style in contrast to the established church. He traveled around England and Wales, seeking out the poor and drawing large groups. Sometimes, thousands of people flocked to hear him in streets, fields and parks. He elicited an outpouring of emotions.
Short, skinny, and cross-eyed, Whitefield had an amazing voice and a dramatic presence. He had a loud, booming voice, and it is said one conversion occurred 3 miles from where he was preaching. An observer once noted that he could pronounce the word "Mesopotamia" in such a way that it could melt an audience. He would always say it at least once in sermon, no matter the topic. He was also a skilled marketer, advertising his speaking engagements effectively and well in advance. By 1739, news of his exploits in London had reached the colonies, and Whitefield crossed the Atlantic to tour the colonies, to raise funds for an orphanage in Georgia, and to bring his style of preaching to the colonies and join Jonathan Edwards in attempting to spread the revival throughout English North America.
Whitefield traveled from Georgia to Maine, and became perhaps the first celebrity seen and heard by a variety of colonists. At first, many of the colonists were skeptical, like Benjamin Franklin. Franklin noted in his autobiography the following experience:
I had in my pockets a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and my five pieces of gold. As he proceeded, I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me so ashamed of that, and determined me to give the silver, and as he finished so admirable, I emptied my pocket wholly in to the Collector’s dish, gold and all.
Besides witnessing the Great Awakening, Benjamin Franklin is also an example of how religious message (and later political messages, too) could travel across the colonies. Franklin was then the owner of a printing press in Philadelphia, produced many of the 80,000 copies of Whitefield’s letters and sermons produced in the colonies. Whitefield had tremendous influence in the Congregational, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed churches of New England and New York, and some influence in South Carolina. He was less effective in Virginia, which was soundly Anglican. Revivalism came to Virginia in 1743 and from then on proceeded under the leadership of Presbyterian Samuel Davies, who trained many missionaries to the southern Indians. In the South, the Great Awakening was more of a frontier phenomenon than was the case in the Middle Colonies or New England.
In addition to drawing unprecedented crowds and making a sensational impression, Whitefield stirred controversy by blaming Anglican ministers of being boring and not reaching the people. His theological beliefs also offended people, Charleston’s Anglican ministers, for example, tried to have him jailed or fined for preaching to crowds there in 1740, but ultimately Whitefield stole the show at a public hearing. Josiah Smith at the Independent (Congregational) Church on Meeting Street took him in, and Whitefield also befriended several families in Charleston and helped them set up a school for African slaves; after the Charleston fire, they broke from the Anglican Church and set up a new church in McPhersonville. Thereafter, a number of new churches were established in sparsely settled areas from Georgetown to Beaufort, and indeed from York, Maine to Savannah, Georgia.
Whitefield spurred local revivals in the colonies, as people broke from the Anglican Church, and as Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and other groups divided too. The Baptists, who believed in baptizing adults, through full-immersion, and practiced the laying of hands and foot-washing, gained a huge following. By 1760, there were four Baptist Churches in South Carolina, with several more to follow. By the late-colonial period, the number of Baptist churches had more than quintupled in Virginia.
So what’s important here is that the revival brought a change in religious beliefs for all denominations, because of this competition over souls. The revivalists became known as the New Lights, because they believed in revivalism, in emotional sermons and conversion experiences. They were younger ministers, university educated, from less wealthy backgrounds; they had traveled a bit, they were from small towns, they were younger, and they had large families. They themselves had had dramatic conversion experiences. The Old Lights, those that resisted the revival, tended to be a little older, a little better established, from heavily populated areas. Unlike the New Lights, they were the sons of clergy, preached in the same places they had been born or not far from it.
The Revival had a number of long-term consequences and effects, not all of which pertain to religious practice:
1. Popular enthusiasm for sampling an array of traveling preachers of remarkable social and theological diversity; basically revivalists realized they had more in common theologically than they had apart, and so traveling Presbyterian ministers, for example, visited Baptist churches, and people went to different religious services from time to time. In essence, Whitefield reduced to Christianity to its lowest common denominator--those sinners who love Jesus will go to heaven. Denominational distinctions were down played.
2. It extended Christianity to African slaves—it was accepted by revival churches, for example, Hugh and Johnathan Bryan established one such school just outside of Charleston.
3. It extended Christianity to Native Americans; one Native American named Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian, became a minister and founded Dartmouth College in the late-1760s. In the South, the Presbyterians trained ministers to evangelize to the Cherokee. This mission impulse fell apart in 1759 with the Cherokee War, however.
4. It led to the founding of new colleges and universities to train ministers and missionaries; from 1746-1769 alone, the following colleges were founded for religious reasons: Columbia, Brown, Washington and Lee University (then by a different name), Rutgers, Hampden-Sydney.
5. Regular church attendance increased from 67% to 85%.
6. Changing of attitudes—people were now more enthusiastic about religion, more assured of salvation, more hopeful of heaven. These changes are exemplified by gravestone art.
60-second Quiz #4: What were some of the wider social effects of the Great Awakening?
a. Christians in different denominations (e.g. Congregationalists, Anglicans, Baptists, etc…) felt more separated from each other as a result of the Great Awakening, and were even less enthusiastic about their religious faith than before
b. Old Light preachers split away from the existing churches and founded new churches to preach the revival message, but they avoided preaching to Indians
c. New Light preachers remained in the existing churches and to preach the revival message, but they avoided preaching to slaves
d. New Light preachers split away from the existing churches and founded new churches to preach the revival message, including preaching to Indians and slaves
KEY for 60-second Quizzes:
1.) f – Indians were sometimes enslaved but almost never entered into indenture contracts
2.) d – African-American music actually influenced whites, not the other way around
3.) d – domesticity for all women
4.) d – the inclusion of Indians and slaves was one of the new changes in American Christianity, as practiced by the English