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Slavery greatly impacted America. From 1500 to 1900 over twelve million Africans entered the New World as captures to be sold. The population of African slaves from the 18th to 19th century escalated tremendously in America. In the 1800s the population of the United States included 893,602 African slaves. The population of African slaves multiplied in the census of 1860 from 893,602 to 3,953,760. When thinking about slavery many people tend to overlook the children. Just as slavery affected adults it also affected children. In the 1900s wealthy Caucasians, young African slaves, and poor Caucasians children experienced different childhood based on their environment.
To fully understand the effects of child slavery one must study the events and culture that took place during this time. In the 1900s Young African slave's childhood differed from the wealthy and poor Caucasians children. Young African children learned responsibility at a young age. Before the age of eight they looked after themselves and those younger than them. As the slave children became older more responsibility bestowed them. For example: children worked alongside their parents helping them in any way possible. With little expected from them children enjoyed their working conditions. As the children grew more tasks awaited them. Wealthy children in the 1900s went to school. They learned how to read, write, and manners (how to behave like a young lady or man). Wealthy Caucasian children lived a pampered life; Emma Knight a child slave remembered that she and her siblings performed regular chores so that her master's children would not have to work. Wealthy Caucasian children lacked responsibility and discipline because most of them never conducted a task by themselves. Poor Caucasian children often could not afford to go to school. Like young African slaves poor Caucasian children learned responsibility at very young age. Poor Caucasian children often worked on plantations to help support their family. Unlike young African slaves poor Caucasian children did not experience harsh treatment and forced to perform tedious tasks.
Slave parents carried a huge responsibility to help their children understated slavery. Children slaves leaned from their parents that God willed them to be slaves. Subjected to slavery at a very young age, children born into slavery knew nothing else. Slavery frequently involved violence and abuse. These children experienced many acts of violence. Controlled by fear slave children refused to revolt or act rebellious because they knew the consequences. This is why many parents became very rigid and harsh toward their children. They served punishments if they made an error. Slave parents commanded orders and used the switch if the children disobeyed. In obeying their parent children quickly learned that you respect people older than you whether black or white. Slave children addressed their elders as brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. Slave parents only wanted to protect their children by making them aware of dangerous environments to come. On the other hand the wealthy Caucasian children of the 1900s differed from slave children. They learned bad habits and manners from their parents. They learned all these bad habits and manners by observing how their parents acted primarily toward slaves. A cycle of abuse happens in repeating patterns. Generational cycles can be passed down by example and exposure from parent to children.
Here I will present case studies on childhood slavery. All of these case studies dealt with different experiences, exposures and lifestyles from slave masters to the children in slavery. Harriet Jacobs, a child slave, endured unspeakable amounts of abuse growing up. Harriet lived in Edenton, North Carolina in the 1800s. Harriet lost her mother at very tender age. Margaret Horniblow her mistress cared for her after her mother passed. At the age of six Harriet learned how to read, write, and sew. However Jacob's life changed when Horniblow her mistress died. Harriet ended up with Dr. James Norcom, a family member of Horniblow. Norcom sexually abused her at a young age. She was subjected to his cruelty, physical abuse and bearing illicit children for him. Norcom told Harriet, "I was made for his use, made to obey command in everything; that I was nothing but a slave, who will and must surrender to him." When she refused to be repeatedly raped Norcom sent Harriet to the plantation. She worked from sunrise to sunset. Norcom resented Harriet so much that he imprisoned her children for no apparent reason. Working under very harsh and unsuitable conditions Jacobs ran away from the plantation. Hiding in a crawl space in her grandmother's house for over a year Harriet became disabled.
In addition, slave children sometimes played games to cope with the traumatic events that happened in their lives. These games mirrored the events in their life. For instance: slave children would acts out certain scenes from their daily activities and exposure. They mimic their slave master and pretend to find favor from their master. These were their way of escaping painful ordeals. Child slaves differed from wealthy children they used their imagination to entertain themselves rather than relying on formal games. Child slaves used their imagination more by reason of freedom. They could use their imaginations to run freely to a certain extent.
Wes Brady a former slave worked on a Cotton estate in Harris County, Texas as field hand picking cotton. He shared his experiences growing up on a plantation. He explained how all the slaves worked under very intense and unsuitable conditions. You could not make a mistake because slaves worked under overseers who held a watchful eye and lash in the other hand. Brady explained how his master would weigh each bucket of cotton expecting each person to have a certain amount picked for the day. Anybody who failed to meet their quota endured harsh beatings. To avoid his grandmother from being beaten Brady gave her pounds of cotton. Slave children had a bond with their family that could not be compare to the non slave children. Slave children held a tight emotional bond with individuals who cared for them. This is why slaves protected each other from harm. Many young slave children witnessed the tedious work their parents did on the plantations. Many slave children could barely wait to work with their parents. Children wanted to help their parents in any possible way. When a young man started to work in the fields it represented manhood. Child slaves naturally assumed their place in the workforce.
Jim also a child slave lived an unusual lifestyle. Jim received special treatment from his master. Jim received certain privileges because the master happened to be his father. Jim and his mother did not work in the fields. They worked in the house as domestic servants doing very little work. John his father loved him deeply because he was first and only son. John's wife Martha bearded no children for John. Martha abused Jim and his mother frequently out of hatred. And when John died he willed everything to his son Jim. Sometimes mistress and master spoiled their child slaves. They played with the children, bought presents, spoiled them; writes Ida Akins of North Carolina a former child slave child. Many firsthand accounts explain slaveholders natural interest in child slaves. Mary Anderson a child slave recalled every Sunday morning all the slave children would bath, get dressed, and comb their hair, before going to the masters house for breakfast. All the slave children looked forward to Sunday. These children grew up with the assumption believing their slave owners to be fair and kind. Slave masters viewed slave children as pets and as property. They groomed them to attract potential buyers. By age sixteen slave children would be broken-in for a long life of labor.
During this time children slaves possessed no rights. To a certain extent children did not own their lives, destiny, or fate. The slave children sat at the bottom of the social and economic class. Not all slaves parent remained poor. Only a small percentage of Africans owned land and lived free with their children. And those who even owned land and lived free still resided at the bottom of the class. Children slaves encountered many acts of violence and abuse. For example: verbal abuse, physical abuse, beating, rapes, and overall downgrading. Slave holders dictated nearly everything about slave children. Human beings should not live without their basic human rights nor stripped of their basic necessities.
Slave children workload differed based on their environment. Some worked long sixteen hours every day from sunrise to sunset. Field hands worked the longest hours. Few of them worked various jobs in their master homes. For example: they cooked, cleaned, and nurtured their masters children. Also slave children trained as craft workers functioning as brick layers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cabinet makers, dockworkers, office workers, riverboat pilots, lumber jacks, and mine workers. Slave children are often grouped with and adult slave to work in big groups called gang labor. In gang labor producing large outcomes remained a key factor in its productivity for slave masters. Under gang labor slave children divided into groups based on their physical capability to perform certain task.
In conclusion slavery existed well before the 1400's. But it is unclear when child slavery started. The subject of childhood slavery in this time became overlooked in society. A focus on slave children not only underscores slaverys oppression, cruelty, and unfairness but also reviews that enslaved children and their parents dealt with hardships and horror inflicted by their masters. It also demonstrated that even children can be active agents by impacting slavery in its highest degree. The study of slave children brought many important facts to light. During the adolescent years most of the slave children became broken-in losing their intellect and kept for the physical bodies. Despite slave masters tight hold on their upbringings slave children managed to experience to some degree of there already lost youth. Slave children used games and songs to improvise for the lost of their freewill and freedom. Through their activities slave children can be active members in their community and remain capable of making life more bearable and suitable for themselves and others around them. Slave children genuinely respected and cared for their parents and their slave communities unlike slave master who they respected out of fear. For slave masters to get the same respect given to parents children are sometimes bribed with ifts and favor. Even though young female slaves underwent acts of sexual abuse and exploitation bearing unwanted children they still expressed affection and love toward their offspring. Young pregnant children slaves continued to work until giving birth to their children having little time to recover from child bearing. In spite of slave masters strong hold on education towards slave children some still learned how to read and improving their awareness in the environment around them. Although slave children have been subjected to working long hours they still made it out with their distinction and hope of one day being free. Despite the unruly conditions slave children managed to shield themselves, parents, and close community members knowing the consequences they face.