Blacks in Colonial America by Oscar Reiss Research Proposal

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Blacks in Colonial America by Oscar Reiss

In the book Blacks in Colonial America, Oscar Reiss (1997) paints a clear picture of the problems that these people faced and the struggles that they went through, which was the purpose of the book overall, and the main theme running through it. American slavery, a contributor to and reflection of racism, was developed when landowners sought to make profits from plantations of cotton. To accomplish this, they imported vast numbers of slaves from Africa. The physical appearance of the Africans was very different from that of white landowners, thus making it possible for the whole slavery system to function effectively (Reiss, 1997). The whites defined the Africans as inferior and sub-human. By convincing themselves that their slaves were like animals, the whites could treat them like animals with a clear conscience.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Proposal on Blacks in Colonial America by Oscar Reiss Assignment

The first slaves landed in Chesapeake in 1619, and within a few decades the slaves of Africa had become institutionalized in regulatory statutes called slaves codes. Slave codes became increasingly uncompromising, and punishments imposed on slaves became more severe as slavery expanded beyond the colonies. Slaves codes were the mainstay of the United States' slave system, reflected the attitudes of the dominant class, and were specifically created to protect the slave masters. Slave codes defined slaves as property without legal standing, mandated slavery as lifelong and inherited, and allowed harsh and brutal punishment for slaves who disobeyed (Reiss, 1997). The history of punishment during slavery was an extremely efficient institutional means to protecting slave owners in the United States. Slavery prevailed for more than two centuries, because it was legally enforced. In 1705, the state of Virginia included a code that stated "if anyone with authority correcting a slave killed him in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony, and the killer would be freed as if such accident has never happened (Reiss, 1997, p. 56). In 1798, Georgia's constitution included a provision that stated: "Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person and on the like proof, except in case of insurrection by such slave, and unless such death should happen by accident in giving such slave moderate correction" (Reiss, 1997, p. 58). It could be argued that the more restrictive codes, which limited the level of violence that could be directed towards slaves, helped maintain and expand the slave system by making it less brutal. However, this argument could only help if the laws against brutality of slaves were strictly enforced.

Almost all homicides committed against slaves, from the colonial period until the end of slavery, ended in acquittals, or at most in verdicts of manslaughter, which meant that there had been some legal provocation from the slave. There were also killings that never led to criminal actions. However, occasionally some slave masters were punished for these homicides (Reiss, 1997). As a result of these inequalities and often treatments, slave rebellions took place in the United States (Reiss, 1997). In spite of the significant character of slave rebellions in the United States, rebellions were few, and therefore caused little challenge to slavery. One of the reasons resistance was a failure was that slaves were grievously outnumbered. Even in South Carolina and Georgia where slaves comprised much of the population, they were too isolated to organize a successful insurrection in a land where whites controlled weapons and the state's police power. Further, because of religious beliefs and strong family ties, slaves were psychologically ill-equipped for revolution, as most slaves developed neither the ideology nor the desperation that was required for open rebellion. As a result, many slaves engaged in individual forms of passive resistance.

The rebellions took on a variety of forms, including malingering; self-mutilation; suicide; destruction of slave owner's crops, tools, and livestock; running away; or criminal activity like stealing and violent insurrection. Often, slavery would run away from abusive masters to avoid punishment...or to get revenge for the punishment that they had already received. Nevertheless, between 40,000 and 100,000 slaves escaped from slavery, despite fugitive slave laws that provided for their return even if they reached free states (Reiss, 1997). About fifty percent of all runaway slaves were recaptured or killed, with this percentage increasing to about seventy-three percent for newly-arrived Africans who were unfamiliar with the English language and the geographical territory. Reiss (1997) describes the punishments given to runaway slaves. A first attempt led to up to forty lashes, an "R" was branded on the right cheek for a second offense, an ear was cut off (plus forty lashes) for a third attempt, castration was performed if the slave tried a fourth time (a female fourth-time offender had her left ear cut off and an "R" branded on her left cheek), and a fifth offense resulted in execution or incision of the Achilles tendon (Reiss, 1997). Since executions in early United States' history were public events, the hanging and burning of slaves perhaps served as a public example of the penalty for slave insubordination and insurgency. It was also a practice for the master to have an arrogant slave cut the head off of an insubordinate slave.

If an African-American was lucky enough to survive slavery or escape to a free state, they were still subject to unfair treatment. This was also true for the blacks who were not slaves. Living in the south during the Colonial time period was marked by continued discrimination and racism that impacted the perceptions and attitudes expressed by older African-Americans. It may also have affected what they were willing to recount when interviewed for research. Some of the older slaves had to depend on their masters for pensions. This obviously hinders the written documentation about this subject.

Old age played an important role in the lives of African-American slaves. Slave dealers were usually interested in selling younger and healthier men and women, who were viewed as having more economic worth. The worth of older African-Americans was seen as lower than that of younger individuals who had a full work life ahead of them (Reiss, 1997. The life of a 50-year-old slave carried the same value as an eight-year-old child. It was common practice for older slaves to receive reduced rations from the owners, which further contributed to their impoverishment. Also, the ability to survive and endure harsh treatment was often seen among younger African-Americans. However, it became harder for the elderly to survive, due to poor health or abandonment. As a result, elderly slaves often suffered the most from deficiencies in diet and mistreatment. The elderly slave was in constant danger of ill health or abandonment, especially once the slave's economic value to his or her master came into question (Reiss, 1997).

African-American women who gave birth to children on the plantation were typically less involved in the actual rearing of their children, because they were expected to return to the fields immediately after childbirth. Child care was typically the responsibility of older females and older children. Older women slaves commonly served as supervisors of plantation nurseries for both African-American and white plantation children (Reiss, 1997).

In addition to child care, midwifery was also a role for aged female slaves. Despite their work, aged women received less care and attention from their masters, as they were not actually valued if they could not work the fields. In order to extract the last ounce of value from these old people, owners would have them shell corn, pack tobacco, or nurse the sick. Once a slave was unable to work, they were dependant on their own means, and had to fend for themselves (Reiss, 1997). They were usually forced to rely on the assistance of families… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Blacks in Colonial America by Oscar Reiss.  (2009, March 19).  Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

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"Blacks in Colonial America by Oscar Reiss."  March 19, 2009.  Accessed October 26, 2021.