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Slavery during antebellum and post antebellum

Jul 08, 2018

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    Chapter 1

    Main Idea: Slave narratives

     varied before and after the Civil

    War. Read through the chapter to

    analyze the differences.

    SLAVERY DURING

     ANTEBELLUM AND POSTBELLUM ERA

    Significance: Written accounts of

    first-hand experience as slaves

    changed the way Americans

     viewed it as an institution and

    catalyzed the abolitionist

    movement.

    Key terms: Frederick Douglass,

    Harriet Jacobs, slave narratives,

    antebellum, post-bellum, Civil

    War

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    Slave and ex-slave narratives are what helped define

    African-American history and literature. These primary sources

    were critical in understanding the invaluable first-hand experi-

    ence of slavery during the last two centuries. They were sold in

    exponential amounts, many of which became best-sellers. But

    more importantly, they opened to the academia of U.S. history,

    the complexities of the dialogue between whites and blacks. Nar-

    ratives by fugitive slaves recorded the disparities between Amer-

    ica’s ideal of freedom and the reality of racism in the so-called

    “free-states” (“The North American Slave Narratives”). After

    the Civil War, documentation of slave experiences continued as

    a reminder of the lingering threat that had difficulty dying off

    in American society.

     

    Slave narratives, during the antebellum period, have been

    examined by scholars and literary analysts in order to determine

    common themes and characteristics. Most narratives portrayed

    a purpose of opening dialogue between blacks and whites about

    slavery and freedom, topics that were feared to discuss in person

    between the two races. These written works served as an indirect

    medium to avoid confrontation and risk of any form of rebel-

    FOCUS QUESTIONS

    ! What were some of the differences in treatment of slaves before and after the Civil War? 

    ! How did the narrative styles in these accounts compare? 

    ! What were the reasons that contributed to the differences in slave narratives during the antebellum

    and post-bellum period?

    2

    Introduction

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    lion by slaves because they simply informed readers on the

    slave experience in a literary manner. This was an important

    spark that helped ignite the abolitionist movement because it

    increased awareness of racism to many Americans and chal-

    lenged their conservative

     views. Most of these narra-

    tives were written in a linear

    structure, by creating the

    story of an individual’s jour-

    ney from enslavement to free-

    dom. The individual estab-

    lishes his or her identity and

    then describes life as a slave

    filled with emotional lan-

    guage detailing the horrors

    of family separation, the sex-

    ual abuse of black women,

    the inhuman workload, the

    brutality of flogging, and the

    severe living conditions of

    slave life (“Publishers’ Bind-

    ings Online: Slave Narra-

    tives”).

     

    After the Civil War, the enthusiasm for the slave narra-

    tive waned. The antebellum narrative served as a disclosure

    on the horrors of the “peculiar institution,” but after the

    Civil War settled the issue of slavery, the sympathy and enthu-

    siasm elicited by former writers such as Frederick Douglass

    and Harriet Jacobs seemed to decline. However, former

    slaves continued to record their experiences to prevent the dis-

    sipation of painful memories from the American public. In

    addition, narratives produced post-bellum were meager in

    number compared to the plethora of antebellum narratives.

    Themes differed between the two as well. The narratives now

    were more exclusive to nostalgic feelings and use of vivid im-

    agery deteriorated as stories told simply became reaffirma-

    tions of past life. There was an attempt to use such nostalgic

    memories as a form of validation in conquering the hard-

    ships endured by many African Americans. Ultimately, post-

    bellum slave narratives became an argument on the readiness

    of the freedman and freedwoman for full participation in the

    post-Civil War social and economic order (“North American

    Slave Narratives”).

    3

    The original book cover of “Narrative of the

     Life of Frederick Douglass”. (Douglsass,

    1999)

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    During the first half of the nineteenth century, Freder-

    ick Douglass was one of the most influential slave narrative

    authors in the crusade for abolition. As a former slave, he de-

    tails the origins of his life and describes events that recounts

    the horrors of slavery in many of his written memoirs and

    narratives

     

    Douglass was born into a life of slavery in Talbot

    county, Maryland. He was the son of a slave mother and a

    white man, whom might have been his first owner. Through-

    out his youth, he labored on farms. Some of his tasks in-

     volved “driving up the cows at evening, keeping the fowls out

    of the garden, keeping the front yard clean, and running er-

    rands for his old master’s daughter” ( Douglass, 26 ). As Doug-

    lass grew older, his daily tasks expanded to a variety of jobs

    including labor on a plantation field, work as a house servant,

    and a skilled craftsman in a Baltimore shipyard. And in his

    spare time, Douglass learned how to read and write with the

    help of his owner’s wife and local white children ( Foner, 395 ).

    He took an opportunity to escape north around the age of

    twenty and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he

    took advantage of his liter-

    acy to become one of the

    greatest advocates of racial

    equality. Douglass, an active

    member in reform move-

    ments, published “Narrative of the Life of Frederick

    Douglass” that describes a

     vivid imagery of slavery and

    the condemnation of ra-

    cism.

     

    In “Narrative of the Life

    of Frederick Douglass”, this

    slave narrative focuses on

    the conflict between African

    Americans and the oppres-

    4

    Frederick Douglass: Antebellum slave narrative

     A mistress is reading to slave children

    around the mid-nineteenth century.

    (Adams, 2004).

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    sive social order in the South during the antebellum era.

    Many aspects of daily life, treatment, and insights of slaves before the Civil War can be found in this work. Douglass

    notes the coerced separation between slave mothers and their

    children that was a common custom in Maryland. “Before

    the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken

    from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance

    off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman,

    too old for field labor”, says Douglass (2). The reasons for

    separation is not concrete but he claims that it is most likely

    to hinder the development of the child’s affection towards its

    mother. Douglass adds that he only saw her mother no more

    than four or five times and each visit was very short . This is

    only the beginning regarding the type of treatment received

    by slaves at the time. Douglass goes on to describe some of

    the violence and physical hardships encountered by typical

    slaves from cruel masters and overseers. Many were whipped

    for mere pleasure and Douglass accounts one permanently

    engraved memory on the torture received by his aunt. “I

    have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most

    heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he sued

    to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was

    literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers,

    from his gory victim seemed to move his torn heart from its

    bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he

    whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped

    longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip

    her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue,

    would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.” (Doug-

    lass, 6). Not only his aunt but also many others were perse-

    cuted with this level of physical abuse under a vast majority of Southern masters and overseers.

     

    Douglass writes about the living conditions of many

    slaves as well. He informs his audience that their was a

    monthly allowance of food and yearly clothing distributed to

    slaves but it was incredibly inadequate to live on. A typical al-

    lowance of monthly food included “eight pounds of pork, or

    5

     A sketch of Frederick Douglass from “Narrative of

    the Life of F

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