I always thought of serfdom as more like indentured servitude rather than chattel slavery. Were serfs bought and sold like slaves were? Were the children of serfs considered property of the overlord, subject to sale to a different overlord? Or were they just tied to the same land as their parents?
Serfs are tied to the land. So they aren’t bought and sold - but they can’t leave the land. If the land moves to a different owner, they stay with the land. Fall in love with someone from the next estate over - can’t leave the land. And its hereditary - your parents belong to this piece of land, you do too.
Most of the abuses of slavery - but not the breaking up of families or treating slaves like livestock - occurred with serfdom - beatings, starvation, rape.
Thanks, I could have looked it up, but was lazy (and I was close for my poor memory for dates).
I wasn’t any more industrious than you. I remembered it because I taught history for so many years.
Oh, indentured servitude is when you have a contract to pay off debt (or work off crime) - say 10 years. Again, a lot of the same abuse, and it wasn’t unheard of for masters to ignore the terms of the contract - adding say room and board so you could never get free of your contract. Contracts often forbid marriage. But MOST indentured servants served fairly short terms and MOST entered into the arrangement more or less voluntarily (it paid for passage to the New World).
I hadn’t heard the “forced interbreeding” story, but it is true that the civil wars in England and Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland in the seventeenth century produced lots of convicted rebels who were sent to the Caribbean as slaves. The novel/movie “Captain Blood” takes its theme from that; and “The Story of English” by Robert MacNeil mentions the survival of a particular dialect of English in the Caribbean descended from those convict slaves.
But it was a myth, debunked by modern Irish historians. They were a separate workforce from the Africans, and free after 4-9 years.
However, the fatality rate on the “death ships” bringing starved Irish to North America from the Potato Famine was greater than the Middle Passage from Africa.
There’s no authentication that Freud said the Irish defy psychoanalysis, but I can testify that Irish-Americans have zero “White Guilt” on their conscience, New York 1863 and Chicago 1919 notwithstanding; and the White prison gangs are as likely to sport shamrock tattoos as swastikas.
Too late to further edit, but I shouldn’t have used “slaves” because of its connotation of hereditary chattel bondage, which the transported never sank to. But involuntary deportation and labor certainly.
I believe our arguments have reached a point of agreement.
According to the authors of “To Make Our World Anew” - breeding was very profitable - because in the U.S. you couldn’t simply go out and get more (although some illegal importation did occur after 1808). That was one of the unique factors to American slavery. The rest of the New World either got rid of it altogether (Canada, Haiti - but not because white people wanted to get rid of it), or kept importing for another 50 years (I think more in the case of Brazil).
Serfs are theoretically tied to the land. But if you look up old newspapers from the 18th and early 19th century, you can find advertisements offering individual serfs for sale. It was much closer to chattel slavery than to medieval serfdom.
Yeah, serfdom didn’t have some fixed universal legal definition across all of Europe. The earliest beginnings of serfdom can be traced back to Diocletian reforms in the late Western Roman Empire–manpower concerns were getting bad, and Diocletian imposed tax schemes on Roman citizen tenant farmers that set them up for structural difficulties moving off their land. Reforms of subsequent Emperors over the next 150 years created a class of Romans who were basically bound hereditarily to the land. In a sense the way the Romans tried to solve manpower shortages (because Roman slavery generally wasn’t self-perpetuating, they did not reproduce above replacement rate, so if you weren’t bringing new slaves in all the time, you had fewer and fewer slaves every year) was actually turning previously free peoples into debt bonded serfs. Over the next 500+ years in Western Europe the practice outlasted the Roman Empire and evolved over time to be more formalized serfdom (under the Romans there were various legal fictions at play that the individuals were still free Roman citizens, by the early Middle Ages such fictions had been dispensed with.) However as many different nations emerged different behaviors around serfs emerged as well.
Interestingly Russia basically didn’t even have serfdom at the time it was at its peak in Western Europe, it just had mass slavery and extremely low levels of economic development. It developed its own brand of serfdom as the formation of modern Russia emerged. By the 18th century Russian serfdom was actually chattel slavery, simply called something else, Russian serfs could be bought and sold, and many great boyars controlled thousands of souls.
I wanted to give some space to think, and I still stand by my statement. The problem is this quote by you:
“Algerian slave raids for white slaves on the coasts of England, Ireland, Spain and Italy in the 16th-18th century, and America paying off North African states not to attack their ships and enslave their crews as late as 1800, are parts of history that don’t fit neatly into narratives of European supremacy.”
“White” is a seriously anachronistic concept here. First off, the North African pirate strongholds didn’t much care what later peoples would describe as the racial phylogeny of their victims. Second, it’s not even particularly true. The Mediterranean is a highway more than a barrier, and often there’s considerable ethnic contiguity with the people who live around it. Until the mid-20th century, most of the people captured by Mediterranean pirates would not have been considered White, at least in the United States. And in point of fact, even the idea of a quote-unquote “White” race is both a relatively recent and poorly justified concept.
Second, while it’s true that slavery is a much more expansive issue than merely Central African peoples being enslaved and brought to the New World, such issues are also frequently used to distract from the severe damage done, both to individuals and to entire cultures, kingdoms, and peoples. I believe your post comes dangerous close to dismissing that reality. Every single thing you posted is about Europeans suffering slavery. You may have meant it innocently, but I’ve seen too many people use the same arguments to handwave the moral problem of African slavery in the New World.
So basically, people almost anywhere and everywhere were subject to some form of slavery in their society, and especially at risk if captured by an enemy.
No surprise there. The Romans learned - you can either turn around and abandon conquered lands, or slaughter everyone and motivate the next kingdom to fight harder to the death, or enslave the captured people and disperse them so they don’t get together and rebel. The Babylonian exile was a form of this, so a concept known well before Rome and in other places.
Slavery as a means to create a workforce by importing slaves from elsewhere, or to allow for the support of indigents in a society without poorhouses or welfare, was also a common tool. If you could not support yourself, you became someone else’s property to support.
What made New World slavery a particularly heinous version of an old practice was the major differences. Romans or other cultures may have worked convicts and “difficult” captives to death - salt mines, gladiators, galley slaves, etc. America created a racial divide between the ruling class and the workers imported mainly to do the plantation work. They also used religious justifications to excuse slavery that religion had until then worked to phase out. The worst aspect was the sheer volume of the trade.
Local inhabitants either through cultural behaviour or susceptibility to Old World disease were not suitable workers. Unfortunately for sub Sahara Africans, they were suited to labour in tropical climates, and unfortunately an aspect of colonial occupation was the massive plantation economy focused on a few cash crops, requiring arduous labour in tropical heat.
So were “whites” (and many others) targeted by slaving raids from North Africa and Turkey? Yes. Were a helluva lot more Africans sold to “white” traders who transported them to the Americas, to a work life nasty, brutish and short? Yes.
I’m certainly not trying to dismiss concerns about African slavery by saying that slavery happened to everyone. I’m aware that white supremacists have used incorrect arguments about Irish ‘slaves’ to dismiss concerns about slavery, and to support racist views.
My comment wasn’t in that direction at all.
Their argument (I think) is that Irish ‘slaves’ did okay for themselves, and if Black slaves didn’t that’s because of racial inferiority. My comment was in the opposite direction, that Europeans are not inherently superior, and centuries-long enslavement of Europeans by Africans – in large and significant numbers – shows that.
You’re right in saying that North African slavery wasn’t primarily based on race, though it was to some extent. Blond and redhead slaves fetched higher prices, and Black slaves from sub-Saharan Africa were usually treated the worst and used for the most arduous work. But there wasn’t the same kind of clear racial divide that there was in North America. Black slaves could rise to supervisory positions, or be freed and become wealthy, and white slaves could be used in mines and agriculture.
North American slavery was unusual in world history in that it was based entirely on race, and was especially pernicious for that reason.
Kind of. The one drop rule meant it wasn’t really based on race as much as hereditary subjugation - and the number of light skinned people that escaped by passing for white (particularly men - it was, for various reasons, much more difficult for women to escape)…race is so much a social construct. It was justified with race and in the effect has been extreme amounts of systemic racism - and just plain old “we hate you” racism in our society. But - particularly when talking about light skinned women - it was about power and ownership and gender as much as it was about race.
There’s even some argument that the way slavery evolved in the Western Hemisphere kind of defined the way we think about race even to this day. I think why this occurred is actually because of the late Renaissance / Enlightenment going on. A lot of the people who owned slaves were well educated men, many liked to imagine themselves moral men. Many of the moral teachings of the day were making it very hard to reconcile slavery with then-modern moral teachings. What would have been behaviorally unremarkable a few generations prior (keeping slaves) and needing no justification, now needed one.
It is…extremely unsurprising to me that as moral thinking changed men found ways to create “pleasant fictions” so that they could believe they were behaving morally without having to do things that could harm their economic wealth / power. You see a lot of the same moralizing around slavery get applied by the Imperialist powers in Imperialism, as well. “Oh yes, these things we’re doing would be wrong, except we are civilizing these uncivilized savages.”
Thre’s an interesting bit in one of Feynman’s books (I think Surely You’re Joking, Mister Feynman ?) where he is touring a Caribbean island, and asks to see the parts tourists don’t see. This results in a discussion with the (black) taxi driver as to why some people, mainly East Indian immigrants, do so much better financially and Africans don’t. Feynman’s theory is that part of the problem is cultural - while Africans had their social fabric torn apart, their language and religious practices, separated from their elders with the repository of social knowledge and customs, the norms of social behavior - all whipped out of them; on the other hand, the East Indians chose to come to the West Indies, with all the support from surrounding family and correspondence with those back home, and never lost all the pieces of culture that come from being in their own small intact society. One group learned that hard work, education, and family got you everything, one group learned you did not get anything. It’s difficult to overcome that loss of culture.
This was Russian serfdom, which seems to have been somewhat different. They were supposed to be tied to the land at least in theory, but in practice, not so much it seems:
Only the Russian state and Russian noblemen had the legal right to own serfs, but in practice commercial firms sold Russian serfs as slaves – not only within Russia but even abroad (especially into Persia and the Ottoman Empire) as “students or servants”. Those “students and servants” were in fact owned by rich people, sometimes even by rich serfs, who were not noblemen. Emperor Nicholas I banned the trade in African slaves in 1842, though there were almost no Russians who participated in it, but Russian serfs were still sold and bought.
When you compare it to the west, it really wasn’t much better or worse, except for the fact it didn’t take a devastating war to end.
No, most landed in what is now Brazil but many were marched/transported elsewhere. My friend’s family is from Peru and her ancestors were put to work in the mines.