Was American slavery much different from the enslavement of people in other places and times? Thanks.
My layman’s understanding: American slavery was more permanent. It was a social status that was inherited and that could only be escaped through great luck or great determination. And, even when escaped, hung around the person making them quasi-outcasts.
Slavery in the Roman era was more fluid. A slave could become a freeman without enormous social stigma sticking to either him or his offspring. Also, a very well educated, unique or useful slave (someone who was important before they were enslaved) could have significant social status despite being theoretically inferior.
Also, American slavery was heavily tied to race whereas previous episodes of slavery were not.
I got these ideas partly from some Medieval studies classes and partly from the HBO miniseries, Rome. Please enlighten me!
In one way, American slavery was a bit more benign than in the Carribean: slaves in the Caribbean were generally worked to death and then replaced by new ones. In the US, slaves were considered too valuable and were actually given enough food to survive and, especially, reproduce. After 1808, importation of new slaves were banned, but the slave population had been growing on its own before that.
But of course, it was still almost impossible to hope for manumission; families were broken up with no thought for the slaves and life was still miserable; it just wasn’t short. And I don’t imagine their prospects were good after they passed the age of utility.
Was the Helot slave caste in Sparta as race/ethic based as African-American slavery? Was a helot a helot no matter what?
That really depended on the slave’s master. Some were brutal about “retiring” old/injured/disabled slaves. Others would find lighter work for less able slaves or otherwise make provision for them. But, since there was no requirement that such be done it was a total crapshoot for the slave, and if the master’s circumstances changed it could be disasterous
One can’t give a precise answer, of course, because “enslavement of people in other places and times” covers a huge gamut of practices over many cultures and thousands of years. However, some of the distinguishing characteristics of American slavery (most of which have already been mentioned) were:
[ul]American slavery was mostly race-based. Other than birth, slaves entered the pipeline via importation from Africa. In other times and places, slaves were more likely to be prisoners or prisoners of war, or to have been sold into slavery by destitute parents.[/ul]
[ul]American slavery was inheritable in the female line. (Of course, this somewhat conflicted with the previous bullet, since children of white fathers and slave mothers could accumulate white blood.) In many slave-owning cultures, children of slaves were born free.[/ul]
[ul]American slaves were chattels–that is, they were movable and transferable from one owner to another. Under some systems of slavery, slaves were tied to the land and couldn’t be bought or sold as individuals.[/ul]
[ul]Under American slavery, women worked alongside men. After the invention of the cotton gin, huge amounts of American slave labor went into planting and picking cotton, which women could perform as well as men. (For some tasks which slaves were assigned in other cultures, such as mining and sugar refining, this was not the case.) This dove-tailed with the other features of American slavery, as slaves were “bred” instead of imported (after 1808) because women could double as laborers and “breeders”.[/ul]None of these features were unique to slavery in the United States, but all serve to distinguish American slavery from some versions of slavery in other times and places.
It’s my understanding that the Arabs used a lot of African slaves (as the Eastern half of the same business), but that they castrated the men. A lot of the men didn’t survive the ‘operation.’ African slaves in Arab countries thus did not form families, and were frequently worked to death; women weren’t always capable of bearing children by their masters because they weren’t healthy enough. What children there were–if they survived–eventually mixed into the general population.
I haven’t read much on the subject though, so any further information is welcome.
And, to an extent, slavery was caused more by nthings one could control, unlike ones race. For example, many slaves in Rome were taken from rebellious tribes or enemies. Dont go to war with Rome, dont become a slave. Whereas American slavery was race-based.
As other posters mentioned, race was the predominant factor in American slavery. Keep in mind that if you are thinking of the US as America, slavery was originally a Dutch and British institution, which changed over time. I seem to remember that it was possible for a white man to become a slave, I remember a reference to that happening to some Irish. There were versions of slavery that were very close to indentured servitude, and slavery grew more oppressive and regulated and race focused in the south as the demands of the abolitionists grew stronger. I think that the combination of race and the change in the forms of slavery, with the simultaneous increasing independence and respect for the individual in the rest of society, was what made American slavery different. Add to that the fact that any ancient Greek or Roman knew, at some level, that at the whims of the gods, he or she might become a slave. Such a thought was unthinkable for an Englishman in the Americas.
Roman slaves were allowed to be educated, whereas it was against the law for American slaves to learn to read. I don’t know if mandatory illiteracy was exclusive to American slaves, but it sure was a strange restriction.
Actually, the original “slaves” in North America were indentured servants. Some were indentured to pay for passage to North America (seven years was a typical span), some were criminals indentured as punishment for their crimes for various terms (including for life in some instances), and some were Africans brought to the colonies against their will and then indentured. In fact, one my husband’s ancestors came from Scotland to the New World as a criminal indentured for life (which lasted only until he ran off to live with the Cherokee).
Over time, of course, the institution changed until there was no longer indentured servitude and slavery was race-based and inherited.
I’m not sure that was true of all slaves. Each state that permitted slavery had its own slave code.
One thing that surprised me to learn about Roman slaves was that, apparently, there was space reserved for them in the upper levels of the Colosseum, implying that, at least some of the time, they had a modicum of leisure and freedom of movement.
Yes and no. They were not “ethnically” different from the Spartans, but the SPartans thought of the Helots as almost subhuman creatures anyway, and as a distinct people to be kept on a tight lease but a short distance away.
Actually, this is not the least different from American slavery - in the cities. City-worker slaves were often the servants of the rish, and their duties were both less harsh and less-time-consuming. They often could in both cases have some real free time, and were usually allowed more freedom. They didn’t often abuse it, because both knew that the same harsh penalties that rural slaves would receive still awaited them should they do so.
The timeline you use depends heavily on what you include in “North America.”
Technically, slavery in the Caribbean came first. The Spanish enslaved Native Americans almost from the time of first contact. When they did not prove to be good slaves, Africans were imported. Both the Spanish and the French relied heavily on slave labor, especially on the sugar plantations.
Similarly, the Spanish in Mexico made both natives and imported Africans slaves. Black slaves outnumbered the Spanish until the 18th century, IIRC.
If you limit the area to British North America and what would become the United States, you see slavery and indentured servitude starting almost simultaneously. The first Africans were slaves sold by the Dutch to the Jamestown colonists in 1619, who then transmuted them into indentured servants. Bounties to pay for English indentured servants started at around the same time.
So it’s only correct to talk about indentured servitude starting first if you limit the discussion to the British system.
More generally, American slavery in the south after the U.S. became a country closely resembled French and Spanish slavery. The slave-owners were generally owners of plantations who needed large numbers of cheap workers (and personal servants) and so had the same needs as the Caribbean plantation owners and certainly knew all about their handling of slaves. We inherited our system of slavery rather than initiated a new one.