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Comparative essay on origins of race-based slavery in United States

Comparative essay on origins of race-based slavery in United States

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Published by Brian A. Salmons
Comparison of views on the origin of race-based slavery in the United States as presented in Kathleen M. Brown's "Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs" and Ira Berlin's "Generations of Captivity"; written for Dr. Craig Friend's "History of the South" class at University of Central Florida, Summer 2005.
Comparison of views on the origin of race-based slavery in the United States as presented in Kathleen M. Brown's "Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs" and Ira Berlin's "Generations of Captivity"; written for Dr. Craig Friend's "History of the South" class at University of Central Florida, Summer 2005.

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Published by: Brian A. Salmons on Mar 10, 2009
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05/10/2014

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“Consider the readings you have done in Brown and Berlin…Where do these historiansagree and disagree on the development of colonial slavery, particularly in the Chesapeakeregion?”In Berlin’s analysis of the African-American slavery
Generations of Captivity
, hedivides the history of slavery into “generations”, overlapping groups of slave families andindividuals that are not necessarily descended from one another but inheriting alike theyoke of bondage. Berlin’s analysis is thorough in his description of each “generation” andhow they differed from one another and his “generational” approach to the history of slavery is as didactic as it is dramatic. However, Berlin does little in his book to explainhow the race-based system of slavery came to exist in colonial America and how, if at all,the “generations” model explains its development.In Brown’s
Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs
, on the other hand,her original analysis of the development of slavery in colonial Virginia is very thorough,if at times difficult to untangle. According to Brown, race-based slavery could not havedeveloped in colonial Virginia without having its base in traditional English gender ideology. In this view, women occupied a subordinate position to men in the “naturalorder” and, hence, their subordinate position in society was deemed appropriate and“natural”. As the English began to venture outside of their own domain they encounteredculures whose gender-ways differed radically from their own and even appeared to be aninversion of English gender-ways, where men were like women and women were likemen. These first encounters on the “gender frontier” gave the English a verbal andsymbolic discourse with which to define themselves as Englishmen. The racial basis of slavery was solidified through the application of this legal and political discourse of femininity to describe black slaves (a process ongoing since the early 17
th
century, but
 
intensified after Bacon’s Rebellion), thereby by linking their subordination to that of women and, likewise, “naturalizing” it.Brown’s explanation of the existence, early on in the development of slavery, of free blacks is that they had managed to appropriate the trappings of “masculinity” as theEnglish defined it, linking themselves with the ruling class and securing their status asfreedmen. In this Berlin seems to agree. His “charter generation” of “Atlantic creoles"came into slavery equipped with the cultural know-how to regain their freedom andthrough the use of patronage and ingratiating themselves to their owners they achieved just that. However, Brown’s and Berlin’s explanations of the consolidation of race-basedslavery in the late 17
th
century differ considerably. Brown’s analysis centers on the socialand political consequences of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, in which a white “alliance” between slave-owners and poor whites was formed based on the exclusion of women andnon-whites. This alliance was the final stage in the process of ensuring slave-owner’slegal power over slaves by the exclusive definition of “black” as “slave” and “white” as“free”. According to Berlin, who called these slaves the “plantation generation”, it wasnot the English colonial’s quest for a masculine identity that doomed them to a life of servitude but, rather, the slaves’ own inability to ingratiate themselves to a white patronand lift themselves up out of their condition, as had their predecessors the Atlanticcreoles. While Berlin does concede that (only after Bacon’s Rebellion) racial difference“became the basis of allegiance” between the elites and poor whites and “the foundationupon which the social order rested” (59), his analysis of the rise of the plantationeconomy in the Chesapeake seems not to go beyond a few sentences about the planter’sinsatiable appetite for more land and profits and the increasing weight of laws

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