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Stevie Ann Wright

AAS 326
Dr. Ross
25 October 2014
Slavery: A Dehumanizing System
The conceptual idea of slavery can more than likely be dated
back ” in the wake of Columbus’s crossing the Atlantic in 1492 [when]
trade between Europe, America, and Africa profoundly transformed
economies and societies on all three continents” (Dubois, 7). Due to
the rapidly growing economies and increasing demands for faster
production of certain products, such as “tobacco, cotton, indigo, and
most important, sugar,” there was a sudden demand for a new concept
to be known as a plantation (Dubois, 7). Plantations were, simply put,
big houses set on many acres of land that could be used to produce
crops to fulfill the needs of the people and their continuously growing
economy. Because the people who owned the plantations did not want
to do all the hard labor themselves, they “depended on forced labor,
sometimes of indigenous captives” to do it for them in exchange for
food and a place to sleep (Dubois, 7). During the early years “of
colonization in the French Caribbean, as in other New World societies,
plantations were worked by a mixture of indentured servants from
Europe and slaves imported from Africa” contrary to the popular belief
that plantation workers were only of the African descent (Dubois, 12).

Because there was such a heavy uprising of slaves of African descent,
it is no wonder that people automatically assume that all slaves came
from Africa. With every new concept there are always people who like
to abuse the system. Slavery itself is a dehumanizing system that was
created to destroy the self-confidence of the slave and in turn use
them for manual labor. Most plantations had horrible living conditions
and the slaves who worked there were fed scraps. In correlation with
the horrible living conditions, “Constant imports were needed because
between 5 and 10 percent of [places that kept slaves such as] Saint
Domingue’s plantation slaves died of overwork, malnutrition, disease,
and harsh treatment every year” (Dubois, 13). As if being treated and
living poorly were not harsh enough, plantation owners then began to
trade and sell slaves between nations. During the seventeenth and the
eighteenth centuries, many plantation owners shipped in slaves from
all over against their will and forced them to work on their land.
Essentially, these people who were picked up out of the blue and
brought to a new place to work, were treated like animals and forced
into even worse conditions then they were in before. Slavery was a
dehumanizing system because it was designed to destroy the selfconfidence of the people who were slaves by treating them poorly, but
still making them feel like they are better off where they are now then
where they were.

As stated before, slavery was quickly becoming a new fad to aid
in the labor and production of certain goods. Because of this new fad, a
new market was created for the trade and purchasing of slaves among
nations. People who owned slaves or wanted to own them could trade
them back and forth as easily as if it was any other piece of property
that they owned. It does not come as a surprise that because there
was a new market specifically for slave trade that during the 1700s
there were record-breaking numbers on the amount of Africans that
were being imported among countries. Due to the high amounts of
slaves being imported, mainly from Africa, the population as a whole in
the French Caribbean skyrocket. “By the eighteenth century, slaves
made up approximately 90 percent of the population on both islands”
(Dubois, 12). With every new fad there are always people who disagree
with it and that was made apparent late on in the eighteenth century.
In the late 1700s, there was a massive slave revolution outbreak on
the French Caribbean island of Saint Domingue. It nonetheless
abolished the act of slavery all over Saint Domingue. However, the far
side of the island, which for the most part remains fairly uninhabited
due to its isolation, was still notorious for buying “many of their slaves
as contraband” (Dubois, 12).
The French Caribbean is most well known during this era for the
island nation of Saint Domingue. Many historical events took place on
the islands of the French Caribbean, especially in the 1600s when

slavery was still a brand new concept. As the new concept blossomed,
so did the emergence of a new code of laws. Drafted in the later
1600s, The Noirs Codes were a “comprehensive slave code to replace
the piecemeal local laws written by colonial administrators and judges”
(Dubois, 49). Simply put, this new code set specific guidelines on how
plantation owners and slaves should interact on a daily basis. Most
clauses pertaining to plantation owners, also now known as “Masters,”
were basic laws that governed how “Masters” were to treat the slaves
living and working on their land. The clauses that were pertinent to the
slaves were far more demanding. Slaves were now expected to adapt
their lives entirely leaving behind all the values and lifestyle choices
they had grown accustom to previously. While reviewing The Noirs
Codes more thoroughly, the Second and Third clauses stood out
because of their particularly offensive statements. First, the Second
Clause reads as follows: “All the slaves in our Islands will be baptized
and instructed in the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion…”
(Dubois, 50). Second, the Third Clause reads as: “We forbid any public
exercise of any religion other than Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman; we
wish that the offenders be punished as rebels and disobedient to our
orders…” (Dubois, 50). Both of these clauses pose extreme ethical
issues. No one nation should be allowed to force religious views on
another person. The Noirs Codes are dehumanizing to slaves because
it takes away their freedom to make their own decisions. By declaring

these laws just, the French Monarchy believed that the islands of the
French Caribbean would finally become a well-run and cohesive
community. It is no wonder that after many years of being treated
poorly, “a carefully constructed coalition of Africans and island-born
plantation workers” began “a massive slave revolution” on the island
of Saint Domingue (Dubois, 8). As the revolution continued, Napoleon
and his troops “attempted to restore the old colonial system” (Dubois,
8). They were successful in Guadeloupe where they defeated a group
of soldiers, all of African descent. When the same group of soldiers
fought back again in Saint Domingue, Napoleon and his troops were
not as successful, resulting in a defeat. “On January 1, 1804, their
leaders transformed Saint-Domingue into an independent American
nation. They called it Haiti, the name once used by indigenous
inhabitants” (Dubois, 8).
Jamaica was another island that fell to the heinous act of poor
slave treatment as well during this time. Following closely behind the
French Caribbean, Jamaica enforced the “same life-and-death power
over their slaves” (Dubois, 14). Since Jamaica’s laws were so closely
related to that of the French Caribbean’s, it is more than likely true that
they also followed in the French Caribbean’s footsteps when it came to
disciplining their slaves. Violence to punish slaves for disobedient
behavior was widely used during this time, especially in Saint
Domingue. “Masters and their employees maintained estate discipline

through regular torture and execution of rebellious field workers. They
often meted out punishments publicly to terrorize other slaves, forcing
them to watch and sometimes participate” (Dubois, 14). It is hard to
fully understand why both the French Caribbean and Jamaica chose to
treat their slaves so harshly. Some might argue that back during this
time period, violence to get corrective results was the only way they
knew how to solve issues they wanted to cease. Others might argue
that they chose these methods of punishment and violence simply
because they wanted to state their dominance as a nation. In my
opinion, I think the French Caribbean and Jamaica used violence as a
form of reinforcement because it was the easiest, and probably the
only, way they knew how to make a valid point and prevent the same
behavior from happening again. It is safe to say that King Louis XVI and
the French Monarchy issued these rules against the slaves initially to
keep the cohesiveness of the community in tact with the new
development of slavery. As the slavery movement continued, more and
more people kept disregarding the laws set forth by the French. This
made it even more difficult for the government to maintain communal
cohesiveness between everyone.
Slavery was a dehumanizing system because it was designed to
destroy the self-confidence of people who were slaves. Throughout the
history of slavery, there have been many attempts to abolish slavery.
However, the only successful slave rebellion was the Haitian

Revolution. As previously stated, the revolution began in Saint
Domingue, better known now as Haiti, in 1791. In September of 1791,
Pierre Mossut who was a plantation manager wrote a letter to his
employer, Marquis de Gallifet describing the destruction being caused
by the slave uprising. Mossut talks about the attacks, how he ended up
wounded, and also about the destruction they caused to Gallifet’s
plantation. He writes: “….I could see your plantations perfectly well. All
the bagasse houses have been destroyed, along with all the cane that
was to be crushed between now and the end of the year” (Dubois, 49).
People involved in the slave uprising were now demolishing plantations
all across Saint Domingue. In an attempt to restore order, Napoleon led
his troops to Saint Domingue. Napoleon then went on to be defeated
which resulted in the independence of the island now known as Haiti.
Because Haiti broke free from the reigns of the French, the slaves
finally received the freedom they had so long hoped for. The revolution
ended and society was back to being cohesive for the moment.