Slavery and the slave trade was a very disturbing and traumatizing experience for the blacks that were being exploited in America. This was responsible for denying the slaves a better life and closing up all channels that could redeem them from this cycle of slavery and poverty. Fredrick Douglas in the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” and also Charles Ball in “Fifty Years in Chains” narrate the trials, tribulations and suffering the slaves in South America went through in the era of slavery and how they denied them opportunities in life. This paper discusses and compares how the different geographic locations and slave systems in which Frederick Douglass and Charles Ball “Fifty Years in Chains” lived may have shaped their life circumstances.
Fredrick Douglas and Charles Ball were born in the South American region of Maryland; the region had once banned slavery then lifted the ban and thus the reintroduction of slavery. This geographic region was quite harsh to the children since any children born by slaves would later grow to become slaves. This was a progressive trend that would not only determine their future but also shape their life circumstances. Any child born in the regions that had not banned slavery would follow their parents’ fate in working in the plantations. In fact, the children would be separated from their mothers in order to never see them again. This was a great psychological stress that would hinder any positive progress in the child’s development.
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The South was known for its brutal handling and the merciless exploitation of the slaves and many slaves tried to escape to the North to escape the slavery. The South was known for its farming/agricultural activities where large plantations of cotton, rice, tobacco, and sugar were present and the farmers relied on human labor. This presented a huge demand for slaves who would provide free/cheap labor in the farms. The slaves that were in the south would be very unlucky since most states had allowed slave trade and slavery. In addition, the large plantations in the south would be the places of work for the many slaves who would not be paid anything.
They were afraid of the south because of the brutal treatment they would get once they were in the plantations; for instance Frederick gives an example of Edward Covey who was a poor farmer but had a reputation of beating up slaves. He was described as an expert in “slave breaking”. Indeed, he saw his own aunt get whipped for refusing to work in the farms. Charles Ball gives an account where those who were working in the cotton farms could not raise their heads to check who was passing; this was great injustice for the slaves. Slaves in the south also experienced many problems such as small rations of food, lack of basic necessities like clothing and decent shelter. The slave system in the south would only shape their lives to be slaves of the white men and despite wishing for a better life fate had its way meaning that they would continue the legacy of their parents. Slaves in the south had no way of changing their lives since the avenues of transforming their lives had been locked by the white men who used and abused them. Charles Ball quotes “I observed that these poor people did not raise their heads, to look at either the fine coaches and horses then passing, or at us; but kept their faces steadily bent towards the cotton-plants, from among which they were removing weeds. I almost shuddered at the sight, knowing that I myself was doomed to a state of servitude equally cruel and debasing, unless, by some occurrence, I might fall into the hands of a master of less inhumanity of temper than the one who had possession of the miserable creatures before me”.
Slaves would normally prefer to be urban slaves rather than rural slaves; this was in view of the fact that urban slaves had better treatment than rural slaves. While rural slaves would work in the plantations to farm the produce, the urban slaves would work in the urban centers in industrial activities. The urban slaves would be owned by a white man and would bring all the earning to the owner after working. They would be involved in jobs like tobacco factories, iron foundries, flour mills, loading ships and wagons and in cotton ginneries. They would also work as painters, barbers, blacksmiths and tailors; Frederick gives an example of when he was owned by Hugh Auld and was trained to work as a caulker. The relieving part was that the urban slaves would keep some of their earnings but surrender most of it to their owner. In this regard no slave would be able to change their life since they had no money to empower themselves.
The worst part is that they were never allowed to be educated. Education would be the key to open up opportunities to a better life but unluckily the whites saw any educated slave as a threat. Frederick gives an account on how being taught the alphabet by Sophia Auld made her husband angry and furious. Frederick quotes “if you give a nigger an inch he will take an ell. Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. If he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave. He should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it”.
Educating a slave was a way to buy his freedom and Frederick was more committed to learn so that he could finally be free and change his life forever. Urban slaves were luckier since they did not spend most of their time in the farm and had some time to spare for education; they also interacted with the white and hence were better exposed than the rural slaves. This meant they would learn more things as opposed to being in the farms weeding or harvesting.
The urban slaves were more skilled and this would enable them to get better jobs especially when they became experts. However the whites saw them as a threat and would at most times beat them up. For instance, Frederick gives an instance when he went to be skilled as caulker and was assaulted by the whites. This however did not stop him from being an expert in the fields and get better pay; the bottleneck was that he would surrender everything to his owner. The urban slaves were able to form educational associations to help their fellow black slaves to enlighten and change their lives; such associations included the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society that enlightened the free blacks in urban areas. This was in their quest to change their lives for the better.
Justice was also another factor that denied the slaves a better future; without a doubt, there were so many injustices that were faced by the blacks. From assault, to meager food rations and to exploiting the children, these injustices became a great hindrance to the better life that every slave wished for. For instance, Frederick gets assaulted by whites for learning to be a caulker, and despite his owner Hugh Auld pushing for charges there were no white witnesses to testify against their fellow whites. Moreover, the justice system did not accept testimonies from blacks against a white. Making it positively in this kind of system as a black person was difficult since the systems set would only be very discriminative and most of all oppressive. They were systems developed to make sure the rich whites became richer while the poor black slave became more desperate with life and poorer.
In his narration Charles Ball describes that slaves in cotton plantation needed to have prime hands and thus only those who were strong and young would be sold in such areas. He himself was one of the targets and his master saw that he would fetch good money. In the rice fields less work was done and moreover the crop was not doing well hence slaves would go for a less value.
The difference in the plantations was the amount of work done and in plantations that were having more work slaves would cost more. Thus slaves would be sold to such farms making them work for numerous hours and deny them the right to be free. They would always be tired and given less time to rest to make sure they never planned anything that would save them from their misery. Such conditions were very disturbing and such oppressions were able to deny. Frederick Douglass and Charles Ball among other slaves had the opportunities to change their lives. The only system they could use to change their lives was to escape to the north and get their freedom. However it was not an easy way since there were many risks and huddles involved if they were caught escaping they would be killed or be sold again to slavery. This was a vicious cycle of slavery and poverty that the slaves had to put up with; but those who were determined gained their freedom and a chance to a better life.