Essay about Chapter Four And Five Of Peter Kolchin 's American Slavery

Essay about Chapter Four And Five Of Peter Kolchin 's American Slavery

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The relationship between master and slave in the Old South was as unique to the region as mint juleps. In no other time or place were master and slave in such proximity and so involved in each other’s private lives. What was it that lead slave-owners to take such an interest in their slaves’ lives? To what extent, and in what ways, were masters involved with their slaves, or vice versa? In this brief paper I will answer these questions using chapters four and five of Peter Kolchin’s American Slavery 1619-1877. The fact that slave-owners had such an active, personal interest in their slaves is only surprising before examining the evidence that Kolchin provides.
There are several factors that contributed to the Old South’s peculiar institution; an institution in which masters would describe their relationship to their slaves as “love” of their “people.” Kolchin tells us that while there is “no one slavery that encompasses the experiences of all slaves and masters” but there are “dominant patterns” (Kolchin, 99). One such pattern is that most American slaves were in small holdings compared to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil; seventy-five percent were in holdings of less than fifty slaves (Kolchin, 101). The extremely vast majority of these small-holding owners were also resident masters, meaning they did not often leave their estates or have business elsewhere (Kolchin, 101). Another pattern unique to American slavery is that, due to importation of slaves being illegal after 1808, an increasingly higher percentage of slaves were assimilated into American culture as they were decedents of slaves going back even five generations in some cases (Kolchin 94). Also due to the end of the international slave trade, slave...


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... against slaves and the punishments for them: killing a slave is murder, making a slave work on Sunday was a $10 fine, cruel punishment of slave was up to a $30 fine (Kolchin, 130). Kolchin points out that these laws are easily circumvented, but their existence suggests that polite society was aware of and opposed to the abuses of slavery, however slight (Kolchin, 131).
We know that slavery was a complicated subject, but nothing shows that complexity more that the paternalistic interventions of slave owners. With it comes several dualities. On one hand a master is to be humane to his slaves, yet slavery is inhumane. He is to give his slaves a degree of autonomy, but only in an effort keep them dependent. Even the law both restricts and protects slaves. I find it sufficient to say that American slavery was indeed unique and by no understatement a peculiar institution.

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