When slavery was around it was a horrific thing; an act of hatred, many atrocious acts of violence and felony was committed, and many got away without any sort of punishment for the pain the inflicted on their “property”. But not every slave had the same experience, it can differ due to how dark their skin was, how old they were, or what their gender may be. Throughout this essay we will be looking at different pieces of literature from former slaves and slaves at the time who were promoting the abolitionist movement. These pieces of literature will confirm that not every slave was treated the same, especially when it came to gender.
Many of the narratives presented in this article have much different stories from one another. In the narrative by Olaudah Equiano, The interesting Narrative and Other Writings he was often sold off from one slave owner to another, he was seen as valuable because he was a young strong black man. His master new he was much more valuable in a place like Carolina, Equiano stated, “he could get much more than a hundred guineas for me in Carolina”[footnoteRef:1]. Plantation owners wanted healthy strong black men to work the fields because they knew they could get more out of them. They would be much stronger than woman and children who worked the fields. [1: Equiano, Olaudah, and Vincent Carretta. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. Longueuil, Québec: Point Par Point, 2007, 124.]
The form of discipline many slave owners chose to inflict on their slaves was physical brute force which left them in fear of rising up against their masters knowing they could very well hurt them again. In Equiano’s case he mentions a time when he was in Georgia working on a plantation his master beat him stating “They beat and mangled me in a shameful manner, leaving me nearly dead”[footnoteRef:2]. His master could have beat him because he wanted his slaves to fear him or it could have been because he saw them as nothing more than a toy for him to torture. [2: Equiano, 129.]
I noticed in Equiano’s case, although he was treated harshly, he was treated with much more respect than I would have imagined. He was taught to read and write and in many cases the master treated him like he was a friend or a crew member rather than a slave. He even had one master who asked him “if he had ever done me any harm”[footnoteRef:3], Equiano cared for this man and was deeply saddened by the loss of his master and friend. [3: Equiano, 143.]
When we look at the female’s cases, they share some of the same experiences as men, but they differ in a way. A lot of woman were used by the plantation owners as a means of sexual pleasure. In the case of Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the life of a slave girl, she was constantly sought out by her master for sexual pleasure. She mentions how her master said “He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things”[footnoteRef:4], he not only used her as someone to work the house, but he used her so he could receive sexual pleasure. [4: Joan P. Kelly, Harriet Jacobs ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’: the Recovery of a Slave Narrative(Mineola, NY: Dover Publications inc., 2001)), 26.]
When slave owners engaged in sexual activity with their slaves, often time the mistress of the house will be fit in a jealous rage. Some of the girls felt the wrath of the mistress for their husbands being disloyal to them and since they had no control over their husbands’ actions, they take it out on the only person they can, the slave that was assaulted. In Jacobs narrative she mentions “I was a object of her jealousy, and, consequently, of her hatred”[footnoteRef:5], most times the mistress will beat them or scorn them while other times the mistress leaves them in the mercy to their husbands knowing they have no power or control over the entire situation. [5: Jacobs, 30. ]
In Jacobs book, not only was she tormented physically, but she was also tormented mentally. While Jacobs was in hiding from Dr. Flint, he had put her children and brother in jail, she says “I was encountering dangers for the sake of freeing them, and must I be the cause of their death”[footnoteRef:6], you can clearly see this is effecting her mentally, she is beginning to blame herself for the imprisonment of her children. All she wants to do is go back to the plantation and free them, but she knows she must stay in hiding, it was for her own good and the good of her family. [6: Jacobs, 85]
Not only were woman used to work the fields and in the house for a profit, but they were also seen as a profit to be made by producing more slaves for the plantation owner to do with as they please. They could either sell them or have them working on their plantation, when Jacobs had her baby she says “when my master found that I still refused to accept what he called his kind offers, he would threaten to sell my child”[footnoteRef:7]. There was a profit he could make, and it helped bend her to his will and take advantage of her. [7: Jacobs, 66]
In the case of Solomon Northup, in the movie 12 years a slave produced by Steven McQueen[footnoteRef:8], when Northup was on the first plantation, he did not want to accept his fate of being a slave, he often talked back and showed how well he was educated. This made one of the masters angry and attempt to kill him, but of course that would mean losing profitable money. The same could be said with Patsy, she was able to collect the most cotton and when the mistresses asked the plantation owner to kill her for stealing her husband’s affections, they refused because of the profit she made and instead they flogged her. Both men and woman could range in profit depending on how built they were and how capable they were of making the most money for the plantation owners. [8: Bauer, Patricia. 12 Years a Slave. Youtube. Directed by Steven McQueen. New Orleans: Fox search light pictures (North America), Entertainment One Films (United Kingdom and Ireland), Summit Entertainment (International), 2013.]
Men and woman were both beaten and tortured in numerous ways as mentioned in Equiano’s narrative and in Jacob’s narrative. Although the beatings seem to be much more prominent when it is on a southern plantation rather than on a boat working as a crew member[footnoteRef:9] or in the North while working as a nurse[footnoteRef:10]. Although the pain suffered by the hand of the slave owners is only half of the damage, of course there are psychological effects on the individual as well. In the movie 12 years a slave, you can clearly see Patsy’s mental health slowly deuterating, she goes from this happy girl dancing in the plantation house to asking Northup to kill her in the river.[footnoteRef:11] [9: Equiano, Olaudah, and Vincent Carretta. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. Longueuil, Québec: Point Par Point, 2007.] [10: Joan P. Kelly, Harriet Jacobs ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’: the Recovery of a Slave Narrative(Mineola, NY: Dover Publications inc., 2001)).] [11: Bauer, Patricia. 12 Years a Slave. Youtube. Directed by Steven McQueen. New Orleans: Fox search light pictures (North America), Entertainment One Films (United Kingdom and Ireland), Summit Entertainment (International), 2013.]
Lots of men and woman worked in the fields all day long, picking cotton, planting seeds, and even building houses. This caused physical exhaust on the individuals to the point where they are worked to death. In a scene in 12 years a slave there was a man working out in the fields on and exceptionally hot day and he is seen falling over and dying do to sever exhaustion. When Northup buries the man, you can see that there are several other gravestones for those who have passed away, presumably the same way the man on the field did.[footnoteRef:12] [12: Bauer, Patricia. 12 Years a Slave. Youtube. Directed by Steven McQueen. New Orleans: Fox search light pictures (North America), Entertainment One Films (United Kingdom and Ireland), Summit Entertainment (International), 2013.]
When men and woman were able to flee into the North there are some differences that cannot go unnoticed. When Northrup returns, he is able to have his own house, work at a job for wages, and have more freedom in the area around them.[footnoteRef:13] But when it comes to females like in Harriet Jacobs case she must work in another’s household and may not have possession of her children while living there, her daughter is sent off to boarding school and her son moves to California to be with his uncle. Black woman have the least amount of power during this time and it really sparked a movement. [13: Bauer, Patricia. 12 Years a Slave. Youtube. Directed by Steven McQueen. New Orleans: Fox search light pictures (North America), Entertainment One Films (United Kingdom and Ireland), Summit Entertainment (International), 2013.]
In Sojourner Truth speech Ain’t I a woman She calls men out on the fact that she is fully capable of doing as much as any man and more, “I could work as much and eat as much as a man- when I could get it- and bear the lash as well”[footnoteRef:14]. This speech is very powerful in a way that men are clearly being presented with the facts of woman being fully capable of doing and being as much as men do, they aren’t some princesses that need help getting into their carriages, rather they are strong and independent individuals who are willing to work hard for their freedom. Especially black woman. [14: Sojourner Truth, “Aint I a Woman?”. Speech, Old Stone Church, Akron, Ohio, 1851.]
As you can clearly see there are some differences between a male and female slave. Yes, there are a lot of things they have in common like how they ended up in the slave trade and some of the punishments they may endure, but often times men and woman are used in completely different ways in order for the plantation owner to make more of a profit. As well as men having more freedom even after they have escaped from the slave plantations. It was a serious injustice at the time and many people began to realize slavery was not the best way to go about things. Then sparked up the abolitionist movement to help free the slaves which really helped push for the civil war on the southern end.