An Analysis on “The Colonial Era: A Documentary Reader,” Chapter 11:
“Slavery;” Racism and Classism in the Colonial Era
Dr. Michael Faubion
September 26, 2018
The colonial era is considered a period where 13 European colonies took over part of the United States of America to later become 13 states. During this time, slavery was completely legal and implemented in every colony. At first, Native Americans were the ones being oppressed and enslaved, but due to the fact that they started to die from European diseases, African Americans became an easy target to subjugate. The slaves, most African Americans in Virginia were marginalized because labor in Southern States was critical, but surprisingly, they had significant autonomy. Even though “free blacks” were a group of free men and women of African descent and some of them even owned slaves; they still did not get to enjoy the same rights as white citizens.
To begin with, in the “Colonial Era: A Documentary Reader,” Chapter 11, “Slavery,” Paul G. E. Clemens exhibits the way Racism and Classism is seen through the eyes of some minor nobility, gentry, and other aristocracy. One clear example of this is the “New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741:” where a “theft that was followed by a series of fires, and some whites concluded that there was a conspiracy afoot, involving the Hughsons and various slaves and free blacks, to burn New York,” “led to the execution of 30 slaves and four whites,” was very shocking. Mary Burton, a 16-year-old indentured servant of John and Sarah Hughsons, when asked to testify, she stated in her deposition that: “‘she has seen twenty or thirty negroes at one time in her master’s house…” “‘That Hughson (her master) and her mistress used to threaten, that if she herself, the deponent, ever made a mention of the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg, they would poison her; and the negroes swore, if ever she published, or discovered the design of burning the town, they would burn her whenever they met her. That she never saw an sic white person in company when they talked of burning the town, but her master, her mistress, and Peggy’.” This demonstrates how Mary is willing to “defend” white people but still turn in and “betray” the people she is working for and just exaggerate about how many “negroes” she saw, to save herself.
On the other hand, there are exceptions to the rule, for instance, in “A Virginia Planter Instructs his Plantation Manager about Enslaved Workers, 1743/4 and 1754,” Joseph Ball, the owner of Morattico, a plantation in Lancaster County, Virginia, tells his nephew Joseph Chinn to take care of his plantation based on the instructions he left him that were specific and very well-thought-out regarding his workers, Ball demanded to his nephew: “And Every one of the workers must have a Good Suite of the Welsh Plain made as it should be. Not to sic Scanty, nor bobtail’d. and Each must have Two shirts, or shifts, of the ozenbrigs…And all workers must have Good strong Shoes, ; Stockings.” This passage of Joseph Ball indicating how to take care of his enslaved workers is perhaps just him being smart enough to keep them healthy and strong for a longer period of time or perhaps it conveys he cares about them and is interested in their needs.
Throughout this chapter, it is evident that Classism along with Racism were the two things that ruled during the Colonial Era. Slavery in the Northern States was ended after the American Revolution but unfortunately kept occurring in the Southern States. Racism and classism were both being justified by this idea that African Americans were somehow less than humans; thus, this economic growth that meant gaining wealth out of a person’s labor without paying the expenses for lodging nor food, was acceptable. Society at the time dissented towards how to treat slaves; depending on where they worked, and their masters, slaves were treated very differently.