Good “History Of The Antebellum South Is The History Of Two Million Slave Sales” Essay Example
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“The history of the antebellum South is the history of two million slave sales.” Antebellum means “the time before the war.” I think that Pennington means that the economy of the South before the Civil War was based on the buying and selling of slaves. Before the Civil War slaves were used to do the back breaking work to grow cotton that kept the Antebellum South making profits. One of the worst parts of the slave trade was the auction block. Slaves who were sick were not sent to the doctor or helped. Instead they were sold off. The total worth of an owner’s assets was lower if any of the slaves were identified as sick, troublemakers, or for any other reason undesirable by the owner. Traders were the middle men in slave sales transactions and the histories of slaves they told were to convince people to buy.
Pennington describes how the auction block callers described slaves to make everything about them sound positive. One woman had a very large tumor in her stomach, but traders said she was pregnant. The descriptions traders used to as a sales pitch were supposedly the history of the slaves. The traders did not have to legally tell the truth, unless the history of the slave was in writing and the trader signed the paper. Medical problems like the woman with the tumor and other problems were twisted into less negative explanations.
The traders used stories about the slaves that fell into three categories. The buyers were missing a great price for a slave, the slave being sold was of exceptionally high quality, or the buyer was doing something noble when buying a slave that needed a kind master. The trader did not mean that keeping a whole family together in one purchase was the right thing to do. Traders used stories like the loyal slave story. “The loyal slave sold for her owner’s debts” was a woman who was crying uncontrollable while being auctioned. The trader used her tears to manipulate the buyers into feeling sorry for her. The trader wanted to convince the buyers they were being given an opportunity “to do right” by giving the terribly sad woman a new home.
Douglass described the way slaves sales after a master’s death were “in the hands of total strangers.” The slaves were the property being distributed and a chance for freedom was not a realistic expectation. Jacobs described the circumstances in her own family when the master died. Her grandmother sold crackers that she baked at night in order to save money to buy her own children. But when the master died, all her children were given to different people in the master’s family, no matter what the age of the child. The point was to give the slaveholders family equal amount of the dead man’s assets without any consideration for the impact on the slaves. “These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of the masters, than the cotton they plant or the horses they tend.”
The skills, loyalty, and other positive characteristics of slaves did not show their humanity to the slave-owners. Their features did not make them more human in the eyes of the masters, mistresses, or traders. The good characteristics only made them worth more as an economic asset in the antebellum South.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. NJ: Dover Publications, Inc., (1995; 1845).
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. NJ: Dover, Publications, Inc. (2001; 1881).
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life inside the antebellum slave market. NY: President and Fellows of Harvard College, (1999; 1849).
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