Pennington’s Quote Essay
“The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, and the bill of sale principle: the cart-whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.”
The quote above from the book The Fugitive Blacksmith is Pennington’s definition of slavery. A human being is a man or woman who has ‘being’ and that means ‘the soul and body’ of a person. Owners of slaves did not see the human being before them though. They only saw a possession to buy and sell. The chattel and property principle are the principles that lead to the bill of sale principle. Slaves are an asset to sell when bills needed to be paid or when wills were read.
Douglass hated the principles behind slavery, because he observed the humanness of the people kidnapped and brought from Africa to America to slave away in fields or other peoples’ houses. Douglass explained the terrible sense of the good people that were considered fugitive slaves. They were physically well-formed, their minds held great intellects, and were prodigies of all kinds of talents. The soul was the soul of being only a little bit lower than angels in slaves. But they had no say over their own circumstances, their futures or even control of where their own child lived.
Chattel is a word used to describe slaves because they were considered the property of Southern slave owners. Many slave owners treated their slaves very badly. Frederick Douglas described one slave owner. She was a vicious woman who sat in the middle of the room every day “with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and scare an hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of one of these slaves.” Douglass explained that the woman did not perceive slaves as human beings, but as chattel, and if she did treat slaves like human beings she would be acting against what was right.
Harriet Jacobs’s family lived together in a nice house when she was a child. Her father was a carpenter who was famous for his building skills. He paid the “mistress two hundred dollars a year” and supported the family with his earnings. Ironically, the mistress did not allow Harriet’s father to purchase his children.
The death of a master and mistress was a time of terrible stress, because the wills treated slaves like property. Wills were read and since the person who died wanted to treat their children and other members of the family equally, they broke up slave families. One person went to one family and the others to other families no matter how far away the lived. The person who wrote the will could direct things like giving her father his children, but that did not happen. The slave owners were very aware that they were breaking up families but they did not consider that part. They simply thought of people as things owned and that is how the lawyers and the owners wrote the wills.
Douglass and his friends supported each other with acts of defiance to prove that they were NOT chattel, they were people and people cannot be owned. Douglass told about an event when the police were hauling a group of young men with dark skin into jail. Two of them had been caught without their passes. Other boys, including Frederick Douglass, burned their passes and stood up for the rights of their friends and. When one boy asked what to do with his pass, Frederick said to him “I told him to eat it with his biscuit, and own nothing; and we passed the word around, ‘Own nothing; and ‘Own nothing!’ said we all.”
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. The Fugitive Blacksmith or the Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington. 2nd ed., London: Charles Gibson, (1849).
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life inside the antebellum slave market. NY: President and Fellows of Harvard College, (1999; 1849).