Slavery In Texas AN EMPIRE FOR SLAVERY In the book, An Empire for Slavery, Randolph B. Clark describes the way in which Texas slaves coped with life under oppressive circumstances. Some of the topics discussed in the book include how slaves approached daily chores and provided for their material and physical condition. Also, it is demonstrated how slaves tended to their psychological and spiritual well being and how they displayed their feelings towards this Peculiar Institution. Some slaves in Texas approached responsibility for work in such a manner that they were given a great deal of leeway for their own daily job assignments and were even given supervisory positions over other slaves. Some bondsman, working as managers, tended to plantations and farms in the absence of the owners.
This practice is quite remarkable when we sometimes visualize a slave as a blackman with a chain and heavy ball attached to one foot. The conception of manager slaves apparently was propagated in such an encompassing manner that some proponents of slavery found it to be very disconcerting. Some slave owners felt too much liberty was being given to the interned hoard. In 1858, state senator Henry E. McCulloch introduced a bill to outlaw the practice.
The bill passed, but had little effect because it had little support in the white community. Some blacks, if not managers, were more in the order of middle managers known as drivers. Drivers were specialty supervisors who oversaw operations related to chopping cotton (cultivating), plowing, planting and harvesting. As slavery progressed many slaves graduated to other jobs that required a different degree of responsibility, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, personal valets, and housekeepers and the like. So it would appear bondsmen were perfectly capable of accomplishing any task given to them by their tormentors.
Material conditions and physical treatment of slaves can be broken down into five main categories: food, housing, clothing, health and physical punishment. As would be expected, rural farm life provided food in quantity as well as variety. Domestic farm animals such as cattle, pigs, and chickens provided the main course. Gardens and row crop fields provided a variety of produce such as beans, peas, sweet potatoes, okra, corn and the like. Corn could be ground into meal for cornbread.
In addition to farm raised meat and vegetables, nature itself contributed to the larder in the form of whitetail deer, bear, rabbit, squirrel, coon, opossums, quail, dove, turtles, and fish. Wild nuts and berries could be gathered at certain times of the year. Slave women would prepare the meals in addition to their normal chores and no doubt created what would later be known as that delicious soul food.Yummy. In summary, slaves appear to have had food that was in both good in quality, quantity and variety to provide for what amounted to one of the best parts of their lives. Housing on the other hand was a dismal proposition at best. While food roamed around on the hoof, building materials were hard to come by.
In the 1830’s there was no infrastructure in Texas, few settlements, no interstate highway systems, nowhere, within a reasonable distance was facilities to purchase even the most basic needs such as tools, nails, and lumber. As a consequence of remoteness, slave owners and bondsmen apparently made do with what the land provided. Cabins were built out of material that was indigenous to the region. Log cabins were built and gaps between the logs were chinked with straw and mud. Since there were no sawmills, no flooring was used. There were no glass windows or screens. Latrine facilities may have been the nearest bush. Housing then, would have been wholly inadequate perhaps improving as time traveled on.
Indoor plumbing, cold water heaters, central air conditioning and heating were right out. Clothing, as with other aspects of slave life, was very basic indeed. Each male slave was supplied with two sets of clothes; shirt and pants made of cotton or wool. A hat and a pair of brogan shoes would complete the ensemble. No underwear or socks were supplied.
Women were supplied with dresses of like material. Black seamstresses, using crude equipment made clothing. It would have been very difficult for slaves to laundry clothes, so not only were the clothes ill fitting and uncomfortable, but probably smelled to high heaven too. Slaves in Texas suffered from a wide range of medical conditions, ranging from minor ailments such as colds and fever to more serious conditions such as cholera and yellow fever. Giving birth was dangerous to women.
Children suffered from whooping cough and other childhood diseases. Slaves, however, do not appear to have been neglected medically. Records show slaves were given the best medical care available at the time. Not from some overwhelming humanitarian compassion by the slave owners, but probably because the slaves were the single most valuable asset the slavers owned. Human beings in captivity were subjected to an assault on their psychological and spiritual well being on a daily basis. Bondsmen in Texas coped with mental quandary in three important ways: Family life, religion, and music. Families made it possible for slaves to endeavor to endure the hopelessness and harshness of life in the mid 1800’s. There is strong evidence from slaves and slaveholder alike, which suggests most slaves in Texas, spent most of their time in a traditional family setting.
Masters usually ordered or gave permission to bondmen and women to marry and propagate. However these families were created they tended to be large in number, as were white families of the same period. Family units provided love and support as well as the emotional strength to carry on. As with families, religion played a pivotal and important role in the slave’s sphere of existence. Bible teachings spoke of people being delivered from the bondage of slavery, and must have been extremely comforting. Church meeting allowed slaves form different parts of the countryside to fellowship, exchange ideas, and perhaps take the first small steps to literacy.
Indeed, some of the most important spokesmen and women for the black cause would come from the religious community. Music also played an important part in the slave’s daily routine. Slaves expressed their emotions through songs and tunes. When working in the fields, songs served as a communication device as words spread across the tilled terraferma like a wave on the open ocean. More often than not, Negro songs expressed protests against bondage and the hope of a better day. Bondsmen displayed their feeling toward slavery in three major ways. The first way was to simply accept their predicament and to become fateful servants to their masters.
These slaves apparently gave up psychologically and turned over any self-respect and personal identity they may have had to their owners. In contrast, some slaves rebelled against bondage in every way possible. They refused to work, ran away to Mexico, back east, and some even lived in the surrounding countryside. The final method of displaying feeling regarding slavery was to neither accept or rebel. These slaves simply sought to survive in the best manner possible. They relied on the help of one another, their families, and faith in God to make the best out of the worst condition imaginable.
It was with undying conviction to these institutions slaves were able to hold on to the belief that the future for themselves, there children and generations to come would be better, and indeed such would be the case. Relationships between masters and slaves probably had a good deal to do with the way slave reacted to bondage. There is clear and convincing evidence to show genuine caring relationships between blacks and whites during this period. Some slaveholders no doubt regarded their slaves as members of their own family, and treated them as such. On the other end of the spectrum owners could be tremendously cruel and uncaring, to the point of being psychopathic about the whole thing. The period of time in Texas history from 1821 to 1865, with regard to slavery, is indeed disturbing and will always be to the everlasting disgrace of the people involved.
A few points make this snapshot in time a little easier to bear. Of the population in Texas in 1860, fewer than one quarter of the farms had slaves on the premises. It would be easy to imagine the planter elite sitting on the porch of a palacial mansion, sipping mint juleps, while in the vast cotton fields Negro slaves toiled for the benefit of their owners bank accounts. However, according to records of the time, per capita valve of all farm crops harvested in 1860 from slaveholder farms amounted to $102.20 or $8.51 per month. Not exactly setting the farm on fire financially. Regardless of the outcome of the civil war and all of the arguments concerning states rights and slavery, slavery in this country was a dying institution.
Technological improvements and the oncoming industrial revolution was posed to create a paradigm shift on the order of our own computerized era. Steam powered locomotives for transportation and steam tractors would have made ownership of slaves economically unfeasible. The important lesson here is that everyone now can and does have equal access to the opportunities created by the greatest system of government the world has ever known, a government that was helped to be created by the efforts of everyone. Our constitution guarantees the PURSUIT of happiness. However, we must pursue.
Bibliography Retired, 42 years, college student with consentrations in history, government, finance and marketing. History Essays.