Slave Resistance

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Since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, captured Africans thought and plotted of ways to resist their bondage. After landing in America enslaved Africans resisted slavery in many forms; some of these were passive while others were more outright and violent. This essay will discuss forms of resistance used by slaves during their journey to America, as well as common forms of resistance slaves used while living on plantations. These forms of resistance were running away, slave revolts, and subtle day to day resistance. Regardless of the form of resistance used, slaves were not content living a life of bondage and used all means available to resist no matter the consequence.

The transition into a life of slavery was devastating for Africans. Captured and removed from their home land many resorted to drastic measures to escape their forced bondage. During the horrific middle passage there have been many accounts of slave revolts onboard ships. An account given by English slave trader William Snelgrave, he describes a mutiny in 1704 in which slaves onboard the Eagle Gallery of London attempted to take over the ship. The revolt was not successful and the two chief leaders jumped to their death rather than be caught and forced back into bondage. This account proves that Africans did not sit idly by and accept being put into slavery. Slave traders know that there was always the possibility of a slave mutiny onboard their ships; they went to great measures to reduce this possibility. “Most “slavers” had a high barricade across the middle of the main deck, used to keep the captive women and children separated from the men and to serve as a fortification behind which the crew could defend themselves in the event of a slave insurrection.” The most dangerous time for a slave trader was before the ship was being anchored close to shore. The crew would often be occupied loading supplies on and off of the ship not paying close enough attention to captured Africans. Slaves would often try to jump over board and swim back to land. Because of this threat slave traders used shackling irons, rope and nets onside of the ships to prevent escape and suicide attempts. The slaves that survived the journey to America quickly found that life would not get any easier. Most slaves ended up in the south on plantations however, some slaves were sold to slave owners in the north. Slavery in the north was very different than slavery in the south. Slaves in the north were more domesticated laborers. Whereas, in the south most slaves were field laborers and life was much harsher. This difference in slavery did not make slaves view of slavery any different. Slaves in the north resisted slavery just as slaves in the south. The case of Quok Walker a slave in Massachusetts was promised his freedom by the age of 21. When his master failed to give him his freedom, Walker ran away. His master found him, beat him, and attempted to enslave him again. However, Walker sued successfully for his freedom in 1780, followed by Elizabeth Freeman in 1781 who sued for her freedom after being struck by her mistress. Slavery in the south was much harsher and unlike in the north slaves did not have access to the court systems in attempts to sue for their freedom. Most slaves in the south work as field hens. Men and women both work long strenuous hours often with no time to tend to their own needs. No act of defiance was more commonplace than running away. “In the mid-1700’s when usually large numbers of blacks entered Virginia, these Africans, united by their common experiences and able to communicate through the heavily African pidgin they probably created, ran off to the woods together, formed temporary settlements in the wilderness, and several time conspired to overthrow their white masters.” Even brief departures could provide relief from an oppressive overseer. Running away was another form of resistance. Most slaves ran away relatively...
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