One cannot fully understand the history of African Americans without recognizing the existence of racial and social stigmas motivating the people’s development and evolution. In order to understand the evolution of an African American people, it is necessary to explore the connection between cultural traditions and race relations.
Multiple colonies possessed by the British Empire and Spain took control of these ethnical groups, marking racial prejudices as the stumble block of slave history in the New England colonies as well as those being under the Spanish rule. In fact, British colonies introduced enslavement practice mostly toward African people. At the same time, New England slaveholders strive to assimilate slaves to their white family without recognition of equal relations the white and the black members.
In contrast to British colonists, Spanish Florida was more likely to provide their slaves with social and legal protection. Numerous generations of African people under the Spanish rule had possibilities for enhancing their military, diplomatic, linguistic, and artisanal skills and protecting their property and citizen rights. Full realization of existing privileges and better conditions provided by the Spanish colonists is possible through the analysis of social, legal, economical and cultural aspects as considered by each party.
While analyzing social aspects of the African American history and life of black people, primary focus should made on the slavery organization within the kinship framework, being the most appropriate for explaining the term “slave”.
Hence, according to Melish, the concept of family and kinship was considered as “the rhetorical framework in which slave owners themselves represented slavery and formally incorporated slaves into their lives”, being the so-called “members” of the family. Similarly, Holt and Brown provide records of black slaves’ experiences as well as whites’ attitude to African culture, tradition and religion.
Description proves that the status of a family member was present, but there were rare occasions when a black slave was treated like equal. Hence, in Equiano’s narration, slave from the Western Coast of Africa, one could pursue the life of a slave as well as his trips from one slave holder to another:
I was bought of the merchant, and went home with them. Her house and premises were situated close to one of those rivulet I have mentions and, and were the finest I ever saw in Africa…The next day I was washed and perfumed, and when meal-time came, I was led into the presence of my mistress, and ate and drank before her with her son.
Black slaves seldom expected lenient and equal attitude from their owners, and the passage presented above proves that that was a rare occasion. Within Spanish colonized territories, society was also viewed as an extension of family and slaves were also involved in the so-called fictive kinship that had a much stronger importance for uprooted adults whose origins were ambiguous.
Though there is no direct evidence that Spanish colonists were not concerned with racial stereotypes, the recognition of slave’s rights and humanity and a free manumission policy greatly contributed to the evolution of African Americans from slaves to full-fledged citizens.
Hence, the Spanish government respected property rights and legal status free blacks and this situation was significantly encouraged by “Spanish Florida’ particular geographic, demographic, economic, and political factors…” Apparantly, the Spanish policy was not oriented on meeting the interest of the black population; rather, the creation of stronger legal underpinning was aimed at lessening the tension between the slaves and the colonists.
The situation on the territories of the British mainland colonies was radically different, which was marked by continuous revolts against the uncompromised government. The documents presented by Holt and Brown prove the existence of disturbances and waves of indignation on the British territories. Particular attention deserves the depiction of rebellion in Stono, South Carolina where a confrontation between the Spanish and British governments was revealed.
Attempts of Spanish Florida to attract more slaves caused disorders on the British plantations and triggered the rise of rebellions which were guided by twenty Negros and which were suppressed shortly after they began. Nevertheless, the case demonstrates that British government took less care of their slaves and provided them with no legal and property rights. Furthermore, British regime considerably differed from that presented on the Spanish territories.
Particularly, Melish indicates that “[t]he domestic institution of slavery produced and sustained an ideology, a world view, and a psychology of interpersonal relations that seem to have been widely shared by New England slave holders, despite difference in the actual work performed by urban, rural, and plantation slaves…”. Great dependence on slave regime did not provide British owner with an opportunity to build an economic structure apart from colonialism.
Beside ongoing slave revolts, the American Revolutions gave rise to the religion attack on the part of African Americans. Within this context, Spanish rule also considerably differed from that established by the British slave holders. In particular, besides the fact that Spanish system endowed slaves with the right to work for themselves and own property, African American also had access to the church and to the court.
In contrast, the British government was less concerned with African religious preferences and freedom of choice. As presented in the records on conversion attempts, Francis Le Jau, an Anglican Minister, planned to impose Anglicanism on the black population: “On Sunday next I design God willing to baptize two very sensible and honest Negro Men whom I have kept upon trial these two years…it is to be hoped the good Example of the one will have an influence over the others…”.
In this respect, though attempts to baptize the Africans were cautious and delicate, the initial intentions were based on assimilating the black to the white religion, culture, and tradition. Reluctance to accept African identity and origins were premised on the fear of black people’s increasing awareness of the human rights and freedoms.
In conclusion, it can be stated that Spanish slavery regime tangibly differed from that employed by the English invaders. Due to the fact that Spanish policies and rule originated from the Roman law, slaves had property rights and were allowed to work for themselves on holidays.
The slavery system established in the Spanish Florida, hence, was not considered a perpetual bondage; the colonists propagandized humanity and allowed their slaved to have access to the church and to the court. In contrast, British slave holders employed a chattel slavery system and considered that slaves as their property and as people having a few chances for receiving rights and freedoms.
As a whole, all these discrepancies were displayed through social, religious, economical, political issues that were tackled in a difference manner.
Holt, Thomas C. and Elsa Barkley Brown, eds. Major Problems in African-American History, Volume I: From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877. New York: Houghton Mifflin Press, 2000.
Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. US: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Melish, Joanne Pope. Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England,
1780-1860. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.
Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 26
Jane Landers, “Black Society in Spanish Florida”. (US: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 15
Melish, “Disowning Slavery”, 27.
Thomas S. Holt and Elsa Barkley Brown. Eds. Major Problems in African-American History, Volume 1: From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Press, 2000), 111.
Thomas S. Holt and Elsa Barkley Brown. Eds. “Major Problems in African-American History”, 111-112.
Jane Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida. (US: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 121.
Jane Landers, “Black Society in Spanish Florida”, 3.
Thomas S. Holt and Elsa Barkley Brown. Eds. Major Problems in African-American History, Volume 1: From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Press, 2000), 160.
Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 13.
Jane Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida. (US: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 111.
Thomas S. Holt and Elsa Barkley Brown. Eds. Major Problems in African-American History, Volume 1: From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Press, 2000), 115.