Today's Class - Slavery

September 18, 2003


Today's Class - Slavery

I wanted to write this one up while it was still fresh in my mind. I did not - came home and checked email, cooked dinner, walked dawg, wrestled with baby and dishes and helping the wife, watched part of The Apostle while watching baby. But, here we go.

The original plan had been to look at Bacon's Rebellion, the turn to slavery in Virginia, and then at a close reading at the lives of black people before and after the crucial transition. But, that is basically what they are writing their paper on and the paper has been extended to Tuesday of next week. Rather than hold a class that would drive their papers (even though they would have talked a lot and had some fun) I went with a different approach.

I organized the class around three questions and three case studies. I put the questions on the board at the start, then went through my case studies. The first class I did not return to the questions until the end, the second class I changed the order to the way they are here and we answered the first two before moving on to Virginia and Bacon's Rebellion for the final 20 minutes.

  1. Why was it that most blacks taken from Africa went to Brazil, most of the rest went to the Caribbean, and only a few went to North America, but in 1865 when slavery ended most African-Americans in the Western Hemisphere lived in North America?
  2. Why did Brazil and the Caribbean see lots of slave revolts and slave uprisings, including Toussaint L'Overture in Haiti, while there were very few revolts or uprisings in North America (Stono Rebellion, Nat Turner, the aborted Gabriel's Rebellion and Denmark Vesey plot, and scattered instances of individual resistance)?
  3. Why were Virginians more vocal and more agressive about "liberty" in the 18th century than any other colony?

I handled the questions through case studies of Barbados, Virginia, and South Carolina. First I went through the order in which they were settled and reminded the students of the physical geography of each. Then we went through them again in the order in which they turned from white servant labor to permanant slave labor, the order in which they became slave societies. I had the students do a board exercise figuring out what a "slave society" might be.

We did a board exercise looking at the characteristics of each, starting with the core crop and moving from there to political power and internal tensions. Most of this was a look at sugar, with a brief mini-lecture on rice. Tobacco, we had already covered.

From Crops we went to trade. I laid out the Triangular trade. From there we drilled down to two case studies. I told them Obaiyah Equimo's (spelling) story, filling in his experiences and putting them into context at each stage. As usual, the Middle Passage stunned them, although not as badly as it stunned the Community College folks. The second case study was of the food trade between New England and the Colonies, and I argued that New England and the Caribbean together made an economic zone comparable in size and self-sufficiency to the Chesapeake; New England was integrally tied to the slave trade and could not have prospered without it.

At that point the kids were able to answer the first two questions and in the second section they did. In the first I forgot to do this and went straight ahead. It worked better the second time - if only because I was able to shut up and they were able to take the things I had told them and suggest possible answers to the questions. It was a model of how to do history in the "problem solving" mode.

Finally I gave them Ed Morgans argument about Virginia moving from a class-based to a race-based society. I had to tread carefully there so as not to spoon feed them a stock narrative for their papers. I concentrated on bookending the 1660s and the early 1700s, contrasting Virginia at the two points and arguing that the key was elite responses to Bacon's Rebellion.

I will give the whole thing a pretty good. I did not spend enough time reviewing and prepping - forgot when Barbados was settled for example. I did give them a sample of the problem solving mode and I did look at slavery in the international perspective. What got left out was black experiences on plantations and farms and what got left out was Peter Kolchin and Eugene Genovese's argument about colonial slavery being relatively harsh while antebellum slavery saw both better physical conditions and more intrusive psychological conditions. I think I can get some of that in on Tuesday as I talk about the eighteenth century.

Now I really DO have to go help J with laundry.

Posted by Red Ted at September 18, 2003 09:52 AM | TrackBack