Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Tomb of Tyti (Titi) in the Valley of the Queens

The Tomb of Tyti (Titi) in the Valley of the Queens

One intriguing feature of the tomb is the way in which Tyti is depicted. In some scenes, such as those on the front wall of one of the rear chambers, she is a young girl wearing the costume and braided hair style of a teenager. Then, for example in the corridor on the left wall, she is represented as a middle aged woman, dressed more conservatively and with a hint of make-up. These sorts of representations are not common in Egyptian art, and the contrast between the younger woman and the older one are striking.

Read more:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Black Slaveowners in South Carolina

The African slave trade was very profitable for everyone involved with the exception of the slaves themselves.  It made money for the slave traders responsible for capturing and loading the slaves in Africa, the shipping companies made money, the slave brokers became rich, and owners of slaves made money in the buying and selling of their own slaves and their offspring.  Slavery was a part of the economy of the area from the beginning of the colony until the end of the Civil War.

From the late 1700’s records show that there were free blacks living in South Carolina (Schweninger, 1990, 20).  By 1860, there were thousands of “free persons of color” living in the state, and hundreds of them owned black slaves.  Why did blacks own slaves?  How and when did this practice begin?

In 1619, 20 Africans were brought to Virginia as indentured servants to work in the tobacco-growing colony.  At the end of their indenture, officials in Virginia decided to enslave some of these people.  Some historians believe that one of these slaves became a slaveholder himself (Abrams, 2001, ix).  This began the long history of blacks owning other blacks.

There are many factors that led to black slaveholding.  One was the desire of free blacks to purchase their family members out of bondage.  Until around 1800, it was legal for white slaveowners to manumit their slaves, for whatever reason they wanted.  However, in 1800 in South Carolina, the legislature began putting restrictions on the manumission of slaves.  Additionally, there were restrictions that required freed slaves to leave the state (Schweninger, 22).  Therefore, free blacks would often purchase their relatives in order to allow them to remain in the state.

Owning slaves offered the opportunity for economic advancement for blacks (Schweninger, 22).  By the mid 1700’s, black artisans and shopkeepers owned slaves in the city, while free blacks also held slaves on farms in the country.  In the city of Charleston, free blacks nearly monopolized the jobs of barbers, bricklayers, shoemakers, tailors and dressmakers.  They prospered in their entrepreneurial jobs and were able to earn the capital needed to purchase slaves. 

Another factor in black slaveholding was the development of a class of citizens referred to as “free persons of color.”  There were relationships between white masters and slave women from the beginning of African slavery in the colonies.  Often these relationships resulted in mulatto children born to the slave women.  In some cases, masters would treat these mulatto children as their own, and they might inherit property at the master’s death.  The mothers of the mulatto children would often be manumitted, or freed for a reason, at the death of the master.  The manumitted mulatto son or daughter would then become a part of the growing group of “free persons of color.”  On one occasion, “the amorous relationship between the slave Tabatha Singleton and her master survived the manumission decree…. He paid the rent for her tenement and eventually conveyed a house, lot, and two slaves to her" (Powers, 1994, 38).  For this reason and for other reasons, there were many female slaveholders in South Carolina, and particularly in Charleston.

From amorous relationships between masters and slaves (and free persons of color) there grew a distinct class of “brown” elites.  There was a difference in the way that whites regarded free dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks.  Light-skinned blacks were considered closer to white in the social stratification in southern society.  A racial stratification developed into a three-tiered model with whites on the top, mulattoes and free blacks (of light complexion, mostly), and slaves.  Slaveholding free blacks were considered at the top of the second tier, the most respected blacks of all in white society.

A third factor in the development of black slaveholding was the desire of “free persons of color” to operate in the economic world of white slaveholders and to be as equal to whites as possible.  By the mid 1700’s to early 1800’s, most free blacks considered themselves more American than they did African, for almost all of them had been born on American soil, free or slave.  They wanted to live the same life as whites, and they saw slaveholding as a way to become more equal with their white counterparts.

An important fourth and final factor in black slaveholding was the economic profitability of using slaves to work in jobs and businesses owned by “free persons of color.”  “In a society that vested the ownership of one many in another, slaves represented another form of property held by free blacks.” (Powers, 1994, 39)  Early on in the colony of South Carolina, mulattoes were often trained as artisans and were able to earn the money to purchase slaves by working.  They were commercial masters who aligned themselves with the white majority in order to preserve the system of slavery. (Koger, 1985, 30)   As this practice progressed, the black slaveholders often had the same incentives as whites to own slaves.

From the article “Black Slaveowners”, there comes the example of Richard Holloway.  Richard Holloway was a black slaveholder in Charleston, and most of his family papers are in the archives at the Avery Research Center for African American History.

“… Richard Holloway, Sr., and free black of Charleston City, bought a slave named Charles Benford in order that the slave might enjoy his freedom.  Yet at the same time, he owned other slaves who were not treated so kindly.  In 1834, for instance, he purchased a Negro woman named Sarah and her two children, Annett and Edward, from Susan B. Robertson for $575.  Within three years after the purchase, he apparently became dissatisfied with the slave family and sold them for $945.  Even though Richard Holloway, Sr., allowed a trusted servant to enjoy a greater degree of freedom, he was still a slaveowner for profit.  So he sold and purchased slaves as an investment even while he held other slaves for benevolent reasons.”

Interestingly enough, slaves reacted to ownership by black masters in the same ways that they did by white masters.  They resisted their owners and were susceptible to dreams of freedom.  The relationships between black masters and slaves were not smoother than those of slaves and white masters.

In conclusion, there were many reasons why free blacks owned black slaves.  There was a new class developing during the 1800’s made up of slaveowning blacks and free light-skinned blacks.  Relationships between masters and slaves were not smooth.  Black slaveowners in Charleston had the same economic desires as whites when it came to being prosperous and owning slaves.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Creating the Creole Island: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Mauritius (1735-67) (review)

Creating the Creole Island is an important contribution to the study of slavery. The book is erudite, comparative, interdisciplinary, and it raises important questions about the creation of Creoles in slave societies. Like William St. Clair's The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade, Afua Cooper's The Hanging of Angelique,Indrani Chatterjee and Richard M. Eaton's Slavery & South Asian History, Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker's Many Middle Passages, and Ehud R.Toledano's As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East, Vaughan's study of Mauritius examines a slave society outside of the Caribbean and North and South America. These areas have been for over forty years the center of slavery studies. This scholarship has revealed a great deal about the profitability of slavery, the work that slaves performed, master-slave relations, and slave culture. Vaughan's book will enable scholars of slavery to see how the institution developed on an island that was not as important as either Cuba or Haiti.

Slavery in Mauritius

The evolution of slavery in Mauritius dates back to the early days of Dutch settlement. The Dutch, hailing from a cold climate like most Europeans, were not able to deliver and therefore resorted to slave labour. The French, in turn used slavery for different purposes. The slaves were imported from Madagascar, Mozambique, South India, mostly from Pondicherry and West Africa. Indian slaves were mainly used as domestics, skilled workers for road and bridge repairs and construction of infrastructures, and as tailors, goldsmiths, shoemakers and masons.  They also ran errand for their masters and did other petty jobs. The Malagasy slaves were not much appreciated as they did not pull their weight and they always thought of returning to their country by all means.

They formed the bulk of most runaways. They were sometimes exchanged against arms and weapons. The African slaves were docile, obedient and hardworking. They were therefore better prized and attempts were made to get more of them. They were employed in agriculture, to help in the production of coffee, indigo, sugarcane, spices and other plants. 

Property and chattels

According to Filliot, it seemed that 45% of the total slave population came from Madagascar, 40% from Mozambique, 25% from West Africa and 13% from India.

Slavery received a boost from Mahe de Labourdonnais as he devised some very efficient and effective methods to treat the slaves. He trained them as sailors, soldiers and used them to fight against the British in India. He also trained them as policemen to track runaway slaves and to ensure peace and order. He sometimes visited them and spent a few hours with them. Dr Charles Telfair was another humane master who treated his slaves in a humanitarian way. He provided them decent living conditions, schooling for their children and medical treatment on his estate at Bel Ombre.

However, all masters were not alike and treatment differed from master to master and from estate to estate, though on the whole they were looked upon as property and chattels. They were exposed to corporal punishment that at times was very harsh and atrocious and they were forced to increase output of work. Some masters argued that the labour force needed to be scared to be disciplined. For an iron discipline was needed to make them work. The colonists and the masters were in the ratio of 1:10 or even more. 

Mild treatment, comprehension and in brief, humanity, were superficial evidence but the reality was different. Force was used, accompanied if necessary by rigorous chastisements. Slavery being a horrible and inhuman practice, it is necessary to understand the mindset prevailing in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to recall the harsh conditions of life of all workers  either in agriculture  or in trade or in the army. Corporal punishment was universal, even at school, and a man’s life was not valued too highly when constant dangers were considered though not daily in terms of epidemics and wars. This should not however, serve as an excuse to condone the harsh treatment meted out to them. The same Europeans later claimed abolition of the system. They held up the owners to public obloquy and condemned them in the framework of the twentieth century. That was for them too difficult to accept in the wake of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The code noir

In Mauritius it was not easy to evaluate exactly the output of the labour force, their wages, frequency of punishments and their gravity and the rate of births and deaths. The census carried out prior to the abolition of slavery gives a rough idea of its importance.
The Code Noir compiled by Jean Baptiste Colbert in 1685 was meant to do justice to the slaves but in fact it turned into a Bible for masters to lord it over the slaves. The punishments were extremely severe and even inhuman. The fugitives had one ear cut for a first offence, thigh cut for the second and fleur de lys stamped on shoulders. It tried to establish the vital minimum masters had to comply with. Pere Laval and Jean Lebrun thought that better treatment would have yielded better and more positive results.
Slaves were given 1 kilo of maize per day or the equivalent in rice, manioc or sweet potatoes. No roots were allowed. The slaves supplemented their meal by vegetables they cultivated on a square plot of land allotted to them. They also reared pigs and poultry and could eat meat periodically. They received a set of dress per year. Men: a pair of trousers, a shirt and sometimes a waistcoat, women: a shirt, a skirt, and a kerchief. A few masters even gave them a sheet of linen they used as cover in winter.

- See more at:

"Type Creole" de Martinique

Color, Caste and Class in Martinique

One of the methods of keeping the races distinct, even after the abolition of slavery, was to require that African-descended women cover their hair in public.  Leave it to black women to take a sign of legal and social subjugation and turn it into art.  The turbans are still an expressive and vital part of Martinican women’s dress, especially for special occasions, as several websites attest. Bright materials are intricately woven around the head, employing an entire vocabulary of meanings that convey not only status and occupation, but also romantic availability.

Images of Slavery: Isle de Martinique