American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime

By Ulrich Bonnell Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
PLANTATION LABOR

WHILE produced only in America, the plantation slave was a product of old-world forces. His nature was an African's profoundly modified but hardly transformed by the requirements of European civilization. The wrench from Africa and the subjection to the new discipline while uprooting his ancient language and customs had little more effect upon his temperament than upon his complexion. Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, he became instead the American negro. The Caucasian was also changed by the contact in a far from negligible degree; but the negro's conversion was much the more thorough, partly because the process in his case was coercive, partly because his genius was imitative.

The planters had a saying, always of course with an implicit reservation as to limits, that a negro was what a white man made him. The molding, however, was accomplished more by groups than by individuals. The purposes and policies of the masters were fairly uniform, and in consequence the negroes, though with many variants, became largely standardized into the predominant plantation type. The traits which prevailed were an eagerness for society, music and merriment, a fondness for display whether of person, dress, vocabulary or emotion, a not flagrant sensuality, a receptiveness toward any religion whose exercises were exhilarating, a proneness to superstition, a courteous acceptance of subordination, an avidity for praise, a readiness for loyalty of a feudal sort, and last but not least, a healthy human repugnance toward overwork. "It don't do no good to hurry," was a negro saying, "'caze you're liable to run by mo'n you overtake." Likewise painstaking was reckoned painful; and tomorrow was always waiting for today's work, while

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