Effects of Punishment by Burning and Oroonoko

Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko and the image “Effects of Punishment by Burning, Richmond, Virginia, 1866” from Harper’s Weekly exhibit the devastating and inhumane nature of punishments from slavery. Behn’s novel follows the tragic tale of a man who, forced by the hands of slavery, murders his family, while the image shows the horrible torture done to a young woman. Both pieces of work display the atrocities of slave punishment and show that slavery is the direct or indirect cause of violence towards enslaved African-Americans.

The image of the young unidentified woman is taken from The University of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Slavery Images” archive. The image was published in “Harper’s Weekly” on July 28, 1866. According to the article, the woman in the image was thirteen years old when she was brutally punished for upsetting or annoying her mistress for reasons unknown. She was locked in a room alone for a little over a week when the mistress came in and repeatedly burned her during that time. Because of this, the mistress was arrested but was released after making bail. The black and white painting depicts the young African-American girl with several burn marks lining her back and arms. She also appears to have several burns on her head and her left hand appears to be covered by a bandage. The young woman appears to be sitting on a chair looking towards the opposite direction with her dress pulled down toward her waistline to show where she has been burned on her body. Underneath the image, the caption reads “Marks of punishment inflicted upon a colored servant in Richmond, Virginia”. From this painting, the viewer can assume that this is about the punishment given to the slave by the slave owner. This image displays one of the many forms of punishment that slaves had to go through. This painting can evoke an emotional response for those who view it because it shows the aftermath of a cruel punishment that someone wrongly endured.

Behn’s Oroonoko displays the inner turmoil the protagonist Oroonoko faces when he tries to decide whether he should get his revenge on Byam for selling him into slavery. Oroonoko knows that if he was to attempt killing Byam, his plan could possibly fail which would result in his death. The narrator states, “He consider’d, if he should do this deed, and die either in the attempt, or after it, he left his lovely Imoinda a prey, or at best a slave to the enraged multitude; his great heart could not endure that thought” (217). Oroonoko couldn’t endure the thought of his wife being alone and enslaved for the rest of her life. She would be vulnerable and more susceptible to the nasty lusts of other men and even death. His fear of slavery ultimately drives him to murder his wife and unborn child to free them from the pain and suffering of being a slave. The narrator continues, “he told her his design, first of killing her, and then his enemies, and next himself, and the impossibility of escaping, and therefore he told her the necessity of dying” (217). He concludes that since their chances of escaping slavery are impossible, he tells Imoinda that death is the only thing that will free them. In this sense, slavery has indirectly caused the deaths of Oroonoko’s family. Although Oroonoko murdered his wife with his own hands, slavery was the reason for his actions.

The image from the “Slavery Images” archive depicts one of many acts of violence against African-Americans. Similar to Oroonoko, the young woman in the image is a slave who was abused by her captor. As a slave, she was more vulnerable to violence and abuse from the slave owners. Although the woman was arrested, she made bail and was able to return home. This shows that violence towards slaves was normalized and accepted during that time. The article does not mention what happened to the young woman after this incident, but the reader can assume that this woman may have been abused again. Violence towards slaves was allowed because they were seen as merely the property of the slave owners who bought them. After they were bought, they could do anything they wanted to them, which resulted in the physical abuse that many slaves experienced. The same idea can be seen in Behn’s Oroonoko. Before being kidnapped and sold into slavery by Byam, Oroonoko was the last descendant of the royal line in Coramantien and seen as a noble hero who led his men with honor. When he was in his country, Oroonoko was treated with respect but after being stripped of his royal status, he was merely the property of Trefry. Although his slave owner was kindhearted, Oroonoko still suffered an inhumane death for conspiring to kill Byam. In the end, Oroonoko is tied to a whipping post, where he is slowly dismembered and murdered. Oroonoko’s family died because they were threatened with the prolonged suffering of slavery, while Oroonoko died trying to free himself and get revenge on the man who cursed him to the life as a slave.

In conclusion, Oroonoko and the young woman in the image both suffered by the hands of slavery. They were confined and imprisoned because of the color of their skin and were treated less than humans. In the end, slavery is the main cause of their suffering and also what drove Oroonoko to murder his wife and unborn child. Oroonoko dreamed of having his own family to provide and care for them, but slavery prevented his dreams from becoming a reality.

Works Cited

Effects of Punishment by Burning, Richmond, Virginia, 1866. Digital image. Slaveryimages.org. Harper’s Weekly, 28 July 1866. Web. 22 Oct. 2018.

Behn, Aphra, 1640-1689. Oroonoko, Or, The Royal Slave. Boston :Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

 

Young and likely to be Brought from Africa to America

White supremacy is a racism-fueled toxicity that’s plagued America for a very long time. There’s a lot of speculation in regards to why this ideology still exists and how it was created, but each theory holds the same logic that a lot of white people believe they’re superior to the Black race. Thankfully, there are different works out there that can help one learn their history and pinpoint the exact cause and possible solution to this plague that America is facing. The picture from The New York Public Library’s Digital Collection on Slavery, titled, “Young and likely” is an advertisement for the sale of slaves. On the advertisement, it tells the location and time of the auction for these slaves, details about the captives, such as their age, gender, and their skills. Their names, however, aren’t on the list. These details about the slaves on the advertisement are in bold letters because the slave owners want the skills of their slaves to be the first thing that a potential buyer sees because this was imperative to making profit. The advertisement also markets the sale of other goods such as mules, cattle, plantation tools, a gin stand, and a wagon. To sell people, period, let alone sell them along with animals and tools, tells us that slaves, just like the other things being sold, are looked at as nothing more than property, so they are dehumanized as so.

The advertisement can evoke the feeling of disgust for the lack of respect that whites held for Black people, and how overt they are about it–going as far as putting this on an ad that’s accessible to the public. What’s ironic about this ad is whoever created the ad tried their best to make something grotesque look presentable. Why even bother trying to make this presentable? There also lays the question: why did ads like these attract so many people? Why participate?

The poem, “On being brought from AFRICA to AMERICA” by Phillis Wheatley, connects well with this poem because the poem can precede the ad. The imagery in the poem also captures the raw hatred that whites felt towards Black people. Wheatley writes things like, “Some view our sable race with scornful eye,/‘Their colour is a diabolical die’” (line 5-6). The image of a “[color]” being diabolical communicates that the hate white people have for Blacks stems from the differences in skin color. The “diabolical die” that blacks have, in the eyes of the white people at that time, makes them believe they have justification to treat black people the way they do because of their ideology that Blacks were evil or sinful.

The advertisement and the poem complement each other because of the evident hate that lies in both works. The ad is simply taking all the raw hate that the poem is revealing, and marketing it. Instead of keeping all the hatred to themselves and/or taking it out on the slave, the slave owners wanted to share this hate amongst each other and make it into a festivity. For example, Wheatley writes “Some view our sable race with scornful eye” (line 5). Sable, meaning to dress in black, can be interpreted as something dark or unholy, which is how the whites looked at Black people during this era. The scornful eye can be a metaphor for the way Blacks were treated by whites at the hands of the slavery. This treatment received includes, but is not limited to: rape, separation of families, and physical torture. The ad is the slave owners’ way of putting this hatred in yet another vehicle to find a different way to express their scorn.

The theme that lingers between the poem and picture is: in order to uphold white supremacy in America, the white supremacists must step on the backs of the black citizens in the country. It’s important to look back at these things because it becomes easier to make connections between how white people treat blacks, or even other races in the past and the present.

Works Cited

 

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Complete Writings, edited by

Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2001.

 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Young and likely.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-491f-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Horrors of the Slave Trade told from a Survivor

Often individuals think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It is often thought that the lives of the Europeans in the 18th century were much easier than those of the blacks and they would easily trade places with them. However, The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano and the Digital Archives of the Slave Migrations demonstrates the opposite. With a personal anecdote and a thought provoking image Equiano can describe the true events of what happened on the ships. Moreover, how the lives of the masters were more corrupt than those of the slaves as their morals and relationship with God contradict their beliefs.

The archival picture shows the pain and suffering of the African Americans during the transatlantic slave trade. In the picture there’s thirty or more slaves on a ship. There are some on sitting in things that look like shelves and are crammed. The other slaves are barely dressed, only having a rag as clothing or naked. In the center of the picture there is a male slave trying to get up through the opening of the ship, holding his two arms up attempting to grab the edge of the opening but he cannot reach. The rest of his shipmates are also lying on the floor in despair, exhaustion and probably from starvation as well, as their bones are visible through their skin.  There is also a white male with a whip, demonstrating he’s trying to control but also instill fear in them. The caption of the pictures says, “Ah its horrors who can describe?… Oh! friends of humanity pity the African who has been trepanned and sold away from friends and home…to await more horrors and miseries in a distant land, amongst the religious and benevolent.” The caption informs the reader how to interpret this image. The events that occurred on the ship were so terrifying that no one can describe what happened because it’s too traumatic. This is said by a slave ship survivor. However, the caption it demonstrates dehumanization and sarcasm.

While the image demonstrates what it felt like to be and occurred on the ships. In Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative, he is able to put the picture into words when he speaks about his personal experience being on a slave ship. He says,

This produced copious perspirations, so that the air so became unfit for respiration, for a variety of loathsome smells and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now became insupportable and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable. (58)

In this small passage of his work, he speaks about the Middle Passage, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies. Through his experience the readers get vivid imagery of what it was like to be forcibly taken from a place one knows well to live in harsh conditions. The slaves were all crammed and chained to the ships and had to perform everything with the chains on as well, providing no space for them to move around. As a result, the air on the ships wasn’t safe to inhale making them sick as the ships were filled with excrements. The ones to take fault in the deaths of many slaves, he says, are the Europeans. Equiano says, ‘improvident avarice’, meaning thoughtless and extremely greedy, showing they lack empathy. The women didn’t have privacy and many rather die than go through such horrors but that too was impossible as they feared the whites. Many have taken to Equiano’s narrative because he is able to explain and illustrate the realities of the slaves while being evocative. His narrative is different in the way that he is telling it through a slave’s perspective rather than the white man. Unlike the image where the caption informs the reader how to interpret the event, Equiano claims authority over his experiences.

Equiano is a survivor of the slave trade and it is evident through his work that the reason he is able to overcome such atrocities was through faith in God.

I was sensible in the invisible hand of God, which guided and protected me when in truth I knew it not: still the lord perused me although I slighted and disregarded it; this mercy melted me down. When I considered my poor wretched state I wept, seeing what a great debtor I was to sovereign free grace. Now the Ethiopian was willing to be saved by Jesus Christ, the sinner’s only surety, and also to rely on none other person or thing for salvation. (191)

Here he explains that he did not have a relationship with God, he was hesitant. Without knowing God kept him safe throughout his time on the slave ships. After being on the ships he wants to explore Christianity in a more deep and meaningful way that will benefit his life. In following faith and reading the bible he finds it as a source of strength. When he takes time to reflect on himself and how he’s been feeling, he feels that he owes a debt to God through faith. Once he comes to this realization is when he decides to begin his conversion. It is also the only way he can be guaranteed salvation. He tells readers to depend on the bible for teaching faith and no other person. He tries to get other African Americans to follow faith and tries to show them the good it does for them. Equiano worries for his mother who doesn’t follow faith, he says those who don’t they’re in an awful state. He is dedicated to Christianity, he says, “he can read it for himself”, have his own interpretation rather than the masters telling them what to believe.

The Narrative and Equiano finding with faith and the harshness of the whites exposes their hypocrisy with their faith. A poem that relates to his experience is “The Negros Complaint” by William Cowper, where the speaker raises questions to get whites to think of their actions against the blacks and if God would agree with their actions.  In the archival picture, there’s a white man holding an item that appears to be a whip and the slaves are terrified. The poem states,

Slaves of Gold! Whose sordid dealings,

Tarnish all your boasted pow’rs

Prove that you have human feelings

‘Ere ye proudly questions Ours. (L 53-56. 98)

The fifth line of the last stanza, Cowper says the Europeans are slaves themselves, to gold and the system of slavery. The value of Gold can make them dehumanize the slaves. It also shows the greed of the whites. Cowper says, “Is there, as ye sometimes tell us/ is there One who reigns on high?” They believe in God but used the bible to justify their actions toward the slaves. Actions that characterize the slaves as animals. They were told if they didn’t follow they would be punished. However, the lines also tell us that it was the white man that taught them about God. The slaves never had their own interpretation of the bible, giving the slaveowners the opportunity to make the slaves believe what was their interpretation of faith. God is a being that gives equal treatment to all. The slaveowners are being contradictory because if they had faith, they would not have treated or enslaved the African Americans the way they did. Cowper tells slave owners to prove they have empathy and emotion towards the slaves. The actions they have taken against the blacks shows who they really are as individuals. Cowper concludes the poem by challenging the masters to show if they have any human emotion before they underestimate the abilities of the African Americans. This yet another way to get the owners to think of their faith, they believe in God, yet they refuse to show empathy and treat them like animals. Equiano is able to save himself because he converts to Christianity and he sees that there’s part of the texts he can relate to.

The events that happen in our lives we don’t have control over them, but we do have control over how we react to them. In both the text, both show how they utilized literacy to get them through their ordeals. The slave in this sense is brave because during this time is wasn’t agreed upon for a person of slavery to speak against the injustices of the system It also shows the weakness of a white man only attaining power by taking it away from others. Both texts, remind me of the poem, Invictus, by Ernest Hanley, where the individual goes through continuous struggles but despite of all the despair he is still able to persevere. The slave and Equiano could have given up, but they chose to write of their experiences which is a way to grieve but also to educate the whites on their wrongs.

 

 

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative and Other Works. Edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2003.

Gardo Barquaqua, Mahommah. “Negras a Fonde De Cale.” AAME : www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/detail.cfm?migration=1&topic=99&id=299670&page=6&type=image.

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Package 2. 9th ed., D, W.W. Norton, 2012. The Negros Complaint

 

 

Raid on a Village

In the story of Oroonokoby Aprha Behn, is a story of an African Prince and his wife, Imoinda, who are captured by the British and are transported to Suriname as slaves along with others. The story takes place in South America in the 1640s. Throughout the story, Oroonoko goes through many trials to free himself and his pregnant wife from slavery. There is one moment at the beginning of the book that Oroonoko is a General and is the person who is raiding and seizing African people, like himself, and selling them into the slave trade. I chose a digital archive image from the In Motion AAME (African American Migration Experience), titled “Raid on a Village”, to compare the similarities between the character, Oroonoko, the revolt in Suriname, and the image from the digital archive.

The Digital archive I chose is titled, “Raid on a Village”. By the title, without looking closely at the image, I can already visualize that the image will be disturbing. As I open the image for a closer look, it is in black, white, and grey. The time of day seems like it is at night, there are dark skies with a full moon and a mist of cloud hovering in front of it. There is also smoke in the sky from the fire that is in the village further back away from the people, which might be another reason there are dark skies. The village is being raided and there are men, dressed in a white dress like attire, with white hats, a belt squeezed around their waist and bead-like jewelry around their necks. They are holding spears, guns, and knives pointing at the village people. The village

men are only wearing a cloth around their waist and women are wearing a light-colored dress as are the children. The villagers are fighting back but are not winning this fight, since it was a raid and unexpected, they were not prepared. There are no weapons in the villager’s hands, they are using their hands and bodies to fight back. Some of the villagers are on the floor with their hands over their faces to cover themselves from being beaten. In this raid children and young adults are being taken, the infants and the elderly were being left behind. Villages like this one are always relocating due to the raids and have to live in hiding. They had no way of any growth or movement to avoid being captured. The “Raid on a Village” image, evokes a heartbreaking moment to its viewers as a person who has a family, which is most of us. Seeing only through an image, that the villagers, children, and young adults, are being ripped away from their families, we can only imagine if we were in that position it would be terrifying. Especially the young children and adults who had to witness this and be held in captivity with strangers they only have one thing in common with is being sold and being in the same boat as them, not knowing where they are going and whether or not they will survive this trip.

I chose this object to create a discourse between this image and the story of Oronooko. Though this is not the same as the revolt in the story where Caesar also tells the slaves that are in the same place that he is in, to fight back the white people. This object is the complete opposite of what happened in Oronookowith the revolt. In fact, the image is related to Oroonoko himself and his character before becoming a Royal Slave. Oroonoko is a prince who is promoted to General who kidnaps Africans and sells them into the slave trade. He presented Imoinda with hundred-fifty slaves as a gift of love, “So that having made his first compliments and presented her a hundred and fifty slaves in fetters…” (16).  So, this image is comparing it to Oroonoko as a person who could have been the persons raiding this village with his army.  In this image, the people who are raiding the villagers are the ones who are the same color as them. The people in the picture look like the people are wearing something similar to what Oroonoko is described to be wearing.

The story and object emerge the bigger picture as the tables are turned on Oroonoko. before his captivity, an English Ship arrives in Coramantien, who Oroonoko knows the captain, “to this captain he sold abundance of his slaves…” (36). The English Captain invited Oroonoko and hundred others on to his ship for a party with wine that they all enjoyed too much of. By everyone’s surprise, the captain seized all of them on his ship, “gave the word and seized on all guests, they clapping great irons suddenly on the prince when he was leaped down in the hold to view that part of the vessel, and locking him down…and betrayed him into slavery” (37). At this point, Oroonoko is now held in captivity as the slaves are when he himself captures them.  This is when karma comes into play with Oroonoko, he was in the position that this captain is in now, and now that the tables have been turned Oroonoko feels betrayed by him. The captain reassures Oroonoko that he and his people will be released once they reach land only because they were starving themselves, the captain did not want them to die. Oroonoko is now sold to a man named Trefry, in Surinam. He is angry with the captain for not keeping his word as told, “Farewell, Sir! It is worth my suffering to gain so true a knowledge both of you and your gods by whom you swear” (41). At this point, Oroonoko is confused as to why the captain would do this to him. Him being royal and being on their side with trading slaves, “…and being wholly unarmed and defenceless, so as it was in vain to make any resistance, he only beheld the captain with a look all fierce and disdainful, upbraiding him with eyes…” (41).

The object also is similar to a scene in Oroonoko towards the end of the book where the Oroonoko who is now named Caesaris revolting against the white men. He rallies up all the slaves and gives a speech to them to fight back the white men, “…made a harangue to them of the miseries and ignominies of such loads, burdens and drudgies as were fitter for beasts than men…” (61).  Everyone then agrees with Oroonoko to fight back with honor and praising him, “…Caesar has spoke like a great captain, like a great king” (62). The object and Oroonooko are compared as being similar because Oroonoko, at one point at the beginning of the story, is like the men in the image that are raiding the villages to capture innocent villagers that are in hiding to sell them as slaves. The digital archive shows an example of what Oroonoko and his army was doing in the beginning before he was held as a slave himself.  The tables finally turn on Oroonoko when he is in the position of the people he usually is capturing, and now he is their position who is being sold into slavery. Oroonoko not surviving but dying in noble honor for his people and also himself.

Works Cited:

“Raid on a Village.” AAME, www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/index.cfm?migration=1&type=image&page=11&topic=99&.

 

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. Penguin Classics, 2016.

 

What is Identity?

 

 When searching for contemporary 18th century piece of art one illustration that caught my attention was one by the name of ‘’ Runaways’’ (Fugitive Slaves). The piece is a short box of text detailing a slaved that has escaped from it’s master.With in the box is a small illustration of a black man  (assuredly a slave) with a bindle. The figure in question has a Tom Sawyer , Huckleberry Finn quality to it. Resembling a common character archetype from a book of that era. After viewing this piece of history I believe that there is a connection to these runaway slave flyers and the themes of the reduction and destruction of the Black identity present in 18th century media.

           One quality of the flyer that stood out was how nonchalantly it seemed to be written. Within  the text there is a normality that is shown when it comes to denigrating Black bodies.The text puts focus on all the physical attributes of the slave and describes them in the same manner one would describe a couch. The writer of this flyer, a sheriff by the name of M. Kelly , calls Bill a ‘’large fellow’’and ‘’very black’’. He says Bill has several scars all over his body including his breast.  These descriptions not only reduce Bill to a body with no intellect or cognition but are also used to help those who are aiding this system of human enslavement.

            The writer of this text says a slave who calls himself Bill has escaped his master. That line struck out to me. ” a slave who calls himself Bill”.  To me this short line tells me that the person writing this does not see this man as human. Usually when a person wants to introduce someone they would normally say something to the effect of, ” this is my friend John ‘ or ” I’d like you to meet Sally.” To Say that someone calls them self this name means that you don’t believe that this is actually the person name or title. It show that you have doubt in this person. Like ” yeah this guy maybe calling himself this buy we all no that he’s not. ” Not only does it insults the intelligence of the person in question but it takes away that person agency and freedom. Your name is a part of your identity and a part that can be voluntarily given. It’s possible to change a birth name. It’s done all the time. But since Bill is a slave he can’t really make that choice for himself . He is the property of someone else. This infuriates me but this is cultural indicative of the zeitgeist of that time period. This is easily a pro slavery piece and unfortunately it is one of many.     

    When viewing this piece I was reminded of the book Oroonoko by Aphra Behn. The novel centers around the author herself as a main character and the titular African prince Oroonoko.  What made me connect these two pieces of media is that in Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko is sold into slavery by his grandfather and bought by a white man in England. Once bought his master changes his name to Caesar and after that point he is referred to by that name for the rest of the book.  Both ‘’Bill’’ and Oroonoko are Black men that are put into the bondage of slavery and while enslaved both of them have their identity altered by an external force.. Their names are changed by the will of their masters. This event is indicative of the idea of reducing the African identity. In the book the narrator points out that it was the common practice for Christians to rename their newly acquired slaves, “their native ones being likely very barbarous and hard to pronounce” (40). The narrator is insulting African culture and by extension the African identity. Aphra Bend is putting her Christian European culture on a pedestal by doing this.  She even does something similar to this when describing Oroonoko. She says ‘’ His mouth was rising and Roman instead of African and flat. His mouth, the finest shaped that could be seen, far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes.’’ (16). The narrator in this line is elevating Oroonoko above the rest of the Africans because of his more Euro-centric traits. She is ascribing him whiteness so he can be more palatable to her. Thus erasing a part of Oroonoko’s Blackness in the process.  

  In conclusion the runaway slave flyer and the book Oroonoko are pieces of art that reflects the racial zeitgeist of the !8th century. Both are about the subjugation of Black bodies and African Culture. And both hold Hold whiteness as superior.

      Work cited

Runaways  https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/83d5559f-0fc9-aaa1-e040-e00a1806332d

Oroonoko Aphra Bend (40) (16) 1688

On Their Way to a New Home

Image

     

     We are taught in school that there are many different forms of slavery, and that slavery did happen throughout history. However, I believe what is usually left out of the histories that we are taught are the views of the African people, and how they felt on their journies to the Americas. It is important for people to begin to understand how the people who were being enslaved felt, to further one’s understanding of the hardships they went through during these times. One is able to examine how the African enslaved people felt during their journey and upon their arrival to the Americas by focusing on their emotions and expressions within etchings and texts that were created during the 1800’s.

     The emotions and expressions shown in an etching can reveal more than one thinks. The artifact that I chose to take a close look at is an etching from a painting by Francois Biard, created in 1850 called “Bartering for Slaves on the Gold Coast”, from a sample in the Noel Pittman Collection at The New York Public Library’s The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: “In Motion: The African American Migration Experience”.  This picture depicts how Africans that were captured were treated as they were transported to the “new world” from their homes. The etching is lucid and shows many details in the characteristics of the slaves, and the Europeans that are buying them. The etching shows slaves getting branded like cattle, children being ripped away from their mothers, Africans being brutally whipped by the Europeans, all while the Europeans are bartering for the Africans that they want to use as slaves. The expression on the faces of the many Africans is of horror and confusion as they are torn away from their loved ones and abused. There is a European man holding shackles in his hands, known to be used on slave ships to hold three slaves at a time; two adults and one child between them. However, there is a darker “African” man sitting on the floor smoking a pipe watching the chaos happen while the others are being enslaved.  There are also other “white” people, near the African man smoking, that are just laying around with objects in their hands watching the commotion happening in this particular area. I believe that this painting tells the story of how Africans and all other people that were captured and sold as slaves were treated once they stepped off of the slave ships they were on. It depicts the horrors that people had to go through in the time of slavery, and how the people who bought slaves treated them. The etching puts slavery into a different perspective when the viewer looks at this picture and sees the reality of the transatlantic slave trade and cruelty that was happening in the world.

     There are also poems that were written during this time period that depict how Africans may have felt during their travel from their homeland to the Americas. Although one can learn much about the emotions of Africans coming to the Americas from an etching, poems and literature can also provide great insight.  The poem “On being brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley, a black woman, is about the narrator traveling from his / her home in Africa, and coming to a new land that he / she has never been to before and having to conform to a new way of living. The poem reveals how the narrator’s feelings on being brought to a new land, and having to change the way that he / she is used to.  One can see what the narrator was thinking when he / she said, “Taught my benighted soul to understand” (l.2). This can possibly mean that someone who the narrator met during his / her time in the Americas taught her to understand why she was moving from her home to a new land, and why he / she has to conform to who the Europeans want him / her to be. One can see that the narrator knows that he / she is different than all of the other people in this new land when he / she says “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train” (l.7-8).  Here I believe that the narrator is justifying the changes that he / she has to make in order to have a better chance of treatment in the Americas. The narrator here is claiming that people that are as “black as Cain” (l.7) are able to be saved and join the “angelic train” (l.8). The imagery of “angelic” brings to mind tiny, mainly white angels that are in many painting in churches. So for the narrator to say that blacks are able to join this community means that they have the possibility of joining the majority of the white population.

     The etching and the poem that I have chosen can be compared as they both express and showcase the emotions of slaves, and how they must have felt during their transition.  In the etching, one can clearly see the emotions of the slaves that have just arrived in the Americas. They are all scared and traumatized and do not know what to expect. In the etching, it seems as if the new slaves are trying to hold on to what little they have left.  In the poem by Phillis Wheatley, one can also see the emotions of the African people. However, it is in a light that shows how living in the Americas has changed Africans to be someone they do not want to be, and having to conform to their new society in order be remotely accepted.

     All in all, there are many ways that one can find out more about the history of how African people were treated upon their arrival to the Americas, as well as how they reacted to everything once they have been here for a while.  Etchings and Literature such as poems help to give great insight into occurrences that happened during specific time periods. I would, however, like to learn more about the children who came on the slave ships that traveled. It would be interesting to find out about their memories, and if they ever got to meet their parents.  Although those are only some of the many questions that arose, I am sure the answers are out there waiting to be found.

Works Cited

Biard, Francois. Bartering for Slaves on the Gold Coast, Etching from a Painting.

     c.1850. 485354. The New York Public Library’s The Schomburg Center for Research

     in Black Culture: In Motion: The African American Migration Experience. Sample

     Noel Pittman Collection. 

http://www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/detail.cfm?migration=1&topic=99&id=29001&page=6&type=image

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Complete Writings,

     edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2001.

“Men, Women, Children”

 

“Barting for Slaves on the Gold Coast” is from “The New York Public Library’s the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture”: “In Motion: The African American Migration Experience”. This is a sample of Noel Pittman collection Etching from a painting by Francois Biard and taken in 1850. According to this picture, “Many men, women, and children died on the way to the coast before the European slavers made their selection. Others died at the port of departure, usually as a result of exposure to new diseases or the appalling conditions in the barracoons, or slave camps”(Biard). This picture describes how Africans that were captured were treated when they were transported to the “new world”.

The people that were on the ship were getting hurt and the European slaves did not care. Many people were even suffering during this time because they may have had a disease or had a certain complication. From this image, I got a sense of surprise because of what these people faced and then a sense of sympathy. The slaves were getting branded, children were getting taken away from their mothers, and Africans were beaten by the Europeans. When these slaves were branding the children, the people around tried to stop it but they did not listen. Some words or phrases you can keep in mind when looking at this picture are Ghana, Gold Coast, and Transatlantic Slave Trade. I think these words are important because this helps you to sum up the picture and let you know what is going on and where things are taking place. I think this picture is sad and when reading the description, it makes you realize that you can die from many things like conditions or even new diseases. These man and women went through life not knowing what will happen to them next. I wonder if these people went through a horror. Transatlantic Slave Trade is the reality of what is happening in the world. The expression on the faces of the Africans are of horror and they also look very scared. It depicts the horrors that people had to go through in the time of slavery, and how the people who bought slaves treated them. Men, women, and children were all facing challenges and were getting treated badly by the European slaves.

In the novel, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, I made a connection between Oroonoko treatment on the slave ship and this image with the men, women, and children who were on their way to the coast. It tells the story of how Africans and all other people that were captured and sold as slaves were treated once they stepped off of the slave ships they were on. The Europeans were really treating everyone badly. You just couldn’t do anything, and you just watched people get enslaved.

Another connection is the theme through freedom and slavery. Freedom and slavery were seen throughout the whole book and I also saw it in the image. “He sent a messenger to the camp, with orders to treat with him about the matter, to gain his pardon, and to endeavor to mitigate his grief; but that by no means he should tell him she was sold, but secretly put to death: for he knew he should never obtain his pardon for the other” (Behn 37). He knows that there will be death coming in soon but no one knows who will be towards exactly.” Come, my fellow-slaves, let us descend, and see if we can meet with more honor and honesty in the next world we shall touch upon” (Behn 50). He is trying to see if anyone will be gone like in the image I choose, some people did not make it because of some of the diseases that they had. Some of the children were taken away from their family. The Africans and all other people that were captured and sold as slaves were treated once they stepped off of the slave ships they were on. Not everyone was excepted that were on the ship. Everyone during that time did not freedom but many people were slaves. This quote states “As the leader of the slaves, he argues that no man, woman, or child should ever be enslaved, and that the slaves should unite to become a free and supportive community” (Behn 50). Both men, women, and children had to face whatever came their way and they had to deal with everything that was happening. It was sad to see what these people have to go through on this ship. If someone took them away there was not much that they could do at the time. Like in the image, the people had to do what they were told even if that meant dying or not getting selected by the European Slaves.

The significant thread between the image “Bartering for Slaves on the Gold Coast” and Oroonoko is all the things that they have in common. Some of the common stuff was the way Oroonoko was treated on the slave ship and then the same thing for the men, women, and children and how they got treated on the ship. These two material go hand in hand and develop the same situation during a different time. They speak to one another because Oroonoko faced challenges in many ways with many people. The slaves from the Gold Coast also faced the same problems. Their problem may have been worse because they were getting sick and gaining diseases from people. I think they were surprised as to what was coming their way and people giving their sympathy for them. Many people started feeling sorry for them and especially for the innocent children.

I wonder why people had to be treated this way and if they could have done anything to not have to go through this and face all these challenges? Why were slaves put into all these situations and having to choose people to lose their life?  Why did these children have to go through this? When does the slaves know who they want to pick? Why do they choose the people that they do? These people did not deserve to be treated like this. I especially think that it was really sad that the children had to see and go through all these hard times.

 

 

 

 

Work Cited

Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko”, edited by Janet Todd, Penguin 2004.

Biard, Francois, “Barting for Slaves on the Gold Coast”. Sample Noel Pittman Collection c. 1850.

 

 

 

Girls for Sale: “Wenches” and Personhood in Wheatley’s Poetry

How have institutions of racism and slavery contributed to shaping or warping the livelihoods of individuals? While our modern society has developed and continues to refine a language that refuses to interpret this history with terms from a European lexicon, language used in the Transatlantic Slave Trade served to dehumanize and deprecate the autonomy of slaves. This not only created a view that enslaved people were like objects, but also reinforced the unequal and one-sided power slave masters wielded over subjugated individuals.

I recently looked at a still image photograph titled “Sale in New York” uploaded by The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division into the NYPL’s digital collections. The image reads: “For Sale, A likely, healthy, young, NEGRO WENCH, Between fifteen and fixteen Years old: She has been ufed to the Farming Bufinefs. Sold for want of Employ- Enquire at No. 81, William-ftreet, New-York, March 30 1789.” While it’s unclear if this specific advertisement was posted in a newspaper clipping or another venue of publication, the language used here implicates an established slave auction system in New York in the year of 1789.

The young girl in the advertisement is either fifteen-sixteen, but is specifically described as a wench. The Oxford English Dictionary terms wench as “a girl of the rustic or working class” (Wench, n1) or “a female servant, maidservant, serving-maid” (Wench, n2). This phrasing informs the reader of her low class and social standing as well. However, the audience has no knowledge of this particular girl’s background, her family, date of birth, or even name. This specific narrative describes personhood, but in a way that has diminished this young female subject to object- specifically an object “for sale” so she can be employed for work.

I believe that pre-nineteenth century poet Phillis Wheatley combats this aforementioned “objecthood” in her work as a poet as she voices issues she encountered in her own personal experiences as a black slave. She was seized from West Africa and taken to Boston aboard the slave ship Phillis in 1761 (Wheatley 8). In “want of a domestic” in August 1761, Susanna Wheatley, wife of prominent Boston tailor John Wheatley, purchased a “frail female child…for a trifle” (Poetry Foundation). She was reported to be of “slender frame and evidently suffering from a change of climate,” nearly naked with “no other covering than a quantity of dirty carpet about her.”

While Wheatley was brought to America twenty-eight years before the “Sale in New York” advertisement was released, I found myself juxtaposing the frail poet to the faceless, nameless girl in the ad. Perhaps the girl in the advertisement could have been just as sickly as Wheatley when she first arrived in America. More importantly, I found myself reflecting on Wheatley’s “On Being Brought From America,” and how it asked her audience to reconsider the lens through which black individuals and slaves were imagined.

“On Being Brought From America” does not illustrate a narrative. Rather, Wheatley spoke on ideas of Christianity, salvation, and history. The speaker in the poem is a slave brought from Africa to America by “mercy.” It is this mercy that converted the speaker to Christianity, which she had no knowledge of in Africa. However, the speaker refers to her soul as something that was once “benighted.” The OED describes benighted as something “overtaken by the darkness of the night” (Benighted, adj1) or “involved in intellectual or moral darkness” (Benighted, adj2). The speaker parallels her skin color and original state of ignorance and explains how Christianity was able to enlighten her. By learning “that there’s a God” and “there’s a Savior too,” Wheatley reminds her audience that although her kidnapping and subsequent voyage were at the hands of human beings, there is a force more powerful than they who was acted directly in her life (3).

In the next half of the poem, Wheatley addresses those who “view our sable race with scornful eye,” distancing her reader from an audience that fosters a more critical or negative  view on those who are slaves (5). By doing so, she nudges the reader to a more positive view. Sable is desirable, contrasting greatly to the description of “diabolic die” (6). In the second to last line, the speaker groups together Christians and Negroes in a move that can both address Christians or include Christians in those who can be “refin’d” and “join the angelic train” (Wheatley 7-8). The last line of the poem implies that the angelic train will include both white and black individuals.

Wheatley ultimately addresses an audience who accepts and even promotes slavery, laying out an ultimatum to either join her, the black female Christian in her critique of the existing power structure, or to continue to foster beliefs in the current system. Her voice speaks not only to her contemporaries and those who live in her society, but carries on to address the same individuals who dehumanized the young girl in the advertisement.

Works Cited

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought From America.” Poetry Foundation. 1773. Web. 18 October 2018.

 

Wheatley, Phillis. Complete Writings. New York: Penguin Classics. 2001.

 

“Benighted, adj1.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, 1887. http://www.oed.com.lehman.ezproxy.cuny.edu/view/Entry/17727?isAdvanced=false&result=2&rskey=9Bb2J9&.

 

“Benighted, adj2.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, 1887. http://www.oed.com.lehman.ezproxy.cuny.edu/view/Entry/17727?isAdvanced=false&result=2&rskey=9Bb2J9&.  

The Reflective lives of Phillis Wheatley and Emily

Kadija Doumbia

Eng 302

Prof.Kappes

Oct 7, 2018              The Reflective Lives of Phillis Wheatley and Emily

 

Image result for emily runs away slave

              Slavery is a inhumane act that has been a persistent force throughout all history. All countries of different cultures and religions have practiced it one way or another. The practice was officially banned in the United States in 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law. However slavery still persisted in the other states for some time after this federal decree. In a global context, even nowadays in 2018, some countries and criminal organizations still practice slavery Through illegal labor practices or sex trafficking. People, usually women and children, are kidnapped and are forced to become sex slaves for either a major criminal gang or for individuals. No matter how many people are enslaved sexually or used as labor and are beaten upon them. It cannot truly break the human spirit’s desire for freedom.

        In Phillis Wheatley’s poem “From Africa to America”, she describes leaving her homeland via a slave ship, and being taken to a foreign place where she’s unfamiliar with the culture and language. She notes: “TWAS mercy brought me from my pagan land, taught my benighted soul to understand that there is a God.”(3) There she describes how despite the hardship she had to face at a very young age, she managed to hold out hope for something better for her than the life she had been dealt in. In her other poem “The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” she continues to highlight the more liberal and enlightened North.

         The poem starts off as “Fair freedom rose New-England to adorn: The northern clime beneath her genial ray.” Reviewing her statement, it’s almost as if she portrays that as a slave, if you came to the North, not only you would have a better life but that the white population there would respect you and support your endeavors. Through reading Wheatley’s poems it’s an opener to the black slave’s struggle to gain recognition to their plight in a eurocentric society. Prior and during the 18th Century they were many black authors in America who had already experienced the same situation she has been in. However, they were limited in terms of publication opportunities, and societal views of their time.

         Her poems in general had highlighted the strength and independence of black woman. A large portion of it is due to necessity as black women had no support from others including from their fellow men. In fear that themselves would be treated more harshly by their masters when abetted. To further explain the connection in the last quote she put in “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” (3) In this quote hidden in a religious text describes how blacks can reach success and be independent, through Christ.  To continue it is also a reflection among Wheatley’s personal beliefs between her relationship with Jesus Christ and how she kept that belief to keep her going. Plus it what led her to become a successful author whose work is still reviewed and revered today.

          In the “Wanted” poster the slave “Emily” has learned that she too could have a better life than the miserable one she was subjected to. Although her experience has been different than Wheatley’s, they share some similarities. Emily was born in slavery, and as such has no desire or curiosity about the outside world. For her to even leave the plantation she must have had a friend nearby, who would also have had to escape. Or it’s possible she was told about life in the North by an older slave who was familiar about life in the north, but is unable to leave due to illness.  Finally she could have figured it out herself and left the slave plantation in Kentucky to test out whether life really was better for blacks in the North in contrast to life in the South. While Wheatley’s poems inspires independence and authority to black women. The “Emily” poster showcases obedience to their masters and loyalty to the plantation itself above all else.

          An example of it is within the poster itself, the white slave owner’s relationship with “Emily”. The first sentence in the poster the owner describes her as having a “whiny voice”.(l.3) As if she’s a dog that won’t shut up. And to the owner he is afraid that when she does escape she will tell her story to a group of abolitionists.  Plus the description of “Emily” in poster is akin to a lost pet, giving out vague descriptions. As having “black color” (l.4) and “one blue and white” (l.4) begging the people to return her if found.  Finally the fact that he referred to her as “My black woman” (l.2) cements it as her being just an object to this man. Although it’s harder to tell due to the owner’s writing carrying a benevolent tone if sent back to her plantation “Emily’s would be ten times worse than before.

        As a woman of childbearing age she would be sexually abused or had been as it is not uncommon for slave owners to have had sexual relationships with their female slaves. More times than not, the slave owner would either rape or even have kids with some of the prettier younger slaves. Some owners would tie them up with bells on top of their heads which makes a sound everytime they took a step, making them impossible to leave. This also highlights the further dehumanization of female slaves as not only just human cargo but as sex objects made to take and be discarded for one’s pleasure.  This also creates a sense of dependence where the slave is beaten by the master to the point they “need” their guidance and that if they leave the plantation they will perish.

        To further continue when sent back she might be even be beaten or killed in front of the other slaves as an example of what would happen if one dared to leave this Kentucky plantation. While slavery in the North had been banned for quite sometime, racism still existed in those parts. De facto segregation was still prevalent although they weren’t being actively discriminated. For example in “From Africa to America quote “Some view our sable race with a scornful eye.” (3)  Blacks are viewed as being subhuman or lesser beings to whites, in terms of mannerisms and appearance. Thus many whites especially in the North believed that blacks should be enslaved for their own good as they are dumb animals incapable of rational thought.They were still prohibited from settling at certain neighborhoods and even going to certain stores and clubs sometimes among Whites. In a way their lives would not get better in those circumstances and are even barred from entering certain jobs when dealing directly with a white clientele unless it was domestic work.

         Both Phillis Wheatley and “Emily” two women who lived in a time where they have no rights. And are viewed as trusting but simple creatures at best to sexual objects at worst by white society. Despite of all this both have managed to find freedom and independence in their own and it’s through their texts that they live on.

 

Work Cited:

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from AFRICA TO AMERICA.” Complete Writings, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 13.

https://bbhosted.cuny.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_36645089_1&course_id=_1647338_1

Wheatley, Phillis. “The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth.” Complete Writings, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 39.

https://bbhosted.cuny.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_36645089_1&course_id=_1647338_1

Unknown. “Emily Runs Away.” 100 Dollars Reward,

digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-bc26-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

Separation in Slavery: The Emotional Costs to Africans and Economic Benefits to Slave Owners

Woman and child on auction block,1800s

 

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade facilitated the forced migration of millions of Africans to the Western World from its inception up until the end of the 19th Century.  In addition to the physical cruelties that the enslaved endured at the hands of their masters, they also suffered the emotional cruelties of being torn from their families, homes, and cultures.  For many, the uncertainty of the fates of their loved ones was a greater burden than that of the forced physical labor and ill treatment that they were met with upon arrival in the west. In his autobiographical work The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the former slave and abolitionist speaks openly about the horrors he faced under slavery and the pain that losing his family caused him.  The digital archive image “Woman and child on auction block” conveys visually the threat which slavery presented to families that Equiano emphasizes in his writing.

Discovered in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections Archive On Slavery, the photo entitled “Woman and child on auction block” offers a visual representation of the cruelty slaves suffered as they were purchased and separated from their loved ones.  In the image, an auctioneer presents his fellow white men with two slaves: one, an older woman, and the other a young girl; presumably, they are mother and daughter, or somehow else related. The girl is clinging to her mother tightly while eyeing the men bidding with suspicion and terror.  The ferocity with which the child holds onto the older woman suggests she fears separation, an all too common fate for slaves. The woman appears focused on comforting the child as best she can: she has her arms wrapped around her in a protective way, and her head is tilted down towards the girl as though she is committing her face to memory.  The white men are dressed in clothes which suggest immense wealth, while the slaves’ clothes are simple and revealing, which creates a stark contrast; the slaves are easily identifiable. In the lower left corner of the photo, a slave woman sits on the ground near the selling platform, nursing an infant as she waits her turn to be sold. The scene of separation which the woman and daughter on the platform display foreshadows the possibility of separation of the infant from his or her mother, as well.  In the background, a white man raises a whip into the air, foreshadowing the cruelty that all of these slaves will experience once they are sold. A white man standing directly in front of the platform, and another, perched on what appears to be a crate, hold whips as well, implying their readiness to use them, should the slaves misbehave on the auction block. Positioning the white men as primarily standing, or holding weapons, while the slaves appear fearful and taking a protective posture, serves to clearly depict the power hierarchy which exists between slave owners and the enslaved. The slave owners are portrayed as menacing and violent and the slaves are women and children, typically viewed as innocents.  These choices in subject depiction serve to paint an image that condemns the slave trade and the violence it perpetuates.

In his Interesting Narrative, Olaudah Equiano recounts his own experience with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and explores the ways in which his life has been shaped by his kidnapping and subsequent enslavement in Africa.  When he and his sister are first taken from their homes, they are terrified, but staying together helps them cope during this time of distress. Equiano describes that “the only comfort we had was in being in one another’s arms all that night, and bathing each other with our tears” (47).  Despite their hardship, their love for each other sustains them and keeps them going even when the future looks bleak. Like Equiano and his sister, the mother and daughter standing on the auction block in the digital archive image are being confronted with the knowledge that they might be separated during the slave buying process.  In what may be their last moments together, the mother chooses to soothe her daughter and offer her love and protection while it is still within her power. Equiano considers this aspect of slavery one of the most cruel practices it involves, because it means slaves must endure their suffering alone, without the comfort of their loved ones.  He writes, “Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows” (60). Upon his separation from his sister, Equiano loses his last human link to the life he led in Igbo, and emphasizes how damaging it was to be parted from her without knowledge of her fate.  The family on the auction block faces a similar threat, and Equiano’s writing suggests that their separation will be one of the greatest challenges that they will face as slaves.

According to Equiano, capitalism and profit are the driving force behind such readiness to separate families.  As he observes the manner in which families are separated upon the slave ship’s arrival in Barbados, he reflects, “Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrifices to your avarice?” (60).  The Oxford English Dictionary defines avarice as the “inordinate desire of acquiring and hoarding wealth” (“avarice”, n.). In Equiano’s eyes, the greed of the slave owners was such that they would have no qualms about splitting apart families if it were more profitable to do so.  The clothes and bearings of the white men depicted in the digital archive image are indicative of their economic fortune, displaying the ways in which the slave masters directly benefited from the practices of the slave trade. As a businessman, Equiano understood quite well how money factored into these processes.  In his argument for the abolition of the trade at the end of The Interesting Narrative, Equiano offers an alternative to slavery that he hopes will appeal to those in power whose main motivation is profit.  He writes, “If the blacks were permitted to remain in their own country, they would double themselves every fifteen years.  In proportion to such increase will be the demand for manufactures” (235). If Africa is permitted to grow, Equiano posits, then Britain will see greater profit from trade in exports than it will from trafficking in people.  

In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative, he explores the emotional consequences of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on the enslaved and examines the economic motivations behind the cruelties of slavery.  The separation from his family that he endured is reflected in the digital archive image of the “woman and child on auction block”, highlighting how common an occurrence this was for those who were sold into slavery.  The apparent wealth of the slave owners in the image contrasts with the poverty of those being sold into the trade serves to emphasize how the power dynamic between slaves and their masters was created to increase profits for the white men at the expense of African families.

 

Works Cited:

 

“avarice, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018. Accessed 3 October 2018.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2003.

“Woman and child on auction block.” 19th Century. b16104370. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6fb48e0e-0795-4ac1-e040-e00a18061701