Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs book is quite a nuanced account of slavery from the point of view of one who is not physically abused. This does not make slavery any better, being owned and used and having no free will cannot ever be anything but terrible, but it was less painful.

For most slave owners slaves were extremely expensive farm animals and only the richest who could afford ‘herds’ of them would be able to maltreat them on a continual basis. If you want hard work from your oxen, and you want to breed from your cows, they have to be kept healthy and in good condition. Well fed, rested, and with down-time. Not a life of ease or quality, not one without the whip, but one designed that the animals will do their job dawn to dusk and breed on a regular basis. So it was with slaves.

However there is a line in a book Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: A Student Reader by Beckles and Shepherd that says, “Within one year of the free market being established in Kingston, it was run by slaves much to everyone’s satisfaction.”

What does that say? It says quite a few things. It says that the slaves had time and plots of land big enough to grow produce more than sufficient for their needs and of a high quality. It says that (some) slave masters allowed slaves time to go to market and sell their produce once a week which is allowing entrepreneurship. It says that the slaves were well-organised and commercially savvy. It says they had good customer service skills.

What it says most of all was that Slaves were all victimised but not all became victims. And that is why there are so many successful Black islands in the Caribbean. But this is not to blame those were victims. It must have been very hard to have the strength of mind and character not to be when one is owned, beaten and treated far worse than the family dog.

The best book I could recommend on slaves not being victims is Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women. A very enjoyable and instructive book that will have you cheering and rooting for some characters that do some very evil things.

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