A Social History of the American Negro eBook

Benjamin Griffith Brawley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 546 pages of information about A Social History of the American Negro.
saw every native craft despised, and instead of the fabric that her own fingers wove her children yearned for the tinsel and the gewgaws of the trader.  She cursed this man, and she called upon all her spirits to banish the evil.  But when at last all was of no avail—­when the strongest youth or the dearest maiden had gone—­she went back to her hut and ate her heart out in the darkness.  She wept for her children and would not be comforted because they were not.  Then slowly to the untutored mind somehow came the promise:  “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb....  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.  For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”



The Negroes who were brought from Africa to America were brought hither to work, and to work under compulsion; hence any study of their social life in the colonial era must be primarily a study of their life under the system of slavery, and of the efforts of individuals to break away from the same.

1. Servitude and Slavery

For the antecedents of Negro slavery in America one must go back to the system of indentured labor known as servitude.  This has been defined as “a legalized status of Indian, white, and Negro servants preceding slavery in most, if not all, of the English mainland colonies."[1] A study of servitude will explain many of the acts with reference to Negroes, especially those about intermarriage with white people.  For the origins of the system one must go back to social conditions in England in the seventeenth century.  While villeinage had been formally abolished in England at the middle of the fourteenth century, it still lingered in remote places, and even if men were not technically villeins they might be subjected to long periods of service.  By the middle of the fifteenth century the demand for wool had led to the enclosure of many farms for sheep-raising, and accordingly to distress on the part of many agricultural laborers.  Conditions were not improved early in the sixteenth century, and they were in fact made more acute, the abolition of the monasteries doing away with many of the sources of relief.  Men out of work were thrown upon the highways and thus became a menace to society.  In 1564 the price of wheat was 19s. a quarter and wages were 7d. a day.  The situation steadily grew worse, and in 1610, while wages were still the same, wheat was 35s. a quarter.  Rents were constantly rising, moreover, and many persons died from starvation.  In the course of the seventeenth century paupers and dissolute persons more and more filled the jails and workhouses.

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A Social History of the American Negro from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.