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‘From Kind Masters’
The Perspective of Henry “Box” Brown
The case made by academics for why African American slavery was evil and European American slavery was good is essentially three part:
-Africans were born into slavery and Europeans sold themselves,
-Africans were treated like animals and Europeans like one of the master’s family,
-Africans were slaves for life.
Let is see what an escaped African American slave had to say about this even as he raged against the institution which had “robbed me of myself.”
“From the time I first breathed the air of human existence, until the hour of my escape from bondage, I did not receive but one whipping. I never suffered from lack of food, or on account of too extreme labor; nor for want of sufficient clothing to cover my person. My tale is not, therefore, one of horrid inflictions of the lash upon my naked body ; of cruel starvings and of insolent treatment ; but is the very best representation of slavery which can be given therefore, reader, allow me to inform you, as you, for aught I know, may be one of those degraded mortals who fancy that if no blows are inflicted upon the slave's body, and a plenty of " bread and bacon " is dealed out to him, he is therefore no sufferer, and slavery is not a cruel institution ; allow me to inform you, that I did not escape from such deprivations. It was not for fear of the lash's dreaded infliction, that I endured that fearful imprisonment, which you are waiting to read concerning; nor because of destitution of the necessaries of life, did I enclose myself in my travelling prison, and traverse your boasted land of freedom, a portion of the time with my head in an inverted position, as if it were a terrible crime for me to endeavor to escape from slavery…
“…Heaven save me from kind masters, as well as from those called more cruel; for even their " tender mercies are cruel," and what no freeman could endure for a moment.”
“…I first drew the breath of life in Louisa County, Va., forty-five miles from the city of Richmond, in the year 1816. I was born a slave…
“…My father, and my mother of course, were slaves before me; but both of them are now enjoying the invaluable boon of liberty, having purchased themselves, in this land of freedom!”
-Henry “Box” Brown, 1849
Henry declares himself to have been well-treated and his parents free, having worked their way free as did 10% of African Americans, conditions academics equated exclusively with “whites” held in bondage, demolishing two of the three pillars of academic misinformation concerning American Slavery.
In the above passages of Henry’s overwrought account which seems to have been written with a fanatic patron looking over his shoulder, the author goes to work on those Southern slave owners who were wont to point out that their human property were better treated and better fed and housed than the employees of Northern industrialists.
-Henry demolishes the idea that African American slaves could not work their way to freedom within the system as European Americans also did and failed to do, with David Holiday of Maryland spending the first 38 years of his life in bondage.
-Henry claims that kind treatment was the rule not the exception among owners of African Americans, which must have been manifestly apparent to Americans of the time for him to make his case this way. Indeed, the exceptional cruelty experienced by Moses Roper was rare and accounted for the interest in his book, with most cruelty seeming to be inflicted by traffickers [as evidenced by Nathan Bedford Forest’s slave trafficking reforms serving as a premium selling point] and the fact that the kind of violence which Frederick Douglas and William Wells Brown experienced was no different than what I have suffered in the 1970s and 80s at the hands of family members and coworkers and was within the norm for in-family violence in Anglo-America.
-It seems that being born a slave was exclusively a condition of the African American, until one considers that the European American rarely sold himself. We have been lied to that all European American slaves were adults who sold themselves when many, and in some periods most, were children.
Overall, the sellers of European Americans were predominantly authority figures in that person’s life, from parents to judicial officers and secondarily kidnappers.
The third category of seller would be he who sold himself in an attempt to have some say in his own disposal before he was sold by others for a longer term of bondage.
The fourth category of seller would be the person who intended to sell himself as the iconic upwardly mobile immigrant, or in the above manner, but was then defrauded by his agents and double sold.
The fifth, and in many periods the smallest category, though it was the largest category in the final period of the post 1812 European American slave experience, was the upwardly mobile immigrant selling himself as a life investment. The fact that a kindness progression had occurred for both Africans and Europeans in bondage is not recognized. Instead, the differences in treatment of human property is labeled as being racial and said to have been more kind in the 17th century than the 19th century, which is utterly absurd. There were extreme cruelties towards all races of American slaves in all three centuries of the experience. However, the general trends were two and they were dualolithic:
-The norms for treatment for all improved over the trajectory from 1585 to 1865, and
-Slaves held for life at greater expense rather than for a specified term were treated better than those bought cheaply for limited terms.
Thank you, Mister Brown.
Notes:
In the 17th Century, Europeans sold for 3 to 15 pounds and were held from 3-31 years, with Africans sold for 30-80 pounds and generally held indefinitely.
In the 19th Century, Europeans [mostly Germans] were sold for the same as they were in the previous two centuries while the price of Africans soared to 800 to 1300 dollars, marking late stage American slavery as the playground of the elite.
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