Slavery is a common institution throughout the known world. Wealthy Imperials, both at home and abroad in the colonies, commonly keep slaves, as do the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, the Chinese, various Native American tribes, the Lords of Faerie and others. The most common slaves found in the Imperial colonies are of African descent, but slavery is by no means limited to those of darker complexion. Natives from all the colonized lands have been taken as slaves, whether from African, America, or Australia. Likewise, those of European descent may be subject to slavery — prisoners of war, orphans, or the heavily indebted may all find themselves on the auction block, and the poor often sell themselves into states of indefinite indentureship.
Slavery in the American Colonies:
No sooner had they set foot on shore near Charles City than the Imperials set about establishing the institution of Native American slavery. Seeking the gold that had changed the face of the Hapsburg empire but finding none, the Imperial settlers quickly seized upon the most abundant and available resource they could attain. The indigenous peoples became, themselves, a commodity on the open market.
In time, however, white planters began to “phase out” the use of Native Americans on their plantations. For one thing, they had decided that Africans were far better suited to the back-breaking work of cultivating rice than Indians were. For another, black people seemed to have a stronger resistance to white diseases like small pox and yellow fever. Also, the Imperial governors, particularly in Prosperia colony, had started to form treaties and alliances with various native polities. And finally, white people learned that if a Native American slave ran away, they probably weren’t going to find him again. If they could escape, they could take refuge in the midst of a nearby tribe.
In Carolina colony, strong ties formed between the local natives and the Africans who were brought to her shore. In addition to working together in the fields, they lived together in communal living quarters, began to produce collective recipes for food and herbal remedies, shared myths and legends, and ultimately intermarried.
As with Native Americans, Africans were often sold into slavery by enemy tribes. More commonly, however, tribes sold their own members to Europeans as punishment for an infraction or crime, including such offenses as murder, theft, or treachery against the tribal king. Still other tribes sold members when forced to by famine or debt. Whatever the reason, powerful people of all ethnicities are implicit in the slave trade and profit from it.
Slavery was established in the New World by the Hapsburgs and the Dutch, who sent African slaves to work in both North and South America during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The Imperials began aggressively trading in what was called “black ivory” during the middle of the seventeenth century, spurred on by the need for laborers in the hot, humid sugar fields on the West Indian islands. By the time Charles City was apportioned in 1619, Imperials from the West Indies were well acquainted with slavery and the huge profits they could reap from the toil of others. Slavery was therefore considered an essential ingredient in the successful establishment of cash crop plantations on the American mainland.
The Auction Block
I see ‘em sell plenty colored peoples away in them days, ’cause that the way white folks made heap of their money. Course, they ain’t never tell us how much they sell ‘em for. Just stand ’em up on a block about three feet high and a speculator bid ’em off just like they was horses. Them what was bid off didn’t never say nothing neither. Don’t know who bought my brothers, George and Earl. I see ’em sell some slaves twice before I was sold, and I see the slaves when they be traveling like hogs to Darlington. Some of them be women folks looking like they going to get down, they so heavy.
Colonial planters developed a vision of the “ideal” slave – tall, healthy, male, between the ages of 14 and 18, “free of blemishes,” and as dark as possible. For these ideal slaves planters may pay, on average, between 20 and 30 pounds. Despite these ideals, the price of slaves is based primarily on age (though the gender and individual capabilities of the slave do factor into bidding wars).
The basic price of a slave by age (or perceived age for those of Fae descent) is as follows:
|Age||Value (£)||Age||Value (£)||Age||Value (£)|
Prices for slaves are almost always given in pounds (£), but are paid for in Guineas. These coins, valued at 1£ 1s, are named for the African province of Guinea where their use originated. The additional 1s of value is traditionally used by the seller to pay the auctioneer for his services.
When grouped for auction, Slaves are most often divided into the following classes, for easy comparison:
- Number One Men: males between 19 and 25 years old.
- Fair Men: males of 26 years or older.
- Best Boys: males between 10 and 18 years old.
- Number One Women: females between 19 and 25 years old.
- Fair Women: females of 26 years or older.
- Best Girls: females between 10 and 18 years old.
- Fancies: mothers sold as a set with their children under age 10.
The Fortunate Transport, Rob Thief, c1770, John Carter Brown Library-
Convict servitude, though distinctly different from those suffering slavery, was often equated to slavery within the British imagination. In this print, an unnamed convict woman, pregnant with one of her jailer’s child, is sent to Virginia, where she is whipped by a black man at her master’s request and to his sadistic pleasure. When a justice witnesses her unjust punishment, he releases her from servitude. In this, at least, the British understood a difference between slavery and convict servitude.
When she is freed, and now named Mrs. Branch, she treats her “Freeborn English Servants…as they do Negroes and Felons in the Plantations,” learning nothing from her trials. The name is probably a play on the instrument she uses to beat a prostrate woman before the worried eyes of her slaves and servants.