Punishment of Slaves and Servants

Based on the slavery system, the slaves were expected to work without any compensation. The slave owners in the 18th century were mainly landowners who used slaves to provide free labor in farms and homes. The slaves under no circumstances were they expected to defy the orders given to them. However; those who failed to follow the rules of their masters were severely punished. There were various methods that were used to punish slaves, and these methods evolved through out the 18th century. Slaves were punished for engaging in minor or serious offences.

Some methods of punishment were very severe even though the offence committed was minor. Some examples of the various punishment methods that were used included,whipping,slapping and kicking,branding,flogging, body mutilation,execution,or having a relative sold off to another slave owner. The Evolution of Slave Punishment in the 18th Century During the early 18th century (1701-12), the slaves who committed offences were hanged or executed as punishment for their wrong deeds. This was done to inflict suffering on the offenders and to discourage the slaves who witnessed the punishment from committing the same offence in future.

Sometimes, slaves expressed their discontent with the slave owners by burning up houses or property of the slave owners in the early 18th century. These slaves were captured and severe punishment given to them. One of the ways through which they were punishment was by executing them in the most brutal manner in the presence of other slaves. For example, some of the slaves who revolted against the landowners by burning their property could first be burned alive. This could then be followed by being broken on the wheel and then exposed to other forms of torture as other slaves watched.

The enforcement of slavery in some regions such as Maryland in America in 1715 increased the number of black slaves in farms. The slaves were subjected to harsh treatment if they committed any offences. Upto the 1720s the slaves continued to revolt, which led to the death of so many whites and blacks (Rodriguez, J. 2007). Between 1700s and the 1750s, slaves and servants were punished through various methods that had earlier been adopted from the Roman practice of punishing slaves. Some methods of punishment that were used had been borrowed from the Iberian-American colonies’ methods of punishment.

Some of the methods of punishment that were used with vicious audacity were whipping and branding. The slave owners were not expected to protect the slaves that they owned against exploitation. Due to the need to increase productivity, the land owners proposed that the slaves be coerced or compelled to work even harder in their farms. The slave owners appointed overseers as supervisors in their farms, with a responsibility of ensuring that the productivity of the farms kept on increasing. The overseers had a very important role of making sure that the productivity in the farms was maximized.

This was encouraged by the rapid growth of the agricultural economy and industrial revolution. The industrial revolution increased the demand for raw products, some of which could only be obtained from the agricultural farming. For example, cotton and tobacco farming in America and Europe grew so rapidly because the established industries and the manufacturing plants during the industrial revolution provided a ready market for the farm products. This saw the landowners reap huge profits from the farm products.

Apart from maximizing profits through increased productivity, slaves and indentured servants provided free or cheap labor in the agricultural farms. This meant that the cost of production to the landowners was reduced. As a means of increasing productivity, the overseers were required to supervise and coordinate farm practices. Due to the pressure exerted on them by the land owners to have the farm productivity increased, the overseers threatened the slaves that they could be whipped if the farm productivity did not increase.

The failure to have the productivity increase led to the whipping of the slaves, whereby the number of lashes that were given to an offender depended on the seriousness of the offence. However, slaves were also whipped for minor offences. The number of lashes that a slave was given as punishment also depended on the plantation or agricultural farms in which they worked. Whipping of slaves was so serious sometimes that it resulted to the death of the offenders. For example, a slave could even get around 200 lashes if the offence was very serious, which caused the death of so many slaves during the early years of the 18th century.

The overseers whipped the slaves so severely because they knew that that under no circumstances could the accusations of the slaves are considered. This is because, the black slaves were not allowed to give a testimony in court against the white people. Whipping was done to both men and women slaves. In many cases, whipping of slaves was also accompanied by flogging. One example of whipping that was used on slaves was the cart-whip, and it was perceived to be an effective method of punishment for the slaves who underperformed.

Overworking the slaves was used through out the entire period of the 18th century. Though it was used as a method of increasing farm productivity, overworking could also be used to punish slaves. In the farms, the servants were expected to work from sunrise to sunset. Furthermore, the slaves were expected to work for about eighteen hours during the harvesting season. Both men and women worked for an equal number of hours, and the pregnant women worked until they delivered. After delivery, the women were given only one month rest before they returned to the farms again to work.

While working in the agricultural fields, the women were supposed to carry the children on their backs. After the children turned five, they were made to work in the farms. This kind of treatment towards the slaves was used as punishment and as a way of increasing productivity (Shell, R. 1994). In addition to whipping ,smoking of slaves was done to compliment other forms of punishment in the early years of the 18th century(1710-1720s). It was a common conviction of the slave owners that there was need to mould a docile labor force by punishing the slaves.

This form of punishment was characterized by the putting of slaves in a tobacco smoke house. For instance, the land owners and overseers in Virginia (America) sometimes used this method of punishment on slaves. For the house slaves, punishment was done by the mistress who was in charge of the supervising the house work. Some of the tools that were used by the mistresses included, a bunch of hickory-sprouts that were tied together after being seasoned in the fire, shovels, chairs, tongs, brooms, and oak clubs.

A mistress who supervised the house slaves could then use these tools to beat the slaves until their feet and hands were full of blisters. Between 1700s and 1750s, the mutilation of some body parts and branding were used to punish slaves. Through branding, slaves obtained marks on their bodies by having a symbol or pattern burnt on the slaves’ skin using a hot or cold iron. Branding was usually done in order to punish slaves or impose the masterly rights on slaves. Most importantly, slaves who were branded suffered great humiliation because the symbols or the marks that were made on the skin were permanent.

By the mid 18 the century and after 1750, the number of slaves who were brought into America, and Europe kept increasing. This led to the ownership of a large number of slaves in farms by the landowners. Due to the high number of slaves in the farms, the slave owners were concerned on the best strategies of punishment that would continue compelling the slaves to obey the land owner’s rules despite their large number. For many landowners and overseers, it was very vital that the slaves’ character was molded top prevent future rebellions by the slaves.

When it came to dealing with the slaves, the slave owners instilled strict discipline, belief in the master’s superior power, and maintaining a deep sense of dependence and helplessness in slaves. Based on these convictions, the increase of slaves in number made the slave owners to encourage the introduction of slave codes. The codes were aimed at keeping the slaves under the control of their masters. Through the slave codes, death-penalty was introduced as a form of punishment for offences such as burglary, arson, assault, and rape on a white person.

The code was used as effective means of punishment for protecting the white from the blacks and scaring the slaves from rebelling. The emancipation of slaves in the US southern states (Confederacy) occurred in 1863. However, the Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation did not fully free all the slaves since some states in the Union did not free the slaves. However, those who were not freed in 1863 were emancipated in December 1865. This occurred after the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in the US Constitution (Berlin, I. , and Joseph, P. 1982).