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Excerpts from Slave Narratives: Solomon Northrup

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Excerpts from Slave Narratives: Solomon Northrup

(Edited by Steven Mintz, an American historian)

Brief Biography: Solomon Northrup was a free African-American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He regained his freedom in 1853 and was returned home to New York as a free man. In this document, he describes his experience as a slave on a cotton plantation in Louisiana.

Key Themes:

  • Slavery
  • Slaves were expected to be on the field at first light
  • There was no resting allowed, except for a 10 – 15 minute “lunch” break
  • Often had to work late into the night
  • After picking cotton, a slave was then to finish any other chores appointed to them
  • Feeding the farm animals, cutting wood, etc.
  • Once the season for cotton is over, the slaves then must harvest corn
  • Brutality
  • Slaves were given an allowance of 3 ½  pounds of bacon and corn on Sunday morning to last them through the week
  • The low weight of a cotton basket resulted in the slave being whipped, or flogged, while an overweight cotton basket was still nothing to be proud of because it’s likely the master would compare the next day’s work to the previous one, and a slave would be whipped still
  • A slave would end a long day’s work late at night, and then have to go home to prepare for the next day

Quotes:

  • “… they are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see, and when the moon is full, they often times labor till the middle of the night.” (1)
  • “If it falls short in weight… he knows that he must suffer. And if he has exceeded it by [10] or [20] pounds, in all probability his master will measure the next day’s task accordingly.” (1)
  • “… the fears and labors of another day being; and until its close there is no such thing as rest….” (2)

Significance: This account of slavery from Northrup gives us a credible depiction of what slavery was like in the south in the 1800’s. Slaves had to endure cruel and grave working conditions while performing ceaseless tasks, and were controlled by the fear of their master.

Citation: Mintz, Steven. “Chapter 10 - Solomon Northrup” Excerpts from Slave Narratives, 1853.

Excerpts from Slave Narratives: Nat Turner

(Edited by Steven Mintz, an American historian)

Brief Biography: Nat Turner was a slave-born African-American, who led a 2-day rebellion against slavery in 1831. He hid from authorities for 2 months after this event and, once captured, was publicly hanged and posthumously beheaded. In this document, he details the events of the rebellion and what led to its commencement to a lawyer named Thomas R. Gray.

Key Themes:

  • Religion
  • Turner prayed often, resulting in several “revelations”
  • From young, he was thought to be a prophet because he recalled things from before he was born
  • After praying, it was unveiled to Turner that he had a “great purpose” (1) given to him by God
  • In 1825, Turner had a vision of white and black spirits going to war
  • In 1828, Turner had yet another vision, where he believes God spoke to him and informed him that a revolution was coming and that Turner had a part to play
  • Barbarism
  • Turner involved 4 other slaves in his plans, taking little more than a year to finalize the deliverance and execution
  • In August of 1831, the rebellion began with Turner’s master and his family
  • Turner admits to having no complaints about his master (Joseph Travis)
  • The number of rebelling slaves rose with every household they slaughtered
  • In the end, 50-60 slaves were involved in this town-wide massacre and were apprehended by the authorities
  • Nat survived 2 months living in ditches before capture

Quotes:

  • “I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened… and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be the first.” (1)
  • “And on the appearance of the sign …I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.” (1)
  • “…neither age nor sex was to be spared…” (2)

Significance: This recollection of Turner’s rebellion highlights the violent events that went on during this 2-day massacre. This document feeds into the idea that violence breeds more violence and this display of insurrection was a direct result of angry and mistreated slaves.

        Similar to slave enthusiasts, Turner uses religion to justify his actions, citing God as his guidance to his insurgence.

Citation: Mintz, Steven. “Chapter 32 – Nat Turner” Excerpts from Slave Narratives, 1831.

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