Maryland Slavery as Experienced by Children

Introduction

Little Lewis sold. In: The Child's anti-slavery book: containing a few words about American slave children. And stories of slave life. (published [1860] )Another evil of slavery [is]...the want of parental care and attention. My parents were not able to give any attention to their children during the day. I often suffered much from hunger and other similar causes. To estimate the sad state of a slave child, you must look at it as a helpless human being thrown upon the world without the benefit of its natural guardians. It is thrown into the world without a social circle to flee to for hope, shelter, comfort, or instruction. The social circle, with all its heaven- ordained blessings, is of the utmost importance to the tender child; but of this, the slave child, however tender and delicate, is robbed.

There is another source of evil to slave children, which I cannot forbear to mention here, as one which early embittered my life, -- I mean the tyranny of the master's children. My master had two sons, about the ages and sizes of my older brother and myself. We were not only required to recognize these young sirs as our young masters, but they felt themselves to be such; and, in consequence of this feeling, they sought to treat us with the same air of authority that their father did the older slaves.

Another evil of slavery that I felt severely about this time, was the tyranny and abuse of the overseers. These men seem to look with an evil eye upon children. I was once visiting a menagerie, and being struck with the fact, that the lion was comparatively indifferent to every one around his cage, while he eyed with peculiar keenness a little boy I had; the keeper informed me that such was always the case. Such is true of those human beings in the slave states, called overseers. They seem to take pleasure in torturing the children of slaves, long before they are large enough to be put at the hoe, and consequently under the whip.

One of the difficult realities of slavery is the participation of families and children in the peculiar institution. Often neglected in standard histories, or glanced over in a more general discussion about the institution rather than the day-to-day realties, the quote above, the documents and the resources noted here offer a glimpse into the world of children as slaves and fills a much-neglected gap in the story of slavery. Not simply torn from families, children were bought and sold on the open market often completely independent from parents. They also ran away, participated in the secret passages of the Underground Railroad and were sought after as fugitives under the Fugitive Slave Act. And some lived to write about it years later and their words, along with the cold, concise, business-like nature of the newspaper ads, are a reminder that children were not just born into slavery to become a slave at adulthood; they were slaves in all the meaning of slavery, from birth.

SOURCES: African American Voices – excerpt from The Fugitive Blacksmith detailing a Maryland slave’s account of childhood slavery.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tensions

Standard 2D: The student understands the rapid growth of "the peculiar institution" after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.
5-12: Describe the plantation system and the roles of their owners, their families, hired white workers, and enslaved African Americans. [Consider multiple perspectives]
7-12: Evaluate how enslaved African Americans used religion and family to create a viable culture and ameliorate the effects of slavery. [Obtain historical data]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself
    AUTHOR: Harriet Ann Jacobs
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1860
    SOURCE:  Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY: University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  2. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad selling family of slaves, including a four year-old
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  March 27, 1832
    SOURCE:  American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  3. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad for estate sale of a family of slaves
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  January 12, 1838
    SOURCE:  Republic Citizen in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  4. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad selling slave mothers and their children
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  May 2, 1832
    SOURCE:  American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  5. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad seeking a twelve year old runaway slave boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 20, 1853
    SOURCE: Baltimore Sun in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  6. DESCRITION: Newspaper ad for 12 year old runaway slave boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 8, 1782
    SOURCE: Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  7. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad selling “colored 11 or 16 year old slave boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 14, 1843
    SOURCE: American Commercial and Daily Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  8. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad for 8 year old runaway indentured boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: December 11, 1839
    SOURCE: Baltimore Sun in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  9. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad for 12 year old runaway slave boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 14, 1833
    SOURCE: American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland

  10. DESCRIPTION: Newspaper ad for 11 or 12 year old runaway Negro boy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 8. 1782
    SOURCE: Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  11. DESCRIPTION: The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book: Containing a Few Words About American Slave Children. And Stories of Slave Life.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1860
    SOURCE: NYPL Digital Gallery – Africana & Black History
    REPOSITORY: New York Public Library

Additional Media Resources

Childhood In Slavery. From Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland

Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era. This is mainly an advertisement for a book by the same name, but has links to a range of sample transcribed documents on the slave experience.

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in America.

Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland. From the Maryland State Archives.

National Park Service. “Taking the Train to Freedom. Underground Railroad: Special Resource Study.

National Park Service. “Aboard the Underground Railroad: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.”

Underground Railroad at National Geographic.

Pathways To Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad. Maryland Public Television, 2002. See also interactive experience as 12 year old slave.

Born In Slavery. From American Memory.

African American Voices – excerpt from The Fugitive Blacksmith detailing a Maryland slave’s account of childhood slavery.

Additional Instructional Resources

Daily Lives of Slaves - What Really Happened? From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiana Riot of 1851. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Exploring the Lives of Black Women During the 19th Century. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Families in Bondage. From EDSITEment.

Secondary Resources

Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: the Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. New York: Amistad, 2005.

Blight, David ed. Passages to Freedom: the Underground Railroad in History and Memory. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2004.

Carbone, Elisa Lynn. Stealing Freedom. New York: Knopf, 1998. (novel of young slave girl in Maryland).

Davies, Mary Ann. “Integrative Studies: Teaching for the Twenty-First Century.” The History Teacher 34 (August 2001), 471-485. (Harriett Tubman and Underground Railroad used as one example)

Lord, Donald C. “Slave Ads as Historical Evidence.” The History Teacher 5 (May 1972): 10-16.

Tyler-McGraw, Marie. Underground Railroad Resources in the United States: Theme Study, September 1998. Washington, DC: National Historic Landmarks Survey, 1998.

Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Born in Bondage : Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Siebert, Wilbur H. “Light on the Underground Railroad.” The American Historical Review Vol 1 (April, 1896) 455-463. (Jstor).

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Bill Vincent.

 

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