Slavery has taken place throughout the world since before ancient times, and the act of trading slaves was a common act throughout the world for centuries. The impact on the African slave trade during 16th centuries to 19th centuries was huge. America that had nothing before the trade, started to gain some profit out of farming and increased hugely on population. They used a big amount of African slaves to farm and work. “Europeans brought up 5.5 million African slaves to the Western Hemisphere” (Dodson). Africans traded humans for the materials such as guns, rifles for them to protect themselves from neighbors. The trades for the Africans were needed and this allowed them to protect themselves. This was how huge the impact on the African slave trade was.
There was a problem on the treatment on the slaves in the African slave trade. Women were abused by their master, physically, sexually, and mentally, while men were mostly abused physically and mentally. Most slaves practice polytheistic religions, but they shared the belief in a Supreme Creator. They kept their rituals alive by creating stories, healing arts, and songs. Music and dances played a vital part of practicing their religion. The slaves worked in either a gang or task system. In a task system, slaves were given a certain amount of land that they were expected to have weeded which they worked in unison. These African slaves were expected to work all day long, from dawn till dusk. They were given two to three tasks a day, and they were not allowed to finish their day until all of their tasks were completed.
With this heavy workload, they were also forced to work in very harsh conditions. Until around 1770, most African field workers were compelled to work stripped or nearly naked. They were exposed to all climates and were greatly exposed to diseases that were caused by insect bites or worm infestation. They were forced to work every day while being treated poorly under their owner. If the slaves did not do what they were asked of, they would be punished. If they did not complete their task, they might be whipped on their bare back. This punishment demands the removal of clothing. For the female slaves, they were required to undress down to the waist, which means their breast would be exposed. Fig. 1 shows William Blake, a black woman, being whipped. Even though a significant number of the oppressed Africans originated from societies with rich traditions of customized dress and textile manufacture, the European owners tend to consider them as ‘naked savages’. They would then perceive these black female as uncivilized or graceless. In the meantime, the revealed slave’s body provoked the lust of the passersby which increased the odds of a women being sexually assaulted.
There was little information available about the appearance of African American slaves. This is because the fabric used to make slave garments were not durable. There were only few photographs taken of the African slaves at that time. “Standard sources on costume and textile history rarely acknowledge even the existence of slaves, let alone their clothing” (Warner 82). Slaves were not provided with a great deal of clothing. They were scarcely provided with one item that was fairly decent to wear. The clothing received defer from one plantation to another. On numerous plantations, slave children were frequently given minimal amount of clothing. It was normal for young children under the age of 12 to go naked. Lost and torn attires was seldom replaced, and the development in sizes of the children were not considered. When the young boys start to take up field work, they would be given breeches, short pants, and after that to long pants along with a shirt. On the other hand, young ladies were given a dress once they start to menstruate.
Adult male and female slaves wore clothing that were fitted well in the sexual orientation by the white society. Men were given pants; women were given dresses. During the winter, the owners gave out additional clothing to their slaves. This was also different for men and women. Men were given knee-length coats while women only received weighty wraps. The wrap was used to cover the hair by repeatedly going around the head, and securing it with techniques involving knots or tucking. The wraps could also act like a shawl. Plantation records reveal that the summer clothes of many female field slaves consisted only of a linen shift and somewhat heavier linen petticoat Due to this lack of material, women regularly made and wore pantalets. Fig. 2 demonstrates a pair of pantalets. Pantalets were made like a pant-leg that came just above the knee, and were gasp and tied under the skirts. Sometimes, they would utilize old clothes or men’s old pant-legs to make it. This helped them to keep warm as they were not given any stockings or undergarments to protect their legs.
Head and hair accessories were a significant component of dressing in different parts of Africa, especially in West Africa. Initially the head-wrap was worn by both enslaved men and women. As time goes by, it turned into a privileged female accessory. In Fig 3, the ladies wear head-wraps, while the men wear caps. African women used the head-wrap as an expression of their character. The shape of the wrap differed from area to area which signified communal identity. However, in the eyes of the European owners, the slaves’ wraps were indications of poverty and subordination. Records of clothing distribution demonstrate that owners distributed additional handkerchiefs to their female slaves, apparently to be utilized to cover their head. The head-wrap was an identification of enslavement imposed by their owners. There was an enactment that required black women to bound up their hair using the head-wrap in certain areas of the South.
In mid-eighteenth century, a tobacco label indicates slaves wearing only loin cloths stood alongside a white man while packing tobacco into barrels for shipment. Fig. 4 demonstrates the tobacco label. The white man was wearing a complete suit that went along with his status. His garment consisted of a three-piece suit, shoes, stocking, stock, wig, and hat. The three-piece suit includes knee breeches, waistcoat, and coat. Since the slaves were only given loin cloth to cover their genitals, shoes were obviously not a priority. Any footwear would have had a tendency to be of a homemade moccasin style. “Slaveholders were more worried about the cost of slaves garments and shoes than about their solace” (King, 16). Towards the end of the 18th century, slave owners wanted to stay away from accusations on the way that they treated their workers. Slave owners were concerned with controlling slaves’ appearance (White, 151). The owners started to distribute basic clothing supplies such as coarse linen. The material of the clothing was not comfortable nor keep them warm. Slaves were required to keep their own clothing clean. The only time slaves were able to wash their attire was after working all day, and they have to wash them at the stream. In some cases, slaves would wear their garments until they were worn off without washing them. The slaves used the fabric to sew into dresses and trousers. They also added buttons, bead, and buckles that were made from animal bone, seeds and pieces of metal.
The owners do not only have the control to dress their slaves, but also to undress them. They were allowed to strip their slaves for inspection on the auction block. Under the law at that time, slaves were not able to own any property which included the clothing given to them. As mentioned above, a slave owner who wanted to punished them were entitled to confiscate his or her clothing. This was an act of humiliation for the slaves as they have to walk in public naked. Thus, clothing signifies the symbol of power of the owners. Distinctions between slaves’ and slave owners’ clothing were intentional to maintain a clear definition of status and roles within the culture (Warner, 90). Slave owners were also in favor of marriages. Fig. 5 demonstrates a slave marriage in a wealthy household. They believed that slaves who were married were less rebellious. However, many slaves did not want to marry a slave from the same plantation. Due to these arrange marriages, slaves would start to bear children at the age of thirteen. These enslaved women were forced to “breed”, and would have four or five children by the age of twenty. After the children were born, the little boys would be separate from their mothers; the little girls would be least likely to be separated from their mothers. The sad truth was that young ladies were at risk of being sold into prostitution.
Dress codes for slaves working in the house were ”strictly enforced” since they worked close to the whites (Foster, 144). Some slave owners require their household slaves to wear a silver collar engraved with the owner’s name and address. A neck ornament of valuable metal may be a sign of wealth in the wearer rather than bondage, whereby enhances the status of the owner. Fig. 6 shows a portrait of young Maryland resident, Henry Darnall III, with his black servant who is wearing a silver collar around his neck. Elaborate suits of livery worn by the servants is also an example of status. “The suits were worn by highly visible male servants which includes men accompanying carriages, footmen, and waiters” (Baumgarten, 8). Fig. 7 demonstrates the suits of livery. This uniform was based on the fashionable three-piece suit, and was normally made in good quality wool. It has two contrasting color on the collar and cuffs, or different color waistcoat that were based on the owner’s coat of arms. Livery was typically decorated with lace, elaborate edging, and woven of silver, gold or narrow velvet ribbons. Buttons which were molded with the owner’s crest were also included.
By the late nineteenth century, the slaves were finally making breakthroughs from the troubling institution. In spite of the brutal and harsh nature of slavery, the efforts of protection by the slaves and the abolitionists demonstrated strength in overcoming this situation. These people were brutally treated and experienced inhuman pain. Slavery brought a lot of fear to the lives of black people. Black women were forced to have sexual encounters with their masters. Slaves were punished by being whipped almost to death and their brother and sisters were forced to administrate the whippings. They also had to work in any temperature conditions, sometimes even when it is freezing. It is necessary to pay tribute to all these people who in spite of the cruelty in their lives managed to remain kind inside, and some of them even tried to understand their masters. Nevertheless, this has become one of the most important lessons for the human nation – there is no condition under which one person can possess supremacy over another one.