The Paradox of Freedom and Slavery in the New World

During our time in Colonial Williamsburg, we learned of the rich history of the revolutionary town. What I found very interesting and ironic was the colonists’ dependence on the England and owning slaves in conjunction with their cries for freedom, liberty, and independence.

There were several reasons for many British colonists to have a desire to be independent from the crown. The reasons vary from person to person but overall they are not as noble or romantic as I once thought. On the contrary, many reasons for this insatiable thirst for independence are spiteful and have their base in economic progress.

I spoke with a rebel infantry man at the military camp in Williamsburg, and he told me why he and many others like him wanted to be out from under British rule. British Treaties with the Indians prevent one from obtaining/stealing Indian land by force. If you were not affiliated with Britain, you could potentially take all the land you could get and develop the land to generate untaxable profits. If one wanted to trade internationally one would be unable to trade with enemies of Britain and would have to abide to the strict British trade regulations. Not to mention that much of the goods for trade would have to go to Britain first for duties to be paid before they could be shipped elsewhere. For a business man who depended on English imports to survive and make a living, becoming a traitor to the crown would put an end to profits or success of any kind, and subsequently make him an enemy of the crown. If you could get out from under British rule you could avoid taxation. The taxation of the colonies by the crown was not well received in the colonies, especially in frontier territories where people were very self sufficient and independent, because England was thousands of miles away and people felt they were being taxed without representation.

It seems as though ties to Britain had negative effects in almost all aspects of life in the colonies. For example, If you didn’t belong of the Church of England you would still be expected to pay church taxes. This was very opposed for the obvious reason that you shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support something you didn’t truly support or are even affiliated with.

Another major reason that colonists wanted to be free from Britain is because many people were in tremendous debt to England. Chesapeake debt was double that of all other British mainland colonies. This was largely due to reliance on a tobacco economy that had experienced a huge surplus in supply causing prices to drop, and a consumer culture that led to an increase in European imports. Many colonists were unable to pay their debts and thus wanted to cut ties with the crown all together.

The nationalistic idea of becoming a new country separate completely from Britain was not an immediate reason for folks to rebel against the crown as one might have thought. Instead, people saw the rebellion against the crown as a means of gaining financial freedom and opening the door to economic development and eventual prosperity that answered to no one. It is important to note however, that this economic, financial, and ultimately personal freedom was only for white people who owned capital, including African slaves.

Heres where things really get twisted. Colonists wanted to be free from British rule so that they could exploit the land and use slave labor to rake in profits and wait on them hand and foot while they enjoyed their freedom and economic prosperity. Although not all white folks owned slaves, especially not the second class citizen Irish colonists (who we are yet to even learn about), slaves still made up over %50 of the population of Virginia. No matter how you slice it, there were more unfree slaves than free slave owners.

This is the paradox of freedom in the colonies. White men wanted to be free so that they could continue to own the freedom of African slaves and maximize their use of them. Slaves were merely valued instrumentally as tools for profit. Their lives held no intrinsic value to their owners because they were viewed as a subordinate species of human beings. We now know that there are no biological differences between humans, and that our physical differences are due to patterned variation that takes place over thousands upon thousands of years.

Fun fact:

Melanin, from the Latin word Melos, meaning black, is the chemical compound that influences what we know as pigment or complexion. It is what gives brown and ‘black’ people their coloration. Melanin is unique because it absorbs sunlight, and in turn creates more melanin, thus sustaining dark pigmentation. As we know, the first humans originated in Africa and had dark skin coloration. Their pigmentation was dark because of the hot sunny climates where most of the skin was exposed to the elements; especially sunlight, thus continuing melanin production and keeping skin dark. As humans migrated out of Africa to colder, more densely cloud covered climates (like Northern Europe for example), there came the necessity to wear clothing that covered the skin to keep it warm. With the lack of consistent sunlight and having the skin covered, melanin production in the human body decrease slowly but surely through the ages, eventually bringing us to the complexion we refer to as white. So you see, patterned variation and environmental influences are the reasons for why Europeans and Africans look a little different. However, for centuries white folks considered themselves superior to all other races. Why? Because over time the regions they, as human beings, settled into changed the way they look. So race is an arbitrary social construct passed down through generations and fueled by irrationality, fear, stubbornness, hatred, and ignorance? Very much so.
(Shout out to Dr. Lampman for teaching such an enlightening Race and Ethnicity class)

To conclude, I thought this paradox of owning slaves while demanding freedom was a grand display of greed, cruelty, and inhumanity. If there was one thing that has made me sick to my stomach thus far, it has not been the squirrel liver or bone marrow at Chino farms, nay, it has been our in depth study of the atrocities of slavery and inequality.


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