“The reason for slave resistance was slavery. Masters, whether kind or mean, quickly learned that bondage bred defiance” (19).
Everyone knows the general story of the Civil War and the bonds of slavery that fueled the conflict. Many will tell you about overseers, runaway slaves, the Underground Railroad, and punishments, but not many will tell you about the rebellions. To be honest, most history classes only cover one rebellion of slaves, if any. In reality, slaves protested every day from the second they were captured in Africa. They didn’t just bow down calmly to their fate and then try to run away in fear. They fought tooth and nail for their freedom. In William Loren Katz’s book, Breaking the Chains, Katz analyzes the various ways slaves fought against their unjust imprisonment.
The first instances of slavery were in the 1500s with Christopher Columbus and other explorers claiming already discovered land and its inhabitants for their own. The natives were no match for the foreigners weapons and eventually had to submit to these strangers. As time went on and America was discovered, Native Americans were taken captive and there was an organized attempt to make them a permanent part of American society. There was only one problem. The Native Americans knew the land better than their supposed masters and could easily escape into the woods, never to be seen again by their white masters. Also, their tribes would viciously attack towns and villages just to release their fellow tribe members. The slave owners soon realized they would have to go outside the country to have an effective business in slavery.
This idea to trade countrymen as slaves to other countries soon led to the exportation of African slaves to America by the British. Social status didn’t matter in the slave trade. You could be a king or a peasant, you could still end up on the boat to America. Even on the trip over to America, slaves didn’t just back down and let themselves be carted off. Many ships were sabotaged before they even got out of the harbor. Groups of African slaves would try to overtake their white captors and many succeeded while others were beaten back down. The captors thought that Africans didn’t know how to navigate ships or be able to find their way back home and that would ensure their safe passage to America, but many Africans had held jobs based out of the ocean before, making them capable of leading the ship back to home shores after a mutiny.
As slaves adjusted to their new environment in America, they definitely kept trying to be free. As many touched land, they ran even farther south to create maroon colonies of a mix of Native Americans and Africans alike. This was one of the first documented instances of interracial marriage, and their union proved to white slaveholders that they were a force to be reckoned with. None of the slaveholders could ever conquer these colonies and take back what they considered their property. As more slaves came over from Africa, so did the South’s power. Their reliance on the slave trade led to an economic boost, but with some educational consequences. Money raised in the North was used to pay for newspaper publication and schooling, while money in the South was raised for more people to watch over the slaves and increase the size of slave auctions. With the great and growing success of the slave trade business as well as general slave unhappiness and revolt, it was obvious that white slaveholders wanted to take a stand to gain control.
Most of these slaveholders ended up brainwashing their slaves. No slave was allowed to read or write because that would give them an enlightened mind. The slaves were constantly lied to to make sure that they wouldn’t run away out of fear. Slave mothers were separated from their children and sold down the river to the highest bidder. No slave was allowed to get legitimately married and drums couldn’t be played as it was too close to an African ritual. Christianity was forced on all slaves as a way to further separate them from their supposedly dangerous African ways and try to further brainwash them into serving their masters. While all of this was done in an attempt to weaken the Africans, they only ended up stronger.
Slaves eventually perfected a system that allowed them to rebel in small ways that succeeded in having them do little to no work. Many slaves would deliberately break machinery and tools, fake illnesses, and even sometimes attempt to kill their masters through poison or legitimate force. They all struggled to find a voice in the clutches of slaveholders. Many plantation owners commented after the war that most of the Africans who were in their care before were now at least three times more productive than before.Katz breaks the book into sections based on the time period and events happening during that time. He names chapters based on the events in a type of chronological/topical order as well. The format flows easily and is a very fast read. The facts read like a story rather than a history lesson. I thought that the first half of this book was enjoyable and placed an emphasis on a part of history that is not well outlined by a large group of writers. Many don’t realize the impact slavery had on America at the time and the bravery needed by those men and women to find a bright side to slavery and escape the daily toils.