The Underground Railroad
was the network used by enslaved black Americans to
obtain their freedom in the 30 years before the United States Civil War (1861-1865).
The “railroad” used many routes from states in the South,
which supported slavery, to “free” states in the North
Sometimes, routes of the Underground Railroadwere organized by abolitionists, people who opposed slavery. More often, the network was a series of small, individual actions to help people who were deemed fugitives from the law because they had escaped their enslavement.
A lot of activity on the Underground Railroadhappened in states that bordered the Ohio River, which divided slave states from free states. Among the free states was Indiana, whose residents are known as Hoosiers.
The plantation system in America as an instrument of British colonialism characterized by social and political inequality was a PILLAR in Southern States, where Southern Baptism Theology has its roots. It links the agricultural prosperity of the South with the domination by wealthy aristocrats and the exploitation of slave labor.
The term plantation arose as settlements in the southern United States, originally linked with colonial expansion, came to revolve around the production of agriculture. The word plantation first appeared in English in the 15th century. Originally, the word meant to plant. However, what came to be known as plantations became the center of large-scale enslaved labor operations in the Western Hemisphere. Historians Peter H. Wood and Edward Baptist advocate to stop using the word plantation when referencing agricultural operations involving forced labor. Instead they suggest calling these places “labor camps” or “slave labor camps.”
The plantation system developed in the American South as British colonists arrived in what became known as Virginia and divided the land into large areas suitable for farming. The land on which these plantations were established was stolen through canceled, disregarded, and deceitful treaties, or outright violence from indigenous nations.
The plantation system came to dominate the culture of the South, and it was rife with inequity from the time it was established. In 1606, King James I formed the Virginia Company of London to establish colonies in North America, but when the British arrived, they faced a harsh and foreboding wilderness, and their lives became little more than a struggle for survival. So, to make settling the land more attractive, the Virginia Company offered any adult man with the means to travel to America 50 acres of land. At the encouragement of the Company, many of the settlers banded together and created large settlements, called hundreds, as they were intended to support 100 individuals, usually men who led a household.
The hundreds were run as private plantations intent on making a profit from the cultivation of crops, which the economy of the South depended on. The climate of the South was ideally suited to the cultivation of cash crops. Unlike small, subsistence farms, plantations were created to grow cash crops for sale on the market. The plantation system was an early capitalist venture. England’s King James had every intention of profiting from plantations. Tobacco and cotton proved to be exceptionally profitable.
Therefore, cheap labor was used. Initially, indentured servants, who were mostly from England (and sometimes from Africa), and enslaved African and (less often) Indigenous people to work the land. Indentured servants were contracted to work four- to seven-year terms without pay for passage to the colony, room, and board. After completing the term, they were often given land, clothes, and provisions.
The plantation system created a society sharply divided along class lines. The wealthy aristocrats who owned plantations established their own rules and practices. For this reason, the contrast between the rich and the poor was greater in the South than it was in the North. Though wealthy aristocrats ruled the plantations, the laborers powered the system. In the colonies south of Pennsylvania and east of the Delaware River, a few wealthy, white landowners owned the bulk of the land, while the majority of the population was made up of poor farmers, indentured servants, and the enslaved. Enslaved Africans were first brought to Virginia in 1619.
The settlements required a large number of laborers to sustain them. Because these crops required large areas of land, the plantations grew in size, and in turn, more labor was required to work on the plantations. Plantation labor shifted away from indentured servitude and more toward slavery by the late 1600s. Obtaining indentured servants became more difficult as more economic opportunities became available to them. Wealthy landowners also made purchasing land more difficult for former indentured servants. This sharpened class divisions, as a small number of people owned larger and larger plantations. Wealthy landowners got wealthier, and the use of slave labor increased. This led to uprisings and skirmishes with impoverished Black and white people joining forces against the wealthy.
In response, customs changed and laws were passed to elevate the status of poor white people above all Black people. This new class acted as a buffer to protect the wealthy and Black people in the British American colonies were further oppressed. People of African descent were forced into a permanent underclass.
Despite this brutal history, plantations are not always seen as the violent places they were. For some, the word plantation suggests an idyllic past. This is seen at some of the United States plantations themselves with tours and tourists focusing on the wealth and lives of the enslavers, while ignoring those they enslaved.
These romanticized notions largely stem from an ideology called the Lost Cause which became popular shortly after the United States Civil War. The Confederates seceded from the United States to maintain the system of slavery. After losing the war, many Confederates and Confederate sympathizers altered the reason for succession. This switch became known as the Lost Cause. The ideology was named after an 1866 book by Edward A. Pollard, a newspaper editor from Virginia who supported the Confederacy.
The Lost Cause ideology puts the Confederates in a favorable light, according to Caroline Janney, professor of History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. She says the Lost Cause claims: 1) Confederates were patriots fighting to protect their constitutionally granted states’ rights; 2) Confederates were not fighting to protect slavery; 3) Slavery was a benevolent institution in which Black people were treated well; 4) Enslaved Black people were faithful to their enslavers and happy to be held in bondage; and 5) Confederate General Robert E. Lee and, to a lesser extent, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were godlike figures. None of these claims are true. The Lost Cause perpetuates harmful and false narratives.
Besides Pollard’s book, other works have carried the Lost Cause lie, including the 1864 painting, the “Burial of Latané” by William Washington, Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel and play, The Clansman, and Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. The last two became popular movies; The Clansmanbecame The Birth of a Nation. Lost Cause propaganda was also continued by former Confederate General Jubal Early as well as various organizations of upper- and middle-class white Southern women — the Ladies Memorial Associations, the United Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Douglas V. Armstrong is an anthropologist from New York whose studies on plantation slavery have been focused on the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, as well as in the slave states, the shift from small-scale farming to industrial agriculture transformed the culture of these societies, as their economic prosperity depended on the plantation. Until the transatlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807, over 12 million Africans were transported to the ‘New World,’ and over 90 percent of them went to the Caribbean and South America, to work on sugar plantations. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the plantation served as an institution in itself, characterized by social and political inequality, racial conflict, and domination by the planter class.
Plantation slavery was not exclusive to the Americas. They were also found in Africa and Asia were also based on slavery. However, that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
Slave ownership was a common practice long before the time the Mosaic Law was given. So, the law neither instituted slavery nor ended it; rather, the law regulated it. It gave instructions on how slaves should be treated but did not outlaw slavery altogether.
Hebrews with Hebrew slaves. The law allowed for Hebrew men and women to sell themselves into slavery to another Hebrew. They could only serve for six years, however. In the seventh year, they were to be set free (Exodus 21:2). This arrangement amounted to what we might call indentured servanthood. And the slaves were to be treated well: “Do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you” (Leviticus 25:39–40). The law also specified that, “when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 15:13–14). The freed slave had the option of staying with his master and becoming a “servant for life” (Exodus 21:5–6).
Hebrews with Gentile slaves. When the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, they were to drive out or destroy all the former inhabitants. However, that order was not fully obeyed, and many Gentiles remained in the land. God allowed the Hebrews to take slaves from among that population: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly” (Leviticus 25:44–46). So, the law did allow for slavery.
Several laws regulating slavery appear in Exodus 21. These laws gave some basic rights to slaves and curtailed the actions of masters in a historically unprecedented way. In the ancient world outside of Israel, slaves had no rights. But God’s Law extended to slaves the right to keep a wife (verse 3), the right not to be sold to foreigners (verse 8), the right to be adopted into a family by marriage (verse 9), and the right to food and clothing (verse 10). The law also limited masters in their use of corporeal punishment (verses 20, 26–27).
Gentiles with Hebrew slaves. Under the Mosaic Law, and if economic circumstances demanded it, a Hebrew had the option of selling himself as a slave to a Gentile living in Israel (Leviticus 25:47). The law also provided for the slave’s redemption at any time (verses 48–52). And the treatment of the Hebrew slave was to be considerate: slaves were “to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly” (verse 53). If no redemption came, the slaves were still released, with their families, on the Year of Jubilee (verse 54).
New Testament Instruction on Slavery
Even in the New Testament era, the Bible did not demand that every slave owner immediately emancipate his slaves. Rather, the apostles gave instructions to slaves and their owners on godly behavior within that social system. Masters were admonished on the proper treatment of their slaves. For example, in Ephesians 6:9masters are told, “Treat your slaves in the same way [with goodwill]. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Elsewhere, the command is, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).
Jesus and the apostles did not outright condemn slavery. They didn’t need to. The effect of the gospel is that lives are changed, one by one, and those changed lives in turn bring transformation to entire families, clans, and cultures. Christianity was never designed to be a political movement, but, over time, it naturally affected political policy. Alexander MacLaren wrote that the gospel “meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind” (The Expositor’s Bible, vol. VI, Eerdmans, 1940, p. 301). In nations where Christianity spread and took firm hold, slavery was brought to an end through the efforts of born-again individuals.
The seeds of the emancipation of slaves are in the Bible, which teaches that all men are created by God and made in His image (Genesis 1:27), which condemns those who kidnap and sell a person (Exodus 21:16; cf. 1 Timothy 1:8–10), and which shows that a slave can truly be “a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16).
Some criticize the Bible because it did not demand an immediate overthrow of every ingrained, centuries-old sinful custom of the day. But, as Warren Wiersbe pointed out, “The Lord chooses to change people and society gradually, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the truth of the Word of God” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, David C. Cook, 2007, p. 245).