Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom

by Catherine Clinton
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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

The clothes that I wore did not amount to much, just a one-piece dress or gown. In shape, this was more like a gunnysack, with a hole cut in the bottom for me to stick my head thru, and the corners cut out for armholes. We never wore underclothes, not even in the winter...We never had more than one at a time, and when they had to be washed, we went naked until they had dried.

Slave parents lived in abject terror of separation from their children. This fear, perhaps, more than any other aspect of the institution, revealed the deeply dehumanizing horror of slavery.

In the above quotes, the speaker describes her harrowing experience as a child of slaves. Slave children were treated as bartering objects by their owners and had fewer rights than their parents. Many slave parents had to live with the prospect of permanent separation from their children. The slave children soon became a persistent threat to their owners, however. Although slave owners had little fear of their power being encroached upon, things would soon change.

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...Maryland law took a dramatic turn in 1712, when the colonial legislators adopted a new measure: the status of a child would follow the status of its mother, partus sequitur ventrem. This statute overturned centuries of patriarchal tradition and law. The radical shift was in response to sex across the color line, most especially white males coupling with slave women.

In the above quote, we see the stark reality of life for slave children. Although white women were persecuted and legally penalized for entering into relationships with black men, their husbands could freely indulge their sexual proclivities. Miscegenation laws applied only to white women, not their male counterparts. In fact, white slave owners often bedded their female slaves. The result, of course, was an increase in mulatto children.

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Latest answer posted October 14, 2019, 2:28 pm (UTC)

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Prior to the Civil War, mulattoes were considered slaves for life. The mulatto child of a white woman, however, was not. For their part, white slave owners feared the rise in mulatto children, despite their contribution to the state of affairs. They believed that an increase in the mulatto population (especially those from unions between white women and black men) could threaten their hold on power.

The state of Virginia soon took steps to close the loophole. Miscegenation laws were passed to penalize white women for having children with black men. You can read all about it from the link below.

Unwilling to resort to force, Brodess was stymied when Rit kept her son hidden in the woods and with friends for over a month. This prolonged period of subterfuge testifies to the complex strategies and networks of slave resistance, which extended throughout the Eastern shore.

The above quote is an important one highlighting how Rit (Harriet Tubman's mother) fought to keep Harriet's brother from being sold. Accordingly, Brodess made his way to Rit's cabin to demand her son, but the formidable woman had other ideas. She proclaimed that she would split the head of the first man who entered her cabin. Rit's ferocity on behalf of her son, and other aspects of the story, highlight how some slave parents sacrificed their safety to keep their children from being victims of the slave-trafficking trade.

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