Week 5 Blog Post

The main subject I would like to discuss in this post is the numerous artifacts recovered from the slave quarters at the Washington’s property. The idea is to analyze the object’s context and history and make predictions as to what purposes they might have served or how they ended up where they were found.

The first and main artifact that I would like to bring up is the red gem/bead that was recovered. In the caption of the pictured bead, it stated that it originated from African culture and was thought to be worn by individuals possessing notable amounts of wealth and political power. Knowing this and some background information about European slave trading, I found it quite shocking that a precious gem from African society made its way into Colonial America. I had learned from previous history classes that Africans with this higher level or social power tended to be the people selling the “commoner” Africans to the slave-trading Europeans as slave. These more common and lower class Africans would likely not have this gem on them while being packed into the ships for trading. I have theorized two possible explanations for how this gem may have gotten to the colonies and eventually the slave quarters at the Washington property:

My first inference is that the gem may have come from a commoner African who smuggled it onto the trading ships. It may have also just came from an African with the notable wealth and political power associated with this gem. However, I do not really see how or why the slave traders would enslave people of this power if they are the same people selling them the slaves in the first place. Once it made it to the colonies and the slave quarters, I feel that the gem was stolen and re-stolen again by the African slaves from the owners at the property. It would make sense that the owners would acquire any items or notable or exceptional wealth from the Africans slaves and either cherish the goods in their homes or profit off of them in a jewelry market. But since the bead was recovered from the former slave quarter, I have to assume that the slaves got good at hiding it from the owners or reasoned with them to keep it. Overall, it was still unique to see remains of Africans in 1700/1800’s Virginia and see it survive to modern day.

Another smaller subject I wanted to tackle was the practice of letting slaves consumer what was deemed to be “inferior” tobacco by the owners and buyers/sellers. It seemed odd to me at first and learning that the owners would do something “thoughtful” like that. I had always had learned about slave owners as brutal, merciless, and dehumanizing. But seeing slave be give the chance to consume tobacco just felt off to me, even if it was of a lower grade. Maybe it would have incentivized slaves to harvest more of the lower grade tobacco to have more for themselves. Overall, this topic still seems a bit unclear to me.

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