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11.8: Primary Sources

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    Nat Turner Explains His Rebellion, 1831

    In August, 1831, Nat Turner led a group of enslaved and free black men in a rebellion that killed over fifty white men, women, and children. Nat Turner understood his rebellion as an act of God. While he awaited trial, Turner spoke with the white attorney, Thomas Ruffin Gray, who wrote their conversations into the following document.

    Harriet Jacobs on Rape and Slavery, 1860

    Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina. After escaping to New York, Jacobs eventually wrote a narrative of her enslavement under the pseudonym of Linda Brent. In this excerpt Jacobs explains her experience struggling with sexual assault from her master.

    Solomon Northup Describes a Slave Market, 1841

    Solomon Northup was a free black man in New York who was captured and sold into slavery. After twelve years, he was rescued and returned to his family. Shortly thereafter, he published a narrative of his experiences as a slave. This excerpt describes the horrors he saw in a slave market.

    George Fitzhugh Argues that Slavery is Better than Liberty and Equality, 1854

    As the nineteenth century progressed, some Americans shifted their understanding of slavery from a necessary evil to a positive good. George Fitzhugh offered one of the most consistent and sophisticated defenses of slavery. His study Sociology for the South attacked northern society as corrupt and slavery as a gentle system designed to “protect” the inferior black race and promote social harmony.

    Sermon on the Duties of a Christian Woman, 1851

    The Market Revolution brought a hardening of gender roles in both the North and the South, but the South tended to hold more tightly to the expectation of “separate spheres.” In this sermon, Rev. Aldert Smedes of Raleigh, North Carolina, praises the virtues of women and explains the duties of a Christian woman.

    Painting of Enslaved Persons for Sale, 1861

    The English painter Eyre Crowe traveled through the American South in the early 1850s. He was particularly shocked to see the horrors of a slave market where families were torn apart by sale. In this painting, Crowe depicts an enslaved man, several women, and children waiting to be sold at auction.

    Proslavery Cartoon, 1850

    European alliances helped the American antislavery movement. But proslavery supporters also drew transatlantic comparisons. This proslavery image ignorantly portrays enslaved people who, according to white observers, were cheerful and pleased with their bondage. Proslavery advocates attempted to claim that English factory workers suffered a worse “slavery” than enslaved Africans and African Americans in the American South.

    11.8: Primary Sources is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by American YAWP (Stanford University Press) via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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