Black Against Black in the Americas


An objective view of African slavery in North and South America must recognize and place in context the large number of black slaveholders who learned their occupation in Africa. As the passage below relates, many of the black people brought here had been slave hunters in Africa, or slave owners. And even renegade maroon communities that are spoken of as part of the underground railroad myth are known to have enslaved the runaway slaves they came in contact with.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Black Against Black in the Americas:

"While many plantation slaves ran away or took part in slave revolts, many others resisted such rebels, defended the plantation against maroons and chased runaways. Such activities even by slaves against their fellow blacks should not be too surprising considering that in Africa many blacks owned slaves, and probably most Africans enslaved there for slavery in the Americas, were captured and sold to Europeans by fellow Africans. Indeed, some slaves in America had been slave hunters and slave hunters and slave owners in Africa.

Most slaves in the Americas probably took the institution of slavery, if not their own place in it, pretty much for granted. While some free Negroes assisted fellow blacks who were enslaved, most appeared to be more concerned with their own advancement in colonial society, and if they had any political or social consciousness, it evidently was aimed at the preservation and advancement of the status, rights and privileges of the free Negro class, even at the expense sometimes of the slave caste. "The mulattos, and all other persons of mixed blood wish to lean toward the whites," Koster tells us from Brazil. They are again distinct from their brethren in slavery, owing to their superior position as free men…and considering themselves superior to the Negro. Mulattos and other mixed bloods were noticeably absent from many of the slave rebellions" in early 19th century Brazil, and indeed, "some were killed by rebels for failing to join the insurrection…" Some of the freedmen and freedwomen were themselves slaveowners, and although the whites always feared the collaboration of the free coloreds and the slaves, there was little evidence of it.

(T)here are many instances where free blacks held other blacks as slaves. It was fairly common in most colonies for some free Negroes to have their own slaves. One study found a quarter or more of free colored people owning slaves in the early 19th-century British Caribbean, three-quarters of these owners being women and mulattoes. Nor was it unusual for maroon communities…to have their own black slaves among them, just as some blacks had Indian slaves and some Indians had black slaves, and some Indians had Indian slaves. Maroons, Genovese reminds us, "often enslaved captives," including black slaves of whites. The maroons were often not popular with free blacks or slaves, who resented their bandit activities on the roads where their main victims were traveling blacks, and also their "making free with slaves provisions, stock and women folk." (T)he theories of race, class and African solidarity were little recognized.

(Slave and Soldier, Studies in African American History and Culture, Graham Hodges, Editor. Garland Publishing, 1993, pp 344-347)