Originally a comment by Freedmen’s Patrol on Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery.
Before I get into this, I want to alert readers that I’m going to quote a period description of brutality, including sexualized violence, against a young slave girl. It also includes the use of precisely the racial slur one would expect. If this would traumatize the reader, please skip the comment and continue your day. I don’t want to bring that kind of upset on anybody. I apologize for any distress caused. I don’t really want to write this myself, but I think that what the Economist is denying deserves to be seen.
It’s horrific to think about, but sometimes the incentives ran all the way up to murder. If a planter could get more out of the slave before working the slave to death than paid to buy the slave, then the planter could just buy a new one and repeat the process. This isn’t a prominent feature of American slavery, though it did happen and slaves who had been disabled or otherwise could no longer produce as they once had could be sold to someone on the cheap who would finish the job. Things tended to be rougher the further South and West one went in the South. Sugar plantations were notorious for going through slaves at a great clip. The American sugar industry was marginal compared to cotton, but down in the Caribbean sugar generated so much profit that it made perfect economic sense to work slaves to death in the very dangerous sugar factories and then just buy new slaves off the boats.
That’s aside the benefit an owner might realize from terrorizing his (they were almost always male, given how property law and the patriarchy worked) other slaves by feats of grotesque and conspicuous brutality. Most slaves resisted their enslavement in part by shirking when they could, by studied “misunderstanding” of orders, by “mistakenly” breaking tools, etc. Doing that always involved weighing it against the risk of retaliation and the likely severity. Punishments like this one were intended by owners not just to deter the “guilty” party but also to set the example of what would come. I’m sorry for the following, it’s extremely graphic and includes violence against a young girl. I draw it from William W. Freehling’s The Road to Disunion, Volume 1: Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854. A typical plantation might have a beating like this (39 lashes, by the way) two or three times a week.
Also, this is the really, really bad part. I’m sorry, but it happened despite what The Economist would have one believe. Trigger warnings for sexualized violence and racial slurs.
As Frederick Law Olmstead described “the severest corporeal punishment I witnessed at the South, “a slave girl named Sall was ordered to pull up her clothes and lie on her back, private parts exposed. The overseer flogged her “with the rawhide, across her naked loins and thighs.” Sall “shrunk away from him, not rising, but writhing, groveling, and screaming, “‘Oh don’t sir! Oh plerase stop, master! please sir! oh, that’s enough master! oh Lord! oh master, master, of God, master, do stop! oh God, master, oh God, master!”
After “strokes had ceased” and “choking, sobbing, spasmodic groans only were heard, “Olmstead asked if it was “necessary to punish her so severely.’ … ‘O yes sir,” answered the lasher, laughing at the Yankee’s innocence. Northerners ‘have no idea how lazy these niggers are …”They’d never do any work at all if they were not afraid of being whipped.”
Olmstead was a visitor, a stranger in the South. They did this quite comfortably where he could see. Imagine what happened in private.