American assimilation, a narrative abolitionists were all too ready to believe, desperately wanting to defend the embattled southeastern tribes.17 Bibb's account appears to rely on this tradition with its almost wistful depiction of Native American slavery, a representation that effectively underscores the ways in which white slavery denies black males access to the roles of authoritative husband and father. Bibb represents slavery under American Indians as categorically milder than slavery under Southern whites despite internal and historical evidence to the con trary. From his vantage point as a "kind of a body servant" (Bibb 150), he calls his owner "the most reasonable, and humane slaveholder that I have ever belonged to" (152). As evidence, he contends that the corn and wheat he harvests is simply for "consumption" and not for the "market" (152). However, Bibb's own admis sion that his owner possessed "a large plantation and quite a number of slaves" (152) would appear to belie this assertion. As Celia Naylor explains, Cherokee slaveholders in Indian Territory engaged in any number of capitalistic ventures, from wheat, corn, and grain production to salt mining (19). Also reflective of this will to efface Native American harshness, Bibb states that slaves of Native Americans "have no overseers to whip nor drive them" (152) even though research suggests that Cherokee slaveholders, particularly the large and prosper ous ones, employed overseers (Perdue, Slavery 97). Most importantly for Bibb's narrative project, he maintains, "Neither do [Native American slaveholders] sep arate husbands and wives, nor parents and children" (153). In reality, Cherokee slaveholders appear to have had as great a propensity to separate enslaved fam ilies as white slaveholders. As Perdue asserts, "Cherokee planters seem to have made little effort to keep families together" (Slavery 110). 38 This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Thu, 01 Nov 2018 01:29:50 UTC All use subject to
The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave However, it is useful for Bibb to maintain these categorical, if untenable, distinc tions because they expose the ways that Anglo-American forms of bondage fracture families and frustrate enslaved males' claims to patriarchal authority. As David Pierson makes clear, white abolitionist critiques of slavery in the antebellum era centered on its failures to live up to its own paternalistic standards (386). In a per fect reversal of this narrative, Bibb's rendition of Cherokee slavery submits that indigenous people treat their slaves as benevolent fathers would treat their children, screening them from the financial market, preventing hired strangers from admin istering punishment, and, most importantly, preserving their biological and emo tional ties to one another. Read in this way, Bibb's seemingly sanguine representation of the "various half civilized tribes" (158), as he mockingly calls them later in the narrative, should be balanced by a consideration of the principal
You've reached the end of your free preview.
Want to read all 28 pages?
- Spring '18
- History, Inca, Slavery in the United States