The treatment of enslaved people in the United States varied by time and place, but was generally brutal, especially on plantations. Whipping and rape were routine, but usually not in front of white outsiders, or even the plantation owner's family. As put by William T. Allan , a slaveowner's abolitionist son who could not safely return to Alabama, "cruelty was the rule, and kindness the exception".
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Slavery constituted the principal backdrop against which whites and blacks encountered one another for over two hundred years, from the s to the s. The overwhelming majority of slave owners were white, and the overwhelming majority of slaves black. There was probably more black-white sex during this period than at any other time thus far in American history. Most of it was unwanted sex, stemming from white males' exploitation of black women-the subject of many pages to come.? But what about mutually desired sex or what I refer to as sexual intimacy? Some commentators insist that there can have been no such thing as sexual intimacy between a black enslaved woman and any white man-a slave owner or overseer or even a mere stranger-because mutually desired sex requires choice, a power denied to slaves by bondage. According to this view, slavery created an extreme dependency that precluded the possibility of chosen as opposed to unwanted sex.
The master-slave relationship was the cornerstone of the law of slavery, and yet it was an area about which the law often said very little. A major touchstone of the nature of a slave society was whether or not the owner had the right to kill his slave. In most Neolithic and Bronze Age societies slaves had no such right, for slaves from ancient Egypt and the Eurasian steppes were buried alive or killed to accompany their deceased owners into the next world. Among the Northwest Coast Tlingit , slave owners killed their slaves in potlatches to demonstrate their contempt for property and wealth; they also killed old or unwanted slaves and threw their bodies into the Pacific Ocean. That was not the case in other societies.
Anderson , Life and Narrative of William J. Brown, A Fugitive Slave , 2d. An Enslaved Person's Life 2. Sale 3.