Early Anglo-American colonizers were unable to imagine systems of shared land tenure and governance with Indigenous polities. They perceived Indigenous people to admit themselves to the racialization, and the justification they provided for the strategies they utilized to eliminate, displace, acculturate, and conceptually disappear American Indians. European settlers asserted an exclusive right to own the land based on their claims to be making it productive, which was in fact made so profitable by the bulk of the labor such as indentured, contracted, enslaved, or imprisoned. In the wake of the Civil War, it appeared that the racial hierarchy so closely associated with enslaved labor for it undergirded the settlers’ claims to the land, their continued expansion of that land base, their ability to control the benefits of that occupation, and their presumed prerogative to govern every aspect of American life. As a result, they employed several strategies to create, expand, control, and exclude a workforce of enslaved African American descendants from the opportunities that might facilitate their economic and political independence. This article frames that the acculturation of slaves and structures of racial subjugation not as the product of personal bias and prejudice but as the perceived needs of a settler-colonial society that has always used race to justify its occupation and appropriation of Indigenous lands and natural resources and its exploitation of the labor.
As Indigenous people disappeared in various ways, settlers turn to strategies of replacement, for putting appropriated lands and resources to productive use. This requires the active recruitment of a critical mass of settlers; the development of a unique cultural identity; the formation of independent structures of governance and social control. Settlers also perceive a need for a readily available labor force that is not intended to share the benefits accruing to the settler class and, accordingly, develop strategies to acquire and control those workers.
All procuring strategies include some form of seasoning. Seasoning inculcates dependence and indebtedness in the victim. The process used to coerce African slaves into slavery is also called “seasoning.” Seasoning is meant to break its victim’s will, reduce their ego, and separate them from their previous life. In breaking down the victims, slave traders rely only on the dependency that results from taking their acquisition so far away from home that they cannot get back without money for transportation. Harsher methods like beating, rape, drugging, and starvation were involved before turning them out on the plantations. The purpose of seasoning is to inculcate in the victim behavioral and attitudinal changes desired by the controller. Therefore, the outcome of successful seasoning is perfect obedience in the newly procured land. As a result of this process, the owner gains complete authority over the slave.
The Seasoning of the poor African Blacks is a technicality denoting their acclimation in America. It also refers to their subjection, and initiation into hard treatment as plantation labor. This was a very critical time for the owners, as usually many deaths ensued. Unfortunately, the sufferings of the slaves did not terminate with their voyage and preparation for the market, it continued long after the cause that produced them ceased. The mortality therefore during the seasoning was very great. One-fifth part or twenty percent was estimated to die during that time. This was the frequent fate of the women captives. The women sustained their bodily sufferings with more silent fortitude than the men.
In some societies, incoming Africans were identified ethnically, as Ibo or Coramantee for instance; whereas, in others, Whites simply grouped them together as “Guiney Negroes,” or more vaguely as “outlandish.” The naming of this kind varied from careless to deliberate, depending on how menacing the Africans were considered to be. When whites saw them as dangerous, they ignored their ethnicity and culture. Comprising an array of the west and central African people manifested original identities by tribal names, languages, ritual scars, and habits of mind. Some showed even more emphatic attitudes about who they were previously when runaways, insurrectionists, or maroons attempted to return home or to make an Africa in the American wilderness. These choices confounded Whites, who, in attempting to police and sell the newcomers, exposed their own attitudes about Africa and Africans in the sparse and prosaic notes, in newspapers and plantation records, principally, that trace the first encounters between the two peoples.
An African’s self-definition through resistance, and the care or indifference with which it was recorded, began as soon as some were brought ashore. While aboard the slaver these new Negroes made a plan to escape at the first opportunity and to return to the point of disembarkation in order to find a way 'back home' to Africa: four Fame (Coramantee), for instance, were described in an 1801 Jamaican newspaper advertisement as fugitives who 'told some of their shipmates, whom they solicited to go with them, they would proceed to the sea-side by night and remain in the bush through the night, and the first Canoe they found by the seaside they would Set sail for their Country, which they conceived was no great distance.'' The Fante may have been tragically ignorant of the great distance they had been carried. However, their design to return to where they were first unloaded, among other choices they would make, and the whites' attempts to understand these decisions, provide a straightforward way of talking about the combinations of African carryovers and local circumstances that channeled the choices and learning we label variously as acculturation, assimilation, or Creolization.
If incoming Africans were brought to such colonies as Jamaica, help was available from those who spoke their own language and had been slaves for a while. This network, subsequently, forced whites to speak more precisely about the newcomers—not as commodities but as the social beings they were—in order to make their societies more secure. Whites began to refine the generic 'new Negro' and instead spoke of 'countrymen' and 'ship-mate'—respectively, Africans of the same language group and of the same slaver cargo—in order to recapture fugitives readily. These terms also point to the embryonic institutions that were spun off as Africans began the process of becoming African Americans. To see the process of institution-building on the ground is to put the new Negro's first escape into action. As an idea, the Africans' goal was the same regardless of where in plantation America they were first brought ashore. The process depended upon a combination of two conditions. The first was whether they were carried to a compact Caribbean island, or to the vast expanses of mainland North America. The other was the character of a colony's slave trade market, because of a buyer's objectives, relative wealth, and location.
In this difficult process, domestic or household slaves were afterward sent to the plantation. This was generally viewed and felt by the victims as a punishment, and being so it had a deleterious effect on their hearts and minds. No other system than “the peculiar institution” knows anything more about such treatments.