Kofi - Life in the Americas
There is a boy here on the plantation who looks like my friend, Kojo. His name is Paul and everyone treats him badly because he has funny colour skin and because his father was white. Even I hit him sometimes. He calls me John. So does Mr Jones, the master here. There are lots and lots of people called slaves here. Paul says I'm a slave but I don't know what that means. One day master saw Paul teaching me to speak English and hit him so hard. There are some children here who look like me who have never been anywhere else. They try to make me do their work but their mothers in the house stop that. They say I have enough to do looking after the animals outside.
Talking at night
Plantations are large estates where cotton, sugar, tobacco etc. are grown. Most Africans were brought to the Americas to work on these farms, with about 200 slaves on each plantation. Kofi is on a tobacco plantation (probably Maryland or Virginia), which were relatively small. The slaves there worked closely with the white owner or the overseer.
Paul is of mixed race - his mother is black and his father is white. Women like his mother were considered the property of the white owners and were often sexually abused or raped.
Mixed race people, or mulattos, were right at the bottom of the class system. Even Kofi, a black slave, admits to beating Paul. Most mulatto children were disowned by their fathers. Some were freed but experienced racism in the outside world. Some even inherited their father's wealth when he died, although a law passed in Jamaica in 1760 prevented mulatto children inheriting.
Africans were often given new, European names. It was thought that this would help remove sense of identity and remaining ties with Africa, and may make the slaves more docile.
It was illegal to teach a slave, especially for a white person. It was thought that it would encourage them to have ideas above their station. Until around 1800 it was even felt wrong to teach Africans about the gospel. It was thought that teaching Christian values to slaves might lead them to think of their own rights and freedom.
Never been anywhere else
These children have been born in America and so are higher ranked than Kofi. There was a strict class system amongst slaves with differing privileges and punishments. A slave's standing depended on their job, where they were born, when they arrived etc. Combined with different backgrounds and different languages this class system produced little feeling of black unity (although by the 1780s a common language had developed - patois).
From the late 18th-century more women were given household work although many still worked in the fields. Women were the main field workers in many African societies and their skills were often recognised and used by their European owners.