How did European settlers create “freedom” in the New World?
Freedom is the ability to speak, act or do whatever one pleases. But during the era of the European settlers, freedom had a different meaning. It meant not being enslaved; in the sense that a free person was not forced into labour without pay. People in this period of European settlers took having a good relationship with their master as freedom. However, after keenly analyzing the type of free will the European settlers introduced, it was just a rebranded form of slavery. The European settlers had created “freedom” in the New World in a manner that they would take advantage of people without their realization.
The settlers had realized a vast land that was infested by very few people who did not seem to put their property into proper use. This was how the ‘New World’ came into being. The culture from which Europeans came from was capital acquisitive, putting much value on individual wealth and accomplishment. They were Christians that took the biblical admonition of taking the earth and dominant over it literally. According to them, (Europeans) land was useless if it was not thoroughly cultivated or settled on. Therefore they perceived the forested areas to be a wasteland, failing to know that the inhabitants used these lands as hunting grounds. The European settlers felt like they had the right to buy this land, even though the native owners did not understand the terms of trade. Little did the native inhabitants know that they were selling out their free will of keeping their land as they wished. The invasion of settlers changed land and its resources into a commodity whose ownership could be traded.
In Morgan’s book American Slavery, American Freedom, we see how the relationship between the European settlers and the Native Americans deteriorated. The foreigners introduced tobacco and made it an important crop. And this was what began to trigger conflict, as the native inhabitants felt as though they were being pushed into a farming activity they did not like. Also, Morgans mention the various approaches that masters used to grant their slaves freedom. “Offering slaves freedom in return for working hard (Morgan 311).” The implication this method was that a slave hard to work exceedingly hard to convince his master that he was worthy of being let free. From this, we can deduce that these settlers had painted a specific image for freedom. It was something that could be bought which could also mean it could be depleted. A slave could work hard and earn freedom, but after some time, he could be enslaved ones again. And then repeat the cycle of working to earn free will back. Of course, not slave loved the slavery lifestyle; hence, they did not work to their full potential, unless when they feared being punished or denied food. Hearing that working hard will enable them to have no master and decide on their win the activities they would like to do was motivational. The settlers must have used this as a trick to make their servant improve on the quality of service they offered.
Another point we take from Morgan is that the European settlers made life hard for servants after they were declared free. “When a servant turned free, he found land much scarcer (Morgan 298).” This might have been the case to discourage more servants from wanting their freedom. The European settlers were influential and had taken almost all the resourceful lands. Therefore after a person being granted his freedom, he would still rely on the master for survival. And this would mean he would have to abide by some laws. It is true to say that after all, this was not freedom at all because the servant was not in a capability act as he pleased.
In Olaudah’s book, he explains his travel to America and the West Indies with his master (Equiano 155). He noticed the harsh treatment and punishment the African slaves working in plantations faced. Equiano also realized that the blacks that had their freedom did not have a good life. The reason for this was that they lacked a master to look out for them. And this leaves a reader with the question; why would a free person require a master to look out for them? The European settlers had enslaved blacks for almost all their lives and made them dependent on them entirely. Therefore these slaves could not even have opportunities to improve their livelihood. The journey that Equiano took with his master was meant to show him that there was nothing much that was going to come out of freedom. His master must have wanted him to understand that freedom was just but a mere word.
Nonetheless, Equiano asked his master to grant him his freedom someday, and they agreed on the amount that it would cost him. It is evident that this, although Equiano had a great acquaintance with his master freedom, still had to be earned. The Europeans regarded themselves to be superior, and since they were helpful to the inferior races, they owned them. In the book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, we see that Equiano eventually pad for his freedom but choose to continue working for the King. The only difference now was that he was being paid for the services he offered.
These European settlers used Christianity to cover up their misuse of people from the other races. People that accepted to be baptized and to work together in spreading the gospel were told that they had found freedom. And now since they were Christians, they were expected to be respectful to their leaders (masters) and be of assistance to them. The freedom preached through Christianity was also a form of slavery, but in this case, people were brainwashed into thinking they were serving the Lord. But in reality, the white settlers were still taking advantage of them.
In conclusion, although the European settlers brought civilization, they did force native inhabitants to forgo some dear customs. Also, the freedom that was being offered by the European colonists was but a different form of slavery. Whose aim was to continue to take advantage of people without their realization. As can be seen from Morgan’s and Equiano’s work, the colonialists had made life almost unbearable for free slaves. Being a slaved seemed to be much better compared to being a free man. Freedom was portrayed as a commodity that only the influential European settlers possessed and their servants had work hard to earn it. During this era, Christianity was used to shadow other races from seeing the kind of freedom they had was not genuine.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, the African. 1794. Accessed 29 Sept. 2019.
Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Accessed 29 Sept. 2019.