Duke of York: Father of America’s Slave Society

Synopsis By Edward Doten

In the Father of America’s Slave Society, by creating “Stories” relating actual incidents, I discuss explicitly, and in substantial detail, key characteristics of American slavery. In doing so, I provide first-hand accounts of the suffering of the slaves in their own words and of events and conditions in their lives. I contrast other then-contemporary, less inhumane forms of slavery. For comparison to events that may be familiar to readers, I characterize the American slave society as “terrorism,” and compare it as a racial genocide and a holocaust to massive 20th Century crimes against humanity. I also discuss modern remnants of slavery and how they deeply affect American society today.

As the book’s title promises, I identify those specific individuals responsible for the creation, promotion, and incentivisation of the particularly brutal form of slavery practiced in America. The English government, led by King Charles II, and his brother, the Duke of York (later, King James II), aggressively promoted slavery in the American colonies for profit beginning in the 1660s following the Restoration of the English monarchy.

As Admiral of the English Navy, the Duke defeated the Dutch in New Amsterdam (now, New York, named in his honor). He also defeated them in Africa, yielding him control over former Dutch West African forts, relationships with local African slave traders, and storage prisons, concentration camps, and other slave facilities in Africa. Those were vital to his international slave trade.

As CEO and controlling shareholder of the Royal African Company with other royal officials, holding a governmentally-chartered monopoly on the slave trade to America and other English colonies, the Duke shipped more than 100,000 Africans to the New World under appalling conditions, branding many, if not all, of them with his initials, “DY.”

King Charles II, the Duke, and their colleagues and successors in America aggressively encouraged settlers to practice slavery through attractive property tax and customs incentives and through a land-for-slaves policy. Pursuant to the land grant policy, they awarded land to settlers for each slave purchased (e.g., in Virginia, 50 acres per slave; in New Jersey, 60 to 75 acres; in Carolina, 20 acres).

King Charles II and the Duke of York often exercised their power through governmental colleagues serving as governors and proprietors. Their control extended from New York (which initially included New Jersey) to the Southern colonies—Virginia, Maryland and Carolina. It then spread to later American colonies (and eventually, states).

A key purpose of the governmental incentives was to increase governmental tax revenues. The Monarchy collected taxes on slave-produced commodities traded to England. Since the government had a slave trade monopoly from Africa to America, slave sales also meant more revenues for the government’s Royal Africa Company.

The Duke, and his colleagues and successors, created and promoted a strict chattel and hereditary form of slavery that was especially vicious. As “chattels,” slaves were “things,” essentially farm animals and, in urban areas, mostly unskilled common laborers at the bottom of the social ladder. The hereditary character of slavery the English promoted meant that children of a slave mother automatically were themselves slaves for life, even when they also were the slave masters’ children (as they often were). The English enacted laws permitting slave masters to punish disobedient slaves brutally, restricting slaves’ ability to own property and earn income, prohibiting trade with slaves, preventing legal marriage, and limiting slaves’ ability move about freely and to meet with their friends.

American slavery quickly became a sadistic Reign of Terror. The slave society imposed unimaginable cruelty upon slaves up to the time of the Civil War, almost a century after the Declaration of Independence.

With full deliberation and intent to terrorize, the slave society exercised means of horror as extreme as burning slaves at the stake, roasting slaves over slow fires for hours, and posting the heads of rebellious slaves on pikes along public roads for other slaves, especially slave children, to see.

The slave society expected slaves to be completely submissive and obedient in their everyday lives, not only to their masters, but to all white people. Masters had little restraint upon the punishments they could inflict on disobedient slaves, even to the extent of whipping them to death without legal consequences. Slaves could not leave their masters’ premises without written passes. The slave society destroyed slaves’ families, and after the invention of the cotton gin, forced more than a million slaves to migrate to the cotton South. The migration occurred often in “coffles” of hundreds of chained slaves, including children, literally forced to march on foot, in all types of weather, the 1,000 miles from Washington, DC, and Alexandria, Virginia, to the slave auction in New Orleans.

In contrast, although slavery was never humane, other then-contemporary forms of slavery at least recognized slaves as human beings. Those other slave cultures were Dutch, Spanish, French and West African. Until the Duke of York gained power in the 1660s, indentured servitude and slavery in the American colonies had allowed servants of both classes certain rights and privileges. For example, earlier American colonies and some other cultures allowed slaves to have and preserve families, earn income, own property, gain protection from excessive abuse, and obtain freedom with full rights of citizenship. In early Virginia, like indentured servants, slaves also gained freedom after serving a period of years. Those rights generally did not exist in the slavery promoted by King Charles II and the Duke of York and adopted throughout the American colonies.

Amazingly, still today, America literally “honors” the Duke in the names of New York City, County and State and the name of the State Capitol, Albany (he also was the Duke of Albany).


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