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Should You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?


Neda at the site of an old slave cabin on Mulberry Row
The midday August sun beat down heavily on Isaac's shoulders. Summer days were always the hardest. It was illegal for anyone to teach him to read or write because he was a slave. Isaac bent down, tending to the vegetables in the garden.

Next door, at the nailery, Bagwell wipes the sweat from his brow. All young boys learn to make nails. Over the past three years, he had made thousands of nails for his master. Bagwell was good at making nails and had become one of the best workers around. His master was very happy with him. During a normal day, 5,000 to 10,000 nails would be made in about seven different sizes. At the end of the day, the master would come back and measure how much each boy had made. Those who made the most would be rewarded. Bagwell sometimes got food or new clothes -- suits dyed blue or red -- to encourage him to keep working so hard.

Hanging out by the blacksmith shop and vegetable garden
Bagwell would soon be sixteen -- an important age. At sixteen, a decision would be made about whether Bagwell would be kept at Mulberry Row to work at a trade, or sent down to become a field hand at Shadwell (another part of his master's huge, 5,000-acre plantation). Given Bagwell's talents, he would most likely be kept on the hill as a blacksmith, joining the other men who labored away, shoeing horses and repairing farm equipment.

Finally, after a very long day, the sun has set and the workday is done -- and so it will continue tomorrow and the next day and the next day. The Sundays they get off are not nearly enough time to rest from the backbreaking work during the week. For now, Isaac tries to make himself feel better with some food from his weekly ration of cornmeal, cured pork, and molasses. His living quarters are crowded; he shares a small cabin on Mulberry Row with nine others.

The other side: Jefferson's beautiful home
Only a few yards away from Mulberry Row is Thomas Jefferson's home. Thomas Jefferson said that "all men are created equal," but in a normal year he owns about 200 slaves, almost half of which are children under the age of sixteen. While his house is big and beautiful, his slaves live in little shacks and are poorly fed.

This is the real Thomas Jefferson. He is a founding father of the US, but he is unwilling to let all people be equal.


Please email me at: neda@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - How would you like to speak French instead of English?
Daphne - From slavery to freedom