Fact #16 of 28
W Whenever human beings interact, they rub off on one another. The ways in which they rub off on one another can rarely be predicted. When this involves large groups of people over extended periods of time this often leads to far reaching unintended consequences for both groups.
One of those unintended consequences that I had mentioned in an earlier post was the famous Southern dialect that we all know so well today. That came as the result of young White children first learning how to speak English and pronounce words from their enslaved African caretakers broken English and heavy African intonation. However, this wasn’t the only thing that the children picked up from enslaved Africans, not by a long shot.
Another thing that rubbed off on the Southern Slave-owner from the enslaved African was the African definition of family. The African had a much wider definition of “family” than his White Slave owner. It was common for enslaved Africans to feel just as close of ties with their aunts, uncles and cousins as they did their own parents, brothers and sisters. Soon this too “rubbed off” on Southern Whites who began to modify their view of family into a looser view that imitated the African view of social relationships. Before long Southern whites even began referring to non-relatives as “cousins” and “brothers” just like their enslaved Africans did.
The slow and easy unhurried lifestyle of the American South can also be credited to Whites interactions with enslaved Africans who, being from a tropical climate, knew that in order to remain working under the oppressive heat of the Sun they had to work smart otherwise they would stroke out. Initially White Slave-owners insisted that enslaved Africans work at a pace that would’ve meant certain death under the Southern American climate, but the enslaved African ultimately refused, and it didn’t take long before this slowed down the pace of Southern life as a whole for both White and Blacks.
Another example of how enslaved Africans “rubbed off” on their European Masters was in the Southern Slave-owner’s diet. If enslaved Africans found it difficult to speak English, they found it IMPOSSIBLE to eat their food. When enslaved Africans prepared European dishes for their masters they began adding Spices that were to their own liking. Surprisingly, their Masters ended up preferring the heavily seasoned African prepared dishes foods to the lightly seasoned English dishes that they had only known.
It was also from their enslaved Africans that Southern whites first adopted the practice of the daily bath. Whites also began adopting healthier attitudes towards sex and softened their association with sexual repression and purity.
Initially White slave-owners strongly resisted converting their slaves into Christians because there was a belief, and probably rightfully so, that if enslaved Africans became Christians, Whites would be in violation of a rule somewhere in the good book of owning and beating the black off of people who believe in Jesus Christ. But by the 1830’s the religious conversion of the enslaved African was well underway. In fact this worked out in the African’s favor because this became the number one reason, without even a close second, that slave-owners emancipated their slaves upon death. More secular rooted, financially driven slave-owners had a problem with all of these Free Blacks walking around as the result of guilty Jesus Freaks trying to avoid going to hell on their deathbeds and began arguing that slavery was a “political institution” and that because of “separation of church and State” the church should take no interest in it.
A middle ground was eventually reached between the two sides. Instead of focusing on this issue of Christians now owning Christians, White Slave-owners began hearing a different message in their churches on Sunday, “it is the duty of Christian masters to feed and clothe well, and in the case of disobedience to whip well.” OK, whew. Issue solved. Crisis adverted.
Dinkie never worked, never received a flogging, and was never stopped by patrollers. When the Planter sold Dinkie, the slave trader brought him back immediately. The Planter hired a new overseer who threatened to whip Dinkie for not going into the fields; Dinkie either frightened or talked him out of it, for he never went to the field and the overseers never bothered him during his entire tenure on the plantation.William Wells BrownAfter the Slave population had been converted to Christianity, the overwhelming majority of slaves began attending Church services with their Masters. When Southern Whites worshiped with their enslaved Africans they often adopted Black religious customs into their services like “call and response” and even allowing the body to feel the music while singing spirituals. One white missionary observed, “I have often seen Mrs. Baring, when the Negroes were singing, catch the motion of their bodies and do just as they did.”
However, the most interesting, BY FAR, of all of the things that rubbed off on the White slave-owners was a genuine belief in the powers of African Slave doctors or Conjurers.
Consider this quote taken from the Charleston Southern Evangelical Messenger in 1820,
“They (slaves) are of necessity the constant attendants upon children in their early years. From them, they mostly learn to talk; from them their minds receive their first impressions; and from them a taint is often acquired which remains through the whole of their succeeding lives.”
The taint that they were speaking of was a belief in the supernatural that was exceptionally influential within the enslaved African people.
Since actual, medically trained physicians never tended to Slaves, whenever an enslaved African got sick, the only thing he had to rely on the healing powers of one of his own to pull him through it.
The only option a slave had to overcome an illness was his local slave doctor or Conjurer. He would diagnose the slave, then send him out into the woods to collect a wild growing root and then fix it in some way to tackle whatever was ailing him. The children of the Slave owner grew up on stories that they heard from their black caretakers as well as stories they heard from their black childhood playmates of all of these miraculous things that the slave doctor could do with a root and frog spit.
These white children never forgot these stories and even as adults were reluctant to challenge the powers of whatever Conjurer there was in the area that serviced their slaves. And truly, the most intriguing and entertaining case I have ever come across was of the slave doctor known as Dinkie.
Dinkie was not a handsome man by any measure you want to use. Go ahead pick one. He will not meet it. So if you are envisioning Dinkie as Idris Elba, just stop. He wore a snakeskin around his neck, carried a petrified frog in one pocket and a dried lizard in the other. I’m not making this up. And if that wasn’t enough to creep you out, Dinkie had only one eye. Everyone was afraid of Dinkie, including the Whites in the area.
Consider this quote, from William Wells Brown on Dinkie.
“Dinkie never worked, never received a flogging, and was never stopped by patrollers. When the Planter sold Dinkie, the slave trader brought him back immediately. The Planter hired a new overseer who threatened to whip Dinkie for not going into the fields; Dinkie either frightened or talked him out of it, for he never went to the field and the overseers never bothered him during his entire tenure on the plantation.” (Hughes, Thirty Years, 13-22; Stroyer, My Life, 50-76)
Even some of the most sophisticated Whites ladies would visit Dinkies cabin to have their fortunes read or to obtain love potions to snare a man, so there is little doubt as to why slaves stood in mortal fear of Dinkie’s power.”
If someone ever invents the time machine my first stop is going to be at Dinkies!