Juliet's Genealogical Gems Slavery: Resistance and Retaliation
by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.
A widely held belief is that African American slaves were docile and content with their lot. This is far from the truth, as slaves practiced frequent resistance to slavery. These practices included but were not limited to deliberately slowing down work, destroying property, feigning illness, inflicting self-injury, and committing infanticide and suicide.
This article contains a story from my family history that contradicts this belief. Family history is an account of a person and his family in narrative form. It differs from genealogy, in that it is limited to determining family relationships and enumerating ancestors and their descendants in the natural order of succession.
My grandfather is this story's source. His grandfather told him the story, he passed it on to me, and I share it now with you.
"What's that Papa Daddy?"
"That's a mouse trap, Baby."
"What's it for?"
"It's to catch mice and rats. You never seen one of these before?" I nodded no.
"Well mice are real sneaky," explained Papa Daddy. "You have to bait a trap to catch them. You take a piece of meat or a piece of cheese and you place it here on the trap. Then you place this lever over the food and when the mouse comes and starts to eat BANG right on his head. But those mice are very slick. I sometimes put bait out for them and when I look at the traps the next day, all the food is gone and no mouse. Now you have to be very careful when you set the trap, because they won't take the bait, if they smell a human scent. Yes. They are very tricky. Want me to show you how it work?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Now stand back. Don't get too close."
Papa Daddy took the handle of a nearby broom, poked the lever of the trap and tripped it. CLACK.
"Oh," I exclaimed.
"Now traps aren't the best way to catch a rat."
"What's the difference between a rat and a mouse?" I asked.
"A rat is a big, grown up mouse. You have to be careful with them. They don't like you to mess with them. They'll fight back and bite you. Now the best way to kill a rat is to poison him. And the best poison there is, is ground glass," continued Papa Daddy.
"Yes. You take, for example, an old Coca-Cola bottle and you pulverize it. You ground it as fine as you can."
"Do you do that Papa Daddy?"
"I have, but I don't do it no more because you grandchildren are around. It's too dangerous. Now you take that ground glass and mix it good with some jam and place it where you know the rat is sure to find it. You can't see the glass when it is all mixed up with the jam. The rat comes and eats the jam and that ground glass goes right through his whole body and cuts him all inside. He bleeds in his stomach and dies."
"My grandfather told me that in slavery days, that was how a house slave he knew killed his master. Yes. With ground up glass in food. The master mysteriously died and nobody knew nothin'."
This story shows that African American slaves were displeased with their situation and they sometimes performed aggressive acts because of their enslavement. Although the motivation behind these acts was complex, it is a fact that people held in bondage devised creative means to resist and retaliate against slavery.