American Childhoods by Joseph E. Illick

American Childhoods by Joseph E. Illick

By Joseph E. Illick

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Probably no parents paid their children more attention than the Quakers. Believing that their progeny lived somewhere between Adam’s sin and Christ’s seed, they rejected Puritan predestination and embraced an environmental perspective; it was up to them to make sure that their children saw the Light. Admonished to intervene vigorously but never impulsively, always tenderly so as not to provoke the tender souls to wrath, Quaker parents were constantly restrained by reason and moderation. qxd 4/25/02 3:12 PM Page 31 European American Childhood 31 to their children, thus forsaking inheritance as a tool of control.

To some historians it appears that they played games which stemmed from their dawning recognition of their enslaved condition: “whipping” and “auction” perhaps provided ways of acting out so as to neutralize the real events. This interpretation is challenged by the observation that whipping games, for example, are universal. Certainly slave children saw their parents (but not their white peers) beaten, and their parents in turn beat them—whether because this was traditional practice or to prepare them for their adults lives.

In his view, owners were too powerful and parents too subjugated for slave children to look anywhere but toward the owner for status and self-esteem. 17 Quite to the contrary, Wilma King asserts that slave parents were able to show their children “how to forge a balance between social courtesies to whites and their own self-esteem,” while Marie Jenkins Schwartz argues that slave parents were always strong enough to negotiate with owners and taught their children through the example of their refusal to follow orders from owners.

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