Sunday, July 20, 2014

SBU History Alum Matt Zaros Discusses His Senior Thesis

Matt with Dr. Horowitz at graduation
In the fall of 2013, I was enrolled in Dr. Robbins's Colonial American history class. One of the required books was Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640—1676 by T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes. It's an absolute must read for anyone interested in early American history. The book depicts the lives of freed and enslaved Africans in Virginia up until 1676, which was the start of Bacon's Rebellion. Before 1676, Africans could buy their freedom, just like their white servant counterparts. Some freed Africans even became extremely prosperous citizens. I remember finishing the book in bewilderment. Why did Bacon's Rebellion change all that? Why did the process of freeing slaves halt after Bacon's Rebellion? It was these questions that I took with me into my final semester at Bonaventure. I decided that I would investigate how Bacon's Rebellion changed slave culture in America.

After countless hours in the library reading and writing, I finally got my answer. Before Bacon's Rebellion, slaves were given limited liberties. One of these limited liberties was the ability to have free time. With this free time slaves were able to gain skills such as: shoe-making, tool making, carpentry and hunting. Products made by the slaves were sold to slave owners. The money slaves made would go to purchasing their freedom.  Another liberty was the ability to associate with whites. Whites and Blacks worked in the fields together and they formed a common bond, just like any other group of workers.  

It was this common bond and the promise of freedom that unified blacks and whites under Nathanial Bacon to join together to overthrow the Virginia government in 1676 (this is a simplified explanation of the Rebellion).  Unfortunately for the Rebellion, Bacon died of dysentery and soon his Rebellion died too. With fresh troops from England and no leader the unified blacks and whites could not defeat the Government.  In order to make sure a Rebellion would not happen again the slave owners decided to racially separate whites and blacks. This ensured that  the two races could not communicate with one another. They also made slavery more brutal. Taking away the chance of freedom that they slaves once had. It was Bacon's Rebellion that caused slavery in America to fundamentally change.  

This whole project started with a simple question I had in a class. And I ran with it until I got the answers. Besides now having extensive knowledge of slavery in early America, the other thing I learned is if you have a question just keep going until you have your answer.

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