“Gift Slaves” were enslaved babies or young children taken from their parents and “gifted” as wedding or birthday presents to white family members or friends. The ultimate goal? Indoctrinate the child to institutional slavery.
Caught in a never-ending tragedy, these stolen children lived in the slave owner’s house – but often slept on the floor next to or under their master’s bed or in their children’s rooms as “child-minders” to watch them at night. Enslaved children were punished severely if they ran away or failed in their tasks.
These “gifted” children, as young as 3 or 4 years old, were separated from their families and forced to clean, run small errands, and help cook. They later became field workers, forced concubines or were sold.
Historian Michael Tadman says one third of enslaved children in Maryland and Virginia were separated from family “by sale away from parents.”
Children could also be bequeathed in a will after a slave master’s death.
Frederick Douglass wrote that “slaveowners purposefully separated children from their parents in order to blunt the development of affection,” effectively destroying their childhood.
This was truly a traumatic, diabolical phenomena. We must honor our ancestors by remembering the truth about the horrors of slavery – and celebrate their survival so that we could be here.