Study Guide

Robinson Crusoe Slavery

By Daniel Defoe


The Usage I had there was not so dreadful as at first I apprehended, nor was I carried up the Country to the Emperor's Court, as the rest of our Men were, but was kept by the Captain of the Rover, as his proper Prize, and made his slave, being young and nimble, and fit for his Business. At this surprising Change of my Circumstances from a Merchant to a miserable Slave, I was perfectly overwhelmed; and now I look'd back upon my Father's prophetic Discourse to me, that I should be miserable, and have none to relieve me, which I thought was now so effectually brought to pass, that it could not be worse; that the Hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without Redemption. (18)

Before landing on the island, Crusoe is made a slave and recognizes slavery as the lowest condition imaginable for a Christian such as himself.

Here I meditated nothing but my Escape, and what Method I might take to effect it, but found no Way that had the least Probability in it: Nothing presented to make the Supposition of it rational; for I had no body to communicate it to, that would embark with me; no Fellow-Slave, no <em>Englishman, Irishman,</em> or <em>Scotsman</em> there but myself; (18)

Crusoe is alone in his slavery and servitude, contemplating escape.

He offer'd me also 60 Pieces of Eight more for my Boy <em>Xury,</em> which I was loath to take, not that I was not willing to let the Captain have him, but I was very loath to sell the poor Boy's Liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. (30)

Crusoe doesn't actually sell Xury to the Captain, but instead they strike a bargain. Xury is to be kept in indentured servitude for ten years, and if he converts to Christianity, he will be set free.  We kind of wonder if the Captain keeps his word there.

…so that I might say, I had more than four times the Value of my first Cargo, and was now infinitely beyond my poor Neighbour, I mean in the Advancement of my Plantation; for the first thing I did, I bought me a N**** Slave, and an <em>European</em> Servant also; I mean another besides that which the Captain brought me from <em>Lisbon.</em> (33)

Crusoe buys a "N**** Slave" for the maintenance of his plantation. Note, however, that the "European" in his service is not referred to as a slave, but as a servant. Another example of Eurocentrism at work.

…and after enjoining me Secrecy, they told me, that they had a mind to fit out a Ship to go to <em>Guinea</em>, that they had all the Plantations as well as I, and were straiten'd for nothing so much as Servants; that as it was a Trade that could not be carried on, because they could not publickly sell the <em>N****es</em> when they came home, so they desired to make but one Voyage to bring the <em>N****es</em> on Shoar privately, and divide them among their own Plantations; and in a Word, the Question was, wehter I wold go their Super-Cargo in the Ship to manage the Trading Part upon the Coast of <em>Guinea?</em> And they offer'd me that I should have my equal Share of <em>N****es</em> without providing any Part of the Stock. (35)

A group of merchants and planters ask Crusoe to take part in a scheme in which he is sent to Guinea to collect slave labor. In return, he'll get his own share of slaves. Crusoe later refers to it as a "fair proposal" (35). Crusoe's wealth in Brazil is dependent on this kind of labor.

…in a little Time I began to speak to him, and teach him to speak to me; and first, I made him know his Name should be <em>Friday,</em> which was the Day I sav'd his Life; I call'd him so for the Memory of the Time; I likewise taught him to say <em>Master,</em> and then let him know, that was to be my Name; (174)

Though Crusoe doesn't technically buy Friday, he does take complete possession of the man. The practice of slavery often involved replacing native names with Christian ones. (A great example is in the movie <em>Roots</em>.)  Why do you think renaming might be an effective strategy for ensuring submission? Also, why does Crusoe have Friday call him "Master"?