From an enlightened person's perspective, slavery cannot be understood. This page, however, is for bringing together the clarifying thoughts that can undo a stain of collective human behavior.
In earlier days of humanity, the modern infrastructure for hiring people was not in place. There were no wage laws, there were no accountants to monitor employee related income and expenses, and there were very few and selectively enforced labor laws. People who had a home, where they could raise their own plants and animals for food, these people could barter employment with others within the restrictions established by the local culture.
If someone wanted to buy a home, however, there were no banks where people could apply for a home loan. To afford a home, people had to sell themselves for a specific period of time, and to a person of wealth.
Rich people wanted protection for their wealth, and poor people wanted protection for their life. To this end, contracts were invented, whereby one person could promise to provide a certain amount of labor within certain conditions, and both parties would be certain to receive just compensation in the end. These contracts were known as bonds, and certain people were empowered to officiate those bonds, and were known as bondsmen.
The practice of bonding people was began with early religious organizations. The marriage between a man and a woman was a bond, which was officiated by clergymen. When children were orphaned, local authorities could bond the children to certain families until they reached the age of majority, which was similar to today's adoptions. In some cases, a person convicted of a crime, or of severe wrongdoing, could be punished by placing the perpetrator into bondage to the victim. Particularly under the early Roman Catholic Church, these bonds were seen as adding property, or chattel, to the head of household, and this general concept later became ingrained into Colonial life in America, and ultimately was cemented into the United States Constitution.
In the American Colonies, several different types of bondage developed within the constraints of written laws. There were the usual concepts of marriage and adoption, and also the concept of binding oneself for hire as a servant with regard to a future reward. These forms of bondage, which may also loosely be called "slavery," were either civil arrangements agreed upon by a religious organization or government, or they were voluntarily entered by contract.
From ancient times, there was also a form of slavery that was much more sinister. One group of people would subjugate another group of people and demand their unconditional servitude. These forced servants were literally treated as property, and they could be sold and traded without regard for the wishes of the persons being enslaved. There were, and are, many different cultures that have engaged in slavery, and it wasn't limited to trafficking "negroes." The British made slaves of the Irish, Scottish, and other people they conquered. Native Americans were made slaves by other Native American tribes. The Spanish, and later the Mexicans, made slaves out of Native Americans. Slavery still abounds throughout Asian and Mideast cultures.
With regard to the formation of the United States, slavery involved an abundant supply of people from Guinea, who were sold by the leaders of Guinea, to ship traders. There were also cases of Native Americans who were enslaved by colonials and pioneers in America.
There is a tendency within the human psyche that when a person hates something, their obsession with their hatred turns them into the very thing they hate. It is a perfectly logical process. By focusing ones time on a certain behavior, whether one likes that behavior or not, they will, through practice, learn to behave in precisely that way. When the emigrants to America settled here, they were leaving a realm where they were the ones who were oppressed. They hated the oppression so much that they were willing to leave their ancestral home and settle in a foreign country. When greedy, moral-less traders appeared with boat loads of slaves, the oppressed emigrants rationalized that they could treat these slaves with kindness if they would but help them to build grand homes and great wealth. And although their intentions may have seemed benign and beneficial, the emigrants and their descendants ultimately became the very people the original emigrants despised.
There were churches in America, such as the Quakers, who as a community held high moral standards and despised slavery at all costs. There were other churches, of Roman Catholic descent, that still interpreted divine revelation as justification for the practice of slavery. These churches were populated by the wealthy emigrants and their descendants who had built their fortunes on the backs of slaves, and as they watched slaves being freed and treated kindly by others, they became even more desperate to defend the practice of slavery. Their hatred toward those who opposed slavery resulted to the most heinous forms of torture. The only word that adequately describes those resulting congregations, church elders, and churches is, "evil." These evil people became so extreme as to torture both slaves and their owners in the most heinous ways, if they dared to treat slaves as equal human beings.
From a genealogical perspective, when we casually refer to our ancestors as "slave owners" or "slaves," as they were during the time of legalized slavery, we are subtly perpetuating the evilness of the perpetrators, subtly legitimizing their behaviors, and we are dismissing the enormity of the suffering of the victims. Our vocabulary for describing people who had become evil, either by ignorance, peer pressure, or birth, and for describing their behaviors and their victims, must reflect the lessons we have learned since that time; our vocabulary should not echo the widespread acceptance of slavery during that time period. It is not acceptable to use the same words that applied at the time when slavery was legal and widely practiced. New generations need to understand that certain aspects of human history have become illegal, undesirable, and unworthy of memorializing. "Slaves" must be referred to in such a way that honors the dignity of the victims, and who did not deserve to be treated so evilly. Whatever term we use for "slave owners," it must reflect the evilness that applies to such a title, whether that evilness was intentional, or developed through ignorance.
Slavery was not an established ancient institution that was handed down unbroken since the beginning of humanity. The people who became slave owners in the colonies were themselves oppressed, and they immediately took the bait when it was presented to them, to build wealth and fortune by oppressing others. And due to the resulting widespread appeal of slavery at that time, it had to be enshrined into our United States Constitution for nearly 100 years before a Civil War could begin the undoing process.
I bring this up because my conscience will not allow me enshrine and memorialize the behavior of slavery within our shared genealogy. We have officially expunged this behavior from our society, and now we must expunge the glorification of slavery from our history. I am not saying that we need to alter our history to hide slavery. I am saying we need new vocabulary to talk about slavery such that it does not in the remotest way glorify the practice for present and future generations.