Monday, July 21, 2014




By Angela Smith, HEAL Coordinator


The following is the first installment of a series of articles giving a brief history in chronological order of a sampling of examples of institutional abuse occurring in the United States of America (Colonial America from 1607-1783).  This is in no way a complete list of institutional abuse occurrences in the United States of America.  It is simply a crash course of sorts in institutional abuse and those who oppose and have opposed it from 1607 to the present (2014) in the United States of America.


For our purposes, we are choosing not to go back to the Spanish expeditions that began in 1492.  Institutions had to be formed to abuse and oppress in a systemic form.  Systemic institutional abuse for our purposes here refers to any institution that engages in a system of social injustice and human rights violations as understood post Nuremberg and post-civilized philosophy that promoted democratic and just values (i.e. Plato's Republic written in 360BCE (or approximately 2374 years ago). 


An extensive review of world history and in-depth analysis of various cultures and cultural/social reform movements may provide readers with an even greater understanding of the progress that has been made and the work that is still needed to both protect existing human rights and social justice access and standards and keep improving human rights and social justice access and standards for all human beings.


"Human rights are norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in political activity. These rights exist in morality and in law at the national and international levels."  (Source:


Most readers may not need much information on American Indian and African/African American oppression, so, for those that do or would like to refresh your memories regarding these important lessons from American History, please visit: and 


Our focus will now turn to the institutional abuse and oppression of men, women and children, starting in the 1600s and moving forward.  It is important that everyone who seeks to stop institutional abuse in the 21st century understand the history of such abuses and the various campaigns and efforts to stop those abuses.  This will aid in identifying the actual "enemy" as well as understanding strategy and guarding against counter-intelligence activities by the opposition.


1600s (Colonial America)


Social Injustice in Jamestown Courts & Colonial Governance


"The first Africans in colonial America were brought to Jamestown by a Dutch ship in 1619. These 20 Africans were indentured servants, which meant that they were to work for a certain period of time in exchange for transportation and room and board. They were assigned land after their service and were considered free Negroes. Nonetheless, their settlement was involuntary.


The status of Africans in colonial America underwent a rapid evolution after 1619. One early judicial decision signaled the change in European attitudes toward Africans. In 1640, three Virginia servants—two Europeans and one African—escaped from their masters. Upon recapture, a Virginia court ordered the European servants to serve their master for one more year and the African servant to serve his master, or his master's assigns, for the rest of his life."  (Source:  (Also see sentencing disparity and slavery loophole connection perpetuating this injustice today:,, and


"Virginia and Maryland operated under what was known as the "headright system." The leaders of each colony knew that labor was essential for economic survival, so they provided incentives for planters to import workers. For each laborer brought across the Atlantic, the master was rewarded with 50 acres of land. This system was used by wealthy plantation aristocrats to increase their land holdings dramatically. In addition, of course, they received the services of the workers for the duration of the indenture.


...A contract was written that stipulated the length of service — typically five years. The servant would be supplied room and board while working in the master's fields. Upon completion of the contract, the servant would receive "freedom dues," a pre-arranged termination bonus. This might include land, money, a gun, clothes or food. On the surface it seemed like a terrific way for the luckless English poor to make their way to prosperity in a new land. Beneath the surface, this was not often the case.


Only about 40 percent of indentured servants lived to complete the terms of their contracts. Female servants were often the subject of harassment from their masters. A woman who became pregnant while a servant often had years tacked on to the end of her service time. Early in the century, some servants were able to gain their own land as free men. But by 1660, much of the best land was claimed by the large land owners. The former servants were pushed westward, where the mountainous land was less arable and the threat from Indians constant. A class of angry, impoverished pioneer farmers began to emerge as the 1600s grew old. After Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, planters began to prefer permanent African slavery to the headright system that had previously enabled them to prosper."  (Source:


The Colonial court and governing systems were clearly oppressive and not democratic.  Poor immigrants of European descent as well as involuntary immigrants of European (i.e. Irish, see: and African descent were subjected to, often involuntary, indentured servitude.  This system continued fairly unabated until the early 1900s.  You read that correctly, the early 1900s.  (Source:


Both the Abolitionist Movement (1800s) and Labor Movement (1800s) grew in the US in response to economic inequality and brutal working and living conditions for all "voluntary" and involuntary laborers.  (See: and  So, this type of institutional abuse was encoded into law and custom in the United States since Colonial times. 


What was life like for indentured servants and enslaved people?


"Speaking from everyday experience, Jacobs is eloquent here in summarizing everyday dimensions of enslavement: extreme labor, poor rations, family destruction, child sexual abuse and rape, whipping and other violence, and the intense pursuit of those seeking freedom."  (Source:


Ignorance is still used along with violence as a tool of enslavement.  (Source: and  To choose to remain ignorant when so much valuable historical information and discussion is available through public libraries, universities, and online resources is to choose slavery and stall progress.  It is a disservice to our ancestors who fought and died for the rights we have today and for the rights they hoped we would continue to fight for, defend, and protect now and in the future.


Systemic Oppression of Women


"Married women could not make contracts, even for their own labor. A wife had no legal identity separate from her husband's. The interests of a wife and her children were to be determined and represented solely by her husband.

Property was power in the colonies, and married women would have neither.

Divorces were rare, and usually men were allowed to beat their wives, just as they beat their slaves and servants and dogs and horses. When a wife chose to run away from an unbearable marriage, her husband could advertise for her capture and return in local newspapers; just as he could advertise for the return of his runaway slaves and servants." (Source:


""Puritan court records further reveal that WIFE ABUSE is not a recent development. Between 1630 and 1699, at least 128 men were tried for abusing their wives. . . The punishments for wife abuse were mild, usually amounting only to a fine, a lashing, a public admonition, or supervision by a town-appointed guardian" (Domestic Revolutions 11).

"Even in cases of abuse, Puritan authorities commanded wives to be submissive and obedient. They were told not to resist or strike their husbands but to try to reform their spouse's behavior" (ibid).""  (Source:


Clearly, the Colonial American courts and governments were oppressive to women and contributed to vile human rights conditions for women in the United States.


"...[T]he truly dramatic transformation came in the 17th century (aka 1600s), with what Foucault styled "the great confinement of the poor". All across Europe, the mad were herded together with other social pests into giant warehouses, the archetype of which was the Hopital General in Paris. This amounted essentially to street-sweeping, an official edict of exclusion and sequestration. With little or no medical warrant, its rationale was not curing the deranged but securing them. Its aim was at bottom political - it was a way of silencing the mad, indeed of turning madness into "unreason", a state utterly negative, emptied of humanity...  The rising count of long-stay inmates was thus a symptom of society's desire to ostracise social nuisances; the high percentage of female patients pointed to the bother patriarchy had with unruly women."  (Source:


The problem of warehousing people in the above manner was not limited to Europe nor was it limited to the 1600s.  In the United States of America, this problem existed from nearly the beginning.  And, arguably the first battle in the United States to stop these abuses was fought by Dorothea Dix in the 1840s in Massachusetts.


"Those who had underestimated the determination and dedication of Dorothea Dix, however, were brought to attention when they heard her say that the sick and insane were "confined in this Commonwealth in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, beaten with rods, lashed into obedience." Thus, her crusade for humane hospitals for the insane, which she began in 1841, was reaching a climax. After touring prisons, workhouses, almshouses, and private homes to gather evidence of appalling abuses, she made her case for state-supported care. Ultimately, she not only helped establish five hospitals in America, but also went to Europe where she successfully pleaded for human rights to Queen Victoria and the Pope."  (Source:

Unfortunately, one who seeks the truth will find, these disgusting human rights abuses and institutional abuses have almost always existed and have often been a mainstay of human civilizations around the world and in the United States.  This "war" has many victims, many casualties, and many warriors.  In future installments of this series, we will discuss other examples of institutional abuse and the heroes who fought and continue to fight for universal human rights and social justice.  Don't allow anyone to "beat you into submission"!

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