Slavery in the Early Colonies

Slavery in the Early Colonies

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Slavery has been in colonial America since as early as 1619. The reason for bringing slaves over to America was for profit. Tobacco was a crop that took lots of work to harvest, and with the use of slave labor the harvesters were able to have the land cultivated.
Even though slaves cost two and a half times more then indentured servants, they were worth more because their slavery was for life (Norton 79). Indentured servants completed their labor term in three to four years. In the early American colonies slave labor for tobacco was not really needed, because the colonies were supplied with English laborers. (Norton 72).
In the early colonies of America before 1650, people of African descent varied in their stature. As time passed slavery started to take hold on the American colonies, and in 1670 tobacco growing really started to take over and became a big export of the colonies. Slavery didn’t exist in the laws until the 1660s. (The Way we lived 58). In 1670 the House of Burgess stated “all slaves not being christened imported into the colony by shipping shall be slaves for life,” similar servants that “shall come by land” would serve for a term of three to four years. (Norton 72).
The ruling in the House of Burgess was a landmark decision because it was one of the first times that it was put on paper that people were able to own another person for a term of life. The first blacks who were brought to Virginia in 1619 were forcibly removed from West Africa. (The way we live 58). In 1682 Virginia decided to alter a little of what the House of Burgess had said to define who could be a slave. Declaring very bluntly that “Negros, moors, mallatoes, and Indians arriving “by sea or land,” could be held as slaves for their lifespan. (Norton 72)
Europeans viewed Africans as humans but perceived them as different, disagreeable, and dispensable which made them ideal candidates for slavery (The Way We Lived 62). As the 17th century rolled around, slavery was well established in the colonies as the economic powerhouse in the Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina. Between 1492-1770 more Africans then Europeans came to the Americas, and the majority of those Africans were slaves (Norton 73). Between 1700 and 1709 only 1,500 indentured servants from England, Scotland, and Europe would arrive, while over 9,000 imported Africans would arrive (The Way We Lived 60).

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The traveling on the ships was brutal for the slaves. On average 10-20 percent of the newly enslaved would die en route because of illness or lack of food. The quarters were so small at times people were placed on top of one another. The ship hands tried to get as many captured people on board so that they could earn more of a profit when they retuned to sell the newly enslaved. With its abundance of people, Africa seemed the prime target to capture slaves and bring back to the new land. By 1710 people of African descent composed one fifth of the region’s population (Norton 78). With the large number of slaves being introduced into the colonies they had a great impact on the economy and in reshaping the population as a whole. The Africans brought their expertise of travel, planting and hunting to the new world. The African dugout canoe became the chief means of transportation in the colonies. The Africans’ fishing nets that were copied by the mainlanders turned out to be much more effective then the ones the English had invented as were their techniques of cattle herding (Norton 79).
This expertise from the Africans contributed greatly to the prosperity of South Carolina. Many slaves had their own gardens that they could tend to when they were not working. On Sundays slave holders usually gave the slaves the day off as the day of the Sabbath. It was on this day most slaves would tend to there garden, hunt, or fish. The slaves who were experienced could often complete their tasks in the early afternoon. When they completed their tasks their masters had really no legitimate claim to their time (Norton 80).
By 1710 the slaves who were born in Africa outnumbered those who were born in the Americas (Norton 79). With the growing rate of slavery, many slaves contemplated the idea of running away to try and gain their freedom. In 1693 Florida, which at that point was still part of Spain, granted the runaways that freedom stating if the runaways would convert to Catholicism they would be granted freedom (Norton 81). Since South Carolina was so close to Florida many slaves ran away and took advantage of this offer.
In 1708 enslaved Indians composed as much as fourteen percent of South Carolina’s population (Norton 80). Why not more? Why did the colonists need to bring Africans over to the Americas when so many Indians already here? Indians posed a difficulty. Indians by and large remained free because they resisted and were difficult to control. Indians who were slaves were able to escape and not be caught, for unlike the Africans and the landowners, Indians could escape into the countryside, which they new intimately (The way we lived 61).
Slavery was brutal; whipping occurred frequently and usually occurred in a public setting as an example to others. The work was backbreaking and conditions were not less than ideal. In 1712 the blacks had a rebellion in New York City, which lasted only one evening. But in 1739 in South Carolina the Stono Rebellion lasted several days. In both incidents many blacks lost their lives. The hopes of setting captured blacks free didn’t happen. In 1731 a law was put on the books prohibiting Africans from owning or possessing a gun and also fined owners for letting slaves wander at night alone. Running away, work resistance and revolution became the most common form of African resistance to slavery and helped to build a bond in the community as a whole (The Way We Lived 67).
Slavery in the early colonies turned from Africans being able to earn their freedom to being treated brutally. Without the expertise from the Africans, the early American colonies would not have flourished as they did.
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