African Slave Life in Colonial British America

African Slave Life in Colonial British America

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African slave life in Colonial British America was far worse than slavery practiced in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans. The indigenous tribes took people as slaves in raids, enslaved those convicted of crimes, and traded slaves between tribes but the enslaved were thought to have done something to deserve their fate.

The racial, institutionalized slavery practiced by the English colonists of North America departed from this paradigm by enslaving people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the English, forcing them to work for the remainder of their lives as slaves, and claiming their children as property which could be sold.

The life of a slave in Colonial America differed from colony-to-colony but had one aspect in common: the slave had no rights as a human being and was considered property of the master just as a wagon, mill stone, or axe would be. The white master could, and usually did, treat the slave as just another possession to be used and then disposed of when it no longer functioned as expected.

Once arrived in North America, the slave would be worked, in the Southern Colonies at least, from dawn until dusk six days a week.

Africans were often enslaved by those of other tribes and then sold to European slave traders or were kidnapped by Europeans directly. Frequently, those who enslaved fellow Africans found themselves drugged, manacled, and shipped with those they had brought to the slave market. Once arrived in North America, the slave would be worked, in the Southern Colonies at least, from dawn until dusk six days a week, living under the worst conditions, and subject to sale by their owners just as any rake, hoe, or hammer might be. Slave life in Colonial America continued according to this paradigm from c. 1660 until slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1865.

Virginia & the First Slaves

The first Africans in North America arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 aboard a Dutch ship that needed supplies. These 20 or 21 individuals were purchased for the necessary supplies by then-governor Yeardley (l. 1587-1627) who put them to work on his plantation. At this point, the English had no concept of racialized slavery and, in fact, slavery had been abolished in England centuries before, so these first Africans were treated as indentured servants, given a set term of service ending in freedom and reward of land. Scholar David A. Price comments:

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Although it is tempting to assume that these first recorded Africans in English America were also the first slaves, there is evidence to suggest they were not. They may instead have had the legal position of indentured servants, like many of the white newcomers, eligible for freedom after completing a period of service. (197)

This paradigm changed in 1640 with the enslavement of an indentured black servant named John Punch. Punch left his master’s service before his time was up, claiming poor treatment, along with two white servants. When the three were caught and returned, the white servants were punished with four years added to their servitude, but Punch was sentenced to lifelong enslavement. After this event, Virginia began passing laws restricting the rights of the black population, instituting slave laws in the 1660’s, and becoming an active participant in the Transatlantic Slave Trade made possible by the Triangle Trade route.

Kidnapping & Middle Passage

The Triangle Trade was a system of exchange of goods and people between Europe, West Africa, and the Americas. Europe shipped items to West Africa (the so-called First Passage) which then shipped enslaved humans to the Americas (the Middle Passage) and the Americas then shipped other items to Europe (Third Passage) and the whole circuit began again in a continuous cycle.

One of the more valuable items imported from Europe to West Africa was guns, shot, and gunpowder which African tribes could purchase through trade in human beings. A tribe which had guns could subdue another, sell them into slavery for more guns, and expand their territory. Although it seemed the Africans were being empowered by this arrangement, it actually only profited the European slavers who received more and more people as slaves.

In West Africa, those who brought the slaves to market often found themselves enslaved.

People would either be kidnapped individually or, usually, in large groups from a village. One tribe would surround a sleeping village at night, set it on fire, and then capture the fleeing inhabitants, marching them at gunpoint to the slave markets on the coast. There they were imprisoned until inspected for sale. Those considered most valuable were separated from the old, weak, or infirm and were branded so they could not be taken back by and exchanged for a “weaker commodity” by those who brought them; those not chosen for sale were killed to keep down costs in food and make more room for the influx of others. Those who brought the slaves to market often found themselves enslaved as described by scholar Oscar Reiss:

The slavers were not above “picking up a bonus”. One tribal chief brought a coffle [a slave caravan of chained blacks] of slaves taken in war. After concluding business, he was invited on board ship for dinner. He was drugged and awakened at sea – now a member of the coffle. (33)

The slaves were packed tightly in the hold of the ship, men chained and separated from women, boys separated from the rest. They were forced to lie on their sides to save space and were given small buckets to relieve themselves in which many could not reach, and which were too small for the numbers below deck to be of any real use anyway. As they made their way across the Atlantic on the Middle Passage, they were allowed above deck in good weather, chained to prevent any leaping overboard. Once the ship reached the Americas, the slaves were unloaded into pens, cleaned and clothed (they had been brought naked, unless a captain ordered them covered), and sold to the colonists.

Housing, Food & Clothing

The life of a slave differed between colonies and, within communities, from master-to-master. Colonists in the New England and Middle colonies often had slaves living in their homes or a small shack on the land while those in the Southern Colonies had numerous buildings known as the slave quarters. A typical slave shack is described by Reiss:

It was a one-room frame dwelling with a dirt floor which measured 17 by 20 feet. The cabin had at least one glazed and shuttered window. There was one door with a plate stock lock and a brick chimney with a dirt-floored brick hearth. This provided accommodations for seven or eight adults, with perhaps a sleeping loft for children. (47)

Other cabins were built of logs and had no windows and no door – only a cloth or fur over the doorway – with a fireplace and chimney. There was no furniture, little light, and spaces between logs let in rain or snow.

In New England, the Puritans took better care of their slaves than the plantation owners of the south because they adhered more closely to the biblical example of slaves in the Old Testament who ate and slept with the family. In the Middle Colonies, slaves were fed primarily on corn and yams which were distributed on Sunday while, in the south, rice was the staple food.

Slaves were sometimes allowed to plant and tend private gardens which they had to work on their own time which was only Sunday; the rest of the week was considered the master’s time. Slaves were, of course, not allowed to possess firearms or any form of weaponry and so could not hunt for food. Meat was given to the slaves rarely and always at the master’s discretion.

Clothing was also provided by the master and varied in quality depending on how much he chose to spend. The clothing of one’s slaves could be, but was not always, a sign of one’s wealth and status. So-called “house negroes” who tended children, cooked, cleaned, and served as butlers were always well-clothed as were slaves who regularly accompanied their masters into town. In the Southern Colonies, plantation slaves went nearly naked for most of the year, both men and women wearing little more than a loin cloth.

Marriage & Family

Since slaves were considered property with no rights, marriage - like housing, food, and clothing - was defined by a master who could allow a union, dissolve it, or sell one partner away from the other. Reiss comments:

Slave marriages tended to be unstable and frequently were of short duration. As a group, the only slaveholders who took slaves’ marriages seriously were the Puritans. Adultery was a serious sin and marriage a sanctified institution, even among bondsmen. A marriage ceremony was performed, and the participants were expected to stay together for life. If slaves were sold, the owner tried to sell them as a family unit. Among other groups, only a deeply religious master tried to promote morality and avoid licentiousness among his possessions. (53)

Slaves were encouraged to marry those on their own farm or plantation because, otherwise, they would waste time on Sundays going to visit their spouse. Further, the children of the union belonged to the master of the mother and so one’s male slave fathering children with someone else’s female slave enriched the other and impoverished one’s self.

The slave community as a whole would often look after children until they were five or six years old & were put to work by the master.

Slave children were cared for by older siblings, older children, or older women as the mother and father worked six days a week and, in the south, from dawn until dusk. Masters viewed slave marriages as solely for the production of more slaves and couples who did not quickly bear children could have their marriage dissolved and were then married to others.

Within the slave community, family bonds were tight, and people looked out for and took care of one another, especially so considering that often two or more families shared a single cabin. The community as a whole would often look after the children until they were five or six years old and were put to work by the master as messengers, water-bearers, or livery assistants.

Work & Leisure

As noted, a slave worked six days a week, 365 days a year, with holidays off only at an individual master’s discretion. A slave could, and did, work any job which did not involve literacy or firearms. A literate slave was considered a threat and teaching a slave to read was outlawed in most, though not all, colonies. In the New England and Middle colonies, slaves worked the ports, on small farms, or could be skilled crafts and trade people. Slaves in all the colonies worked as cooks, livery grooms, maids, butlers, coopers (barrel-makers), blacksmiths, and candle-makers among other occupations. In the south, slaves were primarily used in agricultural labor in the tobacco and rice fields.

Besides Sundays, the only time off given to slaves was the summer lay-by - the end of the cultivation period on plantations - and Christmas. At Christmas, slaves were given between three to six days off and this was the only time of year they could expect to be given meat and were allowed to play musical instruments, generally speaking.

On Sundays, slaves attended their own or the white peoples’ worship service, told stories, sang and danced, and worked their own gardens if they were allowed to have them. They might also be permitted to make their own furniture or improve their housing and would also play games. Sundays and, especially, Christmas were also leisure times in which slave plots were made to escape or plan insurrection and masters, especially in the south, maintained tighter security at these times.

Dissent & Rebellion

Slaves “rebelled” in many ways throughout the year whether by feigning illness or breaking tools or pretending they had not understood a master’s or overseer’s instruction. At times, however, slave rebellions broke out and, as this was among the colonists’ greatest fears, any such revolt was put down swiftly with harsh punishments following, even for those slaves who had not participated.

The first uprising in the English colonies, instigated and led by African slaves, was the New York Slave Revolt of 1712. New York City had been under Dutch control as New Amsterdam until 1664 when Dutch holdings were taken by the English. The Dutch had allowed slaves many freedoms which were denied by the English who then instituted harsher slave laws and greater restrictions. On the night of 6 April 1712, 23 slaves set fire to a building on Broadway and, when the whites came to put it down, killed them with weapons they had stolen. They were caught, arrested, and executed but over 70 more were jailed and punished.

The largest slave revolt in the colonies was the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina. A slave named Jemmy led 20 slaves from the Stono River toward Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, where they would find freedom. They raided a warehouse for weapons and began their march, others joining them until they numbered over 100, and then attacked and killed their white masters and destroyed properties. Their attacks slowed their march, and the white militia were able to mobilize and disperse them. 25 white colonists were killed and 30 blacks; but many more slaves were hanged or burned over the course of the following year.


Slaves were allowed to take their master’s place in the colonial militia and then the Continental Army during the American War of Independence (1775-1783) in exchange for their freedom, but this did nothing to end the institution of slavery. Free blacks appear on census records as early as the 1640’s and so the slaves who won their freedom in the war were not considered anything very special.

Between 1800-1850 the New England and Middle colonies slowly abandoned slavery as they became more industrialized and greater pressure was brought to bear by the abolitionists, but it was rigidly maintained in the south. Although the Stono Rebellion is regarded as the largest revolt owing to the participation of over 100 slaves, the most haunting was Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831 in Virginia which resulted in the deaths of between 55-60 white people. Turner and his followers were executed but over 200 slaves and free blacks were killed in the aftermath.

The event so terrorized the Southern Colonies that harsher slave laws were instituted, further exacerbating tensions between the southern and northern states that finally erupted in the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves in the southern states which were in rebellion but could not be enforced until the war ended. When the north won, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States in 1865, ending an institution that had existed for over 200 years and enslaved millions under some of the worst conditions recorded in history.

Slavery in the Colonies: The British Position on Slavery in the Era of Revolution

When we discuss the existence, practice, and tolerance of chattel slavery in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we must first recall the era by which we are reading for discussion. We must be cautious in our conclusions without reading the historical record accurately and we must understand that the denouncement of slavery’s existence did not occur in a straight line, but one whose evolution ebbed and flowed with the begrudging of time and experience. The existence of slavery in human history was not unique to North America. In virtually every civilization you will find some form of enslavement of fellow human beings by the ruling parties. What must be remembered here is that the principles of the Enlightenment and that of English common law were what sparked the incentive for a change in the way human beings treated their fellow men and women.

First slave auction in New Amsterdam by Howard Pyle, 1895.

We know that the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619 and that the practice of slavery would continue uninterrupted for the next two hundred and forty-six years in North America. What we must remember though is that British interests dictated many things, and slavery was only one component. England’s economic expansion in the sixteenth century owed largely to her navy, whose vast outreach across the world’s oceans allowed the British government to create new modes of commerce and wealth. Trade became the lynchpin of the English model. From as far east as India to the tropical islands scattered about the Caribbean, the British economy became dependent on rich and exotic commodities such as tobacco, sugar cane, and indigo. To turn a profit, the British established plantations within these islands and along the east coast of North America whose fertile soils could produce the necessary exports. The British concentrated their efforts within the Atlantic slave trade by sending cargo ships full of captive Africans to the Caribbean. There, they were held in bondage and worked mostly the sugar cane plantations. In America, the importation of captives was less prevalent, at least in the first decades. The main force behind the plantations of sixteenth-century British America were indentured servants. These people, most of whom were white, were often criminals, runaways, or undesirables from England who either volunteered or were forced into service for a set amount of time. Once their time had been worked, they often were eligible for freedom. African slaves could be indentured servants too, persons who were brought over and could work under a contract. Others who were enslaved were emancipated after a set number of years worked. In these early years, most colonial laws were flexible when it came to the structure of chattel slavery. Even former slaves who were now free could own enslaved Africans of their own.

Changes began occurring after several events. Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1676 shook local communities at the risks of having large portions of the populous in a resentful state because of their work conditions. By 1705, English policy began to shift away from indentured servitude as a form of practical employment for plantation owners and farmers. To curb the shortages in laborers, the British government and their colonial counterparts began to accelerate the importation of enslaved Africans. A handful of insurrections, including the New York riots and the Stono Rebellion, further terrified slave owners that their laborers would rise up and overtake their communities. As a result, colonies, mainly Virginia and the Carolinas, set about establishing the economic structure that would establish slavery as not only an economic benefit but also one of property. And under English common law, property was a sacred right that governments had limited authority in repressing. By the 1740s, chattel slavery existed in every North America colony and the practice of breeding slaves – it was cheaper to claim the children of current enslaved people as property than to purchase new arrivals – became an economic incentive unto itself. Despite this turn of events in just a few decades, there remained visible free African American communities on the outskirts of colonial society.

Because our focus is on the British position of slavery, we must keep in mind how London ruled over her colonies during much of the first half of the eighteenth-century. The government of King George II was quite ambivalent when it came to North America. Policies of low taxes and free trade essentially dominated the colonies. As a result, this helped prosperous towns grow and regional cultures to establish themselves. In the eyes of the British government, slavery was a benign feature of its economy so long as it produced results. In America, what rumblings of abolition existed were very few and far between. Among the earliest to speak out against slavery’s existence was John Woolman, a Quaker from Burlington County, New Jersey. Drawing from religious texts and the Enlightenment, which demanded thinkers use reason, Woolman challenged how an Englishmen could tolerate such cruelty and injustice to their fellow human beings?

"Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon", 1851, by Junius Brutus Stearns. There were 317 slaves working at Mount Vernon in 1779.

Indeed, as the effects of the Enlightenment grew, coupled with calls for religious diversity and a growing consensus of a natural rights phenomenon, the existence of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic came under scrutiny. Moral opinions were shifting at the same time as hostilities between the colonies and London emerged. The 1772 court case of Somerset v. Stewart in London found that chattel slavery was not compatible with English common law, effectively dismissing its legitimacy on the British mainland. As a result, abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic used its decision to champion emancipation for those held in bondage. Indeed, as the years that saw the outset of the American Revolution approached, the term "slavery was widely used by American Patriots as a battle cry to remove themselves from the yoke of British authority. To remain under such authority, where no American held the right to representation in self-government, was a ‘form of slavery’ to many. The irony in using this sort of language was not lost on many British Tories, who called out these rebel hypocrites. “We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1775. Indeed, these sentiments not only labeled many of the American leaders as hypocrites, but it also took a swipe at the very notion that America was founded on principles that were universal for all humans, and as Thomas Paine famously said, “we could start the world anew.”

After war officially broke out in Massachusetts in the spring of 1775, each side positioned itself in ways that would both benefit some black Americans while also deliberately ignoring others. In the case of the Continental army, black citizens were barred from enlisting. However, exceptions were made for the portions of sailors and artisans affiliated with the Marble Headers under command of John Glover. Despite attempts to persuade Gen. Washington and members of Congress to allow the enlistment of both free and enslaved blacks, the American army would not risk the fragile unity that existed among the ranks of both the army and the legislative bodies. This would be tested by British orders to do the exact opposite. Sensing a vulnerability, British officials led the way for inciting mistrust of an integrated American war effort. Though there is clear evidence that the British themselves were wary of arming slaves, they nonetheless were determined to destroy the rebellion and utilize a manpower pool on the far side of the Atlantic. In 1775, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia, issued his Proclamation that promised freedom to any enslaved person who joined the British army. A company of former slaves was raised and named the Ethiopian Regiment. However, smallpox wiped most of them out before they could see a major battle. Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation in 1779 that escaped slaves would receive full sanctuary behind British lines. We cannot be certain how many former slaves abandoned their plantations and came through the British lines. By the end of the Revolution, it’s estimated that nearly one hundred thousand slaves escaped to British authorities, constituting a loss of about ¼ of the number of enslaved peoples in the United States at the time.

We must caution though that these calls by the British were not done because they were abolitionists on a moral crusade. The British were attempting to disrupt the continental unity at any cost. Creating a slave insurrection in the southern states might have drawn the colonists back into a regional mindset, and perhaps look to Parliament to end the unrest. It also must be noted that in many ways the British took advantage of the American slave system for their own benefit. By promising freedom, the British would potentially benefit in the short term by gaining thousands of laborers, carpenters, cooks, and scouts who could assist the army. Notice that none of these positions involved fighting. Most of those who came into the British encampments were given jobs that sustained the army, like the Black Company of Pioneers. Very few black Americans were given muskets to march off into battle. However, it is notable that in a few instances this was indeed the case. When the British landed at Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, it sent mixed units containing African Americans into the city. The sight of former slaves now armed and fighting with the enemy terrified southern residents. It was a short-term victory for the former slaves, but its memory would loom large over the southern states and have dire consequences in the following generations.

While the British army unofficially employed a majority of former slaves now in their midst, other African Americans took up arms against Continental and Patriot forces to spark unrest. New Jersey saw the rise of Colonel Tye, a former slave, and leader of the Black Brigade, who commanded an impressive assault on the state’s countryside, particularly his former home of Monmouth County. Other instances of black troops fighting for the Crown eventually changed the minds of Washington and Congress – who issued orders to form the First Rhode Island Regiment in 1778. By 1781, upwards of one-fifth of the Continental soldiers present at the Siege of Yorktown were African American.

American soldiers at the siege of Yorktown, by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, watercolor, 1781. The soldier to the far left is a Black infantryman of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

Other factors to consider are the estimated several thousands of slaves who could have escaped but chose to stay instead. Many plantations saw their abandonment by their white owners at approaching enemy soldiers. Others walked away after becoming insolvent on their properties from a shortage of laborers. In some cases, the slaves that remained essentially took over the land for themselves. Because lost land claims by loyalist citizens were never settled after the war, it is hard to determine how many former slaves “inherited” the land of their former masters. At any rate, the British plan of disrupting the southern economy by “handing freedom” to enslaved people had a resounding effect.

Coupled with the principles championed and won by the American Revolution, the 1780s saw an uptick in abolition movements and the emancipation of slaves. Many plantation owners, whether out of economical practicalities or instilled with the new republican ideals of the time, freed their slaves. What seemed to be an evolving belief in the rights of humans only went so far. Despite some legitimate successes and the development of many educational programs for African Americans, the emerging generation slowly rolled back the gains that had been made. New laws placed restrictions on free African Americans. In many southern states, the fear of armed slave insurrections continued to haunt communities. Laws soon demanded that those who were free must leave or risk being enslaved once more.

For her part, Great Britain banned slavery in all her territories in 1807. Its leaders remained vocal of their place on the right side of history, even though they continued to profit and benefit from the southern American slave economy for decades. Indeed, during the Civil War, British officials were secretly plotting to scuttle any chance of American reconciliation and actively sought to help legitimize the Confederacy, much like France had done for the United States in 1777. It would take several actions by President Lincoln to disrupt this plot, much to the dismay of both Confederate leaders and the British government.

African Slave Life in Colonial British America - History

Monica Barba
Martha Carias
Aimee Dehbozorgi
Kasey McCarthy

In late August of 1619 a Dutch ship brought twenty Africans to the recently established colony of Jamestown. These twenty Africans slowly evolved into a minority race in the British colonies. They became one of the greatest topics in American History. It would lead us to a Civil War and hatred amongst our races. But, who is to blame and why?

Emergence of Slavery in British America

The concept of slaves and slavery in England had died out after the eleventh century. Therefore it is believed that English immigrants to the Caribbean gained the idea of enslavement from the Spaniards. The Spaniards had adopted slavery after Columbus’s famous voyage in 1492. This decision was influenced by the fact that Native Americans (whom Spaniards had attempted to enslave at first) were seen as unsuitable for the harsh labor. With the acceptance of slavery in the British Caribbean, it was of no surprise that British establishers in Jamestown, did not condemn the practice of slavery.

Yet, it is argued that although slavery was one of the leading forms of labor in North America, it was not until 1660 that slaves were considered inferior to whites. Not until 1660 did the institution of slavery appear in the statute books of Jamestown, which has led most historians to think that until this time, a slave or a Negro was seen in a social point of view, no less than a white indentured servant. In many instances, white indentured servants lived in the same conditions as black slaves.

It is not to imply that they were ever seen in the same status as an understand where racial discrimination began. Let it first be established that Black African laborers were considered more valuable and efficient in the fields than white indentured servants, for many reasons: 1) unlike indentured servants, Africans were used to the hot arid climate and could work more efficiently under such conditions. 2) slaves were laborers for life, while indentured servants only had to meet a certain number of years in order to gain their freedom. 3) because slaves were workers for life, all of their generations automatically bound to the same owner. For this last particular reason, slaves were far more expensive than any other type of laborer. Why then, if they were this valued would they looked down upon, treated as property, and given no rights?

One of the first and most common reasons is that slaves were not Christian. After all, one of the reasons why Indians were enslaved at first was because they did not have the same beliefs as the Spanish Conquistadors. By slaves not being Christian, it immediately caused them to be separated and set aside from those indentured servants that did believe in the same God as the British. An act passed in Maryland in 1639 enumerated the rights “of all Christian inhabitants (slaves excepted)” (Degler 30). And then there was the issue that slaves were seen as lazy, dumb and ignorant. This was mainly due to the fact that they did not understand the “white man’s” dialect. All of these factors led to the feeling of superiority to the Englishmen. At on point, the practice of indentured servants slowly died out in colonial America, because it was seen to Great Britain as cruel and nut inhuman. Yet, it did not appear to be cruel and inhuman what they were doing with African slaves. But this state of mind is said to have started until it was legally defined who was and was not a slave. In the House of Burgesses it was not until 1644 that the topic of slavery was discussed (Degler 31). It was such the case that in the years between 1620 and 1660 in Virginia and Maryland record show that the word “slaves” was hardly used, the term used to describe Africans was “Negroes” (Degler 29). But, due to all of the reasons mentioned above, it got to a point where slaves were seen as inferior and considered property. In 1660 when it was legally defined who was a slave and the general concept was accepted throughout colonial America, the idea of a slave code emerged. The first comprehensive salve code was passed in 1661, in the island of Barbados. This code became widely accepted for all colonies in the Caribbean and soon thereafter, most mainland colonies accepted them as well.

Necessity of Slaves in British Colonies
The main purpose for the precipitation of slavery in the colonies was simply for labor. There was a short supply of labor, for the amount of work that needed to be done.

After the first English settlements in the New England area, there was a shift in colonization to the West Indies. Around 1630 and 1642, the numbers of English immigrants settling in the Caribbean rapidly doubled (Boyer 63). The English Caribbean became very similar to early Virginia. It extensively cultivated tobacco, one of the most least expensive crops to raise. Unfortunately, this product brought little profits for the small scale farmers. Yet it kept the Caribbean societies economically equal, and dominantly white.

The tobacco boom slowly diminished when a new revolutionary crop was introduced. In the 1640’s Dutch merchants passed on the Brazilian method for growing sugar cane (Boyer 63). The English quickly substituted their tobacco farming with this new crop. Sugar brought very high profits and guaranteed wealth to its farmers. It was high maintenance and required more capital than tobacco. In order to produce sugar, one required a lage labor force, a mill, a still, and numerous caldrons (Boyer 64). A typical sugar planter owned an estate of 200 acres (Boyer 64). But as profits increased, other West Indian farmers converted their fallow property to expand the cane fields. Planters soon realized that they needed three times as many workers to work the cane fields than in tobacco fields. Before sugar became cash crop, West Indian farmers had imported indentured servants. But as farmers became even more involved in the sugar production, the demand for labor greatly increased. Sugar planters began to purchase slaves to do the field work. The indentured servants that used to do the work became overseers.

An inventory in Virginia in 1643

They had the right to punish slaves in any way with any weapon Slaves were preferable choices over indentured servants. Unfortunately for slaves, they had no right to food or shelter, rather than the indentured servants. Sugar planters reluctantly brought over more and more slaves even though they were more costly. Slaves were forced to work until death, while indentured servants could quit when they chose to. Slaves were more efficient workers.

By 1670, sugar had transfigured the English Caribbean society. Blacks now dominated the population. In 1713 the slave to white ratio was four to one (Boyer 65). Since the need for indentured servants had greatly declined , they instead traveled to the American Colonies.

In 1661 Barbados passed the first slave code for all the Caribbean colonies (Boyer 65). It guaranteed the salves a more respectable treatment. It mandated slave owners to provide clothing for their slaves. But their new slave code removed all of the slaves’ legal rights protected under English Common Law (Boyer 65).

The slave code allowed slave owners to have almost absolute control over their slaves. It had also, intentionally , put no restrictions on slave punishment. Slaves could now be legally victimized. Masters were allowed to abuse, assault, and even kill their slaves. Moreover, judges could order ears to be cut off, limbs to be torn of, or even the slave to be burned alive, according to their crime (Boyer 66).

Death rates among the slaves was very high, working in the sugar cane fields was very exhausting for the slaves. Because of sugar’s high profits, planters had no interest in their slaves’ conditions. They simply bought more slaves when they were needed. So many slaves died from being overworked that, even though they imported 264,000 slaves to the Caribbean between 1640 and 1699, by 1700 there were only 100,000 slaves left (Boyer 67).

The Chesapeake differed in many ways from the West Indies, but they both shared one similarity. They both had one cash crop that dominated and shaped their society. Tobacco was the Chesapeake’s regional crop. It had dominated the Chesapeake agriculture since 1618 (Boyer 71). Tobacco was a profitable crop, but its profits did not come close to those of the sugarcane. It sold for over two pence per pound (Boyer 71). Tobacco, like sugar required a large amount of labor. As a result, ample numbers of immigrants traveled to the Chesapeake eager to work. About 90% of those immigrants were indentured servants (Boyer 72).

Soon after 1660, the price of tobacco fell well below a profitable range (Boyer 73). In that same period of time, many indentured servants had gained their freedom. The Chesapeake was faced with an economic crisis. This triggered Bacon’s Rebellion, a reaction to the economic distress. After the Rebellion, Chesapeake planters realized the need to replace indentured servants with slaves. Soon after, the number of slaves greatly increased across the Chesapeake colonies. By 1700 in Virginia alone, there were 6000 slaves, one-twelfth of the population then by 1763 that number increased to 170,000 about half of the population (Washburne 34).

The Restoration colonies also searched for a profitable crop like tobacco and sugar. Around the early 1690’s, they found rice, a crop that was introduced by the early Africans. (Boyer 84) Rice was similar to sugar since it also required capital for its necessary dams, dikes, and especially slaves. Profits brought by rice challenged those brought by the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Rice planters found it almost impossible to get indentured servants to work in rice plantations. The servants were incapable of working under such inhuman conditions. The rice paddies were humid and swarming with mosquitoes (Boyer 84). Rice planters decided to import a large labor force of slaves. The African slaves had already cultivated rice in Africa, so they had more experience than their masters. The salves were also immune to malaria, that could be transmitted by mosquitoes along the rice plantations. As a result, rice production was a success, and the demand for slaves generally increased. For example, one rice planter farming 130 acres, would probably need 65 slaves (Boyer 85). The percentage of slaves in South Carolina jumped from 17% in 1680 to 67% in 1720 (Boyer 85). As the black population increased, slave owners began to fear. So, in 1696 south Carolina adopted the Barbados slave code. This regions’ slavery had become increasingly similar to that of the West Indies.

Sub-cultures of Colonial America

Slavery developed in 3 stages in the Chesapeake region. The emergence of blacks in this area was between 1619 and 1640. Although documents existed, stating obvious discrimination against races , the people of Chesapeake sold blacks as servants that would one day become free as opposed to slaves. Throughout the next 20 years, much evidence pointed towards the fact that many blacks were being treated as slaves and their children were being inherited like property. After, 1660 slavery became official and began to be regulated by law. By 1705, strict legal codes were brought about and various standards were set. Slavery was never considered suitable for any white and was reserved solely for blacks. In the 1680’s , the Chesapeake’s slave population nearly tripled , rising from 45 hundred to about 12 thousand. By 1700 there were nearly 20,000 slaves in the Chesapeake are, 22% of the population the Chesapeake were slaves. The number of people willing to emigrate overseas, were mostly dependant on slave labor, once in America. Puritans, on the other hand did not depend on slaves. Their strict and strong family values, believed in having children help do their work. Aside from their strong family values, Puritans could not afford slaves.

Up until 1680, about one half of the inhabitants of Southern Carolina came from Barbados, from where they brought slaves. The first colonists depended mainly on raising cattle. The use of slaves was discouraged in cattle raising, due to the fact that it required only a small labor force and provided slaves with ample opportunities to flee.
Life in Northern Carolina was much like southern Carolina. Self-sufficient white families predominated, due to the fact that their crops did not produce enough profit to warrant maintaining many slaves.

In 1690, Southern Carolinians found a staple crop, that would make them rich - rice. Profit from this crop enabled many to invest in many costly things including slaves. As the population of slaves came close to that of whites, whites relied on force to maintain order. They adopted cruel punishments in order to keep the slaves in line.

In 1739, South Carolina was shaken by a powerful slave revolt known as the Stono Rebellion. Twenty slaves stole guns and ammunitions from a store twenty miles from the Stono river Bridge. Eighty slaves gathered and marched under a flag crying: “Liberty!” They buried several plantations and killed twenty whites. Within a day, a militia surrounded the slaves and destroyed them. Several other rebellions came about these requiring more than a month to suppress. A new slave code was put into work, enforcing masters to keep a more watchful eye on their slaves and it threatened to fine the masters for not disciplining their slaves. Although slaves saw that these uprisings were suicidal, they continued with the uprisings committing arson, sabotage, or poisoning their masters.

Slavery was primarily a southern institution, but 15% of slaves lived in the North. By 1750, one out of seven New Yorkers was a slave. Quakers aimed mainly towards the abolition of slaveholding. When English merchants became involved in the slave trade, Quakers-particularly George Fox were horrified at seeing the mistreatment of the slaves. He suggested that owners treat slaves better and at the same time, release them after a certain number of years. In 1688 the Quakers made their first public statement against the slave trade. Throughout the first half of the 18th century Quakers, both in England and in the colonies condemned slavery. They campaigned against slavery, and they slowly changed people’s minds and convinced them that slavery was inhumane.

Slave Culture
Christianity was one aspect of slave culture that developed in plantation communities. Slaves developed an independence culture, unknown to their masters. Slaves struggled valiantly to maintain the vitality of family life. If a master prohibited slave marriage, ceremonies would be conducted in secret, drawing traditions of West Africa. About one third of slave families due to the sale of members to other plantations. Owners usually sold the father, keeping the mother and children together. On well established plantations, slave families were kept together for numerous generations. Slave communities became extended families. Slaves on different plantations helped each other with their work loads.

The idea of slavery was gained from Spanish conquistadors that had at the beginning enslaved Indians. The first African slaves arrived in mainland North America in late August of 1619. These twenty slaves soon grew into a numerous population that evolved throughout colonial America. The need for slaves was first seen in the British Caribbean. Where neighboring islands were instruments of teaching on slaves, crops, and exports. Among the profitable and successful crops were sugar cane in the Caribbean, tobacco in the Chesapeake, and rice in the Carolinas. Each in their own demanded a strong labor force, all of which blacks provided.

The concept of slave trade was established by African kings themselves. The saw it profitable to sell their own people. They slowly but surely established a dominating slave trade route. They exported to all different parts of America, concentrating in Brazil, the Caribbean and North America.

Although, all of North America held some form of slaves, they were not all the same type of culture. They differed throughout the Atlantic Coast.

Inheriting Slavery: The World of Peter, Jane, and Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson inherited his father’s plantation, slaves, and livelihood. Peter Jefferson was a planter, surveyor, county justice, member of the colonial Virginia legislature, and a loyal citizen of the British Empire. Jefferson’s mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, belonged to one of the colony’s most prominent families.

The intellectual and material character of his parents’ household at Shadwell shaped Thomas Jefferson in childhood and young adulthood. Peter and Jane Jefferson owned books, scientific and drafting instruments, fashionable furniture and table wares, over 7,200 acres of land, and 60 slaves. At Shadwell the young Jefferson learned the customs of an elite, slaveholding society while developing a great curiosity about the wider world.

Monticello and Montalto from Edgehill with Shadwell in foreground, by Russell Smith, 1844

Monticello and Montalto from Edgehill with Shadwell in foreground by Russell Smith, 1844.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Delftware plate fragments from Shadwell, home of Thomas Jeffersons' parents.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation


Native Americans enslaved members of their own and other tribes before and after Europeans arrived, continuing into the 1800s enslaved people might or might not be adopted eventually, especially if enslaved as children and the enslavement might or might not be hereditary. [4] [5] Slaves included captives from wars and slave raids captives bartered from other tribes, sometimes at great distances children sold by their parents during famines and men and women who staked themselves in gambling when they had nothing else, which put them into servitude in some cases for life. [4]

In three expeditions between 1514 and 1525 Spanish explorers visited the Carolinas and enslaved Native Americans, who they took back to Santo Domingo. [6] [7] [8] The Spanish crown's charter for its 1526 colony in the Carolinas and Georgia was more restrictive. It required that Native Americans be treated well, paid and converted to Christianity, but it also allowed already-enslaved Native Americans to be bought and exported to the Caribbean if they had been enslaved by other Native Americans. [8] This colony did not survive, so it is not clear if it exported any slaves. Native Americans were enslaved by the Spanish in Florida under the encomienda system. [9] [10] New England and the Carolinas captured Native Americans in wars and distributed them as slaves. [11]

Native Americans captured and enslaved some early European explorers and colonists. [4]

Larger societies structured as chiefdoms kept slaves as unpaid field laborers, while in band societies the ownership of enslaved captives attested to their captor's military prowess. [12] Some war captives were also subjected to ritualized torture and execution. [13] Alan Gallay and other historians emphasize differences between Native American enslavement of war captives and the European slave trading system, into which numerous native peoples were integrated. [14] Richard White, in The Middle Ground elucidates the complex social relationships between Native American groups and the early empires, including 'slave' culture and scalping. [15] Robbie Ethridge states,

"Let there be no doubt…that the commercial trade in Indian slaves was not a continuation and adaptation of pre-existing captivity patterns. It was a new kind of slave, requiring a new kind of occupational specialty … organized militaristic slavers." [16]

One example of this militaristic slaving can be seen in Nathaniel Bacon's actions in Virginia during the late 1670s. In June 1676, the Virginia assembly granted Bacon and his men what equated to a slave-hunting license by providing that any enemy Native Americans caught were to be slaves for life. They also provided soldiers who had captured Native Americans with the right to "retain and keep all such Native American slaves or other Native American goods as they either have taken or hereafter shall take." [17] By this order, the assembly had made a public decision to enslave Native Americans. In the years to follow, other laws resulted in Native Americans being grouped with other non-Christian servants who had imported to the colonies (Negro slaves) as slaves for life.

Puritan New England, Virginia, Spanish Florida, and the Carolina colonies engaged in large-scale [ citation needed ] enslavement of Native Americans, often through the use of Indian proxies to wage war and acquire the slaves. In New England, slave raiding accompanied the Pequot War and King Philip's War but declined after the latter war ended in 1676. Enslaved Native Americans were in Jamestown from the early years of the settlement, [ citation needed ] but large-scale cooperation between English slavers and the West and Occaneechi peoples, whom they armed with guns, did not begin until the 1640s. These groups conducted enslaving raids in what is now Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and possibly Alabama. [18] The Carolina slave trade, which included both trading and direct raids by colonists, [19] was the largest among the British colonies in North America, [20] estimated at 24,000 to 51,000 Native Americans by Gallay. [21]

Historian Ulrich Phillips argues that Africans were inculcated as slaves and the best answer to the labor shortage in the New World because Native American slaves were more familiar with the environment, and would often successfully escape into the wilderness that African slaves had much more difficulty surviving in. Also, early colonial America depended heavily on the sugar trade, which led to malaria, a disease the Africans were far less susceptible to than Native American slaves. [22]

Carolinas Edit

The first African slaves in what would become the present day United States of America arrived August 9, 1526 in Winyah Bay, when Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón brought 600 colonists to start a colony. Records say the colonists included enslaved Africans, without saying how many. After a month Ayllón moved the colony to what is now Georgia. [7] [8]

Until the early 18th century, enslaved Africans were difficult to acquire in the colonies that became the United States, as most were sold to the West Indies, where the large plantations and high mortality rates required continued importation of slaves. One of the first major centers of African slavery in the English North American colonies occurred with the founding of Charles Town and the Province of Carolina in 1670. The colony was founded mainly by planters from the overpopulated English sugar island of Barbados, who brought relatively large numbers of African slaves from that island to establish new plantations. [23]

To meet agricultural labor needs, colonists also practiced Indian slavery for some time. The Carolinians transformed the Indian slave trade during the late 17th and early 18th centuries by treating such slaves as a trade commodity to be exported, mainly to the West Indies. Historian Alan Gallay estimates that between 1670 and 1715, between 24,000 and 51,000 captive Native Americans were exported from South Carolina—much more than the number of Africans imported to the colonies of the future United States during the same period. [24]

Georgia Edit

The first African slaves in what is now Georgia arrived in mid-September 1526 with Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón's establishment of San Miguel de Gualdape on the current Georgia coast. [7] [8] [25] [26] [27] They rebelled and lived with indigenous people, destroying the colony in less than 2 months. [25] [28]

Two centuries later, Georgia was the last of the Thirteen Colonies to be established and the furthest south (Florida was not one of the Thirteen Colonies). Founded in the 1730s, Georgia's powerful backers did not object to slavery as an institution, but their business model was to rely on labor from Britain (primarily England's poor) and they were also concerned with security, given the closeness of then Spanish Florida, and Spain's regular offers to enemy-slaves to revolt or escape. Despite agitation for slavery, it was not until a defeat of the Spanish by Georgia colonials in the 1740s that arguments for opening the colony to slavery intensified. To staff the rice plantations and settlements, Georgia's proprietors relented in 1751, and African slavery grew quickly. After becoming a royal colony, in the 1760s Georgia began importing slaves directly from Africa. [29]

Florida Edit

One African slave, Estevanico arrived with the Narváez expedition in Tampa Bay in April 1528 and marched north with the expedition until September, when they embarked on rafts from the Wakulla River, heading for Mexico. [30] African slaves arrived again in Florida in 1539 with Hernando de Soto, and in the 1565 founding of St. Augustine, Florida. [27] [28] When St. Augustine, FL, was founded in 1565, the site already had enslaved Native Americans, whose ancestors had migrated from Cuba. [4] The Spanish settlement was sparse and they held comparatively few slaves. [31]

The Spanish promised freedom to refugee slaves from the English colonies of South Carolina and Georgia in order to destabilize English settlement. [32] [33] If the slaves converted to Catholicism and agreed to serve in a militia for Spain, they could become Spanish citizens. By 1730 the black settlement known as Fort Mose developed near St. Augustine and was later fortified. There were two known Fort Mose sites in the eighteenth century, and the men helped defend St. Augustine against the British. It is "the only known free black town in the present-day southern United States that a European colonial government-sponsored. [34] The Fort Mose Site, today a National Historic Landmark, is the location of the second Fort Mose." [34] During the nineteenth century, this site became marsh and wetlands.

In 1763, Great Britain took over Florida in an exchange with Spain after defeating France in the Seven Years' War. Spain evacuated its citizens from St. Augustine, including the residents of Fort Mose, transporting them to Cuba. As Britain developed the colony for plantation agriculture, the percentage of slaves in the population in twenty years rose from 18% to almost 65% by 1783. [35]

Texas and the southwest Edit

An African slave, Estevanico arrived by raft from Florida with the remnants of the Narváez expedition in Galveston in November 1528. The group headed south on the mainland in 1529, when they were captured and held by Native Americans until 1535. [30] They traveled northwest to the Pacific Coast, then south along the coast to San Miguel de Culiacán which had been founded in 1531, and then to Mexico City. [30]

Spanish Texas had few African slaves, but enslaved many Native Americans. [36] Spain freed slaves who escaped from the Louisiana territory, beginning in 1803. [37] More African slaves arrived with American settlers.

Virginia and Chesapeake Bay Edit

The first recorded Africans in Virginia arrived in late August 1619. The White Lion, a privateer ship owned by Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick but flying a Dutch flag, docked at what is now Old Point Comfort (located in modern-day Hampton) with approximately 20 Africans. They were captives from the area of present-day Angola and had been seized by the British crew from a Portuguese slave ship, the "São João Bautista". [38] [39] To obtain the Africans, the Jamestown colony traded provisions with the ship. [40] These individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, since slave laws were not passed until later, in 1641 in Massachusetts and in 1661 in Virginia. [41] Virginia enacted laws concerning runaway slaves and 'negroes' in 1672. [42]

Some number of the colony's early Africans earned freedom by fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity. [43] At least one of these, Anthony Johnson, in turn, acquired slaves or indentured servants for workers himself. Historians such as Edmund Morgan say this evidence suggests that racial attitudes were much more flexible in early 17th-century Virginia than they would later become. [44] A 1625 census recorded 23 Africans in Virginia. In 1649 there were 300, and in 1690 there were 950. [45] Over this period, legal distinctions between white indentured servants and "Negros" widened into lifelong and inheritable chattel-slavery for Africans. [46]

New England Edit

The 1677 work The Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians documents English colonial prisoners of war (not, in fact, opposing combatants, but imprisoned members of English-allied forces) being enslaved and sent to Caribbean destinations in the aftermath of Metacom's War. [47] [48] Captive indigenous opponents, including women and children, were also sold into slavery at a substantial profit, to be transported to West Indies colonies. [49] [50]

Slaves, African and Native American, made up a smaller part of the New England economy, which was based on yeoman farming and trades, and a smaller fraction of the population, but they were present. [51] Most were house servants, but some worked at farm labor. [52] The Puritans codified slavery in 1641. [53] [54] The Massachusetts royal colony passed the Body of Liberties, which prohibited slavery in some instances, but did allow three legal bases of slavery. [54] Slaves could be held if they were captives of war if they sold themselves into slavery, were purchased from elsewhere, or if they were sentenced to slavery by the governing authority. [54] The Body of Liberties used the word "strangers" to refer to people bought and sold as slaves, as they were generally not English subjects. Colonists came to equate this term with Native Americans and Africans. [55]

The New Hampshire Assembly in 1714 passed "An Act To Prevent Disorders In The Night", prefiguring the development of sundown towns in the United States: [56] [57]

Whereas great disorders, insolencies and burglaries are oft times raised and committed in the night time by Indian, Negro, and Molatto Servants and Slaves to the Disquiet and hurt of her Majesty, No Indian, Negro, or Molatto is to be from Home after 9 o'clock.

Notices emphasizing and re-affirming the curfew were published in The New Hampshire Gazette in 1764 and 1771. [56]

New York and New Jersey Edit

The Dutch West India Company introduced slavery in 1625 with the importation of eleven enslaved blacks who worked as farmers, fur traders, and builders to New Amsterdam (present day New York City), capital of the nascent province of New Netherland. [58] The Dutch colony expanded across the North River (Hudson River) to Bergen (in today's New Jersey). Later, slaves were also held privately by settlers in the area. [59] [60] Although enslaved, the Africans had a few basic rights and families were usually kept intact. They were admitted to the Dutch Reformed Church and married by its ministers, and their children could be baptized. Slaves could testify in court, sign legal documents, and bring civil actions against whites. Some were permitted to work after hours earning wages equal to those paid to white workers. When the colony fell to the English in the 1660s, the company freed all its slaves, which created an early nucleus of free Negros in the area. [58]

The English continued to import more slaves. Enslaved Africans performed a wide variety of skilled and unskilled jobs, mostly in the burgeoning port city and surrounding agricultural areas. In 1703 more than 42% of New York City's households held slaves, a percentage higher than in the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, and second only to Charleston in the South. [61]

Midwest, Mississippi River, and Louisiana Edit

The French introduced legalized slavery into their colonies in New France both near the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. (They also used slave labor on their island colonies in the Caribbean: Guadeloupe and especially Saint-Domingue.) After the port of New Orleans was founded in 1718 with access to the Gulf Coast, French colonists imported more African slaves to the Illinois Country for use as agricultural or mining laborers. By the mid-eighteenth century, slaves accounted for as many as a third of the limited population in that rural area. [62]

Slavery was much more extensive in colonial Louisiana, where the French developed sugar cane plantations along the Mississippi River. Slavery was maintained during the French (1699–1763, and 1800–1803) and Spanish (1763–1800) periods of government. The first people enslaved by the French were Native Americans, but they could easily escape into the countryside which they knew well. Beginning in the early 18th century, the French imported Africans as laborers in their efforts to develop the colony. Mortality rates were high for both colonists and Africans, and new workers had to be imported.

Implemented in colonial Louisiana in 1724, Louis XIV of France's Code Noir regulated the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the French colonies. As a result, Louisiana and the Mobile area developed very different patterns of slavery compared to the British colonies. [63] As written, the Code Noir gave some rights to slaves, including the right to marry. Although it authorized and codified cruel corporal punishment against slaves under certain conditions, it forbade slave owners to torture slaves, to separate married couples (and to separate young children from their mothers). It required owners to instruct slaves in the Catholic faith, implying that Africans were human beings endowed with a soul, an idea that had not been acknowledged until then. [64] [65] [66]

The Code Noir forbade interracial marriages, but interracial relationships were formed in La Louisiane from the earliest years. In New Orleans society particularly, a formal system of concubinage, known as plaçage, developed. Usually formed between young white men and African or African-American women, these relationships were formalized with contracts that sometimes provided for freedom for a woman and her children (if she was still enslaved), education for the mixed-race children of the union, and sometimes a property settlement. The free people of color became an intermediate social caste between the whites and the mass of enslaved blacks many practiced artisan trades, and some acquired educations and property.

Gradually in the English colonies, slavery became known as a racial caste that generally encompassed all people of African descent, even if mixed race. From the 17th century, Virginia defined all children born to enslaved mothers as born into slavery, regardless of their father's ancestry. Similarly, Virginia denied that converting a slave to Christianity was grounds for freedom. Even free people of color or mixed-race (known as mulattoes) were restricted in their rights, especially as colonies passed harsher laws after early slave revolts. During the centuries of slavery in the British colonies, many slaves were of mixed-race ancestry. [63] [66]

Colonial slave rebellions before 1776, or before 1801 for Louisiana, include:

While the British knew about Spanish and Portuguese slave trading, they did not implement slave labor in the Americas until the 17th century. [68] British travelers were fascinated by the dark-skinned people they found in West Africa they developed mythologies that situated them in their view of the cosmos. [69]

The first Africans to arrive in England came voluntarily in 1555 with John Lok (an ancestor of the famous philosopher John Locke). Lok intended to teach them English in order to facilitate the trading of material goods with West Africa. [70] This model gave way to a slave trade initiated by John Hawkins, who captured 300 Africans and sold them to the Spanish. [71] Blacks in England were subordinate but never had the legal status of chattel slaves. [72]

In 1607, England established Jamestown as its first permanent colony on the North American continent. [73] Tobacco became the chief commodity crop of the colony, due to the efforts of John Rolfe in 1611. Once it became clear that tobacco was going to drive the Jamestown economy, more workers were needed for the labor-intensive crop. The British aristocracy also needed to find a labor force to work on its sugar plantations in the Americas. The major sources were indentured servants from Britain, Native Americans, and West Africans. [74] During this period, Barbados became an English Colony in 1624 and the Caribbean's Jamaica in 1655. These and other Caribbean colonies became the center of wealth generated from sugar cane and the focus of the slave trade for the growing English empire. [75]

The English entertained two lines of thought simultaneously toward the indigenous Native Americans. Because these people were lighter-skinned, they were seen as more European and therefore as candidates for civilization. At the same time, because they were occupying the land desired by the colonial powers, they were from the beginning, targets of potential military attack. [76]

At first, indentured servants were used for labor. [77] These servants provided up to seven years of service in exchange for having their trip to Jamestown paid for by someone in Jamestown. Once the seven years were over, the indentured servant was free to live in Jamestown as a regular citizen. However, colonists began to see indentured servants as too costly, in part because the high mortality rate meant the force had to be resupplied.

In 1619, an English Privateer, The White Lion, with Dutch letters of marque, brought African slaves pillaged from a Portuguese slave ship to Point Comfort. [78]

Several colonial colleges held enslaved people as workers and relied on them to operate. [79]

The development of slavery in 17th-century America Edit

The laws relating to slavery and their enforcement hardened in the second half of the 17th century, and the prospects for Africans and their descendants grew increasingly dim. By 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant, John Punch, to slavery. [80] In 1656 Elizabeth Key won a suit for freedom based on her father's status as a free Englishman, and his having baptized her as Christian in the Church of England. In 1662 the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law with the doctrine of partus, stating that any child born in the colony would follow the status of its mother, bond or free. This was an overturn of a longheld principle of English Common Law, whereby a child's status followed that of the father. It enabled slaveholders and other white men to hide the mixed-race children born of their rape of slave women and removed their responsibility to acknowledge, support, or emancipate the children.

During the second half of the 17th century, the British economy improved and the supply of British indentured servants declined, as poor Britons had better economic opportunities at home. At the same time, Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 led planters to worry about the prospective dangers of creating a large class of restless, landless, and relatively poor white men (most of them former indentured servants). Wealthy Virginia and Maryland planters began to buy slaves in preference to indentured servants during the 1660s and 1670s, and poorer planters followed suit by c.1700. (Slaves cost more than servants, so initially only the wealthy could invest in slaves.) The first British colonists in Carolina introduced African slavery into the colony in 1670, the year the colony was founded, and Charleston ultimately became the busiest slave port in North America. Slavery spread from the South Carolina Lowcountry first to Georgia, then across the Deep South as Virginia's influence had crossed the Appalachians to Kentucky and Tennessee. Northerners also purchased slaves, though on a much smaller scale. Enslaved people outnumbered free whites in South Carolina from the early 1700s to the Civil War. An authoritarian political culture evolved to prevent slave rebellion and justify white slaveholding. Northern slaves typically dwelled in towns, rather than on plantations as in the South, and worked as artisans and artisans' assistants, sailors and longshoremen, and domestic servants. [81]

In 1672, King Charles II rechartered the Royal African Company (it had initially been set up in 1660), as an English monopoly for the African slave and commodities trade—thereafter in 1698, by statute, the English parliament opened the trade to all English subjects. [82] The slave trade to the mid-Atlantic colonies increased substantially in the 1680s, and by 1710 the African population in Virginia had increased to 23,100 (42% of total) Maryland contained 8,000 Africans (23% of total). [83] In the early 18th century, England passed Spain and Portugal to become the world's leading slave-trader. [82] [84]

The North American royal colonies not only imported Africans but also captured Native Americans, impressing them into slavery. Many Native Americans were shipped as slaves to the Caribbean. Many of these slaves from the British colonies were able to escape by heading south, to the Spanish colony of Florida. There they were given their freedom if they declared their allegiance to the King of Spain and accepted the Catholic Church. In 1739 Fort Mose was established by African American freedmen and became the northern defense post for St. Augustine. In 1740, English forces attacked and destroyed the fort, which was rebuilt in 1752. Because Fort Mose became a haven for escaped slaves from the English colonies to the north, it is considered a precursor site of the Underground Railroad. [85]

Chattel slavery developed in British North America before the full legal apparatus that supported slavery did. During the late 17th century and early 18th century, harsh new slave codes limited the rights of African slaves and cut off their avenues to freedom. The first full-scale slave code in British North America was South Carolina's (1696), which was modeled on the colonial Barbados slave code of 1661 and was updated and expanded regularly throughout the 18th century. [86]

A 1691 Virginia law prohibited slaveholders from emancipating slaves unless they paid for the freedmen's transportation out of Virginia. [87] Virginia criminalized interracial marriage in 1691, [88] and subsequent laws abolished blacks' rights to vote, hold office, and bear arms. [87] Virginia's House of Burgesses established the basic legal framework for slavery in 1705. [89]

The Atlantic slave trade to North America Edit

Of the enslaved Africans brought to the New World an estimated 5–7% ended up in British North America. The vast majority of slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean were sent to the Caribbean sugar colonies, Brazil, or Spanish America. Throughout the Americas, but especially in the Caribbean, tropical disease took a large toll on their population and required large numbers of replacements. Many Africans had limited natural immunity to yellow fever and malaria but malnutrition, poor housing, inadequate clothing allowances, and overwork contributed to a high mortality rate.

In British North America the slave population rapidly increased via the birth rate, whereas in the Caribbean colonies they did not. The lack of proper nourishment, being suppressed sexually, and poor health are possible reasons. Of the small numbers of babies born to slaves in the Caribbean, only about 1/4 survived the miserable conditions on sugar plantations.

It was not only the major colonial powers of Western Europe such as France, England, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands that were involved. Other countries, including Sweden and Denmark, participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade though on a much more limited scale.

Sexual role differentiation and slavery Edit

"Depending upon their age and gender, slaves were assigned a particular task, or tasks, that had to be completed during the course of the day." [90] In certain settings, men would participate in the hard labor, such as working on the farm, while women would generally work in the household. They would "be sent out on errands but in most cases their jobs required that they spend much of their time within their owner's household." [91] These gender distinctions were mainly applied in the Northern colonies and on larger plantations. In Southern colonies and smaller farms, however, women and men typically engaged in the same roles, both working in the tobacco crop fields for example.

Although slave women and men in some areas performed the same type of day-to-day work, "[t]he female slave . was faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purpose of reproduction." [92] This reproduction would either be forced between one African slave and another, or between the slave woman and the owner. Slave owners saw slave women in terms of prospective fertility. That way, the number of slaves on a plantation could multiply without having to purchase another African. Unlike the patriarchal society of white Anglo-American colonists, "slave families" were more matriarchal in practice. "Masters believed that slave mothers, like white women, had a natural bond with their children that therefore it was their responsibility—more so than that of slave fathers—to care for their offspring." [93] Therefore, women had the extra responsibility, on top of their other day-to-day work, to take care of children. Men, in turn, were often separated from their families. "At the same time that slaveholders promoted a strong bond between slave mothers and their children, they denied to slave fathers their paternal rights of ownership and authority. " [93] Biological families were often separated by sale.

Indentured servitude Edit

Some historians such as Edmund Morgan and Lerone Bennett have suggested that indentured servitude provided a model for slavery in the 17th-century Crown Colonies. In practice, indentured servants were teenagers in England whose fathers sold their labor voluntarily for a period of time (typically four to seven years), in return for free passage to the colonies, room and board and clothes, and training in an occupation. After that, they received cash, clothing, tools, and/or land, and became ordinary settlers.

The Quaker Petition Against Slavery Edit

In 1688, four German Quakers in Germantown, a town outside Philadelphia, wrote a petition against the use of slaves by the English colonists in the nearby countryside. They presented the petition to their local Quaker Meeting, and the Meeting was sympathetic, but could not decide what the appropriate response should be. The Meeting passed the petition up the chain of authority to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, where it continued to be ignored. It was archived and forgotten for 150 years.

The Quaker petition was the first public American document of its kind to protest slavery. It was also one of the first public declarations of universal human rights. While the petition was forgotten for a time, the idea that every human has equal rights were regularly discussed in Philadelphia Quaker society through the eighteenth century.

During the Great Awakening of the late eighteenth century, Methodist and Baptist preachers toured in the South, trying to persuade planters to manumit their slaves on the basis of equality in God's eyes. They also accepted slaves as members and preachers of new chapels and churches. The first black churches (all Baptist) in what became the United States were founded by slaves and free blacks in Aiken County, South Carolina, in 1773, [94] Petersburg, Virginia, in 1774, and Savannah, Georgia, in 1778, before the end of the Revolutionary War. [95] [96]

Slavery was officially recognized as a serious offense in 1776 by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. [97] [98] [99] The Yearly Meeting had been against slavery since the 1750's. [100] [101]

East Indian slaves Edit

In the early 21st century, new research has revealed that small numbers of East Indians were brought to the colonies as enslaved laborers, during the period when both India and the colonies were under British control. As an example, an ad in the Virginia Gazette of Aug. 4, 1768, describes one young "East Indian" as "a well made fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high" who had "a thin visage, a very sly look, and a remarkable set of fine white teeth." Another slave is identified as "an East India negro man" who speaks French and English. [102] Most of the Indian slaves were already converted to Christianity, were fluent in English, and took western names. [102] Their original names and homes are not known. Their descendants have mostly merged with the African-American community, which also incorporated European ancestors. Today, descendants of such East Indian slaves may have a small percent of DNA from their Asiatic ancestors but it likely falls below the detectable levels for today's DNA tests. [103]

Beginning of the anti-slavery movement Edit

African and African American slaves expressed their opposition to slavery through armed uprisings such as the Stono Rebellion (1739) in South Carolina. More typically, they resisted through work slowdowns, tool-breaking, and running away, either for short periods or permanently. Until the Revolutionary era, almost no white American colonists spoke out against slavery. Even the Quakers generally tolerated slaveholding (and slave-trading) until the mid-18th century, although they emerged as vocal opponents of slavery in the Revolutionary era.

Late 18th and 19th century Edit

During and following the Revolution, the northern states all abolished slavery, with New Jersey acting last in 1804. Some of these state jurisdictions enacted the first abolition laws in the entire New World. [104] In states that passed gradual abolition laws, such as New York and New Jersey, children born to slave mothers had to serve an extended period of indenture into young adulthood. In other cases, some slaves were reclassified as indentured servants, effectively preserving the institution of slavery through another name. [105]

Often citing Revolutionary ideals, some slaveholders freed their slaves in the first two decades after independence, either outright or through their wills. The proportion of free blacks rose markedly in the Upper South in this period, before the invention of the cotton gin created a new demand for slaves in the developing "Cotton Kingdom" of the Deep South.

By 1808 (the first year allowed by the Constitution to federally ban the import slave trade), all states (except South Carolina) had banned the international buying or selling of slaves. Acting on the advice of President Thomas Jefferson, who denounced the international trade as "violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, in which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe", in 1807 Congress also banned the international slave trade. However, the domestic slave trade continued in the South. [106] It brought great wealth to the South, especially to New Orleans, which became the fourth largest city in the country, also based on the growth of its port. In the antebellum years, more than one million enslaved African Americans were transported from the Upper South to the developing Deep South, mostly in the slave trade. Cotton culture, dependent on slavery, formed the basis of new wealth in the Deep South.

In 1844 the Quaker petition was rediscovered and became a focus of the burgeoning abolitionist movement.

Emancipation Proclamation and end of slavery in the US Edit

On 1 January 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in areas in rebellion during the American Civil War when Union troops advanced south. The Thirteenth Amendment (abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude) was ratified in December 1865.

Slavery in Colonial British North America

What are some common misconceptions about colonial history?


While there are many misconceptions about this time period in American history, some of the most egregious surround the institution of slavery in the mainland colonies of British North America. It is common to read back into colonial times an understanding of slavery that is based on conditions that existed just prior to the Civil War. It is also important to understand slavery as an historical institution that changed over time and differed from place to place. To that end, one of the most common misconceptions is that slavery was a uniquely or distinctively Southern institution prior to the American Revolution.

In the 13 mainland colonies of British North America, slavery was not the peculiar institution of the South. This development would occur after the American Revolution and during the first decades of the 19th century. Although slaves had been sold in the American colonies since at least 1619, slave labor did not come to represent a significant proportion of the labor force in any part of North America until the last quarter of the 17th century. After that time, the numbers of slaves grew exponentially. By 1776, African Americans comprised about 20% of the entire population in the 13 mainland colonies.

This figure, however, masks important regional differences. It is important to remember that the North American mainland was a relatively minor destination in the global slave-trading network. Less than 4% of all African slaves were sent to North America. The vast majority of enslaved people ended up in sugar-producing regions of Brazil and the West Indies. On the mainland British colonies, the demand for labor varied by region. In contrast to the middle and New England colonies, the Southern colonies chose to export labor-intensive crops: tobacco in Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland) and rice and indigo in South Carolina, which were believed to be very profitable.

By the time of the American Revolution, slaves comprised about 60% of South Carolina's total population and 40% of Virginia's. While most enslaved people in the Chesapeake labored on small farms, many of those in South Carolina lived on large plantations with a large number of slaves. By 1750, one third of all low-country South Carolina slaves lived on units with 50 or more slaves. Ironically, those who lived on larger plantations were often allowed to complete their tasks for the day and then spend the rest of their time as they liked, free from white supervision. Those on smaller farms, however, often found themselves working side-by-side with their white masters, hired white laborers, and only a small number of slaves. As a result, they faced more scrutiny from whites, were expected to labor for the entire day, and had fewer opportunities to interact with other enslaved African Americans.

Although the largest percentages of slaves were found in the South, slavery did exist in the middle and Northern colonies. The overall percentage of slaves in New England was only 2-3%, but in cities such as Boston and Newport, 20-25% percent of the population consisted of enslaved laborers. Other large cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, also supported significant enslaved populations. Although enslaved people in cities and towns were not needed as agricultural workers, they were employed in a variety of other capacities: domestic servants, artisans, craftsmen, sailors, dock workers, laundresses, and coachmen. Particularly in urban areas, owners often hired out their skilled enslaved workers and collected their wages. Others were used as household servants and demonstrated high social status. Whatever the case, slaves were considered property that could be bought and sold. Slaves thus constituted a portion of the owners' overall wealth. Although Southern slaveholders had a deeper investment in slaves than Northerners, many Northerners, too, had significant portions of their wealth tied up in their ownership of enslaved people.

The widespread ownership of slaves had significant implications. During the battles with Britain during the 1760s and 1770s, American Patriots argued that taxing the colonies without their consent reduced the colonists to the status of slaves. Since individuals in all the colonies owned slaves, this rhetoric had enormous emotional resonance throughout the colonies and helped turn the colonists against the mother county. Moreover, once colonists started protesting against their own enslavement, it was hard to deny the fundamental contradiction that slavery established: enslavement for black people and freedom for white people. Awareness of this contradiction forced white Americans to look at slavery in a new light. If Americans chose to continue to enslave black people, they would have to devise new arguments to justify slavery. It was at this time that arguments about blacks' inherent racial inferiority emerged to rationalize the institution.

Nonetheless, during and immediately after the American Revolution, many individuals in both the North and the South took their revolutionary ideals seriously and concluded that slavery was unjust. They freed, or manumitted, their slaves. Yet each state decided for itself how to handle the issue. Northern states passed laws, or enacted judicial rulings, that either eliminated slavery immediately or put slavery on the road to gradual extinction. The story was different in the South. Because Southern states had a much deeper economic investment in slavery, they resisted any efforts to eliminate slavery within their boundaries. Although some (but not all) of the Southern states allowed individual owners to manumit their slaves if they chose, no Southern state passed legislation that ended slavery completely, either immediately or gradually. This divergence in approach was significant, as it began the time during which slavery would disappear from the North and become uniquely associated with the South. This moment was arguably the fork in the road that ultimately led the country to the sectional divisions that culminated in the coming of the Civil War.

For more information

PBS. Africans in America.
This site, associated with the PBS documentary series of the same name, contains numerous primary source documents relating to slaves and slavery in colonial British North America.

University of Virginia and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.
This website contains over 1,200 images of various aspects of the slave trade, including contemporaneous drawings of the capture in Africa, the Middle Passage, and life in the Americas.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.
This site contains information on over 35,000 slaving voyages throughout the entire world. The site, which includes interactive maps, provides information on specific slave ships estimates of the numbers of enslaved people brought from specific parts of Africa to specific parts of the Americas and an African names database as well as several scholarly essays which analyze the data.

Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
This book sketches out regional differences in the institution of slavery in various parts of North America and explores the relationship between slave labor and the economy. It also explores how regions changed over time to allow slavery to have more or less importance in defining the society's characteristics.

Carretta, Vincent. Equiano the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. New York, Penguin, 2005.
This is a critical analysis of one of the most famous autobiographies of an enslaved person who traveled throughout the Atlantic world in the colonial era.

Jordan, Winthrop D. White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.
This is a classic work that discusses changing American attitudes toward Africans and African Americans over time. The book includes a discussion of slavery in the colonial North as well as the South, and explores the effects of the American Revolution on slavery.

Slavery in Colonial America

Slavery began in North America when an unnamed Dutch ship brought a supply of twenty African slaves to Jamestown in 1619. The Dutch ship had been damaged by a battle and needed to be repaired and supplied. They traded their human chattel for the help they needed at port. The Jamestown residents, mostly made up of workers for the Virginia Trade Company, were not quite sure what to do with their new human property. It has been implied that the new found slaves had been treated like indentured slaves, however there is little to no evidence to prove this. Occasionally black slaves were set free during the early years of slavery for exceptional work, and this practice was continued through until the time of slaveries abolition. Though freedom was rare for most slaves and any that were freed were usually too old to enjoy their freedom.

The practice of owning slaves was not new to the Americas, since the white colonists had been using Native American captured peoples as slaves already. The colonists found that the black slaves were much easier to control and keep from running away than the Natives. The Spanish and Portuguese had been involved since the 1500’s and the Dutch early on had been against the practice of slave trading because they were against Spain and Portugal in general. It wasn’t until the Dutch West Indies Company founded a colony in Brazil and found the demand for sugar cane could not be met without slave workers. That was when they actively became involved in slave trading.

In 1624 when the Dutch settled New Amsterdam, they brought with them slaves up the Hudson Valley River to work. In 1641 the Massachusetts colony legalized slavery this was only 21 years since the pilgrims first settled in Plymouth. In 1649 the black slaves only numbered around 300, but with the increase demand of tobacco, cotton and rice the numbers were to swell to almost four million in 1860 before the Civil War.

The Quakers began showing disinterest in slavery as early as 1688 when a formal protest was held in Germantown, Pennsylvania. By 1776 the Quakers prohibit slave ownership within Quaker society. In 1774 Rhode Island and Connecticut prohibit anymore importation of slaves, yet continue to participate in slave trading to other states.

During the time leading up to the Revolutionary War, women had become active in seeking equality among the genders and started to look at the inequality of slavery. Though at this time it was not nearly as active as it will become after the War leading up to the Civil war, but it was starting to be looked at during the First Great Awakening. There were people who had started to question why if in God’s eyes we were all sons and daughters that some should be slaves, just because they didn’t know the word of God.

Following the Revolutionary war, slavery started to be looked at by the northern states more readily. Just a year after the States declared independence form Briton Vermont outlawed slavery as a whole. Residents are prohibited from keeping slaves without compensation, and slave trading and selling is strictly prohibited. Then in 1780 Massachusetts adapts laws prohibiting slavery, and Pennsylvania adapts an emancipation law for slaves when they reach 28 years old.

The years leading up to the Civil war are strife with conflict as more northern states abolition slavery. As the institute of slavery became more identified with the south, the rift between the northern and the southern states grew. But even with the abolition of slavery in the northern states, those slaves who escaped the south to come to the north were commonly sent back to their owners as it was still illegal to harbor runaway slaves in many northern states bordering slave states.

The treatment of the slaves in the south was atrocious. The auction block loomed over every slave family as a nightmare. Slaves were not allowed to marry and children were often separated from their families to reduce the incidents of escape posses forming. Even though the south was the riddled with slavery, only about 25% of the white residents in the south owned slaves. Some residents only owned a few, because they were rather poor farmers and could not afford more than that. The vast majority of slaves were owned by just a few rich plantation owners.

During the 1800’s as slavery grew to a booming business, many women who lived on plantation began to question the institute. Not so much in the way of if they should own slaves because it is wrong, but blaming the slave men and women for the deterioration of society. Many slave women were baring almost white children, though the status of the mother determined the status of the child, many white slave mistresses became frustrated when slave children were mistaken for their own. Mistresses would not blame their husbands for raping or having relations with the slave women, instead they targeted the slave women as being depraved and whorish.

Slaves would be whipped regularly if they tried to run away, were not producing enough, or simply angered their masters. Most slaves had to work even though they were sick or pregnant. Though most pregnant mothers had a few days off to give birth they would usually have to be back to work almost immediately and their babies would be given to a wet nurse.

There are accounts of slaves being starved to death, hung by a hook through their ribs, raped, beaten to death, burned, and tortured, all by their white owners to ensure docility of the rest of the groups. Most commonly white slave owners did not view their chattel slaves as human, but as stupid, ignorant heathens who did not even deserve life, let alone freedom.

The fight to abolish slavery picked up in the 1820’s as more white Northerner’s traveled to the south, or married into the southern slave owner’s worlds and saw the horrific conditions that slaves lived in. The abolitionists movement took off with writings from some like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, women’s movement leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Maria Stewart, Sarah and Angelina Grimk, Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), and Harriet Jacobs the escaped slave who wrote “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself.” These are only a few people who helped push the atrocities of slavery in the faces of the passive north.

The North was not completely against slavery either. There were several politicians who owned slave plantations in the south, but lived in the north, and losing slavery would mean losing profits for them. Much of the money generated in the South was done so by the slave labor. That is why the South fought so hard to maintain its slave labor force, so much so they were willing to go to war over it.

Many argue the Civil war was not over slavery, but we know the truth. Lincoln did not want to make the war out to be about slavery in the beginning for fear of a lack of support from foreign countries. He made it about the South wanting to secede from the rest of the country. But the only reason the South wanted to break away was their desire to keep slaves. So there was no way around the slave issue. The Civil war was about slavery. Much of the North’s common people were on the side of abolition, though some didn’t care, and others had interests in the South like plantations. But through it all the idea that just because people were a different color meant that they were less human did not win out.

Even after the Civil War was over, black people suffered extreme racism through the early 1960’s. They might have been freed, but there were still not allowed the same freedoms those who were white had. It was a struggled that took more than a hundred years after being freed to come to any resolution. Though now our Affirmative Action Laws are doing more harm than good in the racial issues departments, at least every citizen of the United States is considered equal in the eyes of the law, whether or not they are equal in the hearts of the citizens.

General Overviews

The study of colonial British American slavery has been transformed by the publication of Berlin 1998, in which slavery is treated as an institution constantly changing over time. It can also only be understood in the context of wider trends, as Blackburn 1997 insists. Even studies ostensibly about slavery in British North America look more widely than the thirteen colonies, as Littlefield 2010 demonstrates with his insistence on Barbadian precedents. Morgan and Hawkins 2004 places British American slavery within the context of the British Empire. Some textbook accounts concentrate on British North America, as Wood 2003 does, while Walvin 2007 puts more emphasis on Britain, and Morgan 2007 tends to stress developments in the British West Indies than on British North America. Wood 2005 combines a useful survey of colonial slavery with a careful selection of documents. What is still missing from the literature is a book that extends Berlin 1998 from British North America to the West Indies.

Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Wonderful work of synthesis of large body of scholarship on colonial and revolutionary North American slavery. His introduction of the concepts of the Atlantic Creole and the plantation revolution has been highly influential.

Blackburn, Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800. London: Verso, 1997.

Inspired by Marxist methodologies, this expansive and provocative book places the development of the British American plantation system in wider context. It emphasizes the close links between the development of “factories in the field” and modern capitalism.

Littlefield, Daniel C. “Colonial and Revolutionary United States.” In The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas. Edited by Robert L. Paquette and Mark M. Smith, 201–226. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Well-written short essay that stresses the importance of Barbadian precedents for shaping the development of plantation societies in the lower south of British North America.

Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Excellent short synthesis that contains first-rate summaries of the British slave trade as well as concise chapters on population, work, and resistance. Integrates the West Indies with British North America very well.

Morgan, Philip D., and Sean Hawkins, eds. Black Experience and the Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Contains six synthetic chapters outlining the experience of blacks in the British Empire, both in Africa and the Americas and within the slave trade and outside slavery.

Walvin, James. Britain’s Slave Empire. London: Tempus, 2007.

Accomplished synthetic survey by prolific writer on slavery and black life. Tends to put more emphasis on slave trade as a transformative event in African American life than in most surveys.

Wood, Betty. Slavery in Colonial America, 1619–1776. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.

Short and incisive summary of colonial slavery suitable for starting scholars accompanied by a well-chosen set of documents and an excellent bibliography.

Wood, Peter H. Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America, 1526–1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Short synthesis that stresses the brutal nature of slavery in British North America and the means by which Africans survived this process and began shaping a new African American culture.

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If you were enslaved at Monticello, would you have run away? Explore this and other challenges faced by Monticello's slaves.

Aerial view of Monticello showing House, Mulberry Row, and Vegetable Garden.

Aerial view of Monticello showing House, Mulberry Row, and Vegetable Garden.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation


Dr Hakim Adi (Ph.D SOAS, London University) is Reader in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at Middlesex University, London, UK. Hakim is the author of West Africans in Britain 1900-60: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (Lawrence and Wishart, 1998) and (with M. Sherwood) The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (New Beacon, 1995) and Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (Routledge, 2003). He has appeared in television documentaries and radio programmes, and has written widely on the history of the African Diaspora and Africans in Britain, including three history books for children.

Watch the video: Fesseln - Kompletter Film (May 2022).


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