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
Columbuss 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
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 mans
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
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 1640s 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.
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
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 sugars 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 Chesapeakes 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 Bacons 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 1690s, 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 1680s , the Chesapeakes 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
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
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 peoples minds and convinced them that
slavery was inhumane.
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.