Slavery in British America: Revolutionary Period












Danielle Hume

Introduction to the Revolutionary Era

After the Revolutionary War there was a deliberation over slavery in America. The Revolutionary War was fought so there would be freedom for all, therefore there should be freedom for all no matter what race or color. However, many Southerners thought differently, they needed the slaves to work for them and without them they would have to do the work themselves or pay someone to do it. The southerners fought for the legalization of slavery to the very end.

      Before the Revolution slavery was a way of life and the population of slaves start to grow after 1700. However, after the Revolution there were efforts here and there to reduce slave trade. Legislatures in the north abolished slavery over an extended period then in 1787 the Northwest Ordinance outlawed slavery. As a result there was thousands of free slaves in the south, but it did not stop the southerners from having slaves. The tie slaveholders once had with nonslaveholders, such as the Patriots and Liberalists, ended. The nonslaveholders got together with slaves to fight the southerners.

      War was only the beginning of the slaveholders’ problems. The Declaration of Independence gave the slaves more strength than before. Many of the slaveholders armed their slaves with weapons so they could defend themselves against the nonslaveholders. In 1775 Thomas Paine said, “How can Americans complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them while they hold so many hundred in slavery” (Berlin 220). Many Americans stood behind Paine and were firmly against slavery.

      In 1789, the France's Revolutionary Assembly publicized the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Three years later in 1794 the General Assembly abolished slavery. Saint Domingue was affected seriously.  The black people in Saint Domingue got liberty, equality, and full citizenship. This eventually lead to a dispute between white and black people. The incidents in Saint Domingue spread throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. In the United States, slaves in Louisiana and Florida won their freedom and they demanded full equality as well. 

      The growing number of freed slaves increased, which gave hope to many slaves that were still in bondage. Many free blacks were examples for those that were still enslaved. They showed that freedom was possible and that there will one day be a chance that they too will be free. Most free blacks wanted universal freedom for all people enslaved. “The Age of Revolution witnessed the liberation of only a small fraction of the slaves in mainland North America” (Berlin 223). At the end of the revolutionary era more black people were slaves than in the beginning. This was because of the reopening of the slave trade. The slaveowners thought that if all men were created equal then those that are slaves are not men. If they were created equal then they would not be slaves. This had a major influence on both white and black Americans. 

      The same slaveowners that freed their slaves bought more and most of the same slaves that were freed ended up as slaves once again. Slaveholders were then given new weapons to beat their slaves. “As in earlier eras, the transit between slavery and freedom was neither direct nor linear” (Berlin 224). 

      African American lifestyle changed drastically during the revolutionary era. African American men and women created new lives for themselves. Their population grew quickly between 1775 and 1810. However, the number of slaves that were held captive grew even larger. Many slaves made sure nobody would take their freedom from them by making new names, keeping their masters’ name, changing around their lifestyle, finding new homes and jobs. They also created new communities and new identities as free men and women. Many slaves moved to the city others stayed in the countryside. Many adopted Christianity as their religion and many others fought for freedom for all. Election Day was a day black people could show that they were truly a citizen, a day they enjoyed. “Ritual role reversal might be celebrated by those whose aspirations encompassed only the faint hope for some future liberation; it held little attraction for those who believed equality to be their birth right.

      Many white Americans were not happy with having freed slaves among them. They were happy that the slaves were free from enslavement, but they didn’t like the fact they had equal rights (to some extent). However, that did not stop the slaves from claiming their place in society. Many moved back to the motherland, Africa for a new fresh start at life. Black men and woman that gained their freedom during the revolutionary era were extremely different from the older generations of slaves. The older generation of slaves was those from Africa and the current generation was born here therefore, they don’t have the same customs and values like the older generation.

      The Revolutionary era also changed the relationship between the different groups of black people. There were major differences between African born man and women and American born men and women, but this mattered less as many more Africans were bought to the United States. The American Revolution showed the differences among black people but also showed they were fighting for one common reason, freedom. In the black community the difference between the slaves and free blacks which created new divisions in the community.

      Freeing slaves was a big issue across the world because slaves cut the job you have to do by half and you don’t have to pay them. After the American Revolution letting the slaves free came up as an issue. The Americans were fighting for freedom for all and black people should be given freedom. Many places gave their slaves freedom but slaveowners in the south were very stubborn. They went as far as to say that slaves were not men and they weren’t created equal like every white man. In the end many people including free blacks fought for their freedom and got it. God did create all people equal and it took a revolutionary war for people to see it the way God sees it.

Works Cited
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone. New York:   1998.

Vincent, Stephen A. United States Social History 1865. March 18,  1997. Online. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Internet.   13,Jan.1999.Available ftp: