Early slavery in America
History relating to slavery is evident in almost every nation, religion as well as culture and from the ancient to present times. Although the social, legal as well as economic perception on slavery vary between nations, most countries around the world have for a long time perceived it as a strong and established institution. Slavery was uncommon in the hunter-gatherer communities but it was prevalent in most other civilizations (Gregory, 2013). While slavery emerged from as early as the Sumerian era, it was mainly perpetuated through the Ottoman wars that led to the captivity of huge numbers of Christian slaves. The Dutch as well as the British were responsible in perpetuating the Atlantic slavery. Whatever role that civilizations played in the slavery era, the fact remains that more than three-quarters of all people from around the world were detained in bondage against their consent either in a certain aspect of slavery or some form of servitude (Berlin, 2000). This paper looks at early slavery in United States.
Early slavery in United States
Early slavery in United States can trace its roots in 1619 when African slaves were taken to North America during Jamestown’s colony to help in the production of profitable crops that included tobacco. According to Klein (2007), slavery was popular throughout the United States’ particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries when the African –Americans were forcefully engaged in the development of economic basics of the new nation. The introduction of the cotton gin was especially important in solidifying the role of slavery in building South America’s economy. Slavery gained popularity particularly at the dawn of the 17th century (Rachell, 2012). During this time, most European settlers opted for African slaves that could offer cheaper and more productive labour resources compared to the indentured servants mainly from the poor European communities. As a result, about twenty Africans were brought by a Dutch ship to the British colony in 1619. Afterwards, slavery started spreading throughout the United States colonies. This led to more than seven million slaves being imported into the new World during the eighteenth century alone thereby depriving the African continent of highly productive men and women (Gregory, 2013).
Slaves imported into United States’ territory mainly worked in major plantations comprising of rice, tobacco as well as indigo particularly in southern coast. According to Berlin (2000), the end of the American Evolution in 1770s saw most colonists, especially in North America where slavery was insignificant, linking the practice to the oppression perpetuated by the British. They thus started calling for the abolition of slave trade as a way of liberating the Africans trapped in bondage. However, the establishment of a new US constitution practically acknowledged this institution by counting every slave as a three-fifth of a person. This calculation was intended to enhance the collection of taxes as well as the Africans’ representation in Congress. By late 18th Century, the land used in cultivating tobacco plantations was nearly exhausted and as a result the South started facing an alarming economic crisis. This led to the significant transition in cotton production and the subsequent intensification in slave trade (Klein, 2007).
Slavery was not prevalent in the North although most of the region’s business people invested on slave trade as well as employed slave labor in the southern plantations. Between 1770s and 1800s, the Northern states ended slavery, which was not the case in the South where this peculiar institution was highly esteemed. As explained by Gregory (2013), the US congress vetoed slave trade at the dawn of 1808 but the practice flourished in the domestic realm. This saw the slave population living in United States nearly tripling to reach over four million with more than half of them living in cotton plantations in the South. Slaves in the Southern region constituted to more than one-third of the entire population, which allowed most masters to own at least fifty slaves each. Slave owners were fond of controlling their lives as well as making slaves fully dependent on them. The owners prohibited their slaves from learning how to read or write and their every move was controlled. Although they were allowed to marry and raise families, they would often be separated either by sale or even by removal (Berlin, 2000).
Such oppressions led to various slave revolts that would often be resisted by slave owners with violence. A few of these revolts were however successful including those guided by Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vasey in 1800 and 1822 respectively. The most shocking revolt was the one guided by Nat Turner, which involved more than seventy blacks that murdered over sixty whites within two days before being interrupted by local whites and state military. Constant slave revolts were followed by the rise of an abolitionist movement that was guided by free blacks including Frederick Douglas and certain white supporters that included William Lloyd. According to Rachell (2012), most abolitionists founded their activism on the thought that slaveholding was evil while others founded it on the belief that it was regressive, ineffective and generated little economic benefits.
The beginning of early slavery in United States resulted from early Americans’ desire to access cheap but highly productive labor. Slaves were initially engaged in building the American economy through working in tobacco, indigo and rice plantations. The introduction of cotton gin however intensified the demand for slaves that could work in cotton plantations especially in the Southern region. Slavery in the northern region was rare but businessmen from this region perpetuated it by investing as well as managing huge plantation fields that needed cheap slave-labor in the south. Severe oppression by slave owners led to various revolts and the subsequent abolition movements led by free black men and few white people that opposed slavery.
Berlin, I. (2000). Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. London: Belknap Press.
Gregory, M. (2013). America’s Longest Seige: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow Match Towards Civil War, South Carolina Historical Magazine, 111(4):123-567.
Klein, H. (2007). African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. London: Oxford University Press.
Rachell, S. (2012). Bondage: Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America, The Western Journal of Black Studies, 36(4):652-917.