U.S. History to 1877
29 November 2018
The Roots of Slavery in the United States
In the United States, slavery remains to be a controversial issue that is taught and discussed throughout today’s society, which marks a major role in not only the shaping of our country but the history of the United States as well, which is still playing out today with racism in the spotlight and its direct link to slavery. Slavery is defined as a person being owned by someone, a state of bondage, servitude, or work performed under harsh conditions for little or no pay. From the likings of slavery our country has witnessed the triggering of numerous rebellions, a revolution, and a bloody civil war from decisions based on slavery and the rights of all men regardless of race or color. Throughout this paper, we will trace just a few of the major events of slavery in the colonies which began in the Chesapeake Bay, up to its abolishment in 1865.
During the early years of the Chesapeake Bay settlements, many of the settlers found it difficult to attract and maintain laborers due to the rough weather conditions and little known knowledge of the terrain, coupled with the fact that they performed little to no labor themselves. Because of this it created the issue of high mortality rates among its settling population. Most laborers came from Europe as indentured servants, who were too poor to pay for their own passage over to the New World, and would sign contracts to pay for their rights of passage and that of their family members as well, and in return would work off their debt owed to the contracting party with work usually performed on a farm or plantation or inside homes. These indentured servants were often young able bodied people who intended to become permanent residents once they would pay off their debts to the contracting person or parties. The first Africans to be brought to the New World landed in Virginia in 1619. They arrived on a Dutch ship named “Man of War” which captured the Africans from the Spanish merchants. These 20 individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, and a significant number of enslaved Africans earned their freedoms by fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity. The transformation from indentured servitude to slavery was a gradual process among the Virginia settlements. Driven by the need for large quantities of products to be sold, the need for cheap labor quickly became an issue that was needed to be addressed and solved by plantation farmers throughout the colonies.
A man by the name of John Rolfe quickly realized the enormous potential of profit that could be made from the importation of unfree or immigrant laborers. Rolfe’s establishment of a viable tobacco plant in Virginia served as a major drive for the adoption of African slavery as the southern regions main laboring system. Tobacco was a labor intensive crop that was extremely demanding, requiring the field workers to spend long hours exerting much of their physical and mental energy tending to the crops of the famers and plantation owners under the smoldering hot sun. Most European settlers or indentured servants proved to be unfitting for this labor, due to the fact that they themselves were not used to these extreme weather conditions that proved to be too hot and humid and in part because they simply rejected to do such work. Some European indentured servants were still conscripted to work on the fields, but as the 17th century progressed, it demonstrated to be more and more difficult for the settlers to convince these European immigrants to work under these stressful and harsh conditions.
The importation of African slaves solved many of these farmer and plantation owners’ problems. African slaves with their physicality were more used these brutal weather conditions that mimicked their homelands in which they were taken from, and being capable of performing such labor required of them for longer periods of time than European indentured servants. Some African leaders, seeing the profits that were being made by these European nations, proved extremely receptive to the idea of selling other Africans into slavery for profit, so that most of the kidnapping of Africans and forcing them into bondage was actually done by other Africans, requiring even less effort on the part of whites to sustain the slave trade system.
For all these reasons, African slavery quickly emerged as a desirable and profitable labor system, and between 1700 to 1770 slaves made the most striking contribution to the booming southern colonies, transforming the racial profile of the population. Slavery became the defining characteristic of the southern colonies during the 18th century, shaping the regions economy, society, and politics aspects. Slave masters favored black slaves to European indentured servants not only for the notion that they served for life, but the fact that colonial laws did not limit the force that the slave masters could use against their slaves.
Rebellions started to grow as slaves escalated their acts of aggression towards their owners in relation to the harsh treatments received at the hands of their masters. One notable rebellions was the Stono Rebellion of 1739, where a group of slaves attacked a country store and killed its storekeepers along with ravaging the stores stock of supplies, and along the way attracting other slaves to join them resulting in more than a dozen plantations burned to the ground, and killed more than twenty people along the way. The rebellion was quickly snuffed out and the slaves’ heads were placed along posts on the main roads into town to remind the slaves of the ramifications of their disobedience.
The next couple of events looked at is the Naturalization Law of 1790, in which provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of citizenship. This law limited naturalization to immigrants who were free white persons of good character. The law excluded American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, although free blacks were allowed citizenship at the state level in certain states. Later in 1807 slave trade was outlawed with an act in which prohibited the importation and selling of slaves and mandated that no new slaves were allowed to be imported into the United States. Although outlawed this act was not followed to its strict guidance as slaves were still being imported into the country. Even though slave trade was outlawed, it didn’t end slavery itself and the country continued on a path that would lead to bloody and devastating conflicts with not only pitting slaves against their masters, but states against states.
From 1854-1861 a brutal series of conflicts arose in Kansas earning the name “Bleeding Kansas.” With these conflicts erupting, Kansas became one of the most looked at regions for slavery talks. Fights between anti and pro slavery factors continued until Kansas joined the United States as a free state in 1861, which is the same year that the civil war began.
Slavery was one of, if not the major contributing factors of the Civil War. Southern political leaders were defiant of the Northern political leaders’ attempts to block the augmentation of slavery into the western territories. Slaves’ lives went through great changes during the war as the Southern states saw the Northern Armies take control of broad areas of their lands with decisive victories over the Confederate Armies due to the resources that were being committed to the Union. While the civil war was playing out and much before it, slaves played vital roles in their own emancipation and break away attempts from slavery, with the Underground Railroad, then slaves that were forced to fight on the confederate side breaking the lines and rushing toward the Union lines for freedom during the war.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves that were held in confederate territories legally free. Following the reconstruction period, in the earlier months of 1865, Southern states attempted to require separation of the races in public places and facilities through laws passed called the Black Codes. They were a set of restrictive laws that were designed to suppress the newly freedom and independence granted to them by ensuring cheap labor by forcing African Americans to sign yearly labor contracts much cheaper than the white working force. If African Americans refused to sign these contracts and pay taxes to work in other areas other than servant or plantation work, they were arrested, fined and forced to work unpaid labor. Slavery was ultimately abolished on December 18th 1865 with the 13th amendment.
In conclusion, Slavery of blacks in the United States began with the slaves being brought through the colonies in the Chesapeake Bay, where it swiftly became the force of the laboring system for mass profit of farmers and plantation owners, to cheap or free labor in homes, mainly in the Southern colonies. With slavery in widespread use, during that time, it appeared too difficult to completely eliminate because whites felt that the slaves were inferiorly lower than them and denied them as such. The continuous efforts by many African Americans and some whites during the many rebellions and trials and tribulations with acts and codes being set in place, up to the final abolishment of slavery in our country with the ratification of amendments to block or deny such harsh and inhumane treatment of individuals or groups leaves and dark spot in our countries uprising, but like any great nation there has to be a tarnish of darkness and negativity, to allow us to learn and grow from the mistakes or decisions made in the past and thrive as a nation of equal individuals with equal opportunities.