Why did the institution of racial slavery develop in every colony in British America? Slavery has plagued nearly every part of the world, from ancient Greece to modern Mauritania in 2007; countless government bodies have sanctioned the ‘civil relationship in which one person has absolute power over the life, fortune, and liberty of another’. North American slavery began in the early seventeenth century; however the stage was set as early as the fourteenth century, when the wealthy nations of Spain and Portugal began importing captive slaves from Africa to Europe. When these practices extended into the newly conquered Caribbean and West Indies in the mid-1600s, Virginia colonists began to take note of the phenomenal agricultural production that occurred. Subsequently, directly or indirectly, all thirteen British colonies in North America grew to depend on slavery for their economy. However this was not the case in the early years of colonization. Due to the growing interest in Europe for the labour intensive cultivation of tobacco in Virginia, plantation owners enlisted white indentured servants to perform most of the heavy labour. However by 1660, a small percentage of Virginian planters held slaves; but by 1675 slavery was well established. By 1700 interest in the slave trade boomed, eclipsing the use of indentured servants. With plentiful land and cheap shackled hands to tend it, southern planters prospered over the lucrative crop of tobacco, cotton and sugar. Slavery had elevated into the workings of every-day life, becoming a social and economic norm. To point the finger to Spain and Portugal, as the sole cause which inspired the struggling Virginian plantation owners to coalesce the sanction of slavery, would be a highly narrow retrospective view. Firstly, “there was no basis for the assertion that such a colony as South Carolina simply adopted slavery from the French or British West Indies”1. Travellers from the mainland may have noted the advantages of Negro labour there; but they hardly thought of chattel slavery. Furthermore the sanction of slavery was a political reform, one which would therefore be enacted in favour of the ruling classes. A booming agriculture subsequently created an upper class of successful, wealthy plantation owners. Up till 1670 Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and New Jersey had already legalized slavery. Carolina (later North Carolina and South Carolina) in particular, was mainly founded by planters from the overpopulated British sugar island colony of Barbados who brought “relatively large numbers of African slaves from that island”2. Seeping into each colony, slavery came to replace the indentured servants that existed. However the turning point which solidified slavery into colonial life was Bacon’s rebellion of 1676. As leader of the poorer planters, Nathaniel Bacon seized control of Virginia from the royal Governor, Sir George Berkeley; on the grounds that Berkeley opposed making war on the Susquehanna Indians and seizing their lands. This partly was also due to the freedmen’s frustration with their constricted status, as after serving indenture many were unsuccessful, as they were dominated by larger plantation owners. Many of the constituents enlisted by Bacon were slaves and indentured servants. Burning Jamestown to the ground and forcing Governor Berkeley to sign a commission of an offensive against the Indians, led to military action from England. Bacon’s rebellion was supressed, each member tried and punished accordingly. Consequently, it led to a “decision among elite planters to substitute more governable slaves for unruly servants”3, as to prevent any recurrence of these events, “royal authority was placed firmly on the side of the richer settlers; their attempts to grab all the best land in Virginia were endorsed, and Africans were rapidly excluded from the privileges of civil society (if free) or thrust down into hopeless servitude (if slaves).”4 With this, a...
Bibliography: Oscar and Mary F. Handlin, ‘Origins of the Southern Labor System’, The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (April, 1950), pp. 206
Betty Wood, Origins of American Slavery (New York, Hill and Wang, 1997), pp. 64–65.
Martha W. McCartney, A Study of the Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619-1803,Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, (Virginia, 2003), pg. 18
Phillip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry, (University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (New York, 1975.) pg. 270
Hugh Bronan, The Penguin History of the United States of America, (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1985)
Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, (London: 1997), p.240
‘Slavery’, West 's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2005, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/slavery.aspx, Date accessed: 4 Nov. 2014
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