http://profcivitella.wordpress.com Slavery in America: a historical overview
Origins of Slavery • The idea of slavery—the state of being bound in servitude as the property of another—dates back thousands of years. • Originated in Africa and was much different than that of colonial America. • E.g., earlier slaves were similar to European serfs; were prisoners of war; not the basis of an economy. • In the 15th and 16th century Europeans began establishing a presence in Africa in the form of coastal forts and would trade European goods—e.g., guns, manufactured items—for slaves. • This would eventually become a key aspect of Triangular Trade.
The Idea of Race & Racism • The idea of race—humanity is divided into different groups based on skin color—is a modern concept. • Before the 16th-17th centuries lines of division were based on the idea of “civilized v. barbarian” and religion and faith. • The idea of racism—some races are superior to others and are entitled to rule over them—is also a modern concept. • Over time Europeans began to develop a “they’re lesser than us” type of mentality towards Africans. • Africans were seen as alien socially, religiously and even their color. • This led Europeans to believe they were enslavable. • In Colonial America, the color of one’s skin came to define a person. • Dark skin = slave. • Light skin = free.
Early Slavery and the Law • The first Africans (20) arrived in Virginia in 1619 • Laws would quickly be put in place to address the “race issue”. • E.g., blacks couldn’t serve in military; no inter-racial relationships. • That being said, free blacks had certain rights. • E.g., sue; testify in court; purchase land. • Anthony Johnson was a free black man who owned land and slaves. • Over the course of the 17th century, and thanks in large part to the tobacco boom, the idea of colonial slavery really began to take shape and stricter laws were put in place to maintain rule over blacks. • E.g., slaves were considered property and subject to the will of their masters; blacks couldn’t hit whites; blacks needed written permission to be off their plantation.
A Slave Society • At the start of the 18th century slave labor began to supplant indentured servants in Maryland and Virginia and more and more slaves were transported to the colonies. • 1700 = 10% slave population in Virginia • 1750 = 50% slave population in Virginia • With harsh rules in place, and the African population growing, Virginia had changed from a “society with slaves” to a “slave society”. • Slavery was now the basis of the southern economy and no longer an aspect of southern society.