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History of Slavery in the United States

History of Slavery in the United States

Slavery as an economic and social institution began in the United States in 1619 and formally ended at the conclusion of the Civil War. The impact that slavery had on the country and the rest of the world is still being felt to this day.

 

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John Clarke

John Clarke

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In the years leading up to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, tensions began to rise between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions within the U.S. Congress and across the country. They reached a boiling point after Missouri’s 1819 request for admission to the Union as a slave state, which threatened to upset the delicate balance between slave states and free states. To keep the peace, Congress orchestrated a two-part compromise, granting Missouri’s request but also admitting Maine as a free state. It also passed an amendment that drew an imaginary line across the former Louisiana Territory, establishing a boundary between free and slave regions that remained the law of the land until it was negated by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Article: The History Channel
Source: History
John Clarke

John Clarke

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The addition of slave states threatened the balance of power in Congress, so there were several laws passed to keep the order. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed states to decide by vote whether or not to allow slaves, which triggered a movement by abolitionists and supporters of slavery alike to migrate to these states to cast their vote. This led to several violent conflicts in an event known as "Bloody Kansas" in which the two sides squared off in a violent showdown to determine the status of the state.

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Importance of the Cotton Gin

In the late 18th century, with the land used to grow tobacco nearly exhausted, the South faced an economic crisis, and the continued growth of slavery in America seemed in doubt. Around the same time, the mechanization of the textile industry in England led to a huge demand for American cotton, a southern crop whose production was unfortunately limited by the difficulty of removing the seeds from raw cotton fibers by hand. In 1793, a young Yankee schoolteacher named Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a simple mechanized device that efficiently removed the seeds. His device was widely copied, and within a few years the South would transition from the large-scale production of tobacco to that of cotton, a switch that reinforced the region's dependence on slave labor.

Slavery itself was never widespread in the North, though many of the region's businessmen grew rich on the slave trade and investments in southern plantations. Between 1774 and 1804, all of the northern states abolished slavery, but the so-called "peculiar institution" remained absolutely vital to the South. Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South.

Article: Slavery in America
Source: The History Channel

In the 17th and 18th centuries, black slaves worked mainly on the tobacco, rice and indigo plantations of the southern coast. After the American Revolution (1775-83), many colonists (particularly in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the economy) began to link the oppression of black slaves to their own oppression by the British, and to call for slavery's abolition. After the war's end, however, the new U.S. Constitution tacitly acknowledged the institution, counting each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation in Congress and guaranteeing the right to repossess any "person held to service or labor" (an obvious euphemism for slavery)

Article: Slavery in America
Source: The History Channel
John Clarke

John Clarke

2 Knowledge Cards 

There was so much contention in the first Continental Congress about the institution of slavery that the country barely came to a unified state at all. The Three-Fifths Compromise was accepted as a solution to the divide between the Northern and Southern states, but the issue of slavery still proved to be a sore subject that ultimately culminated into the Civil War.

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1715
Black slaves comprise 24 percent of the Virginia colony’s population, up from less than 5 percent in 1671. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...
John Clarke

John Clarke

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About 600,000 slaves were imported from Africa to North America, or 5% of the 12 million brought to the Americas. The children of slave women were also made slaves, so the population grew rapidly in the States.

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Between 1450 and 1850, at least 12 million Africans were shipped from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean--the notorious "Middle Passage"-- primarily to colonies in North America, South America, and the West Indies.. 80% of these kidnapped Africans (or at least 7 million) were exported during the 18th century, with a mortality rate of probably 10- 20% on the ships enroute for the Americas. Unknown numbers (probably at least 4 million) of Africans died in slave wars and forced marches before being shipped. Within central Africa itself, the slave trade precipitated migrations: coastal tribes fled slave- raiding parties and captured slaves were redistributed to different regions in Africa.

African slave trade and slave labor transformed the world. In Africa, slave trade stimulated the expansion of powerful West African kingdoms. In the Islamic world, African slave labor on plantations, in seaports, and within families expanded the commerce and trade of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. In the Americas, slave labor became the key component in trans-Atlantic agriculture and commerce supporting the booming capitalist economy of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the greatest demand in the Americas coming from Brazil and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.(Cora Agatucci's African Timeline, Central Oregon Community College)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...

People have asked why Africans themselves engaged in the slave trade. Given the function of slavery in African societies, the origin of their participation is not too difficult to understand.

First and foremost, slavery was not confused with the notion of superiority and inferiority, a notion later invoked as justification for black slavery in America. On the contrary, it was not at all uncommon for African owners to adopt slave children or to marry slave women, who then became full members of the family. Slaves of talent accumulated property and in some instances reached the status of kings; Jaja of Opobo (in Nigeria) is a case in point. Lacking contact with American slavery, African traders could be expected to assume that the lives of slaves overseas would be as much as they were in Africa; they had no way of knowing that whites in America associated dark colors with sub-human qualities and status, or that they would treat slaves as chattels generation after generation. When Nigeria's Madame Tinubu, herself a slave-trader, discovered the difference between domestic and non-African slavery, she became an abolitionist, actively rejecting what she saw as the corruption of African slavery by the unjust and inhumane habits of its foreign practitioners and by the motivation to make war for profit on the sale of captives. (On Slavery By Femi Akomolafe. 1994, The retrospective history of Africa, Hartford Web Publishing)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...

One characteristic which set American slavery apart was its racial basis. In America, with only a few early and insignificant exceptions, all slaves were Africans, and almost all Africans were slaves. This placed the label of inferiority on black skin and on African culture. In other societies, it had been possible for a slave who obtained his freedom to take his place in his society with relative ease. In America, however, when a slave became free, he was still obviously an African. The taint of inferiority clung to him. Not only did white America become convinced of white superiority and black inferiority, but it strove to impose these racial beliefs on the Africans themselves. Slave masters gave a great deal of attention to the education and training of the ideal slave, In general, there were five steps in molding the character of such a slave: strict discipline, a sense of his own inferiority, belief in the master's superior power, acceptance of the master's standards, and, finally, a deep sense of his own helplessness and dependence. At every point this education was built on the belief in white superiority and black inferiority. Besides teaching the slave to despise his own history and culture, the master strove to inculcate his own value system into the African's outlook. The white man's belief in the African's inferiority paralleled African self hate. (Norman Coombs, The Immigrant Heritage of America, Twayne Press, 1972. CHAPTER 3, CHAPTER 3, The Shape of American Slavery).

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...

Slavery spread quickly in the American colonies. At first the legal status of Africans in America was poorly defined, and some, like European indentured servants, managed to become free after several years of service. From the 1660s, however, the colonies began enacting laws that defined and regulated slave relations. Central to these laws was the provision that black slaves, and the children of slave women, would serve for life. This premise, combined with the natural population growth among the slaves, meant that slavery could survive and grow…("Slavery in the United States," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation.)

The continuing demand for African slaves' labor arose from the development of plantation agriculture, the long-term rise in prices and consumption of sugar, and the demand for miners. Not only did Africans represent skilled laborers, but they were also experts in tropical agriculture. Consequently, they were well-suited for plantation agriculture. The high immunity of Africans to malaria and yellow fever compared with Europeans and the indigenous peoples made them more suitable for tropical labor. While white and red labor were used initially, Africans were the final solution to the acute labor problem in the New World. (The Economics of the African Slave Trade, By Anika Francis, The March 1995 Issue of The Vision Online, http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~vision/vis/Mar-95/5284.html)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...

1638
The price tag for an African male was around $27, while the salary of a European laborer was about seventy cents per day. (Willie F. Page. _The Dutch Triangle: The Netherlands and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1621-1664_. Studies in African American History and Culture. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997. xxxv 262 pp. Bibliographical referen1ces and index. $66.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8153-2881-8. Reviewed for H-Review by Dennis R. Hidalgo , Central Michigan University)

1640
Whipping and branding, borrowed from Roman practice via the Iberian-American colonies, appeared early and with vicious audacity. One Virginian slave, named Emanuel, was convicted of trying to escape in July, 1640, and was condemned to thirty stripes, with the letter "R" for "runaway" branded on his cheek and "work in a shackle one year or more as his master shall see cause." Charles P.M. Outwin, Securing the Leg Irons: Restriction of Legal Rights for Slaves in Virginia and Maryland, 1625 – 1791, footnote taken from Catterall, Helen Honor Tunnicliff. Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, vol. I, Cases from the Courts of England, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and vol. IV, Cases from the Courts of New England, the Middle States, and the District of Columbia. Washington, D. C., Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1926 & 1936. Page 77)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...

Jamestown had exported 10 tons of tobacco to Europe and was a boomtown. The export business was going so well the colonists were able to afford two imports which would greatly contribute to their productivity and quality of life. 20 Blacks from Africa and 90 women from England. The Africans were paid for in food; each woman cost 120 pounds of tobacco. The Blacks were bought as indentured servants from a passing Dutch ship low on food, and the women were supplied by a private English company. Those who married the women had to pay their passage--120 pounds of tobacco. (Gene Barios, Tobacco BBS: tobacco news )

With the success of tobacco planting, African Slavery was legalized in Virginia and Maryland, becoming the foundation of the Southern agrarian economy. (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995 by Columbia University Press from MS Bookshelf.)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...
John Clarke

John Clarke

2 Knowledge Cards 

Slaves represented major economic assets in the primarily agricultural states. They were a majority of the labor force and were so expensive that in order to make a return on the investment, slaves would need to work for ten years on average.

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The other crucial event that would play a role in the development of America was the arrival of Africans to Jamestown. A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years labor in exchange for passage to America. The popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680's. (A Brief History of Jamestown, The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Richmond, VA 23220, email: apva@apva.org, Web published February, 2000)

Article: Chronology on the History...
Source: Chronology on the History...
John Clarke

John Clarke

2 Knowledge Cards 

Originally, slavery in America was not based on race, but on law. These members were seen as someone serving out the terms of a "contract." Later this view was perverted into a belief that black people had a "social contract" to be slaves.

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