A Very Brief History of Slavery



It may seem like I am digressing by compiling this post but, I assure you, I am not. To write about American history and to study and learn about American history, one must also learn about slavery. Slavery is often said to be a dark spot on America's history, but it also helped to sculpt our identity as well.

Slavery wasn't just present in the English settlement of Jamestown, slavery was also present in Africa. However, there were differences in African and Old World Slavery compared to the slavery system utilized in the Chesapeake. I will explain the differences in all three slave systems in this blog post.


Traditional African Slavery
~There was no permanent slave status and slaves were socially absorbed into the lineage after the first generation.
~Bartering of adults during famine was common.
~People would pawn themselves in hope for a better life or because of an inability to pay a debt.
~Compensation for serious crimes was paid in people.
~Criminals were sold out of the kin group--no one wanted criminals in their "family".
~Kidnapping was practiced by the Saharan Tuareg.

There were different uses for for African slaves, such as:
~To provide extra wives to expand the kin group through reproduction.
~To provide labor for gold mining.
~To work in salt pits for Trans-Saharan Trade.
~To increase soldiers in king's army.
~To serve as domestics.
~Agricultural production.
~Court officials (eunuchs).
~Menial work.

Old World Slavery
~Ethnically diverse --> had nothing to do with race.
------Saxons, Angles, and various Germanic groups were sold in European slave markets throughout the Middle Ages.
------Christian slaves were sold in the Mediterranean basin to Muslims where they built mosques.
------Muslim slaves were sold to Christians where they built Catholic Churches.
~Slavery was often a result of warfare.
------Rulers of the Greek and roman Empires gained their slaves through warfare...think "Spartecus".
------After the fall of Rome, slavery continued in Europe as continual fighting ensued between various groups and monarchies.
------Manhunts for Celtic slaves occurred.
------Eastern European peoples were raided frequently-- "Slav" is the root term for "Slave".
~Slaves used for diverse reasons.
~Social mobility was possible.
~Church condoned and owned slaves.
~Slavery was not necessarily hereditary.
~Manumission was a decision made by the owner.
~By the 11th century, manumission became frequent and serfdom replaced slavery. By 1200, slavery disappeared in England and much of Northern Europe all together.

Colonial Slavery
~British colonizers viewed North America as a place for the younger sons of the English gentry to make their fortune (ie: have economic freedom).
~English authorities also desired to rid England of undesirable elements from their population such as the poor, landless, unemployed, and the rebels.
~English desired to check the spread of Catholicism.
~People were kidnapped and shipped to the New World without their consent.
------France--brought women to their settlement in Louisiana where the sex trade and prostitution in New Orleans ran rampant.
------England--brought poor to the colonies to get them out of the country.

Colonial slavery was ever evolving, starting first with indentured servitude, as already briefly explained in a previous post and then changing to the exploitation of Native Americans before settling on African Slavery with the first 20 African slaves arriving in Jamestown in 1619.

From the 1620s to the 1660s, Africans were considered servants and had the same freedoms that the indentured servants had. During the 1660s, there was a recorded 1700 free land-owning Africans in the Chesapeake. After the codification of slavery, free blacks lost many of their rights; no longer were they able to own land, carry guns, raise livestock, serve in the local militias, or vote. Free blacks were subject to special taxes and often times, they were also sold back into slavery and their land was confiscated. The mixed race children of black men and white women were enslaved for 13 years.

To maintain a race-based society in the Chesapeake, the romantic and reproductive choices of women had to be controlled. The Planters didn't want to have to compete with a mullato race. Adoption and abortion rates both increased because of the harsh penalties white women endured if they became pregnant and/or gave birth to a mixed-race child of African or Native American decent. However, there was still affection under s system of oppression; white fathers of mullato children often left something to the children in their wills.

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