American Slavery From The Colonial Period To The End Of The Reconstruction

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American slavery from the colonial period to the end of the Reconstruction

American slavery from the colonial period to the end of the Reconstruction

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. By the eve of the American Revolution, slaves constituted about 40 percent of the population of the southern mainland colonies, with the highest concentration in South Carolina, where well over half the population were slaves. (Michael, 2000)

Slaves performed numerous tasks, from clearing the forest to serving as guides, trappers, craftsmen, nurses, and house servants, but they were most essential as agricultural laborers and most numerous where landowners sought to grow staple crops for market. The most important of these crops consisted of tobacco in the upper South (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina) and rice in the lower South (South Carolina and Georgia); farther south still, on Caribbean islands such as Barbados, Jamaica, and Saint-Domingue, sugar was an even more valuable slave-grown commodity. Slaves also worked on large wheat-producing estates in New York and on horse-breeding farms in Rhode Island, but climate and soil restricted the development of commercial agriculture in the Northern colonies, and slavery never became as economically central as in the South. Slaves in the North were typically held in small numbers, and most served as domestic servants; only in New York, with its Dutch legacy, did they form more than 10 percent of the population, and in the North as a whole less than 5 percent of the inhabitants were slaves. (Michael, 2000)

By the mid-18th century American slavery had acquired a number of distinctive features. Well over 90 percent of American slaves lived in the South, where demographic conditions contrasted sharply with those to both the south and the north. In Caribbean colonies such as Jamaica and Saint-Domingue, blacks outnumbered whites by more than ten to one and slaves often lived on huge estates whose inhabitants numbered in the hundreds; in the Northern colonies, blacks were few and slaves were typically held in small groups of less than five. The South, by contrast, was neither overwhelmingly white nor ...
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