SLAVERY, FREEDOM, and the STRUGGLE FOR EMPIRE “SLAVERY IS NOT A SIDESHOW IN AMERICAN HISTORY, IT IS THE MAIN EVENT.” Dr. James O. Horton George Washington Univ.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO • In the mid-1750s, Olaudah Equiano, the 11 year old son of a West African village chief, was kidnapped by slave traders. • He soon found himself on a ship headed for Barbados. • After a short stay he was sold to a plantation owner in VA and then purchased by a British sea captain who renamed him Gustavus Vassa.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO He went on numerous sea voyages, and while still a slave, was enrolled in a school in England where he learned to read and write. • 1763: He was sold again and returned to the Caribbean. • 1766: He was able to purchase his own freedom.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO • 1789: He published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. • In his narrative, he described himself as a victim of slavery who through luck and fate ended up more fortunate than most of his people.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO • He condemned the idea that Africans were inferior to Europeans and therefore deserved to be slaves. • He insisted that persons of all races were capable of intellectual improvement. • Equiano died in 1797.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO Recent scholars have suggested that Equiano may have actually been born in the New World. In either case, while his rich variety of experience was no doubt unusual, his life illuminates broad patterns of 18th century American history.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO This was a period of sustained development for British North America. The colonies were growing rapidly. Some contemporaries spoke of British America as a “rising empire” that would one day eclipse the mother country in population and wealth.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO It would be wrong, however, to see the first three-quarters of the 18th century simply as a prelude to American independence. As Equiano’s life illustrates, the Atlantic was more a bridge than a barrier between the Old World and New World. Even as its population became more diverse, the colonies were increasingly integrated into the British empire.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO Equiano’s life also underscores the greatest contradiction in the history of the 18th century – the simultaneous expansion of slavery and freedom.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO The 18th century was the great era of the Atlantic slave trade, a commerce increasingly dominated by British merchants and ships.
OLAUDAH EQUIANO During the 18th century more than half the Africans shipped to the New World as slaves were carried on British vessels. Most were destined for the plantations of the West Indies and Brazil but slaves also made up around 280,000 of the 585,000 persons who arrived in Britain’s mainland colonies between 1700 and 1775. Although concentrated in the Chesapeake and areas further south, slavery existed in every British colony in North America. Unlike Equiano, very few slaves were fortunate enough to gain their freedom.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS • No European nation, including England, embarked on the colonization of the New World with the intention of relying on African slaves for the bulk of its labor force.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS • But the incessant demand for workers spurred by the cultivation of tobacco eventually led Chesapeake planters to turn to the transatlantic trade in slaves. • Compared with indentured servants, slaves offered planters many advantages.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS: THE ADVANTAGES OF SLAVERY Slaves could not claim the protections of English common law. Slaves’ terms of service never expired. Slaves could not become a population of landless men. Their children were slaves. Their skin color made it difficult to escape into the surrounding society. Slaves were accustomed to intensive agricultural labor. Unlike Indians, slaves had encountered many diseases known in Europe and had developed a resistance to them.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS: THE IDEA OF RACE • The English had long viewed alien peoples with disdain, including the Irish, Native Americans, and Africans. • They described these strangers as savages, pagans, and uncivilized, often comparing them to animals.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS: THE IDEA OF RACE • “Race” – the idea that humanity is divided into well-defined groups associated with skin color is a modern concept that had not been fully developed n the 17th century. • Nor had “racism” – an ideology based on the belief that some races are inherently superior to others and entitled to rule over them. • The main lines of division were thought to be civilization versus barbarism or Christianity versus heathenism, not race or color.
ENGLISHMEN AND AFRICANS: THE IDEA OF RACE Nonetheless, anti-black stereotypes flourished in 17th century England. Africans were seen so alien – in color, religion, and social practices – that they were “enslavable” in a way that poor Englishmen were not.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY • Slavery has existed for nearly the entire span of human history. • It was central to the societies of ancient Greece and Rome. • After dying out in northern Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, it persisted in the Mediterranean world.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY • In the Americas, slavery was based on the plantation – an agricultural enterprise that brought large numbers of workers under the control of a single owner. • This imbalance magnified the possibility of slave resistance and made it necessary to police the system rigidly. • It encouraged the creation of a sharp boundary between slavery and freedom.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY • Labor on a slave plantation was far more demanding than in household slavery common in Africa, and the death rate among slaves was much higher. • In the New World, slavery would come to be associated with race.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY • Unlike in Africa, slaves who became free always carried with them the mark of bondage, a visible sign of being considered unworthy of incorporation as equals into a free society.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY A sense of Africans as aliens and inferior made their enslavement possible. But prejudice did not create North American slavery. For that institution to take root, planters and government authorities had to be convinced that importing African slaves was the best way to solve their persistent shortage of labor.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY Slaves cost more than indentured servants, and the high death rate among tobacco workers made it economically unappealing to pay for a lifetime of labor. For decades, servants from England formed the backbone of the Chesapeake labor force and the number of Africans remained small. As late as 1680, there were only 4,500 blacks in the Chesapeake, a little over 5% of the region’s population.
SLAVERY IN HISTORY • The most important social distinction in the 17th century Chesapeake was not between black and white but between plantation owners who dominated politics and society and everybody else – small farmers, indentured servants and slaves.
SLAVERY AND THE LAW • For much of the 17th century, the legal status of Chesapeake blacks was ambiguous and the line between slavery and freedom more permeable than it would become later. • The first black arrivals were treated as slaves, but it appears at least some managed to become free after serving a term of years. • Yet racial distinctions were enacted into law from the onset.
VIRGINIA LAW AND SLAVERY 1620s: The law barred blacks from serving in the militia. The government punished sexual relations outside of marriage between Africans and Europeans more severely than the same acts between two white persons. 1643: A poll tax was imposed on African but not white women. Free blacks could sue and testify in court. Some managed to acquire land and purchase white servants or slaves.
ANTHONY JOHNSON • Anthony Johnson, who apparently arrived in VA as a slave during the 1620s, obtained his freedom. • By the 1640s, he was the owner of slaves and of several hundred acres of land on VA’s eastern shore.
SLAVERY AND THE LAW • Evidence that blacks were being held as slaves for life appears in the historical record of the 1640s. • In registers for property, for example, white servants are listed by the number of years of labor while blacks, with higher valuations, have no terms of service associated with their names. • 1660s: The laws of VA and MD refer explicitly to slavery.
SLAVERY AND THE LAW • As tobacco planting spread and the demand for labor increased, the condition of black and white servants diverged sharply. • Authorities sought to improve the status of white servants, hoping to counteract the widespread impression in England that VA was a death trap. • At the same time, access to freedom for blacks receded.
SLAVERY AND THE LAW: VIRGINIA 1662: A law provided that in the case of a child whose parents were free and one slave, the status followed that of the mother. 1667: A law provided that religious conversion did not release a slave from bondage. The law defined all offspring of interracial relationships as illegitimate A law prohibited the freeing of any slave unless he or she were transported out of the colony. By 1680: Notions of racial differences were well entrenched in the law.
A SLAVE SOCIETY • TWO KEY DEFINITIONS AND DISTINCTIONS: • A SLAVE SOCIETY: Is a society in which slavery is central to its economic, social and political existence of the society/colony/state. • A SOCIETY WITH SLAVES: Is a society in which slavery is present but it is not central to the economic, social and political well-being of the society/colony/state. Slavery was one system of labor among others.
A SLAVE SOCIETY • Between 1680 and 1700, slave labor began to supplant indentured servitude on Chesapeake plantations. • Many factors contributed to this development.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE EMERGENCE OF THE SLAVE SOCIETY 1. The death rate began to fall. 2. Improving conditions in England. 3. The opening of PA. 4. Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. 5. Ending of the Royal African Company’s monopoly of the English slave trade.
VIRGINIA’S SLAVE SOCIETY • By 1700, blacks constituted over 10% of VA’s population. • By 1750, blacks made up nearly half of VA’s population. • Recognizing the growing importance of slavery, the House of Burgesses in 1705 enacted a new slave code, bringing together the scattered legislation of the previous century and adding new provisions that embedded the principle of white supremacy in the law.
THE VIRGINIA SLAVE CODE OF 1705 Slaves were property, completely subject to the will of the masters. Slaves could be bought and sold, leased, fought over in court, and passed on to one’s descendants. Whites and blacks were tried in separate courts. Free or slave, blacks could not own arms, strike a white man, or employ a white servant. Any white person could apprehend any black to demand a certificate of freedom or a pass from the owner giving permission to be off the plantation.
SLAVERY AND THE EMPIRE Of the estimated 7.7 million Africans transported to the New World between 1492 and 1820, over half arrived between 1700 and 1800. The Atlantic slave trade would later be condemned as a crime against humanity. But in the 18th century, it was a regularized business in which European merchants, African traders, and American planters engaged in a complex bargaining over human lives, all with the expectation of securing a profit.
SLAVERY AND THE EMPIRE The slave trade was a vital part of the world commerce. Every European empire in the New World utilized slave labor and battled for control of this lucrative trade. The asiento – an agreement whereby Spain subcontracted to a foreign power the right to provide slaves to Spain – was an important diplomatic prize. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.
SLAVERY AND THE EMPIRE • In the British Empire of the 18th century, free laborers working for wages were atypical and slavery the norm. • Slave plantations contributed mightily to English economic development. • The first mass consumer goods were produced by slaves – sugar, rice, coffee, and tobacco.
SLAVERY AND THE EMPIRE • The rising demand for these products fueled the rapid growth of the Atlantic slave trade. • Sugar was by far the most important product. • The New World sugar plantations produced immense profits for planters, merchants, and imperial governments.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE • In the 18th century, the Caribbean remained the commercial focus of the British empire and the major producer of revenue for the crown. • But the slave-grown products from the mainland occupied a larger and larger part of the Atlantic commerce. • A series of triangular trading routes criss-crossed the Atlantic.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE • These routes carried British mfg goods to Africa and the colonies, colonial products including tobacco, indigo, sugar and rice to Europe, and slaves from Africa to the New World.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE Areas where slavery was only a minor institution also profited from slave labor. Merchants in NY, MA and RI participated actively in the slave trade, shipping slaves from Africa to the Caribbean or southern colonies. The slave economies of the West Indies were the largest markets for fish, grain, livestock, and lumber from NE and the Middle colonies.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE There is no arguing the fact that the growth and prosperity of the emerging society of free colonial British America were achieved as a result of slave labor. 18th century Atlantic commerce consisted primarily of slaves, crops produced by slaves, and goods destined for slave societies. For large numbers of free colonists and Europeans, freedom meant in part the power and right to enslave others.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE • As slavery became more and more entrenched, so too, as the Quaker abolitionist John Woolman commented in 1762, did: • “the idea of slavery being connected with black color, and liberty with the white.”