African Americans in the British New World

6c. The Growth of Slavery

<I>The First Slave Auction at New Amsterdam in 1655</I>
Howard Pyle
The Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, received its first large shipment of slaves directly from Africa in 1655.

Africans were the immigrants to the British New World that had no choice in their destinations or destinies. The first African Americans that arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on a Dutch trading ship were not slaves, nor were they free. They served time as indentured servants until their obligations were complete. Although these lucky individuals lived out the remainder of their lives as free men, the passing decades would make this a rarity. Despite the complete lack of a slave tradition in mother England, slavery gradually replaced indentured servitude as the chief means for plantation labor in the Old South.

Virginia would become the first British colony to legally establish slavery in 1661. Maryland and the Carolinas were soon to follow. The only Southern colony to resist the onset of slavery was Georgia, created as an Enlightened experiment. Seventeen years after its formation, Georgia too succumbed to the pressures of its own citizens and repealed the ban on African slavery. Laws soon passed in these areas that condemned all children of African slaves to lifetimes in chains.

First African Americans in the New World
Howard Pyle
The first African Americans in the New World arrived at Jamestown on a Dutch ship in 1619.

No northern or middle colony was without its slaves. From Puritan Massachusetts to Quaker Pennsylvania, Africans lived in bondage. Economics and geography did not promote the need for slave importation like the plantation South. Consequently, the slave population remained small compared to their southern neighbors. While laws throughout the region recognized the existence of slavery, it was far less systematized. Slaves were more frequently granted their freedom, and opposition to the institution was more common, especially in Pennsylvania.

As British colonists became convinced that Africans best served their demand for labor, importation increased. By the turn of the eighteenth century African slaves numbered in the tens of thousands in the British colonies. Before the first shots are fired at Lexington and Concord, they totaled in the hundreds of thousands. The cries for liberty by the colonial leaders that were to follow turned out to be merely white cries.

On the Web
Excerpts from Slave Narratives
Slaves and those associated with slave-trading have left unforgettably first-hand accounts of their lives. The page is broken into the following sections: Enslavement, the Middle Passage, Arrival, Conditions of Life, Childhood, Family, Religion, and Punishment.
The Terrible Transformation
450 years of slavery are examined in minute detail. The Growth of Slavery is best understood by examining the following topics: "Europeans Come to Western Africa," "New World Exploration and English Ambition," "From Indentured Servitude to Racial Slavery," "The African Slave Trade," "the Middle Passage," and "The Growth of Slavery in North America." Be sure to explore all the links — they're very valuable.
The Atlantic Slave Trade lasted four centuries and resulted in enslavement and death for millions of Africans. Read a transcript or listen to guest expert Professor Ira Berlin weigh in on the controversial subject.
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