Slaves were the major source of labor and they significantly contributed to the growth of the American Colonial agrarian economy. The background of slavery in colonial America can be traced back to 1619 when a Dutch owned ship dropped 20 African in Virginia. These first set of Africans were not slaves but indented servants who were expected to work until their obligations or debts were cleared. The European colonists also utilized indented servants from poor Europeans mainly from Ireland. It is during the 17th Century that Europeans discovered the significant economic benefits and massive source of labor that African slaves could provide. It is during this time that the slave traders brought in 6-7 million slaves from the African continent and the Caribbean (Ethridge 202). The growth of the early colonial American economy was directly proportional to the demand and trade of African slaves.
The European settler farmers in the American colonies saw African slaves as a cheap source of labor which could be sourced in abundance from the African continent. The existing stereotypes dehumanized African slaves as less than human and categorized them as slaves who were not fit to be civilized. The Native Americans were on the other hand marked for civilizations due to their white supremacist ideas at the time (Estes 93). The African slaves were mostly used in the tobacco, sugar, and rice plantations in Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. The Spanish colonies were the earliest people to introduce slavery in 1513 in the state of Florida. The Spanish however used propaganda tools to encourage uprising of slaves in British colonies in the 17th Century encouraging them to revolt against the British and accept Catholicism to become Spanish citizens. When the British took over Spanish colonies in 1763, the population of slaves in the colonies rose from 18% to 65% by 1783.
The Virginian laws stated that a child would inherit the status of the mother meaning that all children born to slave mothers were bound to slavery from birth. The Dutch colony of New York and New Jersey started importing slaves in 1625 where 11 slaves were introduced into colonies economy to work in farming, fur trade and construction. The Dutch West India Company had the sole permit to import African slaves to New Jersey and New York. The Dutch Reformed Church admitted slaves as part of its congregation. The colony also legally recognized some right of slaves including signing legal documentation, filing civil suits against White citizens and also acting as witnesses in court cases in all Dutch colonies (Foner 14). Later the colonies allowed the Dutch settlers to import black slaves to work in their private farms.
The first British colony to legally recognize the institute of slavery was Virginia in 1661, followed by Maryland and North and South Carolinas (Wilson 76). Georgia was the only South American state to avoid legal incorporation of slavery. This ban on slavery in Georgia however only lasted for 17 years after its formation. In New England, slavery was institutionalized and legalized in 1641. The Puritan Church recognized the institution of slavery as part of the church code. The Puritans could now own and buy slaves with a clear conscious. The French colonies also legally institutionalized slavery in New France. The French first started using slaves for plantation farming and mining in 1699. The French started enslaving the Native American population who they preferred due to their familiarity with the local locality. The French colonies slave Code Noir allowed slaves to marry and maintain family relations (Wilder 113). The code forbade intermarriages but nevertheless interracial marriages still flourished with white men selectively choosing some white African women as concubines which were legally bound by contracts. When the British took over the Dutch colonies, the Dutch freed the African slaves but slave importation continued and by 1701, 42% of New York and New Jersey households held slaves.
An analysis of the early development of slavery in the American colonies makes it clear that all European Colonial establishments from the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and English all recognized slavery as a social and economic necessity. The religious institutions at the time from the Puritans, Catholics, Church of England and Dutch Churches all recognized slavery as a real institution which was codified by the bible. The colonial laws also recognized the institution of slavery as legally bound business contract between slave owners and slaves with each party having certain rights. The sociological theories and stereotypes at the time also facilitated the growth and development of slavery by dehumanizing Africans as less human to push away their guilty conscious on the inhumanity perpetrated against African slaves. The African slaves thus greatly contributed to the growth of the American economy in the 16th and 17th century until its abolishment.
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