se of Slave Labor In today’s use is almost unheard of in today’s society, however in the first colonies and many years following, slavery was a very normal and economical tool. Slavery was one of the cruelest acts the world has ever known. Native Africans were taken from their homes and placed into slavery by European buyers and African Salesmen. People were removed from their loved ones and were made to work on plantations. They were held in barbaric conditions and the everyday racism attached onto this system fueled the abuse and dehumanization of black people for many years. The beginning of African slavery in America as we know began in the early shaping of America when people needed affordable labor to tend to agricultural cash crops. Slaves were first brought to America from Africa on poorly maintained ships and would become the biggest power for wealth in America through what would become known as the slave trade. However, Africans weren’t the only ones who were placed into slave like works. People known as indentured servants who were workers bound by set contracts to work for a period of time for no pay.
In the beginning of the slave era the main purpose was to supply free aid in agricultural farming across America. Some of the first major cash crops in early America consisted of wheat and tobacco, as well as a variety of other food and fiber crops like oats, corn, flax, and hemp. However, over time these commodities would become more available around the world and would begin to decrease these products value. At the time the need for slaves began to decline and it would seem like the use for them was almost nullified. That was until the invention of the cotton gin, this would re spark a new economic boom for many farmers, and a new higher need for slave labor.
Invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, the cotton gin was a simple machine that would clean and remove the seeds of picked cotton. What used to be tedious work for a slave to clean this material was now much more accessible and easier to produce. As described by Eric Foner, author of the book Give Me Liberty! An American History Seagull Volume 1, “the Old South was the largest and most powerful slave society the modern world has known. Its strength rested on a virtual monopoly of cotton, the South’s white gold”. What made cotton so valuable was its many uses, mainly used as clothing material cloth, and became a necessity worldwide to nations such as Great Britain, France, and Russia.
With a higher need of slave labor in America the Second Middle Passage was established. The passage was established in 1790 and lasted all the way up till the civil war. Slave families were taken by boat through the middle passage from Africa to America. The voyage could take anywhere from two to three months grueling months. Men and woman were usually separated and the men were kept on the lower decks of the ships. People were bound and clustered together by chains to allow maximum capacity upon the ships. Many would not survive the long uncomfortable journey and very sick due to sea sickness and lack of fresh air. Crew men would routinely check for the deceased and throw the bodies overboard along with those who were even still barely alive. Also, during this process men’s arms were checked for attempt of escape and would sometimes be allowed time to spend above deck.
Typically, two to three meals were supplied each day which would sometimes consist of boiled rice or corn meal along with raw meat to supply nutrients. Some people would refuse to eat in an attempt to starve themselves to end the misery they were in. In result if men did not eat, they would be beaten or whipped until they complied with the crewmen. Once arriving to America, the slaves would immediately be placed in an auction to be sold of and begin work on plantations. According to Foner, “Auctions of slaves took place in public slave markets, as in New Orleans, or at court houses. Southern newspapers carried advertisements for slave sales, southern banks financed slave trading, southern ships and railroads carried slaves from buyers to sellers, and southern states and municipalities earned revenue by taxing the sale of slaves”. This all arose what would be known as “The Cotton Kingdom” and it could not have flourished without the international slave trade.
Slaves however, weren’t the only people who were placed into free labor. There were people who were known as indentured servants who were poverty-stricken Europeans who agreed to a term of forced labor in order to pay off debts or allow themselves a way to enter America for a new life. At the very beginning there were more indentured servants than slaves in America until slaves were realized as property to the owners for life. Another leading factor for slaves overtaking the servants was that once the contract was completed by the servant, they could gain access to land for themselves and a new life opposed to a slave who is forced servitude for the rest of their life.
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