As time went on in the early 1600s through 1775 in America, the colonists from the south felt the need to bring more and more slaves to their region. Slaves were needed to work for them on their plantations. There were a few different factors that played into the growing number of slaves during this time. A few of those factors were the geography of the south, the economy, and the social aspect. When we look at each of these categories we can see how the growth of slavery during this time period unfolded.
The geography of the southern region of colonial America was much different than the northern geography, which led to the need to grow large amounts of new crops and acquire many field laborers. As a result from glaciers, the soil in the south was rich with a layer of rocky soil on the surface. Wet, humid, sub-tropical climate was perfect for growing tobacco, indigo, and rice. This climate was familiar to the slaves brought in from Africa, explaining how most Africans already knew how to grow some of these crops and making them an obvious choice for field labor. The self-watering delta in Louisiana created rich soil perfect for growing large plantations of sugar and cotton. The rivers in the south made trade available among the southern region for both supplies and slaves.
The agricultural economy of the south helped slavery grow in popularity. Tobacco was in great demand, driving its price down. In order to make their crops profitable, land owners needed to acquire large amounts of property, and cheap laborers to work their land. With profits in mind, this meant bringing in either indentured servants or slaves. At first, indentured servants were utilized because of their longer life expectancy than African slaves. The trade routes between Europe, Africa, and the West Indies exchanged spirits, sugar, molasses, cotton, among other goods, for slaves to be brought to the West Indies and America. This trade made acquiring slaves very affordable. As the people from Africa adjusted to life in the south and the exposure to new diseases, their life expectancy rose. This made slavery more appealing than indentured servants for a couple of reasons.
Eventually an indentured servant would pay off their debt, and were to be released and given a portion of land. Slaves, however, would be owned for life. On top of that, slaves would eventually have children. Thanks to the House of Burgesses law passed in 1662, descendents of slaves inherited their parents title. This made slaves a great investment for plantation owners.
Not only were slaves a great investment for land owners in the south, they were a sign of prestige. Slave ownership was a sign of wealth, and the more slaves you owned, the more status you gained in society. A shift in thinking began; whites considered themselves to be the superior race and blacks to be incapable of intelligence. Bacons Rebellion worried the wealthy planters when they witnessed angered farmers join with the indentured whites and blacks to attack against the Indians and Governor Berkeley.
To prevent further alliances between poor whites and the blacks, lawmakers quickly improved quality of life for the white farmers while restricting the blacks further. The poor living conditions for blacks amplified their social standings as lesser than whites. Suddenly humans were regarded the same as cattle to be owned. With owning numerous slaves becoming a sign of wealth, its no wonder the social climate of the south contributed to the growth of slavery.
As hard as it is to look back on this part of history and wonder what our forefathers could have been thinking, leaving Europe to find freedom only to enslave others, it is helpful to look at some contributing factors that led to this atrocity. Geography, economy, and social status all played a part in the supposed need for slavery. Individual plantation owners benefited greatly from slavery. It is despicable that profits were more important than the basic rights of fellow humans. We can only hope to learn from the mistakes made during the formation of our country and continue the work of putting an end to slavery world-wide.
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