Slavery existed for years before it took root in modern America. Egyptian Kings and Roman Empires owned slaves whom they subjected to harsh conditions (Angeles, 2013). Slaves in Rome were used as gladiators to entertain the citizens (Angeles, 2013). In America, slavery began in 1619 when A Dutch ship set shore in Virginia carrying twenty African American slaves (Finkelman, 2012). What followed was an influx of slaves in the colonies with the South taking full advantage due to the demand for workers in the plantations. This case study critically analyzes slavery differentiating between African and European slaves, showing its evolution between 1642 and 1705 and how slaves were regarded as properties.
Slavery in Africa was different from that in Europe. In Africa slaves were a result of war when prisoners of war were captured. Slavery in Africa was also due to unpaid debts by an individual (Angeles, 2013). The debtor would be forced into slavery until the debt owed was fully repaid. European slavery was mainly as a result of slave trade. Africa started selling slaves to European countries. Africa was the main source of slaves who were sold in thousands at a cheap price (Angeles, 2013). American colonies were a ready market for slaves who were bought to work mostly in the south where agricultural activities flourished. However, the conditions for slaves in Europe was harsher than that in Africa. European slaves had no rights and slavery was inheritable (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). The inheritance of slavery meant that children of slaves were automatically slaves. Slaves in America for instance were not allowed to marry since marriage was considered a contract which slaves could not be part of (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). Slavery in Europe changed into racism especially in American colonies where the vast majority of slaves constituted of Blacks (Sambol-Tosco, 2004).
Slaves in American colonies were owned by masters. This ownership meant that the masters had complete control over the slaves (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). The slaves were considered as properties of the masters. The masters bought slaves at a fee and could resell them which showed how they were treated as properties. Upon the death of the Master, the slaves would be recaptured and sold underlining their tag as property rather than persons. Slaves were considered as a source of wealth. The Burgesses for instance treated African slaves as property and tithes were charged on them (Finkelman, 2012). The tithing of slaves showed their treatment as properties. Slaves did not have any rights and their lives depended on their masters. For instance, slaves could not marry and masters often separated members of the same family (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). Fathers were sent to work in plantations, mothers took care of the children of their masters while children would be raised separately. Young pretty girls would be sold as prostitutes and the money collected by the masters (Finkelman, 2012). To add onto this, slaves were not eligible for wages.
Before the onset of slavery, there was no record of it. The law had no place for it in the American colonies. When African slaves were sold to the colonies they were treated as servants. Initially they enjoyed certain rights and privileges that were later taken away. In places such as New Amsterdam, slaves were allowed to take their masters to court (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). Slaves were also entitled to wages as seen in the case of Pedro Negretto and Manuel Rues who took their masters to court for failing to pay them (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). In Virginia, Africans sold as slaves were regarded as indentured servants who would serve their masters for a period and would then be freed (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). A good example of this case is Antonio who was a black servant in Virginia in 1621. Antonio served his term as a servant and was later freed, acquired land and even went on to own a black slave (Finkelman, 2012). Periodic slavery came to an end in 1662 when Virginia introduced legislation that made slavery hereditary and a lifetime condition (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). This legislation meant that slaves could never be freed but would serve during their lifetime. American colonies followed suit enacting codes that limited the rights of slaves while giving immense power to the masters. A good example is South Carolina which introduced a code that outlined penalties for black slaves (Sambol-Tosco, 2004). The code went as far as exempting a white master from punishment if he killed a slave when punishing him. In 1705, Virginia once again led in defining the status of a slave as all blacks and Native Americans who came to the colonies as servants (Sambol-Tosco, 2004).
Interracial marriages were not allowed in American colonies. Virginia punished White men who married slaves by sending them to prison for six months and fining them 10 pounds (Virginia Slave and Indenture Laws, n.d.). The English common law defined the status of a child born as a result of interactions between a slave and a white man using the father's status (Virginia Slave and Indenture Laws, n.d.). However, the Virginia Act XII of 1962 changed the status of the children to be determined by the status of the mother (Virginia Slave and Indenture Laws, n.d.). This Act meant that children of black slaves would be slaves due to the status of their mothers.
Thomas Jefferson was renowned for his love for his slaves (Bacon, 1995). Jefferson did not punish any of his slaves even if they were deserving. He treated them fairly and was compassionate to them (Bacon, 1995). In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson regarded "all men as created equal (Thomas Jefferson's Attitude towards Slavery, n.d.)." Although Jefferson owned slaves he was openly against the vice referring to it as "moral depravity (Thomas Jefferson's Attitude towards Slavery, n.d.)". Jefferson made efforts to end slavery including enacting laws which later played a role in the emancipation of slaves.
Slavery started long before it took root in American colonies. Slave trade was the start of slavery in American colonies. The slaves served as indentured servants but were later defined as slaves through codes and legislation. Slaves were treated as properties and mistreated by their masters. The likes of Thomas Jefferson rose up against slavery and in the end slaves were freed through the emancipation Act.
Angeles, L. (2013, January 7). On the Causes of the African Slave Trade. Retrieved from https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_248866_en.pdf
Bacon, E. (1995). Mr Jefferson's Servants. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/slaves/bacon.html
Finkelman, P. (2012). Slavery in the United States: Persons or Property. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5386&context=faculty_scholarship
Sambol-Tosco, K. The Slave Experience: Legal Rights and Government. Retrieved from https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/legal/history.html
Thomas Jefferson's Attitude towards Slavery (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jeffersons-attitudes-toward-slavery
Virginia Slave and Indenture Laws. Retrieved from http://web.csulb.edu/~jlawler/Course%20DW/VirginiaSlaveLaws.htm
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