Wood, P. H. (1996). Strange New Land. Oxford University Press.
Peter Wood in his book Strange New Land investigates the history of slavery in the early American colonies from the 1600s to the 1700s. The author compares the introduction of slavery to America's with the different European powers in the late 16th century to the 18th century. The author also addresses the motivations that prompted American settlers to utilise slavery as well as the significant economic and political issues of that period in History.
The first chapter of the book gives a historical background to the origins of slavery in the American continent. The author notes that in the 16th century very few English colonies had slave since they mostly relied on indentured service from European migrants even though slavery existed elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, Spain had already established the use of slaves in South America as early as 1519. Wood states that Spanish colonialists used African slaves as labourers for mining, farming and trading ventures in the South. Furthermore, during the conflict with other powers and the natives the Spanish would use slaves as fighters in their army.
The second chapter of the book addresses the influence that international relations, politics and economic challenges had on the issue of slavery in the American colonies. Towards the end of the 16th century, the writer mentions that there were political shifts in Europe as states endeavoured to separate themselves from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, nations such as Spain was in armed conflict with the British and the Dutch which had a significant impact on the American colonies as the conflict spread to the Americas. For instance, the author mentions that the British established an outpost close to Florida at Roanoke Island which they used as a military base to attack the Spanish colonists. Consequently, the conflicts of Europe caused protestant nations to establish more control over the oceanic slave trade to compete with Spain.
The last half of the second chapter also speaks about the treatment of slaves in the American colonies towards the end of the 16th century and the early years of the 17th century. The author mentions that the Spanish treated their slaves harshly as compared to their other European counterparts during the early 17th Century. The English settlers had a less severe treatment of slaves due to their recent protestant conversion. For instance, Wood mentions that American colonists would sometimes offer freedom to slaves after their conversion. Christian moral values mainly influenced how colonists treated slaves; however, economic motivations such as profits from sugar plantations changed this view. The author writes that the need for profit and the expansion of colonies influenced the alteration of policies on slavery. Towards the end of the 17th century, the law was changed to make slavery heritable conditions, and the abundance of African slaves resulted in slavery being associated with black people.
The third chapter of the book addresses the cementing of slavery in the American colonies. Towards the 1700's slavery became widely accepted in the English colonies of America due to the thriving of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The author mentions that the acceptance of lifelong slavery was as a result of the need for settlers to maintain profits and expand their businesses. Slaves from Africa provided the necessary labour and were more reliable than the Indian slave who often escaped. Wood thus concludes that the prevalence of African slave labour coupled with the passing of hereditary slave laws resulted in the racialization of slavery. Therefore, from around the 1750's black people were forced into slavery in all colonies. In the other chapters of the book, the author investigates the lives of black slaves and the current socioeconomic issues of the time.
The author brings out the historical changes that made slavery entrenched in the North American English colonies. The first factor that brought about slavery in North America was the need for labour. The author describes how the first colonies such as that of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia were small communities and lacked a sufficient workforce to expand economic activities. The author explains that the indentured service of European migrants was not adequate and resulted in the prevalence of slavery. Secondly, international influence from other European powers such as Spain caused the English colonists to take up slavery as a predominant source of labour. The author explains that Spain had been successfully using slave labour before the 17th Century to support their economic endeavours in the continent.
Furthermore, Spain had already established policies and a culture of dealing with slaves. For example, Spanish colonists subscribed to the theory of hereditary slavery and the racialization of slavery to black populations. As interactions between Spanish and English colonists increased, the North American colonists borrowed the slavery practices of South America.
Another issue that is brought out by the author is the fact that the prevalence of slavery was not equal in the North American colonies during the 17th Century. Wood attributes this to ideological issues as well as economic issues. The North American colonies were predominantly Protestant, unlike their Spanish counterparts. The shift away from the traditional church caused protestant European powers to have an urge to convert non-Europeans to Christianity (Jaffee, 2004). This view of conversion prevented the early colonies from outrightly enslaving non-Europeans but instead letting them serve a period indentured service. However, the writer notes that when North American colonists noticed the massive profits that South American farmers obtained in sugar plantations from the use of slave labour they were gradually persuaded to change their stance on slavery. Moreover, the author notes that the first colonies that had strong Christian backgrounds had a more conservative approach towards slavery than the new territories that were set up towards the end of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Secondly, the acceptance of slaves to early colonies was limited by the small size of settlements. A different study notes that new settlements were too small at first to accommodate a large number of African slave coming from the Atlantic (Berlin, 2009). However, with time more Europeans migrated to North America the size and population of colonies increased resulting in a higher capacity for utilisation of slaves. Therefore, slavery thrived in the 1700's due to this current demand and supply structure.
Additionally, slavery underwent several gradual changes that made it more exploitative towards the 18th century. The first change was the move from slavery being a tool for harnessing labour from capture natives and enemies of the state to being a commodity. Initially, slaves were obtained from captured natives and enemy soldiers caught in war, but the establishment of maritime trade allowed traders to capture slaves from Africa and sell them in the American colonies (Berlin, 2009). The second change was the move from temporary service to lifelong service. Initially, the term of slavery for individuals could be terminated after serving a period or through conversion to Christianity. However, Wood notes that when financial rewards for servitude increased it discouraged this practice of freeing the slave and allowed for the shift towards lifelong slavery. Thirdly, the law of slavery by heredity became prominent in the 16th And 17th centuries in North America thereby ensuring a lineage of slaves for the expansion of colonies.
All in all, Wood was able to perform an accurate analysis of historical changes that impacted the practice of slavery in North America during the 1600's and the 1700's. The writer was able to communicate his information logically and periodically. The explanations on every aspect of historical changes were comprehensively discussed. Furthermore, there was no evident bias in the writing of the text.
Berlin, I. (2009). Many thousands gone: The first two centuries of slavery in North America. Harvard University Press.
Jaffee, D. (2004). Religion and Culture in North America, 1600-1700. Heilbrun Timeline of Art History. Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/recu/hd_recu.htm
Wood, P. H. (1996). Strange New Land. Oxford University Press.
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