Why Did The Institution Of Racial Slavery Develop In Every Colony In British America?

2066 words - 9 pages

Why did the institution of racial slavery develop in every colony in British America?
Slavery has plagued nearly every part of the world, from ancient Greece to modern Mauritania in 2007; countless government bodies have sanctioned the ‘civil relationship in which one person has absolute power over the life, fortune, and liberty of another’. North American slavery began in the early seventeenth century; however the stage was set as early as the fourteenth century, when the wealthy nations of Spain and Portugal began importing captive slaves from Africa to Europe. When these practices extended into the newly conquered Caribbean and West Indies in the mid-1600s, Virginia colonists ...view middle of the document...

Travellers from the mainland may have noted the advantages of Negro labour there; but they hardly thought of chattel slavery. Furthermore the sanction of slavery was a political reform, one which would therefore be enacted in favour of the ruling classes. A booming agriculture subsequently created an upper class of successful, wealthy plantation owners. Up till 1670 Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and New Jersey had already legalized slavery. Carolina (later North Carolina and South Carolina) in particular, was mainly founded by planters from the overpopulated British sugar island colony of Barbados who brought “relatively large numbers of African slaves from that island”2. Seeping into each colony, slavery came to replace the indentured servants that existed. However the turning point which solidified slavery into colonial life was Bacon’s rebellion of 1676. As leader of the poorer planters, Nathaniel Bacon seized control of Virginia from the royal Governor, Sir George Berkeley; on the grounds that Berkeley opposed making war on the Susquehanna Indians and seizing their lands. This partly was also due to the freedmen’s frustration with their constricted status, as after serving indenture many were unsuccessful, as they were dominated by larger plantation owners. Many of the constituents enlisted by Bacon were slaves and indentured servants. Burning Jamestown to the ground and forcing Governor Berkeley to sign a commission of an offensive against the Indians, led to military action from England. Bacon’s rebellion was supressed, each member tried and punished accordingly. Consequently, it led to a “decision among elite planters to substitute more governable slaves for unruly servants”3, as to prevent any recurrence of these events, “royal authority was placed firmly on the side of the richer settlers; their attempts to grab all the best land in Virginia were endorsed, and Africans were rapidly excluded from the privileges of civil society (if free) or thrust down into hopeless servitude (if slaves).”4 With this, a new gentry emerged, one which quickly enriched itself by its effective monopoly of land, labour and political power. The price in which, would be paid for nearly two centuries, by the slaves. Though it was a tragic development, it was not one which was unprecedented. Given the hierarchical social structure both in England and her colonies, the greed of seventeenth-century Englishman and the lust for export of tobacco, it can be considered inevitable. Control of the lower classes by higher powers ordained the rapid spread of the use of slavery as Edmund S. Morgan exemplifies “But for those with eyes to see, there was an obvious lesson in the rebellion. Resentment of an alien race might be more powerful than resentment of an upper class. Virginians did not immediately grasp it. It would sink in as time went on.”5 This creation of an upper class fuelled by agriculture, through means of slavery, is...

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