Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
12 chapters | 108 lessons
Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.
In the great American experiment, no idea was more central than the idea of freedom. Freedom is so central to the concept of the U.S. Yet, in the nation's beginning, it had an institution which was the antithesis of its primary founding principal - freedom.
Even Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness, was a slave owner. He actually wrote several items about slavery and how it didn't fit with the ideals the nation was founded on, yet he only freed two of his own slaves during his lifetime. He did, however, free five more of his slaves in his will and let three run away without pursuit. It is believed that he allowed the escapes because he may have been their father. In this lesson, we will look at the institution of slavery, including the roots of American slavery, the slave trade, life for slaves, and slave uprisings.
Slavery has been around forever, but it wasn't a major institution at the beginning of things in the colonies. Long before African slavery came to what is today the U.S., the Portuguese and Spanish had already brought Africans to South America and Latin America. In 1619, the first Africans were brought to the colony of Jamestown by the Dutch.
Native Americans were new to being exposed to European disease; they were likely to catch them. They were on their home turf and could escape more easily. They also had political allies that could fight against the slave holders.
Slavery had earlier taken hold in the Caribbean. It only took 2-6 weeks to get to the colonies from the Caribbean. Other factors included:
Early on, Africans were not seen only as slaves in the colonies. Let's look at Anthony Johnson. He was an African indentured servant brought to the colonies in the 1620s. He obtained his freedom and purchased 250 acres of land in Virginia. He was the first to hold an African slave in mainland America and had at least one white indentured servant. It was 1660 before colonists began viewing Africans as strictly slaves. In 1670, after his death, the court ruled that as a black man, Anthony was an alien and could not own land. Therefore, the land was taken by the colony.
New England colonies had no large plantations, so slaves lived in cities and on small farms. Gradually, slavery was abolished in New England. Local slavery was not integral to their economy. The Chesapeake Bay colonies had large tobacco plantations; it became the center of the domestic slave trade. The Carolinas and Georgia had large rice and cotton plantations. So, slavery became well entrenched in the lifestyle and economy there.
The cotton gin, which was invented in 1763 by Eli Whitney. It made cotton the most important cash crop in the U.S. Cotton, and its reliance on slave labor, spread from Virginia to the south and west until it filled the Southern U.S.
In 1860, at the height of slavery, 25% of all Southerners owned slaves. Of that 25%, 52% owned 1-5 slaves, 35% owned 6-9 slaves, 11% owned 20-99 slaves, and 1% owned 100 or more slaves. Those who owned 20 or more slaves, about 3% of the entire white population, controlled the social, political, and economic power of the South.
After capture, usually by African enemies and later African slave traders, people were packed tightly into slave ships. The death rate of the passengers was 50%. The ships followed the middle passage of the Triangle Trade.
The Triangle Trade route was the flow of raw material from American colonies to Europe followed by manufactured goods leaving Europe for African Markets. Those manufactured items were traded for enslaved Africans, who were transported on the middle passage to the American colonies.
Most Africans landed in Brazil. Very few actually landed in North America. Slaves were auctioned off to the highest bidder, then were put through a process of 'seasoning' to get them ready for work. They learned a European language. They were given a European name and were shown work expectations.
Slaves could not read or write, and it was illegal for them to learn. Some did illegally, but keeping education away from a subjugated people is one big way to keep them down. The inability to write makes it difficult to organize and plan with other groups. Most slaves did have Sundays off, and they went to church. Slave holders needed slaves to stay healthy, and they needed to convince others they were godly. Giving the Sabbath off helped with both of these.
The slave codes were rules for all slaves. They included that slaves could not: leave their home without a pass, carry a weapon, gather in groups, own property, legally marry, defend themselves against a white person, or speak in court.
Slaves were often brutally punished for misbehaving. Punishments including whipping, branding, being sold, gagged, and just about any other way to inhumanely treat a person were used.
One way was flight. Slaves would run away. Another that's close is truancy. A slave would run away for a short amount of time, and then then they would come back. Other forms of resistance included:
There were four major slave revolts:
Let's look more closely at Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner.
First, Denmark Vesey - he was a slave in the Caribbean before coming to the United States. His name was originally Telemaque. He bought his freedom and began planning a slave rebellion that would have been second to none. Someone leaked the plan. Vesey and the other planners were caught, tried, and executed. Later, great abolitionists, like Fredrick Douglas, would use Denmark Vesey's memory to rally support for the civil war.
In 1831, Nat Turner got his rebellion off the ground. In Virginia, Turner built support for his uprising in Southampton County. Sixty whites were killed. It was the largest uprising before the Civil War. At least 100 slaves and free African-Americans were killed, and after the revolt was put down, Nat Turner and 55 others accused of being a part of the revolt were executed. At least 200 more were killed by militias and white mobs in response to the uprising.
Slavery is an institution that countered every ideal the United States was founded on. Yet, it took root and actually was in many ways the economic backbone of the States' early economy.
The cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney and made cotton a valuable crop.
Slaves were brought to the Americas on the middle passage of the Triangle Trade route.
Some slaves and freemen, like Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey, did revolt.
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Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
12 chapters | 108 lessons