Slavery in America Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Andrea Miller

Andrea is currently a social studies middle school teacher in Ohio. She has a BA in history as well as a MEd in education. She has taught workshops including OGT Success and Writing for Life. Andrea has also been a middle school debate team coach for several years.

Slavery is a controversial practice that people have used to make extra money all throughout history. In North America, slavery was legal for over 200 years. In this lesson, you will learn more about slavery in North America.

Slavery in North America

Imagine that you grew 20 tomatoes. Once your tomatoes were ready, you sold them for 2 dollars each. In the end, you made 40 dollars. Now imagine that you made someone pick those tomatoes for you. If you paid them for helping, you would make less money, but if you made them work for free, you could still have your 40 dollars. This is the whole idea behind a practice called slavery. Slavery is the act of forcing someone to work for you without pay. This practice has been used all throughout history - including the history of the United States of America.

The Need for Labor

African slaves were first brought to North America during the British colonization of the east coast. The earliest account of slavery was recorded in 1619 in the Colony of Jamestown, Virginia. At the time, a very profitable crop, tobacco, was just beginning to make a large amount of money for the colony. Taking a page from the Portuguese in the Caribbean Islands, slaves were used in North America to ensure there was enough labor to continue the growth of massive amounts of tobacco. The colonists were getting a large amount of their product to sell for a big profit, without having to pay for labor.

Slavery Auction
slavery auction

Growth of Slavery in the South

Soon, other colonies began to use slaves as well. The growth of cash crops, or crops grown solely for the purpose of making money, was becoming a common lifestyle for plantation owners in the south. In response to the demand of cotton and indigo, people were brought from Africa to the New World on a dangerous ship ride called the Middle Passage. Once here, slaves might be separated from their family and forced to work on a plantation for the rest of their lives. Throughout the course of slavery in the United States, it is estimated that more than 300,000 slaves were brought over from Africa.

This wood engraving of what a slave ship looked like was made in 1789.
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