American History Midterm
At Home Essay
The origin and key characteristics of slavery in England’s North American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries are that by this time a distinctive labor system was developed. Because of the many economic, social and religious pressures in England and other places, there were many Europeans who traveled to America. These persons were migrants and they journeyed to the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland.
These colonies were economically viable, they had organized governments and they had lots of land. They used these lands to grow tobacco; this crop is described as the poor man’s crop. This crop required intensive labor and it was impossible to enslave natives. The British crown sent orphans and convicts to the colonies to work and to assist in the cultivation of tobacco.
There were two other types of persons who worked on these tobacco plantations, and these were indentured servants and slaves. Indentured servants were migrants, poor whites who signed a contract where they would agree to work for four to seven years in exchange for passage to America, and at the end of the indenture, the person would receive a new set of clothes, tools and 50 acres of land. These people were very useful to the economy and for only a short time. Relatively small amounts were African slaves, but the harshness and injustice of early colonial life caused social instability, which led to open rebellion in 1670.
Because of this, the planters began to rely on African slave labor and the numbers of slaves grew very quickly. Slaves came to North America through the middle passage from Africa. With this many Africans were taken from their home by excessive force unwillingly. Many families were destroyed and in some cases families were never reunited. Virginia transformed itself from a society with slaves to a slave society. This meant that there were so many slaves with the indentured servants that it became a slave society. Slavery at this time was very essential to the economy. Slaves were treated worse than indentured servants. The indentured servants were free and worked by a contract but the slaves worked until they died.
However the indentured servants were faced with restrictions, some of these restrictions was they could not take their masters to court for maltreatment. They could not be bought or sold, they could however be whipped, branded or have their sentence extended. An unmarried female could have her sentence extended if she became pregnant. The conditions were cruel and crude for all and death and disease were a major issue. There was poverty, overcrowded cities and low wages. Although these conditions were difficult, they were not as bad as Europe.
As it was shown in the video viewed in class, these slaves and indentured servants identified with each other and would share their displeasure and problems with each other in bars, because of this fact and others, both joined together for the Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, to fight for freedom. The English vessels arrived and the slaves and servants kept fighting but Bacon died of diarrhea. This encounter gave rise for improvements for whites and restrictions for blacks because the wealthy did not want the two groups working together. It revealed a threat of alliance between poor whites and slaves. Improvement for whites included access to land; government began to campaign to drive natives over the mountains and extended the power of the House of Burgesses to limit tensions between the local and the royal authorities. Blacks on the other hand did not have such privileges, there were many restrictions such as, slave women were excluded from protection against rape, and slaves could not bear arms. Interracial marriage and cohabitation was prohibited and religious conversion did not affect slave status.
In closing, I reiterate the fact that slaves and indentured servants did a lot for this country and while the fact remains that indentured servants were free and chose to work. This was some form of slavery because most I’m sure did not expect to be treated the way they were. Africans were dealt the worse hand of all because they were forced from their homes, stripped away from their families to become slaves in a strange country. Because of the restrictions and improvements, blacks and whites were less likely to join in future rebellions. Elites wanted indentured servants to promote superiority over enslaved blacks and finally, by restricting blacks and providing concessions to whites, elites hoped to make it harder for people to break racial boundaries.