|Slavery on the Atlantic Coast—A Review
New England and the North
When did slavery begin here? Massachusetts became the first mainland British colony to legalize slavery in 1680. There were slaves here from the 1620s.
What did slaveholders need slaves for? Some wealthier farmers had one or two slaves to help with the farm labor and the domestic work. Most northern slaves lived in cities (like New York where they made up 40% of the population). They worked on the docks, did heavy labor (built the Wall in New York), and worked as servants in wealthy households where they were a status symbol. Overall, only about 10% of the northern population was enslaved.
In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Many northern slaves were able to “hire out” on their own. They got to keep part of their wages, which they could use to live on their own and to buy freedom.
What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? Not much.
The Lower South (South Carolina and Georgia)
When did slavery begin here? In the Carolinas, settlers brought slaves with them when they began arriving from Barbados in the 1680s. Slavery was illegal in Georgia until the 1740s.
What did slaveholders need slaves for? Settlers in the Lower South tended to come from the West Indies where the major economic activity was to produce staple crops (e.g. sugar) for sale. They wanted to reproduce this system on the mainland. So they began to produce first cattle and lumber and then rice and long-staple cotton, using lots of African slaves, for the market. In Charleston, South Carolina, slaves were also used in the ports for heavy labor. Slaves outnumbered whites 2:1 or more in this region.
In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Slaves in Charleston were able to “hire out” their time, live on their own, and produce goods and foodstuffs to sell in the town market. In fact, enslaved women supplied much of the cities food from market gardens. In the countryside in the South Carolina and Georgia coast, slaves lived on very large plantations and were able to grow gardens, hunt, and fish for themselves and to sell—either to the planter, his neighbors, or to town.
What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? In the Lower South, up to ¼ of the slaves were Native American. Others were captured and sold to the West Indies. Others participated in the slave trade by serving as run-away slave catchers.
The Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland)
When did slavery begin here? Although there were slaves in Virginia by 1619, there were very few. Early “slaves” were treated like indentured servants—horribly, but they could earn their freedom and become small landowners or tenants. In the 1660s, slavery became hereditary and perpetual, and it had become a full-scale, codified slave system by 1700.
What did slaveholders need slaves for? Tobacco production for an international market. At first, planters used indentured servants, but as the supply of servants dwindled and as too many servants earned their freedom, planters turned to slaves.
In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Although slaves made up 30% of the population in the Chesapeake, they were not enabled to do very much economically on their own. They could not often “hire out.” They did not often have garden plots. However, by the 1700s, as planters shifted from tobacco to wheat production, they tried to make their plantations autonomous and thus taught some of their slaves to be skilled artisans. These artisans were able to control their time more and sometimes to earn money on the side.
What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? In the early years, Native Americans collaborated with slaves who rebelled against masters. But by the time slavery was well established in Virginia, Native Americans were not much part of the system.