Slavery and religion

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By the middle of the 18th Century slavery was a vital part of the economy in many of the colonies. There had always been opposition to this from the Quakers and strong taxes were placed on slavery in some colonies. But, basically, little was done about the issue. The North did not have many slaves and profited from the slave trade – so they tended to ignore the issue.

The first Blacks were brought to Jamestown in 1619. They were treated rather like indentured servants. In 1675 servitude for life was adopted.

  1. Indian slavery was first tried in Virginia, but this did not work out well.

  2. White servants were then tried, but there were problems with this arrangement


  1. Not enough people were willing to come over to the colonies as servants.
    Another source was needed to fill the shortage of labor.

  2. Indentured Servants had to be constantly renewed as their terms expired.

  3. There was great difficulty in detecting runaway Indentured Servants. They blended in with the other white settlers.

ANSWER: Perpetual Negro Servitude.

As heathen they could be treated more cruelly than whites, and they could also be reclaimed quite easily if they ran away. They were definitely not Indian or White.

Before 1700 the English realized the profits of getting involved in the slave trade.

The Royal African Company was formed in the 1690’s and increased slave importation to the Southern Colonies. By 1708 there were 2 Blacks to every 3 Whites. By 1750 one half the population was Black and in many counties there were more Blacks than Whites.

While slavery was for the most part not profitable in the North as farms were small 0 the Northern shippers gained great wealth by being involved in the slave trade between Africa and the Southern Colonies. (Transparency)

  1. At the time of the Revolutionary War there was the fear of possible insurrection by the slaves. The rest of the British Empire by this time had outlawed slavery, and so slaves were more likely to side with the British soldiers than with the Patriot, slave owning, colonists. (English Court Case: “The air in England is too pure to be breathed by anyone but a free man.”)

  2. Problems of if they racially intermixed. They felt it would deteriorate the race. Many colonies wanted an end to the new importation of Blacks and petitioned the British government to stop new importation. But the English Parliament would do nothing about it because it was so profitable.

In the late 1600’s there were a number of slave insurrections. Maryland said in 1671 that simply because a slave became a Christian did not mean you could release them. Problem: Could you hold a fellow Christian in bondage?

The following excerpt is from a document dating from 1688. It is the earliest protest against slavery in what would become the United States. It is the resolutions of a religious group, the Mennonites, of Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Resolutions of Germantown Mennonites
These are the reasons why we are against the traffic of men-body, as followeth: Is there any that would be done or handled in this manner? (That is), to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and faint-hearted are many at sea, when they see a strange vessel, being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken, and sold for slaves into Turkey. Now, what is this better done, than Turks do? Yea, rather it is worse for them, which say they are Christians… In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience-sake; and here there are those oppressed which are of black color. …And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal must, likewise, avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing. And such men ought to be delivered out of the hands of the robbers, and set free.
In the Carolinas the Black population in 1765 was twice the White population.
Because of this Slave Codes were passed. They were very rigid.

  1. Slaves could not engage in trade.

  2. Slaves could not be alone off their master’s property after dark.

  3. Only one Negro on a plantation could have a gun.

  4. You could beat a Negro who caused a public disturbance.

  5. Arson, theft, and running away were punishable by capital punishment.

Slave codes were laws made by colonial legislatures to govern the keeping of slaves.
The following excerpt is a portion of a slave code from Virginia.
A Virginia Law of 1669
…if any slave resist his master (or other by his master’s order correcting him) and by the extremity (drastic act) of coercion (force) could chance to die, that his death shall not be accounted felony (a serious crime), but the master (or that other person etc.) be acquitted from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed (planned) malice (which alone makes murder a felony) should induce any man to destroy his own estate (property).
The most serious uprising was the Stono Rebellion in which about 70 people were killed in 1739. In 1740 another supposed plot was uncovered and some 50 Blacks were hung for their supposed involvement. In 1740 a fire in Charleston was blamed on the Blacks and 2 were hung. This brought on an even fiercer Code Law.

  1. No liquor was to be sold to slaves.

  2. No slave was to be allowed to own land.

But… there was a warning to masters not to be cruel – which would cause the slaves to revolt, and no slave was to be worked over 15 hours in 24.
A South Carolina Law of 1740
…Whereas many owners of slaves, and others who have the care, management, and overseeing of slaves, do confine them so closely to hard lavor that they have not sufficient time for natural rest, Be it therefore enacted, that if any owner of slaves, or ther persons, who shall have the care, management, or overseeing of slaves, shall work or put such slave or slaves to labor more than fifteen hours in twenty-four hours… every such person shall forfeit a sum not exceeding twenty pounds current money, for every time, he, she, or they shall offend (the law) …
Georgia originally prohibited slavery and alcohol, but neither lasted very long. In 1750 the ban was lifted and in 1773 – 45% of the states population was Black. They also developed very stringent Codes:

  1. No more than 7 Blacks could congregate at any time without a White being present.

  2. Slaves were not to be taught to read or write.

  3. No slave was to have any means of a vehicle.

Many slaves fled south to Spanish Florida to their freedom. Not many insurrections occurred in the colonial Deep South because they could flee to freedom.

Some slave owners used the Bible to support slavery. They argued: “Better to be a slave in a Christian country than free in Heathen county.”

Slavery was mildest in Pennsylvania. The most slaves in any one city – was in Philadelphia. (the largest colonial city) The mild stance on slavery was due to the Quaker influence. In Pennsylvania they could be taught to read and write.

In the South they were tremendously race conscious. Black Americans were denied a full range of roles and experiences. They could not play the roles White Americans played. They underwent personality changes that were passed on from generation to generation. (Slow, easy-going, lazy, dependent, juvenile in their outlook, etc…) Sambo Type Mentality.
But there were subtle ways a slave could get back at their masters.




Feigned illness and ignorance

(Proslavery Woodcuts Transparency)

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