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African American Men and Women from the Civil War to Reconstruction

Autor:   •  April 11, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  6,453 Words (26 Pages)  •  392 Views

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Slavery is an institution that has been in the world since the beginning of time. Whether it be the Roman or Greek empires, Europe, or even in Africa, slavery is in no way a unique or new concept. This institution was, however, very dynamic and fluid in character. In the New World, slavery was very much different than in any other parts of the world, and between 1619 and 1739, the character of slavery in colonial North America changed as a result of many varying factors. 
The enslavement of large groups of people in colonial North America was the result of European imperial drives and the need to fuel the colonization and profitability of the New World. While the use of the African people as a primary source slaves by Europeans can be traced back to at least the early 1500s, in colonial North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, the character of slavery would undergo changes in character, nature, and status. 
In the early 1600s, slavery was, by no means, a pleasurable or fun experience, however the conditions were a lot better than those to come. In the early 1600s the status of slaves in the colonies was significantly closer to that of their white counterparts than it would be in soon to come future. Black slaves in the fairly new colonies received treatment and status comparable to the white servants of the time. Just as the white European indentured servants, the enslaved blacks could earn their freedom in the New World after a period of servitude. Slavery in colonial North America around 1619 was in no ways permanent or based solely on race. This characteristic of slavery proves to be the polar opposite of what would come to be at the turn of the century. By the middle of the century, white servants began to become less common and available as a result of the end of their indentures and the European civil wars. Once freed, they proved to be a very “disruptive force” for the colonies, by challenging authority and urging slaves to run away and revolt. This is, along with other reasons, one of the most apparent causes for the colonists turning to Africans as their primary source of forced labor. The other reasons include the “long-term advantages” that black slaves offered the colonists. Unlike the white servants who could run away and blend in easily in neighboring colonies, escaped blacks were “far easier to recover” and “recapture”. All blacks would be assumed s runaways by white men who “suppos’d [him] to be a runaway” and imprisoned to make sure that their owners could retrieve them. This proved very difficult to do with whites who blended in easily. Also, in 1662, slavery was made heritable, providing the colonists with a somewhat “self-replenishing” supply of forced labor. Slavery in North America went from being indifferent to race, to focusing only on the enslavement of the African people. The slave trade with Africa was now such a critical part of the success and survival of the colonies that until the end of the 17th century, the English held a monopoly over the African slave trade. 
Along with slavery in colonial North America becoming focused on an individual group of people, there were other changes in the character of slavery. From 1619 to sometime around 1690, the status of blacks declined rapidly. This change was marked by many different things. For one, slavery was, for the first, time heritable. Also, in 1691, interracial marriage was outlawed. Any person that married a “negroe, mulatto, or Indian” would be “forever banished from the colony ‘within three months of such marriage’”. These changes, marked the spreading of the belief that the white race as a whole was superior to the African as well as the indigenous people. For seemingly the first time, whites asserted their racial superiority as a whole over the African race. Laws were even passed in Virginia disfranchise and disarm blacks by spreading the belief that all blacks were dangerous. This widespread conviction is what marked the taking away of any freedom blacks had managed to maintain by saying that only whites could be and deserved to be fully free. This is very much different than the early 1600s when blacks could earn their freedom or at least have their children born free. 
In short, slavery from the early 1600s to the mid and later parts of the century underwent several character changes that proved to be very detrimental to the African people while at the same time being very profitable and beneficial to whites in America. Slavery was, for the first time, heritable, permanent, and aimed at a single group of people. These wouldn’t, however, be the last of the character changes that slavery would undergo until 1739. 
Another significant character change of slavery from 1619 to 1739 would be the treatment of slaves. In the beginning of slavery in colonial North America, slaves were treated with respect and humanity. In Carolina, slaves were, for the most part, valued and treated with considerable respect from their white colonizers. The knowledge that they possessed of West African rice cultivation methods made them a valuable resource to the unexperienced European colonists. They were valued and respected to such a degree that in Carolina, there was a task system implemented. Slaves were given very little supervision and were, to a degree, autonomous in their actions as long as their work was completed. Later to come however, slaves would be treated not as human, but rather as property. This was established by King James who not only marked slaves as property, but lowered property taxes on slaves to promote the increase of slavery in his region. Another significant action that marked the change in the character of slavery was when slaves’ right to marry was, in most instances, taken away. This coming after they had already been stripped of their names, religion, culture, and even their families. Instead of allowing slaves to practice their own religious rituals and ceremonies, they were only allowed to take place in religious practices by joining the churches of their colonizers and adopting their religions. 
There was, however, a few positive changes in the character of slavery, although being years after all of the bad character changes. Some of these changes were reflected in New Netherland by the granting of “half-freedom”. Slaves who helped defend the region from Indian attacks were granted half freedom by the Dutch West Indian Company. While their children were to remain in captivity, their parents who assisted in the defense of the region were freed while remaining obligated to pay corporate tributes for their loved ones who remained enslaved. Other positive character changes would take form in the colony of Florida. Different than the other, English colonies of North America, Spanish Florida became a safe haven for slaves. Although it was done primarily to undermine the English, Spanish Florida people provided escaped slaves with freedom and even considerable autonomy. Spain, in 1693, gave all “fugitive slave” who were willing to adopt Catholicism freedom and in 1700, Samuel Sewall issued the very first American antislavery tract. Perhaps the most significant of them all, was the establishment of the first black colony, Fort Mose after receiving unconditional freedom in 1738. This marked he very first time since the slave trade in North America began, Africans were free human beings. Sadly, this only lasted for short period of the time due to the colony being captured and destroyed by the English in 1739. 
Slavery underwent several character and even descriptive changes from 1619 to 1739. African slaves went from being treated similarly to their counterparts the European indentured servants, to less than human. Slaves lost their names, culture, families, right to marriage, and most of all their hope to be free. Then, for short periods of time in select areas such as Florida and Georgia, slaves were actually free, or as close as they could get to actually being free. While unsettling for most, the fact of the matter is that the enslavement of the African people in America took place over many years and generations and throughout that time encountered many changes.

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